Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Park Review - Knott's Berry Farm

Well, I don't normally do the park reviews, just take the pictures and all, but +Carrie H.C. is down and out with pneumonia at the moment and asked if I would step in and get this one out there for you all. Apologies in the delay getting this out and I hope that you enjoy the ride!

Day: Monday
Date: March 10th, 2014
Weather: Perfect
Overall Rating: Excellent
Coaster Rating: Excellent
Overall Opinion: Lived up to the hype!
Review Team: +Carrie H.C., +Alexandra F, +Kitsune Hazard

Yet another park that we visited during our huge Southern California Tour a couple of weeks ago, Knott's Berry Farm has been one of those "holy grail" type of things for us. We've always heard so many good things about the park, but being on the East Coast, it was never something that was easy for us to get to. So, with us staying only a mile away, it was a no brainer that we had to visit. We weren't disappointed at all either, from friendly staff that went well out of their way to be helpful to some amazing rides and theming, Knott's has it all.


From the humble beginnings of a working berry farm, then growing into a thriving roadside business and later a restaurant, Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant, surrounded by shops and attractions, Walter Knott started the real work on this Southern California icon in 1940. This latest project would turn into the foundation of what we know of Knott's Berry Farm today, the "living ghost town" and included free entertainment into the mix. It was from this that more and more attractions and rides were added turning Knott's Berry Farm into the theme park we know today.

Since 1997, the park has been run as part of the Cedar Fair chain and thankfully, they've kept the park and it's history alive and well, along with adding new rides, attractions and other features. 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of Camp Snoopy as well. While many may think the iconic kid themed area is a Cedar Fair entity, the original was opened up at Knott's Berry Farm back in 1983!

So, what did we think of what Walter Knott's creation has turned into? Keep reading for our review!

Our day started a bit late, but we weren't going to let that bog us down, we still had plenty of daylight to get to everything in. Once inside the park, our first inclination was to find some food, but seeing as how it was still early, not all the food options had opened yet for the day. So, what do you for breakfast then? Ride a coaster of course!

Located in the Ghost Town section of the park, our first stop was on the  now iconic Ghost Rider.

Built in 1998, shortly after the Cedar Fair took over and built by Custom Coasters International, Ghost Rider is the park's only wooden coaster. While not a true "classic", it's been considered one of the top wooden coasters in the world since. One of the most interesting things to note is that the ride actually crosses over Grand Ave before the turn back, making the drive into the park an interesting one too. That said, details weren't lost at all as even the queue is themed perfectly to match the Ghost Town setting and was definitely a nice surprise compared to many other parks that do little in this arena of things.

Overall the ride was great, albeit a little rough in a few spots, but it is a wooden coasters and being tossed around a bit is never a bad thing at all! It was a glorious way to start the day off and we all enjoyed every moment of the twisted chaos.

The one thing that did bug us a little was that there seemed to be a little confusion with the whole line thing. Front and last car seating have separate queuing areas that branch off from the middle in the station. However, people seem to bunch up here while waiting for other cars, perhaps making the signs a little more obvious would alleviate the jam up that happens there.

Our adrenaline breakfast had been acquired, but we were still a bit hungry in the more traditional sense. Okay, it was more like starving, so after a short walk we found ourselves at the Ghost Town Grill. While normally we don't do big meals at theme parks, we all decided a full meal wouldn't hurt at all and were we ever in for a surprise!

What we didn't expect was a full sit down experience with an extremely friendly staff (shout out to our waitress Hazel!) that not only was having fun with us but also just really damn good at what they do. Even the host at the door was extremely friendly and helpful when we had told them we were looking for funnel cakes earlier and didn't find any (what? It's a breakfast food!).

While waiting for our food to arrive, we enjoyed a beer and were able to take in our surroundings a bit, even catching a blacksmith demonstration.

Again, the theming in the Ghost Town section of the park is amazing and topped off with actual live demonstrations from working blacksmiths, wood carvers, glass blowers, sign cutters and even a spinner too! This is just stuff you don't see everyday and was very cool to be able to just take in the atmosphere while eating lunch.

Now, the food. Holy crap, the food. Seriously, we had no idea what we were getting into and to say that we were surprised is a definite understatement. Sure, it's a bit pricey, but it's no more than you'll pay at somewhere like Friday's or it's ilk.

We all suffer from the foodie bug a little, so this was definitely a treat for us. Carrie ended up ordering a grilled chicken sandwich and salad, Alex got the fried chicken fingers and waffle fries, and I went on the adventurous end of things with the tri-tip sandwich and sweet potato fries.

As you can see from the picture to the right here, the portions are not only huge, but presented really well and everything tasted phenomenally good. None of us could stop raving about it and it's definitely one of the best theme park meals that I've personally ever had.

