Trip Review: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Published: May 20, 2014 at 2:02 PM
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
It is one of the two large theme parks here in Northern California competing, the other is California's Great America owned and operated by Cedar Fair. The park was originally known as Marine World prior to the Six Flags ownership in 1999. Before this Marine World was a small zoo type family park with a nice collection of small rides, animals, and shows. It took on a new face after Premier Parks took over ownership in 1997 adding several roller coasters and thrill rides. In 1999 Premier Parks acquired the Six Flags chain of parks and began adding even more thrill rides and along with it Looney Tunes characters, DC comics branding, and several corporate sponsors. Since Six Flags ownership the once family park was rebranded into a thrill park and christened a new name "Discovery Kingdom". Now with that small history lesson out of the way I'll move onto the trip report.
It has been well over 10 years since the last time I have visited Discovery Kingdom in 2003. Back then Six Flags was still under the leadership of Premier Parks and was building record breaking regional coasters every year. The dreaded Zonga was still operating and applying wonderful day long migraines to any that dared to ride. But it is 2014 and it is time to give the park a chance. Parking is a bit steep at 20 dollars per vehicle. There was only one Tram operating at the lot, and the line was long so we opted to walk to the entrance. I arrived with my party as soon as the park opened at 12:00 pm bought our season passes and into the park we went.
The entrance to this park is exciting due to the amount of action going on around you. You have 5 roller coasters running their circuits behind, to the sides, and even above you. It's also lacking any sort of cohesiveness. There are just masses of wood, steel, and psychedelic painted animal statues all at random intervals and spots. My biggest gripe with the entrance is the narrow little choke point the roller coasters and the tram happen to create. It makes entering and exiting the park at peak times very difficult as the paths to and from the parking lot are just too small. Even light crowds coming in and out seem to bottle neck, which it wouldn't have to if the path were just a few feet wider.
The entrance plaza is surprisingly calm compared to the whirlwind of attractions you just passed walking in. Lockers are to your right, the large souvenir store is to your left. The dolphin fountain in the middle of the plaza is the hub and the rest of the park branches out from there. The park is divided into 3 sub sections, "Land," "Sea," and "Air." I'll refrain from calling them "zones" or "lands," because there aren't any. The way the park divides it are some attractions are "Land" shows/exhibits, others are "Sea" shows/exhibits, and others are considered to be "Air" attractions. There is no division among the listed sub sections. Air rides can be right next to Sea shows and it can be vise versa on the other end of the park. The park Trash Cans are the only way to identify if an area is considered "Land", "Sea", or "Air".
Being the park opening we decided to have our season passes taken care of. The process involves you entering a trailer attached to the side of the park. It is painted green... So I suppose that's a theme. But it looks like a trailer inside and out, and that's just cheap, and bad show. I can understand that it might be a temporary building, and I hope it is, but it's hard to tell, and regardless it's a sad sight. A quick photo and clicking away at a computer and done. Past the generic looking midway games, and on to our first ride.
We started the day with arguably the best ride in the park, Medusa. This Bolliger & Mabillard coaster has you walking through some gardens till you come upon a ruined temple surrounded by several Takis tortilla chip advertisements destroying what little theming the ride had. The generic "Six Flags Network" was playing on the TV further taking away from the ride. The loading platform leaves much to be desired, more Takis advertisements, lined the wall and bare poles. On the ride my party snagged the third row, restraints down, and the floor drops. This coaster is a gem. Still smooth as glass after all these years and the "sea serpent" inversion is still one of the unique elements that it offers. It still captures the title of best ride in the park as far as I'm concerned. Medusa is in need of some new paint to over up the age of its It's painfully obvious that the ride is built on a parking lot though. Some landscaping would do the ride some good and make the park look less cheap.
