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Knott’s Puts New Thrills, Splash Into Summer Days

Times Staff Writer

The thrill is back at Knott’s Berry Farm.

At least it will be by Memorial Day weekend, when Knott’s plans to open two new thrill rides and what its promotions department is touting as the “most advanced” fountain display ever built.

The Buena Park facility is spending $4 million on the attractions to perk up attendance figures during the upcoming busiest season of the year.

Southern California, after all, is the most competitive area of the country when it comes to recreation dollars. And Knott’s faces especially stiff competition this summer from two multimillion-dollar attractions: Universal Studios’ brand new Earthquake: The Big One and Disneyland’s long overdue Splash Mountain.

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“On the local market, (those attractions) make the competition a lot tougher,” Knott’s spokesman Stuart Zanville said Monday. Knott’s drew about 4 million patrons last year, ranking it sixth in attendance in the United States, according to Amusement Business, a trade magazine.

To keep its turnstiles spinning this summer, Knott’s plans to unleash two of the kind of thrill attractions that Knott’s president and chief operating officer Terry E. Van Gorder calls “throw-up rides"--the sort of tossing, twisting, spinning white-knucklers that appeal to teens.

They are the latest in a major upgrading that has brought major renovations, Kingdom of the Dinosaurs, Wild Water Wilderness--and three thrill rides--to Knott’s since 1983.

With the two newest rides Knott’s “completes the program we started 2 years ago of bringing our thrill rides back up to the current state of the industry,” Zanville said. “Now we feel the quality of ours is comparable to that of any park.”

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One of the rides--the XK-1--puts thrill-seekers 70 feet above the ground in peanut-shaped capsules that are attached to a center shaft. The capsules--which are supposed to resemble space cockpits--lift up and spin at more than 10 revolutions per minute.

What gives the $2-million, XK-1 its kick is a microcomputer system that allows patrons to control their own capsules. By pushing on a control stick, customers can dive, swing straight up, or flop in dizzying, 360-degree barrel roles.

It’s not original, but the XK-1 is relatively new. Only two other versions exist--at Santa Clara’s Great America park where it opened 2 weeks ago and at King’s Dominion in Virginia where it opened Friday.

“It’s a whole new concept,” said Tim O’Brien, managing editor of Amusement Business. “It’s a combination of the Condor (at Magic Mountain) that takes you high in the air and turns you around and Dumbo (at Disneyland)” where you can move in and out. But with this, you can completely turn upside-down if you want to.”

Knott’s is betting that the XK-1 will appeal to more than teen-agers. By giving patrons control over how much they want to toss and turn, Knott’s is hoping it will attract its share of parents with 6-year-olds who will want to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Knott’s second ride, called “Whirlpool,” is an updated version of a very traditional theme park ride known in the industry as the “scrambler.”

Patrons sit at ground level in open cars that are suspended on the ends of long arms. The riders are thrilled when cars spin in one direction as they turn, “as if you put one car on the arms of a pinwheel,” Zanville said.

To add some pizazz, Knott’s is putting its $1-million “Whirlpool” in a darkened building then adding lights and projected special effects to create the feeling that the riders are underwater.

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Both are located in the Roaring 20s area--which should help spread crowds from the center of Knott’s (where the log ride and Montezuma’s Revenge are located) to the northwest corner.

“The Incredible Waterworks Show,” meanwhile, should help draw people to Knott’s Reflection Lake, the acre or so of water in the western portion of the park. The show--actually a gigantic (25 feet by 90 feet) fountain--will contain 1,100 jets of water that can shoot as high as 100 feet. The streams can be changed from show to show and will be combined with about 200 colored lights and music.

At night, lasers and fireworks can be added to the 5- to 15-minute water show, which will spout up about 30 times each day the park is open. “It’ll be the sleeper” of the latest attractions, Zanville said. “It’s going to be spectacular, and people don’t realize the size of it.”

The two newest thrill rides will help scare some life into the old box office receipts in two ways: for one thing, Knott’s is purchasing the attractions--not designing them--so the cost is much cheaper than an original ride.

Why thrill rides?

Because they attract teen-agers and “that’s one of the easiest markets to deliver,” said Stephen Clark, president of Management Resources, a Tustin-based consultant to the leisure and amusement park business. Teen-agers “have the highest propensity” and are most likely to go to a new attraction, Clark explained.

For Knott’s competitors, the thrill rides may not be thrilling--but they’re not scary, either.

“We complement each other,” said Bob Roth, Disneyland’s spokesman. “If Knott’s adds to what they have there, that’s basically good for the industry.”

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“It’s good for all of us,” agreed Joan Bullard, spokeswoman for Universal Studios Hollywood. The new attractions “will bring more people to Southern California . . . and we hope that will bring more tourists to our area.”


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