So, if you're looking some really high quality food and great service, you won't want to miss out on this. Also, if you can, get a table outside and take it all in while you eat. Another thing, if you find you can't everything (some portions are huge)? Don't be shy and ask for a box, we did, that way you can munch throughout your day in the park!

While we're on the subject of food and drink, one thing that you definitely have to try is the Knott's Berry Punch and Sprite combo. It was suggested to us and while it sounds weird, trust me when I say this, it's awesome! All of us couldn't believe how well the two worked together and it was our go to drink of the day after stopping at the Fireman's Brigade BBQ and finding out about it. You really need to try it if you're there, it's awesome.

Fed, watered and with a bit of our adrenaline addiction quelled, it was time for our next ride of the day. The Pony Express. Built in 2008, it was the first of it's kind to land the US from the renowned ride builder, Zamperla. Classified as a "launched-motorbike coaster", we like to think of it as the modern day evolution of the classic steeplechase coasters of the past.

That said, it has a few features that are definitely unique to anything else you're likely to find out there.

For starters, it's a launch coaster. While popular, it isn't something that you find too often in something so diminutive. However, don't let that fool you, this little pocket coaster packs a punch and is way too much fun for it's own good. We knew that we were in for something different from the moment we saw how you ride it too.

Unlike traditional coasters, you're not seated in the train, you're "on it", straddling horses. Seems like it would be extremely unstable at first, but once the restraints move into place against your back and lock into place, it feels quite natural. Anyone that's ridden a sports bike, or horse for that matter, won't feel too out of place at all.

The sensation you get is definitely unique and you feel like you're almost flying, completely free of anything as your shot out of the launch at 40mph. Doesn't seem like much, but again, it doesn't take a lot for this to be great, smooth and fun ride!

The ride bug had fully bitten us at this point and the rest of the day was filled with hitting everything we could. The next stop for us was Silver Bullet. Located on the edge of Ghost Town, this B&M inverted has been around since 2004 and is the longest inverted coaster on West Coast to boot! What's not to like?

Featuring six inversions along it's twisting course through three sections of the park, it lives up to the B&M tradition of delivering the thrills despite it's deceptive quietness and smooth ride. It is very quiet and that's because, like Talon at Dorney Park in PA, the supports are filled with sand to reduce noise.

While, Carrie and Alex did get a little head banging at a couple of spots, I didn't notice it at all. Something to keep in mind if you're shorter.

Overall, I can't say that it's the best B&M inverted that I've been on in my life, but it was definitely a good one and offered up some unique elements. The lack of the "zero-car" in the front and absence of a mid-course brake run made for a more intense ride with some foot numbing through the helices over the lake. In the end, a great ride and definitely glad to have gotten it in during our visit.

Next, we made our way over to The Boardwalk section of the park and to the next coaster on our list, Xcelerator. While launch coasters aren't our favorite things the world (well, okay, Pony Express is just fun), we were willing to give it a shot. Even more so when you realize that this was the first launch coaster of it's kind, from Intamin, and paved the way for rides such as Top Thrill Dragster and Kingda Ka.

So, what the hell, let's give it a shot, right?

Our main issue with these kinds of coasters is that they're often too short and don't offer much of anything outside of the launch and drop. Xcelerator is a bit different in that regard since it manages to fit in a couple of high banked turns and secondary hills as well. That said, unlike it's bigger and more powerful siblings, the launch for this one starts you straight out of the station which is different to say the least! While it's not one of favorites, the ride was smooth and definitely fun.

Like many coasters of this type, there isn't much theming to be talked about, (not even in the line) but the trains are great for this one and need to be mentioned. Themed after what looks like 1950's era Chevy's, they definitely fit in with the whole boardwalk theme going on in the area as well. Also, keep in mind that since the launch is in the station, the lines probably get a bit crazy during peak times so definitely keep that in mind.

Now, this next coaster is something that we had been trying to figure out all day. From a few spots in the park it sounds like it's powered, it's not. The trains were also themed to the gills too. We had been intrigued, but until now, we hadn't found the entrance to the thing.

And then, around the next corner, we spotted it. Not that it's hard to miss considering the sheer size of the ride building. That's right, our next ride was to be on Jaguar. 

Located in Fiesta Village, Jaguar is a family coaster that was built by Zierer in 1995. While I'm sure the kids love it, we saw just as many adults riding it as well. The one thing that really struck us was the queue theming. Holy crap did they go all out!

The station building and queue are housed inside a massive Aztec temple and filled with all kinds of interesting strange things to be seen. We kept wondering when the sacrifices would start and if this is where the people of Southern California eat hearts to keep the weather so nice. What? It could happen...

