Parks Visited: Schlitterbahn, SeaWorld Texas, SFFT, SFAW, SFOT, Sandy Lake, Frontier City, Silver Dollar City, Celebration City, Wonderland, Cliffs, and Castles & Coasters
Weather: Really farking hot and humid, then stormy, then perfect, then stormy, then hotter than hell.
Miles Driven: 4420.5
Personnel: William ("Rollergator" or just plain old "Gator") Lentzsch, Tony "Schnaaps" Milano, and Mike "BaSSiStiSt" Miller
It's a sure indicator of how much this hobby has warped my mind that the thought of DRIVING from California to Texas didn't even faze me
when it popped into my head earlier this year. Texas remained one of the few "coaster concentrations" in the country I haven't visited yet, along with the Georgia-area south and the Illinois/Wisconson/Minnesota
bloc. Since I wasn't going to have much of a budget for a long trip this year, and I wanted to take a break from flying (something I
tolerate but hate) Texas seemed to be the answer so planning began. Plus, I've always wanted to drive across New Mexico, and the parts of Arizona I hadn't seen yet.
As my trip plans have gotten longer and more extravagent over the years, I have been seeking the trip that would distinguish the mere hobbyists from the true, hard-core road dogs. The "Con-Quest" plan from last year scared a few off, but this year's addition really did the trick, as only Tony Milano and Bill Lentzsch would sign up for the madness. And only Tony would be along for all of the driving, as Gator lives in Florida and would be flying into San Antonio to meet us. The
funniest point in the planning was the moment when Tony and I added up all the hours of driving and I said "Oh my God, I'm Jeff Johnson". ;-) Of course, Sean and Jeff would have added a flight or two to all the
driving...we're wimps compared to them!
We set out for San Antonio from Tony's apartment in Anaheim at 5 am PST and arrived at Gator's hotel in San Antonio at 2 am CST. That's 19 hours on the road for the math/time-zone challenged. Absent three gas stops, 2 bathroom and/or snack breaks, and one 1/2-hour dinner break in Las Cruces, NM, we just kept going and going. This was made vastly easier by the portable DVD player we had brought along, which we mounted on the passenger visor. Pumping the sound through my Mustang's
stereo made for a great little mobile theater, and we were able to watch three movies en route (well, the driver got to listen more than
watch). I will never take another coaster trip again without the portable DVD option! CD's and naps filled in the remaining gaps in
time, along with all the wierd crap you see out in the desert on I-10...the airplane graveyard east of Tucson was undoubtedly the
highlight in that category.
One wierd thing I noticed was that the topography seemed to change right about at each state line. The palm trees and desert farmlands of California give way to the craggy mountains and brown terrain of Arizona, which in turn leads to the greener and wide-open spaces of New Mexico, followed by the green rolling hills of west Texas. And it was amazing how little of ANYTHING there is in west Texas!
Friday, May 28th was our first park day of the trip, and we went to Schlitterbahn. Short review of Schlitterbahn: every other waterpark in the world needs to shut down and come stay here for a week in one of the resort apartments on-site. Following that week, they need to demolish 90% of their parks (keeping cool stuff like Tornados, good raft rides, steep slides, kid's play areas) and make their parks like Schlitterbahn. There's no point in even comparing this park to other water parks...I haven't been to all of them out there, but I've been to enough to know that 99% are random collections of slides and then
there's Schlitterbahn. First usage of THE quintessential Rollergator quote applies here: "It's that good".
We started with the Master Blaster. Strangely enough, even though this is the most hyped attraction in the park, I was pretty underwhelmed by it and it was probably my least favorite. Not that it's bad, it just
pales in comparison to things like the Torrent River (the world's UN-laziest river). After riding the Master Blaster, Torrent, and
Dragon Blaster, we proceeded over to the older section of the park, where all three of us fell in SERIOUS love with the place.
Why? It's all about the tube chutes. Schlitterbahn makes GREAT usage of the terrain (it's the Kennywood of water parks) and the
intertwining tube chutes combine with lush vegetation and the beautiful Comal River at the base of the park to create a virtual
paradise. It's a great equation of serious thrills combined with nice, lackadasical floats in between and it says "You're on vacation" better than most anything else in the world. Special mention must go to the
insanely long, 45-minute Raging River Tube Chute, and the just plain insane Whitewater Tube Chute. We climbed the hill over and over again to experience the wicked 30-foot drop on Whitewater...scary and exhilirating all at once! Best. Water ride. Evar.
We spent the day bopping back and forth between the two parks. The park runs a never-ending stream of shuttle buses from one park to the other and it's a simple matter of a few minutes wait/drive if you want to switch parks. Crowds were light and everything but the two Blasters was a walk-on. The weather was perfect, the park was efficient and
friendly, and it was one hell of a first day for our trip. We finished the day with a cold brew in a large hot tub/open bar, perfect therapy after getting tossed around all day long, and for the day after spending 19 hours in a car. This may be the park I want to go back to the most out of the whole trip. Enthusiasts, get thee to Schlitterbahn!!
