It’s the end of one phase and the beginning of another for California’s Great America with the conversion of stand up coaster Vortex into floorless coaster Patriot and a new master plan proposed to the city of Santa Clara. We were on the scene for Patriot’s debut, and while it may not be the home run of the recently added Gold Striker woodie, it is a solid double.

After the various representatives of TV, radio, print and Web gathered at the park’s entrance, we were escorted to the infield area not generally accessible to the public where we would hear words from park Vice President and General Manager Raul Rehnborg, Media Director Roger Ross and Lisa Gillmor, Mayor of Santa Clara.

Various branches of the military were on hand to fill the first train for the inaugural ride, with one kicking it all off with an inspiring rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Through Memorial Day all past and current military members will also receive free park admission. As the troops and sailors marched off to the ride platform (no loose articles, soldier!),

a Star Spangled Beagle arrived onstage and the ribbon was cut, followed by the deployment of Patriot accompanied by fireworks.

Here’s a couple of views from another position (Photos by Colin Ricketts)

In due course Colin and I photographed a few subsequent trains, established how far we could wander to do so without repercussions, then found our own seats on the ride. Since the appeal of a floorless coaster is having one’s feet dangling just above the track, MiceChat will now feature some obligatory photographs of dangling feet .

Like many B&M coasters, there are some larger seats available, in this case represented at the test seat at the queue entrance. The ride itself is certainly improved; it’s no secret that I never felt it was a good idea to put a stand up in such a small space. Now the positive G forces that were previously focused solely on the rider’s feet are much less hostile with the addition of seats. While lacking the smoothness of Medusa or Scream, and still relying on old style shoulder restraints, it is more appealing and enjoyable. Even the corkscrew, the least favorite type of inversion for your humble narrator, featured a surprising moment of airtime as we entered it. Many soldiers and sailors stayed around for additional spins, and some even found time for a Snoopy pic.

Great America has never been known for fine dining, but they had some sample size versions of new BBQ offerings. The pulled pork sandwich was decent. There was a tri tip sandwich that was quite dry dry, but the best was a chicken sandwich that had a nice bit of bite. Even sandwiches brought out fresh suffered from the windy day that overwhelmed the heat lamps, but it was a step up from past food offerings. One exception last year were the special foods during the Taste of Orleans (returning this year July 22-23 and 29-30).

As for the future, the future looks bright, but the details are still obscured by clouds. Despite the stated availability of management to discuss the recently approved master plan, my attempts for details were consistently rebuffed. Piecing together what little was said in conjunction with what is on the City of Santa Clara website, such as the Environmental Impact Report, does provide a few clues. It is clear that Cedar Fair is serious about investing in the park, and in the immediate future that appears to include an expansion of the Boomerang Bay water park, a new Downtown City Market Springs Walk Place sort of shopping and dining district that will be outside the park gates (certainly driven by the presence of the World’s ugliest football stadium that sits adjacent), and a new hyper coaster in the 250 foot range. Wading through the EIR there are also proposals involving year round operation, extended hours and fireworks, and additional rides. If everything were to be developed and built, in fact, the park has the approval to have as many as eight rides over 200 feet compare to only two at the moment, and regular events in the severely underutilized Redwood Amphitheater. None of this will happen overnight, but it should be interesting to see how it unfolds on a future Day by The Bay.