Gloria collected me from my overnight hotel shortly before nine in the morning, and we began our drive south to Legoland. I was particularly interested to see the American version of the park, having been to the other three during the previous year. On arriving at the car park we were presented with a notice advising that rainy weather was forecast, and that this would likely lead to ride closures. This was followed up with a warning that Legoland does not provide rain checks under any circumstances. There are far too many lawyers in this country; I'm sure if such a notice wasn't provided, then someone would take court action in bad weather.
As we made our way to the entrance our eyes were drawn to a very large colourful lego tower just inside the gate, which was being assembled with the aid of a crane. The explanation could be found on the park map; over the President's Day Weekend an attempt was being made to break the current Lego World Record Tower, and the public was invited to help. Sure enough, large groups of guests were doing just that. This was of course ideal, as these people would not be clogging up the queues for the park rides.
The first coaster of the morning became Technic Coaster (#381), the same Mack-built wild mouse design that can be found at the other parks in the chain. Whenever I ride a new Mack mouse for the first time I hold out the hope that the brakes scattered throughout the course will not be used to trim the speed. This invariably turns out to be in vain, and I wasn't at all surprised when they were in use here. As there was nobody waiting in the station when our car returned, we were allowed to ride a second time without exiting the car, though it was hardly worth it.
The other staple ride in the Lego chain is the Dragon coaster (#382). Unlike the wild mouse, though, all four dragon models have different layouts. They start with the same basic premise; a slow powered journey through a castle filled with animatronic scenery, which leads to a faster coaster section. This particular model was built by Vekoma, and it quickly became my favourite. I honestly don't remember if there is any difference in the animatronics, but the coaster section was definitely far and away the most exciting.
The third coaster in the park, Coastersaurus, was unfortunately closed for annual maintenance.
We spent a good hour exploring the park before moving on to our next stop. The Factory Tour was quite interesting; I remember in particular seeing a Lego mould which had apparently been retired after producing 120,000,000 bricks. It looked, to my untrained eye, as good as new; I wonder if was retired just so it could be used in this tour.
SeaWorld San Diego
18th February 2005
Sea World is not normally a park I would pay a lot of attention to. A single day ticket is pretty expensive, at just under fifty dollars, and for that money you get just five rides. To add insult to injury, two of those, the Southwest Airlines Skytower and the Bayside Skyride, require an extra fee. The park is not about rides though; rather, the star attractions are various animal attractions and shows. There is, however, a roller coaster, which makes it an obligatory port of call (no pun intended) for all enthusiasts. Better yet, it's a rather good one.
Journey to Atlantis (#383) is the fourth installation of a Water Coaster from Mack GmbH. It has been designed with the ridiculously efficient operation that can be seen on many Mack rides, with the ability to load three boats simultaneously. This was not in use today, but there was no need for it; the ride was a walk on. Having previously ridden the Poseidon water coaster at Europa Park, I assumed that the one here would be dry, spraying the majority of water away from the boat. As we discovered on our first ride, this turned out not to be the case. The front seat passengers get the full effect of the two major splashdown sections. Fortunately my camera and phone survived the experience, though they were quickly installed into a locker before any re-rides. We took four more circuits in total, all in the third row of the boat.
Other than the unexpected soaking on our first ride, I have to profess that I really liked Journey to Atlantis, idiotic soundtrack not withstanding. The ride features Mack's unique vertical lift system which adds a certain novelty element to those who have not encountered it before (no, I won't tell you what the trick is, but you won't be able to miss it when riding). The coaster section of the ride feels good once you pretend to yourself that boats really do traverse banked curves and hills at over 40mph. The only complaint that I have is a peripheral thing; the lockers. Given what the park cost to enter, it would have been nice if the lockers were free or available for a refundable deposit. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and while $1.25 wouldn't break the bank, its the principle of the thing.
Five circuits on the coaster was enough for the novelty to wear off, however; we were pretty wet and ready to try something else. Walking across the park, I spotted an arcade with a DDR USA machine. I made a brave attempt at playing, but none of the songs were even remotely familiar to me and I ended up failing my third round (six footer).
