Monday, December 01, 2008

Discovery Kingdom: The Big Fun

After the wedding last month, we took our children to Discovery Kingdom, because I had heard they had a Thomas Town, and it seemed a perfect birthday excursion for our about-to-turn three year old. We convinced Cindy and Sophie Fig to come along with us since we had crashed their pad after the wedding, and they cordially agreed. The off-season admission price of $29.99 (which is now only $24.99 when purchased online) sold us all on the excursion.

I looked at their website and I think I got more excited than the kids, because I am a roller coaster fanatic, and I liked what I saw. My indoctrination to the roller coaster world started young.

My mother is a roller coaster fanatic, and when I was little, my mom was sick of sitting out the roller coasters at our nearby annual summer haunt, while her older children rode them. I was the fourth in a quick succession of siblings, and she had had enough of us cramping her style.
"Stand up straight!" She would nudge me in line, checking to make sure I had worn my clogs, affording me that extra inch of false height.
Once on the ride, I would shudder with the thrill of having made it through the height check, wrapping my mom's arm tightly over my shoulder and locking her hand under my arms, and grab on to the bar with all my strength. We'd barrel through the tunnel, creep up the hill, clickety, clickety, clickety, click...My bottom flew out of my seat over the first three hills, my mother would howl with laughter and push my shoulders back firmly into the seat each time, and then we rounded the sidewinding bend, smacking into each other and screaming in unison, giggling over the next few stomach-lurching bunny hops; flying together on the Blue Streak, and screeching into the platform, still howling with laughter.
And then running to get back in line to do it again.

::blink blink::
::end 35 yr old tape playing in head::

So the idea of riding this:

was very very appealing to me.

And this thing gets me hot (NOT the guy - the ride!):

So, yeah - they had a Thomas Town and that is why we were going. Right.

Actually, to maintain this facade for as long as possible, our first stop was Thomas Town.
Bubbles was happier than a boy with a train when he saw Thomas pull into the station. He was trembling with excitement...

And the train ride itself brought out all of Bubbles' secret words as he shouted them out:
And then there was the rest of Thomas town: Harold the Helicopter, and Bertie the Bus.
And that was just enough until we headed off to the rest of the park.

Which, frankly, after a desperate lunch of fried food, turned out to be a bit disastrous.
There was a parade of people - a huge crowd suddenly appeared - and suddenly:


Zombies with blood, zombies with hatchets in their heads, zombies with chain saws...and if that wasn't enough....zombies dragging a glass stagecoach which carried a captive human, non-zombie woman, beating on the glass in futility. As a former Halloween devotee, it was kind of cool...but, as a mama, it was...a bit much.

It was far too scary for the kiddies for sure.
Apparently, it was the season for the popular 'Fright Fest', the publicity for which had somehow escaped our radar.
After a hasty exit from the park and a short email of complaint a few days later, which suggested that non-publicized bloody zombies and small children in strollers did not mix, I received a phone call from customer service rep Dave (Superman) Miller.
I was shocked to receive a phone call in response to my email, and Dave was definitely the nicest guy to call me that day.
"It's a fine line," he said, "between the fright fest and the family environment."
"Well, zombies are fun if you are fifteen. Or even twelve, I suppose. But not so much with the stroller set. Way too scary."
"I am so very sorry that the zombies scared your children. That is unacceptable."
"Well Dave, I completely understand the need for zombies at the fright fest, but the thing is, the zombies need to be better trained to avoid children. I realize that organizing a zombie training can be difficult, having to schedule it in the middle of the night and all, but it's something you should think about."
Dave started laughing.
"I absolutely hear you, and I will take all that into account. I want to invite you to come back to the park though - on us - and give us another chance."

This was the best customer service I have witnessed in years - and in a recession! - these people actually may survive it. With their level of customer attention, they deserve to survive it. They are very kind.