After checking into our awesome Omni Hotel (Priceline, I love you!!)and grabbing a quick nap/pool visit we went down to Riverwalk for a
late dinner. This further established San Antonio as an utterly cool city in my mind; dozens of great restaurants on both sides of a gentle river, tourists boats floating along, great lighting and architecture, just so very cool. We stuffed ourselves with Tex-Mex and then walked over to the Alamo. The Alamo is dramatically lit at night and crowds were sparse at the late hour (11 pm). I wasn't totally up on the story behind it but numerous plaques around the site explained all. Suffice
to say, it was a poignant moment to contemplate what happened here and it really made me understand why the site has been preserved exactly as it was.
The next day brought our first coasters of the trip. Walking into the Shark Bash at Seaworld Texas, it was nice to run into David Lipnicky.
I've hung out with "Curly" at parks a few times and he's always got some hilarious stories to share of the hijinks he gets into with other folks in his region. David walked us back to Steel Eel and we got our first taste of how Texan enthusiasts embrace events. Whereas Tony, Gator and I would be 15-30 minutes late for everything, the local
enthusiasts seemed to be on time for everything. It would prove to be a pattern for the weekend.
The coasters and water rides at SeaWorld were all pretty good. Steel Eel is a fun mini-hyper with some great air in spots. The mid-course
brake is a bit of a party-killer, but the ride is still a kick. Great White is a Batman clone that runs acceptably well...whenever I hear
people compare different Batmen it always solidifies for me that I can't seem to compare them; they all seem to be pretty good to me.
Shamu Express was the last coaster in the park and is a fun little mini, but beware the crotch crushing bump on the seat, especially if
you are a "larger" enthusiast (he he he). The log ride was fun with a great double down, and the raft ride got us pretty wet, which was good
considering the 90-degree weather and high humidity (Good lord, do people actually LIVE in humidity like this??).
The park had a nice luncheon for us and then we went over to the Shamu show, where a section was set aside for event attendees. I've seen this show in California before, but Texas' was bigger and better. Shamu has a GREAT stadium at this park, and they put on a very fun show. The group picture was taken at this point as well.
When we had been riding Steel Eel earlier, we had noticed a horrible traffic jam leading to the park. As we left the stadium it became
clear that the park was PACKED. Pathways were jammed and we later heard the park was completely full and was turning people away. Wow! Luckily the event had gotten us plenty of rides early so we had nothing left to do. We found the beer-tasting pavilion and luckily it
was practically empty. After enjoying a cold one in air-conditioned comfort, we set out for San Antonio Kiddie Park.
This park features a Herschell kiddie coaster, but we were destined not to ride it. It was posted that no one over 54 inches would be
allowed on, and the park was unbending on that rule. This was the first of many kiddie coaster headaches in the state...we got on the
rest of them, but had to "borrow" kids numerous times, an annoying practice that makes me feel like a child molestor every time I ask. I wish parks would either scrap these stupid policies OR set aside an hour during the day (a posted hour) where everyone can ride. I know the parks do it because they don't want bigger kids (IE ACErs) monopolizing the coasters, but it's frustrating.
After another quick dip in the pool and a nap, we headed off to Six Flags Fiesta Texas. I thought I had been to some good Six Flags
properties before (SFA, SFMW) but this place easily outclassed any other I had visited (and would in turn be slightly outclassed itself
by SFOT in the next week). I haven't been to SFGAm or SFOG yet, but they better be damn good if they want to rank ahead of these two gems in Texas in my book! ;-) The funny thing about SFFT is that it just doesn't seem like much before you visit...no real stand-out coasters, no other notable rides. All three of us commented on how sneaky this park was at infiltrating your sensibilites and impressing the HELL out of you!
Driving up to the park one is really struck first by the location; dramatic quarry walls with beautiful natural color, and
strategicaly-placed waterfalls dropping down here and there. The park was much more spread out and larger than I thought it would be. First up was Rollschuhcoaster, a rather generic Vekoma junior. Next was the Rattler. This thing is flat-out awesome looking, just dominating it's corner of the park, and dwarfing the nearby Roadrunner Express mine
train coaster. I wasn't expecting much...it rarely draws raves, and regularly gets lots of complaints. I think the best way I can describe
Rattler is that it's one of the best wooden coasters in the world...that unfortunately has one of the world's worst wooden coasters stuck in the middle of it. The first two drops were
absolutely outstanding, and the tunnel drop of the cliff is better than that. But that middle helix...ugh. I kind of liked the helix in
how relentless it was, but it really needed to be faster. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I really kind of liked the Rattler.
Roadrunner Express was next and would have been the best mine train on the trip if we hadn't gone to Silver Dollar City. Some very cool theming, and a severe drop (for a mine train, anyways). We then raced to Superman: Krypton Coaster and managed to squeeze a ride in right before closing. I absolutely loved this ride up through the zero-G roll; the first drop is intense and the vertical loop is one of my favorites anywhere, with some great hangtime. However, my absolute favorite part of the ride was the little helix on top of the cliff. I loved how the element started by racing next to the cliff wall, thus causing the dominant visual to be the rock face running vertically next to you. As the train hops up and over the quarry wall the visual
changes to the horizontal plane in a dramatic fashion and it's just totally bad ass. The downside of the ride was I could take or leave
everything after the zero-g...I get tired of having to hold my head to the side to avoid getting thumped on B & M flat spins, the reason I basically dislike most B & M sit downs these days. I do have to say that S:KC is easily my favorite floorless, faint praise though that may be.
