VERY LONG!!! Links to pix at the very end.
Towards the end of August, Mark Rosenswieg had invited me to join him on a trip to hit SFOT & the Texas state fair that would coincide with my birthday. When SF made the Astroworld announcement, he quickly called me and said that if I could arrange my travel plans to arrive in Houston and leave from Dallas, we could add on SFAW and Fiesta (which would also coincide with Fiesta Fest). I didn’t hesitate.
I’d never been to Texas and really had no real concepts of what to expect, nor did I have any idea how much traveling I was in for. We left Newark on Friday morning for what must have been the most grueling 3-1/2 hour flight I’ve ever been on. Needless to say, I was extremely pleased to be off that plane. Once in Houston, the first thing I noticed was the warmth and lack of rain (having spent the last week inundated with rain and cold in NYC). We picked up the rental car, quickly checked into our hotel, and grabbed a bite to eat. We stopped at Luling’s BBQ which would end up being my only true sampling of Texas BBQ, and it was quite good. Lulings is pretty bare bones cafeteria style, but the brisket was tender, the sauce very good, and the potato salad kicked a**. Add a nice mounted jackelope head to the wall and it was all good.
From there we headed towards Astroworld arriving a little before opening. We parked and could already tell that it was going to be a potentially busy night, as the lot appeared to be rapidly filling. Astroworld, like all Six Flags parks this time of year is in the ‘Fright Fest’ phase. The place was decked out in spider webs, pumpkins, fog, etc. The rides closed sign listed Swat (bummer), Batman (doh!), Rapids (urgh!!), Tidal Wave (Chute the Shoots – eh), and Astroway (mmmph). I have read many trip reports in recent years and have heard many negative things about the park from its appearance, operations, ride selection, and clientele. However, I grew up hearing the wonderful lore of this park – the revered Texas Cyclone, the theming, the air-conditioned queues, the Schwarzkopfs - I was hopeful that I could find the good that might be left in this park.
Mark had been many times before so I trusted him to navigate and he was also great on giving historical backgrounds to various ride histories and previous attractions that once occupied sites. After getting into the park, we headed straight for the Texas Cyclone. One train operation. Great entrance façade. Decaying ride. I had low expectations for this. I hate Morgan trains and it’s a clone of my home coaster. The first ride was fairly lackluster, but that allowed for Mark to show some of the more unique portions to the ride: the kicker wheel on the second turnaround, the post turn, all of the mods (that he could remember). I wasn’t blown away but I was more impressed than I thought I would be. It’s a solid ride in it’s own right – I’d take it over Pysclone any day, and probably put it out about dead even with SFGam’s Viper (although they are very different ride experiences and takes on the original). I didn’t even mind the Morgan trains as much as I normally do. Mark tried to coax me into another ride, but with less than an hour of sunlight left and a desire to get pictures I asked to push on.
We hit UltraTwister next, which would be my third TOGO experience. I was expecting the worst, but was pleasantly surprised. It was smooth, fun and very unique. You could tell that Astroworld put a lot of TLC in this ride to keep it going. They were running 3 trains. From the station, was visible the mountain that used to house the Alpine Sleigh Ride dark ride many years ago, and there were still a few signs of the ride left that I enjoyed seeing. We meandered around, noting that impressive number of different sidewalk textures that seemed to tell the history of the park. Checked out the beautiful but insanely slow carousel. Some of the carousel’s menagerie is spectacular. Noted the old Cinema 180 building (hadn’t seen one of those in ages), and slowly moved through the Western section of the park back towards Greezed Lightning. I grew up on the Tidal Wave and love Schwarzkopf shuttle loops. I’ve been lucky enough to hit Monty almost every year for the last 5 years, but GL takes the cake. I simply can’t sing it’s praises enough and the ops were great! We took two spins, front and back, and promised to make it back for one more before the night was over.
