Tuesday, August 11, 2009

California's "Not So" Great America Thrill Rides

On August 10th my friend and I planned an outing to California's Great America Amusement Park with our two families of seven children as well as seven other children of various friends. In total we had 14 children and four adults as we took our motley crew to Paramount's Great America in Santa Clara. This has become an annual summer passage before school starts for the past few years.

After spending outrageous amounts of money on one-day passes for our lot totaling upwards of $500.00 for just the admission into the park, our bunch, ranging in age from nine to 17-years old, piled out of our packed cars into the park.

Excited as they may be, they quickly mapped out their days' adventures. More than half our group consisted of teens and pre-teens who now seek out all of the roller coaster rides and what California's Great America calls "thrill rides". The boys fractioned off and swiftly ran to their thrill rides including Invertigo, the Demon, Vortex and Flight Deck. Others in our group went to a few milder rides and would hook up after a few hours.

After our group rejoined we all took the Delta Flyer, an overhead cable ride, to the front of the park where we exited to our parked cars and got picnic lunches as well as swimsuits and towels. Everyone decided after lunch to take a break from the upper 90-degree temperatures and cool down at Boomerang Bay.

As we re-entered the park, we were surprised to see the Delta Flyer was all the sudden closed. We had just taken it a few minutes earlier before lunch. Perhaps it was just a routine check for daily maintenance. So we walked over to Boomerang Bay from the front of the park. As we entered into that area, we noticed all of the big slides were closed. The kids just shrugged and headed for what was still open such as the wave pool and lazy river rides.

Within an hour the kids quickly tired of those and between complaints of "when can we go to the rides" and eating costly park food and drinks we all wondered when the big slides and rides would open. When would the Delta Flyer, Invertigo and Flight Deck re-open? That's when we began to notice a bunch of helicopters hovering overhead looking down upon us. Out came our iPhones and Blackberrys to check out the news. Park employees were keeping a tight lip. But all of the thrill rides seemed to be closed as we wandered around and other sections were completely cordoned off.

Finally came word from one of the husbands who knew we were there about a newsflash he just received. A ride, Invertigo, which a couple of our children were on just an hour ago, was malfunctioning and came to a complete standstill along with at least 24 people caught on board. Some hovering 80 feet above ground! We realized that other surrounding rides were closed because they would be able to view the disaster of Invertigo from nearby tall rides including the Delta Flyer that traverses the entire park from above. Who would want to see that as you're 100 feet above ground?

Our kids continued to pester us to go on the rides. We tried to explain the situation, but you can't talk sense to a bunch of teenage boys who are focused on their goal of going on their thrill rides. But by 3 o'clock, then 4 o'clock, and then 5 o'clock, the rides were still closed. It was getting close to our planned departure time. Only our littlest ones had rides open such as the merry-go-round and swings. This isn't what our families paid good money for to take an entire day and enjoy with our families and friends.

So when it finally came time to leave with our many unhappy children in tow who did not get to ride to their hearts content we decided to check out Customer Services on our way out and ask for either a refund or a new park pass to make up for lost time and the unfulfilled expectations of our crew. But the long line of people who were already trying to do the same thing were getting turned away. One by one, no refunds or friendly service was delivered, only a website on a piece of paper was handed out by customer service. That's not something Disneyland or Universal Studios would have done. Both of those parks make customer service a top priority because they know it's not only a happy customer who continue to come year after year, but happy customers keep buying food and souvenirs while in the park.

The bigger picture we realized on this outing, which I'm sure many of you do through the course of a typical week, is when you invite your child's friend to a play date without their parent. The worst that could happen under your watch is any sort of accident. Fortunately we did not have to experience that - but we came close considering some of the children on our watch were on Invertigo earlier in the day. If on an outing such as this, - who would feel responsible, the park or the parent? What a tragedy that would be.

This experience sure made us reflect on that possibility and wonder what would we do if that were to happen. You wonder if this park is going to have other disasters, and just how safe some of these rides are? The poor customer relations of California's Great America has caused us to reconsider this traditional summer outing, and for the time being rename the park, "California's NOT so Great America".

Today Go To Gals gives California's Great America our stinker award,that is, unless we hear back from them after writing to the site they handed out to a bunch of us disgruntled customers.

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