California’s Great America: the Shafted Coaster Line-Up

California’s Great America: the Shafted Coaster Line-Up

I’m sure that most that have visited Great America in recent time have left with a bitter after-taste at what the park has to offer. Since the removal of Greased Lightnin’ in 2002 and Stealth subsequently in 2003, Great America has left thrill-seekers with much to be desired. My old high school buddy recently asked if I wanted to make a trip over California’s Great America, tempting me with buy-1/get-1 free tickets. After a quick scratch of the head, I had to tell him, “No I’ll pass”. Why?

Today, Great America is the one theme park that I have rejected going to; I will not waste my money on it; having now been to most of the former Paramount parks, my reaction when returning to Great America after a joyous day at PKI/PKD/PCW is simply, “Great America was shafted”. Growing-up in the Bay Area during the 80’s and 90’s, Great America always felt like a solid park up until the early years of Paramount management. How, after over a decade of Paramount management did every other Paramount Park become a powerhouse thrill-park or family destination, but Great America ended-up as a mixed bag of meh?

Demon (Arrow double loop-screw) 1976
Grizzly (double outback woodie) 1986
Runaway Reptar (kiddie coaster) 1987
Vortex (first generation B&M stand-up) 1991
--------post ‘93 Paramount acquisition-------------
Top Gun (first generation B&M inverted) 1993
Invertigo (Vekoma inverted boomerang) 1998
Taxi Jam (kiddie coaster) 1999
Psycho Mouse (Mack wild mouse) 2001

Taking a step back, every paramount park before acquisition had a fairly solid collection of coasters; taking attention away from Great America for a moment, the other former Paramount parks each came out in 2009 with atleast fourteen coasters each and a handle-full of solid coasters in their line-up to “anchor” the park. My qualm is less with the number of coasters in Great America’s line-up (I understand PGA is landlocked, making a large collection difficult to accomplish). Why out of the eight coaster left at Great America do we lack the one thing every other Paramount park has, a solid coaster— a coaster you go to a park specifically to ride, or atleast a coaster that a park visit would be incomplete without.

Kings Dominion, without including the two Cedar Fair additions, has Volcano, Flight of Fear, three solid woodies, and Anaconda. Kings Island has the Beast, Racer, Flight of Fear, Top Gun, and the recent additions of Firehawk and Diamondback. Canada Wonderland has Vortex, a pair of decent woodies (Minebuster & Wild Beast), a collection of six solid family coasters, and the recent Cedar Fair addition of Behemoth. Carowinds boasts Nighthawk, Hurler, and Afterburn—that’s not mentioning the park’s 2010 addition and restoration of Thunder Road to its former glory. And Great America has…

Well, that’s the problem…

Great America doesn’t really have an anchor attraction aside from Flight Deck/Top Gun—an early B&M inverted with perhaps the shortest ride duration, sin-lift hill, for a beemer to my knowledge (perhaps tying Oblivion). Unlike Canada Wonderland, Great America doesn’t even have a decent coaster for the family either, save for Richochet.

  • Vortex (aging first-generation B&M stand-up, and the ride has indeed become quite rough since its 1991 debut; not bad, but it’s length makes it mediocre at best. Only B&M that I never re-ride)
  • Demon (an Arrow that after detheming and neglect over the years is merely a shadow of the original or SFGA-counterpart)
  • Grizzly (Hand-down, America’s dullest wooden coaster)
  • Invertigo (Vekoma’s first attempt at the Inverted boomerang, which has posed more of a mechanical nuisance than thrill addition to the park’s line-up. Even on it’s good days, the ride is still nothing more than a Vekoma Invertigo)

Every other Paramount park ended up with the addition of six or seven coaster to their line-up during Paramount’s 1993-2005 reign (at least something solid in each package). Yet, beyond inaugural addition of Top Gun in 1993, Great America ended up with three off-the-shelf coasters and removal of the two best rides the park offered.


