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Whoop-de-do! : Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean and Log Ride at Knott's, While Not the Scariest, Are Tops at the Two Theme Parks

December 04, 1987|PATRICK MOTT | For The Times

Think you know all about where the crowds go at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm? Then here's a good way to win a bet:

Ask someone to name the most popular rides at those two county theme parks. It's a fair guess they'll pick attractions that are either high in profile--such as Disneyland's Matterhorn or the Parachute Sky Jump at Knott's--or high in velocity--a bill Disneyland's Space Mountain or Montezooma's Revenge at Knott's could easily fill.

However, in a part of the country that practically invented the fast lane, the rides most people visit at each park tend to be long on scenery and water and short on gut-wrenching thrills: the Timber Mountain Log Ride at Knott's and the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland.

While it's true that both rides can move a large number of people through the turnstiles hour after hour (which is the measurement of a ride's popularity at both parks), there may be more to each of them than is first apparent.

The Pirates of the Caribbean, which opened in 1967, "has never really lost its popularity," Disneyland spokesman Bob Roth said. "It carries more guests (nearly 75% of park visitors) than any other attraction in the park, but beyond that, it doesn't appeal to just one age group. It doesn't turn older people away from it like, say, a Space Mountain."

Unlike Disneyland's roller coaster-ish Space Mountain, the Pirates of the Caribbean is mostly tranquil. Riders float in boats through pirate caves where electronically animated figures play out colorful scenes from a pirate's life. There are two short, sharp drops during the ride, but they hardly qualify as stomach churners.

The Timber Mountain Log Ride at Knott's has consistently carried large volumes of passengers since opening in 1969, park spokesman Stuart Zanville said. From November, 1986, through October, 1987, 98% of all visitors to Knott's rode the log ride, more than any other attraction in the park. Like the Pirates of the Caribbean, the log ride has a broad appeal that eclipses the thrill rides, Zanville said.

"If you're going to pick a ride for the general populace, the log ride would be it," he said. "It's our No. 1. My mother would go on the log ride, but she wouldn't name Zoom as one of her favorites, and she wouldn't go on it either."

"Zoom" is Knott's verbal shorthand for Montezooma's Revenge, a high-velocity, loop-type roller coaster and the park's sixth-most-popular ride.

The log ride, on the other hand, is similar to Disneyland's Pirates. Riders are borne on water and float down a log flume past scenes of miners and prospectors. There are also two sharp drops, a short one in the dark and a longer one in daylight at the end of the ride.

Roth speculated on the value of the water in both rides.

"During the summertime," he said, "when people are kind of hot, they can get into a boat and get splashed a little bit. Also, I think there's a kind of a safe feeling being in the water, somehow. The water acts as a kind of buffer."

Also, he said, "people may realize they're going to get a longer ride out of it (than some of the shorter thrill rides). They may be thinking they're getting more bang for their buck."

There are no real "loss leader" rides at either park, Zanville and Roth agreed. However, both said that smaller rides with less capacity fall low on the list of money-makers. At Knott's, spokeswoman Pamela Baker said the children's rides in the park's Camp Snoopy area cater to small children and are low in capacity. And, Zanville added, the more turbulent thrill rides, such as the Loop Coaster, appeal primarily to younger visitors.

At Disneyland, rides such as the Main Street Horse Cars and other Main Street vehicles have low capacity. However, the People Mover in Tomorrowland, which can carry large numbers of passengers through other attractions in the park, has one of the lowest ridership figures in the park.

"It's a fairly passive ride," Roth said. "It familiarizes people with the other attractions in the area, but it's not as unique as it used to be. When it was introduced, it was considered a new mode of transportation."

Still, the thrill ride has its place at both parks. At Knott's, the Corkscrew, a twisting roller coaster that turns riders upside down twice, is No. 2 in popularity. At Disneyland, the No. 2--and gaining fast, Roth said--is Star Tours, a turbulent journey through space and one of the park's newest rides.

"When they drop the rope at the gate (to let visitors into the park at the beginning of the day), if you're between there and Star Tours, you'd better get out of the way," he said.

The success of lots of water and a little bit of thrill has not been lost on Disneyland, however, Roth added. In January, 1989, a new ride is scheduled to open in the Bear Country section of the park. Familiarly, riders will float along on water, past animated scenes, toward a long drop at the end.

Splash Mountain, as it's called, is to be a log-flume ride.

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