Saturday, June 27, 2009

Instant Theme Park: Just Add Quarry (Part 3)

Editor's Note: This post is the third in a three-part series covering my recent visit to Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 as well!

Before we dive headfirst into our last themed area at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, let's get something straight right now. A few weeks back when I published my significantly less tardy (though not as perfectly aged) Schlitterbahn TR, I proclaimed myself a newfound water park enthusiast. So I'm sure that more than a few of you are wondering why all of my magnificent White Water Bay photos have gone MIA. There's a simple explanation for that: White Water Bay was closed the day of our visit! [Apparently we're really good at that.] So there. I will tolerate no finger pointing, and I will entertain no accusations that I have grossly misled you about my quest to become boogie boarding champion of the world. Word is bond!

Since I have no White Water Bay TR to speak of, I will let you chew on the following fun facts instead. Yummy! [Not to be confused with "Yummy Yummy Fruit Salad". I have no idea what the heck that even means. Seriously.]

  • Fiesta Texas's water park made its debut a few short weeks after the park's grand opening in 1992.

  • It has gone by three different names during its brief 16-year history: The Ol' Waterin' Hole (1992-1998), Armadillo Beach (1999-2005), and White Water Bay (2006-present). Why the identity crisis? Personally, I don't see what was wrong with the original name.

  • White Water Bay's wave pool, Lone Star Lagoon, is shaped like the state of Texas. Don't mess with it.

  • Forget about 10-gallon hats! Texas Treehouse, a 5-story interactive water play structure, features a 1000-gallon cowboy hat which periodically dumps its watery contents on unsuspecting guests. Everything really is bigger in Texas!

  • They call it a "lazy" river, but names can be deceiving. White Water Canyon features whirlpools, rapids, and waterfalls, all as you wind through a series of cliffs.
In my previous post, I alluded to the fact that every "theme" park known to mankind features an area themed to the wild west. Except that I didn't "allude" to it so much as I flat out stated it. 'Cause it's true. (What is with this innate fascination with cowboys, saloons, and tumbleweeds, anyway?) The requisite western area at Six Flags Fiesta Texas goes by the name of Crackaxle Canyon.

Hackneyed or not, Fiesta Texas has managed to take the traditional wild west theme and kick it up a notch. Visually speaking, Crackaxle Canyon is easily the most impressive area of the park. Each and every ride, attraction, and building is brilliantly themed, and the quarry wall provides a magnificent and highly appropriate backdrop for all the action. It's everything a themed area should be.

Unlike other areas of Fiesta Texas, Crackaxle Canyon has seen few significant changes through the years. This is likely due to its location within the park, backed up against the quarry wall on one side and bordered by neighboring themed areas on all others. This lack of development has no doubt been a contributing factor in preserving the original theming.

As far as "big" rides go, Road Runner Express is as new as it gets in Crackaxle Canyon. This family favorite, which made its debut in 1997, has its own claim to fame: It was the last Arrow mine train ever constructed. [Single tear...I heart mine trains!]

If you think back to those classic cartoons where the ever nefarious Wile E. Coyote is on a mission to destroy his arch-nemesis the Road Runner, you'll have a good sense of how this ride is themed. Weaving up and around the quarry wall and tangling with its neighbor the Rattler on numerous occasions, Road Runner Express delivers an action-packed ride with all the herky-jerky goodness of your typical mine train.

Across from Road Runner Express is the Sundance Theatre, one of the many uber impressive entertainment venues at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. You know a park is all about live entertainment when they hand you a daily show schedule at the entrance! But I expected no less from the park which has won Amusement Today's Golden Ticket Award in the "Best Shows" category for 10 consecutive years.

Sadly, we did not have the opportunity to enjoy any of Fiesta Texas's major productions during our visit (although we did catch bits and pieces of some of the smaller shows). It was a short day, and I simply couldn't manage to squeeze a show into my riding/tweeting/photographing schedule. It's a shame, but sometimes you just have to pick your battles. Something tells me they aren't in need of my seal of approval!

Are those stairs drooling? Gross...

We may be in the wild west, but there's no need to worry about robberies on this train! Whistle Stop treats its passengers to a leisurely, scenic journey that takes them around the perimeter of Spassburg and right through the quarry wall.

Few things could make this scene more visually stunning. I suppose if they added three waterfalls that cascade off the top of the quarry wall, that might look pretty freakin' sweet. Oh wait, they already HAVE those! I even see evidence that they exist. So why the heck weren't they turned on?! I feel cheated! I've been deprived of the full Fiesta Texas experience!!

Seriously, the waterfalls really do exist, and I sincerely hope that they were simply turned off on the day of our visit as a cost saving measure due to the light crowds. It would be an absolute crime if they were removed altogether, and an equally appalling crime if they were not removed and Six Flags has simply chosen not to use them. But I have hope that they are alive and well, for they were drawn on the park map! And if it's in print, it must be true...

In terms of this park visit, my regrets are few. But the biggest one has got to be the fact that we took a pass on the Gully Washer. This rapids ride, whose water is tinted a beautifully gory shade of red for the park's annual Halloween Fright Fest event, is one of Fiesta Texas's signature attractions and its setting is bar none. Nestled among the rocks and trees, weaving alongside the quarry wall and beneath the very structure of the Rattler, Gully Washer has a natural visual appeal that other parks can only hope to manufacture for their rapids rides.

