The new Sol Spin thrill ride at Knott's Berry Farm looks much scarier and more exciting from the ground than it really is when you get up in the air.
I took a spin over the weekend on the new 65-foot-tall ride at the Buena Park theme park and found the experience to be fun but surprisingly tame and far too short.
From the ground, Sol Spin looks like a flying blender of bold primary colors. The ride spins in three directions, sending riders flipping head-over-heels as their gondola whirls like a propeller blade and a support arm rotates like a second hand on a malfunctioning clock.
Knott's has given Sol Spin its most intense thrill level rating: Double Black Diamond.
On the carnival midway, traveling versions of these types of spinning, twisting and whirling attractions are known in carnie-speak as bucket rides because they tend to induce vomiting. Ride operators keep a five-gallon bucket of water handy to wash off the seats.
In the amusement park industry, the attractions are known as flat rides. They add kinetic energy to a park, fit on a small footprint and appeal to a core audience of thrill seekers.
Theme parks often have difficulty marketing flat rides as the big, new attraction of summer because they don't elicit as much excitement as a looping coaster or an immersive dark ride.
Knott's rolled out Sol Spin with a low-key launch last week.
I was terrified to climb on Sol Spin and had second thoughts about riding throughout the day. The stomach-churning, head-spinning ride looked like a stomach upset waiting to happen.
But by dusk, with the ride's mesmerizing lighting package pulsating, my nerves had calmed.
After a few rides, I realized Sol Spin was nowhere near as intense as I imagined.
From the air, it's really just a tame family ride designed to quicken the pulse of anxious parents and excite squealing tweens and teens. Sol Spin is far closer in intensity to the Waveswinger swing ride at Knott's than the park's more extreme La Revolución pendulum swing.
Sol Spin riders sit in freely rotating gondolas attached to a counterclockwise-rotating arm that makes an oval arc through the air. The floorless coaster-like seats with over-the-shoulder restraints allow riders to dangle their feet and arms as centrifugal force causes the gondolas to rock back and forth.
The ride has "Big Boy" seats on each gondola for larger riders and sets both minimum (4 feet 6 inches) and maximum (6 feet 4 inches) height requirements.
Screamscape (which calls itself "the ultimate guide to theme parks") notes that the Knott's ride is sedate compared with the longer and more extreme versions of the attraction offered at traveling carnivals and state fairs.
The thrill rides, known as Top Scans, are capable of spinning both the six gondolas and the rotating support arm in clockwise and counterclockwise directions. The support arm can also be paused at the top of the arc, causing riders to experience more over-the-top flipping motions as the gondolas continue to rotate.
The 90-second Knott's ride feels as though it's just getting started when it comes to an end. Knott's needs to run each Sol Spin ride cycle about twice as long as it does.
A midride change of direction with a brief pause at the top of the arc would boost the thrill level just enough to make it worthy of the Double Black Diamond designation.
Knott's could conceivably run two programs: a mellow family version during the day and an intense thrill ride variation at night. Whether Knott's will adjust the intensity of the ride based on visitor feedback is unknown.
Sol Spin replaces Windseeker, a short-lived 301-foot-tall tower ride that the park removed after a series of malfunctions. Cedar Fair, Knott's parent company, temporarily closed all its Windseekers after the tower rides stranded visitors hundreds of feet in the air for hours during the summer of 2012. The Knott's ride was relocated to Missouri's Worlds of Fun.