After the thrilling Medusa we shot over quickly to Kong, the Vekoma suspended looping coaster. Kong has you entering through mesh and chain link fences as the ride looms above you. There isn't much for theming here apart from the KONG sign near the front of the ride. Nor am I sure what an inverted coaster has to do with a giant gorilla. The TV's has the "Six Flags Network" playing, not relating to the ride what so ever. Regardless we boarded the ride, lowered the restraints and we we were dispatched. Ouch. That's what we said just going down the first drop. The rest of the ride just bashed us around and was so utterly painful we can't understand why this model of coaster is so popular. Sure the footprint is small but it doesn't offer anything other than bumps and headaches. Exiting the ride is for some reason back through the entrance. There is much to be desired but sadly there isn't a way to really theme this mass of steel. The Kong moniker is one I don't understand. Perhaps a name change at the very slightest would help, such as a bird, breaking out of its chain link cage? The best thing would be for the park to invest in a nicer ride, wether it's a coaster or not is irrelevant, because Kong is just not fun. When a ride isn't fun, especially when it's a ride that's been duplicated 39 times, theme parks should be looking to replace the attraction rather than expand the park outwards. More rides (or more flags according to the company) does not equate more fun.
After the jarring experience on Kong, we decided to take it easy and rode the Cobra family coaster. This is the best highest capacity junior coaster I've been on. The train is shaped as a snake, it runs through a small garden, and the attendants were amazingly friendly here. Not sure if Six Flags puts more kid friendly people at this ride or not, but they were an enthusiastic bunch. The ride isn't the smoothest, but it's a cute ride that is great for beginner coaster riders.
Next up was a newer ride since the last time I visited the park. Sky Screamer is a Star Flyer model attraction. Essentially it's a giant two sweater swing. You get to walk to Sky Screamer by going underneath some of the Medusa track. Six Flags did some awesome things here by landscaping the areas Medusa dips down. Now if only they could do the remainder of the ride. No theming at all near this ride, just the awesome dips of Medusa roaring by. The ride itself is very low capacity, which results in long waits with short lines. It's a fun ride, it offers very nice views of Vallejo and the park itself. There's not too much to say about it, but it is enjoyable, and fun.
Well by this point it's time for lunch, and the only thing that looked decent was the Johnny Rockets toward the Pendulum Swing. I find it strange that there are 2 Johnny Rockets in the park, and to top that off they are both on the same side of the park. They are even themed sort of. The building looks like a mud brick type building that has seen better days. They then painted it in the sharp red and white colors that scream Johnny Rockets. Typical of most amusement venues, the food is mediocre at best and over priced. You want fries or a drink with that burger? Up charge. Standing in line a young teenage girl along with their friends started cussing up a storm, acting like any teenager would when they discover "new words" to use. A nearby manager picking up trash overheard the girls laughing and cussing. He approached and confronted them about their language let them know this was a family park and reminded them that continuing to act in the manner they were was not only immature but could result in expulsion from the park. It was a nice change compared to my 2003 visit where people acting like idiots was abundant. You can tell managers care about the environment they work in, and it shows in how they handle situations like this one.
While in the area we took in the dolphin show at the Toyota Theater. Now here is where the park shines. Looking at the audience, I could see the excitement and curiosity on many of the children's faces. The dolphin trainers interact with the kids and even adults. They select one unlucky dad to get splashed, the dolphins do jumps and tricks. It's all good fun and everyone seemed happy with the show. We were so impressed we actually decided to race over to the Tiger Show and we were again awarded with another great show. The audience here was even more delighted, and even included teenagers. What makes these two shows great aren't so much the animals but the handlers. They really have a passion for what they are doing, and seem to love the animals as much as they do their roles in the park.
Next up another ride! This time we hit up the boomerang. I'm not a fan of Vekoma coasters and this one just further proves to me the company doesn't know how to build a smooth coaster with inversions. I understand why company's built so many of these across the world. They are cheap and fit a tiny footprint. But again the ride is boring, unimaginative, rough, and simply not fun. The theming I guess fits the ride. The coaster sort of looks like a boomerang, and it is thrown in one direction just to return backwards. With 45 models of this coaster, most of them residing in Six Flags parks, or in direct competitors parks, it's time to retire the stock designs of coasters. Build and invest in something unique that will grab customers attention. Wether that's a dark ride, another animal attraction, or a dark ride. Customers these days aren't sold on cheap thrills anymore. Rant done moving on.
