After seeing the updates here at MiceChat and listening to Jeff Heimbuch talk about Knott’s Berry Farm, I was looking forward to my first visit to the theme park that’s just minutes from Disneyland. After the amazing CommuniTOUR and before the Gumball Rally, we found ourselves with a free day. Although it was in the mid-90s, I was excited to visit the park.
Most MiceChat readers are familiar with Knott’s Berry Farm; you won’t find anything earth-shattering in this article, just some of my favorite photos from the day and some thoughts on what a Walt Disney World fan might think of the park.
Knott’s has taken the appellation of “America’s 1st Theme Park” and there’s still a debate about this title (Santa Claus Land is bristling just a bit). The entry surprised me, since it’s right off the road, but I really loved the Spanish Mission style details and the lack of a bag-check entrance.
I was in a bit of reverse sticker shock when I saw the prices compared to the Disney parks. An annual pass to all Cedar Fair Parks was the price of a two-day admission at Disney. Granted, the experiences are much different, but I was pleasantly surprised with Knott’s. There’s a lot of entertainment value here for very little money.
The Ghost Town Experience
Jeff and his fiance (Martina) directed me towards Ghost Town, first, as part of the classic Knott’s experience. I have to admit that I found the area completely charming and a good way to experience the park for the first time. The quaint, one-story buildings offered a charm that was much different from Disneyland.
Disneyland’s Main Street is much more stylized in order to elicit that feeling of nostalgia and history. The buildings act as much as an entryway as a screen for the rest of the park. It’s also the clear entrance and exit point for Disneyland.
Knott’s evolved more organically over the years as attractions were added and owners came and went; the development of a clear and concise park flow felt a little muddied to me, but so does any park without a traditional hub-and-spoke design. At several points during the park’s history, there were multiple entrances and it shows in the layout. Overall, though, the Ghost Town area was incredibly charming and a wonderful theme park experience.
Part of the charm of Ghost Town is that it is still very much the way it was when it was introduced. The buildings, layout and vignettes are fairly original. It says a lot that Knott’s has preserved this part of the park, despite the fact that newer and more vibrant technology is available. The vignettes are mostly static and show their age (though they have been refurbished in recent years). To the uninitiated, there could even be tones of racism. Thinking about changing this part of the park is difficult because it’s a direct connection to Knott’s history. Also, there are other parts of the park that have been changed and still need attention.
I spoke to my friend Kolby during the breakfast at the Gumball Rally and he related the story about how one of the previous owners wanted to put the pylons of a massive steel coaster throughout Ghost Town. As he related the story, you could see the pain it caused him to think about the park being permanently destroyed.
The little touches, like those found at Disney, really seemed to make the town seem real; or as real as a ghost town is supposed to feel. As difficult as it was to wrap my brain around the layout and the history, you can’t begin to understand the park until you’ve experienced Ghost Town.
The Friday we were there saw a lot of school groups. It was great to see them taking part of the Ghost Town historical experience and not just running for the nearest coaster.
I would like to learn a lot more about the park’s history so I could enjoy more of the hidden details.
Sad-Eye Joe was another surprise. I’d heard a lot about him over the years, but I wasn’t prepared for the laughs and surprise from such an old-school technology.
I can only imagine how hot Sad-Eye Joe was sittin’ in that jail all day long.
We spent a few minutes admiring the Bird Cage Theatre, which now hosts former Disneyland favorites Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies on the weekends (aka Billy Hill and the Hillbillies).
As I mentioned earlier, it was nice to meander through the Ghost Town and soak in the details. The rustic nature made me think a lot of Rainbow Ridge and I couldn’t help wonder if Ghost Town had been a large inspiration.
What About the Rides?
We didn’t get a chance to ride the Calico Mine Ride (it was closed for a major refurbishment), but the Timber Mountain Log Ride was open with a short wait. I know that this was one of Tony Baxter’s favorite rides and an obvious inspiration for him. I’m not a fan of spoilers, so I didn’t look a lot into the ride or watch any videos. Needless to say, it’s a darn good ride!
