Date: Saturday, July 14, 2007
Weather: in the lower nineties but gradually cooling off toward the evening.
I was on a road trip with my grandmother and aunt to Amarillo for a wedding and I convinced them to take a day so we could go to one of my favorite parks, Wonderland. Wonderland is a small tradditional amusement park in Amarillo's Thompson Park. It has some very unique rides, including the world's only PTC steel coaster train on one of its coasters, and the world's oldest Miler wild mouse. It has classic rides and modern thrills mixed in. The staff is fantastic and single riders are allowed on everything. Pairing is not compulsory on the coasters.
I used to come to this park with the other kids at Camp Villa, a camp sponsored by what is now Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. The aim of the camp is to introduce blind children to the outdoors. The highlight is a day in Amarillo that ends with a trip to Wonderland Park for the evening. I used to love this park and it is where my coaster loving began. I have fond memories of Wonderland in those days. They got a new ride in 2004 that I was anxious to try, so I begged my relatives to take me there one more time. They did, and last Saturday was the day.
The people on the trip would be my grandmother, my aunt, my cousin Hilary and her two sons, her husband Grant, another uncle and his girlfriend, and most importantly, Grant's brother Kelly. I would of course be there. I got a new digital recorder with a detachable stereo mike and 1gb of memory. If I had taken my original one to Holiday World like I said I would, it would not have had the capacity. Plus, that recorder was hard for a blind person like myself to use. Then Olympus came out with the new DS series and I got the top-of-the-line one, the Olympus DS50. This recorder has, among other cool things, talking menus that allow a blind person to hear spoken prompts while navigating the menus. I can therefore set levels and change settings on the fly without assistance, which is important to me. The DS50 can also record in multiple modes with CD quality being the highest (called STXQ for stereo, extra-high quality). I knew that this was the recorder I wanted when it first came out in January. It's size and quality were perfect for taking it onto amusement rides, which was why I wanted it. It fits in a pocket and is slim and small and barely noticeable unless you look closely inside the pocket it's in. I was one of the first people to buy the all-new recorder. Today would be the first time I took it onto rides, including a water slide and a rapids ride. I was anxious to hear how it would turn out.
We pull up to the park at about 6 P.M. Parking is free. If you go for the POP ride plan, which includes free rides on everything but Texas Tornado and Fantastic Journey, admission is free. If you pay for individual ride tickets, admission is $4, with each ticket costing $1 or two for $2.50.
Of course, Kelly and I went for the POP plan. Kelly is a coaster fan too, though he is not a true enthusiast. He just enjoys riding them. He told me himself that he didn't wnat to join an enthusiast club. He just wanted to have fun.
Ok, so I got a handstamp and a voucher at the gate, then proceeded inside to exchange it for a wristban. Very efficient operation. I rounded up the thrill riders in the group who were Kelly, Grant, and I. Grant would stop riding after Tornado and would go join the kids in Kiddieland but join Kelly and I for the last ride of the night. More of that later. Right inside the gate is a Pinfari jumbo Zyklon. This is an enlarged version of the standard Zyklon, which I rode last October. When I was going to Wonderland with the blind kids, it was known as the Mousetrap. The park calls it the Big Coaster, but everyone refers to it as the Mousetrap. Therefore, it is called Big Coaster: TCTWABKAM (The Coaster That Will Always Be Known As Mousetrap). Mousetrap just sounds better anyway.
There was about a 10-minute wait. Then again I didn't have my watch so I couldn't time it. The ride went down for a few minutes while the second train was put on. Cool! I am exclusively a back seat rider, so we had to wait an extra train due to the back seat being occupied on the train we were supposed to get into. Each car has two benches with no seat dividers. There is a group lapbar for the row and a seatbelt that has to be shared between the two riders. The seats are extremely comfortable. However, here is something sweet. In this park, if you want to be a single rider, you can ride alone if you want. You choose the seat and you will get it to yourself. Because of the fact that our group had three people in it, we all decided to be single riders. Kelly took the very front of the two-car train, sitting in the front row. Grant sat somewhere in the middle as he didn't care about where he sat. He isn't really into coasters, but he will ride them at a push.
