Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Wonder Mountain’s Guardian Review

Knott’s Berry Farm recently announced the addition of a new dark ride, Voyage to the Iron Reef, and I couldn’t be more excited because last month I got to experience its predecessor, Wonder Mountain’s Guardian at Canada's Wonderland. I got to ride Guardian twice, once with the standard version and once with the zombie overlay - pretty cool how they can instantly change the media. The roller coaster portion is pretty weak, the vehicles don’t track well at all, lots of side to side vibration, but that's not the reason for riding, the game is. The shooting part is much better than your average Sally shooter. It’s like a video game in that if you kill all the bad guys in a scene it automatically generates more of them for you to shoot at. You load the vehicles sitting forwards or backwards. The frontwards side is way better because once you enter the dark portion the seats rotate to face either side of the track but on one side the screens are continuous (though there’s no shooting during the curved screens). The cars are propelled by drive tires down the straighaways and gravity in the curves.

Overall, I am really impressed by Guardian but I hope they improve upon it in future iterations. In one of the articles about Knott’s ride they said “The ride vehicles will rotate, change speed and even briefly pause as they move between video screens separated by three-dimensional themed sets.” The 3 dimensional sets part has me intrigued because Guardian has none, it's all screens. Two other improvements:
the clarity of the images and the ride length (though I think the limiting factor on the ride time is battery capacity for the guns).

Anyone else rode Guardian? What did you think?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

20 Terrifying Roller Coasters

The world’s coaster count is rapidly approaching three- thousand operating rides. Coaster enthusiasts strap themselves into these scream machines simply because they love being scared in a safe environment. What factors make a ride terrifying? Height, speed, inversions, backwards segments, unique track elements, darkness, and unexpected surprises all contribute to making your head spin and your knees tremble.

See 20 Terrifying Roller Coasters in my new presentations shared on Slideshare:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Roller Coaster Video Game Comparison

It's a great time to be a fan of roller coaster video games. The RollerCoaster Tycoon series has been brought back to life with RCT4M and the upcoming RollerCoaster Tycoon World. But that's not all. ScreamRide is an upcoming new destruction type game for Xbox. Parkitect looks to be closely related to RCT1 and RCT2 with updated graphics. WaterPark Tycoon is now available. Oh yeah, and there's the awesome looking Theme Park Studio and NoLimits 2. How to keep all these games straight? And what is the best one for you?

Check out the Roller Coaster Game Guide, a page designed to show you the pros, cons, features, and costs of each game so you can decided which one fits your personality the best.

To learn more and see trailers and game play for each theme park simulator, go here:


Which coaster game are you most looking forward to?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Escape from Gringotts Layout and Ride Details

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride opened at Universal Studios Florida to massive praise, frequent breakdowns, and seven hour plus wait times. Not a lot of details have been released by Universal about this amazing attraction so I thought I would try to shed some light on a few things. So, ya know, spoiler alert.

Escape from Gringotts Ride Details

escape from gringotts cars

For Escape from Gringotts, Universal took their Men in Black/Cat in the Hat ride vehicle (RV) and stuck it on an Intamin manufactured roller coaster track. This means the vehicles are connected to a power source most of the way because the cars can spin 360 degrees (a controlled spin). It seems there is only one section of track towards the beginning of the ride where gravity is in control. The rest of the ride the RVs are pushed along by rubber kicker tires. Here's a clear picture taken during an evacuation of the coaster track with the pusher tires. Also notice how high up the people sit in comparison to the rails - tall enough to fit the hardware the spins the seats around.

There is a unique track element that takes you into the first drop: a teeter-totter like track that tilts down at a forty degree angle before releasing the trains into a dark tunnel. It works the same way as the Gravity Max tilt coaster only not as steep.

Escape from Gringotts uses a combination of physical sets plus projection screens. Edge blending and brighter projectors allows almost 360 degree screens where individual scenes can last as long as 40 seconds instead of just ten. 

Here's a CAD concept rendering followed by the real thing (notice the tires):

Pictured below is the Escape from Gringotts layout diagram:

escape from gringotts layout

You may want to watch this on mute but it's the best video I've seen that shows the motion of the RVs.

Escape from Gringotts FAQ

I'm seeing a lot of the same questions asked over and over on YouTube and other articles so here are the answers to those frequently asked questions:

Q: Does Escape from Gringotts go upside down?
A: No

Q: Is there a singles rider line?
A: Yes

Q: Is there an Express Pass line?
A: Not at this time (maybe in the future)

Q: How many drops are there? How big are the drops?
A: There is really only one major drop on the ride where gravity is in full control and it's only about 3 stories in height. Basically, the height you climb the stairs to get to the loading platform is the height of the biggest drop.

