Great America Park. Built back in the 70’s and currently owned by Cedar Fair (who have Knott’s Berry Farm and several other parks across the U.S), this Park is filled with family-friendly activities as well as fast-speed roller coasters rivaling Disneyland and Six Flag Magic Mountain Park. Last month we got to visit and experience firsthand how ‘autism- friendly’ it is. We consulted their website, and as parents to a son with autism, we appreciated finding a separate, printable page detailing what is offered for special needs. The Great American Themepark has ‘front of the line’ passes, parent-swap options for rides with younger siblings, kid track wristbands and valuable safety tips – like photographing the child on a mobile phone on the day to have a current picture in the event of them wandering off and getting lost. Parking spaces are plentiful; the regular charge is 15$ per car, but one can pay an extra 3 dollars to park even closer to the entrance for convenience. Before we entered the park, we had to go through an airport-type screening security check, with a staff member waving a scanning wand and patting you down if necessary. If your child with autism is bothered by this, you should let guest services know in advance. Once inside the park, we headed on to the conveniently located guest relations, where we were given the autism access cards and boarding passes valid for the day.
Autism AccommodationsThe pass entitles the person with the disability, plus four companions, to enter the rides via the alternate access entrance. The particular entries are marked with a wheelchair symbol for easy reference. The system is similar to Disney and Universal in that you go to the chosen rides and receive a specific time to return. The park prides itself on featuring some of the tallest and fastest rides around so our son, an avid adventurer, and thrill seeker, was excited to try all the loops and twists on offer. Height requirements and motion intensity are displayed, so riders know what to expect.
The RidesWe headed on to the Great America ThemePark’s newest addition – the Wild West themed Goldstriker, advertised as the tallest, fastest wooden roller coaster in Northern California. The wait for that was less than 30 minutes, so the staff let us right in. Next, we tried the tamer Grizzly, and then the sharp ups and downs Drop Tower, Psycho Mouse with smooth loops and Tiki Twirl, a giant, vertically spinning top. With no crowds, there were very minimal waiting times. We did encounter a less than 10-minute wait at the Demon, which our son didn’t mind since he was kept occupied in a shady area by TV monitors showing various video clips. There were benches and shaded areas located throughout the park, so we sat in their lovely trellised area in the county fair section, undisturbed by pigeons or bees, enjoying their famous funnel cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries. Next, we tried the Whitewater Falls (plan on getting soaked), Delirium (don’t go on a full stomach) and the Vortex, the only ride you stand upright while being spun through the air. Worth mentioning is that our son enjoyed the Pumpkin Patch spinning ride and the Woodstock Express, both mild and smooth fun rides geared towards the younger guests. The Park is “Peanuts” themed, so we met several characters walking about especially in the – Planet Snoopy area. The entrance to the park includes admission to the water park with a lazy river, an Australian-themed water mild slide and a three story high slide with curves and twists appropriately named The Screaming Wombat. After a brief lunch break at Subway’s (the healthiest and most budget friendly choice) our son rode the HMB Endeavor, Delta Flyer, Eagle’s Flight (gondola ride that crosses the park and provides visitors with superb park overviews) and Flight Deck. Though the park was slightly more crowded by the afternoon, he was still accommodated for his autism and didn’t have to wait in line for longer than ten minutes each time. We ended our visit going twice in a row on Firefall, the most threatening and dramatic ride of all, considering you get to be twirled over real flames. Our son, who is frightened of fire didn’t seem to mind. Overall, we enjoyed visiting the park and were very satisfied with the way our son with autism was accommodated. Furthermore, we were highly impressed with how the staff adhered to safety precautions double-checking that guests were buckled carefully on every ride, and the cleanliness of the property especially the bathrooms is excellent.
Autism Travel Tips
- Avoid visiting on weekends. The Park is best when it is least busy and early in the morning when it is cooler.
- Food in the park tends to be pricey so if you wish to keep your visit budget friendly, bring an ice cooler from home, keep it in the car and use the outside picnic areas to have lunch.
- Bring refillable water bottles that you can replenish at the different water fountains if you wish to save on beverage costs.
- Pack a set of dry clothes for your child in case they get wet on a ride, and a rain poncho in the event of thundershowers.
- Refrain from wearing flip-flops and bring a fanny pack to place glasses and caps so they don’t fall off during the rides.
- Watch the Saturday night fireworks from the comfort of your hotel room if your child is noise sensitive. The Santa Clara Marriott that’s across the street from the Park is best for that.