I thanked Dave and said that we would love to go back, and he gave me a secret code which would allow our family back into the park anytime between then and Christmas. He suggested the Holiday in the Park festival, saying it was very family friendly, and hoped that our experience would be improved.
When I realized that the Figs had also been part of the debacle and, although they were not terrified by the zombies, did have to leave abruptly, I called Dave back and asked if he would add two more tickets to that secret code. He emailed and called me back right away, saying that two more passes had been added to our voucher.
Yes, seriously.
I told you. Nice.

We weren't able to coordinate a Holiday in the Park evening (the park is only open 4-10 pm this month for this event), but did manage to agree on a Sunday to dedicate to 'Do-over Day' at Discovery Kingdom.
Which was last Sunday, when we met the Fig and Figlet at the entrance like clockwork, checked in smooth like butter, and high-fived upon entering. We were ready for the do-over.

When we took the exit off of the freeway and the roller coaster giants were visible from the road, Bubbles screamed out, "I see it! I see The Fun! I see The Big Fun!" and then started on an endless stream of, "I ride Thomas. Go ride Thomas. Go ride Harold. Go ride Thomas now. I go ride Thomas/Harold NOW NOW AGAIN!" (repeat x8)

We picked up the flashpass, based upon the lines from the previous visit, took Bubbles straight back to Thomas Town because he just would not shut up about it until we did because he really was the most desperate one of all of us. and it was no less thrilling than the first time. Dare I say it was even more exciting?

After that, we dropped all pretenses of 'parks are for kiddies!' ran straight for Tony Hawk's Big Spin - the one coaster which Supergirl is tall enough to ride - where we were greeted with NO LINE. Okay, maybe a 5 minute line. We decided to hang on to the flash passes until later in the day if we might need them.
Tony Hawk's does not disappoint. I can ride any roller coaster but not so much on the spinny things. Like those red hooded classic Tilt-a-Whirls? Those things make me sick. Ferris wheels? They make me wicked scared. But certain other spinny things are okay. Watching the spinny roller coaster, I decided it would be okay. It is awesome fun - when the four-person car shoots around those top curves, the car spins and it looks like you are going to fly off the track - like I said, awesome fun.
Spinning while flying wildly on a roller coaster track is something every roller coaster aficionado should try.
We took turns riding Roar, which is a classic wooden roller coaster with a long ride and a lot of clickety-clacketing, which I personally found to be a little to bone-jarring, but dh loved it.

For some reason, I was coerced by Cindy to go on this insane ride, and when we got on, Sophie wanted to ride in the very front seats, and guess who got to ride with her, with Mom screaming from the row behind? I am still not sure how that one happened, miss slick.

We visited the walruses, which we discovered, after commenting on their extreme sociability, included the famous Jocko, a movie star walrus. Jocko is a big show-off, who comes right up to the glass and thrills your children with flips and flipper-clapping - he loves children, and our children found a mutual attraction.

We all love the penguins who are also goofy and think that your hand is a fish:

We had somehow missed the shark tunnel the first time around, but never again:

There is also Stingray Bay; a tank where you can touch the rays (free), and a Dolphin tank where you can watch the dolphins play and be fed, or pay $10 to feed and touch them (we opted out this time, but I think the cost sure beats the $250 Waikoloa dolphin experience -with imported dolphins).

We found ourselves back at Thomas Town and Looney Tunes Seaport, where there are also many rides for children of all sizes - the girls would go ride the slightly more thrilling rides over there like balloons, mini-roller coaster, or swings, while Bubbles rode the more sedate trains, planes, and helicopters. Cindy went to grab a bite, and came back with the most delicious looking crepe I would never expect to see in a large park. It was consumed before it was photographed.
While Cindy worked on an equally delicious looking spinach salad, Supergirl asked for her own spinach salad. I think that Cindy discovered the yummiest secret in all of the park's food offerings (if you are looking for some options beyond fried or chain food), because at the California Crepes booth (next to Ben & Jerry's by the Looney Tunes Seaport), there is a European woman making all this food fresh, including her mini-donuts which I bought on a whim (6 for $2.99) and were instantly devoured. The spinach salad ($5.99) and the crepes (~$8.50) were jewels among concession stands, and we definitely will be visiting that stand next time.