ERT appeared to be really lackluster on this first night (the Scream! combo tower and Poltergeist, a Premier spaghetti bowl-LIM-launch-thingie) but first we needed to gather in the food court hall to let the park clear. As usual, we were the last ones in there, everyone else had been prompt. ;-) The park showed it's true hospitality and love for enthusiasts immediately, providing drinks and
snacks as we waited. It was announced that one of the park's musical acts would put on a show while we waited...grumble... I'm just not a
"show" person. After witnessing some REALLY bad shows at parks over the years (patriotic mime troupe, anyone?), I was just dreading it.
Surprise, surprise...the 6 singers put on a GREAT show, running through some great material with real talent and involving the crowd in some special ways. This was my first clue that SFFT is not what we normally expect from a park, and especially not what we expect from a Six Flags park. I actually found myself a little bummed that the show was over and we had to go ride some rides!
Scream! was first for us, and it's now one of my favorite S & S towers...certainly THE favorite when it comes to the really tall ones.
I love the combo program as it makes for a bit longer ride and it shows off both tricks the towers can do. Add in the cool vistas of the
quarry walls, and San Antonio off in the distance, and you have a winner.
We then went over to Poltergeist. Honestly, I didn't "get" these coasters before this night. I enjoyed my first (PKI's FoF) but thought
that both Joker's Jinx and PKD's FoF sucked bad when I rode them last year. For some reason, I really GOT Poltergeist this night. I think it was partly the ride, which was running VERY well. I had never noticed
before the steadily-building intensity at the end of the ride and Poltergeist had this in spades. It seemed to be a few MPH faster than
any others I had ridden, with no braking, and that made a huge difference. Add in a fun group to ride with, and especially add in a
GREAT ride operator ("Gi-na! Gi-na!") and it turned into a magical night. I rode over and over until they kicked me off...sweating,
screaming and just having a grand old time. Didn't expect that at all. We finished the night with a dip in the Omni's pool thanks to a 1 am closing...I wish more hotels did that with their pools!
After a good night's sleep it was right back to SFFT for S:KC ERT. I grabbed a bunch of rides before the flat spins bugged me enough to
quit, including two front seat rides in a row. The park did good, running three trains for the ERT. Once the park opened we had some
loose ends to pick up before waterpark ERT. In a short period of time we were able to knock out the flume (an insanely well-themed Looney
Tunes "family" ride), the Sally shooter, and the Frisbee, which was a good one.
Then it was off to the waterpark, which SFFT opened up to us 30 minutes prior to the GP. First up was my first Tornado ride, and I was
vastly looking forward to it. This is one of the shorter-length ones, with basically a 180-turn, a severe drop, and right into the funnel.
That drop was O.O.C. (Officially Out of Control) and I got to ride it backwards on the first run...holy crap, I almost soiled the water! These rides are great, a little different every time. SFFT really needs the raft conveyor up to the top, but after I heard how much they cost, I can understand going without. I had my personal raft valet
Gator lug the raft up for penny tips, the only way to go. We managed about 6 trips on this great ride before a quick break in the park's
immense, Texas-shaped wave pool. Good times!
Since we were already wet, we decided to brave the raft ride as well. Nothing special, but it did provide GREAT views of the Rattler. Wish
I'd had my camera with me, and I wish the train ride had been open this weekend...the park is very photogenic. After changing into dry clothes, we made it to lunch (arriving late again!) and were treated to a warm reception and a very healthy taco salad luncheon. Very tasty and it showed off another area SFFT excels in, catering. Since we had
plans to get to Astroworld for some night rides, we basically had to knock out the Boomerang after lunch, get some shopping in, and head for the car. I was sad to see SFFT in the rearview mirror...the park and it's staff impressed the hell out of me. Highly recommended.
The drive to SFAW was mercifully brief (after driving to Texas in one day, suddenly three or four hour drives feel like NOTHING) and we made
it into the park two hours before closing. Now, not to go too negative here, but visiting SFAW makes me understand perfectly why Rastus O'Ginga from RRC is such an angry guy. This park really, really sucks ass. The weather
didn't help, as it was about 150 degrees out with 9000% humidity. Add in a thug-ish crowd and the absolute lack of shade and/or charm the
park "offers", and you have a true recipe for disaster. Not just bad, but super-bad.
OK, there were a few good things. Texas Cyclone is the first "Cy-clone" I've truly gotten. It runs too fast for the Morgan trains,
but it hurt SO good. Just short of a top 10 woodie for me. Greezed Lightnin' is a great little Schwartzkopf, and Ultratwister is fun,
albeit hard as hell to fit into. It was hella wierd to ride a suspended (XLR8) backwards. And SWAT was just utterly terrifying, so
much so that I refused a second ride...I just didn't feel secure in that restraint. The ride is outstanding, combining great height, G's,
and visuals; it's like a 48-seat Skyscraper. I wanted a seatbelt though, think I'll bring my own next time!
