California’s Great America

Yesterday I went to California’s Great America for the first time. A friend won some free passes so I brushed off my packing plans in favor of roller coasters, thrill rides, and fireworks. I also got to try shawurma for the first time. I didn’t much care for it. It’s got this pickled element to it mixed with salty lamb and hummus wrapped  in a tortilla.

California’s Great America is an amusement park located in Santa Clara, California. Additionally this is the only amusement park in northern California that has a water park within. Since I find it interesting to follow the progression of a company’s identity system I’m going to add a little blurb and info.
This amusement park has been renamed a few times now. If you’re not interested just scroll down to the theme park pictures.

During it’s founding in the 1970’s & 80’s it was known as Marriott’s Great America. Not a bad little logo, it has this All American Varsity feel to it, which is kinda fitting. If you think back, this was right after the Vietnam War, Nixon’s “Watergate” scandal, Muhammad Ali becomes world heavyweight boxing champion, the ‘King of rock’n’roll’ Elvis Presley dies, Space shuttle Columbia was launched into orbit, Challenger space shuttle explodes, and US and Soviet leaders discuss an end to the Cold War.

In the 1990’s Paramount Communications, then owners of Paramount Pictures, sought to join other entertainment companies as a theme park owner. The company acquired Kings Entertainment for $400 million and created Paramount Parks. Viacom, the parent of MTV Networks, then bought Paramount in 1994, allowing Nickelodeon theming and merchandise into the park as well. During the Paramount era, attractions from the Action FX Theatre, Nickelodeon Splat City (later Nickelodeon Central), Drop Zone Stunt Tower, Invertigo, and many more modern thrill ride attractions were added in. Unfortunately because the park was literally landlocked being in the center of Silicon Valley, several rides including the classic train ride and the Sky Whirl, a Marriott’s Great America signature attraction, were removed to make way for newer attractions. I am a fan of the second logo created in 2003 and used up until…

Viacom and CBS Corporation split in 2006. Paramount Parks became part of CBS which quickly announced plans to sell the theme park division to Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. The transaction included licensing agreements with Nickelodeon and Paramount, providing the park the option to retain its Nickelodeon and Paramount theming for several years. The identity of the theme park took a plunge with this logo developed for them in 2006. And unfortunately it is still seen on all the trash cans and in areas around the park. I’m not a fan of using a slash representing a flag as the dot on the i. I guess for a while it was known as Knott’s Great America. This would be when they added a lot of the Snoopy themed stores and merchandise, also having the Peanuts Gang wandering around in costume. So glad they changed that. On October 25, 
2007, Cedar Fair renamed the park California’s Great America. The identity improved marginally from the original logo. They got rid of the enclosure with the tacky inner shadow, removed the corporate arch icon from most applications of the logo, and made the flag more dynamic as if it is flapping in the wind. They also went back to the original All American color scheme of red, white, and blue. I do like that since by default it is showing off America and what it has to offer. Can’t help it when you put it in the name.

One of the things I love most about this amusement park is all the trees and plants. I feel this represents California well and also offers ample shade around the park. Though we didn’t really need it this visit. In anticipation of a hot California summer I had dressed in shorts and a shirt. By the time we drove down to Santa Clara the weather was a beautiful 77°F with a light breeze. We were stoked. However after going on Rip Roaring Rapids (a traditional river raft ride) we all got completely drenched and it became a bit chilly. Dispite standing in warm sunny spots when we could find them in line we never fully dried off. This became a problem in the evening and us girls were shivering and covered in goosebumps. We found relief in the shops and areas where the rides and buildings broke the wind. A sweet shop up to the right of the entrance that sold piping hot 12 oz cocoa for $2.99 and 1/4 lb of in house fudge for $2.49. Not bad pricing at all. It was too hot to drink right away but we didn’t mind as it was warming our hands nicely.

