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Universal Studios Hollywood


Universal Studios Hollywood was arguably the largest US park I had yet to visit. I was able to remedy that this past weekend. While the Japan and Orlando resorts feel like theme parks with movie tie-ins, the Hollywood park genuinely feels like a movie studio because it actually is one.


To get myself in the spirit of movies, I made a detour to visit the Hollywood Sign. Finding a suitable viewing location was challenging. The Griffith Observatory wasn’t open yet and Google Maps suggested I go back by the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A Google search turned up a better location, Lake Hollywood Park.


A word for the wise, do not try this drive at night. Also do not try it in a large vehicle or break the speed limit. It will not end well. I felt like I was navigating Lombard Street. It was a series of steep hairpin turns in a densely populated neighborhood. I saw several bikers and tipped my cap to them.


I painlessly street parked (for free no less). Maybe it was a product of an early visit, but Lake Hollywood Park seemed like a dog park. There were no weenie dogs, but there was the Hollywood Sign. It lacks the splendor of other landmarks like Niagara Falls, but it’s such an icon that I felt compelled to see it.



Count the number of dogs to people. It's a high ratio.


But the dog park gave tourists a nice treat, a perfect view of the sign.


15 minutes later, I was rolling into the labyrinth known as the Universal parking garage. Every time I grumble how annoying SFNE’s parking situation is, I need to remember what it’s like to park at Universal. Maybe the locals knew better, but I ended up in the bottom floor of the ET lot. I was the only car there at 7:30 am and the only car when I left at 12:30.



Why do I feel like I picked the worst garage?


I got my morning exercise walking the mile or so to the main entrance. Fortunately the walk is quite pleasant, as CityWalk is a sensory overload of neon signs, booming songs, and delicious smells. I made no stops in the morning, but I scouted out some lunch options for later in the day.



It wouldn't be a Universal visit without CityWalk.


This was the second most impressive tree at the resort.


The top spot went to the Whoville tree. They brought the cartoon to life with its funky shape.


By purchasing my ticket on the park’s website, I was eligible for early entry to the Wizarding World. Thankfully, few had the willpower to wake up early on a Saturday. This was the emptiest I have ever seen the Wizarding World and it allowed me to appreciate all the little details from the books I grew up with.



I was visiting during Grinchmas.


While most wanted to take their photo with the globe, I was nostalgic and focused on the retro sign.


80% of the crowds went to Forbidden Journey, 10% went to the shops, and 10% went towards Flight of the Hippogriff. The latter 10% was primarily families with young children and it also included yours truly. I wanted to knock out the lower capacity ride first.


At first sight, the coaster looks identical to the Orlando and Japan installations. And in many ways, it rode identically. Even though this was a custom Mack coaster, the layout and theming felt no different than the Vekoma roller skaters. This does everything a family coaster should. 5 out of 10



Technically this was a custom layout, but it felt identical to the one in Florida.


Up next was Forbidden Journey. Out of habit, I started trekking towards the lockers only to discover they were only required for bags. It felt like a rare treat not being wanded on a thrill ride at Universal. Using my good friend the single rider line, I was able to get three wait-free rides on this dark ride.


The ride was identical to the Japanese and Orlando counterparts. And that’s a good thing. This is one of my favorite dark rides. The ride system makes this ride. It provides plenty of thrills while still offering the versatility to you to enjoy the scenes. Forbidden Journey is the perfect blend of screens and practical sets.


One minor negative is that I found the lighting a bit off during the dementor sequence. The animatronics are pretty impressive on the other two versions, but they were barely visible here. Maybe I just caught the ride on a bad day, but outside of that, it’s a darn near perfect attraction. 9.5 out of 10



It's a wonder Hogwarts could stay open considering all the near death experiences that happened there.


A rare photo in the Wizarding World without Muggles.


The park’s best attraction is undoubtedly the World Famous (yes that’s in the name) Studio Tour. Using world famous in the title is a bold move and usually something reserved for a cruddy dining establishment, but here it’s warranted. The Studio Tour is what put Universal on the map (well theme park that is).


Saying the tour is long is an understatement. I consider Splash Mountain to be a long ride at 9-10 minutes. The Studio Tour took an hour! And I enjoyed every minute of it. We had an excellent tour guide and it covered a little of everything- soundstages, practical sets, movie history.


The other thing that sets the Studio Tour apart are the show sequences. It’s essentially 6 attractions in 1. You have the Studio Tour plus a flash flood, Jaws, Earthquake, Kong 360, and Fast and Furious Supercharged.


The latter two were the best. I know Skull Island isn’t the most well received ride at Orlando, but I liked it and the sequence on the Studio Tour was no different. I also enjoyed the Fast and the Furious bit too even though I’m not a fan of the movies. The 360 degree screens did an incredible job incorporating you into the action.


It’s rare for a non-thrill ride to be my favorite attraction at a park, but the Studio Tour won the Oscar for the park’s best ride. The attraction really is an orgy for movie aficionados. It has everything you’d expect plus the bonus show scenes. This Studio Tour alone was worth the price of admission. 10 out of 10



Movie fans, grab some vaseline and a box of kleenex.


Thankfully we had a good tour guide and not this goof ball.


The tour took us through movie sets.


Is it a bad sign I recognized this set from Big Fat Liar?


And through a graveyard of Universal Orlando attractions.


This made me sad Japan's Jaws was on rehab during my visit.


Parque Espana is home to the legendary escalator ride complete with holiday quality lights and infectious music. Universal is home to an infamous escalator ride linking the Upper and Lower lots. Before my visit, I figured this would be like going from the upper and lower levels of a mall. This was anything but.


Universal is built on a hill. A large hill in fact. I don’t know what the elevation difference was, but we were towering over the show buildings. The journey between lots took 10 minutes, but it offered some impressive views of the California mountains, lower lot, and Jurassic Park construction.



The hillside location offered some spectacular views.


Taking the stairs was a mistake.


While I would have ridden it, I suspect most others would have skipped it with the weather being a (for the area) frosty 65 degrees.


I have always heard that Orlando’s Mummy is the superior coaster. After my first ride on Hollywood’s, I wasn’t so sure. The theming was familiar. There was the treasure room, the scarabs, and the fluorescent cutouts. But the ride layout was far different.


The first time I rode Orlando’s Mummy, I was caught off-guard by the launch. The same happened at Hollywood. I won’t spoil it, but I will say it’s perfectly executed. The forwards bit had 2 surprisingly good moments of airtime mixed with laterals if you rode in the back. Up front, the only bit of air occurs as you enter the switch track.


The biggest difference between Orlando and Hollywood’s Mummy is the backwards bit. In Orlando, the backwards bit is over in a flash. In Hollywood, you have a full-fledged segment. It lacks the wild pacing of the forwards bit, but it’s enjoyable. And it leads to the third act of the ride which is a complete WTF.


Like Forbidden Journey, I also used the single rider line to rack up 4 rides. Without question, my favorite row was the back since it maximizes the thrills on the first half. In the end, I think I prefer Orlando’s Mummy since it’s more consistent in every seat, but Hollywood’s is no slouch. 8 out of 10



It seems to be common opinion that Florida's is better, but I found this one right up there.


Transformers wasn’t a priority of mine, but I’d be remiss to skip it considering it was next door and a complete walk-on. Admittedly, this isn’t my favorite ride in Orlando. I even preferred the Jimmy Fallon ride to Transformers, which is a horrifying statement. However, I enjoyed it more in Hollywood.


I know the ride is the same. Maybe I liked it better since I didn’t just ride Spiderman. And for whatever reason, I was able to follow the action better. Like Fast and the Furious, Transformers isn’t my favorite IP (in fact, I find the films unwatchable). But I liked the ride, primarily for the system. 8 out of 10



Not riding Spiderman minutes before made Transformers seem quite a bit better.


After masochistically torturing myself by taking the stairs to the upper lot, I took some time to tour the park. I think the attention to detail on the Upper Lot is the best I’ve seen at a Universal Park. Harry Potter speaks for itself, but I was absolutely blown away by Springfield.


In Orlando, you have the Simpsons Ride, the creepiest Dumbo ride ever, and some shops. In Hollywood, you trade the Dumbo ride for an elaborate town complete with a mockery of the DMV, a fancy backdrop, a Slideshow Bob escaping from prison, and a nuclear meltdown sequence. I was not expecting that at all!



To those who have been to Orlando, this is a familiar sight.


However, this is not. I was very impressed.


I wanted to watch one show before leaving. While the consensus favors Waterworld, I saw it in Japan. Instead, I went with the Special Effects Show. The jokes were cheesy, but the effects were cool. The fight sequence was reminiscent an episode of Arrow and I always support the use of fire. 8 out of 10



No one was chanting "Fight, fight, fight" like in middle school.


On the way back to the car, I remembered I could use my dining pass to sample the food offerings of Magic Mountain. From the turkey sandwich I had two years ago, I knew that was a risky prospect, so I loaded up on some mini donuts. They were pricey, but oh so good.


In 4 hours, I experienced everything that I cared to see at Universal. Contrary to the radio ads, I felt no need to stay until after dark to see snow at Hogsmeade. I can look out the window and see snow in my apartment’s parking lot. I’m not sure when I’d return to Universal Hollywood simply because of the other competition in the area, but it’s a very good park for what it sets out to accomplish.

