SeaWorld San Antonio

20th August 2021

When I arrived at my hotel last night I sat down to purchase a SeaWorld season pass online. The advertised price was more or less the same as individual day tickets for the four chain parks featured in my itinerary, and I figured that it’d be no harm to have free access to the others available to me in the event that I found myself back in the United States within twelve months.

The process was far from simple. On my first attempt, I got to the very final stage of purchasing only to discover that the product in my cart was officially only available to residents of a long list of US states. To resolve this, I changed the address in my profile to my parents’ apartment in New York, and attempted to use a US-issued debit card to make the purchase. This was declined, as was my Irish Visa card. Eventually I got the purchase to go through with my Irish MasterCard, which makes very little sense given that it definitely doesn’t have a US billing address.

The order confirmation featured language stating that a SeaWorld San Antonio pass was only for sale to residents of Texas, though this clearly wasn’t being enforced as I was able to buy one with a billing address safely located outside of the Lone Star State. The electronic pass worked without issue, though once at the park I took the precaution of exchanging it for a printed one at a self-service kiosk just in case any of the other parks wanted to challenge me.

In parallel to this I received an email informing me that I'd signed up for an auto-renewing subscription that would automatically charge me once a year until explicitly cancelled. This was not made clear at any point in the purchasing process, and represents sharp practice on behalf of the SeaWorld chain. I attempted to cancel the auto renew immediately but was unable to do so because the provided link didn’t work – it was only a week or so later when I tried again that I was able to end the subscription I didn’t ask for successfully.

At the published opening time the park played The Star-Spangled Banner over its PA system, during which the vast majority of people in my sightline kept their hands on their hearts. This is something I’ve always found a bit odd about the United States; I’ve never heard a theme park in any other country play a national anthem to welcome their visitors. I decided to ask a question about it on Reddit, and got insights back from both sides of the proverbial fence, a valuable reminder of just how polarised American politics truly is:

"I’m from the U.S. and couldn’t agree more but try to say that to literally anyone and they flip and tell you if you don’t love this country then you need to leave. It’s really wild the way we indoctrinate children who can’t learn their way out of it as they get older."

"I know I’m going to get downvoted but America is the epitome of freedom which was paid for in blood and it’s sad to see so many citizens take that for granted. So many in here see the anthem as an annoyance or brainwashing but taking a minute out of your day to pay respects to those who lost everything for your right to ride roller coasters all day is pretty cool imo."

As things turned out my arrival at opening time proved entirely pointless, as everything I might actually have wanted to ride was closed. The kids area was available, including Super Grover's Box Car Derby, but that was more or less it; signage at Steel Eel indicated that it was supposed to be open from 10:00am, but it was playing a recorded spiel about technical difficulties and recommending that guests wait for other attractions. I eventually determined that the southern half of the park was closed until 11:00am, a fact that isn’t advertised; I only found out after finding staff blocking the paths on both sides of the lake. I did a photo walkabout then found a shaded bench to wait, my irritation rising; I’d have been far happier with another hour in bed.

Super Grover

At the appointed time we were told to “have a whale of a day”. I was ahead of the multitudes, so I walked straight into the queue for Wave Breaker. Somehow I still managed to miss the front seat, as a pair of guests walked through the Quick Queue line (which was closed) and made it into the station before I did. Before the gates opened, an operator made a PA announcement stating that fanny packs were not allowed on board and could not be left on the station. This turned out to be a standard policy across the park, and an unequivocally guest hostile one; there are decently big cubbies available at most of the park’s major rides (admittedly not on Wave Breaker, but the point holds) yet bags may not be left in them. I suppose this sells more lockers, but at what cost to overall guest satisfaction?

The ride itself was enjoyable. I’m quite fond of Intamin’s jet ski design, first introduced to the world in 2008 at the (completely unrelated) Sea World park in Australia, and I think it’s a huge shame that only two versions have opened to the public; a third example installed at Wonderland Eurasia has never operated, and at this stage I think it’s safe to say that it never will. Wave Breaker is a custom model rather than a standard version, and it’s fast, thrilling, and fun. I particularly like the way that most of it is constructed over water.

With that done, I headed for the ride that I’d driven to Texas for in the first place. Texas Stingray (#2936) was the only new wood coaster to open in 2020, premiering a few short weeks before the pandemic shut the world down. The ride took over what was originally an area of thick trees, and while a small number were retained the vast majority were removed. There are several points in the layout where a bit more green (or theming of any kind) would add immensely to the experience. Sadly for now at least a light gravel surface represents the extent of the scenery.

The ride itself is a fairly typical GCI. There’s not a lot of airtime to be had, or indeed strong forces of any kind, but the pacing is good and the twisted layout keeps interest throughout. A enclosed section towards the end (“tunnel” hardly applies since it’s all above ground) feels a little like an afterthought, but it doesn’t harm the experience. I managed five laps overall, two in the front and three in the back. I thought the front to be the better choice on the whole, as the back lost a little too much speed on the hill after the first drop, but for most of the layout the seat position makes no perceptible difference. I’d have done more laps but for the heat, which was doing my Irish constitution no favours.

Steel Eel

My third stop was at Great White, which I can't help but think of as “Sharkman: The Ride”. This was walk-on, and I was instructed to take a front seat; I was told that they had to load from front to back to avoid the train getting stuck on course. The ride was fine, though there was a definite rattle in places that didn’t arise on the St Louis Batman a few days ago. The forces were also a little less dramatic; perhaps this version hasn’t been maintained quite as well. One curiosity I noticed was that the motors on the way out of the station were numbered and labelled with a big capital M (for motor, presumably). I can only assume that this helps maintenance staff tell the difference between them and typewriters.

I took a back seat for one lap on Steel Eel, which looked resplendent with a shiny new coat of paint. Unfortunately, the base of each drop had a spine-crunching impact that eliminated any desire I might have had to go back for a second or a third lap. Instead, I decided to do something really really stupid...


In The Game Funtrackers

20th August 2021

In the days before my trip a brand new coaster turned up at In The Game Funtrackers, a small family entertainment centre located in Corpus Christi in south-eastern Texas. Fitting it into my route was not sensible, but it was possible at the cost of almost three hours of extra driving. Rather than roll the dice I decided to call ahead to find out if the coaster was operating, and having received a positive response I decided that I should do a service for the enthusiast community by going there to photograph it.

As things turned out the time requirement for the journey was considerably shorter than Google Maps had predicted, mainly because the local populace are apparently incapable of reading speed limit signs. After being overtaken at least a dozen times over a five minute period, including one occasion with enhanced gesticulation and audio feedback, I decided to configure my car to use radar-based cruise control and focus attention on the steering wheel.

Storm Chaser (#2937) is a shiny new SBF figure eight spinner with that rarest of features: a theme not (currently) found elsewhere. Presentation aside, however, it is an entirely standard ride, with a four lap cycle costing $7. I was the only person riding today, though the operator told me that I could could come back after dark if I wanted to experience a full train. I didn’t have the heart to admit that I was driving to a hotel almost five hours away.

In the Game