So, I had the back seat to myself. Because there were no seat dividers, I sat in the middle of the banch. and pulled down the lapbar three clicks. That will do for this coaster. Then I fastened the seatbelt that would normally be shared and loosened it. After everyone is situated, we pull out of the station and hang a right to get onto the lift. At the top, put those hands up and yell as we are about to experience some of the best first drop airtime on a coaster. After a little meandering and a turnaround at the top, we drop into an enlarged Zyklon layout. This ride was very smooth with no jarring at all, even in the helix entrances. The trains got new wheels three years ago and it shows. The coaster is flying and there is ejector air on the first two big drops. It is a great little coaster.
After that, we went to find the rest of the group and they all convinced me to ride the miniature train ride. This is only noteworthy because this was my first C.P. Huntington. The ones at SFOT are steam engines. The train went around the park, passing through several tunnels. It follows the path of the Sky Rider monorail for most of the way. They did a great job with this one, putting shading everywhere and having several tunnels. I usually don't do miniature trains, but it was nice to get in and relax for a few minutes. Grant and Kelly did not ride this one. I did because Grandma wanted me to.
Then it was off to the Texas Tornado! This little baby is the gem of the park. Unfortunately, this is the only criticism that I have of this park. They charge you two tickets if you have the POP plan. On Fantastic Journey, I can totally understand why they charge, to prevent repeat riders vandalizing the place out of boredom. But on Texas Tornado! Why should you have to pay to ride the best coaster in the park! There is no excuse for this! Well, enough rambling.
After buying our tickets, Kelly, Grant, and I headed up to the station. There is only one train on this coaster so there was a 5-minute wait today. I didn't ride Tornado solo today but I have ridden solo before.
Texas Tornado is one of the most unique coasters you will ever ride. The ride is the same as Desert Storm at Castles N Coasters, but something makes this ride stand out. It has the world's only PTC steel coaster train. Yes, you heard that right! A PTC steel coaster train! It is one of my favorite coasters and I love riding it. We get into the station and Grant and I wait for the back row.
The train came back in and we climbed into that cozy PTC train that is like a couch. There is a lapbar with a grab handle on it for each rider and each one also has a seatbelt. The seat dividers are more like armrests and they are not interfering. We strap ourselves in and get ready to roll. We pull out of the station and make a left turn to the lift. The car bounces a bit as we approach the top because of the drive wheels at the top of the lift. And the intensity started. This coaster never lets up on its speed throughout the ride and there are some fabulous positive G's in the back. The first loop has a really high pullout which stalls the train a bit before going down the second swooping drop into the next loop and then the tunnel. This ride just rocks hard. It has that PTC smoothness and there is no jarring at all. It is the best coaster in this park and you cannot leave the park without riding it.
Well, we came back in and Kelly and I start comparing seats. Kelly is a front seat rider on all coasters and I am a back seat rider on all coasters. So we get into a debate and then Kelly says he wants to try the back. All right! Grant went off to hang out with the little kids in the group at this point so we were on our own. We bought more tickets and walked onto the back seat of the train for a second ride. Friends, this coaster just gets better and better with each ride. Kelly liked the back a little bit, but I had to do my end of the deal and ride with him in the front.
After that, I rode one of my favorite dark rides, the Fantastic Journey. This 4.5-minute ride used to be one of the best out there, but Wonderland decided to tame it down in 2004. IMO, they ruined it. A lot of the good stunts have been taken out and the semi-truck's air horn which used to be right next to your ear is now all the way across the room, ruining the stunt that got people every time. A lot of the audio has been taken out too. One thing I did like was the electric chair stunt in a room that used to have nothing in it. The guy is sitting in an electric chair being torured and he is screaming. It was a good piece of audio. At least now you can't dread the semi at the end because you get distracted and you don't know what's coming next. The cracking boards are still there, which is great. They also enclosed the portion of the ride where you used to go outside and be able to look down. I love the tunnel of doors at the start. You go down a hallway crashing through bang doors all the time and all you hear is the creaking and slamming of doors around you. Very nice effect. One door in particular slammed pretty hard. There is now also less blacklight than there was. Kelly, who is sighted, told me that he thought it could have been better which I agree with. I don't even know why I ride FJ. I'm totally blind and yet I still have a fascination with dark rides. I like to try to imagine what is going on, so my descriptions of what used to happen may be false. I just sit in the car and ride making up stunts based on the audio.