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As a local who lived in Hollywood nearly directly under the Hollywood sign for year and has a USH AP, I can say:


You can also get great views of the Hollywood sign on the catwalks at Hollywood & Highland shopping complex (though you do have to pay for parking), Beachwood Ave (if you're brave enough to stand in the middle of the street--but extra bonus, you get to see the Hollywoodland Towers that are emulated in Disney's Hollywood Studios), and you can also hike above the sign. But Lake Hollywood Park has a nice view as well.


Yes, the ET lot is the newest one, and it's the furthest out. Still better than Mickey & Friends, though.


Flight of the Hippogrifh (FotH) does have a slightly different, and slightly superior, layout than a Vekoma Roller Skater. Not by a lot, granted, but it is better. Also, they do generally allow Single Riders--you just have to ask for it at the Express entrance.


While I haven't been on Japan's yet, the Hollywood FJ is actually better than Orlando's. The film is superior quality (though they may have finally caught up to the 4K projection), and a lot more details and final touches have been improved--and we have a LOT more dementors.


While it doesn't have a lot of repeat value, for a first timer, the Studio Tour truly is a must, and is essentially a one of a kind attraction. Disney tried to fake one at their Hollywood Studios for years, but you really can't fake over 100 years of real movie/TV productions and history. And it makes even things like Fast & Furious more fun, because you don't really expect such an experience in the middle of a tram tour.


Ah, Mummy, where the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Orlando likes ours, and we like Orlando. But if you are talking from a ride pacing point of view, I do generally think ours is better... once it finally gets going, it never really lets up--and it is true that our backwards section is obviously much better. I know most in Orlando despise that "fake exit" part as it kills the ride's momentum. That said, Orlando has that crazy upwards launch into a much more significant drop, and a much better dark ride portion. All the pluses and minuses really cancel each other out on both sides. Trivia point, in Hollywood, we got what we did because the ride was constrained by the size of the old ET ride, which the coaster was shoehorned into, and they didn't want to change the exterior building walls.


Yeah, our Springfield is a lot better. We ever heard other Orlando Springfield employees say ours was better.


Special Effects show is good for a first time tourist. Not much repeat value to it, though. Waterworld, despite the IP, is actually a surprisingly good show with surprisingly good effects. Do definitely catch it next time, and make sure you get to see the plane (which is occasionally cut if it's too windy or it's not working).


Snow is snow, but the light show at Hogsmeade is pretty good. Much better live than just seeing it on YouTube because many effects literally surround you, which you can't see on YouTube. Try to catch it next time, and has many showings a night, and typically has one or two unannounced early shows, to help spread out the crowds. For instance, if the first scheduled show is at 6:00pm, there's often a 5:40 showing, and if the park is really mobbed, sometimes even a 5:20 showing. Just ask team members.


Also, no Dreamworks theater? I know it's another movie based attraction, but it is one of the better of it's kind, with a pretty cool twist about 2/3 of the way into the show.

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Thanks for the detailed reply!


I don't recall the film quality differing between the Forbidden Journeys. Japan had as many dementors as Hollywood, but Japan had all of them illuminated on cue. In Hollywood, only one dementor was illuminated and the others remained in the darkness; I'm not sure if I was unlucky or if it's designed that way.


I actually like the fake exit part of Orlando's Mummy. Yes it kills the pacing, but it's a very unique scene and I support the gratuituous use of fire.


Hollywood's light show could be different, but I saw a version of it in Japan. Like the land, it was cool but way too busy to be enjoyed. I'm guessing Hollywood's gets pretty packed as well due to how narrow that land is.


I skipped the DreamWorks theater in favor of extra time at Six Flags. I figured it was just your standard 3D movie and I'm indifferent towards Kung Fu Panda.

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Six Flags Magic Mountain


My last visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain ended on a sour note. I had just ridden a potential new number one coaster in Twisted Colossus. I went to get back in line, but the ride went down. But this was no ordinary breakdown. No, I visited on June 18, 2016, or the day of the RMC Recall.


Because of this, Twisted Colossus was the attraction I was most looking forward during my weekend in SoCal. Especially for a coaster as frenetic as a RMC, I need multiple rides to fully form an opinion and appreciate the ride’s greatness. But as I approached the park, I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Maybe it was eating 2 dozen mini donuts or maybe it was something worse…


I used my Diamond Preferred Parking and got a prime spot right in front of Twisted Colossus. I whipped out my camera and waited 3-4 minutes for a train. I know Six Flags dispatches can be rough, but that seemed slow even by their standards. Then I heard a train coming, but it was completely empty.



I wasn't sure if I should be excited or worried that Twisted Colossus was testing 3-4 hours after opening.


Hoping the ride had a staggered opening, I made a beeline over to Twisted Colossus. I was informed the ride was being refurbished. That seemed to be a weird choice of words considering a train was periodically cycling, but I was still a bit nervous since I knew the ride was down for rehab early in November.


Having seen a lengthy queue at Full Throttle, I backtracked to get a Flash Pass. Usually I get a Gold, but I decided to get a Regular because X2, Twisted Colossus, and Full Throttle are one time only attractions. Thankfully I could get bonus rides on the latter two with my Diamond skip-the-line passes (invalid on X2).


My Q Bot said Full Throttle was down even though it had been running since I entered the park, so I used my skip-the-line voucher to bypass the usual hour wait. In all my previous rides, I was assigned the front car. On this day, the grouper happily obliged my request for a back row ride.


I think Full Throttle is an underrated launch coaster. While others have superior launches, Full Throttle’s is no joke and has a much better layout. The hangtime on that massive loop is incredible, the dive loop is adisorienting, and the deceptively steep top hat gives some very strong airtime. 9 out of 10



I know Knott's has a ride called HangTime, but this is where you get SoCal's best hangtime.


On one hand it's a buzzkill you brake during the big drop. On the other hand, it makes for a wicked moment of airtime.


At most parks a 235 foot hyper coaster would be a star attraction. At Six Flags Magic Mountain, it’s just another coaster. I don’t know if that’s more a testament to the quality of the park’s lineup or a black mark against Goliath. Hyper coasters should be about speed and/or airtime. Goliath excels at neither.


Somehow Giovanola managed to design a 255 foot drop lacking any airtime. The only moment of air is that camelback before you lose all momentum on the MCBR. And on this day, not even the helix of death caused me to grey out. Goliath isn’t a bad ride per say. It’s just a disappointing one. 7 out of 10



Witness the lone airtime moment on the hyper coaster.


It wouldn't be California without palm trees.


After seeing another train test, I made a pass by Twisted Colossus. Now they had a sign in front saying it was down. Aw fiddlesticks. While I was in the Screampunk District, I figured I might as well ride Scream. A Flash Pass reservation was laughably unnecessary for the world’s best example of a parking lot coaster.


If you care about ambiance, you will hate Scream. That is, unless you fancy asphalt and neatly painted white lines. If you care about thrills, you won’t have an issue. I always remember Scream having a rattle, but on this day, it was smooth. That allowed me to appreciate the forceful inversions. 8 out of 10



If you like inversions, Scream is for you.


If you like a well manicured parking lot, Scream is also for you.


My CraZanity reservation was ready, so I made my way over to Magic Mountain’s new for 2018 attraction. SFNE got a slightly smaller version and if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I didn’t notice the extra 30 feet here. That being said, it still felt plenty tall and looked pretty darn imposing.


Maybe the added height was the culprit, but this one seemed to have less full swings than Harley Quinn Spinsanity. I counted a total of 4-5. But these full swings were worth the wait. They delivered copious floater air and offered an impressive view of the park. 8 out of 10



I know it's 30 feet taller than the others, but I couldn't feel it.


These giant discoveries have some of the best lighting packages of any ride out there.


Construction in Cyclone Bay was underway, so Apocalypse was closed. That was no great loss. What was a great loss was that the path around the hill was closed. That meant you couldn’t avoid Samurai Summit. Fortunately, it was a piece of cake compared the stairs at Universal.


I suspected Superman was closed since I hadn’t heard the deafening roar. My suspicions were sort of confirmed. The midway to Superman was closed for the day, but the employee informed me Superman was only temporarily closed. How does that work?


Spoiler alert, Superman did not open. It didn’t even test.



Considering the entire midway was closed, I had a feeling Superman wouldn't be operating this day.


When I last rode Tatsu, it was the unquestioned god among flying coasters. Granted, that wasn’t hard when the only other flyers I had ridden were Superman clones and Volares. Having recently ridden Manta and Flying Dinosaur, I was intrigued if Tatsu was every bit as intense as I remembered. Simply put, it was.


Flying Dinosaur is unquestionably the better ride, but I think I still prefer Tatsu over Manta by a hair. Perched atop the mountain, Tatsu feels like one of the world’s tallest coasters. The view cresting the lift always takes my breath away and I count my blessings that B&M has a perfect safety record.


Tatsu alternates between intensity and gracefulness. The first drop, particularly in the back, really whips you back towards the ground. That’s followed by two acrobatic corkscrews that give you an amazing but fleeting view of SFMM. Then it’s back to the intensity with a very snappy bank leading to the pretzel loop.