Animals, animals, animals! My oh my how many there are. This is again one of the highlights at this park. Unlike many of the zoos I've visited including Disney's Animal Kingdom, the animals here seem happy, and even tend to interact (behind their enclosures of course) with the guests. Our absolute favorite were the fennec foxes. There were two of them and they are beyond adorable. They not only constantly play with one another but placing a finger tip against the glass and they begin to follow and paw at it. Down the road are some very friendly giraffe, as well as red foxes, mountain lions, camels and much more. The facilities aren't anything spectacular or elaborately themed, but they are adequate and the animals seem pretty happy.
Mixed into these animal viewing areas are small kiddie rides. Nothing too elaborately themed, but they do allow for children to look at some animals then jump onto a ballon "Dumbo" type ride for instance. Another gripe I have with the park is they tend to cram all the popular rides in the front of the park, making for an uneven distribution of people in the park. The back half of this park was moderately crowded, where the animals are located, while the font half of the park is bustling and overcrowded. Highlights in this back area are Tazmanian Devil, The Ark, Thrilla Gorilla, and Monkey Business. All themed flat ride attractions that don't offer anything new for riders as they can be found at just about any amusement park.
The most elaborate animal viewing areas are of course the wonderful butterfly pavilion, and the aquarium section. The butterfly pavilion is just wonderful. It has some nice exotic plants and hundreds of butterflies of various sizes and colors quietly living their wonderful lives free from predators. The shark tunnel is rather small, but fills a vital segment for the park featuring many different types of fish, sharks, and rays. Jocko the Walrus is just up the ways a little further. These walruses are the most interactive of all the animals. They respond and interact with children and adults all standing at the glass. They'll "high five", blow bubbles, and make clicking noises. They are a delight. Shockingly this is also the most unkept animal facility. The water is just filthy. I'm not sure if this is just due to walruses being messy or if it was just an off day, but I don't remember the walrus exhibit in 2003 smelling or looking as bad as it did.
After all the animals, we decided to head back to the food court and grab a quick snack. I suggested to cut through the Looney Tunes Sea Port. Here's an area that leaves a lot to be desired. It's just smaller less intense versions of all the larger rides. Essentially they are mini flat rides, but the whole area just seems cheap, without direction, and a waste of an intellectual property. There is absolutely no reason for a family to come to this area unless their kid is about 6 years or younger. It's not that I think younger children shouldn't have an area of a park dedicated to them, I just feel Six Flags already accomplished that with the Tara's Playland incorporating animal exhibits with smaller less extreme rides, in an area that has much better theming and things for young eyes to look at as opposed to this area. I just feel the Looney Tunes franchise deserves something a little more elaborate and interesting to make full use of the characters. Like why couldn't they do a Roadrunner dark ride where you just go past scenes from one of those cartoon shorts. It's not like the company would need to invest in heavy state of the art animatronics or even some elaborate ride technology. It's all existing technology, and they are enjoyable for the whole family. Much more so than a miniature swinging ship.
Heading out of Looney Tunes we headed towards the next thrill area of the park. This is by far the ugliest part of the park, with little to no trees, a few randomly placed exhibits for sea lions and stingrays, and some sort of swim with dolphins area. For a park that already has 2 large dolphin shows on the opposite side of the park, you think they would have perhaps planned this better requiring to care and tend to the needs of fewer dolphins. As in one show, and a swim with dolphins exhibit next door. That being all said we were done with animals and ready for some rides.
ROAR! This Great Coasters International roller coaster was built in 1999 This used to be a fun wooden coaster back in 2003. It was rough then, but it was fun and fast. Well now the ride is a lot bumpier, and not as enjoyable. I don't mind a bumpy wooden roller coaster, but once it starts becoming painful to ride, it results in not having much fun. The millennium flyer trains aren't much help either, even though they have helped save so many other wooden roller coasters. If Six Flags had to fix anything in this park, which there is a lot I wish they would consider, it would be to re-track this roller coaster. Wether they go the way of the hybrid steel track, or rebuild with the wood again is irrelevant. There is strong competition in Northern California with solid wood coasters now that Gold Striker and Grizzly are finished with their modifications, and the Giant Dipper has always held its own with the constant upkeep. Unless Six Flags plans on building and expanding that Looney Tunes area, which they won't, then money should be put into fixing this once solid wooden coaster.
