Travel Note

17th August 2018

My morning began with a business meeting in the San Antonio area that concluded shortly before lunch time. Driving back to the office ninety miles away didn't make a lot of sense with my overnight hotel nearby, and given that I decided to take a half day and ride some roller coasters. There were three new credits for me in the general area, and I figured that seven hours would be more than enough to tick them all off on a weekday. The 37°C temperature and ninety percent humidity ensured that both my stops were pretty quiet, leaving me ample time to catch up with old favourites too.

 

SeaWorld San Antonio

17th August 2018

My visit to SeaWorld San Antonio started in a rather inauspicious manner with the discovery that the newest coaster and prime reason for dropping in was out of service due to technical problems. The problem had evidently only just happened, as was evidenced by people leaving the queue. I considered taking a seat in the shade with a cold drink, but after brief contemplation decided instead to do some other rides to pass the time.

Wave Broken

There was a partially loaded train in the station for Steel Eel, and rather than wait for a cycle for front seat I decided to take an open row towards the middle. This was definitely the right approach, as the operators were waiting for a full train prior to dispatch. In due course they made two passes from front to back, the first for seatbelts and the second for lap bars, and sent us on our way. The ride wasn't particularly thrilling, but it was smooth and comfortable, and the hard landings referenced in my 2008 report were completely absent. The sensation of speed largely made up for the lack of airtime, and while I didn't do a second lap I'd have gladly marathoned the ride for a few hours in cooler weather.

Great White was at the other end of the intensity scale. Once again the ride was waiting for passengers when I approached, and though the prime seats were gone I was able to claim an outside seat in row three. From that location the ride experience was very powerful indeed; from the moment the train reached full speed I began to feel pins and needles in my feet, and that sensation continued all the way to the brake run. The tracking was perfectly smooth despite the strong forces, a testament to the quality of the design and manufacturing. (As an aside, I've since learned that the ride was the first roller coaster to be built at a SeaWorld park, and twenty-one years later it remains the only inverted model in the family.)

I arrived back at Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster (#2491) just as a staff member was putting the out-of-service sign away. It turned out that a small group of hardy guests had camped out in the queue from the earlier breakdown, but they filled only the first few rows leaving me with a spot towards the back of the train on the left hand side. The seat design looked at first glance like that found on Jet Rescue, though closer inspection revealed that it had been enhanced with a step behind each row to allow guests to board without undue contortion, something particularly valuable in a part of the world where all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants are commonplace.

The ride began with a short video talking about turtle rescue, something very high up on the agenda of roller coaster riders throughout the world. The speech concluded with a five second countdown and a moderately powerful tyre drive launch over a large hill, followed by a series of low side-to-side turns above water. A second bank of tyres gave the train a boost into the same basic pattern, ending in a set of magnetic brakes which brought the train to a smooth stop. The experience was definitely in family coaster territory, but enjoyable enough for me to go back for a second lap. I was next in line when the ride broke down again, and as I was in the shade I decided I'd wait. A few minutes later however the operators decided to clear the station, which I took as my cue to leave.

 

Six Flags Fiesta Texas

17th August 2018

The most direct driving route from SeaWorld San Antonio to Six Flags Fiesta Texas is along Loop 1604, a four-lane freeway that can become very busy at peak times. My trusty GPS advised an alternate course along a series of back roads, which it predicted would require twenty-six minutes. It was wrong; the actual journey took twenty-five. I'd clearly chosen my day well; all but one of the toll booths at the parking entrance were closed, and once through it became apparent that the lot was virtually empty. There were spaces available at the front where people had already left for the day, and I managed to claim one less than a hundred metres away from the entrance, something I've never been able to do before (and probably will never do again) at a Six Flags park.

Batman

There were two coasters on my hit list today, and I decided to do the one that I was less enthusiastic about first. Batman the Ride (#2492) is now one of seven worldwide installations of the S&S Free Spin Coaster, a ride style that I continue to think of as a flat ride on a track. My last encounter with the type was not happy one, and given that I took my seat with more than a little trepidation. The experience was less aggressive than I'd expected, but it was still quite hard on my middle-aged stomach, leaving me more than a little unsettled by the time we hit the final brake at the end of the course. After disembarking I stood at the exit for a while to regain equilibrium, and watched amused as an airborne park map serenely floated its way back to earth.

In due course I made my way across to the park's latest coaster, a prototype design from Rocky Mountain Construction and the world premiere of so-called Raptor Track. I'd seen photographs of Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster (#2493) online prior to my visit, but they had somehow failed to do justice to the majestic insanity of the layout, which in Roller Coaster Tycoon parlance would be considered "Ultra-Extreme". A first drop of one hundred feet and change at a ninety degree angle was just the start; as I stood watching an eight-car train raced across an airtime hill at a ridiculous speed, its passengers visibly rising sharply out of their seats.

The ride has been marketed as the world's first single rail coaster, a fine sounding claim that is unfortunately completely untrue. Dutch company Caripro produced several rides with a single rail between 1997-2001, the best of which can be found at Skyline Park in Germany. Other manufacturers also came up with their own equivalents in the late noughties; Beijing Shibaolai copied the basic design in 2008, and Premier Rides installed a prototype in South Carolina that same year. This is not the first time that alternative facts have been put forward by marketing teams in the amusement industry, and I'm sure it won't be the last, but it saddens me even still. On a happier note, however, I can't help but be slightly amused at the irony of blatant prevarication being used to promote a ride themed after a character who stands for truth and justice.

Each car seats a single passenger, meaning that efficient loading is a must in order to keep throughput high. In pursuit of this aim the station has several rows of numbers from one through eight, which guests are asked to stand on. One row at a time is then sent into a loading queue, where guests take their seats in sequence even as the train continues to move slowly. Today it was in this area where things were getting muddled, as guests moving in and out of it threw the count off. On all three of my rides my pre-boarding position bore absolutely no relation to where I ended up sitting, though this worked in my favour when I was able to swap a middle seat for a front row. Operators were on hand to check seatbelts and take loose objects which were stored in cages on the right hand side of the station.

The vehicle design is a new one with a few rough edges that will presumably be smoothed out in future installations. The biggest issue for me was the lack of headrests; I found that I had to sit slightly forward to stop the hard top of the car pushing into my neck. The restraint is a pull down lap bar with soft shoulder straps that looked at first glance like the awful "comfort collars" at SeaWorld San Diego, though I'm glad to report that they could be lifted out of the way in order to sit down and that they did not impact the ride comfort in any way.

Wonder Woman

The trains are pushed out of the station by kicker wheels, as the chain lift only starts around five feet up the incline. The ascent to the top is rapid, and from the apex the experience turns into a blur as the ride layout delivers a blend of extremely powerful positive G curves with ejector seat airtime. The track is mostly if not completely smooth; there are a few bumps in places, but they are not sufficient to impact the experience. The result is incredible, and one of the only rides I've been on in recent years that has elicited a not-entirely-voluntary expletive as we hit the brake run. Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster now features among my favourite steel coasters of all time, and I'd strongly encourage any park owners who might be reading this to consider investing in their own versions.

There was only one other ride on my list today, namely the Crow's Nest ferris wheel. Sadly it was not available to me, as the operator apologetically told me that park regulations prohibit single riders. I hung around for a few minutes in the hope of latching onto another group, but after a while it became apparent that this was a fool's errand. With nothing else on my list I decided to retire to the air conditioned comfort of my rental car, followed soon after by the local Hard Rock Café.