Tatsu’s pretzel loop is one of the world’s most intimidating elements. Pretzel loops in general pack a mighty punch and Tatsu’s seems twice as large as the others. The Gs are so strong that it felt like Tatsu would rip my pants off. That’s followed by one last inline twist and a surprise pop of air into the brake run. 9.5 out of 10



Tatsu's location is perfect for a flying coaster.


That pretzel loop is something else.


My Q bot said Ninja was a 70 minute wait, so I skipped the black belt of roller coasters in favor of Gold Rusher. The park’s oldest coaster was a total walk-on. Without a doubt, the ride’s strength is its use of the terrain. It’s mostly turns, but there are two sizable drops for a mine train. 5 out of 10



I think this turn may be Gold Rusher's highest point above the ground. This truly is a terrain coaster.


I had heard SFMM’s Justice League was superior to the others. Was that why the attraction opened late? Probably not, but I can say that the ride is a cut above the others. For one, this one has not one, but two preshows. It’s almost as if they wanted to take a page out of Universal or Disney’s playbook there.


The screens were identical to the others, but the practical sets were better. Unlike the others, there actually were a few physical targets. Everything was going perfectly until the finale. The train and street race scenes were far too dark. I’m pretty sure I drilled Superman a few times (not that he felt it). These Justice League rides are a real treat and don’t feel like they belong at a Six Flags park. 8.5 out of 10



This is new.


Next I rode the world’s most terrifying drop tower, Lex Luthor Drop of Doom. I know Zumanjaro is taller and Falcon’s Fury points you to the ground, but there’s just something far more terrifying about Lex. This tower sways more than the neighborhood drunk.


The ascent is deceptive. About a third up the tower, Lex slowed to a crawl. I was dumbfounded. 400 feet didn’t seem as tall as I remembered. Then Lex sped up; we still had another 300 feet to go. Lex did a similar pause 2/3 of the way up. I don’t know if this quirk was intentional, but it was very unnerving.


The view is incredible, but I was focused on the drop. It’s sudden and accompanied by some floater air at the start. The drop lasts forever and you feel like you’re about to break the sound barrier before braking at the last second. Lex Luthor never fails to take my breath away. 10 out of 10



I think this is the world's most terrifying drop tower and I've never been on it with Superman running at the same time.


I swung back over to Twisted Colossus and there appeared to be a positive development. The sign was gone and there were six employees by the entrance! Surely it was about to open. But the employees told everyone that Twisted Colossus was probably down for the day.


Distraught, I made my way over to Riddler’s Revenge. To put it mildly, my view on B&M stand-ups isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. I have no issue with the standing position. Rather my issue is with headbanging. With most OSTRs, my ears rest above the restraint. On the stand-ups, my ears are trapped.


With the single rider line, I walked right onto the front row. Through a minor miracle, I found a comfortable riding position. I got several inches between the bicycle seat and my crotch. The end result was the OSTR resting firmly on my shoulders. That sounds painful, but it got my ears above the restraint.


As the train crept up the lift, I mentally prepared myself for the beating I was about to take. But in the distance, I saw a mirage. It appeared to be a quasi mobius coaster racing. Could it be? Yes it was! Twisted Colossus had opened! Closed for the day my butt I was overcome by pure jubilation.


Then we crested the lift and I remembered I was on Riddler’s Revenge. But somehow, it didn’t kill me.


In fact, I loved it. The riding position made all the difference. My skull didn’t take a single concussive blast. That allowed me to appreciate the forceful and leg-numbing inversions. I knew Riddler was the tallest stand-up coaster, but I forgot just how long the coater was. That final corkscrew took me by surprise. Something was wrong; I liked Riddler’s Revenge. 8 out of 10



It was a borderline Christmas miracle I enjoyed this thing.


I sped walked over to Twisted Colossus. I was fully prepared to whip out my skip-the-line pass, but the standby queue was only one switchback deep. I still had a sinking feeling in my stomach the ride would break down (this ride and Lightning Rod are my kryptonite), but soon enough I boarded the back row.


Was Twisted Colossus the coaster that started the funky RMC pre-lift fad. This one begins with some sort of tire driven launch and wobbles riders about like a top about to fall over. Maybe there was a speck of airtime on one hill, but it was inconsequential compared to what was about to unfold.


That first drop yanks riders towards the stratosphere and that’s followed by an airtime-filled speed hill. Up next is arguably the strongest moment of the ride, the camelback leading into the first turnaround. It delivers the ride’s best moment of sustained ejector air. Immediately after you recover, you’re launched sideways out of your seat on the high five/wave turn thing.


The drop off the turnaround offers copious air enhanced by headchoppers. Then comes back to back airtime hills before a wild zero-G roll. It’s not uncommon to get some serious hangtime on these maneuvers. What is uncommon is being thrown to the side like a ragdoll. Twisted Colossus did both. That was followed by a double up and outward bank, which all gave powerful air.


That right there would be an amazing coaster on its own, but Twisted Colossus treats riders to seconds. Basically it’s SFMM granting riders the Hail Mary request of one more time. I don’t think enthusiasts have a problem with the lift in the middle of the ride. I think they’re just bitter they only get one credit.


I have no qualms with the lift since it lets me repeat the ride’s best sequence – the killer drop, speed hill, camelback, and wave turn. Then Twisted Colossus differentiates itself by treating riders to an impressive double down. That’s followed by a stall with a similar mix of airtime and laterals, another airtime hill, another double up, and one last pop of air entering the brake run. What a ride!


Guests must have heard Twisted Colossus was open as the overflow queue filled up. Without hesitation, I whipped out my skip-the-line pass and grabbed a front row ride. While I missed the air on the first drop, the laterals were even more pronounced. I also got my first taste of a duel and it was quite the effect.


Twisted Colossus was exceptional and I knew I wasn’t done with the ride yet. I knew it was one of the world’s best coasters, but just how great was it? I was torn whether or not I preferred it to Steel Vengenace. 10 out of 10



I was so excited to finally reride Twisted Colossus that I forgot to take any other photos.


Few coasters in the world can match the intensity of Twisted Colossus. SFMM actually has a coaster that tops it. And that coaster would be none other than X2. My Q bot had the ride listed as a 2 hour wait. As I approached the ride, it was apparent why. They were only running one train…on a Saturday.



At least they warn everyone about their 6 dispatches per hour.


Eejanaika and X2 have similar layouts. To be honest, I think Eejanaika is the better ride. It’s taller, faster, and better paced. Both coasters are comparably smooth (or rough depending on your perspective). But X2 has an advantage; it allows glasses. I don’t think SFMM even checked if I had a strap.


With my glasses, I could better appreciate that ludicrous drop. When I think of the best coaster drops out there, coasters with insane airtime like Skyrush, Iron Rattler, and El Toro come to mind. One that I always forget about is X2. It’s crazy to be plunging face first towards the ground Falcon’s Fury style, but instead of braking at the bottom, you perform a backflip. Alan Schilke is a mad genius.


From that point onward, I had no clue which direction was which. The raven turn started with the Gs of a pretzel loop before switching to crazy airtime. The subsequent hill does a front flip. Or was it a back flip? Whatever it was, it was insane. The far turnaround is the one lull on the ride, but the ride rebounds.


Up next is a funky zero-G maneuver where the seats again flip. You come out of the element backwards and then navigate a super compact raven turn that violently whips the train to the ground. Last but not least, X2 has a speedy inline twist. X2 really gets my adrenaline flowing like few coasters can.


X2 isn’t for everyone. I definitely wouldn’t call the ride smooth. In many ways, it feels like you’re riding a barrel uncontrollably rolling down the track. The ride definitely threw me around, but at no point did it cause me pain or discomfort. It was simply a relentless coaster. 10 out of 10



There's the second train...on the old pink track no less.


As great as Tatsu was during the day, it was better at night. It was quite the juxtaposition shifting between the darkness of the hillside and flipping through the air with thousands of Christmas lights on display. And speaking of lights, Six Flags did an excellent job lighting up the park. They left no area untouched, which is quite the feat considering how massive of a park Magic Mountain is.



I love the lights on the train.


Here's the obligatory Christmas Tree.


I don't think SFMM left a single area of the park untouched.


I wasn’t going to forget to pay tribute to the great Anton Schwarzkopf. I made sure to ride his original looping coaster twice, once up front and once in the back. I love the ride’s setting and the vertical loop is every bit as forceful as you’d expect from a Schwarzkopf.


But the coaster is paced really awkwardly. It feels like you’ll barely make it up those three big hills at the start of the ride and there are several brakes along the course that bring you to a halt. I really wish I could experience Revolution untrimmed, but then again that loop may be lethal. 7 out of 10



The garden says New Revolution yet the station says Classic Revolution. Can you say identity crisis?


I'm so thankful they ditched the OSTRs.


My Q bot still said Ninja was an hour wait, but the station was pretty empty. I felt awkward boarding through the exit, so I waited for a fellow single rider. know Flash Pass gives you the right to skip the line, but I still feel sort of bad coming up the exit. I much prefer merging with the standby line in the station.


Suspended coasters are a dying breed, so I always make it a point to ride them. Ninja utilizes the park’s hillside to perfection and offers some very good moments of swinging towards the end of the ride. It lacks the intensity of Vortex or Bat, but it’s a pretty enjoyable coaster. 6 out of 10



I love how the sprocket looks like a buzzsaw.


