Theme Park Insider

Knott's Ghost Town comes alive for its 75th anniversary

June 9, 2016, 11:10 PM · Knott's Berry Farm celebrated the 75th anniversary of Ghost Town today with a media event showing off its newly retracked Ghostrider roller coaster, the Ghost Town Alive interactive experience and the newly refurbished Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant.

Let's start with Ghostrider, the once-beloved wooden coaster that dominates the land. Time had not been kind to Ghostrider, which - like many woodies - had grown so rough over the years that many fans had just given up riding it. So Knott's owner Cedar Fair called in Great Coasters International to retrack the ride. GCI also subtlety changed the profile of the track in a few places, further helping to smooth the once-jarring ride.

With a fresh, newly profiled track and no trim brakes, Ghostrider now flies. The cars still drop from the station, curving in front of the newly reopened "Pan for Gold" near the queue's entrance. From there, it's a quick pull up the main lift before Ghostrider drops you into a swift collection of turns, hills, and airtime moments. There's hardly a moment to catch your breath as the ride takes you out and back and out and back again, before finally braking and returning you to the station.

But Ghostrider's not the only fresh attraction worthy of your attention in Ghost Town this summer. Knott's has transformed the town of Calico into an interactive experience, creating a daily narrative for the land and populating it with characters looking to draw you into the day's events.

We met a deputy sheriff, fresh in the middle of a shave, who recruited us to translate a Morse Code message he'd received. He directed us to the Calico Post Office for help, where the postmaster set us up with a translation key. Here's how it went:

You can find many other interactive opportunities such as this throughout the land. Those rascals from Mayfield are trying to take over Calico, and the sheriff is recruiting help to make things right again. Whatever you end up doing, everything comes together for the big hoedown in the evening, when the people of Calico - including you - are invited to celebrate the end of another day.

Even if you don't want to play along with the characters, stop into the newly refurbished Calico Saloon for the Calico Saloon Show, which runs just under 20 minutes and plays five times daily.

Local theme park fans who still haven't forgive that park up the street for shutting the Golden Horseshow Revue will find a worthy substitute here, with its cheerful host and can-can girls. And the refurbished saloon is a delight. Grab a drink at the bar and head upstairs for the show. (And unlike at the old Golden Horseshoe, you can have a beer with this show.)

We've written about how theme parks are transforming from well-decorated collections on rides to narrative platforms, within which visitors can participate in ever-changing stories based on a land's theme. Ghost Town Alive might be the best execution of this concept yet — Knott's has flooded the land with characters and opened previously chained-off spaces throughout. The event gives the land an energy it's never had before, transforming it from a static exhibition space into something that fells much more, well, alive.

Finally, Knott's has reopened the attraction that started it all — Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant.

Inside the restaurant

Gutted and completely rebuilt, Mrs. Knott's restaurant is serving the same recipes that Cordelia Knott started serving more than 75 years ago, but in a refreshed space that still feels homey while functioning much more efficiently. There's a full bar and expanded waiting area, not to mention dining areas that feel comforting without feeling worn.

And the food? Well, we helped ourselves to a provided buffet and thought the chicken and fixin's as good as ever, including the Boysenberry pie.

Knott's fried chicken

Ghost Town Alive will run only through the end of summer, but the refurbished Ghostrider and chicken restaurant are here to stay.

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Replies (14)

June 10, 2016 at 5:54 AM · Oh. That. Boysenberry pie...
I still dream about it.
I wasn't going to hit Knotts on my vacation this year... now I might have to! Ghostrider was already closed when I went in '14.
June 10, 2016 at 6:09 AM · Nice Woody Robert and the coaster looks great too.. hahahhaha...

Great job with this POV video.

June 10, 2016 at 6:36 AM · Any one of these improvements would be enough to get me down there again, but all at once?! So very excited for the revamped Ghostrider! Ghost Town has always been the very best Old West area in any park I'm familiar with, and to hear they've added to the character interaction which already distinguished it! Also, mmm, chicken...
June 10, 2016 at 7:25 AM · Ghostrider looks great, and really love the improvements and interaction Ghost Town. Every year for the past few years, Knott's has made some great improvements and additions, and some judicious subtractions. I look forward to seeing what they do next year. I'm hoping for a grand refurbishment and plussing of the Fiesta Village area. A new year-round Haunted Shack in Ghost Town would be great too.
June 10, 2016 at 9:38 AM · The Ghost town skit show reminds me of a Gene Hackman movie. You just have to GET it. The payoff isn't quite there. I would prefer it to have a simpler and different plot with some special effects.
June 10, 2016 at 10:12 AM · I think if you're sent on some kind of quest you should get something for your pains. At Colonial Williamsburg they have a similar deal where you solve a series of puzzles and interact with costumed actors and at the end you receive a souvenir coin.
June 10, 2016 at 10:30 AM · I got a chance to ride the refurbished GhostRider during soft openings and I'll say this...I've been on about 70 wood coasters, and GhostRider is either in or just outside of my top five. It is that good. Very smooth, lots of airtime, lots of laterals, but not so extreme that it is a challenge to ride...it is just a pure fun roller coaster and is the best it has been in 15 years.

Ghost Town Alive seems pretty good, and I'll be going back to the park on Sunday to check it out for myself. Hopefully this will prove popular and Knott's will bring it back every summer, as while it isn't a big new attraction it is definitely a unique offering in the area. The show looks good and fits nicely, though I'm probably a little more interested in the new stunt show. Lastly, I ate at the restaurant last week and everything there is excellent.

