Six Flags Astroworld mega trip report

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Tuesday, August 12, 2003 11:52 AM
Each visit I have made to Six Flags Astroworld resulted in a hodge-podge collection of random thoughts and remarks in complete disarray. I guess it is pretty accurate considering the disarray of the park at hand. What follows is a flurry of those thoughts compiled into one extra long trip report… easily the longest I have ever written. Odd isn’t it? One of the smallest chain parks I have been to, and yet, the longest trip report.

I visited Astroworld for the 2nd time last Thursday evening, August 7th when business meetings required that I travel to our Houston Corporate offices. My line of work takes me to Houston about twice a year, typically winter and summer. Ironically enough, after attending this year’s ACE Coaster Con I was immediately notified that I would be going to Houston in early August. Having just experienced the best coaster event I have yet attended, (Con) I knew the possibilities this trip presented.

You see, each season I set a new goal for attending at least one “new to me” park. This year’s goal was Six Flags Over Texas. Last year’s was Carowinds, the year prior it had been Six Flags New England, Rye and Lake Compounce etc. Fortunately, time and luck has been on my side throughout the years and I have accomplished my park goals thus far. However, this year is not over, and another major goal for this year is the Florida parks, which I will visit in the near future.

But I digress. My revisiting Astroworld on this trip was a given. I first attended this park in 2001 while also on business and knew what to expect this time around. On my visit prior, I had around 3 ½ hours in the evening to experience the park. That resulted in a lot of single rides, me running around like a madman and just a minor sampling of the park. Like this year, that first visit was during a horrific heat spell that Houston was experiencing. I recall standing in line for the Texas Cyclone with sweat literally pouring down my head like someone had squeezed a soaked washcloth over my scalp.

Well, this time around the heat was just as bad, and I had only 5 ½ evening hours to experience the park. However, being familiar with the layout, knowing what I wanted to do, and what I didn’t want to do made a big difference this time around. The heat wasn’t so much a factor since I was mentally prepared unlike before.

My goals at Astroworld this time around were:

- Ride the Texas Cyclone at least twice.
- Experience a night ride on the Texas Cyclone.
- Ride Ultra Twister in the front seat.
- Ride Greezed Lightnin’ in the back seat.
- Ride Swat.
- Ride XLR8 backwards.
- Ride Mayan Mindbender
- Ride Viper

Any additional rides or re-rides were to be icing. Well, I am proud to say that all goals were accomplished, with time to spare for plenty of other things. It seems the heat and humidity played in my favor. As soon as my cab was driving me up to the park I could see that the lines for the rides were non-existent. It’s pretty easy to tell just how long Astroworld’s lines are thanks to the placement of Serial Thriller’s station. Serial Thriller was a walk on at 4:30 in the afternoon, so that signaled a good time.

Astroworld is what I call a shell. It is a “nostalgic” park for me simply because I recall my parents (who lived in Texas prior to my birth) discussing and showing slides of the Astrodome and the park. Astroworld has remnants of what was obviously once a stellar experience. Need proof? Look here: http://www.sixflagshouston.com/historyphoto.html It also has the Astrodome still sitting across the highway with the brand new Reliant Stadium dwarfing it. The glory days of both the Astrodome and Astroworld are long gone. It shows. However, those of us that have been intrigued by the park and stadium’s history still hold on to the things that once made them great. As a side note, while I was in Houston, the papers were running articles about the push to demolish or implode the Astrodome. There are those trying to save the landmark, however I feel the fate of it may be sealed. Frankly, I cannot imagine an Astroworld without an Astrodome, however I recognize just how dated and out of touch these two places are with the rest of Houston. Goodbye Astroworld… hello Six Flags Houston.