Maybe there’s something about the SF-Bay Area’s market that I don’t understand? We all know Paramount built beasts like Volcano, Son of Beast, Hypersonic XL, and Stealth. even ventured into innovative projects like Italian Job, Flight of Fear, and Flying Super Saturator. So why did Great America come out empty handed with possibly the dullest coaster line-up of its size?

Today, Great America cannot claim to be more than a sample platter of half-baked thrills that are pass their prime and unfit to be classified as family attractions. Even more, the removal of Stealth and Greased Lightin’ in favor of a bite-size water park, Boomerang Bay, meant that Great America would never be much of a thrill nor water park destination (the Bay Area knows a real water park: Raging Waters, WaterWorld USA, and Manteca Water Slides (RIP). Boomerang Bay, squeezed into that small corridor on the east-side of the park, will always be too small to fit the bill. That decision landlocked Great America into being a $39.99 land of mediocrity.

Honestly, if the park’s coaster line-up was merely a decent woodie, the rethemed Demon with a little TLC, and the old Whizzer + log flume, I would be more willing to go than pay admission for the park in its present form. Great America has eight coasters, how can I be dissatisfied? In the analogy of pro-basketball, Great America is the equivalent of going to an LA Clippers game; even if that analogy makes parks like Canobie, Lake Compounce, or Knoebel’s the equivalent og playing a game of hoops at the park instead, I’d opt for the latter.

Before my old friends and I decided to go to Pier 39 and Point Reyes, I gave them my final two-cents on 49ers saga: There is no real reason to visit Great America anymore. I can honestly say that I would not be sad to see the park go.

Last edited by Vertigo,

I feel your pain Vertigo because my hometown park Kentucky Kingdom now Six Flags in Louisville Kentucky used to be at the top of its game back in the late 90's. Now it is one of the worst of the Six flags parks. Back in the early 90's the park had Starchaser, Vampire, Thunder Run. Then they added T2 in 1995 which at the time was a nice smooth ride but now needs to be removed. Then in 1997 they added (at the time) the world's tallest, fastest, and longest stand-up coaster Chang. Man it was awesome when it first opened! Then in 1998 they added a dueling wooden coaster Twisted Sisters (Twins). I really loved this ride when it first opened. It was smooth and fast and had the neat element of a dueling coaster. In 2000 they even added a wild mouse ride which isn't my favorite but they were at least adding rides. Then they put in Greezed Lightining in 2003 which is when things really started to go downhill for the park. Then they had: T2 - which was a smoother and better ride...Thunder Run - which was actaully really fun in the mid 90's...Chang - a record breaker in 97 with 5 inversions and 63mph...Twisted Twins - nice wooden dueling coaster. Now they have a bad T2 ride (due to age) wish they would have put in a B&M inverted instead. Chang which is still the best ride in the park IMO. Thunder Run rough and no longer as good as it once was and Twisted Twins which aren't even operating but sitting there along with Mile High Falls which IMO is one of the best rides of its kind. That is just sad. Anyway, I feel your pain Vertigo. I think it is just because Six Flags and Cedar Fair just don't want to drop more money into these parks for whatever reason. That is crazy though that the California's Great Adventure hasn't had a new roller coaster since 2001! Kentucky Kingdom hasn't had one since 2003 and doubt they will ever see another one!

Collin Aynes

Mamoosh's avatar


My bad. Sorry.

Collin Aynes

kpjb's avatar

Instead of apologizing, you could always go back and edit it... just a thought...

I'm sure that some of the lack of love for CGA is due to them being the least profitable of the chain. Then again, there are those that would say that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. No one comes, so they don't get anything new, so no one comes, blah, blah, ad nauseam.

Last time I was at the park was in 1980, so I'm no expert on the market conditions or the state of the park, but it seems like there is plenty of population to easily support both this park and SFDK.

john peck's avatar

I don't think I would ever pass up a chance to go ride rides and hang out with my best friend. I don't really care if Park B has better rides than Park A, as long as I can ride something.

