Have grandkids, will travel Theme park adventures

  • By Wayne Kruse / Special to The Herald
  • Saturday, July 23, 2005 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

This was a spring break, theme-park reward for good scholarship for my two grandsons, Keegan, 13, and Conner, 11, but with a slight twist.

I know that this is Uncle Walt’s year in SoCal, with all the big 50th anniversary doings scheduled at Disneyland, but our family had already been there, done D-Land.

So I decided to skip a return visit to Big Number One and to explore instead the other major parks in the immediate Los Angeles area: one day at Knott’s Berry Farm, one day at Universal Studios.

Kathy DeTuerk at Sunrise Travel in Everett put us on Alaska Airlines flying into the Burbank Airport, a low-key facility only a 20-minute drive from Universal City, arranged a rental car and booked us at the Sheraton Universal.

The hotel brought mixed reviews from my group. It runs a convenient, free shuttle bus two blocks up the hill to the theme park’s rear entrance, a huge benefit.

On the other hand, the hotel thinks of itself as upscale, and the faintly arrogant attitude of some of the staff was distasteful to this old redneck.

The boys enjoyed the outdoor pool, and the restaurant proved completely adequate and not overly pricey.

Universal Studios is a theme park different from anything else you’re likely to come across, and I’m a big fan. It’s not so much a “ride” venue for coaster-heads as a series of entertaining, multi-dimensional “experiences.”

Here’s a quick rundown on some of the attractions:

Studio tour: Don’t miss the 45-minute narrated tram-ride through and around the still-working Universal sound stages (mostly making television material these days). See sets, props, special effects, and find yourself inside a few of them. We were lucky to go through a “hot set,” a scene from the just-completed film “War of the Worlds,” involving a crashed 747. Incredible effects.

Water World: The movie was a bomb, but the attraction, 15 minutes, is hugely popular and the top-rated show at the park. A very wet (be careful where you sit if you want to stay dry), live-action stage play with machine guns, jet skis, heroes and villains, an apocalyptic set and a lot of pyrotechnics. The arrival of the seaplane is a classic.

Shrek 4-D: Loveable characters and voices and, even though you’re sitting in a seat, you’re interacting with this 3-D movie. Keep a Kleenex handy. 20 minutes.

Back To The Future: Venerable, somewhat dated, but still very popular, the 15-minute movie-oriented ride through space and time is one of the better attractions.

Van Helsing; Fortress Dracula: Read Halloween spook house times ten. The boys really enjoyed (we had to do it again) this walk-through experience, with live (almost live?) spooks, disorienting effects, cobwebs and dismembered corpses, as only Hollywood can do it.

Revenge Of The Mummy: One of our favorites (we did this one twice, as well), this coaster event combines atmosphere with what is probably the park’s hardest-core thrill ride.

Jurassic Park; The Ride: I expected more from this relatively recent, 10-minute water-drop ride, patterned after Disney’s Splash Mountain. The float-through sets are impeccable, but tame.

Backdraft: One of my personal favorites, this 20-minute, stand-up, fire-and-brimstone experience is pure physical effect, and extremely well done. Very well done. Almost crisp.

Universal’s shopping street is called City Walk, and it’s a big, brassy, neon, show unto itself. Food, drinks, clothing, movie collectibles, souvenirs, toys, and much more, all very loud, and certainly worth a stroll.

The next day we loaded up and drove 45 minutes south, down I-5, to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park. The trip gave us glimpses of famous landmarks such as Mulholland Drive, Sunset Boulevard, and the Hollywood sign.

Knott’s began in 1920 when Walter and Cordelia Knott started growing berries on 20 acres of rented land, and has developed into the 12th most-visited amusement park in the country.

It’s a second-tier park, sure, but since being upgraded after the Knott family sold in 1997, it’s not far behind the front-runners. It’s easy to find, easy to park, easy to get around in and almost restful after noisy, frenetic Universal, if any theme park can be termed restful.

The park has an old-fashioned character, even though it comes equipped with some modern, high-intensity thrill rides and the boys and I were impressed with the total experience.