Mercifully, we were able to get all the coasters and SWAT done in about 3 1/2 hours in between Sunday night and Monday morning, and we
were out of there on the road to Dallas by noon. As for the city of Houston, I have nothing really good to say about that either, other than the great cajun meal we had at Boudreaux's. I'm just glad I can say "check" when it comes to both Houston and Six Flags Astroglide. What a crappy park.
After 3 1/2 hours of driving we came to Bubba's, a great BBQ joint just south of Dallas. This was my first taste of both genuine Texas BBQ sweet tea, and both are now favorites of mine. Highly recommended, and did a lot to get the taste of Houston out of my mouth. We checked into the La Quinta across the street and headed into SFOT, probably the most anticipated park (other than SDC) of the trip for me. No anticipointment for me here, either, as SFOT roxxored my
We went to the flumes first, as it was warm out and that was the first thing we came to. Just taking in the scenic qualities of the log ride area made it clear this was a much better place than SFAW, somewhere long established and a place that cares about the impression it makes. Titan followed, and it was a lot of fun...better than Goliath, and due just as much to the scenery surrounding it as to the "extra helix", another "gray-out" moment on an intense ride. Texas Giant followed and
it is way intense. Some shuffling and a little roughness was way offset by some great drops and surprise airtime. The drop off the MCBR
Shockwave was next, and this thing was shocking all right...shocking in how much air it has! Those sweet Schwartzkopf trains run the
circuit like a true champion, and the ride has a great locale in the park. Plus you can see a Steak and Shake from the station! I was
anticipating a new top 10 steel from this ride, but it just fell a little bit short...still outstanding though! We were also able to grab a Mine Train ride just before closing, and it was a treat to ride this
historic and scenic gem.
After rushing back to the room to watch the Lakers knock Minneapolis out of the playoffs, we grabbed a late dinner at Steak and Shake and
drove around the park attempting to get night shots of the rides and their lighting packages. I may be getting better at using my camera but I still suck at night photography. ;-(
The next day was Tony's birthday, and we devoted it entirely to the park. David Lipnicky was able to join us again for most of the day and he was again an invaluable guide. After checking off Runaway Mountain and getting Gator the Wile E. Coyote credit (Tony and I were denied at this time by some parents who got real wierd when we asked to "borrow"
their kids) we settled in for a nice session on Judge Roy Scream. What a great and fun little woodie! It made me mad to think my home SF park can't even have one good woodie, and EVERY SF park in Texas has a good one. We grabbed a bunch of rides on the Judge with a very enthusiastic ride op before moving on. Texas Chute-out was next and it was great to
ride one of these again. I miss Knotts'!
The Boomerang credit was next. What else can I say but that I have a new least-favorite Boomerang...the restraints kept locking down
tighter and tighter, and I was really quite uncomfortable. Check! Batman was another check mark, a good one but again indistinguishable
from the others. Freeze was next and we totally scored as the second side opened up just as we got to the split! Bonus! My first ride was in the front seat and totally kicked my ass. The inverted top hat is all that, and just hella intense with lap bars only. Scared the poop outta me! The spike is also cool beans. I think this may be my favorite ride in the park, but it's a measure of SFOT's quality that it's hard to pick a favorite among the many good rides.
Superman: Tower of Power was next and was also very good, but the air wasn't quite up there with Scream! The single rider line is highly
recommended, as we walked on three times utilizing it. Numerous re-rides on various coasters followed, as the park was very dead on
this early-season weekday. I was able to grab La Vibora later that day, and it reminded me how much I liked it when it was at SFMM. Good
lord, why do we have to have Psuckclone in that spot, when we could have La Vibora or Batman: The Escape there??? WHY??? We were also able to grab the kiddie coaster credit later that day without trouble due to a cool dad with two enthusiast-in-training kids. We rounded the day out with a trip up the Oil Derrick and a walk through Casa Magnetica
before an incoming lightning storm shut the park down 30 minutes early.
We took Tony out to Dickie's BBQ for a birthday dinner and it was hella tasty. Following dinner a hellacious rainstorm/lightning fest set in, and we were the only car out on the road. Arriving back at the hotel Tony and I sat outside taking in the spectacle; Gator was used to it being from Gainesville, but we Californians don't see cool
"weather" like this very often. Unfortunately, this would not be the last rain/lightning we would run across on this trip.
The next morning we had two brief hours in the park before we had to head out to Oklahoma City. The amount of driving had settled down
after that first day, but it would now be picking up again for the second half of the trip. But before we left we were able to hit all of our favorites at SFOT once more before hitting the road, ending with another mini-session on Da Judge.
We had one more stop in Texas this day, and that was at Sandy Lake Amusement Park. The place was dead, and we pretty much had a personal ride op for the hour we were there. First was the Little Dipper, the exact same Herschell model we had been denied in San Antonio. We fit fine and it was a little rough, but fun. The park also had two relative rarities, a "Pretzel" dark ride and a Rock-O-Plane, which was a first for both Tony and Gator. Both of them enjoyed the Rock-O quite
a bit, and the op even gave us a few runs over the top with the cage locked in fixed position, allowing for some heavy G's and hang time. The Pretzel was also a damn fine dark ride. Sandy Lake is a pretty little park with some fine offerings.