We moved on through the park – as we progressed I couldn’t help notice how nice the park actually is. Up next was XLR-8, which I had heard nothing but bad things about. Two train operation and no wait. We opted to ride forwards and I was mildly surprised. I’d definitely take this over Draggin’ Iron, but it’s not BBW either. Diablo Falls had absolutely no line so Mark coaxed me into trying it. I love water rides, but I was afraid the spinning might be too much from reports I had read. The spinning was excessive but nothing I couldn’t handle. Our raft companions were beyond interesting as well. It’s not a great ride, but with its small footprint I can see why parks would want one. Of course, next to Diablo was the SBNO Swat. I really wanted to ride this, but I guess I’ll have to wait till it finds a new home.
We knocked out the flume (great and very fast), Serpent (Arrow mini-mine train) – very, very cool, and the Mayan Mindbender (eh). We checked out the line for the SLC, but it was a full queue. They were running two trains, but they only were loading one – needless to say we skipped it. We rode the Intamin drop tower. It was fun despite my general dislike of heights. We made a quick gift shop stop and picked up a few things, but it was slim pickings and I never found a shirt that I liked. Mark showed me around the kiddieland area. They had some very unique kiddie rides for a SF park – Mangels Kiddie Whip, Jolly Caterpillar (Bartlett), Hershell boats, Mangels cars, the carrot maze – all very nicely done. I tried to talk Mark into riding the Caterpillar but to no avail.
Batman (Intamin standup) had been listed as closed, but opened late. We lucked out by catching it just as it opened. It looked like a standard B&M stand up in the vein of Iron Wolf…so how bad could it be? Really bad…I’d rather ride Shockwave at PKD than this piece of crap again – this one will hopefully be relegated the scrap heap.
As it turned out, the crowds were relatively light with the exception of the line for the SLC and it made for a very enjoyable visit. We worked our way back to Viper and with a 15-minute wait were on the train. What a kick-ass ride – another classic Scwarzkopf in top-notch condition. It’s amazing how they squeezed the ride into its space and I can’t even imagine how Thriller (aka Texas Tornado aka Zonga) ever fit in this park. Again, I hope it can find a good home. We hit the flume one more time, Greezed Lightning for a final ride (again great ops! Great ride!), and back to the Cyclone (with thankfully two trains running now) to finish off the night.
Texas Cyclone had broken in over the course of the night and delivered a definitively more solid ride. The laterals were strong, the airtime was good, and the pacing worked. I’d put it ahead of SFGam’s Viper after those rides. We knocked out 2 rides towards the back of the train and it was midnight. I can see why people really love this ride and I can only imagine what it was like in its original glory.
I left Astroworld confused and bewildered. I found the park charmingly sad. With the exception of Opryland, I can’t think of another major theme park in my adult lifetime closing. Especially, considering it’s location, it simply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to give up on it. The park’s infrastructure appears fine. The air-conditioned queue houses are still cool. The Schwarzkopfs ruled. The theming on the whole was excellent. The staff and ops were way better that what I had anticipated and definitely better than some I’d seen at Gadv in the past year and definitely blew away anything I’ve ever seen at SFA, SFMM or SFKK. I can totally see how this park could be a total nightmare on a crowded day, but on the whole I was impressed, somewhat baffled, and sad.
We had a quick nights sleep (4 hours if that) and then were on the road to San Antonio for Fiesta Fest at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. FT is a park I knew very little about. People always mention their shows. I knew that the Rattler was there and it was supposedly another wooden giant nightmare in the brotherhood of Hercules and Meanstreak. I knew that the park was built in a quarry. We arrived at the park a little before 11. It’s a striking park with the skyline of rides and buildings with the quarry walls surrounding the entire area. We quickly registered and said hello to Tim Baldwin and Jeffrey Seifert and headed into the park back towards Poltergeist. On the way back I was able to see some of the park – the very cool Morgan electric cars, the pool ball teacups, the very detailed theming. This did not feel like a Six Flags park at all.
