Parks Visited: SCBB (7/6) and BG (7/7)
Weather: Cold, but not too cold, and then hot, but not too hot
Crowds: Horrible at SCBB, perfect at BG
Fun Fact: Time spent in the requisite Highway 17 traffic jam - 2 hours
I recently returned from a very fun trip with my family to Northern California. We spent four days in San Francisco and then 5 at Yosemite National Park. Amidst all the other things we had planned I was able to convince my wife Lisa (who likes parks but not large coasters) that the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk would be a perfect late afternoon/evening stop on the sixth, and that Bonfante Gardens would be "her kind" of park and a fun place to spend all of the seventh. Out of all the Bay Area parks, these were also (not coincidentaly) the one's I was looking forward to visiting the most: SCBB to again ride their fabulous flatrides and the venerable Dipper, and Bonfante to finally experience the new gem that many of my friends went to last year and raved about.
Before I talk about the parks, I would like to briefly talk about San Francisco (the TR portion begins below, at the *'s). San Fran is one of my favorite cities in the world. I'm sure those that live there eventually become familiar with it's striking beauty and don't spend all day walking around going "Wow, look at that!". I'm just wondering how many years it would take me to reach that level, because the city astounds me every time. I always forget how big the Bay is, how steep the hills are, how stunning the architecture downtown is (I must have taken 20 different shots of the Transamerica pyramid--it just kept surprising me out of nowhere). I forget how good the seafood is, and how much delicious fun it is to ride a cable car "halfway to the stars".
We spent a wonderful two days exploring the city. The first was occupied with taking in views (Twin Peaks being the clear winner, but the viewpoints from the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge are right up there also) all over the city, and ended with a dramatic fireworks show over the Bay to celebrate the Fourth. The second was spent exploring Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf, and ended with a great run on public transit (2 different cable car lines and the ultra-cool retro trolleys on the Embarcadero) and a sunset walk through the skyscrapers downtown. My only complaint would be that it was too damn cold for July! Little did I know the 60-degree temperatures we suffered through would be replaced by 95's for the following week.
Our third day in San Francisco began with a trek up to Felton to ride the steam train line there up into the redwoods. I had heard about Roaring Camp Railroad the last time I visited Nor Cal (May 2000) and was intrigued at visiting with my kids (Alex and Zoe), who love trains of all sorts, but especially steam trains. I obtained a lot of advice about the Railroad from railbuff Locoboy (Thanks again, Elliot, you were spot on!) and, out of the two choices offered, we chose to ride the steam train line high up into the mountains. This was a fantastic trip, one I would recommend to anyone with a love of trains, redwoods, or just getting away from it all up in the trees. The conducter was hilarious, telling us lots of funny stories and engaging in lots of sight gags and goofing around with the kids. The trip was all too short and I can't wait to back there again.
OK, you were wondering when this trip report would get to some amusement parks, weren't you? ;-)
We headed down to Highway 17 to finish the drive over the pass from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, half of San Francisco also decided today would be a good day to hit Santa Cruz or Monterey. I got to experience a monumental traffic jam that ended up taking us two hours to get from the on-ramp on the 17 to our parking spot at SCBB. Unfortunately, my wife and I were completely fried by the heat and the waiting at this point (not our kids of course, they were ready to ride some rides!). The walkways were horribly crowded, although the rides didn't have long waits. After a trip down to the shore so my kids could romp in the waves a bit, we returned to the Boardwalk.
We proceeded to the Sky Ride, perhaps my favorite sky ride in the world. The view from it is just incomparable. Brilliant Pacific blue to one side, the Dipper and the mountains off to the other. My kids rode a couple of kiddie rides and then we went to the Carousel. Now, this is one of the best carousels in the world, because they run it so fast AND because it has a brass ring dispenser AND because it also has a psychotic clown painted on the wall for you to the throw the rings into his mouth as you ride and grab them. I played the overprotective parent, repeatedly warning my kids to HANG ON!, as this carousel goes a little faster than any other one they had been on. They absolutely loved it, noticing that it was indeed a spectacular example of the breed and it did go as fast as Daddy had said it would! I also experienced a joyous ride, as I FINALLY nailed that damn clown in the mouth and set off the alarm. Hooray!