Nearing Oklahoma City, we began to see some more "weather" looming in the exact direction we were heading. Frankly it looked pretty bad, and I was fearing a "rain-out" at Frontier City. The rain soon began and it eventually grew bad enough that we had to pull off the highway. Man, people have to be tough to live in the mid-west...our weather in L.A. only tries to kill us every now and then, it's a lot more aggressive in the mid-west! ;-)
We eventually plowed through the rain and were pleased to see clearing north of OKC, where Frontier City is located. Upon arrival, we noticed a few rides operating and that the clouds were headed off to the south, so we took a chance and went in. We tried to ride the kiddie coaster (yet another Herschell) but were denied by the ride op without a kid...there was no one in the park due to the rain, much less any kids around! Ugh, I hate having to beg for a kiddie coaster!
We walked through the entire park before coming to an open coaster, the Wildcat, a 60's vintage woodie. This is a fun little ride, with a unique layout, good turnaround, and some nice airtime. Again, it bugged the piss out of me that this tiny little park has a better woodie than most So. Cal. parks. Silver Bullet opened soon afterwards, and we grabbed a quick ride on this Schwartzkopf single looper. Great laterals, and much better operations than the exact same ride run by
Gator talked us in to riding the S & S Absolutely Insane, which I had disdained since it had the "new" restraints (a copy of what SWAT uses). Glad he talked us into it, since it was fun to ride this again...I miss the old-style "bicycle seat" restraints but they never
really felt safe to me. We also rode the park's other "tower" ride, a shot of indeterminate make with painful air. The park's dark ride was OK, I was so surprised to see one here. Nearby, the park's flume ride had been completely flooded by the storm...never seen that happen before. The storm was also responsible for the first missed credit of the trip, as the park's Arrow shuttle looper didn't re-open while we were at the park. Of course we saw it move once we were driving out of the park, but it was too late by then. So I still haven't ridden one of these...hope to finally fix that in August at Elitch's! We did manage to bag the kiddie coaster before we left, however, thanks to another cool dad and his enthusiast-in-training kids. Take that, Frontier City!!
Departing Frontier City for Tulsa and Bells, we were all keenly looking forward to Zingo!, one of the most anticipated rides of the
trip for all three of us. Alas, Tulsa had taken a hell of a beating from the demon storm and Bells never opened this night. Most of the
lights and traffic signals were out as well, and there were tree branches down everywhere. Although we were disappointed, it's
understandable that the park never opened, as the devastation in Tulsa made the national news that night.
We still had a lot of driving to do that night, so there was an upshot to the park not being open. Unfortunately, we were also scheduled to meet Mark McKenzie and Cindy Stout at Bells, and we never did get to
see Cindy on the trip as she was set to fly home the next morning. We also lost Gator at this point as he had a flight home out of Tulsa the next morning. Tony and I dropped him at his hotel and pointed the car at Springfield, Mo., where we had a hotel room reserved in preparation for going to Branson the next day. This was one of the most grueling
drives of the trip, and we didn't get in until 11:30 pm. Missing Zingo! made the drive no easier, grumble...
We had a nice hotel again thanks to Priceline, and there was a Steak and Shake next door, so that made #2 of the trip. Waking early the
next day, we knocked out a few errands in Springfield before undertaking the BEAUTIFUL drive to Branson and Silver Dollar City. The
weather would cooperate today with 80-degree temps and NO humidity. Paradise. The Branson show billboards made for some hilarious
visuals...Baldknobbers? Yakov Smirnoff? Gotta love redneck comedy. ;-)
The trees and foliage had grown thick by the time we pulled into the SDC parking lot. I love how you can't see ANY of the park until you go in, very cool. This day would be our last "light" driving day before turning westward to begin the long drive home the next morning. Therefore, Tony and I were determined to squeeze every drop of fun from the day, and Silver Dollar City/Celebration City delivered in spades. This was almost the best day of the trip (along with Schlitterbahn and the full day we had at SFOT). We decided to take one
lap around the park riding everything (especially the water rides) and then we would change into dry clothes and come back to shop and shoot photos.
This turned out to be a great plan, with coaster rides interspersed with the park's many great water rides. The park's staff warmly
greeted us at every opportunity on our way in, and we also grabbed a very quick and tasty breakfast. The park already rocked and we hadn't ridden anything yet!
Wildfire was first, and this is easily my favorite non-inverted/non-hyper B & M anywhere..kind of a backhanded compliment, but it's a hell of a ride. Awesome first drop, awesome view, awesome location. The first two inversions were also great, before the annoying cobra roll/flat spin bullsh*t cut in. Still, more rideable than any other B & M sitdown, and that view of Table Rock Lake made the OTSR-abuse worthwhile. We also grabbed the Log Ride in this section of the park, which was full of surprises and drenched me on the big (great) drop.