The rides were a lot of fun and worth the chilly lines. Most notably:

Flight Deck

    • Storage bins for holding personal items that are locked and assigned to each run.
    • 4 people per row

Built by Bolliger & Mabillard, Flight Deck made its debut March 19, 1993 as Top Gun. It is the park’s most popular ride.The ride begins with a small right-hand turn followed by the lift hill. The drop at the top of the hill begins with a sharp left turn. After the drop, there is a vertical loop. The ride then performs a 3/4 turn to the right followed by a Zero G roll. There are a couple mild turns. After this, there is a small drop immediately followed by a corkscrew. The ride features another 3/4 turn, this time to the left. Finally, the train turns right into the loading station. Very smooth. I loved this one. It’s worth it to wait for the front, especially when you swoop down over the lake.

Fire Fall

    • small zipper storage pouch beneath each seat

The ride features a wall of water fountains which rises in front of the vehicle as it swings, giving the illusion that riders may get wet, as well as a finale sequence featuring the water bubbling via pneumatic devices before catching on fire using methane gas. Set to the soundtrack specially composed from The Crypt at Kings Dominion this is a very cool ride with a bit of thrill from the spinning and perceived danger as the ride locks in place you are lowered face first toward the flames and water. As a side note, this ride is uncomfortable if you are pretty tall. The harness put pressure on the top of one of my tall guy friend’s shoulders.

The Demon

    • Open storage cubbies for personal items
    • 2 people per row

Originally a custom built coster with two airtime hills after the first drop, the ride was renamed and heavily modified in 1979, and a unique logo was unveiled. This roller coaster now  features two back to back vertical loops and a double corkscrew. Fake rock formations were built around the second loop and around the first half of the lift hill, with a third formation just before the corkscrews. Fog machines were placed in the tunnels, blood red colored water fell out of the rock formation by the corkscrews. I enjoyed this one a lot too, but Flight Deck is still my favorite and had a shorter line.

The Grizzly

    • Open storage cubbies for personal belongings
    • 2 people per row

Designed by Curtis D. Summers and manufactured by Kings Island Construction this is a classic wooden roller coaster. Complete with the usual bit of jerkiness and bumps.


    • Open storage cubbies
    • 4 people per row

Vortex is a stand-up roller coaster, which was a first for me. A little awkward, I felt like you had to stand bow legged. My tall friend was able to fit without too being too uncomfortable. This ride features a loop and a corkscrew. Not bad, it’s kinda short and I don’t think it would be worth it if the line was long.

Drop Tower: Scream Zone

    • Tower height: 224 ft
    • Drop height: 207 ft
    • Speed: 62 mph

California Great America’s installation was the world’s tallest vertical drop amusement park ride when it opened in 1996.

I admit, I didn’t go on this one. Don’t like the sensation of falling. But I felt it was worth the feature as it is one of their more popular rides.

Rip Roaring Rapids

    • 6 person raft
    • NO storage, you must carry everything on the raft with you! I recommend getting a bag from a store to put your purse and phones in because we ALL got drenched from head to toe.
    • Shoes required

This is a nice river raft through rapids and around bends filled with lots of trees and greens. There are 2 spots along the river for observers to pay and try to drench the passengers with water launchers. Also near the end there is a waterfall that just about spans the whole river, so you are inevitably going to get drenched. No avoiding it while the fall is on.


    • 2 people per car, 4 cars per unit
    • No storage for personal items

A fun ride if you like speed and don’t get sick easily. Though you aren’t actually moving very fast (29 mph) it certainly feels like it. Passengers are spinning in a tight circle, getting flung and squished to one side, while simultaneously spinning around in a larger circle. The whole ride is tilted at a slight angle so you are moving up and down a bit as well. Not the most comfortable ride since the side of the car and buckle poke into you as you spin.

Loggers Run

    • No storage for personal items
    • 4 people per log

This ride was very disappointing and not worth the wait. The log moved along this blue path with no hills at all to add to the thrill. It also isn’t a very smooth ride, the log isn’t on a track at all so you bump off the walls to stay on the path. And at the end, the drop isn’t even a steep drop. Because they had some injuries in the past the drop is in a downhill wave. Didn’t get very wet.

And to end things with a bang California’s Great America shot off a display of firework just before the park closed for the night.

This entry was published on August 27, 2012 at 11:15 am. It’s filed under Events and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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