I reserved my time for Full Throttle and killed time by reriding Riddler’s Revenge. I needed to verify my enjoyment of the attraction was genuine and not just a product of seeing a sexy RMC operating in the distance. And I can confirm, I did really like Riddler’s Revenge. Even in the back row, it was smooth.



Can you find the train?


For Full Throttle, I requested the front row this time and received it. As good as my back row ride was, my front row ride was even better. This shouldn’t be a surprise considering Full Throttle is a launch coaster, but the reason is because of the final drop.


Every so often, I encounter a coaster drop profiled so oddly that it manages to provide two killer pops of air. Skyrush is the prime example of this. Another example of this is Full Throttle. For whatever reason, this effect only happens in the front car. As you crest the top hat, you are launched out of your seat. Then you are sent skyward a second time when the brakes engage. Full Throttle is meant to be ridden up front.



Magic Mountain really knocked it out of the park with their Christmas lights.


Not only is Six Flags Magic Mountain the self-proclaimed thrill capital of the world, but it’s also the kiddie coaster capital of the world. Not wanting to spend too much time in Bugs Bunny World and draw suspicious looks from parents, I carefully limited myself to one kiddie coaster per visit.


This visit left me with Canyon Blaster. And to be perfectly honest, this was a pretty darn good kiddie coaster. It was slightly taller than most and in many ways, it felt like a pre-lift on a RMC. This is probably the first and last time a kiddie coaster is compared to an RMC on this site. 4 out of 10



I've finally completed the trifecta of kiddie coasters (that allow adults).


I was conflicted. I really wanted another ride on X2, but I also didn’t want to wait in a glacial line. Then an ingenious idea struck me. What if I purchased a second regular Flash Pass? Two regular Flash Passes still came out cheaper than gold and it would grant me bonus rides on Twisted Colossus, X2, and Full Throttle. FYI to anyone with this thought, you can’t get more than one device in your name per day.


With no other choice, I trekked into X2’s queue. I mentally prepared myself for a 1.5 hour wait. But X2 barely had any line! Now due to the circumstances, it still took about a half hour but X2 is well worth a half hour wait. I anxiously boarded the back row and was treated to another balls to the wall ride.


As bonkers as the first drop is up front, it’s even crazier in the back. Being catapulted face first towards the ground left me speechless. The rest of the ride was identical to my front row ride, insanity at its finest.



This is one of the few coasters that genuinely terrifies me.


After a 1.5 hour wait, my reservation for Twisted Colossus was ready but it was laughably unnecessary. Twisted Colossus’s queue wasn’t more than 10-15 minutes in the hour leading up to close. This enabled me to get 3 final rides on this beast and even a few duels.


My final ride was the most magical. I was seated in the back row and got the rare double duel. And these weren’t partial duels. No, they were perfectly timed duels. Twisted Colossus is incredible even without dueling, but the added visuals on such an intense coaster really take Twisted Colossus to another level.


It’s definitely one of the best 2-3 coasters I have ever ridden. I can’t quite put it ahead of Lightning Rod since it’s missing a great setting, but it’s a coin flip if I prefer Steel Vengeance or Twisted Colossus. I feel like this opinion will make all the Cedar Point fanboys out there weep.



The whole Steampunk area looked spectacular at night. And I'm not just saying that because of the majestic Twisted Colossus.


You may have noticed a few other omissions in this report. Viper. Closed for rehab. Green Lantern. Also closed for rehab. Road Runner Express and Speedy Gonzalez. Already had the credits. Batman. This one is sort of embarrassing, but I honestly forgot about it. I love the Batman clones, but at Magic Mountain it was easy to forget. I won’t make the same mistake at Great Adventure’s Holiday in the Park.



I can only hope Viper's rehab includes a fresh coat of paint. It badly needs it.


With my dining pass, I nervously sampled some of the park’s food. In 2016, one of the worst meals I’ve ever eaten at a theme park trespassed into my body. That was the most vile turkey sandwich I’ve ever seen in my life. Neither myself nor my sister could muster more than one bite of this sandwich.


So trying a gyro seemed like a bold move. But it was actually quite good! Later in the day, I tried some wings. They were minuscule in size, but they were actually quite tasty. I’m so glad I have the all-park meal plan again since I definitely get my money’s worth out of it.



I never thought I'd have a gyro at a Six Flags park.


Over the past two years, without hesitation I have called Six Flags Fiesta Texas the chain's best park. My visit to Magic Mountain gives me pause. Magic Mountain has the better coasters, but Fiesta Texas beats it everywhere else (operations, theming, friendliness, etc). SFMM's coaster lineup is so strong, that it can compensate for a lot of shortcomings.



For example, why is one of the attractions a tour of a Greyhound bus?


The park looked fantastic for Holiday in the Park.


In the event the park closes early and you're looking for something to do (or the park closes late and you still are looking for something to do), Valencia is home to the infamous crash site of Paul Walker. PeoplemoverMatt was kind enough to drive me there (at a much more responsible pace) after park closing. It was pretty apparent how someone could wipe out on that road.



Valencia seemingly goes to sleep after 10...except for street racers apparently.

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Disney California Adventure


As Captain Cold says on the Flash, there are four rules of planning.


1) Make the plan.

2) Execute the plan.

3) Expect the plan to go off the rails.

4) Throw away the plan.


That’s how I felt during my visit to Disneyland. California Adventure had early entry for hotel guests. As a proud customer of the Quality Inn, I did not have this luxury. As a result, I planned to rope drop Disneyland. I’d knock out the low capacity Fantasyland dark rides and then see where MaxPass took me.


But I was tossed a curveball. California Adventure’s gates were open to all guests, even those staying at the Motel 6s of the world. I got my ticket scanned and moments later, I had a Guardians Fastpass in hand a half hour before opening.



DCA was feeling festive and let non-hotel guests in early as well.


That feeling when you get the earliest FastPass return window.


I could have retreated back to Disneyland and queued up by the turnstiles, but I couldn’t help myself. Hardly anyone was waiting for rope drop in Hollywood Land. Even after all these years, everyone is cuckoo for Cars Land. I don’t blame them, but I thought Guardians would have been a bigger draw at opening.


The rope dropped exactly at 8. I remember thinking Guardians looked hideous in promo images, but I take that back. The attraction looks fantastic in person. It would have been wasteful to burn my FastPass with an empty queue and I fully intended to ride multiple times, so I used standby for my first ride.


There isn’t a trace of the Hollywood Tower Hotel. Gone is the decrepit lobby. In are relics from the Marvel Universe. Marvel fanboys will blow a load in this room. Meanwhile, I was busy booking a 9-10 am Radiator Springs Fastpass. The park had only been open for 5 minutes and I already had Fastpasses for the two hottest tickets at the resort. MaxPass had already paid for itself.


My jaw hit the floor when I saw the Rocket animatronic. The way it moved about the room was very impressive. Sure the story is a bit contrived, but couldn’t that be said about most theme park attractions based on a movie franchise?



Rocket looked incredible.


I purposefully didn’t spoil the ride for myself. I knew it was a drop tower with a randomized ride sequence, but that was it. What I will say is this: I had a big goofy smile on my face from the moment the ride started. The juxtaposition of the retro music with airtime-filled ascents and gut-wrenching drops was incredible.


Tokyo’s Tower of Terror taught me that I could like a Tower of Terror not themed to the Twilight Zone. In fact, I think Tokyo’s has the best theme. Orlando’s Tower still reigns supreme, but Guardians is darn close and a clear upgrade over the previous incarnation of the ride in California. 10 out of 10



I was a skeptic, but Guardians is better than the ride it replaced. Well done Disney!


After another excellent ride on Guardians, I made my way over to Monsters Inc. Indiana Jones is probably the resort’s most breakdown prone attraction, but I’ve honestly had worse luck with Monsters over the years. I thought it had already broken down when I saw no one around it. Nope, it was just empty.


I never rode Superstar Limo. But I have seen YouTube videos of it and that ride looked like an abomination. Meanwhile Monsters is a great modern Disney dark ride. The animatronics look incredible, particularly Mike, Sully, and Randall. And it lets me relive a classic Pixar film. 8 out of 10



I never pegged Roz as one to get into the spirit of the season.


I contemplated trying to single rider Radiator Springs Racers, but instead I made my way back to Pixar Pier to ride the second retheme of the day, Incredicoaster. While Guardians felt like an entirely new ride, Incredicoaster felt very much like California Screamin’. And that certainly isn’t a bad thing.


Thanks to its astronomical capacity, I was able to ride twice in the span of 20 minutes. I did miss the old California Screamin’ soundtrack (its legacy will continue on my MP3 player), but the added effects were a worthy replacement. The music was forgettable, but Disney transformed the old tunnels added out of necessity into a story-telling element.


Coasterwise, Incredicoaster rides identically to California Screamin’. Some of the taller drops offer pops of air and the vertical loop is way more forceful than you’d expect from a Disney attraction. That loop pulls some serious Gs that would even make an old school B&M jealous.


Is Incredicoaster incredible? No. But it is good. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like a Disney attraction. It feels more like something you’d find at a Cedar Fair park (I can’t say Six Flags because the dispatches are too fast). Still, it’s a nice contrast to the highly themed experiences elsewhere in the park. 8 out of 10



It looks like a California Screamin'. It rides like a California Screamin'. But it has some new additions.


