I should start out by saying that we're pretty good at finding flight deals on our own, but sometimes we DO get a little outside help.
I was at work one day, minding my own business when I saw a post on Facebook from "The Points Guy", advertising insane deals cross country. We had already booked upcoming trips to Minneapolis and Texas (spoiler alert, those reports are coming eventually), so I wasn't really planning on taking any additional trips but I saw flights from Newark to Sacramento for $53 each way per person and I just don't have the will power necessary to turn something like that down.
I didn't even tell Brit, I just made my way to the airline's website as fast as possible and booked it before the deals went away. It was only after the fact that I told her about it. She was excited at least. She expects this kind of sh*t by now.
Normally we fly awful airlines like Frontier and Allegiant, but the best part of this deal may have been that (in addition to being so cheap), this was actually on a "REAL" airline. I guess after accidentally sending a dog to Japan
, forcibly dragging a surgeon off of a plane and killing a dog by putting it in the overhead bin, United's demand was down a bit and we were more than happy to pounce and "fly the friendly skies" to Sacramento.
So... what's the catch (because there's ALWAYS a catch)? Well... the flight times...
For obvious reasons, our plan was to drive to Newark on Friday night and get a hotel as close to the airport as possible so that we could maximize what little sleep time we had. I totally caved and stayed at some Wyndham thing (that doesn't have a wake up calls... because yeah, why would a f*cking airport hotel have guests that need to get up at very specific times?) , dropping the car at the adjacent offsite lot the night before so all we had to worry about in the "morning" was getting up, checking out and taking the shuttle to the airport.
We got to the hotel around 8:00, grabbed some dinner from the hotel and then tried our best to get some sleep, knowing that we had to be up WAY too early.
Shout-out to Frontier... for all the hate that they get they're really not any worse than flying United Economy. It was nice to have TV and Wifi available for purchase, but that was the most cramped and awful flight ever. Part of it may have been a case of expectations (when I fly an ultra low cost carrier, I know that I'm in no position to bitch) but honestly I think you actually get more leg room on Frontier and it's generally a newer plane.
Thankfully there was relief in sight in the form of our Denver connection. We hit the ground in plenty of time to make our connection and immediately found ourselves in (as usual) an airport that makes all of our horrific New York airports look like complete dumpster fire hellholes. We grabbed a bite to eat, threw some water on our faces to try to wake up and then (with trepidation) made our way over to some tiny United Express regional jet with 2x2 seating. Shockingly, it turned out that it was a pretty awesome plane with an insane amount of leg room AND a complimentary stroopwafel! United sucks, but "United Express" which isn't even really United gets a big thumbs up.
While we had been up for 10 hours, the reality of the situation was that it was really only 10am local time when we landed in Sacramento and we had a full day of Sacramento fun planned! We immediately rented the car and made our way to downtown Sacramento to check out all of the awesome Sacramento things such as the Sacramento museum of Sacramentoness, the statue of Jevedian Sacramento who famously founded Sacramento after the great Sacramento war and all of the other culturally exciting things in the super amazing and exciting city of Sacra...
... just kidding, nobody cares about Sacramento. We went to San Francisco. I mean... come on.
We used you Sacramento, the only thing about Sacramento that we had any interest in was the fact that it was 2 hours from San Francisco. We sincerely apologize, but I feel like deep down you understand.
While sitting in Denver when it became apparent that we were going to make our connection (it was a tight one), I hopped onto the Giants website and bought tickets for the Dodgers and Giants game (which is a big rivalry for you non-baseball fans) at 1:30. Located right on the bay, AT&T Park has always been a bucket list ballpark of mine and the fact that we'd be able to visit for a rivalry game against the Dodgers made the whole thing even more exciting.
I had been to San Francisco once before, but it had been almost 20 years. Brit had never been, and I remember it being (possibly) the coolest city in America and I was really excited to go back and to take her there for the first time. The GPS was taking us over the Bay Bridge to the stadium, but as we approached Vallejo and I realized we were making great time I decided to quietly re-route us and introduce Brit to San Francisco properly.
There are plenty of touristy things in America that you "have to do" when you visit a certain city but they don't live up to the hype (maybe I'm jaded since I live in New York but cough: TIMES SQUARE). The Golden Gate bridge is not one of those things. The Golden Gate Bridge is stunning. Pictures will never do it justice. When you first see it sticking up over the hill it doesn't even look real.
After taking some photos of the bridge and watching the saves crash onto the cliffs, we hopped back into the car and made our way into the city.
I didn't remember this from last time, but apparently you sort of get dumped onto Lombard Street when you get over the bridge, so obviously we drove down the weird twisty bit though for whatever reason we don't have any pictures. Honestly, it's cooler to look at it than to actually drive down it but I mean... you just sort of have to do it.
