Nora Qutobi and her 5-year-old son Izhawk might be California’s Great America’s biggest fans, having visited the Santa Clara theme park a mind-blowing 126 times during its most recent full year of operation in 2019..
Thus, it’s hardly a surprise that they were lined up outside Great America — even before the gates officially opened — and ready for more fun on Saturday morning.
“We are here all the time. This will be our 10th time this season,” says Fremont’s Quotobi, noting that she had only missed one day since the park reopened in May after remaining shuttered during the entire 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The staff members here are amazing. I think they are the reason why we keep coming back.”
Yet, there’s another attraction that brings the Qutobis — and hundreds of other families — out to Great America on this particular day.
They are here to be among the first to experience South Bay Shores, the updated and upgraded waterpark area that opened to the public on Saturday at Great America. It takes over the old Boomerang Bay waterpark spot — and then some — adding 50 percent more room (moving from 10 acres to 15) as well as nearly doubling the amount of attractions.
There are now 18 attractions for families and other H2O fans to enjoy, compared to 10 that were available at the long popular Boomerang Bay. A third of those can be found at what park officials have called “the main attraction” — Pacific Surge, an entirely impressive complex of six slides that stands some six stories tall.
“We’re thrilled to welcome guests back to California’s Great America and to the new South Bay Shores
waterpark, says Barb Granter, Great America’s vice president and general manager. “As we safely reopen the park, we’re giving Bay Area residents even more reasons to call the park their favorite destination for fun,”
The Byrne family — Kathleen and Jason with their sons Colson, 10, and Weston, 5 — came all the way up from Pismo Beach to check out the new waterpark.
“We’ve been waiting a whole year,” says Kathleen Byrne. “We’ve been really excited to check it out — be the first ones on opening day.”
Much of the advance buzz around South Bay Shores has been centered on Shark Reef Plunge, which sits atop the overall Pacific Surge complex. Those in search of a massive adrenaline rush will likely beeline for this four-slide attraction, which simultaneously sends four guests — each in separate enclosed tubes — on an amazingly fast ride down six stories. It begins with the floor literally drops out from under the riders and they embark on a nearly vertical free fall.
The first member of the general public to ever brave the Shark Reef Plunge turned out to be Jimmy Pham, who was basking in the excitement on Saturday after making the six-story drop — from start to finish — in a remarkable 10 seconds.
]”I was screaming,” said the 22-year-old Fremont resident. “That was awesome.”
Thus looking for a more leisurely waterslide experience could check out the Feeding Frenzy and Barracuda slides, which are located one story down from the Shark Reef Plunge — on the fifth floor — on the Pacific Surge Complex. They still provide plenty of thrills, as guests glide down a series of drops and turns, only without the type of screaming that Pham described.
There’s also the new Tide Pool family lagoon area, featuring eight kid-sized water slides along the perimeter of a zero-depth-entry pool.
Plus, there’s just more room for relaxing now — especially in the new Grassy Gardens area, which is an ideal place for parents to kick back while the kids are on the slides. Great America has also tripled the number of dining options — moving from just one to now three — and given the place a whole new theme, ditching the Australian themed Boomerang Bay motif for a classic California beach town vibe with South Bay Shores.
As it stands, organizers are operating the waterpark at 40 percent capacity — although that could change as more COVID-19 restrictions are lifted across California. Guests must also make reservations in advance to visit South Bay Shores online at cagreatamerica.com.
Thus far, officials are seeing a huge response to this new attraction — as well as to the overall park reopening.
“The pent up demand that we hoped was there absolutely materialized,” says Jason Soyster, Great America’s director of marketing and sales.
Soyster also says that guests have been very agreeable to the park’s reopening safety guidelines, which includes having people wear masks (but not, of course, on the water rides) and social distancing.
“I think it’s a testament to the market,” he says. “The people in the Bay Area really respect the protocols.
“People are so respectful and understanding that we are trying to open safely.”