Then it was back to Tornado for a front seat ride. I liked the speed and the hangtime at the top of the lift, but I still prefer the back for the sustained G-forces. Not a bad ride either way. Go to the front if you want speed, go to the back if you want speed and G's that will pound your chest. I was gasping for air after both back seat rides.
Then it was off to the Hopkins Sky Ride to relax. This is the ski lift-style Sky Ride except you go up to the top, get turned around, and then head back down. It is not a transportation ride. The Sky Ride is a good relaxing ride and we enjoyed our time on it. I thought about how funny it would be to do what Todd Long suggested doing on Skycoasters, taking syrup of ipecac right after a dinner of pasta with Alfredo sauce and milk and timing it so you could vomit over the midway. This Sky Ride was perfect for that. It would have been hilarious. I got the idea when Kelly suggested we spit on some people if we saw them. He didn't do it, but he liked the pasta idea. It was just amusing to talk about.
After that, we headed to the first of my three favorite water rides in the park, Rattlesnake River. This is a Hopkins rapids ride with six-passenger boats. One of my favs, Riptide, which is a really steep water slide, was down, but Rattlesnake and the one we would be riding later were open. Sweet. I take my hearing aids out and put them in my pocket. I was concerned about the vulnerability of my recorder on this ride, as I am always the one to get drenched. I moved it down to a pocket secured with Velcro and hoped for the best. Today was no excption. The water effects were on full blast. Halfway through the ride there is a pipe hidden underwater that, when hit, shoots up a spray of water, drenching one unlucky victim. It was me that got hit with it today, just as I did last time I rode this in 2001. The ride was its usual fantastic ride except that a couple of the waterfalls that I remember being there weren't working. It also seemed to be more turbulent than it was last time I rode it.
Next, it was time to dry off. What better way to do that than ride the last coaster in the park, cyclone. Cyclone is the oldest operational Miler wild mouse in the world. This was going to be my first true wild mouse coaster as the only ones I have ridden have been the Reverchon spinning mice. I was about to get quite a rude awakening. I thought a wild mouse was a coaster with some laterals in sharp turns and small drops. Little did I know what I was in for. Each car can hold two people, sitting one behind the other. There are no restraints, not even a seatbelt. There is also no padding.
I opted to be a single rider again. Kelly went first and then my car came for me. I climbed in and was told to grab the handlebars on the sides and not let go. The little car shot out of the station and made a sharp right turn onto the lift. Then we reached the top. Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! I had no idea that wild mice were this intense. It was hard grabbing onto the bars as I was being jostled around The turns were extremely forceful and the helix at the end was just intense. Did I mention that there are no trim brakes on this ride? I love this ride now, but I think that once is definitely enough on one of these little beasts. I want to get out to Blackpool Pleasure Beach and ride the wooden wild mouse they have. That had to be one of the most intense rides I have ever ridden. I was not anticipating extremely sharp curves. I thought wild mice were gentle things with not too many laterals. How wrong I was.
Well after getting off that wild and zippy ride, we went to find everyone else and found out that they were all getting tired. They said I could ride three more thrill rides and then we would leave. Fine by me. But first, some of us got on Wonderland's insane bumper cars. These are my favorite set of tradditional bumper cars because of how fast they are. These are Reverchon lapbar-only cars. Man can they hit, too.
We had had a mishap earlier while trying to find the second of my three favorite water tides. Kelly assumed it was the log flume and we wound up at the flume. I don't like Wonderland's log flume so we got out of there. That was before the bumper cars. Now, it was off to my true favorite water ride. This is my favorite one in this park.
