Great America 2018 preview: Construction, food, expanded entertainment and more

Last year, ACE NorCal’s annual California’s Great America preseason tour hit a record attendance of nearly 60 members and guests, all eager to get a glimpse at what was new for the 2017 season.

This year, ACE NorCal smashed that record, two-fold.

More than 130 ACE members and guests attended this year’s offseason tour at California’s Great America. | Photo: Mike Rumble/InsideCGA

More than 130 ACE members and guests packed Great America on Feb. 24 for a day filled with tours, presentations, food and other surprises as the park gears up for the 2018 season.

In fact, the event was so well-attended that it was the second largest ACE NorCal event in history, only shadowed by the 190 people who attended an ACE day during Bonfante Gardens’ opening season in 2002, according to ACE NorCal Regional Representative Nicholas Laschkewitsch.

The preseason tour was not originally attended to be an annual event, Laschkewitsch said, after its beginnings in 2013 with a construction tour of Great America’s Gold Striker coaster. But the event, now in its sixth year, has grown considerably every year since, and proves to be a boon for ACE NorCal, with 10 new members joining the group this year just for the tour, he said.

The large jump in attendance numbers could be attributed to the excitement surrounding Great America. It’s now been more than a year since the City of Santa Clara approved the park’s 20-year master plan, a rezoning effort that allows the park to add large-scale attractions, construct a marketplace outside its front gates, and many other things.

“It’s no secret that Great America is going through a major transformation these next few years,” said Clayton Lawrence, Cedar Fair’s Corporate Manager of Live Show Development.

Orleans Place is a hive of activity, with a new midway and a building for French Quarter Funnel Cake & Churro under construction. | Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Hometown Square is also receiving a new midway. | Photo: Erik Chalhoub

The Consulate, located in Orleans Place, is undergoing renovations to turn it into an event space for small groups. | Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Proposed renderings for the Consulate. | Photo: Erik Chalhoub

The realization of that plan is now taking place, with nearly the entire park an active construction zone. Certain areas of the park, such as Orleans Place, Hometown Square, Celebration Plaza and County Fair, are receiving new midways, with crews ripping out the blacktop and replacing them with pavers, concrete and brick to give the park a brighter feel. The work is part of a multi-year project to replace all midways in the park.

Great America is also ramping up its food options, such as the addition of Orleans Candy Kitchen, a new Starbucks, Sierra Creek Lodge, and a new building under construction for French Quarter Funnel Cake & Churro. Maggie Brown’s Smokehouse & Fried Chicken, which underwent renovations in 2017, is being further redone with a new expanded outdoor patio.

Great America Executive Chef Erick J. Ponce describes the new food offerings at the park this season, including a pulled pork barbecue funnel cake. | Photo: Erik Chalhoub

With Halloween Haunt entering its 11th year, and WinterFest now well-established, Great America is focusing on its summer offerings, according to Lawrence.

Returning this year is Red, White and Brews, and Taste of Orleans. Joining them are a slew of new entertainment offerings, such as Backyard Bands and BBQ, a roaming trolley and a new BMX stunt show. A number of bands will also perform at areas throughout the park, such as the R&B Boys and the RailBlazer Big Basin Bluegrass Band.

Brian Christensen of Great America (and ACE NorCal Assistant Regional Representative) leads one of four groups on a tour around the park. | Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Photo: Erik Chalhoub

ACE member Andrew Hansis tries out the front seat of RailBlazer inside the park’s coaster shop. | Photo: Erik Chalhoub

But perhaps the largest addition of 2018 is RailBlazer, the park’s new single-rail coaster designed by Rocky Mountain Construction. ACE members had the opportunity to sit in the ride’s trains in Great America’s coaster shop.

While an official opening date has not yet been announced, Great America is planning a spring opening.

Great America is celebrating Flight Deck’s 25th anniversary this year. | Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Flight Deck, the park’s B&M inverted coaster, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and to celebrate, the park has a number of events and activities lined up. Among those, free commemorative anniversary dog tags will be offered for all riders from March 24-25, “Top Gun” will be screened in Theatre Royale, and the ride operators will be wearing aviator outfits for the first two weeks of the season.

As the park storms ahead to the future, a number of its classic rides and attractions have been removed ahead of the 2018 season. Logger’s Run, Endeavor and Snoopy’s Splash Dance have been removed to make way for future attractions, and Thunder Raceway will be demolished after this season to further open up the area at that side of the park.

All that remains of Endeavor and Logger’s Run. | Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Robert Ingle was presented with the 2017 Richard Tuck Spirit Award. | Photo: Mike Rumble/InsideCGA

The preseason tour also included a Q&A session with park management, a raffle and rides on Xtreme Skyflyer. ACE member Robert Ingle was also presented with the 2017 Richard Tuck Spirit Award.

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Thank you to Great America for once again hosting ACE NorCal and taking the time to show us all the new and exciting things coming to the park. We always appreciate the park’s incredible hospitality, and we can’t wait for opening day on March 24.

About Erik Chalhoub

Erik Chalhoub is the Managing Editor at the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian newspaper (and a roller coaster fanatic!). He is also the proud recipient of the 2016 ACE NorCal Richard Tuck Spirit Award.

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