The morning ERT consisted of Poltergeist, the Superman S&S towers, and the Scooby Dark Ride (Sally shoot-em-up). Towards the end of the session, they also opened up the Ferris wheel, scrambler, and Frisbee for us well. Poltergeist (Premier launched full circuit) was easily the best its type I’ve been on. I was very smooth, quiet, and comfortable. It’s in desperate need of a paint job (particularly the station railings!), but as premier rides go I enjoyed it. We knocked out the S&S tower next – not a big tower fan, but it did what it’s supposed to do and it gave a spectacular view of the park – especially Superman. I knew next to nothing about Superman, so seeing for the first time from above was impressive. We moved onto the Scooby ride – I scored well for my first ride (and Mark’s gun was broken), but he more than made up for in the second try. I know the Sally shoot-em ups are very popular and they are great for the family, but I’m not the biggest fan. I love dark rides, but spending all of your time aiming and shooting takes away from the dark ride experience that I like. And if you ride without shooting to take in the sets, they simply are not on par with other traditional dark rides.
Our goal was to hit Superman at opening and then rejoin the group for lunch, but it was not to be as we were corralled into a dining room while the masses entered the park at opening. Lunch was adequate but as soon as were finished we headed out to explore the park. Mark was quite concerned that the park was going to be packed as the weather was spectacular, but the crowds never came to be. We hit the flume first, (Bug’s White Water Flume) which is a Hopkins Superflume (similar to Dollywoods’). It’s beautifully themed and well laid out, but not a spectacular ride experience. I considered myself lucky as the flume went down for the rest of the day shortly after we rode. We then made a beeline to Superman: Krypton Coaster. Superman is a B&M floorless coaster, and while not my favorite type of coaster it is the premiere attraction at the park and its location alongside the quarry wall is very striking. It’s easily the best floorless coaster I’ve been on – incredibly smooth with good forces and thanks to neighbors minus the horrible B&M roar. I was very impressed with the ride and we got one front seat and one back seat ride.
We meandered around the park and enjoyed the rapids ride, rollerskater, and got one ride on Road Runner Express so I could see it in the daylight. I had decided to wait until riding Rattler until the night’s ERT. We also took a quick spin on the train ride, which is a really nice ride that goes through the quarry walls. The more we explored the park the more I couldn’t believe that it was a Six Flags. The employees were beyond courteous (especially Lee at one of the food stands who had us in stitches and made a wonderful frozen cherry coke combo for the two of us). The themed areas around the park are exemplary. I believe Fiesta was the birthplace of Crackaxle Canyon and Rockville and the attention to detail in buildings, signage, and sets was amazing. The boardwalk area was a little weaker, but still impressive. The German area seemed a little small, but they have a full-fledged Fest Haus, and the opening Mexican area is very well done as well. It still feels like a very new park and it’ll be interesting to see what this park looks like 10 years from now with further growth of trees and whatever other developments come this parks way.
We enjoyed a quick dinner and then spent some more time wandering around. Mark took a Frisbee ride, which looked to be one of the most intense programs I’ve ever seen on one. We caught the tail end of one of the shows before the nighttime ERT. Fiesta Texas is BIG on their shows. They have two very impressive theater buildings that hold 2000+. These theater buildings are the real deal. They also have 2 large outdoor amphitheaters. The show we caught was a medley of rock hits from the 70’s to today – we loved their Journey cover!
The nighttime ERT was on Roadrunner Express and Rattler. I didn’t know what to expect from Rattler. It was obviously fatally flawed from the start in the same school of Hercules & Mean Streak – too big for it’s own good. Add on: too many brakes, too many alterations, and not well built (you should see the shifting on this thing!). I can only imagine what the first drop might have been like. I didn’t hate it, but it’s seriously wrong. My favorite moment would have to be the pullout of the quarry tunnel – I found it very disorienting. After our first ride we walked over for a quick spin on Road Runner, and then back to Rattler for 2 second to back seat rides. By that point, we called it a night as exhaustion was hitting us hard. As we left the park, every single employee we walked by stopped to thank us for coming and to have a good night.