Still, it was awesome to see this much detail going on and to think, it's meant as a "family coaster". Some parks can't be bothered at all to do this kind of thing, so major kudo points for this one guys! Though, if you could bring back the fire effects, that'd be awesome too.

Overall, the ride was definitely interesting and quite enjoyable. Sure, it doesn't boast the biggest drops or fastest speeds, but you'll find yourself sliding all around in the seats, only adding to the fun. The ride also seems to just go all over the place; through the top of the temple, the loop of Montezuma's Revenge and right along side Silver Bullet too!

Since we're on the subject of Fiesta Village, one of the more unique and beautiful rides in the area has to be their classic Merry Go Round.

This Menagerie style carousel features 48 hand-carved animals including lions, tigers, ostriches, camels, zebras, giraffes, pigs, cats and horses. It's also one of the world's oldest working Dentzel Carousels, and at 100+-year-old still revolves to the strains of its antique Band Organ. Not something you see everyday and happy to know it's still out there in all it's glory!

A quick stop for churros, and then we found our way into Camp Snoopy. Now, I should say that at the moment, the area is undergoing a major overhaul for the 30th anniversary and during our time many rides were not operating. Also, you can't get from the front of the park into Camp Snoopy either due to the construction walls that are up, the only way into the back parts of the area is through Fiesta Village at the moment. Either way, it's looking like the improvements for the area are going to really make things nicer!

We did take a quick look to see why Montezuma's Revenge was down as well. At this time, I'm not 100% sure, but it looks like basic ride maintenance that's going on with it and hopefully it will be reopening soon. Though, by the state of it during our visit, it's hard to say what's going on exactly with it.

You just don't see classic shuttle loop coasters around much these days either, so hopefully it's nothing too bad and it's able to get up, though that missing section of track is a little worrisome!

After leaving Fiesta Village, there was still one matter of business that had to be attended to. You see, Alex and I got the bright idea to ride Timber Mountain Log Ride. Carrie doesn't do water rides and we're crazy, so it worked. Earlier in the day the line was a bit too long, but close to the end of the day, it wasn't that bad at all. What fate awaited us inside this mountain of wet? We had no idea, but were about to find out...

As one of the oldest log flume rides in the world, built in 1969, that would've been enough. However, we didn't realize that it's also one of the only fully themed log flumes as well. That information might have been good to know for the two of us.

The 330ft long ride takes you through a 19th century logging camp, full of all the sites and wonders that one could expect. Though, the problem is, we didn't expect it!

Just last year the ride got a much needed refurb and to this day, it remains one of the most popular rides at Knott's Berry Farm. I can definitely see why too, it's amazingly well themed ride filled with all kinds of sites and scenes, as well as a few other surprises. I won't spoil the fun too much, but the big 43' drop at the end isn't the only one you'll come across!

I'll spare you the crazy banter of what went on during our ride, and we probably should apologize to the poor family that was behind us (they had no idea what they were in for). Yeah, we were dumbfounded by what we experienced inside that mountain to say the least and after the drop? Well, I think the picture on the left says it all.

Again, I won't spoil things too much, but I can say that the ride operator at the end was definitely amused by Alex going "Why are there hillbillies in your mountain?!"

During our ride, and after, we couldn't help but notice that the Calico Mine Ride was right next us, and while it's currently down for a major refurb project (opening in June 2014), we were able to snag a few pictures of this iconic and loved ride from the outside and a couple through the fence itself.

Not much to see from the picture on the left as most of the improvements are going on inside the ride itself.

It's a shame that it was down, but such are the risks we face when going in the off season to many of these kinds of parks. Either way, I'm sure that once the ride does reopen, it will be an amazing experience for everyone to enjoy once again.

And there ya have it, everything that we did and saw during our visit to Knott's Berry Farm. Overall, we loved every moment of our time there and wished that the park would've been open for a few more hours that evening so we could've enjoyed it longer. Again, one of the things you deal with in the off season. Not only was the staff helpful and knowledgeable, but they all actually seemed like they truly wanted to be there as well. Compared to some other parks out there, that was a refreshing and welcome experience to have.

Oh, before I forget. You have to stop by the Berry Market, which is open everyday until 9pm, selling Knott's Berry jams, preserves and of course houses their bakery. Seriously, the bakery is awesome, you need to check it out. The best part is? You don't even have to go into the park to get there, it's outside of the gates and there is free parking across the way for an hour (3 hours if you're there for dinner). Not only are the prices good, but the baked goods are fresh and taste amazing!

So, if you're thinking of heading down to Southern California or visiting other parks in the area, myself and the rest of the ISI Parks team highly recommend that you schedule at least a day or two to check out what this amazing little park has to offer. You won't be disappointed!

For more information about ticket prices, dates of operation and hours, check out the official Knott's Berry Farm website for that and a whole lot more!

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