Tony enjoyed some peaches and cream before we moved on to the next water ride, Fire In The Hole. This one-of-a-kind indoor thrill/dark/water ride simply must be ridden to be experienced, descriptions just fail. Very corny and very cool all at the same time,
very fast, with lots of surprises and a very wet splashdown at the end. No, I'm not counting it as a coaster, but it is one of the best dark rides I've ever had the pleasure of. On the way to the rapids ride we did a credit check on the kiddie Runaway Ore Cart, which
featured the nicest operator I've ever met. The Rapids ride was also a blast, with more surprises, and some Bluto-style "drops" along the way. It was Tony's turn to get drenched on this one.
Making our way back up the hill, we queued for the Wilderness Waterboggan. For some reason, I thought this was the same ride as at Dollywood (IE the toboggan with the foam rubber boats)...I was surprised to see rubber water-park style rafts. We were able to jump
most of the line due to a need for two riders and we soon found ourselves in the chute. What followed was just about the most terrifying water ride I've ever experienced. We had a heavy raft, and my fat ass was bringing up the rear. We quickly gained suicidal speed,
and the tail end of the raft was smacking the upper edge of the channel at every opportunity. I was seriously looking for trees I could grab if/when I was ejected from the ride, which only seemed like it would be a matter of time. Fortunately we did survive, and got utterly drenched as well. Hardcore!
Thunderation was next, and this has to be the best un-themed mine train anywhere. I loved the utterly bizarre configuration of the train
as well, with cars #3 and #6 turned around backwards. We rode the first time backwards, which was kind of crazy considering how Arrow
mine trains slam you around, but this one was pretty smooth (except for one hard slam right before the mid-course lift). Great drops on
this thing, and a very forceful helix. We also got in rides on the Shootout at Flooded Mine (a Sally-type shooter using boats instead of
cars) and the park's lush train ride, which provided some nice views of what's left of Buzzsaw Falls. Seeing the remains, I was even more pissed I missed it! Argh!
After changing, we proceeded to wander through the many, many, many unique shops, taking photos, enjoying a "skillet" lunch, and spending a hell of a lot of money (and also grabbing a few more rides on Wildfire and Thunderation, of course). As the day wound down we also took the Marvel Cave tour. One-word review: WOW! A very, very impressive main room, leading downwards to more and more cramped passageways deeper and deeper underground; there are many stunning sights on this hour-long walking tour. Well worth the time.
Having dropped a few hundred dollars at the park and with only an hour left in their operating day, we finally left and headed over to Celebration City. This is definitely the weak-sister of the Branson duo...it's coming along, but it was a shock to the system to go back to a "normal" park after the bliss of SDC. We decided to save Ozark Wildcat for last and made a circle of the park. Thunderbolt had the best lighting package on any Windstorm I've ever ridden (hey, I'm trying to be nice here! he he he!). I think this was also the last Windstorm in the States I needed to ride. Jack Rabbit was a decent Miler with a brutal slam on one of the turns...fun but not really
re-rideable. The short shot tower was fairly weak. Fireball pissed me off because I didn't fit in it; I think it was more of a shoulder than a gut problem this time. Damn tiny ass restraints...someone tell these punks Americans are fat! The flyers were fast but unsnappable for some reason; maybe I just suck?
Anywho, got that all out of the way so I could get to the meat of the park...Ozark FREAKING Wildcat! Cue Gator again: "It's that good". Who
knew GCI had this in them?? Just an outstanding, WICKED layout, a great first drop, air and laterals EVERYWHERE, insanely re-rideable, and a real crowd-pleaser to boot. Definitely a top-10 woodie for me, and probably the second-best ride of the trip. I couldn't decide if I liked the front, back or middle (?!?!) better. I simply must get to
Dollywood now...hands down, Ozark is my favorite GCI by a factor of about 10000. Tony and I closed the night and this wonderful day out by riding this over and over again. Until we see some goodness from S & S/Gravity Group, GCI is going to dominate in new woodies. And might I suggest Celebration City be renamed "Missouri's Adventure"? ;-)
After hitting our third and final Steak and Shake of the trip, we proceeded to tour the Branson strip prior to heading out to Mark
McKenzie's house. What a tacky American spectacle Branson is...surrounded by the natural beauty of the Ozarks, the trees part to
reveal: Vegas, but with a budget in the thousands of dollars instead of millions. D'OH!
After over an hour of navigating dark, deserted roads, we finally made it to Mark's palace in Holiday Island, Arkansas. I know the guy needed to get away from it all but this is light years beyond that. He really is about 3 miles past the edge of nowhere. We saw tons of deer out there and he tells us he's seen bears, bobcats, mountain lions, etc., as well. Doesn't surprise me in the least. We stayed up until 3 am chatting and getting a tour of his place, and it's just as neat as the photos on his website make it look.
Arising early, we had a full day of driving before us but we wanted to take Mark out to breakfast first in appreciation of his putting us up for the night. We loaded into his SUV for a fun tour of Holiday Island and then Eureka Springs, Ar. I knew nothing about these places but they are quite the tourist meccas in the region. Eureka Springs was a refreshing slice of bohemian living carved out of the Ozarks. Very cool Victorian and historic buildings fill the town along with restaurants of all types, art galleries, coffee shops, etc. Just when you think you can predict exactly what an area will be like, you find
something like this that completely blows your assumptions out of the water. I could see retiring here...gotta get my wife to come visit!