We drove an hour and half after leaving Fiesta Texas and spent the night (again 4 hours) in Austin. Awoke the next morning to get to SFOT by the 11am opening. We were able to park the car in the lot of our hotel (Baymont Inn) across the street from the park and walked over. As we approached the park, it gave me a good chance to take in Judge Roy Scream and the long line of cars leading up to the parking booths. It appeared as we were finally going to have to deal with a busy park. Once inside, we decided to make the best of a possibly bad situation and get a q-bot. $30 for 2 people isn’t as outrageous as SFGadv or NE, and no gold up charge makes the playing ground a little more fair - but I still hate them.
It turned out that we didn’t really need a Q-bot after all, as the crowds turned out to be light, but we took full advantage regardless. We started the day on La Vibora, the Intamin Bobsled. My experiences with Intamin Bobsleds were Disaster Transport and the model currently at Great Escape (I rode it when it was at Great America). I’d never been on their inline seating cars. This delivered a much more potent ride than the other two I’d been on and was far more forceful in the back seat then in the front. I’d still rather ride the Mack model and wish there was more than one in the US.
We knocked out their flume (#2 Flume) that reminded me a lot Astroworlds’, and headed over to the Texas Giant and Titan. Texas Giant is another monstrosity of wood. I actually liked it far more than I anticipated. It’s nothing like a CCI – it’s rough and tumble old school and horribly trimmed – but it’s well cared for. I had to laugh at the block brake wave at the ride-op section, and the final run home on the coaster is exceptionally aggressive and by far my favorite part.
I was dreading Titan, as Goliath had produced my first pronounced gray-out and was not something I particularly enjoyed. Someone had told me that holding my breath during the helixes would help, and it had a little on Goliath – but Titan has 2 helixes, not just the one. I love Titan’s rolling stock and how well it tracks. I love the first three elements of Titan and Goliath (first drop, turn-around, and second hill) – the rest of the ride does very little for me – although hanging off the midcourse brake was interesting. I did grey, but at least I knew it was coming. I wish they could’ve stuck to hills and skipped the helixes.
It was definitely time to get something eat and drink, so we grabbed a quick bite to eat and explored the park some more. It’s a very pretty park. The majority of the park has a very western feel, although there are a few obvious exceptions. It was another hot day and they had the misters on full blast, and they have a lot of misters (works well for the fright fest too).
Next up was Shockwave – now this is something I’ve been looking forward to since I saw a picture as a kid. We took our first ride in the front. I’m not sure if the lift has always operated like this, but I found the changes in speed odd. The loops pulled a lot of G’s – especially leaving the second. I found the rest of the ride fun, but not everything I had hoped for. And that odd triangle hill???? We went around and went for the back seat. I think I asked Mark, if he preferred the front or back while climbing the lift and he said ‘back’ – I was relieved. WOW! What a difference. The loops were just a powerful, but the first drop and all of the following drops are just sick (good sick). WOW! Easily the best Schwarzkopf I’ve ever been on.
We hit the Yosemite Sam and the Gold River Adventure old-mill type dark ride. The ride is original to the park, but was rethemed to Looney Toons character at some point in the 1980s. I had never been on a classic dark ride at a Six Flags so I considered it a real treat and was amazed at how long the ride was. I’m guessing that this is also an Arrow ride. I hope that they don’t rework this into a shoot-em up, and it makes me want to get to Georgia to ride theirs before it disappears. I really enjoyed this.