Despite all of our pit stops we actually managed to get to the ballpark in the 1st inning. We didn't think we would have missed much, but when we got to our seats in the middle of the first it became clear that the Dodgers weren't planning on taking any sh*t that day from San Francisco.
Around the 8th inning, we were surprised to see that the stadium hadn't really cleared out much despite the lopsided score. We had a great time at AT&T park, but truth be told we didn't really have a dog in the fight and we had places to go and things to do so we decided to be "that guy" and leave a little early to beat the traffic since there was no way in hell the Giants were going to make a ballgame out of this anyway.
At that point we had been up for about 16 hours and were operating on very little sleep but somehow we didn't feel tired at all. I assumed that eventually we might hit a wall, so I booked a hotel in Santa Clara next to our next stop of the day.
========== Coaster dorks, it's safe to start reading now =====================
There seemed to be an event at the the stadium, but since it was so late in the day we still managed to find a nice spot pretty close to the park entrance. This would be the first ever trip to California's Great America for either of us, and while it was a shame we had to rush it, it seemed like a moderately sized park that was conducive to that sort of thing.
The first thing that struck me about this park was that the park's entry plaza was flat out gorgeous. The carousel and gardens are amazing and they're framed beautifully by Gold Striker and Sky Tower. Up ahead, we saw Railblazer teasing us. It wasn't open yet, but we were at peace with that. It wasn't the reason for the trip and we know that we'll be back.
There wasn't much doubt about what our first stop would be, but when we entered the Gold Striker queue we encountered a ton of people and a wait time of about 30-40 minutes. That's not unbearable, but we had been up for way too many hours for that kind of bullsh*t so we decided to immediately correct the issue...
Fastlane is very reasonable at Great America, I think it was less than $100 total for both of us. We didn't really want to stay until 10 PM (since it would have felt like 1 AM with the time change on almost no sleep), so this was a no brainer.
I'd been hearing great things about Gold Striker since it opened, but I was always skeptical that it was just the "new GCI hype" that always seems to happen when one of these opens. It never subsided with Gold Striker, and in the back of my head I thought it might just be because people like to hype up rides that are sort of annoying to get to or because there wasn't anything in the region to compare it to. We waited a few extra cycles for the front, got strapped in and prepared to find out if the ride lived up to the hype.
Wow! This ride is insane, totally out of control, has tons of airtime pops and walks that fine line of being "crazy" and throwing you around a little without being rough that GCIs tend to walk so well. Honestly, it's probably the best GCI I've ever ridden and I can confidently say that the hype for this ride was totally legitimate. Brit wholeheartedly agreed, and we decided that we'd absolutely find our way back for another ride later on.
I was tempted to hit Flight Deck next, but curiosity got the best of me and we decided instead to head over to Patriot. We ended up backtracking a bit since it's almost impossible to find the Fastlane entrance to this thing, but eventually we found it (I think we walked through an arcade or something) and made our way to the station, realizing we didn't need Fastlane anyway.
I'm a big fan of Rougarou, and while I knew that this ride was a little smaller and I assumed that it would be far less exciting I was looking forward to riding it. Despite the complaints, I feel like Rougarou is amazingly smooth compared to Mantis, and I assumed that this would likely be the case here with the ride's only downside being the short duration.
What is this piece of shit? Unlike Rougarou, this thing straight up pummels you. The entire ride consists of neck chop after neck chop. Truth be told, it's not like it's unbearably rough but when you combine the constant headbanging with the fact that it's just not a very interesting layout anyway this ride really comes off like quite the turd. I never rode it as a standup, but I can't imagine that this is much of an improvement and if it is... Jesus. This was easily the biggest disappointment in the park, but hey... the new paint job looks cool at least.
Flight Deck is one of those rare coasters that seems to be universally praised by everyone. While Gold Striker has stolen some of the attention (and I assume that Railblazer will do the same), I was really excited to ride this thing. When we walked up, we saw a massive sea of humanity that was apparently about an hour wait. Thankfully, Fastlane dumped us right into the station (which seemed to be a common theme at this park).
The first thing that I noticed about this ride was that the restraints were REALLY tight. It's definitely the smallest B&M invert train I had seen and there were more than a few walks of shame so it took awhile to get those trains out. Eventually though, we found ourselves in the front row getting the all clear and ascending the lift.
I knew this ride was good, but I didn't know HOW good. The ride is short, but it's intense... really, really intense. The drop and loop were great, but I knew we were in for a treat when we whipped through that rising turn following the loop. It sent all the blood rushing to our feet and basically took that foot tingling you get on Batman clones but turned it up to 11. Before you have a chance to recover, you positively haul A$$ through an insane zero g roll before diving down, whipping through a corkscrew and then performing another turn that's just as crazy as that rising turn after the loop but this time only a few feet above the water.