This time around as I entered Astroworld, I was immediately met with its most lackluster employee. This came in the form of a female “security” person working the metal detectors. Basically her attitude stunk, and she was literally put out by my (or anyone’s) wanting to enter the park. I make no bones about it…. A first impression is the most lasting and holds true within any walk of life. This initial negative impression is one Astroworld cannot afford to present. If the park that lied behind that gate were stellar, then it would probably not be an issue. However, this kind of welcome is an obnoxious slap to those who actually want to brave the heat, spend money and have a good time. My advice? Fill the front security and entrance staff with people who want to be there. And fire the lazy @$$e$ that seem to find it a pain to actually let people in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This did not color my visit at all. Actually I had mentally prepared myself for it based on my prior experience. And if I must say, my hat is off to any and all employees that braved that heat that day at that park. Working under extreme heat and sun conditions (I think it was around 103 in the park that night.) to provide people with a good time is commendable. And on the flip side, I encountered another employee later in the evening that really was great. This fellow took the time to ask me how I was, and if I was enjoying my evening etc. Such a simple thing, yet it totally cancelled out the negativity I was met with at the front gate.

Obviously all this crap I have dispelled so far belies the reason most are reading this trip report…. the rides. SO from this point forward I promise to cover that wholeheartedly. I am referencing the website www.sixflagshouston.com in my recap and linking to pages for each attraction that I rode there. This site is a great tribute to the park and can be a great tool for those curious about Astroworld, it’s rides, it’s history etc.

First up I started the evening on the Texas Cyclone. http://www.sixflagshouston.com/cyclone.html This ride would prove to have one of the longest waits of the night, with my having about at 4 train wait for the non-wheel seat of the last car. I like this coaster, and see why it is popular. Many claim it to be the best of the “Cyclone” clones, but I personally find that Georgia’s has the edge. The Morgan trains are ok, and the new “fins” added to the sides of the trains really do not distract. The coaster ran only one train, of course… the blue one. Specifically, I enjoy the air hill after the first turnaround as well as the through-the-structure drops in the second half of the ride. However, it looks terribly bad. The structure itself is good, but the station and queue needs a drastic overhaul. This lack of care is exactly what Astroworld suffers most from. I assume that the heat and sun may have caused the paint to bubble and ooze over the years, but it also seems apparent that SFAW does not sand things or replace boards. So the ride is covered with years and years worth of bad touch up paints and dirt.

Next I headed to Ultra Twister to get my ride in. http://www.sixflagshouston.com/ultratwister.html This had a mammoth line and so I opted to skip it and head to the opposite side of the park. Now to get there, I had two options. I could hoof it, backtracking where I had just come from, or I could swallow my pride and ride the cable cars… known as the Astroway. http://www.sixflagshouston.com/rides.html (Scroll down on this page to Astroway) Well, as most know I am afraid of cable cars, but had braved BGW’s during Con thanks to a good friend’s persistence. That sort of pacified my reluctance and so I took a chance on SFAW’s. This thing is pretty ancient, and I can’t say I was exactly comfortable, however I did feel secure enough to take pictures. I am also glad I rode because it was on this attraction that I encountered the very pleasant employee I described earlier. Poor guy was dripping sweat from tugging on those cars, but still was cordial enough to acknowledge guests and ask how WE were doing.

Arriving on the opposite side of the park, I immediately opted for a turn on…. The Serpent. http://www.sixflagshouston.com/serpent.html The Serpent is an original Arrow built expressly for the park back in 1969. It is basically a mini-mine train with one chain lift. I am sure it was built as a “family attraction” but by today’s standards it amounts to little more than a children’s coaster. This ride provides one of the best chuckles I get at SFAW. When the train comes in the station and stops, the kids are all smart enough to stick their foot outside the car, press the restraint release pedal and let themselves out. It is really cute to see. There is no danger in it at all; otherwise the pedals would not be accessible. However, it is funny how even little kids are well versed enough on a coaster’s restraint system that they could release themselves. I rode in the front seat of the rear car, and opted for only one spin.