June 10, 2016 at 10:33 AM · Ghost Rider beat me up when I rode it. I'm still amazed that I dared do the ride twice. This retrack was sorely (pun intended) needed!
June 10, 2016 at 7:06 PM · Great stuff and another firm step forward for the SoCal park filling the niche between Disney and Six Flags. Still not sure why they didn't opt for the Iron Horse treatment on GhostRider, but they should expect a good 5 - 7 years of nice rides out of this retracking before things start to get rough again.

Robert, if you like the Calico Saloon Show, you have to visit Silver Dollar City. Their Saloon show takes these kinds of goofy vaudeville antics to "11"!

June 10, 2016 at 9:21 PM · James not every ride is meant for the Iron Horse treatment. GhostRider has been the park's flagship roller coaster from the day it opened until the day it closed for the rehab. Despite coaster enthusiasts gripes about the condition (they weren't wrong) the general public loved it.

You don't apply the Iron Horse treatment to a coaster that was once a Top 10 ride. Instead, you do what Knott's did and re-track it. GhostRider should be in good shape for the next 10 years.

June 11, 2016 at 12:30 AM · Colossus wasn't a Top 10 coaster before it became Twisted Colossus? How about the Texas Giant before it became The NEW Texas Giant? Your statement about top ten rides makes no sense. Furthermore, GCI built the Prowler from the ground up at nearby Cedar Fair park Worlds of Fun in 2009. Just seven years later it is already starting to get rough. And you think a retracking is gonna last ten years? Good luck.
June 11, 2016 at 1:36 AM · James, there are a couple reasons that I've heard as to why Knott's didn't go RMC. One is that the park really wanted to keep it a wooden coaster and considers an I-Box a steel coaster. Another is that RMC looked at the ride and determined that due to the design of it the conversion process would be cost prohibitive (I know for a fact RMC did visit the park, so they were under consideration at one point). The third theory is that SFMM has a I-Box exclusive within a certain radius (150 miles I believe), and as Knott's falls within that radius they couldn't have done it. I don't know if any of these are true, but I wouldn't be surprised if one or more have at least some truth to them.

To be honest, I think what Knott's ultimately chose to do is much better in this case than an I-Box conversion. When RMC comes in, they sacrifice an old wooden coaster in order to build a new steel coaster as cheaply as possible using the same support structure. No matter how the ride may be marketed by the park, it is not what it once was and instead is a completely different attraction. As good as Twisted Colossus is, I would never consider it Colossus. Same thing with any other conversion. In my opinion, if Knott's had gone with RMC they would have wound up with a spectacular coaster, but it would not be GhostRider, and with the theme of celebrating the anniversary of Ghost Town that just wouldn't feel right. Instead, Knott's brought in GCI in order to restore the ride to its opening day condition. Is it identical? No, but it's very close and, in my opinion, is a much better fit for the park than an RMC would be. How will it be in 10 years? Nobody knows, but with proper maintenance it will probably still be much better than it was in 2008 (10 years after it originally opened).

As for the top ten coasters comment, according to the Mitch Hawker poll results GhostRider debuted at #7 and peaked at #4 in 2000 before eventually dropping to #62 in 2013 (the last year of the poll). For reference, here are the results of the pre-conversion I-Box coasters:

Texas Giant: Initial #2, Lowest #99, Final #89
Rattler: Initial #50, Peak #35, Lowest #170, Final #131
Medusa: Peak #54, Lowest #175, Final #130
Colossus: Initial #60, Lowest #151, Final #116
Cyclone: Initial #31, Peak #25, Lowest #122, Final #103
Twisted Twins: Initial #37/41, Lowest #151/155, Final #128/134
Roar: Initial #21, Final #68

So it is fair to say that GhostRider was initially considered to be a better coaster than many that received the RMC conversion ever were, and that even at it's worst many enthusiasts still considered the ride significantly better than most converted coasters were by the time they received the treatment.

RMC has a place in the industry, but it is not the best solution in every case. I am a fan of their rides, but it saddens me when a perfectly good wood coaster is ruined for a hybrid. Six Flags has done this at least once, and I hope no other company ever does so.

June 11, 2016 at 9:36 AM · Thanks for the detailed explanation, AJ, and please don't think I am advocating RMC as the only way to fix the problems with older wooden coasters. I simply posed the question - I wasn't trying to criticize Cedar Fair's decision for GhostRider, just understand it. The real issue is that Cedar Fair doesn't always provide the upkeep necessary to make sure wooden coasters stay fun over the long haul, so going hybrid seems like a good way to minimize costs long term while still keeping the ride at peak operations. Regardless, I am fine with what was done to Ghostrider, just curious about the choice.

Also, I don't want to start an argument about coaster ratings as they are all suspect, but Mitch Hawker's poll started in like the mid 90's well past Colossus' prime, and it is a fairly complex process to rate and score. So all we can really know about the original Colossus is that it was the tallest and fastest wooden coaster in the world in 1978 and likely on most top ten lists (if there were such things) back then. And according to amusement today (of the golden ticket awards "fame"), the Texas Giant was ranked #1 for several years before it fell into disrepair. My point being that previous rankings have NOTHING to do with adopting an RMC solution - it is as you said: a factor of costs, preference, and/or contractual agreements, nothing more.

June 11, 2016 at 10:55 PM · If you think about it, Ghost Town is already a highly immersive environment, built with real historical buildings and authentic recreations. It may not be fanciful like Diagon Alley, but it's like you are really in an old frontier town. I think Knott's is recognizing that it has potential, I hope they push it even further. The role playing is something that Disney tried a couple of years ago in Frontierland, it seemed to be popular, but they didn't continue it, and probably that's where Knott's got the idea. This is an idea worth trying and improving on.

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