If it weren't for that whole "being soaked all day" thing, I would have been first in line to challenge these rapids. But water and electronics don't mix, so I was forced to take every precaution to keep my various high-tech reporting gadgets safe and dry. [The truth of the matter is that I'm a ginormous wuss when it comes to being wet all day. But that's a rather embarrassing admission for an enthusiast, so let's just stick with the "high-tech gadgets" excuse. Okay?]

And last but not least: The Rattler. The poor, carved up, misunderstood Rattler. This coaster's reputation precedes it, so I was under no illusions about what I was getting myself into. While en route to Fiesta Texas, I administered the following stern briefing in the car.

"Look, here's how it's gonna go down. This coaster is going to be miserable. It's going to be miserable and disappointing, but we're gonna suck it up. We're gonna sit in the FRONT seat of a car, apologize in advance to our spines, and get it over with. And that will be that."

So you can imagine my reaction when, during our first lap around the park, we arrived at the entrance to find the notorious "This attraction is temporarily closed" sign hanging dejectedly beneath that signature serpentine logo.

"Nooooooooooo! Why is it closed?!! This is so unfair. I'll never be in Texas EVER again! This thing better open by the end of the day or I'm gonna cry. I'm gonna throw a temper tantrum! I'm gonna call up Mark Shapiro and tell him that he now owes me two ice cream cones!!"

Yeah. Y'all know what I'm talking about.

"Please come ride me. Please! I was built to thrill! I'm not such a bad fellow!"

That was the moment when I realized exactly how much this particular coaster intrigues me. It was simultaneously the ride I was dreading the most and the ride I was anticipating the most. Fortunately (or not?), it did open later that day. I squealed with delight when I spied an empty train making a test run as we waited to board the Whistle Stop. [See above. Sorry, no sound effects.]

"Do you see it? Do you see where they chopped FORTY-TWO FEET off my first drop?! Oh, the humanity!"

I came. I saw. I rattled. When the train finally came to a stop--a freakishly abrupt, organ-crushing, ejection quality stop--I found myself sitting on the brake run in what could best be described as a stunned silence. What the heck was that? This coaster has no personality!

My husband was a bit more vocal on the matter. In the most calm, cool, overdramatic way imaginable, he slowly turned to me and asked, "Did the people who designed this coaster have any idea what they were doing?" I told him that's not really fair, considering that Rattler has probably been reprofiled more times than our combined number of years on this planet. But he has a point: This coaster was lost in translation.

"Look how picturesque I am! I was built to dominate this skyline. Why, oh why have they ruined me?"

In an unprecedented act of masochism, I immediately got back in line for another spin because quite frankly, I just didn't "get" it. I sat closer to the back the second time (bad idea), but the experience was very much the same. Not necessarily terrible, mind you. There are definitely some bright spots to this coaster, particularly in the latter half of the course. And to be perfectly honest, it wasn't anywhere near as uncomfortable as I had expected. Rough in spots? Yes. Son of Beast caliber? <expletive deleted> no!!

"Help me, Mark Shapiro! You're my only hope!"

The problem with Rattler is that it has quite literally lost its identity. Since I never had the opportunity to experience this coaster in all of its raw original glory, I can't speak to whether the rounds upon rounds of modifications were truly necessary. But they sure didn't do a lot for the ride experience. This coaster is now in need of a different kind of help, a la the Texas Giant treatment. Surely there is something that could be done for it that would split the difference between comfort and thrills!

Top ten contender or not--and sadly, we all know the answer--Rattler has taken up a special place in my heart. Consider me emotionally invested! I'd love to see Six Flags partner up with a company that can go back to the drawing board with this ride and figure out how to fix it the right way. It's such a unique coaster, with its terrain-based layout and proximity to the quarry wall. And it is massive to boot! With all those things going for it, Rattler should be awesome. Period. And it could be...with a little TLC.

Before I wrap this up, I need to give a shout out to my peeps at Six Flags Mercado. Continuing in the fine tradition of all the other friendly park employees we encountered during our visit, this team went out of their way to hook me up with a much desired souvenir park map from a few years ago, and then gave me a 25% discount on my entire purchase because they felt bad for making me wait so long! [Little did they know exactly how long I was willing to wait...] Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the "new" Six Flags.

Met the most intriguing older man at the park. Magnificent dancer, he was. Swept me right off my feet. Shhh....Don't tell my husband!

I'm a tough critic. I bust Six Flags' chops about many things, not the least of which are brochures, ride names, and their ever-inflated ice cream prices. But there's a term for that, folks. It's called "tough love". This chain is on the upswing, and the better they get, the higher I'm going to raise the bar.

Aside from a few minor annoyances, I had a fabulous time at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. And I liked what I saw. The fresh paint, clean midways and restrooms, and friendly employees were telltale signs that this park--and indeed, the entire chain--is destined for bigger and better things. I was also pleased to see that a great majority of the fabulous theming I've read so much about is still very much intact. The "new" Six Flags would be wise to build upon that solid foundation and use it as a model for the rest of their parks. Fiesta Texas stands as proof that a little theming can go a long way!

For even more Six Flags Fiesta Texas photos, check out our public album on Facebook!