Three themes are the old west section, with many authentic buildings moved in from various western ghost towns; a California Spanish section; and Camp Snoopy for the young children.

At several points in the park, educational programs are scheduled throughout the day -a lively exhibition of blacksmithing in the old west section, for instance, the day we were there. Other old west experiences include cowboys and gun fights, stagecoach rides and a steam train.

Modern, extreme, high-intensity rides at the park include Corkscrew, a looping coaster; Supreme Scream, 30 stories up and 3 seconds down; Montezooma’s Revenge, a seven-story loop coaster; and Xcelerator, a launch coaster taking you 0 to 80 in 2.3 seconds.

More moderate rides include Ghost Rider, a nostalgic, all-wood coaster. Knott’s has a good log ride in Timber Mountain, and a raft ride called Bigfoot Rapids.

The park has a small shopping area running down both sides of the street leading to the main entrance from the parking lot, which includes the restaurant serving “Mrs. Knott’s Famous Fried Chicken Dinner.”

Money was tight during the great depression of the 1930s, and Cordelia Knott started selling jams, jellies, and homemade pies from a small building on the highway, to supplement the farm income. Then she added fried chicken dinners on Sundays, for 65 cents, and the crowds beat a path to her door.

Today the dinners are just as popular, but the restaurant can now seat 900 for chicken, buttermilk biscuits, mashed potatoes and excellent chicken gravy, a vegetable, and a piece of berry pie.

I had heard of the famous dinners all my life, and really looked forward to trying one, a little fearful that they, like so many highly hyped products, wouldn’t measure up.

I’m extremely happy to stand up and state that not only is it a first-class meal, but the price is eminently reasonable, particularly for a theme park venue. I recommend it highly.

Talk to us

More in Life

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay walks into the Prohibition Grille along Hewitt Avenue in Everett Wednesday Dec. 5, 2012 while reportedly filming an episode of Kitchen Nightmares at the Everett restaurant. (Mark Mulligan / The Herald)
Even more films and TV shows filmed in Snohomish County

Readers point out projects previously missed in this series, from reality television to low-budget indie films.

Daniella Beccaria / for The Herald

15-month-old Kantu attempts to climb a pumpkin at Stocker Farms in Snohomish on Sunday, September 20th, 2015. Stocker Farms offers a U-pick patch, farm animals and a corn maze.
Best pumpkin patch in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied, here are the results.

Everett comedian Taylor Clark performs stand-up in 2023 at The Triple Door in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mike Bryk)
Comedian Taylor Clark to film first special Friday in Everett

The skateboarding funny-man will record an hour of his stand-up at the Historic Everett Theater.

Local musician Alex Johnston, whose newest album "Daylight Fooldream" pairs with short film he made with help from his partner Mikaela Henderson, sits with his morning coffee on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Folktronica musician shoots 37-minute visual album on iPhone in Everett

Alex Johnston, 31, describes his music as ”if Coldplay and Bon Iver had a love child.”

Death of parent with child. Piece of paper with parents and children is torn in half.
Helping children cope with the hard realities of divorce

I’s important to set aside one’s feelings and find a way to make this challenging transition as comfortable for children as you can.

In Belgium, each type of beer has its own glass – whether wide, tall, or fluted – to show off its distinct qualities.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Bruges brews lift a weary traveler’s spirits

The Belgian city is a mecca for beer lovers from around the world.

Children’s author Barbara Herkert to lead Story Time at Edmonds Bookshop, Friday September 29th, 9:30-10:00 am!
Author to read her new kids book at Edmonds bookstore

Author Barbara Herkert will read “This Old Madrone Tree” Friday at Edmonds Bookshop.

Flowering knotweed Persicaria amplexicaulis firetail in the morning light.
Save for one infamous variety, fleece flowers are easy to fall in love with

This long-blooming, easy-to-grow perennial comes in many desirable varieties. But watch out: One is an invasive knotweed.

A view of King Street Station in Seattle, Washington from an Amtrak Cascades train to Portland, Oregon from Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Ride the rails on Amtrak Cascades from Everett to Portland

Make new friends and let Amtrak do the driving on this 5-hour trip past sea, city and forest.

Most Read