ACE Day at Bonfante Gardens, 9/28 (long)

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Thursday, October 3, 2002 2:04 AM
Just when I thought my roller coaster season had ended, the Northern California region of ACE sponsored this event at the Bay area's newest amusement park, Bonfante Gardens in Gilroy. I arranged to have a day off of work and drove from Reno with my fiancee on Friday night and arrived at the hotel 5 hours later, leaving just a 10 minute trip for the next morning. Gilroy claims the title of the "Garlic capital of the world" and sure enough, the smell of garlic was in the air as we approached the town!

Weather: Cloudy in the morning, sunny in the afternoon. Temperatures generally in the 60s, warming to 70 in the afternoon before dropping to the 50s after sunset.

Morning ERT on Saturday started at 10 am, which was good to have it later after the long drive on the previous night. We expected to pay the standard $7 for parking, but on our arrival the parking booth was unstaffed. Free Parking! We received our tickets at registration table, which included a free day pass at Paramount Great America for Sunday (but we had to return to Reno that night and couldn't use them, though), then were welcomed by the hosts, and our group of just under 200 were led to the Quicksilver Express mine train for our ERT.

The walk to the back of the park was delightful, as we saw the brilliant gardens and landscaping, and also passing by some of the "Circus Trees". The park was absolutely gorgeous, and the roller coasters were more like a secondary attraction, but it's great to have the coasters and rides as a bonus to complement the scenery and all of the outstanding landscaping and flowers galore.

One train was running on the Quicksilver Express, which we learned was the first mine designed by Morgan, but the last one actually built. My first rides of the day was toward the front, then in the middle, then another ride toward the back.

Quicksilver Express (7/10) best in the back!

The first lift hill is smaller and the train just begins to gain some speed after some curves among the many trees which grace this ride, then we reach the bottom of the second lift hill. The ride really takes off with the curving drop off the top of the lift, followed by several more curves, then a fog-filled tunnel, another drop, followed by a helix, before one more tunnel with fake TNT and a buzzing red light and a return to the station. The ride is smooth and some tree branches are within arm's reach at portions of the ride. The back portion of the train has the best ride as the riders are pulled over the hills and even experience a little airtime and it feels faster than the 30-35 mph top speed advertised. Overall, this is a very enjoyable and re-rideable mine train ride which is enhanced by the scenery.

The Mushroom swing (wave swinger) was also opened up for ERT, and I took one spin around that (two spins for my fiancee--she can handle flat rides better than me), before returning for another ride on the Quicksilver before the ERT ended and our group photo was taken.

With 1 1/2 hours until lunch, we had time to explore much of the park as the general public arrived. After strolling through the Monarch Gardens (this lush and large walk-through greenhouse also can be seen from the monorail and the train rides), then we came to Bonfante Falls--this waterfall has a walkway near it where you can get wet. Since it was still cloudy, I made a quick dash under the waterfall's "splash zone".
The next attraction was the Rock Maze which was a lot of fun to find the exit, especially when the fog misters were activated which added a challenge to finding a way to solving the maze. Speakers with creepy music and the evil sounding voice "Ha Ha Ha..You'll Never Get Out!!" made for a touch of early Halloween. There is a walkway over the maze for those who want some help winding around the passages.

On the other side of the park is the most beautifully restored carousel (originally built in 1927( that I've ever seen with freshly painted horses, a polished wood floor, and shiny brass poles. We got a ride on this fine carousel, then made our way to the smaller roller coaster, the Tivoli family-style Timber Twister which had a walk on for middle seats.

Timber Twister (5/10), 2 rides

This is a fun little ride with a short figure 8 circuit, with an added spiral in the layout and the long 16 row train designed like a friendly snake (with eyelashes!). Each ride contained two trips around the circuit. The ride is smooth and not very intense other than some gentle laterals in the turns, but a cute ride with the track surrounded by some trees (not as many as the Quicksilver mine train). The queue line has the most unique sidewalk, which had fossil-like imprints of leaves and pine needles, as well as a few dog footprints! The queue line has both a shortcut and a scenic route--unlike most amusement ride lines, the long way is my preferred course!