Oh. My. God. I feel like Montu might still be my favorite invert because this one IS short, but it's been unseated as the most intense (in my mind). This thing is bad a**, and it's totally relentless from the second it drops off the lift until the time it hits the brakes. We knew it would be good but it left us speechless.
WOW! Northern California has a winner here, and between this and Railblazer the intensity junkies will have a field day at Great America.
At that point we had knocked out everything in the front half of the park and needed to make our way to the back. The park had a cool collection of flat rides, but since it was so late (or at least it felt late), we decided to mostly stick to coasters since we had ridden them all elsewhere. That said, there was still a particular non coaster ride that needed riding Please try to contain the shock over which one...
Eagles Flight / Delta Flyer / Whatever was sporting a huge wait (I mean... duh, people know greatness when they see it) but obviously this wasn't a deterrent. It became even less of a deterrent when we realized that for once, a park actually put it's Sky Ride on Fastlane. Holy crap! This wristband was a hell of an investment.
When we touched back down from Eagles Flight, errrr Delta Flyer (whatever) we found ourselves over at the park's Arrow mouse. In true mouse fashion, the ride had a bit of a line but in true CGA fashion, Fastlane pretty much dumped you on immediately.
We had tried and failed to ride an Arrow mouse at Michigan's Adventure, so this actually ended up being our first. It was a really fun ride (as is the case with any wild mouse), but I don't really notice a difference between this and it's counterparts other than the absurdly huge supports and the odd random banking which was sort of quirky and fun.
We continued around the loop a bit doing some people-watching and enjoying the sheer terror on the faces of the people riding the drop tower and eventually found our way over to Grizzly.
I've always been intrigued by this ride because of the sheer amount of venom it receives from pretty much everyone. I believe at one point it was voted the worst wood coaster in the world and it always comes up in the "worst wood coaster" conversation once people stop foaming at the mouth talking about how THEY rode Son of Beast "WITH THE LOOP" (ps: Me too, it wasn't THAT bad, chill).
You have to sort of go inside the structure to find the queue, but once we did we were surprised to see that it was quite sizeable. That's weird... why would so many people be in line for the world's worst wood coaster?
We bypassed the line and immediately found the problem. The park has those dumb Morgan trains that make loading and unloading a nightmare. I don't remember the exact loading process but I do remember it being pretty dumb and requiring way more seatbelts than necessary. None of that would impact the ride experience, but it killed load times. We didn't care since we had Fastlane, but I'm sure it made for a brutal stand-by line.
Eventually they locked and checked all 37 restraints on every seat and we were ready to go. We rolled out of the station, up the lift and began our descent bracing for the worst.
Alright... what's everyone whining about? Don't get me wrong, the ride just meanders around aimlessly. There's no airtime, no forces of any kind and I don't really get it, but it's fine. It's smooth and it's a great starter coaster for kids I'm sure. I can definitely say that I enjoyed it. It's a pretty mundane ride for sure, but I don't think the park ever tried to play it off as anything more than that.
We were down to our last coaster at that point and we didn't exactly save the best for last. Demon was a total walk-on and it seemed like that was for good reason. I actually remember enjoying the Six Flags version, but this one seemed like it was a little worse off. None of the effects worked, and the ride in general seemed a bit rougher. Maybe we just caught it on a bad day, or maybe since we had been up for way too many hours we just subconsciously had no tolerance for Arrow's bullsh*t. The world may never know...
The sun was starting to set, and while we still weren't all that tired we realized that we really needed to go and get some sleep. We wanted to end the night with a bang though, and not the Demon kind so we decided to put our Fastlane to use one more time and hit Gold Striker on the way out which was (again), totally amazing.
After a quick stop at the gift shop we got in our car and made our way over to the hotel. It didn't hit me until I got in the car but I was exhausted. We grabbed some takeout, made our way to the hotel just a few miles away and prepared to crash. I returned to the car after checking in (to a hotel that actually wasn't a dump for once) and Brit frantically pointed at a sign on the door that said that the hotel was known by the state of California to cause cancer.
Brit demanded that I go back inside and get a refund, but I pretty much stated that I wouldn't have cared if there were spent fuel rods in the bathtub taking an asbestos bubble bath, I was too tired to care and I'd worry about it in the morning. Much to Brit's chagrin, we decided to stay there anyway and when we got to the room I pulled up Google and found that California slaps that sign on pretty much every building and business in the entire state. WTF is wrong with this state? It was hilariously fitting that our first night in California ended with an argument about a sign that turned out to be the most "California" thing ever.
Up next: Still not Sacramento!