The Shipwreck Rapids was pretty nondescript as rapids rides go. It was only memorable for me because some kind soul decided to take one of the spray guns and point it in my direction. The water jet was far more powerful than anything I've seen on a rapids ride before (think power hose) and as a result I was absolutely dripping wet when the raft returned to the station. Later in the day when we walked past the spray guns in question, I took small satisfaction from the fact that the person who soaked me must have spent fifty cents to do so.
We picked up a hot lunch in the Shipwreck Reef Cafe. We had chosen a table in the blazing sunshine, but within a few minutes of our meal beginning the sun went in and it started to get progressively colder. We ended up making a trip back to the car for warmer clothes. I took the opportunity to switch into a dry t-shirt before picking up my jacket.
Though both of the extra charge rides were closed, we were able to try the final ride in the park, Wild Arctic. This is a relatively old simulator ride using the same ride system as Star Tours at the Disney parks. There was an option to watch the show in a non-moving car, which I think says a great deal about the target audience Sea World is aimed at. I can't help but wonder about the show film, though; apparently you are inside a mystery helicopter which can travel underwater.
Three of the four shows can be caught in the last ninety minutes before park closing. The first one we hit was Dolphin Discovery. Let me start out with a warning to you, dear reader; do not turn up early for this show. There will not be any difficulty in getting a seat at the last minute, and if you are early you will have to watch (and worse, listen to) a staff member singing with his guitar, and quite frankly the experience can leave permanent mental scarring. Whoever in Sea World management came up with this idea deserves some cruel and unusual torture.
The show itself is a fairly typical affair showing off a number of dolphins performing various tricks. A family from the audience was called upon to assist. This was probably scripted quite carefully, as one of the family members fell into the lake only to be rescued by one of the dolphins. She put on a good performance of not being able to swim. I assume that she was wearing a wet suit, as it had gotten pretty cold, but it was well hidden.
R. L. Stine's Haunted Lighthouse is a typical 4D movie with an unusual feature; all the effects appeared to be working. It is an unfortunate fact that many theme parks with four-dimensional cinemas don't repair the special effects when they break down. The story was a fairly predictable affair, but nevertheless all the children in the audience appeared to love it. For those unaware, R. L. Stine is the author of a series of children's ghost stories called Goosebumps.
Finally, we came to what is almost a rite of passage for everyone visiting Sea World; the Shamu Adventure show. Shamu is a killer whale, or rather several killer whales; at least one for each of the three Sea World parks. The show had a lot in common with the dolphin show, with various acrobatic tricks and other fun and games. There was a particularly amusing scene where an audience member received a kiss from Shamu; those who have attended a show will know what I mean!
18th February 2005
Departing Sea World, we drove the ten minute journey over to Belmont Park, home of the Giant Dipper (#384). I had heard many things about this coaster, absolutely none of them positive. However, none of those reports were particularly recent. I can only assume that work has been done on the Giant Dipper in the interim, as I found it to be a good fun coaster with a bit of airtime. It was not a smooth ride by any means, but while violent, I wouldn't describe it as rough by any stretch of the imagination.
Many digital cameras, including my one, do not work well in poor light conditions. Flash photography of a large object like a Roller Coaster is never going to happen as the flash isn't powerful enough, but even long exposure shots can be a bit hit and miss. I made more than thirty attempts to get a decent photograph of the Giant Dipper, and while some were moderately okay, the majority of my attempts were in vain.
There was a DDR Extreme machine in Belmont Park tucked in among a treasure trove of old arcade games such as Tron, Ms Pacman, et al. Unfortunately, this machine suffered from pads that probably hadn't been cleaned since the machine was installed. It is not possible to get good scores when your feet keep sticking to the arrows!
We had an enjoyable meal in the China Max restaurant in San Diego before the two and a half hour drive up to the Hilton Garden Inn at Valencia, across the road from Six Flags Magic Mountain. My room had a leaflet proclaiming free broadband internet access, but I couldn't get it to work initially. It turned out that the cable I was connecting to, which had been pushed under the wall with the phone wiring, was not connected to anything. A second cable, tied up behind the television, was live. I wonder how many previous guests had attempted to use the broadband without success...