We moved onto Mr. Freeze and Batman, skipping the Mine Train and Mini-Mine Train for the time being due to slight lines. To be honest, Mr. Freeze really intimidated me. It’s a big, very tall, strange looking ride. I loved the station loading, and that’s a very effective way of boosting capacity on a shuttle coaster. The ride itself is very intense and very smooth. Climbing the spike really caught me off guard. I liked the ride, but I was fast approaching the wall of exhaustion. We knocked off Batman…I don’t like writing Batman off as it’s one of my favorite B&M designs – it’s incredibly reliable and intense, but I was tired and I’ve been on 3 of the other many times…ca-ching.
It took a little coaxing on Mark’s part, but he got me on the Texas Chute Out (Intamin Parachute drop). I’m not big on heights and as much as the Coney Island fanatic that I am - I don’t know if you could’ve gotten me on the original CI drop. It was actually a quick, smooth ride with a nice view of the park. My fear of heights didn’t get the better of me and I’m glad I did it.
A quick hop, skip and a jump and we were in the boarding station of Judge Roy Scream. JSR is a beautiful Bill Cobb out and back and it still uses skid brakes. It has the fatal Cobb flaw of having a second hill that is simply too high, but it’s a solid family wood coaster that I’d put into the same school as Sky Princess ride-experience wise. It’s probably one of the more beautiful wood coasters in the Six Flags arsenal. By this time, I had really hit the wall. 3 parks, 9 hours of driving, 7 hours of sleep in just over 48 hours was taking its toll. I put on my game face, but I was hurting.
We wandered around the park some more just to take it in. We rode Runaway Mountain (enclosed SDC Hurricane) which was incredibly smooth – definitely a major step above Skull Mountain (SFGadv) or Mayan Mindbender (SFAW). Mark wouldn’t tell me what it was till after we rode it and I was definitely surprised. We rode the mini-mine train – which was fun, but I think I enjoyed Astroworlds more. The last new-to-me coaster of the day was the classic Mine Train coaster (1966 Arrow). I’m pretty sure that this was the very first Arrow mine train and it’s definitely an oddity. It’s by far the most violent and action packed of all the models I’ve been on, and it’s got a lot of charm. The third lift and following tunnel really caught me off guard. I can see why the mini-mine train was an accompaniment to the real deal.
Mark took a ride on the Superman Combo tower, but I sat it out. We went to the top of the Oil Derrick that gives a spectacular view of the park and surrounding cities. We went back to Shockwave and thanks to minimal lines had a nice mini-marathon towards the back of the train – WOW! I really love this ride; I just wish I wasn’t so tired. I hope that I can find as favorable conditions on my next visit to really do this ride right! We headed back towards the front of the park and took advantage of SFOT’s best and most original deal: Pink Things. I’m not really sure what it is – a triangular pink frozen treat on a stick that only costs a buck. It’s non-dairy and tasty and according to the signage a Six Flags over Texas original. We took a quick spin on their venerable carousel – again way too slow, but a beautiful ride. We took advantage of the Q-bot for the last time and got one last ride on the Giant and Bobsleds and I was done. We left the park a little after 6.
We left SFOT exhausted, but somewhat relieved that we didn’t have to drive anywhere and we could get more than 4 hours of sleep that night. We ate a quick, adequate dinner at Humperdink’s Brewery, located steps from our hotel and then called it a night.
We were on the road the next morning around nine enroute to the Texas State fair. I had just visited my very first state fair (Pulyallup) the month before and was glad that I had done that so I could be a little more prepared for what to expect. Arriving at the fair grounds brought us to a VERY empty fair.
After paying our entrance fee, we wandered around the grounds of the fair and settled on a breakfast burrito for breakfast. It was amazing to see these vast fair grounds void of people, and the exhibition halls really made me feel like I was at the 1934 Chicago or 1939 NY Worlds Fairs – they are exceptional examples of 1930/40’s art deco architecture. It was a good opportunity to scope out the grounds for later as I would be on my own for a major portion of the day while Mark had to work.
