Thursday, June 25, 2009

Instant Theme Park: Just Add Quarry (Part 2)

Editor's Note: This post is the second in a three-part series covering my recent visit to Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 3 as well!

When we last parted ways, I was trying to put the "Germany" back in Spassburg. I'm not sure I succeeded, but it was a noble effort if I must say so myself! Now we move on to an area of Six Flags Fiesta Texas which needs considerably less help finding its identity: Los Festivales.

Colorful buildings, strings of lights, and a statue of a Folklorico dancer are but some of the sights that greet you after you pass through Fiesta Texas's gates. If first impressions are everything, this park has it made. Los Festivales, which pays tribute to neighboring Mexico, is one of the original themed areas at Fiesta Texas and provides a taste of what the original owners were trying to achieve with their new theme park.

Who were the original owners? Well I'll tell you, since you asked. It's actually a two-part answer. Fiesta Texas was built by the USAA Real Estate Company (a subsidiary of the San Antonio-based USAA corporation), which owned the property and remained the majority owner of the park. Minority owner Gaylord Entertainment (of Opryland USA fame) handled the management duties.

Fiesta Texas was built to be a show park--both literally and figuratively--and its extensive theming and focus on entertainment turned more than a few heads during the park's early years. In fact, the amount of attention it garnered is pretty amazing considering that Fiesta Texas boasted only 15 amusement rides and a smattering of water park attractions when it opened in 1992. But that figure wouldn't stand for very long.

In 1996, Gaylord Entertainment sold its stake in the park back to USAA (which consequently became the sole owner) and management of Fiesta Texas was handed over to Time Warner. Enter the Six Flags brand. And of course we all know how the rest of the story goes. Premier Parks purchased both Six Flags Inc. and the recently rechristened Six Flags Fiesta Texas in 1998, and the rest is history. Well...Technically everything I just told you is history. But why split hairs?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest Boomerang of them all?

Time to get back on track (so to speak). Since it occupies the entrance area of the park, Los Festivales is rather light on the ride count. There are two, to be exact. But both involve track!

First up is Boomerang. (Can ya guess what type of coaster it is? Huh? Huh? Can ya??) As far as head-banging Vekoma torture devices go, this one takes the prize for flashiest color scheme and best landscaping. If you're going to willfully subject yourself to one of these for the sake of a credit (and you know you are), it might as well be a pretty one, eh? Walk-on rides are also appreciated. Check, check, and hello credit. Moving on!

Los Festivales is also home to the newest member of the Fiesta Texas coaster family, Bat--GOLIATH. (Whew. That was close.) I think I had better brush up on my history, because I don't recall "Goliath" being an ancient Aztec name. (Come to think of it, I've never met a Mexican named "Boomerang" either.) But to heck with semantics. Let's just enjoy the fact that both of these coasters look spectacular. That bright yellow paint doesn't lie, my friends! Perhaps it's my imagination, but I even felt that this particular installation delivered a better ride than some of its clones.

Does it quack like a duck?

I'm told that this twice transplanted B&M can't be labeled a "parking lot coaster" because of its entrance plaza and grassy surroundings. I'm not convinced. While I sincerely appreciate Six Flags' efforts to incorporate Goliath into its themed area, the fact remains that it was installed in the parking lot! And I don't necessarily mean that as a criticism. This is simply one of those cases where "it is what it is". I guess after you've ridden a coaster across the park that brings you within a stone's throw of a magnificent quarry wall, your expectations just change.

In addition to coasters, entertainment venues, and shops, Los Festivales is also the home of the $13 ice cream special! [Actually, I believe it was closer to $14.] That's right, ladies and gentlemen. For just an arm, a leg, and a firstborn, you too can savor two tiny dishes of the ever flavorful Ben & Jerry's! WOW. I know Ben & Jerry's is expensive to begin with, but my wallet literally jumped out of my pocket and started running for the hills when it heard that figure.

If Mark Shapiro holds another blogger conference call, perhaps I'll suggest that he should treat me to an ice cream the next time I bump into him at a park. [Preferably vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles. Just thought I'd throw that out.] His paycheck is most likely bigger than mine, and after all, the purchase would ultimately benefit his company. Besides, the more money I save on ice cream, the more money I have to squander elsewhere in the park. So you see, everybody comes out a winner. It's a brilliant plan, really.