"Kings Dominion, without including the two Cedar Fair additions, has Volcano, Flight of Fear, three solid woodies, and Anaconda"

Three solid woodies? In the way that some of them have a solid holding in the last few spots of enthusiasts polls?

Bolliger/Mabillard for President in '08 NOT Dinn/Summers

DaveStroem's avatar

I would have to agree with you Audioslaved. Hurler was the worst coaster I have ever been on. Grizzly was quite a bit better but still way down my list. Rebel Yell was decent.

Before you can be older and wiser you first have to be young and stupid.

Mamoosh's avatar

When well-maintained Grizzly is an amazing wooden coaster. The section between the first and second turnarounds is insane.

EDIT - just to be clear I'm referring to KD's Grizzly, not Great America.

Last edited by Mamoosh,

I agree. KD's Grizzly, back in the day, was a fan favorite. I rode it last spring, though, and was dissappointed in how rough and clunky it had become. I had all day, the crowd was light, but I only rode it once. That section you mention was still the best part, by far.

I thought Hurler had aged even worse.

Mamoosh's avatar

Vertigo said:

Psycho Mouse (Mack wild mouse) 2001

Credit (or blame) Arrow for Psycho Mouse, not Mack.

Last edited by Mamoosh,

Hey if you want Nighthawk/Borg/ Stealth back by all means bring a truck and a blowtorch. I'll help you load it. I hate that POS.

Your Vortex and Top Deck Flight Gun were built when B&M were just starting to make an impact. Had the been installed later then I'm sure they would've been more to your liking. B&M really couldn't be expected to pull a Riddler's Revenge or Alpengiest out of their a$$ right from the git-go.

If the chain had stayed with Paramount I believe you would've recieved an Italian Job. Volcano isn't a valid complaint since Parmount used what was already there and just added to it.

I could complain that Carowinds never got a Grizzly or a Flight of Fear. We also didn't get an Italian Job.

I feel your pain at the loss of Tidalwave. At least you had it longer than I had White Lightnin'.

I don't think you lost much when you didn't get Hypersonic.

ApolloAndy's avatar

I don't know if it's land or profitability or what, but I am completely surprised that CGA hasn't gotten a hyper from CF yet. Given that they installed the Morgans (well, technically the Okamotos if you count Magnum) and now the B&M's, I've always had the impression that CF think hypers are basically printing money. Of the parks that they own (that aren't Gilroy Gardens), isn't CGA the only one that doesn't have and isn't getting a hyper/giga?

Hmm....I suppose Knott's would count, but they certianly haven't been neglected either. (Plus you could make the argument that Xcel counts.)

Last edited by ApolloAndy,

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

Didn't PGA have a hyper planned, but it eventually got nixed? I remember hearing something about a "Rebel Rocket" back in '02 or '03.

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Formerly known as TalonJosh1491

Olsor's avatar

CGA in 2009 sounds a lot like AstroWorld in 2005. Just sayin'.

Olsor, I have the same feeling. Would not be surprised if the park would go the AW way.

kpjb said:

I'm sure that some of the lack of love for CGA is due to them being the least profitable of the chain. Then again, there are those that would say that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. No one comes, so they don't get anything new, so no one comes, blah, blah, ad nauseam.

kpjb, that's what I initially speculated, perhaps there was something about the local market, but then I looked at this...