Lunch was next on our agenda, and what a wonderful meal is was--All you can eat BBQ chicken, Tri-tip, hot dogs, baked beans, garlic bread (of course), and fresh tossed salad and fresh fruit, and unlimited soda. We later learned that all of the food was cooked or prepared in-house, and it showed in the excellent quality of everything that was served. (The only side effect was that some yellow jackets were also competing with us for our meat and soda--fortunately no stings but some close calls). After a brief talk from Jim Palmer, the ride maintenance manager, we had a special guest speaker, Steven Okamoto, who designed the Quicksilver mine train and also was a primary designer for Wild Thing at Valleyfair! when he used to work for Morgan.

We were then treated to a little behind the scenes walking tour where we found out that Bonfante Gardens is hoping to have a wood coaster built in 2004 with some of the terrain being utilized, with attendance in 2003 an important factor to whether this project will be completed (Translation: Go to Bonfante Gardens, and come back again and again, and tell others to visit the wonderful little park!). They're also looking to add a log flume or similar type of water ride.

The rest of the day until the 8 PM closing we were on our own as the ACE-related events concluded. The Banana Split (swinging ship ride) got up pretty vertical and provided the best airtime of the day. After riding a couple of small flat rides, we took a ride on the train which circles around the perimeter of the park, including another view of the Monarch Gardens greenhouse.

We did more sightseeing around the park followed until sunset, including more rose gardens (the yellow jacket traps hanging near the rose bushes were effective in keeping the pests under control), photo shots across the lake in the middle of the park. We stopped to see the cute and silly little show with talking vegetables, then we rode a slow round boat ride around the exquisite and beautiful Rainbow Gardens. Then we took a "drive" on the South Country Backroads "antique cars on a rail ride" which featured two tracks, The 1920's version had vintage Chevrolet replicas and themed like old-style gas stations, stores and billboards to match that era, while the 1950's version with Corvette replicas (closed at this time of day) went the opposite way with billboards more fitting with that decade. With sunset approaching, we then returned to the Rainbow Gardens and the operator asked us on our return if we wanted to ride again. We enjoyed three more romantic floats around this garden before heading back up to the back of the park, riding the Panoramic Ferris Wheel before stopping for dinner.

We ate dinner at the San Juan Grill around 7:15 PM, and shared the Garlic Roasted Chicken dinner which also included cole slaw and mashed potatoes with gravy. For 10 dollars, a half chicken was a pretty good deal, although they may have prepared an extra bowl of potatoes and cole slaw for us. We were happy to return the generosity by giving away our Paramount tickets to the cashier who was able to use them. (At least I had a full day at Paramount last year so it wasn't a big loss since no new coasters were added this year). Food prices in general were reasonable, and the quality of food was far above the average expectations for amusement park dining.

To close our wonderful day at Bonfante Gardens, we squeezed in one more ride on the Quicksilver Express. We were hoping to try the back row, but the operators were sending out the last train of the day, so we took a vacant seat in the middle. The others on this train were repeat riders, so it was pretty pointless to try a "one more ride" chant after a great night ride on the circuit--the fog filled tunnel really works well in the dark!

This park is a real delight for the senses, with a relaxed atmosphere and soothing music through their speakers combined with live jazz music at times, moderate food prices for superior food, a very clean environment, queue lines that were landscaped beautifully and would not be a problem waiting in on a crowded day, ride operators who were easy-going, and is a delightful change from the typical theme park experience.

This amusement park is a little off the beaten path and even though it doesn't contain huge roller coasters, the rides they have now are a nice supplement to their world class gardens and landscaping, and if they do get a woodie in 2004, it would make this park even more worth visiting for coaster enthusiates who are visiting the San Francisco/San Jose area. Highly recommended for a visit, and I hope that more people and families will visit Bonfante next year and spread the word about this family-friendly park.

Thursday, October 3, 2002 8:32 AM

Great report! My family had a great day as well. I thought the park did an excellent job on the event. The food was awesome and the park was beautiful, with just a bit of fall color starting to creep in.

I really hope the park does well next year, as a terrain woodie on the back side of the park is a fantasy shared by almost every enthusiast who visits there.

If you can, visit this park!!


*** This post was edited by BaSSiStiSt on 10/3/2002. ***

Thursday, October 3, 2002 8:34 AM
I live 3000 miles from Bonfante Gardens, but I hope to visit someday. I have heard only the greatest stories about this park, and it sounds beautiful. Thanks for the well written and detailed trip report.
Thursday, October 3, 2002 3:10 PM
Hopefully I can make it down there and also hit Marine World and PGA. The park sounds very nice and always get good reviews. Good TR.

84 coasters and counting


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