In 2003, V2 was a pale yellow or green color from what I remember. It's clear this ride got some new paint, and it looks nice. The coaster is a unique Intamin Inverted Shuttle Launch coaster. It is unique in that instead of shooting up a vertical spiral tower, due to height constraints the coaster was changed to go through an inversion twist. The launch is still exhilarating and the ride is smooth as glass, which is typical of an Intamin that is taken care of. Otherwise there isn't a whole lot to speak of here. Shuttle coasters don't offer too much of an experience now that ride technology has improved so much in the past two decades.
Racing time was now upon us. Leaving V2, the next attraction in our path were the go karts. Here's an attraction I've never understood why it's an additional fee, since there were only a few people line to begin with. I drove us to the park in a Mini Cooper, so driving this isn't going to be any different than taking I-880 on the way up. Add to the that children have to be 42 inches in order to just ride with an adult, so kids can't really even drive their own vehicle. The only reason these things are any fun is the spirit of competitiveness that earns people bragging rights the rest of the day. Its a shame as well that these things can never be themed to anything to make it stand out and feel worthy of the extra cost.
Finally we hit our last major ride we haven't been on yet. In place of the body ricocheting Zonga of 2003 was a giant red blue and yellow Superman coaster. I have no idea what this coaster has to do with Animals or Discovery, I'm not sure what it really has to do with superman other than being painted in the primary colors the man of steel chooses to wear, but it's there with a giant "S" in the middle of the ride to inform you this is a "themed" attraction. The line takes forever, due to the extremely low capacity of this ride. One train, two cars, 6 riders each in a 2x3 configuration. To make matters worse, there is absolutely nothing to do or watch in the queue for this ride. There is a section for the line to go on a raised platform which appears to have a comic style storyboard of Superman's life on it, and the generic "Six Flags Network" TV's. The problem is the line never goes into that area. So unless you're waiting well over an hour for this ride, there is absolutely nothing to do, but watch as the roller coaster continually runs it's circuit.
Once you're finally on the ride, you will be treated by extremely frustrated and ticked off staff. I've worked for Disney and I know we always joke how dumb guests can be, but the problem here is the fact guests aren't given proper instructions and the employees working the ride are. On this ride you will cause staff to become a bit pissed off and annoyed by lowering your own lap bar restraint. Unfortunately every other ride in the park allows you to do this, and this one ride is the exception. I can't understand why Six Flags insists on not queuing people through the section of the line where there are TV monitors, which instead of playing the "Six Flags Network", it could play a video explaining the proper boarding ride procedures. It would not only increase ride efficiency and ride capacity, but it'd give a rest on the employees that are constantly being annoyed and yelling at guest not to pull down on the restraint. A great example of a video that shows guest how to board a ride is Rip Saw Falls, at Islands of Adventure. The awkward flume boats aren't easy to get in and out of, and I can't imagine how frustrated staff there would be .
So after being screamed at by the wonderful employee, which I don't entirely blame on a management oversight, we decided to take two more trips on Medusa and call it a day. Overall we enjoyed ourselves, but the park has it's issues. The biggest problems were the roller coaster issues, followed by the horribly expensive mediocre food, topped off by the crazy parking price. But the park has a lot of charming areas as well such as the butterfly pavilion and the animals shows. It's a park that seems lost in direction though. I wasn't sure if I was walking into a thrill park, a family park, or a zoo. What I was hoping to see was a nice mix of family attractions throughout the park, but what you are presented with is essentially segregated areas. One for adults, one for kids, and one for the animals. This park is a mixed bag of thrills and family fun, but it doesn't feel like it measures up to what a California patron would expect from such a heavily contested market.
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