We then went down to the Ferris Wheel. I was starting to realize my time at the Boardwalk would be short, as my wife was getting very tired and had that "can we go yet" look on. As anyone who's been to the Boardwalk with me knows, that's easier said then done. We took a Ferris Wheel ride, then the kids did a few more kiddie rides. At last we found ourselves at my only new credit for the place, the Sea Serpent, an outstanding kiddie Miler that easily demolishes all the competition for most beautiful placement of a kiddie coaster. This thing is in a naturally sloping area so that the change in elevation from highest point to lowest is striking (for a kiddie ride that is). The ride is short but pretty potent; my son loved it. Boulderdash West, indeed!
At this point my kids wanted to go play in the waves some more, and I was able to negotiate a couple of more rides by myself before we would return to San Jose. I proceeded to the Cave Train, the new-to-me dark ride the park installed in 2001. I was astounded to see how long the train used for the ride was...I didn't see where the train could have done anything but a 180-degree circle and come back to the station. Astonishingly, SCBB was able to cram in a very long ride under everything else in that part of the park. This is a hilarious, cheesy dark ride (Jimvid, you MUST ride this thing!!) that basically details a trip to the beach and the Boardwalk in cave man days. I think that the word "goofy" was coined just for this ride. I left the ride with a huge smile on my face. This one is a winner!
I finished up my day at the Boardwalk with a ride in row 2 of the Dipper. Some things never change, and the Dipper is one of them, giving the delicious air and slamming laterals I remembered oh so well from 2000. The line was out the door, but efficient two-train operation had me on in less than 10 minutes. The Dipper Ops rock! I could have spent all day riding and re-riding this again, but I wanted everyone rested up for Bonfante the next day. All in all, it wasn't the best day I've had at the Boardwalk, but it wasn't in any way the park's fault...who knew the Saturday of Fourth of July weekend would be so crowded? ;-p
Sunday dawned bright and I was scared it was going to be hot; weather.com had predicted 90's for Gilroy on this day. Fortunately, it was just hot enough to not be uncomfortable. As we wound up into the foothills, I could not see any sign of the park, other than the road signs directing us there. Shades of Legoland, which is apt, as this park really reminds me a lot of Blockoland. We finally located it and wound into the parking lot, passing the famous topiary promising "TREESSSS" (man, did they deliver!). We entered to find the lot only about 1/2 full at 11, an hour after opening. The entrance plaza is exceptional, and the first hint that you are about to experience an extraordinary park. Some artful topiary, the twisted circus trees, and a very inviting and shady bridge draw you in to a nice opening courtyard which frames a beautiful carousel.
This was where we headed first. It was a good ride, but everything pales in comparison to the mighty Boardwalk's if you've been on it recently. My kids then rode the Strawberry ride before Alex and I tackled the swinging ship...err, banana. My son has become a bit of a thrill-seeker this year, surprising the heck out of us at Disneyland in March by riding a lot of things he hadn't wanted to before. He immediately suggested we go to the back of the ship...err, banana. We did, and what else could I say but: "that's the BEST swinging ship ride I've ever been on!". To which my wag of a son replied: "no, swinging banana ride!". This kid, I don't know where he gets it.
We next took the train ride, and this is another highlight of the park. We passed so many whimisical things and beautiful gardens, it was a sensory overload. Twirling garlic bulbs, a giant spinning mushroom, dancing avocados, a large greenhouse, a long tunnel, a beautiful waterfall area, and back to the station. Unfortunately, we were also able to observe from the train that Timber Twister, the park's junior Zamperla coaster, was stuck on the lift hill with no one working on it. This was one credit I would miss today, but I think I will be coming back!
We proceeded up the back side of the park, stopping in Twigville, a group of very junior spin and spews in a large air-conditioned tent. The park did a nice job with this area, providing seating for the adults and a few food stands. However, my kids were bummed cause they were too tall for everything...first time that's happened (sigh).
We next ventured into the rock maze. I was nervous about getting lost in there, as Mamoosh had said he was stuck in there for a half hour. However, it didn't look that big, so in we went. This is a very unique attraction, with some welcome misters and some intentionally misleading dialogue piped in ("over here" "this way"). We found our way out in about 4 minutes, proving once again that Mamoosh has a very poor sense of direction!
Next to the rock maze is a very cool waterfall area. Walking over bridges in a one-way loop, you first come to a waterfall you can perch at the edge of and get a little spray from. The second waterfall falls hard at the edge of the path and splashes on you. You then enter a tunnel and emerge under the third waterfall, which provides plenty of opportunities to get wet if you stand in the right place. This was insanely refreshing, and we took the loop about 10 times on this hot day.