Q: Is Escape from Gringotts in 2D or 3D?
A: Riders wear 3D glasses.

Q: Are there any audio-anamtronics (AAs) during the ride?
A: During the ride, no, there are no AAs but there are several throughout the detailed queue.

Q: Is Harry Potter seen in the attraction?
A: Yes, but he is a CGI character.

Q: What is the height requirement?
A: 42 inches

Q: How many trains are there?
A: There are 9 trains (two cars per train, 12 passengers per car).

Q: How fast does Escape from Gringotts go?
A: Universal has not released any official ride details. My guess is between 20-30mph max. The forward motion combined with the spinning motion in tight quarters makes the ride feel faster than it actually is.

Final Thoughts

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is a new type of high-tech thrill ride combining roller coaster type elements with simulator and dark rides. If you have any questions to had to the FAQ please comment below!

Want to know the story behind the "other" Harry Potter ride? Check out Secrets of the Forbidden Journey to learn how robotic arms on track make you feel like you're flying with Harry Potter!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dollywood Cabins Review and Tips 2014

beary special dollywood cabin pigeon forgeA fun alternative to staying in a motel or hotel in Pigeon Forge is to stay in a luxury cabin or chalet. If you’re planning on spending a day or more at Dollywood I highly recommend staying in the Dollywood Cabins. They’re a bit pricey and you need to book well in advance but it is totally worth it. Very good value and one of the best places I’ve ever stayed. Perks include being able to go to Dollywood everyday you have the cabin reserved for the price of a single day ticket. Dollywood cabin guests also get free parking in one of the closest lots to the park entrance as well as other discounts.
Staying in a cabin could really take your vacation to the next level and make it a truly memorable experience. They’re especially great for honeymoons or when traveling with friends or family.  The mountain views are incredible, especially at sunset while soaking in the private hot tubs on the cabin’s decks. Don't try to cram in too much each day. The whole point of renting a cabin is being able to lounge in your pajamas on the deck, watch a spectacular sunset, and cozy up by the fire. You may not want to leave the cabin at all - and that's perfectly fine

The cost per night might be prohibitively expensive for some families on their own but a group of four or more can rent a nicer cabin with more amenities for a lower price per couple. Save money by brining your own food instead of eating out every night. If you’re staying with friends it could be fun to have each couple plan and cook one nightly meal.

If you’re thinking about staying in a cabin and are looking at prices, be aware of the potential “hidden” fees. If the cabin has a hot tub (and most do) there could be an additional hot tub fee that is not considered as part of the nightly rate. During the busy summer season nearly every cabin will require your stay duration to be at least two nights and may charge a reservation fee. Then there are state and Sevier County taxes to potentially pay as well. So just be warned when you see that totally awesome Groupon deal that looks too good to be true, be sure to read all the fine print so you aren’t caught by any unexpected fees.
dollywood cabins review
Tip: Sometimes you can take advantage of the fact the cabins require guests to stay more than one night. For example, let’s say you’ve booked Thursday through Saturday night, checking out Sunday morning and another couple booked the same cabin beginning Monday evening. This means Sunday night is unfilled but another guest can’t book it because it’s only available one night. The cabin company would rather have the cabin filled than sitting empty a night so you now have the opportunity to extend your stay by a night or two for a steep discount, at least 50% off if not more!

Learn more tips like these by reading Things to Do in the Smokies with Kids.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Top 50 Most Terrifying Roller Coasters - 45. Furius Baco

Known for: World's only launched wingrider
Park: Port Adventura
Location: Spain
Type: Steel
Opened: 2007
Designer/Manufacturer: Intamin AG
Height (ft.): 46
Speed (mph): 83.9
Inversions: 1

Furius Baco was the world’s first wing coaster where the seats are cantilevered off the side of the train instead of being on top of or below the rails allowing passenger’s feet to dangle freely. What makes Furius Baco even more unique is it’s the world’s only launched wing coaster, and while many other launched rides typically launch immediately into a giant hill, Furius Baco races off of the launch track and dips down into a trench. Because the wingspan of the vehicles is so wide the outside seats are far away from the center of gravity of the trains and often result in a rough and bumpy ride. This could be one of the reasons why Furius Baco has been the only wing-rider with stationary seats sold and manufactured by Intamin. The wing-rider market is dominated now by B&M who appears to have solved the roughness problem.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Top 50 Most Terrifying Roller Coasters - 46. The Bat