After a nice breakfast with Mark at the Mud Cafe, we returned to his house and loaded back into the Mustang. We had a long, long drive ahead of us before arriving in Amarillo for an evening ride session at Wonderland. After hugs and warm goodbyes with Mark, we set out. The
first portion wound through the Ozarks and was especially beautiful. It soon gave way to semi-congested northwest Arkansas and then
deserted rural Oklahoma. After many hours we made it into the Texas Panhandle...we were making decent time and were looking forward to a few evening hours at Wonderland. However, the clouds again piled up, and we again hit a severe thunderstorm about an hour out of Amarillo, out in the middle of the plains. This one was just as spectacular as the two previous, and we could tell the center of the storm was parked directly over Amarillo. A call ahead to the park confirmed they never
even opened that night. Fortunately, we had some flexibility the next day and the park opened at 1 pm, allowing us to sleep in very late, something majorly appreciated this far into a marathon trip. Our hotel (Super 8) was kind of sleazy but at least it was clean...consider me not very impressed with Amarillo on the whole.
Wonderland the next day was a decent little park. Along with a fun (but brutal) Miler mouse and a garden-variety Zyklon, the park
featured the truly bizarre Texas Tornado, a Hopkins looper. This was actually a pretty good little ride, with some intense forces, wierd loops and a cool tunnel. This park also introduced Tony and I to the apparently standard Hopkins procedure of opening the ride to passengers without testing it, a process that was to be repeated in Phoenix the next day. The park also had a brand new flat ride called the Texas Intimidator, made by Moser I believe. I'd never seen anything like it before. It was very small but packed a hell of a punch, kind of like the bastard child of a Power Surge and a KMG Wipeout. We quickly grabbed the credits, the Intimidator and the
park's funky two-story dark ride and got the heck out of there....it was hot out but there was no way we were braving the blue/gray water
in the park's ghetto water rides, LOL!
We arrived in Albuquerque after spending the afternoon driving. We checked into our nice La Quinta with a beautiful view of the mountains
from our balcony. We were finally able to try Taco Cabana, a chain we had been seeing all over the south but had missed so far. It was like the midway point pricewise between Taco Bell and Baja Fresh but it was hella tasty! I want that in So. Cal.! Following dinner we proceeded to Cliffs. Other than another Rock-O-Plane and a Galaxi credit there isn't much in this park. Oh wait, yes there is...THE FREAKING NEW MEXICO FREAKING RATTLER! The last CCI is a true masterpiece. It worked out to be my #300, and it went into my top 10 as part of a 5-way tie for #1, tied with Cornball, Raven, Legend, and Timbers. The NMR has a great and unique layout, facilitated by the tiny space Cliffs was forced to cram it into. It's kind of an L-shaped, kind of an out-and-back, kind-of-a-monster. Airtime all over the course, with
strong, STRONG ASS laterals. The drop into and out of the tunnel near the end really reminded me of Legend when it ran the Gerstlaurs. Add
in the magnificent scenery (I'm BIG on scenery) and it's a total winner. If the drop after the tunnel had been steeper, this would be my out-and-out #1 over any other coaster, anywhere. It's that good. After a quick tour of the park it was all I wanted to do, and the
night rides were fabulous! The crowd was also kind of fun, giving me crap over my Laker t-shirt...thought that there would be more Laker
fans in Albuquerque, LOL! Anyways, get yourselves to New Mexico. In addition to being a beautiful state, they have one HELL of a woodie.
The last day of the trip began at 4:30 am. We had an 11-12 hour drive back to L.A. ahead of us and we also wanted to stop in Phoenix and get the two coasters at Castles & Coasters that had previously eluded me. The drive was the perfect opportunity to watch all three Lord of the Rings DVDs back-to-back-to-back, so we took advantage of it, which was a good diverson. The scenery between Albuquerque and Phoenix (via Flagstaff) is also outstanding, so the drive flew by.
We arrived in Phoenix an hour before the rides began operation, so we wandered across the street to the mall for lunch. Purchasing just
enough tickets for a ride on each coaster, we then had to endure the "we need X number of riders to run the ride" wait...argh, I hate that sh*t. We finally boarded Desert Storm and again were the guinea pigs for first ride of the day; guess they just dispatch it and hope it comes back. I suppose you save money on mechanics that way. Desert Storm was a stinky pile of poo, BTW. Pretty to look at but painful. Who the hell designed that second loop, what were they smoking, and why doesn't it fit together correctly like "normal" coasters do??
Patriot was the last coaster of the trip and was a pretty forgettable junior coaster. Oh yeah, did I mention it was 110 degrees out?
Phoenix? Check! Castles & Coasters? Check!
The remaining drive back to L.A. was uneventful, other than realizing how crowded L.A. is even on a Sunday and what bad drivers many in L.A. are. I dropped Tony off and was able to make it home before the Laker
game hit halftime. Good times!