From there, Viper across the midway was calling. http://www.sixflagshouston.com/viper.html Viper, a single loop Schwarzkopf coaster, came to the park in 1989 after a stay at Six Flags St. Louis. At that park, I believe it operated on the site of what is now Batman… or namtaB for those familiar. I took a spin at the back of the train. Well, the Schwarzkopf coasters at Astroworld require that single riders be paired up with someone. It was explained to me that it relates to the lateral forces and lap bar restraints. The park is concerned that someone sitting alone will get tossed across the seat. It kind of makes sense, except that the policy is enforced on Greezed Lightnin’, a coaster that has no lateral forces. Ironically it is not enforced on Texas Cyclone (a non Schwarzkopf) that has several turns and virtually the same restraint system. Anyways, Viper (or “the Viper” as it is also called… more about this confusion later.) is a fun coaster and is pretty typical of a good Schwarzkopf. It has a smooth loop, a fun layout, a tunnel on the drop and some great head choppers. Actually, I thought I was going to be scalped when the train exited the tunnel and headed towards the loop. I was on the right side of the train and there is a near miss pass by some track. Yikes! Every so often I will still “duck” when I experience a good head chopper. Well, I ducked. Viper has a very unique chain system, reminiscent of the Doppel Looping at the CNE and Lazer at Dorney where the train waits for a catch wagon to grab and pull it up. This must be something unique to portable Schwarzkopfs… yet I am not sure if Viper is indeed portable. Other permanent Schwarzkopfs of that era do not rely on such. Shockwave and Mindbender use the typical link-chain system. Hmmmm….? Anyway, this was my only ride on Viper for the night, although I waited only one train.

Next I was off to SWAT. http://www.sixflagshouston.com/swat.html Now, this impressed me. Honestly, I had little interest in the ride when I heard it was being developed. My curiosity was only peaked when I knew I would be heading to Astroworld. This attraction is actually very fun to watch and demonstrates the “awe” factor many flat rides can bring to a park. It was also very fun to ride. Of course it has the “Looping Starship” feel to it, but it delivers just what it sets out to do. The ride, believe it or not, was a walk-on. It holds, I believe, like 36 people on each end. Needless to say, it is a capacity monster! They actually had many seats going empty when I rode and were balancing sides. I took my first spin on the side nearest to the Gunslinger (Yo-Yo) in the rear left seat. This side goes upside down first, and provides a thrilling view of Houston as it crests. Visuals are great on this ride, however I found that most riders around me were clamping their eyes shut very tight. The restraint system is quite unique. Until it completely latches, it makes you feel as though there is no way you will be held securely in place. Basically it is a three-point restraint. It has two armatures that pull down to meet your shoulders… those lock and are checked. Then it has a contoured lap bar that folds down in front of you(yet leaves quite a bit of space) and it then locks and is checked. As it is being checked, the ride op pushes the entire lap bar unit tightly so that it meets your abdomen. It sort of “slides” into place. By this point you feel much more secure, yet not so tightly confined that it is uncomfortable… unlike a Looping Starship. Of course the ride raises and then begins its rotation. Two times forward, two times backwards. I give the ride kudos because it does not stop upside down and leave riders to dangle. I enjoyed it so much that I rode again, and again later in the evening.

At this point, I headed for Mayan Mindbender. http://www.sixflagshouston.com/mayan.html There is not much to report here other than I think this is a fun indoor coaster that is well themed. It is actually one of the better attractions at SFAW in my opinion simply because it is well orchestrated and delivers fun for most everyone that rides. Now, I tend to tense up on coasters that are in pitch black simply because I never know which way they are headed unless I have the layouts memorized. So I guess that is an added thrill, but I also have visions of dislodged beams or such waiting in the darkness to decapitate me. It’s a silly little thing, and doesn’t deter me from riding an indoor dark coaster. But it does deliver one of those “Wouldn’t it be horrible if…” momentary thoughts we all have from time to time. I took my spin in the last seat and opted for only one ride. This attraction also gives me a chuckle because of the “canned” screams that the soundtrack plays. As the train falls off the lift, two female “aaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAhs” are piped in to add to the ride. Funny.

