Don't try to understand Knott's Berry Farm; just enjoy what you can
By Robert NilesTuesday Park Visit: After half an hour waiting in a queue more like a darkened holding pen, I was getting steamed. Announcements squawked over a loudspeaker every few minutes, but neither I nor my 11-year-old daughter could make out a word. With no posted waiting time, nor a theme park employee anywhere in sight, we had no idea how much longer we'd be waiting.
Published: April 7, 2009 at 9:35 PM
Welcome to Knott's Berry Farm, the most incomprehensible theme park in America.
Natalie and I ended up waiting an hour and 10 minutes to ride GhostRider, after park employees mercifully added a second train on the track. (GhostRider can run three.) Still, two trains gives Knott's 1998 CCI wooden roller coaster an approximate capacity of 800 riders an hour, placing it light years ahead of many other attractions in this capacity-starved park.
While Natalie and I were waiting, waiting and waiting for GhostRider, my wife and son cooled their heels across the park, serving nearly an hour in the queue for Joe Cool's GR8 SK8, an Interactive Rides Sky Skater that we calculated was putting through fewer than 100 riders per hour.
If one looks past the thrill rides with less capacity than Jessica Simpson taking the MCAT, one can find amidst them a park filled with little details that can make a theme park visit magical.
Such as Mystery Lodge, a Native American storytelling show with effects that would be right at home in Walt Disney World's Epcot. (No surprise, as the show's the work of the same creator who produced Epcot's Impressions de France, my all-time favorite theme park movie.)
Image courtesy BRC Imagination Arts
While Natalie and I enjoyed Mystery Lodge, Laurie and Brian discovered Knott's Ghost Town Magic store, where park magician Robert entertained and confounded Brian with a variety of impressive tricks.
So which is Knott's? A over-crowded thrill park? Or a well-detailed theme park filled with personal touches and storytelling?
Well, it's both. And that's what makes this park so hard to comprehend. The worst guide map in the industry doesn't help matters, either. While Knott's map details every minor shop in the park, it ignores dozens of attractions, listing just one ride in the park's Camp Snoopy kids' land.
Getting around Knott's never was easy. The park lacks the intuitive hub-and-spoke layout that Walt Disney employed up the street at Disneyland. Themed lands at Knott's, such as they are, don't blend from one into another, either.
Walking through Knott's is like walking through a theme park boneyard. The mighty Bolliger & Mabillard inverted coaster, Silver Bullet, lords over the park, its support beams impaling the old Indian ceremonial dance stage and cutting off the remaining fragment of the pond where Walter Knott's steamboat once sailed. The delightful 1969 Log Ride, prototype for Disney's Splash Mountain, stands smack next to unthemed carny games, with a Wipeout across the way, and the theme-less Supreme Scream drop ride standing over all.
Given the confusion, perhaps it is fitting that the park's most famous restaurant isn't in the park at all. After reuniting, we four got our hands stamped to exit and walk over to Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant... for lunch.
The fried chicken is fine, not as tasty as others. But the chicken noodle soup, more stew than broth, delights. And if you can beat your table mates, grab one of the crustier biscuits, which taste more like fritters than the tasteless pucks of dough you'll find from the Colonel.
And, of course, we enjoyed Knott's Boysenberries in every form - jelly, pie and punch. Not too tart, not too sweet, just well balanced flavor each time.
After our late lunch, we returned to the park for the Knott's classics, the Log Ride and the Calico Mine Ride. Funny how the park's oldest rides seem to have the fastest moving lines. Two classic joys amid the modern metal.
Ultimately, everyone said they had a great time. But I when I pressed for specifics, no one could quite say, exactly, why.
That's Knott's. You very well might enjoy it. But don't bother trying to understand it.
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