The Dash water effect was a subtle, but very nice touch.


Is this the last logo for the loop? Only Disney may know.


I was optimistic I could sneak in a ride on Toy Story, but I was too late. It was posted at 40 minutes. The wait didn’t look too bad. However, that assumed the queue was still entirely outdoors. Since my last visit, they added an indoor labyrinth. Fortunately I noticed before queuing, but a cast member spotted me.


“Are you a single rider?”


“Yes I am!”


The cast member reached into his pocket. I was hoping for a single rider line. Instead, I got a “Moving Buddy Pass”. What is the Moving Buddy Pass you might ask? It was weird. It wasn’t a single rider line. Rather it allowed groups of one, two, or three to occupy vacant rows. It wasn’t too effective since the grouper would call for groups of two from the main line. After 10 minutes of not moving, I bailed.



I'm all for boosting a ride's throughput, but this didn't seem too effective.


Instead I made my way to one of the most visually stunning lands ever created, Cars Land. I still can’t believe the worst Pixar Franchise gets a land this extravagant. They really do bring Radiator Springs to life and it’s the perfect way to use the Test Track ride system.



I never tire of this land.


It's the little touches like this that make Cars Land special.


How does a car decorate a Christmas tree?


The first two-thirds showcases a set that only Disney would craft. First you explore natural beauty rivaling a national park. Then you come face to face with some of the most impressive animatronics Disney has ever designed. The projection mapping technology is incredible.


But the highlight is without a doubt the finale. While it doesn’t reach the speeds of Test Track, it feels plenty fast thanks to the tight turns, rockwork, and racing effect. I even think there’s a pop of air before the tunnel drop. Radiator Springs Racers is a masterpiece. 10 out of 10



I still can't believe this is in a theme park.


Just look at that rock work!


Really any ride not named Radiator Springs Racers was an instant reservation with MaxPass early in the day, so within 10 minutes of getting off Racers, I was walking through the Fastpass queue for Soarin’. While I prefer the old Soarin’ Over California, the current iteration of Soarin’ is still a lot of fun.


I don’t have the same gripe as most. The top issue I hear is the egregious use of CGI. Call me oblivious, but I couldn’t tell. It’s not like they have Mickey Mouse prancing across the screen. I prefer the old version’s sights, but this one still has its breathtaking moments like the Paris scene. 8 out of 10



Soarin' Around the CGI.


After the failure of the Moving Buddy Pass, I snatched a Toy Story FastPass and had 1.5-2 hours to burn before it became active. So I walked across the street to Disneyland and rode some stuff (as you’ll find out in the next iteration).


When I returned to California Adventure, I had just enough time to hop onto Grizzly River Rapids. I used the single rider line, but it was laughably unnecessary. Apparently 65 degrees and sunny is too cold for SoCal. Meanwhile I’ve ridden SFNE’s Blizzard River with temperatures in the 40s.


I wasn’t sure if the water effects would be toned down, but it was quickly apparent that they weren’t. Grizzly River Run’s rapids throw the boat around, but they don’t get you too wet. What really soaks you are the drops. Drops are a rarity on river rapids rides. Grizzly River Run proudly flaunts two.


I breathed a sigh of relief when I went down the first drop forwards. Usually the backwards guests face the fury. But the storm surge cascaded over the sides and collided on my lap. The second drop was a dizzying delight and delivered another sizable splash. Few rapids rides are better. 9 out of 10



There's Grizzly Peak peeking above the midway.


For some reason, this ride wasn't all that busy.


I originally didn’t prioritize Toy Story Mania, but I couldn’t deny myself such an addictive shooter. As a solo rider, it was a bit trickier to unlock the bonus targets, but I still had playing 3D versions of all the carnival games I refuse to waste money on. 10 out of 10



If this were a real stand, I totally would have bought one in support of Slinky.


Before spending the rest of the day at Disneyland, I wanted one last ride on Guardians and Radiator Springs Racers. Getting a FastPass for the latter wasn’t happening, so I gave the single rider line a whirl. However, the queue was back to the bridge so I bailed out.


My trip to Cars Land wasn’t a total loss though. I had a delicious lunch at Flo’s V8 Café. Without a doubt, this is my favorite dining location at the resort. I went with a tasty open face turkey sandwich. This was also my first time trying the mobile ordering and it worked to perfection.



If Flo's puts you in a food coma, there's a quaint hotel next door.


I was able to get a Guardians FastPass. The FastPass line was backed up to the construction wall, but it sure beat the regular queue that exceeded an hour. I was hoping I’d get a new song, but I got Give Up the Funk for a second time. Even with a repeat, Guardians was still a blast and my favorite ride there.



This room has so many Easter Eggs for a Marvel fan such as myself.


I never visited California Adventure before the billion-dollar renovation. The theme is a bit hodgepodge, but each area is very well executed and the park boasts an impressive list of E-tickets. Marvel Land will only add to the riches of this park. I prefer Disneyland for the atmosphere, but I always end up spending an equal amount of time at California Adventure because of the park’s top-end attractions.

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Disneyland is already a magical place. From the rides to the cast members to the atmosphere, it’s one of the top parks in the world. It was even more magical on my most recent visit since it was during the Christmas season. I actually visited on the day of the Candlelight Vigil.


Due to time constraints and a burning desire to experience the Scandia Screamer, I was unable to stay for the Candlelight Vigil. It was a shame. For one it was navigated by Star Lord himself, Chris Pratt. Secondly, it created one heck of a nasty chokepoint on Main Street. If you thought the crowding during parades was bad, the Candlelight Vigil is an entirely different beast.



Does this constitute a blizzard in SoCal?


As awesome as the tree looked at night, it was difficult to enjoy with the mob.


It was tempting to head straight for the attractions with holiday overlays, but I’m a Mountain Man and made Space Mountain my first stop. In past visits, a FastPass was an absolute necessity for this Disney classic. Not anymore. Space Mountain now has an incredible single rider line by the exit.


The layout is identical to Tokyo Disneyland’s, but this Space Mountain feels way faster. Maybe it’s the use of fans or the totally awesome Michael Giacchino soundtrack, but I think the biggest difference is what I like to call the American effect.


Here in the US, we like our McDonald’s. When you load these rockets with 12 Americans, they absolutely fly. Along with giving me two rides in the span of 15 minutes, the single rider line had the auxiliary benefit of ensuring rockets were fully loaded. I still can’t believe this thing only goes 32 mph. 9 out of 10



I fully support this new addition.


Hi Ralph.


I went from one mountain to the next. I also went from one single rider line to the next. I was skeptical if the Matterhorn would retain its single rider line when it received the new entryway, but I’m glad to say that it sure did. I bypassed a 45 minute wait in favor of a 5-10 minute wait.


Luck was on my side as I was assigned the superior Tomorrowland side. If you expected a peaceful jaunt through the picturesque Swiss mountain, think again. The Matterhorn was the first tubular steel coaster ever and it never forgets to remind riders how old it is. It’s quite the rough and tumble ride.


Because of its historical impact and the sheer fun of weaving through the mountain, I am willing to forgive the Matterhorn for being as smooth as a bicycle down a cobblestone road. Honestly, it makes the Mattherhorn the park’s most thrilling coaster if you ask me. 7 out of 10



The new entrance looked quite nice.


Luckily I was able to secure an It’s a Small World Fastpass. Usually such a thing would be frivolous on It’s a Small World (unless you’re in Japan, they’re madly in love with this ride), but it was an absolute necessity with the holiday overlay. I never saw the line dip below a half hour.


After riding It’s a Small World Holiday, I have a small ask of Disney. Can they please keep it like this year round? I went in expecting some added tinsel and holiday tunes. Instead, I was shocked to see towering Christmas trees and redressed figures to go with that tinsel and holiday tunes. I actually wanted to ride It’s a Small World a second time. If that’s not a Christmas miracle, I don’t know what is. 9 out of 10



For once, I was actually really excited to ride It's a Small World.


Can this overlay be permanent? Please?


Slinky found his friends.


As mentioned in my DCA report, the weather was frigid…for a Southern Californian. Sunny skies and 65 degrees sound like perfect weather to ride Splash Mountain. Heck I’d consider a blizzard perfect weather to ride Splash Mountain. This is one of my favorite rides in the entire world, so my Slinky Dog grew three sizes when I saw Splash Mountain was a total walk-on.


I did make sure to ride in the back. I’m a Splash Mountain fan, not a masochist. While the versions in Tokyo and Orlando provide the perfect amount of wetness, the front row on Disneyland’s version takes no prisoners. It’s the perfect recipe for wrecking your shoes and developing blisters.


I had a Zip-a-dee-doo-dah good time. I was smiling ear to ear and swaying back and forth with delight. Due to the accelerated and condensed indoor section, this is easily the worst of the three Splash Mountains. But it’s like comparing Terrell Owens to Jerry Rice and Randy Moss.


Splash Mountain beats its younger brothers in one area and that’s the drop. Disneyland’s feels steeper. It just doesn’t get better than an incredible flume mixed with Disney storytelling. Actually it does. Imagine my delight returning to an empty station and being told I could reride. That never happens at Disney. 10 out of 10



I don't care how cold it gets. Splash Mountain is a must.


