Paramount's Great America
DATES: 7/29/2000 & 8/1/2000
WEATHER: Comfortable, mid-80s, sunny.
ABOUT ME: Male, age 37. Coaster rider since 1977 and fanatic since 1986. I have more than 330 adult coasters on my "track record". I generally prefer wooden coasters to steel because airtime is one of my big criteria. Also, I don't mind a little headbanging on coasters.
RATING SYSTEM: I subscribe to the ubiquitous Griswold scale, which rates coasters and parks on a scale from -3 to +5. Zero indicates a mildly positive rating.
Top Gun (1993 B & M inverted) +2
Top Gun was a smaller, "fluffier" B & M than I'm used to (i.e. Raptor), though it has a good layout, good pacing and a great setting near and over a pond. It only has four inversions (vertical loop, two zero-g rolls and another I can't recall). The ending helix over the waters of the pond gives wonderful positive g-forces, pushing all the blood to your feet like Raptor's helix does.
Vortex (1991 B & M standup) +1
This ride is a very quick, small coaster very similar to SFGAm's Iron Wolf. It has two inversions, a vertical loop and half-corkscrew. Some good banked turns provide some positive g's, but it's all over too quick. Where's Mantis when you need it?
Drop Zone (1996 Intamin Giant Drop) +3
A wonderful, enormous Giant Drop. Great view of the Silicon Valley office buildings hemming in the park and the mountains in the distance. Phenomenal drop at nighttime.
Grizzly (1986 Summers/KECO double out and back) -2
Complete garbage. Atrocious maintenance. Terrible trackwork. Painful. Heavily braked. Perhaps the worst wooden coaster I've ever been on. I hate Morgan trains. I don't even think the individual track pieces are flush with one another. Yuck.
Stealth (2000 Vekoma flying coaster) +2
Most of this coaster's positive rating comes from its novelty. It isn't a terribly big coaster (none at PGA are due to space constraints), but it gets in a few neat inversions (vertical loop, and a couple corkscrew/zero-g roll type elements). The feeling of having positive g's applied across your entire body from head to toe is a new experience, unlike the usual feeling of all weight going down into the seat. The restraints are difficult to get in and out of, and consist of a lap bar and an integrated vest-like restraint which you must buckle across your chest. In the station, the seats are more or less upright but they flop backward so as the train ascends the lift hill your head is pointed toward the top. Immediately after cresting the lift hill, the train flips over so the track is above you and your body is parallel with the ground. Later on, you go through a vertical loop (which you traverse on the inside of the loop, providing a great visual as you crest the top of the loop and your start heading for the ground headfirst). The ride was fairly disorienting. I'm anxious to see what Vekoma can do with the technology
Invertigo (1998 Vekoma SLC Invertigo) +2
The standard Boomerang track layout applied to a 2-across inverted train with every other seat facing backwards (facing another set of seats). Fun, disorienting, and virtually every seat is a good one. I like the way the line is queued so the whoosh of air created by the train blasts the crowd.
Demon (1980 Arrow multi-element) +1
I've ridden this coaster's brother at SFGAm and it was kind of sad to see how poorly this coaster has been maintained, with most of its redeeming theming elements and landscaping removed. I'm glad to hear it is being fixed for next season. This ride has two vertical loops and a corkscrew, both of which are supposed to be wrapped around artificial rock outcroppings (missing). There is a pre-lift hill tunnel right out of the station.
THE PARK: +2
It's a pretty park, well maintained as far as the plantings go. However, the original Marriott themed areas have pretty much lost their character. Sure, the buildings still have their original architecture and the area names are still prominently displayed, but the usual Paramount corporate food stand and store naming schemes have encroached on the park, though thankfully not to the extent of PKI. It is weird to walk around this park and note all of its similarities with SFGAm, yet see how the two parks have taken very different paths. The park has a good variety of food offerings, all of which were reasonably priced and quite tasty. I had the park's "famous" fried chicken and mashed potatoes dinner, which was only about $6. The crowd was pleasant, and line jumping was not at all evident. The park's video and music loops aren't long enough. I heard the same songs over and over and over throughout my two days at the park. Nevertheless, it was a good mix of Top 40 and other '80s/'90s tunes. The James Bond "License to Thrill" simulator ride sucked. Oh man, did it suck. Thpppppt. Did I mention how bad it was? The park's major problem was ride breakdown. I have never seen so many coasters go Down Mechanical in one day in my life (invariably while I was line for them)! First, Drop Zone, Stealth, Invertigo, and Demon all had multiple failures throughout the day. Tidal Wave (now called Greased Lightnin') wasn't even running (a bummer, since I haven't ridden a Schwarzkopf shuttle loop since 1986). Then, I even had the pleasure of watching PGA staff replace a wheel on Invertigo after it trapped riders partially on the incline/partially in the station during the final brake run. Even more maddening, Stealth was only running ONE train, causing a two-plus-hour wait for a Saturday crowd. When I came back three days later with my Paramount season pass for a second visit (time to kill before my flight back to Minneapolis/St. Paul, hehe) I planned to take advantage of the park's 9:30 ERT on Stealth for season pass holders. Guess what? It was Down Mechanical until 11am, and they hadn't even fixed the other train. I noticed they were finally doing some work on the other train, but the queue was still an hour-plus. Long term, this park's two major problems are its space problems (the entire park is perhaps 90 acres, and has no hope for expansion due to Silicon Valley enveloping it during the last 25 years) and its inability to put in rides as big as other major parks. Every time I rode on a coaster at PGA, I wished I was on a bigger, similar ride somewhere else. For Iron Wolf, I wished I was on Mantis. For Top Gun, I wished I was on Raptor. There are so many better examples of most of the types of coasters PGA features, elsewhere. I wouldn't be surprised if Paramount someday soon decided to pack up and move the whole park somewhere else. The land in Santa Clara is work so much today, it doesn't make sense to tie up 90 acres with an amusement park in desperate need of expansion room, and now with Six Flags Marine World breathing down their neck...