Thanks go out to all the good parks on the trip for rocking, and especially to SeaWorld Texas and Extra-Especially to SFFT for being
great hosts. I love this part of the country and can't wait to get back to San Antonio, Dallas, and Branson. Oh, and Houston can fall
into the Gulf for all I care. ;-)
Big thank-yas out to Tony and Gator as well for going along with this crazy-ass plan and making it work so well. Love you guys! Now, how
about we drive to Canada next time? Or maybe Mexico City???
I am heading out to Branson this summer and can't wait to visit since I haven't been to SDC since I was 12 or so. Luckily I have relatives in the area that will hopefully put me up. :-)
Excellent TR, Bass...:)
I'm happy that the portion of the trip I was unable to make turned out as good as it did, and as for OzCat, "told ya so"...;)
The Hard Core Tour in '04 ROCKED!
Muchas gracias to Schnapps and Bass for inviting me, the food was excellent...and the rides were fun too! I will endevaor to set up a pbase account sometime today so that I can re-post here and include some (photo)graphic evidence of the mayhem...
gator, "easy to please, hard to satisfy"...aka "THAT guy"...:)
*** Edited 6/9/2004 4:50:16 PM UTC by rollergator***
Thanks for sharing!
It was kinda a bummer about Bell's, but it was nice to get home and get to the Doctor's office...(pulled abdominal muscle, from the stupid rope thing at Schlitterbahn is my best guess)...but now I can say that this post is brought to you through the magic of Flexerils...;)
bill, LOVES a good "light(n)ing package"...:)
And I have to say I was laughing hilariously to myself when you both got so excited about crossing that rope thing...I'm thinkin' to myself "no WAY I'm getting out of this lazy river to go exert myself like that!". ;-) *** Edited 6/9/2004 7:57:13 PM UTC by bassististist***
Great report, did you compose it with Word or something offline?
Where does one sign up for the Grand Coaster Trek 2005?
Are you guys gonna do a Four-Corners tour? How about a Three-Flags?
. *** Edited 6/10/2004 4:11:07 PM UTC by boblogone***
As for 2005, no idea what's on the books for then. In the interests of being more spontaneous, I've finally broken from my old habit of planning next summer's trips before THIS summer is over. :-) I sure do want to get to Dollywood, though...
all i gonna say is hope your not affraid of heights to ride this puppy.. rode it back in the day when it was at SFGAdv... and i hate heights. the platform shook when coaster launched. needless to say I hated this thing. plus the walk up the flights of steps with grid you can see through.
It is great to hear about SFoT being such a pleasant experience. That is my favorite Six Flags, and I'm pumped to hear it hasn't gone downhill as quickly as other parks in the chain.
I seriously shed a tear over you guys missing Zingo! (i'm a great guy-lol) Bell's is an awesome park run by a family who really cares about the important stuff. Hopefully we'll see that woodie they've been trying to get for so long in the next couple of years. It sucks that you missed Zingo!, but at least it didn't blow over during the storm. My parents lost two old, big trees and my old high school (Memorial) had many of it's windows blown out. Electricity in my old neighborhood was out for two days. Unreal! That never happens...
I'm not a big waterpark guy, but after reading how much fun you guys had at Schlitterbahn I must go! I've always wanted to check that place out, especially the "old" side. Those tube rides sound sick!
I was really hoping for a proper thunderstorm when I was back in the middle of the square states last weekend- sounds like you took 'em all!
Glad it was "that good"- again super TR.
Edit: Gator- where da pix? :)
Scott *** Edited 6/10/2004 6:58:14 PM UTC by Zingo!***
Signing up for the pbase account today (thanks to Tina for the help), should be able to get SOME of the pics up tonight....I'll post back to this thread when they're loaded out...
SFoT, when leaving..."this park IS good enough to warrant starting up an entire chain"....THAT good....:)
You have outdone yourself buddy. I really, really enjoyed reading this. Jeff called me last night and told me I had to read it. Now he is considering purchasing a portable DVD player because of your trip report. No joke!
We share some similar feelings towards rides you mentioned. However, I honestly loved Desert Storm. Yes, it is a very strange ride but I love unique rides. I didn't find it to be painful but I know others who have.
I think SFFT is the most beautiful park in the country. I love the cliff walls and having a large B&M diving off of them is always a good thing as well. =:^)
It sounds as if you guys are as insane as Jeff and I am. Speaking of, we were already planning one heck of a insane trip to do in August when Jeff calls me last night and decides to throw one of his sick ideas at me. I won't mention what he wants to do as it may fall through, but if it comes though, you can be sure i will do a trip report about it.
Where do Floridians go when they retire? New Braunfels of course...:)
Also, never try to upload pics from a dial-up connection....you'd have thought *I* would have known better. OK, maybe you wouldn't...;)
*** Edited 6/12/2004 6:24:49 AM UTC by rollergator***
Love the "Gator Cuts" and "other white meat" photos! LOL! The photos shot from afar of the coasters are beautiful. :-D
*** Edited 6/12/2004 5:20:15 PM UTC by coasterqueenTRN***
NMR... Oh to be you for a day, Mike. Just to be you. *sigh*
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