Review: Knott's Berry Farm opts for family fun over wild thrills

Review: Knott's Berry Farm opts for family fun over wild thrills
The Surfside Gliders flying scooters in the Boardwalk area of Knott's Berry Farm. (Knott's Berry Farm)

Knott's Berry Farm is stuck with that old carrots-versus-candy conundrum this summer -- forced to administer a dose of what's needed rather than what's wanted.

Knott's unveiled three family rides on Thursday that won't make many people rush out to the Buena Park theme park any time soon. It's an age-old problem: visitors want the fastest, tallest, newest first-of-a-kind record-setters but parks know the smaller off-the-shelf rides help make a trip to the park feel more complete.


The makeover of the Boardwalk section at Knott's brings a cohesive look to an area of the park in desperate need of attention while adding three new rides: Coast Rider wild mouse coaster, Surfside Gliders flying scooters and Pacific Scrambler spinning ride.

The new additions replace Perilous Plunge, a shoot-the-chutes water ride installed in 2000 at the back of the park that sat largely unused at night and during off-peak months.

It's extremely difficult for theme parks to open what's known in the industry as flat rides -- gut-churning spinning whirlwinds that churro-chomping children love and antacid-popping parents loathe.

Every park needs them to help with capacity concerns but they are nearly impossible to build a summer promotional campaign around. Come ride the Tea Cups! Spin out of control on our exciting Octopus! Lose your lunch on Vomitron! It's much easier to sell the latest, greatest coaster creation with the terrifying serpentine moniker.

The problem with the new Boardwalk is you can find scramblers, flying scooters and wild mouse coasters at almost any of the little family entertainment centers that line highways across America. As a rule, visitors don't want to pay theme park prices for traveling carnival rides.

Castle Park in Riverside has both a flying scooter and a wild mouse. Traveling versions of scramblers are ubiquitous at church carnivals and county fairs. The Knott's scrambler has had no fewer than four names throughout its lifetime -- repeatedly retired over the past couple of decades only to be brought out of mothballs to complement some new project.

With the renovated Boardwalk area, Knott's has done a beautiful job of turning what was a giant swath of cement and steel into a colorful Coney Island-style fun zone. Under an entry arch reminiscent of the Santa Monica Pier, a new wood-plank walkway leads to two rides flanked by shallow pools of deep blue water that creates the illusion of a seaside amusement pier.

The revitalized area will feel like summer year-round with its eye-popping paint scheme of bright oranges and yellows offset by vibrant purples and greens. Lighting packages on several of the rides will add a dose of kinetic energy at night.

I absolutely loved the flying scooters, an old-school ride making a comeback at theme parks across the country as the original "interactive" attraction. I enjoyed controling the fin-like wing as I dove down toward the ground in my scooter before soaring back out over the water.

Like many parents, I could do without ever climbing aboard another scrambler in my lifetime. But I loved watching the wildly spinning kids fill the air with the screams and laughter synonymous with endless summer fun.

The anchor of the revitalized land is a Mack Rides wild mouse coaster that you can find down the I-5 freeway at Legoland California. The Knott's ride is the perfect first coaster for young riders with a few modest bunny hops and a series of lazy switchbacks.

All in all, the new rides are nothing to get excited about. But you can't build a summer marketing campaign around that slogan. I think it goes without saying I'd much rather have a new $25-million super coaster, but then again I'm not writing the checks.

It's been nearly a decade since Knott's added anything that truly quickened the pulse and took your breath away.

Knott's went through a period in the late 1990s and early 2000s when it seemed some new thrill ride was opening every summer, with the GhostRider wooden coaster (1998), Supreme Scream drop tower (1998), Xcelerator launch coaster (2002), La Revolucion pendulum swing (2003) and Silver Bullet inverted coaster (2004).

Since then, the park has added a pair of fairly sedate family coasters in Sierra Sidewinder (2007) and Pony Express (2008) along with the mild Windseeker swing tower (2011), which has been plagued with operational problems.

But it's easy to forget just how much thrill is already built into the park. No less than three adrenaline-pumping machines border the new Boardwalk area: the Xcelerator and Boomerang coasters and the somersaulting Riptide ride.

From a big-picture point of view, the Boardwalk project makes sense for Knott's. The makeover trades a problematic dud in Perilous Plunge for three workhorse rides that will entertain far more visitors for years to come. Here's hoping some summer soon Knott's unleashes a steel serpent with a ridiculously terrifying name like Diamondback, Leviathan or Gatekeeper.

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