Known for: World's first suspended coaster
Park: Kings Island
Location: United States
Type: Steel
Opened: 1993
Designer/Manufacturer: Arrow Dynamics
Height (ft.): 78
Drop (ft.): 70
Speed (mph): 51

One of the most notorious rides in roller coaster history is The Bat at Kings Island. It was the first ever suspended roller coaster where the cars hang below the rails and are free to swing freely from side to side. The Bat only operated sporadically between 1981 and 1983 before being dismantled in 1985. Over the years, the legend of the Bat has grown due to the outrageous rumors about why the ride was destroyed and because so few people were able to ride it. Contrary to many wild stories, the Bat never killed or even injured a rider. Poor engineering of the trains, track, and structure is what really lead to the ride’s demise. A year after the Bat was removed the Vortex looping coaster was erected in the Bat’s place and actually reused the station. Concrete footers from the Bat can still be seen beneath the Vortex’s structure. The suspended roller coaster returned to Kings Island in 1993 with the edition of Top Gun (renamed Flight Deck and later re-themed to the Bat). If you were fortunate enough to ride the original Bat consider yourself lucky!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ultimate Book About the Harry Potter Ride

Today I want to share with you the latest book on my reading list: Secrets of the Forbidden Journey.  It’s an in depth look at how the Harry Potter ride at Universal's Island of Adventure works! Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the most technologically advanced ride on the planet. 

It uses robotic arms that travel along a transport fixed to a track (called a RoboCoaster) and synchronizes with other moving platforms and animatronics.  

This book gives a detailed walkthrough of the ride, talks about the history of how it came to be, then dives into details about the engineering and technology behind it. This also includes how it uses hologram projectors and dome screens on carousels. 

It also talks about a few of the effects that were planned but didn’t make it to the final ride, like the dragon actually breathing fire and a more fearsome Whomping Willow tree. f you’re interested in how rides work or want to pursue a career in the theme park industry I recommend checking this book out. Available on Amazon.com.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Top 50 Most Terrifying Roller Coasters - 47. Riddler's Revenge

Known for: World's largest standup coaster
Park: Six Flags Magic Mountain
Location: United States
Type: Steel
Opened: 1998
Designer/Manufacturer: Bolliger & Mabillard
Height (ft.): 156
Drop (ft.): 146
Speed (mph): 65
Inversions: 6

When Riddler’s Revenge opened in 1998 it became the world recorder holder in height, drop, speed, length and number of inversions on a standup roller coaster. Instead of sitting in a seated position riders standup while hurling through massive inversions including two back to back dive loops. Riders straddle a small bicycle style seat meaning this coaster may be slightly more terrifying for males rather than females, especially if they have dreams of having children in the future. Even though B&M only built seven standup coasters Riddler’s Revenge remains the cream of the crop.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Top 50 Most Terrifying Roller Coasters - 48. The RATTLER

Known for: World's largest wood coaster when it debuted
Park: Six Flags Fiesta Texas
Location: United States
Type: Wood
Opened: 1992
Closed: 2012
Designer/Manufacturer: John Pierce
Height (ft.): 179.7
Drop (ft.): 124
Speed (mph): 65

When the Rattler opened at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in 1992 it was the tallest and fastest wooden coaster in the world. The lift hill climbed to an impressive height of 179 feet followed by a gut wrenching drop of 166 feet and a blistering speed of 73 mph. Adding to the ride’s excitement was its incredible location situated on top of, next to, and even carved through a rock quarry wall.Unfortunately, the coaster's original plans never called for such a large first drop. The construction of the 161 foot tall Mean Streak at Cedar Point prompted the park to alter the design at the last minute in order to make it the record holder. The hasty changes negatively affected the layout due to very rough transitions between elements resulting in many riders complaining of rib or back pain. The park was forced to make modifications to the ride and shortenedthe first drop from 166 to 124 feet resulting in a reduction of its top speed from 73 to 65 miles per hour.

There’s a saying about wooden roller coasters: “If it doesn’t shake it’s going to break.” Wooden roller coaster structures are designed to sway a couple of inches as the train goes racing by, especially in tight corners and high g-force locations. Think of it like this — when you jump off of a tall object you land safely by allowing your legs to flex and bend at the knee. Otherwise, if you kept your legs straight, you might shatter your leg bone or bust your knee joint. This same basic principle applies to a wooden roller coaster. The structure must be allowed to give and flex like a shock absorber in order to keep it from internally shaking itself to pieces. The Rattler was notorious for how much the structure would sway as the train raced by. See for yourself in this video: (http://youtu.be/sLfQBW9wnDI)

The Rattler was closed in 2012 to be transformed into the Iron Rattler steel coaster.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Top 50 Most Terrifying Roller Coasters #49 Abyss

The next coaster in our countdown of the 50 most terrifying roller coasters ever built is...

