United States of America
Thrill Me, Chill Me…
My heart races as fast as my stomach churns; the wind chills my face as we gather speed. Our Autobot saviour hits the afterburners at the very last second and we shoot forward as missiles come at us from the side. We’re so close that I can feel the heat from one explosion. Megatron fires a fusion cannon. It heads straight towards my forehead and if it were not for some extraordinary evasive action from Evac (the Autobot we’re clinging onto for dear life), I’d be scrap metal. This is like some incredible dream, but it isn’t. It is the latest simulator/roller-coaster amusement park thrill – Transformers: The Ride-3D at Universal Studios Hollywood.
My addiction to thrill rides can be traced back to a holiday in California in 1983. I was 13 and we were visiting Six Flags Magic Mountain, an amusement park that was built not on cartoon characters, but simply on thrills. The Colossus was the source of constant screams. At the time, it was the largest wooden roller-coaster in the world with two drops over 30 metres long and old carts that threatened to derail at any second. It had recently gained notoriety as the roller-coaster that featured in Walley World in Chevy Chase’s comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation. Like the Griswold family, the Jamieson family were enjoying a vacation. We continuously dared each other to ride the Colossus, and when it came time, I was the only Jamieson that did. Perhaps it was this coming-of-age moment, where for once I was braver than dad, which has since attracted me to such rides.
When it comes to amusement parks, California is somewhat of a Mecca. Wide-eyed pilgrims flock to Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Knott’s Berry Farm, which is the oldest park of them all. Knott’s began life as a berry farm back in 1920. This is where founder Walter Knott created the boysenberry, by crossing a red raspberry with a blackberry and loganberry. But it was Walter’s wife Cordelia who cooked up the Californian thrill-ride storm. Customers at the farm loved Cordelia’s chicken dinners so much that demand grew until thousands of customers were lining up waiting, often for hours, to dine. To entertain the crowds, Walter introduced some rides that were based around a Wild West show.
From these auspicious beginnings, things gathered momentum faster than a Colossus carriage. Knott’s launched the Corkscrew – the world’s first 360-degree roller-coaster – in 1975. This was followed by the Sky Jump in 1976, which was the highest ride in the park until it was overtaken 25 years later by its successor – the 30-storey-high Supreme Scream. In 1978, Montezuma’s Revenge was introduced, a coaster that shoots you to speeds of 90 kilometres per hour within five seconds (and is still there today). Knott’s continued to stay at the forefront of hair-raising roller-coaster rides, while it’s world-renowned neighbour continued to focus on entertaining the kids with Mickey and Minnie.
These days, the advancement of technology means that old roller-coasters like the Corkscrew have been replaced by the Boomerang, a ride with six loops – three facing forward then three facing backwards. It is this ride that, today, almost reintroduces me to the chicken dinner I ate the night before.
I continue to feed my addiction at Knott’s on the Silver Bullet, a rollercoaster that has us hanging in the air, feet dangling as we loop, twist and corkscrew. It suddenly stops and I’m not quite sure if I’m upside down or not. Next up is the GhostRider – currently the longest wooden roller-coaster on the USA’s West Coast. I have flashbacks to the Colossus as we rattle up the first climb and then plummet down a 33-metre drop. It is old and rickety and by the end of it I realise so am I. My neck has a crick and I can barely see the top of the next ride, the Xcelerator, which takes willing passengers from zero to 130 kilometres per hour in just three seconds. People say I am very much like my father and today I agree – I decide to sit the Xcelerator out.
On that family trip back in 1983, we spent one day at Universal Studios. It was enough time to get a Polaroid snapped of ET and I jumping a BMX over the moon. We also took the studio tour and screamed as Jaws creaked out of the lake just as we passed by. ET is long gone these days, though my fear of sharks in fresh water is not.
Transformers: The Ride-3D has replaced the old ET Adventure ride. It cost a reported US$100 million and is at the forefront of fairground attractions. It is designed to suspend all sense of reality (unlike the very real screams coming from the people on the nearby roller-coaster rides).
How does it compare to freefalling 30 stories down in an open outdoor carriage though? Both are thrilling, both are chilling and both are definitely fulfilling, but roller-coasters win for the sheer fear factor. With Six Flags Magic Mountain now boasting 18 roller-coasters, more than any other park in the world, I decide to leave it to my next visit, when I think I’ll bring dad.
United Airlines fly direct to LA from A$1,300.
Universal Studios Hollywood is at Universal City, which is only 15 minutes from Hollywood. Day passes start at around AU$112. Go VIP for AU$362 and you won’t wait in line for anything. You’ll also enjoy special access to the backlit studios and a great lunch.
Knott’s Berry Farm is about an hour south of LA. Day tickets cost around AU$50 if you buy online, three days in advance (AU$73 if you buy on the day), add a Fast Lane wristband for about AU$43 and skip the lines.
Six Flags Magic Mountain is about 30 minutes north of LA. Day Tickets are AU$60 if bought in advance online or AU$85 bought at the park. sixflags.com/magicmountain