That poor front seat rider doesn't know what's about to hit her.


Complimentary zip lock bags were a thoughtful gift for the day's few riders.


After using my final two DCA FastPasses, I returned to Disneyland and met up with PeoplemoverMatt. We both wanted to see the Christmas Fantasy Parade, but had some time to kill. So we made our way over to Indiana Jones Adventure.


Growing up, I never thought I’d find a Disney attraction that could top Splash Mountain. Tower of Terror came close. It came very close. But Disney was able to. All it took was one of the most highly themed rides ever created themed to my favorite movie of all time.


Indiana Jones Adventure was closed for rehab leading up to my visit, but it reopened just in time. Compared to Tokyo’s, I thought California’s felt a little wilder. But Tokyo’s offers the better ride. Where California has the pitch black sequence with the falling rat effect that rarely works, Tokyo has an incredible smoke ring effect.


But that’s just me nitpicking and praising the awesomeness known as the Tokyo Disneyland Resort. California’s version is still absolutely breathtaking. I’ll forever be in awe at the grandeur of the main showroom and the finale. 10 out of 10



In typical Indy fashion, it of course broke down the first time I tried riding it.


We planned to catch the tail end of the parade route in Fantasyland, so we snuck in a quick ride on Roger Rabbit thanks to an immediate FastPass. As much as I love Raiders of the Lost Ark, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is close behind. Needless to say I’m a fan of this ride.


The one baffling omission is the absence of Judge Doom. That character was Christopher Lloyd’s crowning achievement [puts umbrella up to protect myself from Back to the Future fans]. What this ride does offer is one of the most chaotic (in the best way possible) dark rides and that extending hole effect is one of my favorite effects on any ride. 8 out of 10



Even the non-overlaid attractions had some extra decorations.


The Christmas Fantasy Parade was solid. We got a nice spot near the entrance to Toontown and it was exciting seeing all my favorite Disney characters decked out in holiday gear. All except one. I was distraught to see the lack of Slinky Dog, but then I saw my favorite wiener leading the parade.



The parade was sufficiently Christmasy.


Those letters definitely aren't going to the right place.


Donald looks way too happy considering his least favorite chipmunks are nearby.


I'm so glad Slinky is leading the float.


And clearly I wasn't the only one admiring that beautiful dog.


Growing up, I was madly in love with Disney World’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I couldn’t believe Disney let me manually steer my way through the ride (ah the gullibility of 5 year olds). But then a natural predator ate Mr. Toad.


Do not be fooled by Pooh’s jolly appearance. His love of hunny is a lie. He devoured Mr. Toad and crapped out the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Florida. It’s even worse in California. Pooh ate his own people! The Country Bears didn’t stand a chance with Pooh on the prowl.



Oh crud, Pooh heard me bad mouthing him. He's coming to get me.


Pooh rant aside, I always make it a point to ride Mr. Toad in a visit to Disneyland. It’s an admittedly dated dark ride, but it’s so nostalgic for me. There’s nothing quite like a joyride to Hell and back. I fear Disney will one day remove Mr. Toad (or Pooh will come back for seconds), but until then you’ll find me on the road to nowhere in particular. 8 out of 10



So much nostalgia for me.


With a Big Thunder FastPass in hand, we walked right onto the Wildest Ride in the Wilderness. Like Space Mountain, the California version feels faster than Tokyo’s. It also feels considerably faster than Orlando’s as well. Even towards the front, Disneyland’s has some pops of air and strong laterals.


Plus this one has the explosive final lift. If the WTF known as Adventure Express didn’t exist, this may be the best lift hill in the world. Now that’s only a statement a true coaster nerd would say. 8 out of 10



Until I ride the one in Paris, I think this is the best Big Thunder.


I saved Haunted Mansion Holiday for last and I was not disappointed. As good as It’s a Small World’s Holiday was, Haunted Mansion’s overlay was even better. Like the former, this holiday version left no corner of the attraction untouched.


I love the original Haunted Mansion, but this was a real treat. And I’m not just saying that because of the massive gingerbread house that I was stunned to learn was real. The overlay took all of the best elements of the standard ride and adapted them to provide the creepiest Christmas imaginable. 10 out of 10



Disneyland was 2/2 on brilliant holiday overlays.


I’d be willing to bet I was the only person in the entire resort that day who left early to hit up Scandia. It felt sacrilegious leaving Disney early, but I knew Disney wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, the already populous park is going to be bursting at the seams once Galaxy Edge opens next year.


I tentatively plan to return to SoCal next year and I’d be hard pressed to skip Disneyland even if the crowds are as oppressive as I anticipate. That’s just how much I love the park. And that’s before they open two attractions that are sure to be some of the most immersive in the world.



Walt would definitely be proud of his park.


I always feel a bit sad leaving Disneyland and can't wait for my next visit. That's the sign of a world-class park.

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People will call me a credit whore. I wholeheartedly deserve it for shamelessly riding kiddie coasters and making pit stops at the Incredible Pizza Company. Some may say I was dumb for leaving Disneyland to visit Scandia. Before arriving, I questioned my own sanity. But now I have no regrets. The Scandia Screamer is no joke.


Going into my visit, I only knew three things about Scandia. One, the Scandia Screamer truly looked one-of-a-kind. Two, the place’s calling card was its mini golf courses. And three, the place was known for some odd signage.


The tone was set when you pass through a Kia Dealership to reach the park. As I pulled into Scandia’s dimly lit parking lot, my car violently bounced over potholes far worse than anything on Lightning Rod. The place seemed still. There was no activity by the rides and I was one of the only cars there.


Had I driven all this way for naught?



Look, a castle smaller than Disneyland's!


Do I need to wear pants?


Fortunately not. It was just empty. We’re not even talking Clementon Park empty. At least Clementon had a 15:1 employee to guest ratio. At Scandia, the employees are jacks of all trades. Take the ticket counter for example. They will sell you anything there- tokens, food, ride tickets. Or they’ll redeem your arcade tickets. The possibilities were endless.


They assured me all rides were operating. So I purchased a wristband and went straight to the Scandia Screamer. Was there any doubt where I’d go first? There was nothing blocking the entrance, so it looked open. But the station was still. There were six others lounging on the railings, but no operator.



Where's the operator?




But finally an operator casually strolled up the exit ramp. He walked over to the control panel and grabbed a clipboard. He tapped his pencil against his chin and squinted towards the clock. He took some notes. He then tapped the thermometer a few times before recording another measurement.


We all like to speculate what a ride’s minimum operating temperature is. Is it 40 degrees? 30 degrees? 20 degrees? Enthusiasts call on past experiences and wave their engineering degrees, but really only the park knows. Well Scandia was very transparent about their policy.


“Ok everyone. Since it’s below 60 degrees and the Scandia Screamer hasn’t run in a while, we need a full train.”


Oh [expletive].


It shouldn’t have been hard to fill a 10 person train. But at Scandia, we were porked. We waited 5 minutes and just when we thought all hope was lost, another car pulled into the parking lot. We crossed our fingers and saw a group of four running towards the station. Our saviors had arrived!



We would have taken any rider, including a mom seconds after she had given birth.


I picked the back and made a new friend with a dude who was perfectly content leaving his phone on the platform, but he refused to part ways with his Coca Cola. I’m not sure if it was something other than Coca Cola or he was afraid of being poisoned, but he held onto that thing with a kung fu death grip.


The casual nature of the park carried over to the restraints. The operator lowed the lap bar one click and asked if that was enough. My eyes popped open in amazement. I had a foot of space between me and the lap bar. I figured the dude next to me would want it lower, but he just went with it.


The Scandia Screamer had everything going for it. We miraculously cobbled together 10 riders in a park redefining what the term dead means. And I had a foot of space on a coaster that by all accounts offers surprising airtime. Plus SoCal traffic was light enough that I had time for rerides.


We crept over the first drop and I floated out of my seat. There are definitely faster coasters out there, but the Scandia Screamer is terrifyingly fast. A Miler should not be traveling this fast, especially when it’s supported by pixie sticks. The second drop had even better air. Then the ride went nuts.


To everyone in SoCal who said they were airtime deficient before Twisted Colossus came along, had you ridden the Screamer? The third drop launched me sky-high and also tried to shatter my shin. I smartly slid my legs forward. To all my taller riders, I cannot stress that you do this enough.


Every subsequent drop continued to offer violent ejector air. And the Screamer does more than just airtime. Each turn gets progressively faster. By the last turn, you would think you’re on a high speed wild mouse.


I was in love. The Scandia Screamer was intense. Who would have thought Miler had it in them? Now some would consider the airtime and laterals painful. In fact, I think half the train thought that way. But the other half ran back around for another go.


Fortunately repeat rides only required four riders, so I was able to get two more rides- one in the front and another in the back. The front also offers some good airtime, but it’s more of the floater variety. The back is the de facto place to ride this if you like an aggressive ride that tries to kill you. 9 out of 10



I still don't know how we managed to cobble together 10 people to cycle that first train.


But if you like aggressive airtime, the Scandia Screamer is for you.


Unfortunately my fellow riders had abandoned me, so there would be no more Scandia Screamer for me. I consoled myself with a solo ride on their Little Dipper. As screwed up as the Scandia Screamer is, their kiddie coaster may have been even more drunk.


