Jacob Sundstrom is the chief editor of Coasterdom, a theme park blog site that specializes in editorials from his unique perspective. When Jacob is not writing about theme parks and roller coasters, he can be found sipping kahlua on the beach, studying for a test, or watching a baseball game.
You drift out over the water, into the mist cooling the super magnets that power the ride through over a mile of steel track. Now you wait. Heart pounding. Thumping. Ricocheting off of your rib cage and back into your spine. The countdown begins: Three… Two… One… Ignition. Where are you? You’re not at Magic Mountain, and you’re not at Knott’s Berry Farm. Not at Universal Studios Hollywood or Seaworld San Diego – you’re at Disneyland, and you’re thrilled.
California Screamin’ is a massive, steel, Intamin roller coaster that opened with California Adventure in 2001. Visually striking, the ride is designed to mimic a classic wooden roller coaster – think The Giant Dipper or The Cyclone. White with a teal trim, Screamin’ is impressive to look at, especially at night when tracer lights make the track glow a golden orange. The queue, on the other hand, is nothing special: merely green bars that create a queue you’ve likely designed in Roller Coaster Tycoon. This is not one of Disney’s shining stars when it comes to theming. It captures a Boardwalk feel to a degree, but without the memorabilia and charm that a ride like The Giant Dipper has in its queue, California Screamin’ feels like a steel roller coaster made to look wooden.
Theming wise, this ride is a little disappointing; a six out of ten – especially when you compare it to Disney’s other work. When you look at the coaster itself though, you’re looking at something pretty special. With a launch into a large hill, followed by several turns and drops, the ride perfectly captures the essence of a boardwalk roller coaster in three acts in a way that the queue does not. The LSM-powered lift hill that builds to the ride’s second act, the loop, is smooth, comfortable, and gives a brilliant view of the entire park. The drop is surprisingly thrilling, giving plenty of air time, and the loop is genuinely intense- plus, there’s still a whole act left.
That’s the thing about California Screamin’ – it’s long. Disney is a capacity fiend. They have a higher standard for riders per hour than your standard Six Flags park, and as such, an average 1,000 guests per hour just was not going to cut it. Hence, a long ride with a lot of block brakes – this gives them a total of six trains rushing through the track at once. Visually alone this is a good move. The constant passing of trains overhead lights up the Paradise Pier area and creates a great background din. Screamin’ packs in approximately 2,400 riders per hour, a stunning feat for a roller coaster but old hat for Disney. The ride is long, but like Avatar, Gone With The Wind, and King Kong, it’s worth it. Never boring and always moving, California Screamin’ wraps up with a bang. Or should I say several “pops”.
My favorite part of this attraction is the last act. After the loop you dive back down to the other side of the Pier, and at this point, you’re wondering, “What’s next?”. What’s next is a set of bunny hops that exude air time. This isn’t Maverick ejector air, but it’s stronger than Millennium Force floater. You bounce over every hill, filled with glee, and then you dive underneath the structure for a final helix into the brakes.
California Screamin’ delivered exactly what Disney wanted it to. It brought a thrill ride to the resort that young and old can enjoy together. It brought a landmark attraction; an E-Ticket. The kind of ride that you have to do when you’re at the park. The kind of ride that you can use in all of your promotional material because you know people will recognize it. That is what California Screamin’ is – a landmark. A benevolent wave to the general public who get a ride that’s just their speed and a wink to enthusiasts showing that Disney just might have a knack for designing great thrill rides after all – as if we ever doubted it. Final rating – 8.0 (Great)
California Screamin’ is rated TH for Thrilling. It’s a 3 out of 5 on my Thrill Scale because of its mild launch and loop. See the full scale here.
What’s Your Take?
Have you ridden California Screamin’? Leave a comment below. Images courtesy of Jacob Sundstrom.