The Fair does not have as large a midway as Pulyallups, but it’s known for it’s great collection of European spectaculars. It’s also home to a beautiful 1914 Dentzel Carousel, a permanent Arrow log flume, North America’s largest Ferris Wheel (the Texas Star), a permanent Tracey dark ride (Lumavision), and a permanent German fun house (the Bubble House). The fair ground also houses the Dallas Aquarium, Railroad Museum, Natural History Museum, Botanical Gardens, Planetarium and the Cotton Bowl – all included with the fairs admission.
Strolling through the midway, the first ride that caught my eye was the Flying Carpet fun house. WOW! I’ll guess that it’s a portable German funhouse, but it had a spectacular façade and the flying carpet exit. I’d only heard of the flying carpet exits and didn’t know that there were any left. It started out pretty much like Williams Grove’s fun house with the rocking floors, shifting stairs, and shaking rooms. There was one middle room somewhat devoid of stunts with a giant keyboard and PS2 setup with DDR? All this led to the exit and final stunt, the Flying Carpet. You sit on a bench and the ride operator has you raise your hands. He pulls a cord, the bench collapses and you slide down a moving conveyor belt out of the ride/house. It’s simple, effective and VERY cool.
We also rode Lumavision, a classic Tracey dark ride. They gave you kaliedescope glasses to wear inside as there are next to no stunts, just some lights. It’s a nice long, air-conditioned ride. It has a working water curtain at the end and I’m sure that it must have been something very special at one time, but simply doesn’t have the Tracey magic it must have once had (especially if you’ve been on the ones at Waldameer or Trimpers). I love that they blast Pink Floyd outside, but felt that it could’ve helped to have it on inside as well.
I also rode the two larger coasters, Crazy Mouse (Reverchon) & Zillerator (Zyklon). I rode the Fabri Mega Drop (amazing), A.R.M. Megabounce (OTSRs don’t work on this type of ride! OW!), Flight To Mars (on vacation from Lakeside in Denver), & the Log Flume (eh). I also did the Bubble House walk-through. It’s also a German fun house. It too reminded me of the model at Williams Grove, but on a much larger scale. It was the first time I’d seen spinning discs in the walkways in operation. Instead of a rotating barrel at the end of the ride, there is a room full of bubbles blowing everywhere – so you exit coated in bubbles.
All of the rides at the fair are in amazing shape and have extensive & elaborate facades, lighting packages, and themes. Unlike Pulyallup, where there is only one ride concessionaire – there are many individual operators in Texas. The ride line-up is very impressive and it was cool to see so many rides that I’d only previously seen in photos or videos.
I took some time to walk through some of the exhibition halls – Elvis in butter and the Leopard-skin toilet seats were by far my favorites. I also did the train museum that had some amazing vintage engines and cars – some of which you are allowed to board. The monstrosity of the Union Pacific Big Boy engine was mind-blowing. The Taste and See Gardens is in one corner of the park had some amazing garden arrangements all accompanied by model train courses, and to boot, a wonderful butterfly habitat. The only area of the fair that I did not visit was the Auto show and the Music exhibit.
I hooked up with Mark several times through the course of the day and we ended the day with a ride on the Mondial Supernova – named Indiago here (and known to many as Surf Dance at Adventureland). I knew that this ride must be able to do something special, but my one ride at Adventureland left me scratching my head. I got my moneys worth today – wow – this is one very intense weird ride. I was really impressed.
Mark was definitely hitting the wall today and we left the fair just after 4 and went back to the hotel to recoup. I had a blast in Texas but I hope that I can have a little more time on my next visit. I’m extremely grateful that I got to Astroworld before it’s demise and am increasingly saddened by its fate.
Thanks for reading!
Jim 'jimvid' McDonnell
Six Flags Fiesta Texas:
Six Flags Over Texas:
Texas State Fair:
http://jimvid.smugmug.com/gallery/896248 *** Edited 10/22/2005 7:25:01 PM UTC by jimvid***
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