My seat had a suspicious amount of grass in it. It didn’t appear medicinal, so I shrugged it off. As the train rolled out of the station, the bushes scraped against the train and deposited leaves, branches, and grass inside the train.


Just when I thought it couldn’t get any weirder, the train hit the lift and rolled back. Had the operator forgotten to turn on the lift? I looked back and he turned the key. 5 seconds later, I was cresting the towering lift of the Little Dipper. I feel towering is appropriate since it’s over a body of water.


When I returned to the station, the operator anxiously asked if I wanted to go again. It was the only action he was getting tonight, so I decided to make his day and said yes. Like the first lap, the lift was turned off. So I concluded the Little Dipper’s SOP calls for the operators to test the anti-rollbacks on each lap. For the laughs alone, this is one of the best kiddie coasters ever. 4 out of 10



Scandia landscaped their rides like a mini golf course. Most had little water features around them.


I returned to the Scandia Screamer and was told that we needed 10 riders again since it had been too long since it had last run. For those keeping track, 5-10 minutes had passed. Since there weren’t even 10 people left in the park, I admitted defeat that I wouldn’t be riding the Scandia Screamer again.


So instead I asked if the operator could run the two extreme flat rides for me and he happily obliged. Up first was Cliff Jumper, the Larson drop tower. For a park pressed for space, this drop tower has an obnoxiously big ride platform. Usually you can reach out and touch the fence on these things.


I sat down and tried to buckle my seatbelt, but it wasn’t long enough. I tried again, but I couldn’t get it to click. For reference, I am 5’10 and 170 pounds. I gave one last pull, but it was no avail. You’d have to be a string bean to ride this thing! Then the operator informed me Seat 1 has a much shorter belt than the others “for no apparent reason.”


I chuckled and fit into Seat 2 without issue. The view was pretty lackluster. That is, unless you like highways or Kias. However, it was all forgiven once we dropped. It’s no secret I love these Larson towers and this one was no different. 9 out of 10



This is the part of the update where I realized I was the only person in the whole park.


No seriously, I was the only person.


And it wasn't just the ride park that was deserted. No one was playing mini golf either.


Last but not least, I took a ride on the Swedish Swing. It sort of looked like a Screamin’ Swing had a one night stand with a crane. I wasn’t even sure if the ride was manufactured by S&S. But when I sat down, I saw the familiar swivel and lower restraints.


The ride started and we quietly swung back and forth. Did I just use the word quiet to describe a Screamin’ Swing (or whatever the heck this thing is)? Yes I did. That’s one of the reasons I don’t think this one is powered by air. The second reason is the difference in the ride sensations.


On most Screamin’ Swings, you feel the acceleration on the bottom of the swing. You then fly into the air and get some nice floater air as the ride slows down and reverses course. On the Swedish Swing, I was disappointed to discover I got no air on the upswing.


But then the downswing happened. It feels like you get launched downwards, similar to the sensation on an S&S turbo drop. This results in some very nice airtime. Ultimately there were 6 of these odd max swings. In the end, I can’t decide if I like this bizarro version better or not. 8 out of 10



WTF was up with this screamin' swing? It was quieter than an electric car and just looked odd.


By this point, I can confidently say I was the only one in the amusement park. There wasn’t even anyone playing mini golf. There was maybe one or two families playing in the arcade, but that was it. Knott’s may call it Ghost Town, but Scandia was the real Ghost Town.


Would I visit Scandia again? I’m torn. On one hand, the Scandia Screamer is legit. On the other hand, it’s in the complete opposite direction of the far superior SoCal parks and the park’s lack of crowds is a genuine problem. I consider myself very lucky to have ridden the Screamer. Had I arrived even 15 minutes later, there wouldn’t have been anyone to ride with me.

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Last but not least, I took a ride on the Swedish Swing. It sort of looked like a Screamin’ Swing had a one night stand with a crane. I wasn’t even sure if the ride was manufactured by S&S. But when I sat down, I saw the familiar swivel and lower restraints.

Looks like a trailer-mounted version to me.

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Six Flags Great Adventure- Holiday in the Park


Growing up around Boston, I am no stranger to the cold. For years, Halloween marked the end of the coaster season in the Northeast. Is riding coasters in the cold really that ludicrous? People go skiing without getting hypothermia; the key is to dress warmly.


Fortunately the Northeastern parks looked themselves in the mirror and realized something. If they opened, the locals would come. My family thought I was insane for visiting Six Flags in sub-freezing temperatures. In fact, they placed a bet whether or not I’d get sick.


I won the bet and had a blast doing it.


Admittedly I was a bit apprehensive to pay Six Flags New England a visit with temperatures below freezing. Last year, the weather gave them all sorts of trouble. Meanwhile, Six Flags Great Adventure spit in the face of all enthusiasts who uttered the words “minimum operating temperatures” and ran their impressive B&M collection into the teens. So I drove the extra distance to New Jersey.



Tis the Holiday in the Park season.


I had no doubt they’d do their usual winter weather policy- visual scan and pray. My only question was whether or not they’d have the attendance numbers to remain open. I gambled since it was a Saturday and fortunately I wasn’t the only one in the mood to celebrate Christmas with some Six Flags.


Not only were they open all day, but every single ride opened for at least part of the day (at least those scheduled to open- see you next year El Toro and Kingda Ka) except for SkyScreamer, although that was no big loss. I’ll ride coasters in the cold, but SkyScreamer is pushing it.



For anyone wondering, Congo Rapids was closed too.


I contemplated heading to Nitro first. I figured it was my civic duty to help the park warm up their hyper coaster. But I was selfish. Instead I made my way towards Cyborg. The ride hadn’t proven itself fully reliable in warm weather, so I could only imagine what would happen on a frigid day.



Of course it was down, but at least it was testing.


Since Cyborg was still testing, I walked onto Justice League next door. Hitting Justice League early was a major win since it quickly built up a line. And moments after walking inside, it was apparent why. It was nice and toasty inside. Six Flags must get one heck of a heating bill for this attraction.


My score was infinitely better than every other score in the car. In fact, I got the highest score of the day. I also was the only one in the vehicle and probably the first rider of the day Being the only one in the car helped me improve my aim during the chaotic train sequence. 8 out of 10



It's so nice having a proper dark ride at Six Flags parks now.


Cyborg ready for riders, so I walked right onto an end seat. I tempered my expectations going into Cyborg. While this gyroscope looked absolutely insane, reviews were less than stellar. Many noted the ride spent more time rocking than flipping.


So imagine my shock when I got at least a dozen flips. The flipping felt slower and more controlled than a top spin, but this resulted in some incredible hangtime. This hangtime combined with the mesmerizing footchoppers of the frame made for one heck of a ride.


Was everyone else wrong? Sort of. As the first riders of the day, I was joined by only three or four other people. I think I rode Cyborg in prime conditions and got a unicorn ride. I am guessing most people who visit Great Adventure don’t rope drop Cyborg. For that reason, they probably ride Cyborg with a full load.


My rider later in the day with a full load had 3-4 flips and after we missed one, we were doomed to uneventfully rock back and forth. So I’d say if you want a good ride on Cyborg, go there first. But even a duller ride on Cyborg is an upgrade over your standard top spin. 8 out of 10



Few rides look as cool off-ride as Cyborg.


As I made my way through Batman’s queue, I was astounded by how quickly they were dispatching trains. It seemed to fast for one train operations, but I was skeptical they’d actually run two. Well go figure, they had two trains running on an outdoor coaster for HITP.


I’ve definitely gotten more forceful rides on Batman, but the blast of cold wind more than compensated. Growing up, I thought the only inversions I’d ever experience in chilly weather was wiping out in spectacular fashion while tubing. Not anymore. 8 out of 10



Two trains were completely unnecessary, but I wasn't going to complain.


I love how this shot makes it look like Batman has a dive loop.


I still can't believe I can ride coasters now with temps in the 20s.


This coaster would get way more love if it wasn't cloned.


Nitro was my next stop and I grabbed two consecutive rides in the back. Further, I ended up riding with a few fellow coaster enthusiasts. One of them recognized me and asked if I was Canobie Coaster. It must have been the wiener dog hat that gave me away.


There are definitely B&M hypers I prefer over Nitro. I’ve also gotten summer rides on Nitro with better airtime, but I think HITP is the best time to ride Nitro. There’s just something absurd about speeding past naked trees and a frozen pond in excess of 80 mph.


In the summer, the back row is undoubtedly my favorite spot on Nitro. Not in the cold. The masochist in me likes the front row. B&M hypers aren’t the most intense coasters in the world. But if you ride in the front of one with temperatures in the 20s, I could make a case. There are helices that pull stronger Gs, but Nitro’s induced tears that froze before the ride ended. 8.5 out of 10



Nitro barely crept over this camelback, but otherwise sped through the woods.


For B&M fans, HITP is an orgy. For Intamin fans, it’s disappointing until they look into Skull Mountain’s big, black, beady eyes. Skull Mountain may be disguised as a family coaster, but if you look deep into the skull’s eyes and ride in the back row, you will find true enlightenment.