From here, if I recall properly, I headed to Greezed Lightnin’. http://www.sixflagshouston.com/greezed.html Now, I had found this to be the best coaster at SFAW on my previous visit, and it is what excited me about SFKK’s install this year. Well, this coaster still reigns supreme as the best run Schwarzkopf shuttle I have ridden since the days of Kind Kobra at Dominion. It has a great launch, orchestrated by a flywheel assembly rather than counterweight, and gets a good height on the front spike. But where it surpasses it’s counterpart is the backwards run through the station and up onto the back spike. The train is NOT trimmed at all and rockets up the rear spike creating blissful air. I have not ridden Montezooma’s Revenge at Knott’s but know that this is the best shuttle (currently operating) that I have ridden. I took one ride in the next to last seat. Unfortunately I did delay the train. As with Viper… I was as a single rider and they will not launch unless each person has a partner. Seems to me that a park that institutes such a rule should develop or pursue a singles line. Would save a lot of time and aggravation.

After this, I took another ride on SWAT facing the opposite way and in the front right seat.

Next up was XLR8. http://www.sixflagshouston.com/xlr8.html I had ridden before, of course, and found it to be the most lack-luster suspended I have ever ridden. This time I would have skipped it had the park not decided to turn over half the train around backwards. The rear four cars are now backwards and deliver a much-needed thrill to the slow layout. I wanted a back-seat ride. However, the park had the rear car completely roped off. Not sure why. Also, the coaster is only operating with 1 train; the other is nowhere to be found. This made for a wait, but not a terrible wait. Since attendance was low, the one train waits were bearable. It was nice to discover that SFAW has re-routed the entrance of XLR8, alleviating the ride of a terribly poor bottleneck staircase. The new entrance takes guests under the lift and up to the station instead of up a steep set of wooden stairs, over the track, and then down steep wooden stairs into the station. The ride itself? Well, lackluster… backwards. So my final description would have to be…. Gnirob.

At this point I opted for dinner… then decided to work my way back to the other side of the park.

Well, I had to pass by Serial Thriller… http://www.sixflagshouston.com/serial.html …and it was a walk on. The enthusiast in me was torn. SLC? Blah! I knew what it would do to me, yet it was a coaster with no wait. Arrrrg…. Such choices. I didn’t need to ride it since I obtained it for the count two years ago… however, I just couldn’t walk by an empty coaster. So I rode in the rear seat… and in the immortal words of Forrest Gump… “That’s all I have to say about that.” FYI… It was the only coaster operating with two trains.

Ultra Twister http://www.sixflagshouston.com/ultratwister.html on the opposite side of the park was calling me and although it still had the longest wait of the night, I stuck it out in order to accomplish my goal at the park. I got my front seat ride after a good 40-minute wait. The coaster was running only 3 cars but has 5. There was no way the crew could have kept up with anymore than that due to slow guests. Anyway, I got my front seat ride as I had wanted and found it to be a bit more jarring than I had remembered. On my prior visit, I had enjoyed the coaster quite a bit. I still find it unique and fun, but not one I would wait out again. It does grow on you however, one can’t help but be brainwashed by the constant “Moving Conveyor, Please watch your step” recording playing. I actually like the spiel and it is another AW chuckle provider for me. Also, I paid closer attention to the former Alpine Slides Mountain that remains from the park’s past. http://www.sixflagshouston.com/xrides.html (Scroll down) Things like this intrigue the life out of me… and I cannot believe that it is still sitting there empty after 20 years. Why, one of the old cave tunnel entrances facing Ultra Twister provided me with another good giggle when I saw that it still said “Echo Tunnel… Yodel loudly” or such.

