Gilroy Gardens

23rd May 2014

Gilroy Gardens, formerly Bonfante Gardens, opened in 2001 as California's only horticulture theme park. Developed over a twenty-five year period by Michael and Claudia Bonfante, the park initially struggled due to low guest numbers. Paramount Parks (now Cedar Fair) was brought in to provide expertise in 2003, and their assistance allowed the park to prosper. Management invested two million dollars into a new water play area this year, indicating that business is now blooming.

Gilroy Gardens

The park is geared primarily at families with young children. The desire to educate is never far from sight, with lots of signs describing the various plants on display in exhaustive detail. There are also four dedicated Learning Sheds that explore many different nature-related subjects in depth, including geology, seismic activity, the weather, bugs, and a magnificent collection of Circus Trees. For everyone else, a selection of twenty different amusement rides can be found scattered within the lush greenery, including two roller coasters. We decided to start our visit with Timber Twister (#2046), a Zierer Medium Tivoli that felt much the same as every other ride of this type, even down to the tiny pop of airtime on the first drop.

I'd been particularly looking forward to riding Quicksilver Express (#2047), the only known installation of a Morgan mine train. I'd somehow never gotten round to looking at a POV, and thus was somewhat nonplussed by the rather boring section after the first lift hill, a fifteen second wander from side to side taken at a relatively slow place. Things picked up significantly after a second lift hill, however, with the train negotiating several tight and forceful turns as well as an airtime hill that felt particularly powerful from the back of the train. The track work was fairly smooth, apart from the two lift hills, which were engaged with a thump akin to a fully loaded eighteen wheeler hitting a brick wall.

The Panoramic Wheel was a bit of a disappointment, largely because it had no view to speak of; both sides were entirely obscured by trees. It was also a bit of a shock to find the ride fitted with individual seat belts with a pin release mechanism that the operator had to unlock individually. Paranoia seemed to have been taken to another level on the Skytrail monorail which had the same seat belts as well as individual lap bars. We didn't get to ride it due to a protein spillage on board the train, but I doubt we missed much. Guest safety is a legitimate and noble goal, but is it really necessary to have two independent restraint systems on a monorail?

Several of the flat rides within the park are off the shelf designs augmented with elaborate custom theming. We skipped both the Garlic Twirl break dance and the Banana Split pirate ship, but decided to try the Mushroom Swing wave swinger which, at full speed, came very close to the surrounding trees. We also decided to try the Backroads Garden car ride, which has two independent tracks, one featuring 1920s vehicles, the other featuring 1950s. Both tracks follow the same basic route, albeit in different directions, allowing riders to wave at each other as they pass. Each track also features a tunnel with a sound effect at the end, which on our track was of a police car siren and an officer yelling for us to pull over. With no brake (or, for that matter, accelerator) available we decided feigning deafness as our best way forward.

The last ride of the morning was on Rainbow Garden, a slow boat ride (with seat belts) in about one foot of water.

 

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

23rd May 2014

It would be remiss of me not to start my trip report from Santa Cruz without some commentary on dishonest advertising. As we arrived in the area, we saw a clear sign advertising five dollar parking, which we decided to use. However, the lot that the arrow was pointing at actually charged ten dollars, with the cheaper option being some distance away. Irritated, we got back in the car and decided to find an alternative, ending up in an on-street space at the eastern end of the park. This ended up costing us less than the all day deal would have, though we did have to locate a quantity of small change for the meter.

Undertow (#2048) was added to the park late last year in the spot once occupied by Hurricane. I'd been looking forward to riding what was essentially a clone of the magnificent Spinning Racer, but the experience was lacklustre to say the least; both of our rides featured no spinning to speak of despite our heroic attempts at unbalancing the cars.

Carousel

The Looff Carousel is one of the few remaining Brass Ring Carousels, and the second oldest in regular operation. Riders sitting on the outside horses are encouraged to grab rings from a mechanical dispenser, which can then be thrown at a target on the back wall. The ride is considered a National Historic Landmark and it isn't hard to see why, with beautifully ornate horses and three different band organs; a Ruth model dating from 1911 and a pair of Wurlitzers.

The park demolished its old Haunted Castle at the end of the 2009 season, and replaced it with a substantially bigger attraction of the same name designed by Sally Corp. The new hearse-themed cars pass through various different areas of the castle before ending up in a graveyard, and while the storyline is perhaps a little disjointed, the standard of the theming and the attention to detail is top notch.

The only real disappointment of the day, oddly, was the Giant Dipper. Fresh paintwork on the classic wood coaster gleamed in the afternoon sun, but couldn't make up for the bone-crushing impact at the base of the first drop that quite frankly hurt. Furthermore, only one train was in use today, despite the crowds and near-perfect weather, meaning that the wait time was much longer than it should have been.

We had plenty of spare time prior to park closing, which we used to work our way around the other significant attractions, including the Sea Serpent, the Cave Train Adventure, the Ferris Wheel, Ghost Blasters, and the Double Shot. The latter was giving good airtime, and made for an excellent conclusion to our day.

2014


Gilroy Gardens

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Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

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