Continuing his series on San Francisco Bay area parks, Marc Ricketts brings us a two-part photo essay on Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. This park has weathered economic ups and downs as well as a 55 mile move north forced by rising property values. ~~Rick
Screaming and Splashing at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
by Marc Ricketts
Marine World. Marine World Africa USA. Six Flags Marine World. Six Flags New Marine World. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Whew! Another park by the Bay means another convoluted ownership trail to navigate, including the part where they packed up the entire park and moved it 55 miles!
What is now Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo began its life as Marine World in Redwood City south of San Francisco. When a nearby animal park had financial problems, it was absorbed and the result was Marine World Africa USA. As the land grew more valuable, the tax bill became more prohibitive; so the animals moved out and Oracle moved in. A deal with the City of Vallejo took the park north, with the city eventually becoming the owners. Six Flags, originally brought in to manage the park, eventually assumed ownership. Rides and coasters have been introduced, so there is now an interesting mix of rides, animals and sea creatures in the park which was renamed Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in 2007.
To reflect this change and highlight the three aspects of the park, it was divided into three lands: Land, Sea and Sky. These are pretty loosely defined areas.
The park used to be divided into Yellow Area, Purple Area, Violet Area and Tan Area, let’s not make too much of a fuss; they’re clearly trying (bless their hearts).
Based on attendance on a recent Sunday, 30 minutes before scheduled opening, financial problems should no longer be an issue. There is a lengthy driveway leading to the parking lot toll booths; not only was it full, it was packed! The line of cars extended out onto the city street all the way back to the freeway off ramp, unprecedented in the experience of your humble narrator. It was unclear why this was so? Although they have some early entry and bring a friend free days for AP holders, none were scheduled this day. However, people were not only through the gates, but rides were running well before I was parked.
Still, I was able to hit four major rides with waits averaging 15 minutes despite the delays in parking, though the lines certainly increased as the day progressed, and Superman was already sporting a prohibitive line for reasons that will soon be apparent.
There is a choice of a tram or walking path to reach the park’s entrance. Along the is the unused grandstand from the water skiing show which dated back to the beginnings in the 1960s when the show featured a water skiing elephant, and was the first place many ever saw a barefoot skier.
They also have some behind the scene close up animal experiences available at additional cost, including the opportunity to swim with dolphins.
Dolphins also soar above the park’s signature fountain in the entry plaza which serves as a hub.
Like at any park, the standard mantra of arriving early with tickets (cheaper online) in hand applies. Once again in 2013, Six Flags has a special security line and entry gate for Discovery card holders, a useful perk. For coaster riders, it’s a left or right choice. With two of the three lower capacity coasters located to the left, that is the advised direction. So resist the penguins (yes, they’re cute; they won’t be migrating; you can see them later), and quickly make your way to Superman Ultimate Flight.
You know that building that seems to be a different business about every 18 months? Sure you do. First it’s a fro yo shop, then an Indian restaurant, followed by a liquor store. This space is the roller coaster version of that place with Superman being its third inhabitant. Built by Premier Rides (the company that also constructed Magic Mountain’s Full Throttle) in 2012, it’s an odd duck in a small space with two loops where the train rolls outside the track at the top. Additionally, there’s an inline twist at the apex of the first loop, reached after the three launches (one backwards) required to reach its 150’ height. With a single train holding 12 riders, few people are required for a substantial wait to develop, and don’t forget Six Flags often requires loose articles to go into lockers.
Roar is holding up well with the shakiness of a woodie that is exciting as opposed to brutal.
It’s hard to miss V2 Vertical Velocity since the track passes over the entry gates. Originally the twisted track was, in fact, vertical, but then someone noticed it was violating Vallejo’s height limit. It’s the rare coaster where I prefer sitting in the front, and is launched forward and back several times.
Moving to the other side of the park, the first track you’ll encounter is for the Cobra, a smaller version of Knott’s Jaguar coaster from the same manufacturer.
Kong, a Vekoma inverted coaster, packs a lot of positive G forces into its tight turns and inversion. Like Superman, it occupies a smallish footprint.
Medusa is top dog here in my opinion, but since this B&M floorless runs two trains seating 32 passengers each, it’s OK to ride all the other ones mentioned first. Even if the line is out the door, the switchbacks inside are rarely used.
Keep that in mind with other rides, too, because with the Flash Pass that’s available at Six Flags parks, there has to be a merge point as with Disney’s fast pass. Roar’s line can be particularly deceptive. Although Medusa is very similar to Magic Mountain’s Scream (and both stand on abandoned parking areas), there is a key difference. Medusa has a straight drop which is more speedy and floaty from one’s seaty weaty. From my preferred back row, the 2nd inversion, a dive loop, is the most sublime of any coaster I’ve ridden. During a moment of pure weightlessness, (even more so than the “zero G” loop that follows) one’s body is gently inverted without being pressed against the seat or restraints in any direction before the train doubles back.
Finally, a Boomerang is a Boomerang is a Boomerang, only the colors vary. This one is teal and yellow.
Adjacent to Medusa is Sky Screamer, a 150’ spinning swing added last year which provides an interesting perspective of the tracks below.
This year’s addition is Tsunami Soaker.
Located near Roar in a spot originally occupied by a killer whale version of Dumbo, riders are in small boats which spin in a shallow pool as streams of water are aimed not only at other riders, but also bystanders around the perimeter. Don’t worry; they’re packing fluid as well. Like the park’s other water rides, this will prove especially popular on warmer days.
Providing that you are on one of the first Superman trains of the day, you can blast through most of these surprisingly quickly with a bit of focus. At this point one can check the show schedule, check out some of the minor rides, or casually explore some of the animal exhibits. In my experience if you take the time to watch, there will usually be at least one animal doing something you’ve never witnessed. This is also another appeal of days when visitation is sparse, since the animals will feel less stress with fewer humans on the prowl. On a day such as that we have seen a dolphin in this tank by the entry plaza blowing bubbles from his blowhole then catching them in his mouth.
Although this dolphin in the Ocean Discovery Pool was chasing a ball thrown by a trainer, we had one tossing us a ball on his own during one peaceful morning.
So let’s wander about among the sea life. Along the way are the promised penguins, sting rays that can be stroked, sea lions that (like the dolphins) can be fed at additional cost, walrus and sharks.
Wait a minute. That Hammerhead Shark is a ride, not a fish. It stands at the end of a midway type of area with a few rides and some games. It leads back to that central fountain, so it’s a natural point to take a break. Next time we’ll explore the rest of the park, including the various shows and land animal exhibits.