With the sun setting and the night nearing an end there was one “undone” thing I felt compelled to do. I had ridden every coaster except one. So again the enthusiast in me was torn…. But I opted to take my spin on Batman: The Escape in the 4th row. http://www.sixflagshouston.com/batman.html To borrow a phrase. Oy Vey! This is the most painful standup I have ridden and perhaps the dirtiest too… blech! What is odd is the ride probably is no dirtier than any other part of the park, but the theming of white paint with green, black and brown splats and smears everywhere just made me feel like I needed a shower. Of course after the evening in the heat… I did. But this ride raises a good point. Earlier I mentioned that Viper suffers from mistaken identity…. Is it Viper or THE Viper? Well Batman the Escape is the same… is it Batman: The Escape or THE Batman: The Escape? I opt for dropping “the” but tons of rides lead me to this type of confusion…. Is it Loch Ness Monster or THE Loch Ness Monster? Is it Beast or is it THE Beast? LOL

A night ride and final coaster ride on the Texas Cyclone was the best way for me to round out the evening. So I took my night ride, and accomplished my final goal at the park in the next to last row. With time to spare I headed to SWAT for a final ride. A unique end to my evening at the park occurred in my walk from Cyclone to SWAT for the final ride. On the trek across the park I stumbled across what must be lovers corner. And when I say “lover’s corner” I mean it in every sense of the word. Bow-chika-wow….. Sigh…. Looking on the bright side… at least these teens were working hard at making sure they will supply SFAW with future little guests. I am still baffled as to why anyone would be interested in performing such acts at an amusement park… let alone a really, really hot, humid one. EEEEYUK. NPDA please.

I was debating another ride on SWAT or the new Diablo Falls (which looks great in the park!) However a desire to not soak my only pair of tennis shoes led me to choose SWAT again. After all, I had ridden Penguin’s Blizzard River at SFA in June and although I enjoyed it, felt Diablo just wasn’t suitable for me at that time.

This resulted in my arrival at SWAT just in time to board the final ride of the night. I entered the queue at 9:00, (closing) and it was a walk on, so I started to get on with about 19 others. We were then informed that it was broken. So much for that! And I missed my chance at Diablo for nothing. WRONG. SFAW gets major props here. Because even though the park was closing for the night, the ride op said “We want you to ride, so we are calling maintenance and they will be here to fix it in a few minutes.” Within 15 minutes it was functioning and we rode. I took the far left seat in the rear row as I had done on my first ride earlier. Kudos to SFAW! That reassured me that there is still good guest service to be found! I know of other parks that would have sent the guests packing.

That was it for me for the night and a taxi ride to the hotel gave me time to sum up my thoughts. The driver (the same one who had dropped me off earlier that evening) asked me if I had a good time. And yes, I did.

It disappoints me to see the shape that SFAW is in. It is in a state of disarray IMO. It’s a park crying for TLC and would benefit greatly from it. In looking at it’s history and the shape the park used to be in, it is disheartening to see such a formerly beloved park cast away with no concern. If you attend with the right attitude, SFAW is fun, but it needs help. Help that SF doesn’t seem to want to give it. It has fun, good rides and offers guests good basic experiences. But it’s delivery and presentation needs a lot of work. Perhaps the overhaul it needs is cost prohibitive. But in a mecca the size and scope of Houston, there is obviously a place for it. As it stands now, when I ask my fellow co-workers who live in Houston about the park, they each say the same thing “It used to be such a great park.” Sad.

I will return to SFAW, and I greatly appreciate what they offer me as an enthusiast. I wish them luck and hope for the best in the future. Speaking of future… once I was done with SFAW my attention turned to my future. After all, SFAW was the precursor to SFOT (Which I experienced for the first time ever on Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday morning.)

So next up: The difference between dry heat and humidity, plus a recap of the first rainy day at SFOT in nearly 2 months.

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Shaggy

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Wednesday, August 13, 2003 6:59 AM
The only two coasters I know of that have "THE" officially inserted into their names are The Beast and The Racer at PKI.

It sounds as weird to me when someone says "Let's ride Beast!" as it does when someone says "Let's ride the Batman!"

-Dennis (who always wondered if that old GameBoy game was called "Castlevania the Adventure" or "The Castlevania Adventure." The box was ambiguous.)

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A day is a drop of water in the ocean of eternity. A week is seven drops.

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