The log ride was pretty raucous but very entertaining. It was bumpy and the show scenes went by pretty quickly. But I could see how this ride captivated many theme park designers and led the way to the attractions we see today.
The theming for the Timber Mountain Log Ride was very well done!
We did ride the Butterfield Stagecoach, which was pretty darn cool. It’s an extremely slow load and I wouldn’t wait more than a few minutes. I can’t imagine this as my preferred form of transportation, though. It looped around parts of the park and offered some nice vistas and some behind-the-scenes glimpses. It was another highlight of the park because it was a throwback to an earlier day and I imagine it’s not a high profit item. But I’m really glad Knott’s has it and I hope they keep it going!
We saw the Hat Dance from the stagecoach and it brought back some fond memories of childhood visits to Kings Island.
As expected, we checked out the restrooms at Knott’s. The exterior theming was pretty hit-or-miss and the insides were fairly utilitarian.
The rest of the day was spent enjoying some of the coasters that Knott’s is known for. The Silver Bullet was a great coaster and it has a long ride time. One of my biggest compliant’s about Carowinds (near my home town) is that the coasters are incredibly short; you spend more time in the load and unload areas than you do on the actual ride. This was my exact feeling of the Xcelerator. It was an incredibly novel idea that was very unique. But, it’s over in less than 30 seconds or so.
As you can see from a few of my photos, the massive coasters are visible from different areas of the park. It sort of pulled me out of the themed experience and reminded me more of an amusement park. There were a few areas of the park that seemed to be struggling for an identity. Most likely a product of the park letting go of it’s theme park roots for a while when it became a Cedar Fair property. We hear that current management is once again embracing it’s theme park past and family demographic again. Honestly, I didn’t want to spend much time in those concrete and coaster areas and found myself wanting to head back to Ghost Town.
Did Someone Mention Food?
I’d heard really good things about the food at Knott’s and I was pretty excited to eat at the Ghost Town Grill. I ordered the Pecan Chicken Salad with Boysenberries for $14.99. It seemed really high for a lunch item, but it sounded really good. Jeff and Martina both got burgers that were $15.79 and they came with fries and a green salad. After seeing everyone’s plates, I would have been happy with any of them.
My salad was spectacular (don’t judge me; when it’s hot I try to hydrate any way possible) and the boysenberries were a great addition. I have to agree that the food at Knott’s was a step above what I’ve seen at other parks (including Disney) and the cost was more than justified by the selections and the taste. Kudos to the food team at Knott’s for stepping it up a notch (or two).
The following photo from the Boothill Graveyard section might be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in a park.
Last, but not least, we spent a few minutes in the The Barnshop so that I could see a little piece of Rolly Crump history. As mentioned in It’s Kind of a Cute Story, Rolly mentioned working on the Beary Tales attraction for Knott’s. Not only does he talk about the design and creation, but also the installation, which was not free from hiccups. Inside the store is a small grouping of anamatronics from the ride that are on display. If you hang around long enough, the animatronics will perform a song from the attraction. It was a really nice moment and one that I’m glad we saw.
We moseyed out of the park in the late afternoon and I was sad to leave Knott’s Berry Farm. We spent a lot of time in the car talking about the experience, not only from a historian’s perspective but also as a theme park fan. I felt that Knott’s really was a step above most thrill parks because of the history that was woven throughout. With its storied past, there are generations upon generations that have spent time as kids, teens, adults, parents and grandparents in this park. All of them developing special memories of their own local park.
I do hope that Cedar Fair can continue to grow the park responsibly. Maintaining the historical fabric that is completely unique to Knott’s is very important as well as perpetuating smart growth for people that want thrill rides and unique experiences.
As a Walt Disney World fan, I urge others to spend a week in Southern California enjoying Disneyland Resort, Hollywood and Knott’s Berry Farm (Universal Studios Hollywood, SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland, San Diego Zoo and Safari Parks, Long Beach Aquarium, world-class museums, Hollywood, and so much more). Theme park nerds are going to find a lot to love at Knott’s and it’s an experience that you don’t want to miss.
Have you visited this venerated and historic theme park? Do you find the low cost entry price and variety of attractions a good value for your family?
ImagiNERDing is written and edited by George Taylor
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