Travel Note

2nd March 2019

I'd planned to start my Saturday morning at the Park at OWA, and dutifully set out from my overnight base in Tallahassee with the aim of arriving there a few minutes before the advertised 11:00am opening time. Unfortunately I'd completely missed the fact that Alabama (and indeed the north-west corner of Florida) is in Central Time rather than Eastern Time, an embarrassing blunder that set me on course to be an hour early. I was already on the interstate by the time I realised my mistake. I thought about taking a nap in a rest area, but decided to reorder my day to visit Track Family Fun Park first.

 

Track Family Fun Park

2nd March 2019

There are five separate Track Family Fun Parks located around the south-eastern United States. Each features an arcade, several go kart tracks, and a number of amusement rides. As of this writing the only one of the five to have a roller coaster is the branch in Gulf Shores, which acquired its compact spinning coaster from the defunct Pier Park Amusement Rides in nearby Panama City Beach.

Track

Spinning Coaster (#2578) has the same station fascia as the first example of the genre that premiered at the IAAPA expo in late 2013. I can't speak for whether it's the same physical unit or not, but it certainly could be; I don't think I've seen that exact design anywhere else. Today the front car was out of service, so I took a seat in the back for ten laps that (for the second time in as many days) had fairly respectable spinning. An individual ticket cost me $7, which was a definite improvement over what it cost me to embarrass myself at Andretti Thrill Park.

 

Park at OWA

2nd March 2019

OWA, or "big water" in the local patois, is a relatively new retail, sports, and shopping complex developed by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in the south-eastern corner of Alabama, just ten miles away from the Florida border. The initial investment of $240 million has been used to construct a range of shops, an amusement park, and a hotel – and there's more to come; a water park has already been announced, and the master plan also includes condominiums and an RV park.

The Park at OWA occupies half a million square feet of space in the south-eastern corner of the site. The twenty-one rides are all standard models straight from the Zamperla catalogue, including three roller coasters; an 80STD, a Spinning Mouse, and a copy of the Coney Island Thunderbolt that runs down the center of the park. Other major attractions include an Air Race, a Disk'O Coaster, an Endeavor, a Vertical Swing, and a WindstarZ. Access to the rides today was via a wristband, which I suspect to have been a recent change, as there was a sign at the exit reminding returning guests to get a hand stamp before leaving. Today this wasn't needed; visitors could come and go as they pleased.

The place is very neat, but bland; the various attractions have been installed on concrete slabs, and though trees have been planted along the midways it will be a few years at least before they have grown enough to make the place look visually appealing. At the moment there is almost no shade anywhere in the park; virtually all of the benches and queuing areas are exposed to the elements, constituting a major failing in a part of the world where summer temperatures regularly reach 32°C. Even on a cooler day the park doesn't merit more than a few hours at most; I was content with ninety minutes, which was more than enough to ride everything I wanted to at a relaxed pace.

I began my visit with Rollin' Thunder (#2579), the park's signature coaster. The ride looks little different to its New York cousin at first glance, but closer inspection reveals some obvious upgrades. The trains have been given B&M-style soft vest restraints in place of the loose fitting shoulder straps on the original, and the lap bar no longer tilts back and forth ensuring a more comfortable fit. The track fabrication seems to have been improved too; I only noticed two severe bumps on the course, an order of magnitude less than I'd expected. That being said, both of my rides were in the front row; it's possible that the experience elsewhere in the train might have been different.

Rolling Thunder

The ride layout is excellent. A vertical lift and drop straight into a loop is nothing special these days, but it is what happens next that really thrills – the designers have managed to shoehorn three more inversions and a bunch of airtime hills into a 900x50 foot box while maintaining a steady pace throughout. There are no dead spots from the apex of the lift until the final brake, which uses a bank of magnets to bring the train to a smooth rather than a sudden stop. It was good to see two separate walkways underneath the track, allowing non-riders to get very close to the action; I spent a good ten minutes camped out on one waiting for the above photograph.

Coaster number two had full size giraffe and elephant-shaped planters in its track area. Southern Express (#2580) was being operated by an extremely friendly lady who quickly realised that my accent wasn't local. She asked me where I was from, and was quite surprised by the answer; I guess Irish people don't make it to Alabama all that often. I decided to leave the front seat for the children queuing with me, settling into car four for three enjoyable laps of what became my thirty-first version of this layout. With that complete I went for two back to back laps on the Crazy Mouse (#2581), the compact version of the design with one less switchback on each level.

I'd intended to ride the Alabama Wham'A, an Endeavor with single person cars unlike the double version found at my home park, but my stomach wasn't cooperating with me and it was fairly evident that the only way to change that was to eat something. Instead therefore my final ride of the morning became Freedom Flyer, a star flyer equivalent with two person cars. The ride was a standard one, but for one thing; when we came to a halt my restraint released automatically rather than requiring an operator with a key. This innovation made no difference today, though the time saved would definitely do good things for throughput at busier parks.

 

Travel Note

2nd March 2019

After leaving the Park at OWA I drove two miles up the road for lunch at Lambert's Cafe, described succinctly as a Cracker Barrel variant where the waiters throw bread rolls across the restaurant to enthusiastic guests. The concept is evidently popular, with all three branches regularly sporting waits in excess of an hour. The queue today was around half that, and it was worth it; the food was good, and the atmosphere amazing. Those in the area shouldn't miss it.

Lamberts

 

Sam's Fun City

2nd March 2019

I was about twenty minutes away from Sam's Fun City when the heavens opened in spectacular fashion. The downpour was still underway when I arrived, but a quick check of Carrot revealed that it should stop in around eleven minutes, starting again thirty-six minutes later – a frighteningly specific prediction made all the more terrifying by the fact that it was almost completely accurate. I decided to read a chapter of my book while I waited for the worst to clear; by the time I was done the conditions had improved to a slight drizzle.

Emerald Coaster is one of a number of elderly Pinfari machines to have been shipped out to the New World in recent years. This particular unit operated for three decades in the United Kingdom, most recently at Ocean Beach Pleasure Park where I caught up with it in 2007. Nowadays it is run at the start of each hour until the queue is clear, but only in dry weather, which had the potential to ruin my afternoon. Fortunately a member of staff identified me as a coaster enthusiast, and agreed to run it before the rain came back, a privilege that was very much appreciated. The ride was a standard one, but enjoyable, and I very much enjoyed my two laps. (Tickets cost $8; readers should be aware that the final brake at the end of the course is pretty harsh; bracing is strongly recommended).

 

Race City PCB

2nd March 2019

There is a long tradition of elderly New Yorkers retiring to Florida to live out their golden years. Virtually all of the migrants into the panhandle have been either human or canine; the one significant exception to the rule has been an SDC-built roller coaster. Hurricane was a pretty rough ride when I first caught up with it at Adventureland in 2006, and one suspects that it had become even more temperamental by the time it was disassembled at the end of 2014. Many enthusiasts had expected the hardware to be scrapped, but in a surprising move it was acquired by a small family park on the shores of Panama City Beach that restored it to as-new condition.

The reconstituted Hurricane has been installed at the front of Race City PCB, adjacent to the main road, from where its fifty-nine foot apex acts as a billboard to attract passing motorists. Unlike its brother in Texas the six dollar ride can operate with just one passenger on board (though today at least they were required to be in the front car). This isn't where I'd have chosen to sit on a ride best known for having a ridiculously steep twisted second drop, but I had no choice in the matter; maybe next time I'm in the area I'll get a back seat ride in. The experience was very good nevertheless, and an enjoyable way to finish my evening.

Hurricane