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Vegas, Knotts, USH and SFMM, Nov 2010
post Dec 3 2010, 5:18 PM
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Group: Members
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Joined: 10-November 05
From: Telford
Member No.: 1,271

2 weeks, 4 states, 1500 miles, 4 parks, 22 new coaster credits and 1 very happy Howie! Not only that, after 16 years of searching I've finally found a rollercoaster that, I think, is better than our beloved Nemesis. More of that in a mo...

We start off in Las Vegas which, for all intents and purposes, is one gigantic, grown up theme park in the middle of the desert. Ok, so it might be a little short on out-and-out 'rides', but for attractions, theming and a jolly, all encompassing theme-park atmosphere, Vegas is up there with the very best and should be on any theme-park-head's hit list. Try to imagine that each one of the (many) giant hotels along The Strip is an attraction in itself and you'll get the general idea. You've got New York, Egypt, Paris, Venice, Rome and even Treasure Island all within walking distance of each other, each one with the most spectacular, lavish, no-expense-spared kind of theming that would make even Disney envious. It's a fantastic place, loved it, can't wait to go again.
As for rides, you've got the Manhatten Express which encircles the Hotel New York New York (Arrow looping coaster - good but not great) and Speed the Ride at the Nascar Cafe (launched shuttle loop coaster - also very good but not great). My inner credit-whore also wanted to visit the AdventureDome (America's largest indoor theme park, apparently) which has another 2 coasters and a bunch of flats but with only 2 nights in Vegas and so much more cool stuff to see and do, we just never had the time.

Following on from Vegas we headed off in a beautiful big Dodge Charger to see some non-theme parky type stuff which you lot probably have no interest in so I'll keep very brief: 3 nights in Monument Valley - horse riding, trekking, that sort of thing. Briliant, absolutely brilliant, a very special place indeed. Then onto the Grand Canyon for a coupla nights - once again brilliant and, it has to be said, really really BIG. A must-do for anyone, coaster-head or not. Next up was a stopover in a place called Lake Havasu which doesn't really have anything interesting about it apart from the fact that the original London Bridge is there.

Finally we move onto Los Angeles where I can indulge all (well... nearly all) of my theme park fantasies. First of all we have Universal Studios Hollywood. I love Universal, their parks (for me) are the highlight of any trip to Florida and although there's only one park here instead of two, the recipe here is virtually identical to it's Orlando counterpart. Shrek 4d? Check. Jurassic Park River Adventure? Check. T2 3D? Check. The Simpsons ride? Check. Revenge of the Mummy? Check. Etc...
Noteworthy differences include the studio tram tour which combines elements of some of the Orlando rides (Jaws, Earthquake/Disaster Transport etc..) with visits to things like Wysteria Lane (for all you Desperate Housewives fans - you know who you are), Norman Bates' Psycho hotel and the all-new, Peter Jackson designed King Kong 3D (pretty darn intense, good stuff!). In all, the tram tour lasts almost an hour and really is a brilliant attraction.
You've also got the Waterworld stunt show - a bit outdated maybe but still a hoot, a walk-through House of Horrors and various shows (The Special Effects theatre, The Blues Brothers) which differ from Florida.
So what if this version of Revenge of the Mummy is a bit shorter and a bit lighter on the effects than the Florida one, this is still a world-class ride that delivers the thrills in spades.
If you ask me, nobody does it like Universal and even if you've been to Orlando, a visit to USH is a must do.
You might be surprised to learn that we didn't even go to Disneyland. If I'm being honest, the whole Disney package doesn't float my boat that much - too schmaltzy - and when you've already been to Florida and Paris, visiting Mickey and Co in California aswell just didn't seem to be an effective use of our time. Besides, admission to Disneyland (or DCA) weren't included on our 'Go LA' cards whereas Universal, Knotts and SFMM are, so we move on to Knott's Berry Farm.
And this is where things turn sour.
I didn't like it.
Not one bit.
Sure, Knotts has a couple of very cool rides, but that's it. Theming, atmosphere, customer service, efficiency and value for money? Forget it. First of all, the place was rammed. Normally, early November (after the Hallowe'en celebrations and before Thanksgiving) is one of the best times to visit America as visitor numbers are at their lowest and queues are virtually non-existant but for some reason Knott's was extremely busy that day and everything had a 30 minute plus queue. Not only that, the park seems to have absolutely no idea how to handle them. Even the queues at the ticket booths and the gates were enormous and despite being there bang on time (10am sharp) we didn't get on our first ride until 11.45! Dreadful.
Xcelerator was only operating one train, and that train had 4 seats out of use, hence a 50 minute wait. Good ride though, very similar of course to our own Stealth but with added overbanked turns. These turns may add a bit of extra ride time, but overall add very little to the ride experience.

Now I love my B&M's, especially their inverters, so when I read on previous occasions that Silver Bullet was a bit dull and uninspiring I took it with a pinch of salt, thinking it was just the ramblings of an over-enthusiastic fanboy. However, I gotta say that they have a point. For some reason that I can't quite put my finger on, Silver Bullet was a bit of a disappointment. Maybe it's the lack of any music or theming, or the track layout, or maybe it was just cos we had to queue for half an hour to get on it, I dunno, but whatever it was, Silver Bullet just seemed distinctly un-memorable.