We headed over to the animal side of the park since we had missed that the last time, and I was impressed beyond my expectations.
The kids loved Odin, the non-vicious, bottle-fed white Bengal tiger:

And the super-hammy photogenic baby giraffes:

And then we split up so that dh could take the littles to the killer whale show, and Cindy, Sophie and I could crunch in some eleventh hour serial roller coaster riding.
First, we hit Boomerang, a looping coaster that goes backwards. It was a bit jerky for me, and the backwards part gave both Cindy and me a slight headache.
We were hoping to ride Kong, a suspension coaster we missed the last time, but it was closed for painting, even though I told a nearby attendant that the aesthetic of Kong was not what I was going to be prioritizing. (waaaaaaaaahhhhhhh)
However, we did ride Medusa a few times in a row (a three minute, 15 second ride!) before we lost Cindy to a lovely shade of pale green. I heart Medusa so much; it is a five-across, floorless coaster with no fewer than seven inversions, gliding like silk along its lime and lilac glowing tracks.

When we re-grouped for our final ride spree, Supergirl raved about Shouka, and Bubbles cheered throughout the whole show, duly impressed as he should be, with a four thousand pound mammal jumping thirty feet out of the water.

We wearily ran staggered back to the other end of the horseshoe shaped park to catch a few more rides on Tony Hawk's Big Spin and Roar. Cindy and her stomach had completely had it by this time, so we totally took advantage of her parenting skills and dumped Bubbles off on her while we took Sophie on endless circuits of Tony Hawk. The lines were still minimal (note to self: November is a great time to go here!) but we whipped out the last of our fast passes, and got three rides instead of one in our last fifteen minutes.

I was so enthralled with this place - the cleanliness, the best of marine and wildlife, the best rides, the funny an animated childrens ride attendants, and the attentive customer service, that I was ready to pay up the extra $24.99 (before leaving the park) to buy season passes for the entire family, but (sniff sniff) I had traveled light that day, and brought only my ID and a pocket full of enough cash for the day.

Dh teased me - we live near the Boardwalk, where I have bought passes for Supergirl for the past few years to the tune of $70/year. Never again. She only can ride the kiddie-rides, and they charge as much for a child as for an adult who can ride the thrill rides. Also, it is filthy and they charge even more for parking ($20) than Discovery Kingdom ($15).

Also, comparing the experience we had at Legoland this summer, I don't think I can stress enough the canyon of difference between positive customer service, and useless and potentially dangerous customer upper management (Safety Manager, tm).

I will definitely bring the family and friends again - though I will always regret not bringing the cc with me to upgrade to the season passes that day.

In the meantime, I will dream of this, this, this, and this, and the day my children are tall enough to join me on these rides. While I am waiting, any nanny takers? I will pay for your admission - we will take turns on the big thrills.


furiousBall said...

I'm going to name my next child Jocko, boy or girl

Boss of Seattle said...

This place sounds AWESOME! I am never one to actually want to take my kids to places like this (usually overrated and over priced), but this is a place we are SURE to visit! Thanks for the tip!

Cindy said...

YAY FOR DAVE!!! It was a most awesome day.

did i really look green? yeah, i guess so. xxoo

Lunasea said...

I am sooo jealous that you got to ride the Tony Hawk. I wanted to ride that sooo much! I love the spinny rides!

Glad you had a good time, but sheesh.

Jamey said...

You are ON!

We looooooove Discovery Kingdom. I hate rollercoasters, so you and my lovely wife Carole can go scream your fool heads off while I play with the kidlings.

Mama Deb said...

How fun! I, too, love roller coasters, but not so much the spinny things.

I love your memory of you and your Mom riding coasters together. My Mom would have never ever ridden one. I want to be the Mom who does!