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Looking back at 20 years of thrills at Circus Circus’ Adventuredome

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Tom Nolan was night manager at the old Scandia mini-golf park off I-15 before he opened Circus Circus’ amusement park.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Adventuredome’s 20th birthday may not resonate with anyone more deeply than Tom Nolan. The former night manager at the old Scandia mini-golf park off Interstate 15 opened what was then called Grand Slam Canyon at Circus Circus on August 23, 1993, as an operations supervisor. Twenty years later he’s the vice president of operations. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t hack a thrill ride as a teenager.

On his favorite Adventuredome ride … that almost wasn’t: The Canyon Blaster, the only original ride still standing. “I didn’t really know how to ride roller coasters. I loathed going to Magic Mountain as a kid because my sisters and friends would make me do the scary coasters and I would be ruined for the rest of the day. I’d hold my breath; I’d white-knuckle it and feel ill for a couple of hours. So when I got hired here, my boss said, ‘That’s not going to work.’ He had to teach me how to ride a roller coaster: ‘Don’t fight the G-forces, just breathe, scream, let the air out and open your eyes.’ (Laughs.) [Canyon Blaster] was really the first roller coaster I actually enjoyed riding.”

On his morning routine: “When I started as a supervisor, I had to ride [Canyon Blaster] every morning as part of testing. Couldn’t let guests on it unless I came back alive. I stopped drinking coffee because I’d be wide awake.”

When Tom Nolan started as a supervisor at Adventuredome, he had to ride the Canyon Blaster every morning as part of testing. No coffee necessary.

On developing the premium ride roster: After the addition of a carousel, Nolan’s boss demanded more marketable, adolescent-friendly rides. “So the next three or four rides were the spin-you-around-get-you-sick, adrenaline-junkie rides.” To this day, the most recent flat-ride addition, Disk'O, is one of the most popular Adventuredome attractions.

On the first park hiccup: Parents couldn’t see inside the signature pink dome from where the ticketing lobby used to sit, and everyone had to buy an admission ticket regardless of their rider status. “This ‘black box experience’ was difficult for some people to get excited about. Grandparents and parents said, ‘I’m not interested in riding, but I can’t let the kids go in by themselves—do I really need to buy the ticket?’” Once Circus Circus’ west tower was built, the ticketing lobby moved into the park, which then incorporated the pay-as-you-go format in place now.

On taking out the apparently beloved Rim Runner: Nolan had to demolish the flume ride to make way for the new El Loco coaster, due in December, and the decision was not an easy one. “Rim Runner was the No. 2 ride in the park. … But it lasted 20 years, and it was time. We’re excited about El Loco, think everyone’s gonna like El Loco. But until it opens, everyone tells us how much they loved the Rim Runner. … We actually have people upset because they rode Rim Runner the first day and wanted to ride it the last day, and we didn’t announce [its final day].”

On picking new rides: Nolan goes to the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention in Orlando every November to try out the newest rides being exhibited by designers—and he’s got a surefire way of shortlisting Adventuredome prospects: “If I feel green afterward, then I know the kids will like the ride.”

On how he gauges guest satisfaction: The kids kicking and screaming in disappointment when their parents escort them out of the park at the end of a visit. “I see that almost every day, and that’s how we know we’re offering a good experience.”

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