Ghost Rider on the other hand I'll never forget - and not for the right reasons either. What a God-awful, abomination of a coaster! The thing is, a great many coaster-heads rate this as one of the best rides in the world so I was quite looking forward to it but Oh My God - it's horrible. Never felt so much pain on a ride in my life, it's like riding a bicycle with no seat over some cobblestones. Yes, I know it's a woodie and woodies are supposed to feel a little rough and out-of-control but Jesus, there ARE limits! Whoever rates this as a world-class ride wants their head looking at.
Jaguar, Boomerang and Sierra Sidewinder - 3 decent if unspectacular coasters came next - plus a go on Supreme Scream (250ft drop-tower) but I'd had enough by this point, I wanted to leave. Queue management was hopeless in the entire park, staff seemed indifferent, many rides (especially the flats) looked shabby and rusty, prices were high ($22 dollars for 2 hot dogs and some chilli-fries! $20 parking fee) and the overall atmosphere was one of frustration and disappointment.
The one thing that Knott's has in its favour is the brilliant, the magnificent, the wonderful Montezooma's Revenge... but that's only because it's a virtual copy of one of my all-time favourite (and most sadly missed) rides ever - the ThunderLooper! Oh what happy memories came flooding back as I hurtled through that vertical loop with nothing but a lap bar holding me in. Brilliant. This ride alone almost saved the day. Almost.

But never mind, the best was yet to come. Six Flags Magic Mountain was the final park on our list, and because SFMM is only open on weekends throughout the winter we couldnít actually go until the last full day of the holiday - and what a way to finish. This was it, this was credit-whore day!

Iíll come straight out with it - Magic Mountain is the best park Iíve ever been to. Iíll re-phrase that - Magic Mountain is my favourite park that Iíve ever been to. Saying itís Ďthe bestí park is a very sweeping statement that leaves me open to all sorts of arguments as to why it isnít the best park, and I know from reading many forums over the years that regular visitors often find plenty to moan about. BUTÖ I loved everything about it. I wonít say itís perfect - it isnít - there are no dark rides for example, very few flat rides, hardly anything for the littleíuns, a couple of rides were closed and some areas of the park could use a little sprucing up but those minor niggles pale into insignificance when youíre faced with such a bewildering collection of extreme world-class thrill-coasters. Seriously, this place is coaster nirvana!
Ok, so Superman The Escape is undergoing its revamp and is closed until 2011, Dťjŗ vu was closed for maintenance and the water rides (apart from Jet Stream) were closed for the season but that still left 12 monster rollercoasters up and running and, as far as I could tell, running on full capacity with no breakdowns all day.
The staff were brilliant - friendly, helpful and enthusiastic, the food we had on park was very good indeed and, compared to Knottís Berry Farm, extremely good value, there was little or no queuing all day and despite not being heavy on the theming, Magic Mountain is a very nice place to be thanks to lots of trees, extensive landscaping, fountains, waterfalls and all the rides being in gleaming, pristine-looking condition.
First up was Tatsu - the one ride Iíd been looking forward to more than any other. And what a superb ride it is, everything that Air should have been. Itís big, itís fast, itís forceful and the pretzel loop is just insane. Surprisingly though, not the best ride in the park. I thought it would be, but it isnít.
Viper is an awesome coaster, much much better than I expected. Donít let the Corkscrew-style trains and the Vekoma-esque track fool you, this is not the rough-as-hell, bash you-in-the-ear kinda ride you might think. Itís smooth, powerful, has a fantastic, old-school track layout (double in line vertical loops, double corkscrews etc..) and, most importantly, is really, really BIG. The fact that it was featured in True Romance - one of the best films of the 90ís - is an added bonus.
More coasters followed: Goliath was great (230ft hyper - fantastic), Batman the Ride (one of the best B&M inverters Iíve been on and proof that size isnĎt everything), Colossus (classic woodie similar in ride experience to Blackpoolís Big Dipper), Scream (B&M floorless similar to Kraken, although let down slightly by the abandoned car-park theming), Terminator Salvation (brilliant GCI woodie with great theming, completely different to the awful Ghost Rider and my new favourite woodie), Riddlerís Revenge (B&M stand-up coaster, biggest in the world and very good indeed), Ninja (suspended coaster a la Chessingtonís Vampire, only bigger and better), Revolution (worldís very first vertical loop) and Goldrusher (average mine train). So far, so predictable, so good. However, something was missing. While all these coasters so far have been very good indeed, excellent even, there was nothing that really blew me away, nothing that was a world away from rides Iíve been on before. Ok, it was time to ride X2.
Tatsu is amazing, but if youíve been on Air, nothing that new. Scream is a belter, but no better than Kraken. Goliath? Yeah yeah, good but not as good as, say, Silver Star. Riddlerís Revenge? Yeah but itís only like a (much) better version than Shockwave, right?

But X2? This was something different, something new, something unlike anything else anywhere in the world. Posters in the queue line proclaimed that X2 is ĎGround Zero for a new generation of thrill-seekersĎ and ĎToday is the first thrill of the rest of your lifeí. Bold words. For once though, these posters were right on the money. As I stated at the beginning, this is the coaster that has finally knocked the legend that is Nemesis off my number 1 spot. I absolutely loved it. Itís mental, itís monstrous, itís spectacular, it is, if truth be told, completely preposterousÖ but the surge of adrenalin it provides is unlike anything else Iíve experienced since, wellÖ since that fateful day in Staffordshire 1994 when I rode Nemesis for the very first time. It might not be pretty, or subtle, or themed to perfection but itís the first coaster in over a decade that has made my legs go all wobbly afterwards, my heart pound its way clean out of my chest and my head spin with questions like ďWTF just happened?Ē
Ride it. Ride it now. If you love coasters, make this your next must-do ride. Youíll thank me for it, I promise.

On the day I was there, SFMM was open til 7pm which, coupled with the almost complete absence of queues, gave us ample time to stroll leisurely around the park going on every ride we wanted to and still have enough time to do the best rides again in the dark (Tatsu, Batman, Viper and X2), rounding off one of the best theme park days Iíve ever had on one of the best holidays Iíve ever had.

Like I said earlierÖ one very happy Howie!
Thanks for reading.

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