49. Abyss

Known for: Underwear dispensers
Park: Adventure World
Location: Australia
Type: Steel
Opened: 2013
Designer/Manufacturer: Gerstlauer Amusement Rides GmbH
Height (ft.): 98.4
Drop (ft.): 100
Speed (mph): 52.8
Inversions: 3

Australia’s Adventure World opened Abyss in 2013, a custom designed Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter coaster, the first of its kind in the country.Riders of the $12 million coaster board one of four trains seating eight passengers each. The journey begins inside a dark show building where the vehicles navigate a few twists and turns before rolling rider’s upside down through an inline twist in the dark. Then it’s outside and up the 100 foot tall vertical lift hill. The beyond vertical first drop sends the cars zipping along in excess of 52 mph during the ride’s 2,066-foot-long course. A dive loop and Immelman loop complete the inversion count before the vehicles return to the station inside the show building.

In an effort to help promote Abyss as Australia’s most terrifying coaster, the park placed underwear dispensers outside the exit of the ride stocked with packets of fresh clean white underpants. Along with the 'tighty whities', the undies packets contained a fact sheet outlining all of the key statistics and features relating to the ride. The park hasn’t unveiled how many guests have actually needed the packets.

Stay tuned for number 48. See number fifty here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Top 50 Most Terrifying Roller Coasters - Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit

I'm starting a new series examining what I believe to be the top 50 most terrifying roller coasters ever built. We start with number 50:
Known for: World’s first track elements
Park: Universal Studios Florida
Location: United States
Type: Steel
Opened: 2009
Designer/Manufacturer: Maurer Söhne
Height (ft.): 167
Speed (mph): 65

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is a radically innovative steel coaster that includes one-of-a-kind track elements, cutting-edge technology, and an interactive audio element. Sprawling across a large section of the park, the skyline of Universal Studios Florida was changed forever when the Rockit began thrilling in August of 2009. Riders board a train consisting of two six passenger cars before ascending the 167 foot tall vertical lift hill. After reaching a speed of 65 miles per hour the ride soars into a mammoth non-inverting loop (a loop that twists at the top so the vehicles never turn upside down). This crazy maneuver is followed by the Treble Clef, where guests burst through a building façade on track shaped like the music symbol; and later followed by the Jump Cut, a spiraling, negative-gravity move. If nothing else, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is surely one of the coolest looking coasters around, especially at night when the lights on the vehicles are lit up.
top 50 terrifying roller coaster hollywood rip ride rockit

The most unique aspect of Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is the ability to choose your own song to rock out to. That is if you can hear it over your own screaming. The music selection is broken up into 30 songs in five categories; Classic Rock/Heavy Metal, Club/Electronica, Country, Rap/Hip-Hop, and Pop Music/Disco. In addition to these 30 songs, Universal has also included a number of “hidden” tracks that are accessible via entering secret codes into the ride’s touchpads before your journey begins. A personalized take-home music video is also available for purchase for those wanting to remember and share their terrifying ordeal with their friends.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Theme Park Android Apps

I recently created and released two Android Apps for roller coaster enthusiasts and Disney theme park fans.
disney theme park quiz

  • Guess the Coaster - This app is intended for hard core roller coaster fanatics. Try to guess the identity of each mystery coaster.
  • Disney Park Picture Quiz - How well do you know your Disney Theme Parks? Scratch off the picture of a Disney theme park attraction, guess what it is and choose the right answer. The less you reveal, the more points you score! Each quiz is composed of ten randomly selected images. Play multiple times and get different pictures.

You can download both for free from Google Play. Please let me know what you think. Do you like this style of app? Would you like to see more? How could they be improved?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Universal Orlando Book

There are countless books out there about the history and development of Walt Disney World and Disneyland (such as Project Future and the Disneyland Story just to name a few of the more recent ones I've read) but what about Universal Orlando? You would have been hard pressed to find a book about it until now. Universal Orlando: The Unofficial Story is the only book currently available that covers the complete history and creation of the resort, from the onset to the present day. I was a bit skeptical because it is a self-published book but I was blown away with how good it was. I learned many interesting tidbits I never knew before, like how the Jaws attraction was essentially built twice! The author does a great job of explaining how the park transition from "see how movies are made" to "ride the movies." If you're a Universal fan I highly recommend you check out Universal Orlando: The Unofficial Story.