True enlightenment is a crazy pop of ejector air. It’s decidedly out of place on a ride that otherwise does nothing. But to amp up the thrills, Skull Mountain offers heavy metal music and a psychedelic skull. I don’t know how Skull Mountain came to be, but it’s so uniquely good and bad at the same time. 6 out of 10



Skull Mountain is living proof Intamin cannot resist making everything a little bit insane.


I’m not going to lie, but after Nitro, the coaster I was most anticipating was Green Lantern. In past visits, I despised that coaster. It unleashed a fury of pain and suffering to my head and groin. But something magical happened a few weeks ago at Six Flags Magic Mountain; I discovered how to ride B&M stand-ups.


I used the exact same trick as before. I ensured there was a sizable gap between my groin and the bicycle seat of death. This forced my shoulders to be in direct contact with the OSTRs, which left my ears safely above the restraint. I could see how this would be uncomfortable for some, but it works for me.


Green Lantern isn’t as good as Riddler’s Revenge. It’s not as forceful and shakier, but it still pulls some strong Gs. I was in disbelief when we returned to the station. I asked if I could reride (PS to all those unknowing, Great Adventure has an incredible reride policy). I never thought I’d see the day 7 out of 10



I never thought I'd see the day where I'd look forward to riding Green Lantern.


I have PTSD of all the things this ride has done to me in the past, but that's water under the bridge now.


While I like Green Lantern, I'd rather ride those other two coasters.


I went to ride Superman, but was turned away. So instead I rode whatever mumbo jumbo they call their parachute tower. I purposefully rode on the side of Superman to see what was up with the Man of Steel. I saw no sign of a train on the lift. There was no sign of a train on the brake run either. It wasn’t on the lift either.


Had Superman valleyed? It wasn’t inconceivable given the conditions. I scanned the track, but there was still no train. It wasn’t even on the track. I guess I wasn’t riding Superman this day. (Spoiler alert, I did but I wasn’t without a little luck).



And I thought Gotham City Gauntlet was an excessively long name.


I felt compelled to ride the Tea Cups, which were rethemed as the Gingerbread Twist. SFNE has the exact same model and those things spin as easily as a fidget spinner. Great Adventure’s were just as easy to spin, but they appeared to have a cap on their top speed. I kept hitting a wall where the hub just wouldn’t go any faster. It was still dizzying, but I wanted more. 6 out of 10



Renaming the ride is a little thing, but it's a nice touch.


The park even rethemed some of their games for the holidays.


As many times as I’ve been to Great Adventure, I’ve never ridden Houdini. This seemed like the perfect day to correct that. The building eerily reminds me of the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion and looks a heck of a lot better than the opera house on SFNE’s version.


The preshow room felt like a furnace. The theming looked identical to SFNE’s, but something was off. The attendant informed us the preshow wasn’t working. Rather than let us continue to the attraction in the next room, they closed down Houdini. I believe it reopened later in the day, but I never returned.



While I never returned to Houdini, I did admire the lights at night.


I checked the clock and it was minutes away from the 4:30 showing of Wonder, the park’s winter show. SFNE has a similar show called Frost and there’s no way I could arrive that last minute. SFNE’s is in a tiny little theater. Meanwhile Great Adventure’s is in a massive theater fit for a Broadway show.


So how was the show? Exactly what you’d expect from Six Flags. It wasn’t bad, but there was no flow to the show. It’s a bunch of 2-3 minute circus acts broken up by random musical numbers. Admittedly some were quite cool like the trampoline wall, but others were forgettable like the juggling bit.



Now this is a stage.


The trampoline wall was by far the best part of the show. The crowd seemed to agree with me.


Can I also take a moment to discuss the musical selections in the park as a whole. It’s clear the park has a sizable pool of Christmas songs to pick from. This is a contrast to Fright Fest when it seems like you hear just Monster Mash, Thriller, and Ghostbusters on repeat.


However, it seemed like Florin Street Band’s “My Favorite Time of Year” came on every other song. I don’t recall hearing any other song twice, but this dang song kept repeating itself. To be honest, it isn’t a bad song. It was just being played to death like It’s a Small World.


The sun had set and the temperatures dropped into the mid-20s. So you know what that means? Rides pooped themselves and it was time for the maintenance crew to shine. I tip my winter hat to them. They earned every penny of their paycheck.


Nitro was being cranky, so I decided to queue up for the Skyway. With the lights on full display, I figured the queue would only worsen. I ended up waiting maybe 15-20 minutes and the roundtrip journey was an absolute delight.


Six Flags Great Adventure does an awesome job with their lights. They left no open area of the park untouched. It was a beautiful contrast to the screams coming from Joker, Green Lantern, and Superman. And Superman? Wait, after not running all afternoon they finally got Superman open? I love Great Adventure. 9 out of 10



You know it's HITP when Skyway has the longest line in the park.


But just look at these views and you'll understand why.


Ok this was taken from the ground, but it really shows how nice the parks lights look.



I probably should have gone straight for Superman, but I had no faith in Joker. I have had terrible luck with Great Adventure’s Joker over the years. I have seen it closed during the spring, summer, and winter. For that reason, I figured it was only a matter of time before it gave up for the night. But much to my amazement, somehow, someway Joker (to my knowledge) didn’t close once during my visit.


Joker’s few riders were complaining about the no loose articles, but I reluctantly complied and stored all my belongings in the nearby lockers. One observation though, what happens on a busy day? There did not seem to be nearly enough available for a coaster forcing all riders to use one.


It was a given that Joker wouldn’t be as wild as Arashi, but this one can’t match the free spins at Fiesta Texas or SFNE. I got one good flip at the top and some well-timed rocks on the raven turns, but that was it. Still it’s an unpredictable coaster that fits in well with the park’s lineup. 7 out of 10



WTF kind of bizarro night was it where Joker didn't break down once?


I journeyed over to Superman, noticing along the way that Green Lantern was suffering from frostbite. I queued up for Superman’s front row. There was a group of four ahead of me, but one of the riders chickened out which allowed me to board earlier. This ended up being extremely fortunate for me.


Superman was its normal self. The pretzel loop has you thinking you are in for one intense ride, but the rest of the coaster doesn’t do much of anything. The flying position is fun, but it’s painful to know how awesome the other flyers are such as Tatsu, Manta, and Flying Dinosaur. 7 out of 10


One of the biggest benefits of riding Superman during HITP is one-train operations. That sounds like an odd comment, but it means that you spend no extra time in the flying position. Well that’s assuming the ride works as intended. Superman liked flying so much that he wouldn’t come down.


We were stuck hanging for 15 minutes. Apparently row 8’s release pin wasn’t cooperating. The crew manually adjusted it and we returned to terra firma. That probably should have been a sign to run away, but I got back in line. After a successful test train, they loaded another train. When it returned to the station, row 8’s release pin again wouldn’t cooperate.



Behold the one great moment on the whole ride.


I hadn’t seen Green Lantern dispatch a train, so I figured it was still down. The empty station seemed to confirm my thoughts. But Green Lantern wasn’t down. No, it just didn’t have enough riders to run. I waited it out and 10 minutes later, I was enjoying a front row ride on a coaster I used to despise more than the movie it’s named after. And I hate that movie.



In retrospect, I'm not surprised it was a struggle to get enough riders on Green Lantern.


I saw Superman successfully cycle a train, so I made my way through that line (which seems gratuitously long I may add). But when I reached the station, row 8 again had an issue. At that point, I realized I wasn’t riding Superman again in 2018.


After grabbing a turkey bowl, I queued up for Nitro. When I reached the station, the operators were huddled in a corner. Were they hugging for warmth? It seemed entirely reasonable on such a chilly night. No, Nitro too was being temperamental.


The operators encouraged everyone to enjoy other attractions. It sure was tempting, especially since Batman was cycling trains like a champ. But I decided to wait it out. I wanted at least one night ride on Nitro and I figured it was entirely possible it would reopen for just 10-15 minutes before dying.


The delay ended up taking 30-40 minutes. It ended up being a quick fix by maintenance, but it took a very long time for them to arrive because every other ride seemed to be breaking down as well. Eventually, I was being taken 230 feet above the clouds and plunged into a dark abyss.



Maintenance worked their magic and got Nitro back up and running...until stupidity ruined everything.


I ended up having a lovely 8-9 ride marathon on Nitro. My face was freezing, but it was exhilarating. There was no other place I wanted to end my night. But thanks to idiots, we can’t have nice things. Some moron had decided to force open an air gate, which shut the ride down.


Since I had gotten my Nitro fix, I scurried over to Batman for the last train of the night. The coaster was now down to one train, so it must have gone down at some point during the day. But it was having no troubles now. Batman soared through the night.



Batman is a creature of the night. So isn't the coaster named after him.


If you told me I’d ever visit Six Flags Great Adventure a few years ago on a day when the world’s tallest coaster and arguably the world’s best coaster were both closed, I’d call you cuckoo. But that’s just how good of an event Holiday in the Park is. Great Adventure has some serious balls running their B&Ms in the cold and I applaud them for it.


And to be perfectly honest, if El Toro and Kingda Ka weren’t located in the back of the park, I could see them being stubborn enough to try and open them.

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Great report! Holiday in the Park is easily my favorite time to visit Great Adventure (which sounds insane with Kingda Ka, El Toro, Safari, Zumanjaro and Bizarro closed). It's absurd that it's a thing and it's even more absurd that people actually show up for it.

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