But I digress. Our whirlwind tour of Los Festivales is el finito! Since we've already covered the middle of the park, let's take a giant leap to the back to check out Fiesta Bay Boardwalk. (As a tour guide, I'm sporadic at best!) Perhaps we'll stumble upon some fun diversions along the way.

Oh. My. GOD!!! Speaking of everybody coming out a winner... I could win a cape just by participating in a game? My wildest dreams had just come true. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nothing spells fun like a cape.

Conversely, nothing spells frustration like a game booth full of empty seats! Each and every time I stumbled across one of these fanciful cape-dispensing games, there were no potential competitors in sight. Such is the downside of visiting a park on a slow day. But the story has a happy ending, because I banked that $5 I saved and I fully intend to put it toward half a spoonful of ice cream the next time I visit a theme park. With the accrued interest, I should be able to afford that much.

Fiesta Bay Boardwalk, added in 1994, was the last notable achievement of the USAA/Gaylord team before they parted ways. True to its name, this area attempts to capture the aura of a traditional seaside amusement area. Boardwalk favorites such as a Ferris wheel (Crow's Nest), pirate ship (S.S. Overboard), and scrambler (Wave Runner) fit nicely into this setting. I'd say this is one of the most consistently themed areas of Fiesta Texas.

Traces of more extensive theming are evident throughout Fiesta Bay Boardwalk. First off, it's a boardwalk! Really! And that boardwalk is lined with decorative touches such as palm trees and fishing nets.

"Raggy, relp!!"

But if we're going to be brutally honest here, Fiesta Bay Boardwalk is a shadow of its former self. Flashback to 1994: Paddle boats floated alongside the boardwalk. There was a miniature golf course. What is now the site of Scooby-Doo Ghostblasters was a roller skating rink.

Sounds quaint, right? I thought so too! Yet each of those attractions only lasted a handful of seasons. Whether that was due to poor patronage or poor decisions by the previous management team, I haven't a clue. But it's a shame, because this beautiful area of Fiesta Texas is no longer being used to its full potential.

The star of Fiesta Bay Boardwalk these days is none other than Tony Hawk's Big Spin, which sits in the location formerly occupied by Joker's Revenge. I must say, this was one of the nicest surprises of the trip for me. I was fully prepared to take motion sickness to a whole 'notha level on this coaster, but it never happened. It's just plain fun!

The cars are designed to resemble skateboards. They even have fake wheels! This ramp is a nice effect too.

Those are some sick laterals.

Crazy as this may sound, the Big Spin felt like a Big Tilt-A-Whirl. And anyone who has visited a park with me knows that the Tilt-A-Whirl is the one spin-and-barf ride that I simply can't resist, regardless of how dizzy it occasionally make me. [No blonde jokes, please!] There's just something about them that gives me that little tingle in the pit of my stomach, and Tony Hawk's Big Spin had the same effect. I found that boarding the car sitting backwards provided the better ride experience, although you don't stay that way for long!

Fiesta Bay Boardwalk is a charming area. But how about some water back there, Six Flags? I'm having a hard time suspending my disbelief when I look around and all I see are bone dry quarry walls. This boardwalk needs a seashore! I'd really love to see Six Flags restore this area of Fiesta Texas to its former glory.

The end of our tour draws near, my friends. But wait! Something is missing. It's that one themed area that is duplicated in every single theme park known to mankind. It's wild. It's western. And by the time we're through, you'll be thoroughly rattled. Stay tuned...


Chris said...

Really enjoying the updates so far. As a fan of dark rides, I'd call the Scooby Doo a major improvement over the skating rink. It's also arguably an improvement in terms of theme as well; as many seaside boardwalk piers featured these types of rides (I can name a few off the various piers in NJ; including Morey's, and Seaside Heights). I'm at least pleased that Six Flags has kept the theming in place; albeit changing a few names.

Sabrina said...

I agree, dark rides fit the boardwalk motif very well. My family vacationed in Wildwood when I was very young and I can still remember the gargantuan haunted houses they used to have on the boardwalk there. And roller skating isn't exactly the sensation it was back in the '80s! So yeah, I'm down with that decision. Glad you're having as much fun reading the story as I am telling it!