For the last few years, Knott’s has been amping up their seasonal events. We’ve seen the Knott’s Berry Bloom explode into the insanely fun Boysenberry Festival. Christmas is when it becomes Knott’s Merry Farm. Halloween time needs no introduction as Knott’s Scary Farm.
Now for the Summer, there is Ghost Town Alive. Building off the success of the inaugural season last year, it returns in 2017 with a new story-line that guests help shape throughout the day.
With Ghost Town Alive – at it’s core, it’s role-playing. You take on the role as a newcomer to the city of Calico, and slowly get to learn about all the citizens as drama unfolds throughout the day, culminating in the finale at 5:30PM during the hoedown.
At first glance, it can be intimidating to understand how to interact with the people of Ghost Town Alive. Entire guides could be written about strategies, characters, events, and the timing of it all. It’s a complex story that evolves throughout the day.
To keep things brief, I’ll summarize without spoiling any of the story’s twists. Beginning at park opening, the ‘Mayor of Calico’ welcomes guests into the park to celebrate Founder’s Day, the anniversary of the founding of the city of Calico. All of the actors participating are incredibly welcoming and friendly, happy to explain what’s going on at any point and brief you on events. Additionally, there are newspapers printed throughout the day that also summarize earlier events and hint at future ones.
Helping to facilitate conversations, you are tasked by the townsfolk – ranging from inquiring about a gold claim at the bank, making a delivery for the post office, or coming up with some ideas for dresses, baby names or any number of things. Even if you feel at a loss for words, you never have to take the lead in the conversation. All of that potential social awkwardness has been thoroughly considered.
As you begin to complete tasks, the townsfolk will open up to you about their concerns and thoughts for upcoming events, be it the hoedown, their upcoming wedding, or a possible bank robbery. The hoedown is important. All of the townsfolk heavily stress coming to the hoedown at the end of the day, and for good reason, because that’s where every loose end is wrapped up in a grand ceremony with live music and line dancing, including the results of the election.
Like last year, there’s an election to be held again. In 2016, it was for the new mayor of Calico. This year, the election isn’t announced until later in the day as the result of a plot twist. Suffice to say, it’s not for the mayor, but has the same ultimate impact. This is the biggest interaction of the day where guests can truly change the story’s ending.
On top of it all, Ghost Town Alive gives guests the chance to do something unprecedented; a chance to go inside all the “peek-ins” that populate the streets of Ghost Town. You can actually go right inside the barber shop and get a mustache painted on. You can go inside the brothel. You get sworn in as a citizen at City Hall, after taking an oath. This is really a treat for anyone who has grown up with the park previously seeing these buildings as off-limit dioramas. It also has the added benefit of opening up the park to feeling much bigger.
And that’s the big draw of Ghost Town Alive. It’s an attraction without queues. There’s no 45 minute wait. You walk around and have fun without worrying about crowds. In the hot summer, waiting in line can become a sweaty mess, so having these alternatives is a welcome option. It accommodates as many people that are willing to join in; and there’s no age limit, so don’t feel awkward if you assume you’re too old to have fun. You’re already at a theme park. That’s the entire purpose – to have fun.
Repetition is something that comes up regarding attractions and events, and Ghost Town Alive actually gets better with each visit. Once you learn the names of the townsfolk, the beats of the story and they recognize you yourself, it actually adds an energy and casual nature to the entire event. It makes it far more immersive. Building on that, the final day will be an event in and of itself. The final day of Ghost Town Alive in 2016 featured an extended hoedown where the Mayfield Gang got away by train which led into the story for this year. It’s only natural to assume that the final day of this year’s event will also conclude with an equally compelling teaser into the plot point for 2018’s incarnation.
I probably could go on and on talking about Ghost Town Alive; whether it’s the superb actors themselves, the variety of the stories, or even the fun impromptu guest-driven parades that happen throughout the day. Hopefully my genuine enthusiasm for it has come across in this article; and seeing the way it’s promoted throughout the park as the ‘Summer’ marquee for Knott’s, it’ll be around for years to come. But don’t delay – as Ghost Town Alive! ends on September 4th.
Besides Ghost Town Alive!, guests can also check out the new “Snoopy Magnificent Magical Revue” in the Charles M. Schulz theater, Knott’s new ride Sol Spin; and longer, bigger sets for Krazy Kirk & The Hillbillies.
In the new “Snoopy Magnificent Magical Revue”, Snoopy and the gang are assisted by magician Greg Wilson. The magic sets are done with little exposition, and feature rapid-fire illusions. The speed at which this all unfolds prevents guests from dwelling too much on ‘How did he do it?’ but also prevents kids from being too distracted. In-between sets, there’s vaudeville-style musical acts that features tap dancing and little magic tricks of their own.
Any local of Southern California is at least vaguely familiar with the ill-fated Windseeker. Located in Fiesta Village, it was taken from us too soon. It’s replacement, Sol Spin, opened up this year and was personally surprised by the ride. I had expected something with a lot of upside-down spinning, but ended up actually feeling like I was in-flight. Because there are so many moving parts, you never really get a good sense of what direction you’re about to move in next. Once you finally have an idea, the ride ends. It’s a tad short, but that keeps the line moving quickly – and given the capacity of the ride, it goes through people fairly quickly.
Returning after debuting last year is the nighttime finale – The Circus of Wonders. The show really lives up to its name, ,making full use of the environment around it – including the train. It features a lot of the stunts you’d expect from a circus and some animals in some forms that’ll surprise you. The music is a great mix of classic songs, the performers are fantastic, and is a good, fun show all around.
With all there is to do for the Summer, I still haven’t touched on Krazy Kirk & The Hillbillies, Marshall Purdy or any of the other year-round acts that I love so much at Knott’s. As I mentioned in my review of Soak City, you really owe it to yourself to make a visit to Knott’s; and pick up a season pass, which is a great bargain.
And if you go, have a slice of boysenberry pie for me!