It was lunch time by then. The kids opted for kid fare from the San Juan Grill, while my wife and I had OUTSTANDING barbecue from Big Johns. The tri-tip and chicken were both really good, as were the side orders that came with them.
We next went on the goofy monorail, which had the longest wait of the day-20 minutes. The monorail cars are odd, with pull down lap bars for each seat. I know where Knott's should go if they decide to put in a monorail! The ride traces a short circular path through the trees and into the green house. The green house is really quite neat, with the train on the bottom floor, a walkway in the middle, and the monorail up top. The foliage is quite dense and water runs everywhere. Very cool.
Next to the monorail station was the coiled final helix of Quicksilver Express, the park's Morgan mine train. My wife and daughter begged off so my son and I gleefully entered the long queue. The ride was almost a walk-on, but we took a little time to view the historic mining photos the park had put up in the queue. Very cool historical stuff, and no graffiti or vandalism. We finally made it to the train and waited a few cycles for the front seat.
This mine train is one odd duck. The trains are very long, and the first lift (right after the station, following a 180-degree turn) seems to slow down once the full train is on it, almost groaning under the weight. The train slowly peaks, and then hangs halfway down the first short hill. Once it releases from the lift, it zigs and zags with little elevation change through the trees to lift number two. This is where things get a little crazy. Lift #2 is quite a bit larger, and drops in a circle at a fun angle, coming back up next to the lift. Following a fast turn or two, the train enters a mine building full of misters on so strong you can't see where you are going for a second. It drops to the right out of the building and then does two descending bunny hopes that provide some nice air in the back. You turn into the speedy helix, then two twists and turns later, you enter a dynamite shack where some pesky racoons blow you up.
This is a very fun and re-ridable ride. Maybe not the most exciting, even for a mine train, but the setting is beautiful and it's very well-themed. Alex and I had a mini-ERT before exiting to join my wife and daughter. My wife wanted to ride it (she's an old-school Gold Rusher fan), and my daughter surprised us all by saying she was thinking about going on it. She'd only been on one coaster, the kiddy at Knotts, and had had no interest in any of the coasters at Disneyland or Legoland. My wife wanted to ride it first to see if it was OK for Zoe. She came back with Alex looking a little frazzled...she's such a wuss! I still can't believe we got her on California Screamin'. She said she didn't think Zoe would like it but Zoe said that she would give it a shot. What followed was one of those joyous moments that I will always have to remember: She loved it and wanted to go again! So she and I had a little father-daughter ERT, the first time that's happened and it won't be the last!
We finally dragged ourselves away from Quicksilver and rode the very cool ferris wheel, which is placed well right next to the greenhouse and gives a great view of the surrounding hills and Gilroy. Next was the antique car ride. This rides features two tracks with seperate vehicles: a 1920's line with old jalopies, and a 1950's line with cool '50's Corvettes. This is a Morgan car ride, loosely similar to the new one at Michigan's Adventure. These rides allow you to steer, but acceleration and braking are completely computer-controlled (I assume to stop people from ramming each other (the Chris Murray modification, perhaps??)). The cars at Michigan's Adventure are the worst I have ever been on--poor theming in an ugly area and not a bit of fun. The cars at Bonfante are easily the best I've ever been on, with elaborate theming and ornate grounds. I only rode the '50s side as I was going to come back and ride the '20's side later, but it was down when I came back so I missed out. Oh well, another reason to come back!
My kids then enjoyed some frozen treats while I went on the giant spinning mushroom (AKA a yo-yo). This is the biggest yo-yo I have ever seen, and it looks from the ground like it's moving inordinately fast. When I got on it, I found my observation was correct: this thing is turned up to 11! Very reminiscent of Indiana Beach's, but bigger and even faster, I believe.
Next up was Rainbow Garden and the Rainbow Garden Round Raft Ride. This is the closest thing to a water ride the park has, featuring round rafts similar to a roaring rapids-type ride but without restraints. The ride is a very gentle journey through some beautiful gardens, with lots of amusing topiary and flowers of every color under the sun, displayed beautifully.