Paramount's Canada Wonderland
1981 - Wild Beast
1981 - Scooby Doo Coaster
1981 - Mighty Canadian Minebuster
1981 - Thunder Run (mine)
1981 - Dragon Fire
1985 - SkyRider (standup)
1987 - Bat
1991 - Vortex
----'93 Paramount acquisition----
1995 - Flight Deck
1998 - Taxi Jam
1999 - Fly
2001 - Silver Streak
2004 - Time Warp
2005 - Back Lot Stunt Coaster
2009 - Behemoth

Paramount's Kings Island
1972 - Racer
1972 - Ghoster Coaster
1979 - Beast
1984 - King Cobra
1987 - Vortex
1991 - Adventure Express
1992 - Taxi Jam/Scooby Zoom
----'93 Paramount acquisition----
1993 - Flight Deck
1996 - Flight of Fear
1998 - Scooby Doo’s Ghoster Coaster
1999 - Invertigo
2000 - Son of Beast
2001 - Rugrat’s Runaway Reptar
2005 - Backlot Stunt Coaster
2007 - Firehawk
2009 - Diamondback

Paramount's Kings Dominion
1974 - Ghoster Coaster
1975 - Rebel Yell
1982 - Grizzly
1986 - Shockwave
1988 - Avalanche
1991 - Anaconda
----'93 Paramount acquisition----
1994 - Hurler
1996 - Flight of Fear
1997 - Taxi Jam
1998 - Volcano
2001 - HyperSonic XLC
2002 - Ricochet
2005 - Backlot Stunt Coaster
2010 - Intimidator 305

Paramount's Carowinds
1973 Carolina Goldrusher
1975 Fairly Odd Coaster
1976 Thunder Road
1980 Carolina Cyclone
1992 Vortex
----'93 Paramount acquisition----
1994 Hurler
1998 Taxi Jam
1999 Afterburn
2000 Flying Super Saturator
2002 Ricochet
2003 Rugrat’s Runaway Reptar
2004 Nighthawk
2009 Carolina Cobra
2010 Unknown

Paramount's Great America
1976 - Demon
1977----REMOVED------>>>>Greased Lightnin’
1986 - Grizzly
1987 - Runaway Reptar
1991 - Vortex
----'93 Paramount acquisition----
1993 - Top Gun
1998 - Invertigo
1999 - Taxi Jam
2001 - Psycho Mouse

It's laughable that while between 2000 and 2007, Marine World debuts a coaster almost annually (Cobra, Medusa, Vertical Velocity, V2 retrofit, Zonga, Tony Hawk), family attractions such as Ocean Discovery, Shouka killer whale show, the annual Holiday in the Park, and a $16 million capital transformation into Discovery Kingdom....and Paramount expects Great America to compete in such a market? With a wild mouse, wave-swinger, Chance Revolution, and some flyers + a bite-size water park? If you're going to survive, you have to compete. My only regret at potentially seeing Great America go is the prospects of less capital investment from Six Flags in Discovery Kingdom since the market would be stripped of major competition.

Last edited by Vertigo,
Jeff's avatar

What happens at the other parks is completely irrelevant. These aren't kids, you don't hand out cap ex in a manner that's fair, you do so in a manner that makes good business sense.

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Yes, I understand that basic concept. But could business have comparably been that bad at Great America to not make a sizable investment to the park's ride line-up for close to ten years? In doing so, Paramount let Discovery Kingdom become a far superior park over the next seven years in all aspects from amenities to thrills, family attractions, and atmosphere. Meanwhile, PGA twiddled it's thumbs and quickly losing it's relevancy.That's where I bring up the relevance of the other parks. I have a difficult time believing things could have been that bad (or good) for the park to sit comfortably without investing.

Like I said before, I'm not quite the 49ers fan, but they're far more entertaining than attending a L.A. Clippers game--and that's what Great America is right about now. Today, there are far superior amusement and water park destinations in NorCal; Great America inexplicably fell from top to the bottom on that list.

I noticed that your list shows which rides were removed for CGA, but to paint a more fair picture you should probably note that all of the other parks have lost rides too. At Kings Island alone I can think of The Bat, King Cobra, an old shuttle loop, Scooby Doo Ghoster Coaster, and the pending Son of Beast. Rumors of more were also flying before the Cedar Fair purchase, but we'll never know on that.

Not saying your complaints are not warranted. There are certainly some things wrong with the past and present of this park, I just don't think it hinges so much on the activity of sister parks.

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