Return to the Farm: A Knott's Bear-y Report

May 8, 2021, 9:27 PM

As an Orange County resident my entire life, I consider Knott's Berry Farm to be my home park. While technically Disneyland is closer to me, Knott's is the one I visit more frequently, and in recent years has been the one I've generally enjoyed visiting more. In March 2020, I was getting ready for my first visit of the year when the park shut down for the pandemic. Little did I know that closure would lead to the longest gap in visits to my home park in my entire life (at least as far as I can recall), lasting from December 2019 to May 2021. However, yesterday, May 7th, I got to return to the park on their second day of public operation in over a year.

I have to be honest...my expectations were low. I visited Carowinds last December for their holiday event, and it was the single worst visit I've had to a theme park post-Covid. Cedar Fair's over the top policies at the time led to insane lines and horribly inefficient operations, and it was so bad that I seriously considered not visiting any Cedar Fair parks until operation fully returned to normal. However, with a free pass extension, I decided to give them another chance, and I am happy to say that Knott's not only exceeded my expectations, but may have dethroned Six Flags in my book as the pandemic protocol champion.

Here's a brief summary of what I experienced on my visit...

-The entry process of the park is virtually identical to how it was prior to current times. Gone are the temperature checks performed during the various food festivals. The only difference is that an employee asks your reservation time and whether you've experienced any symptoms before admitting you to the screening area. From there, it's metal detector, bag check, entrance.

-Covid policies are pretty well known now so I won't go through them all, but I will note a couple differences here from what I've generally seen at other parks. First off, instead of having a uniform way of handling on-ride distancing, Knott's has different procedures in place at each ride to minimize the capacity penalties of distancing on more popular attractions. HangTime is the only coaster loading every single row, with one party per row, but Xcelerator similarly loads all five cars with one party per car. GhostRider and Pony Express both use a grouper to ensure that an empty row is left between parties, but do not leave empty rows between members of the same party. With more efficient dispatches than normal due to the smaller number of guests, these rides felt like they were operating at close to typical capacity (ironically, GhostRider, which is usually criticized for its poor efficiency, felt like one of the fastest moving lines this time). Jaguar, Montezooma's Revenge, and Silver Bullet use the common "block every other row" method, which results in more of a capacity loss, but fortunately the first two aren't overly popular and there just really isn't a good alternative at the last one. Lastly, Sierra Sidewinder loads two parties per train at opposite ends of the train as adjacent cars cannot be occupied by members of different parties due to the seating configuration.

-The other big difference is that I saw very little if any downtime due to sanitizing procedures. I only recall one point in the day where there was a downtime that may have been sanitation related, and as this is probably the most theatrical of the various nonsense regulations imposed on parks, it's good to see it's having a minimal impact on throughput. By contrast, Carowinds went down for cleaning every 30 minutes, which likely inflated wait times by 20-30% from what they would be with the reduced capacity alone.

-I would describe enforcement of rules and adherence to them as average. While the majority wore masks correctly and generally followed the markers, it was also difficult to not see someone in your field of view who was partially or fully unmasked, and as it got later in the day the average distance between parties began to shrink. Employees would remind guests to adjust their mask if they spotted it, but I didn't see any extra employees to monitor policy adherence or hear any reminders not related to masks. As someone who believes many of these policies don't make sense in a theme park environment it doesn't overly concern me if people don't play by the rules, but if you're one of those people who is going to have your visit diminished by this sort of thing I'd probably hold off on visiting for now.

-As for crowds in general, I'd say it felt like about a 5/10 day in normal times. While the park was absolutely deserted until about 2 P.M., it was a sold out 25% capacity day, and once those people showed up you could certainly feel it. Lines weren't horrible, with the longest I waited in being about 50 minutes for Silver Bullet, and even GhostRider peaked around 45, with most non-headliners remaining under 30 throughout the day. The two exceptions for this were Timber Mountain Log Ride and Knott's Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair, which were both over an hour for most of the day (I skipped the former and rode the latter shortly after arriving to dodge these queues).

-Operations were above average for Knott's, with two trains on every coaster that could run them (even Xcelerator) and less stacking than usual (though still more than SFMM). Unfortunately, breakdowns seemed more common than usual, as I saw most major rides go down at least once and experienced my first evacuation at the park when we were escorted off of Calico River Rapids.

-All rides were open except the stagecoach, and most food and merchandise locations were open as well. The main missing elements were the lack of any shows (even those performed on outdoor stages) and the two arcades remaining blocked off.

-Ride-wise, I managed to do far more than I expected. In approximately ten hours at the park, I was able to do twenty-two rides consisting of three rides each on GhostRider, HangTime, Silver Bullet, and Xcelerator, two on Calico River Rapids and Montezooma's Revenge, and once each on Calico Mine Ride, Jaguar, Knott's Bear-y Tales, Pony Express, Supreme Scream, and Surfside Gliders. That comes out to 2.2 rides per hour. By comparison, on my visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain on its second day of operation, I averaged 1.5 rides per hour.

-Unlike SFMM, the only thing I could maybe recommend this park do better is be a little more active in enforcing their guidelines. I didn't have any significant annoyances that weren't directly attributed to factors beyond the park's control, and I would say that other California parks should mimic what Knott's is doing, particularly if they want to operate at any higher than 25% capacity without massive headaches for guests.

-Overall, I had a fantastic day at the park, and it was great to be back after such a long time away. With one exception, I got to ride everything that I wanted to ride (many multiple times), and at no point did I feel the rules in place were having a significant negative impact on my day. Sure, it was a bit busier than I'm used to for an off-season weekday, but it was by no means worse than an average summer weekday. Above all else, I'm just happy I don't need to travel a significant distance to do what I love anymore.

Of course, one of the most exciting parts of the day was getting on Knott's Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair. While I never got to experience the old attraction, I've heard stories of the ride and have been cautiously optimistic about this new version. How was it? I'll post my review from Facebook for you to check out...

Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair is a remake of an old, relatively short lived dark ride that replaced a new, even shorter lived dark ride, Voyage to the Iron Reef. The ride system is the same, so unfortunately many of the technical flaws present in the old attraction are still here. However, the ride has significantly improved in the scenic and gameplay departments, with much more intricate sets, more interesting scenes, an easier to use blaster system, and a there that’s about as Knott’s as you can get. Essentially, you’re trying to stop a group of pie bandit coyotes from stealing all the boysenberry pies at the factory, with the ride traversing various fantasy settings populated with colorful cartoony characters. It’s very enjoyable and fun for the whole family.

So, what’s the verdict? If you liked Iron Reef, you’ll love this one. If you thought Iron Reef was okay but could be better (the category I fall under), you’ll probably find this much more appealing. If you disliked Iron Reef or don't enjoy interactive rides in general, this one probably won’t change your mind. It’s not a top tier ride and is still toward the bottom of So Cal’s interactive dark rides in my opinion, but it’s a definite improvement from what was there before and an excellent fit for a park like Knott’s.

Having California finally open after what feels like far more than a year is an amazing feeling, and while I'll always be angry that such didn't happen sooner, I'm incredibly grateful that it didn't take longer. I'll be visiting both KBF and SFMM again later this month to see how they're running after a few weeks back, and then it's time to get ready for my big summer theme park trip that was postponed from last year.

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