The day was winding down and we still had a long drive to pur hotel in the foothills below Yosemite, so we had dinner and hit a few more attractions before leaving. Dinner was at the Pizza Restaurant and was quite yummy! We then rode the spinning balloon ride, the paddle boats (right out of RCT!) and finished with a walk in Claudia's Garden, a beautiful nook tucked away right under the bridge at the entrance. After fortifying ourselves with lots of Bonfante gear from the gift shop, we finally and sadly said goodbye to this gem of a park. As I said, it really reminded me of Legoland--it exploits a quirky theme (trees, or legos), and then takes it to the Nth degree, and surrounds it with cool flat rides and some nifty little coasters. I think that at this point, with Knotts in the crapper and SFMM well past it's glory days, Bonfante and Legoland are probably my favorite parks in the state.
(The rest of the TR is non-coaster related, so hit "X" and thanks for reading if that applies!)
The later half of our trip was to Yosemite, and I was yet again gobsmacked by the wonderous splendors mother nature can put on when she puts her mind to it. I've been to the Sequioas, Zion and Bryce in Utah, and to the Grand Canyon, but Yosemite Valley may be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen (well, except for maybe Shivering Timbers!). We stayed at the Wawona Hotel, a classic early 1900's hotel with very old-fashioned furniture and a very relaxed feel. The walk-ways in front of the rooms are all wide verandas with love seats set up outside to enjoy the sweeping lawns and grounds, and the surrounding forests and mountains. We got lucky and had a room at the end and around a corner, so we had our own private veranda overlooking a field of wild flowers that deer would wander through every evening.
The first view of the Valley as you enter it from the Wawona side is iconic. El Capitan looms to the left, Bridalviel Falls tumbles to the right, and the majestic, surreal Half Dome broods to the rear, completing a sweeping tableau. The Valley is exceptionally beautiful, with lush meadows, lots of trees, and the imposing granite walls towering to every side. The Valley is very well managed for how many people come through each year. Traffic is handled sensibly and there are plenty of places to park and take the free, air-conditioned shuttle buses which go everywhere. I felt crowded at times (most noticeably at Yosemite Falls and Bridalvail) but there were also times when it felt like we were the only people around.
I would especially recommend the drive up to Glacier Point. High (over 2000 ft.) over the Valley, it takes a while to get there but is totally worth it. As you step out to the point, you can look over the side straight down to Curry Village. This puts any drop ride to shame and frankly scared the piss out of me, so much so that I had to retreat from the edge and could only go back there for a few seconds at a time. We were up there at sunset, and every night a ranger comes up and gives a sunset talk on the changing light in the Valley. Half Dome changes colors as the light filters lower and lower through the atmosphere, and as we watched it shaded from a bright yellow to a nice mellow orange. As we returned to the car, we were shocked to see a rather large bear chewing on a tree...glad my kids got to see one in the wild!
This was a great trip. I know that coaster enthusaists who go to the Bay Area are usually busy with PGA, SFMW, SCBB and now Bonfante. But, if you have the time, spend a day roaming San Francisco, and take two days (or more) to experience Yosemite. You won't be sorry that you did. =
My family and I go to SCBB almost every year becuase we like it so much. The Dipper is one of my favorite coasters anywhere. At night it can't be beat! I usually don't care for carousels but I always take re-rides on the one at SCBB.
Steel: 1)MF, 2)Goliath, 3)Magnum
Wood: 1)Villain, 2)Beast, 3)Roar(SFMW)
Santa Cruz is a great place. Cheesy doesn't even begin to describe Cave Train Adventure. Ooh, Watch out for the Sharkasaurus....here comes the Sharkasuarus....IT'S THE SHARKASUARUS!!!! By the way I never saw a sharkasuarus anywhere on that ride after going on it three times. Please take out that dinosaur that spits in your face at the end of he ride, my eyes still hurt from that bulls eye shot.
Did you see those BumerCars of the Futre over by Cave Train Adventure? Now that was a crack up. That would be a good ride if they didn't try to squeeze 12 ofthose giant pods in that tiny room. The Rock'n'Roll ride that they added for 2002 is pretty good but they need to get better music for that ride, because Arron's Party does not cut it.
That is definentely my favorite Skyride too. My friend always takes his camera up there and zooms in on the babes down on the boardwalk, but besides that(if not enough ;) ) The view iss remarkable.
P.S., why did they take out all the cable cars in San Fransisco? There's only one line operating(street) and it expected to be gone before the end of the decade. They may be out dated compared to BART and today's technology, but for goodness sake, take out Muiny or those darn' tootin' old Boston street cars. now those thing are worthless nightmares. Don't they understand that they're tearing down a landmark? By 2005 there might not be cable car left.
Lake Compounce-So Fresh and So Clean Clean
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