Pipeline Plunge is a one-of-a-kind Whitewater West water slide. It is tucked away in a corner of the park so it always has a short wait as not very many people notice it. Those who do are rewarded for the 6-story climb they have to do with what has got to be the best tube slide anywhere. There are two sides, one more family friendly and one for speed slide fanatics. Both sides feature what, in my opinion, this slide is good for riding, a tripple helix up the side of the slide. We both did the left side first, each of us taking a raft. I love the way this slide starts. The raft sits on rollers. When they are ready, the whole section of rollers is raised up to an angle and the raft slides down the rollers into the tunnel.
The left side lets light in and is a bit more tame. It starts out with a swoop up the side of the slide to get the water on you, followed by a left turn and then a right turn. It flattens out for a little bit. Then it plunges into a steep drop into a left curve, then into another curving drop that sends you whooshing up the right side of the slide and back down into the ride's signature element, the tripple helix. Round and round and round we go before finally dropping out of the helix into a right-hand curve before dropping out of the slide. Not bad. This was the side I rode when I first rode this ride and it was exactly how I remember it. The only bad part about this ride is that you have to walk down the runout to get out. I got minimal water damage. The recorder was once again in the secure pocket and my hearing aids were in another. Now it was onto the right side.
The right side is the one for thrill seekers. The current moves faster and the slide is pitch black. It also has a lot more elements in it. The right side was a walk-on. Kelly and I both decided to ride togehter on this side. We both got into the boat and got launched into the tunnel. This one starts out flat for about 10 seconds. Then the slide plunges into a steep drop with minor airtime followed by a right-hand curve that sends you rebounding back to the left in its wake. By this time we had nearly flipped over because of how sharp that curve was. The laterals were fabulous. Then there was some swooshing up the sides in preparation for the spiral drop into the helix. We went up and up through the helix before, whoosh! We flew back to the other side now, getting us even more drenched. We took a curve back through the helix before shooting out the bottom and making it to the end. I will never think of baths the same way again.
Then it was time for the last ride of the night. It was time for me to ride the ride that I had come all this way for, the Texas Intimidator. This is the only Moser Intimidator in the U.S. It was installed in 2004. I had ridden its little brother, the Twin Flip, at the State Fair of Texas in October 2004. I found it to be a lackluster ride. Let's see how this one is. I will describe it in the way it was described to me. Think of a pyramid with an arm of seats on each of the three sides. On each arm there are four seats, back-to-back. Two face forward, two face backward. When the ride begins, the pyramid rotates very fast and the whole think raises up. Then the arms begin doing flips. Mid-ride, the ride changes direction. It is an awesome ride. Moser's designs are genius. The G's are absolutely amazing and the flipping action rivals the Top Scan, even though on this ride the op controls the flipping. I also like the fact that the Moser spin rides have a platform to put your feet on while riding. Grant joined Kelly and I the first time and we rode it on our own the second time. The ride has an ots restraint backed up by a crotch strap for each rider. The crotch strap may have been a retro-fit as I don't remember it being on the Twin Flip. They were blasting techno music on this ride, which was fabulous. It had a great sound system. The only problem was that once the ride started, you spun so fast that you could not hear the music because you spun past the speakers so fast. The first ride, we were held spinning upside down and my shorts slipped. They didn't fall off as I had them buttoned, but I felt them slip and my shirt fly up. I tied them with the strings on them the second ride and it was much better. That rideiwas the perfect way to end a perfect day at one of my favorite parks. After our second ride, we headed back to our cars and said our goodbyes.
Overall, I had a fabulous time. This park is a little gem in the middle of nowhere and I would encourage anyone who can to get out there. And here's an incentive to go. Joyland, which is about an hour away in Lubbock, just got AstroWorld's Schwarzkopf shuttle loop installed this year. As far as I know, it is open. If you want to do that, then I suggest you also stop at Wonderland and ride Tornado. If you're a spin ride fanatic, you cannot leave the park without riding Texas Intimidator. They have a good Tilt-a-Whirl and a Huss Rainbow with lapbars. The service is fabulous and it is a very family-friendly park.
Thanks for reading.
Also, Greased Lighting is still not operational. Something due to the soil in which is delaying the installtion of the ride for another year.
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