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How not to plan a trip to a theme park: Iron Rattler edition

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Published: May 6, 2013 at 2:35 PM

For the past several months the Six Flags Fiesta Texas website had heralded Iron Rattler as opening this spring. This left considerable room for conjecture, as spring officially began on March 20 and summer doesn't begin until June 21. Repeated telephone calls to the park failed to yield any definitive information so everything was still up in the air. The website is now advertising the new thrill ride as opening this summer but it would appear that the official debut will actually take place in the spring, on May 15. So there it is; we now have a date and an end to the suspense. Mark your calendars! However, I am getting ahead of myself and telling the story in reverse, so I will start at the beginning.

Author with Iron Rattler in Background

Planning a trip around the anticipated opening of a roller coaster is a serious mistake, as I recently discovered. Several months ago I purchased a non-refundable flight from Philadelphia to Phoenix with a stop in San Antonio along the way, the purpose of the stop in San Antonio being to ride Iron Rattler. Unduly optimistic, I had had high expectations that Iron Rattler would be up and running by the time I was scheduled to depart. Of course, it was not yet up and running but because US Airways was going to charge me $300 to postpone my trip, I ended up going anyway.

Shortly after arriving at Six Flags Fiesta on Sunday, April 28, I went to the hospitality booth, explained that I write about roller coasters and had come all the way from Philly, and asked whether it would be possible to at least get a behind the scenes tour of Iron Rattler. (I did not misrepresent myself as a member of the media, which I am decidedly not, but did mention that I had had an article published on Theme Park Insider.) It would appear that no-one in the PR department was available so this never came to pass. (More poor planning on my part, leaving it to the last minute, although I had a good excuse insofar as I had been battling a virus and didn't know whether I would be up to making the trip until the day before my scheduled departure.)

My visit to the park therefore began on a note of frustration. All I could do was look longingly at Iron Rattler and although I knew that they had been testing the ride with water dummies for some time, I never even got to see one train go up. So I had to made the best of a bad situation and try to get some enjoyment, thrills, kicks, whatever from the rides that were operating. Superman Krypton Coaster struck me as the most promising of the lot, and I was not mistaken in my perception. The scenery (lift hill and first drop hang over a cliff), angle of the drop, 145-foot vertical loop and zero-G roll followed by 4 additional inversions made for a pretty good ride -- good enough that I rode it 3 times in succession.

Next up was Poltergeist, which I thought was fun but nothing to write home about. The launch out of the station was indeed a blast and the compactness of the track is rather remarkable but otherwise I didn't find it in any way exceptional except for the fact that this was this first time I'd ridden a coast with inversions without a harness. (The restraint is a lap bar; so much the better, as this was sort of an audition for Outlaw Run, which is on my list for this season and which of course has nothing in common with Poltergeist other than inversions and a lap bar as the primary restraint.)

Boomerang Coast to Coaster was the least attractive of the options but because it was there, I felt obligated to ride it. Although I've ridden some of the biggest and baddest coasters around and consider myself a seasoned veteran, this coaster really threw me for a loop. Being pulled up the first lift hill backwards had me completely unnerved, as it felt as if I was going to pitch forward at any moment and I had to brace myself hard with my feet. I could hardly wait for the catch car to release the train so that we could go hurtling downhill and get out of this uncomfortable position. Fortunately, going down the second lift hill backwards was a lot easier than going up the first lift hill backwards although going through the vertical loop and cobra roll in reverse was more disorienting than going through these inversions with the train facing forward, I came to the conclusion that Vekoma and I simply do not get along and will make it a point not to ride this type of coaster again.

Between rides I kept returning to Iron Rattler in an attempt to get closer to it. This was impossible. I couldn't find a path that would lead me around the side and wasn't at all certain about the location of the entrance. I did see one large area that was fenced off and covered; this would logically be the best way to enter the loading station but what do I know?

Iron Rattler

It was almost time to head back to the airport to catch my flight to Phoenix but Goliath, close to the park's entrance/exit, in its third incarnation since being transplanted and renamed twice, certainly deserved a shot. This proved to be a fun ride but again, nothing earthshaking. It's an enjoyable coaster with 5 inversions and a limited drop (80 ft.), pretty much a case of been there, done that.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas is a beautiful park but my take on the ride lineup is that it's less than exceptional -- although that may change with the opening of Iron Rattler. The rides, in my opinion, are simply not of the same calibre as those at my home park, Six Flags Great Adventure. I also felt that there was an overemphasis on inverted coasters and the park could use a ride like El Toro or Nitro. Still, it wasn't a waste of time to go there. The park staff was great and one of them engaged me in an animated discussion of roller coasters. Anyone who likes to talk coasters is OK by me. This guy highly recommended Six Flags Over Texas, claiming that the rides there were better than at Fiesta, and I do not doubt it. Despite my disappointment over the Iron Rattler situation, I managed to enjoy myself, have new experiences and get fresh material for my roller coaster blog.

As a footnote, I should mention that after my visit to Six Flags Fiesta Texas, I received a very nice email from the marketing director of the park, inviting me to the media event on May 15 and offering me the opportunity to be among the first to ride Iron Rattler. This would certainly be an exciting opportunity but having just returned from Texas, I don't think that I can afford to go back there quite so soon or take more time off work. My timing is so off I could cry. Don't ever take my advice about planning a trip to a theme park.

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Readers' Opinions

From Charles Reichley on May 6, 2013 at 2:56 PM
I should say that another good planning tip for a theme park is to find out when I am going, and not go that week.

I have a habit of managing to get to parks for a "once in a lifetime" visit, only to have their best ride closed. If I was smart, and planned two days, it will be closed both days.

Sometimes, like my first King's Island trip, they will shut down the coaster right after I plan my trip, and then tear out the best part of it. Or the ride will injure someone, like Geuaga lake's Jack Rabbit, so it will be closed until the end of the year, and then just to spite me they'll shut the entire park down so I'll never be able to go back.

Or I'll be smart, and decide NOT to rush to an opening, but wait until the end of the year, when the ride will certainly have been opened. Like, I went to Hershey Park last september, only to find that their new ride, which had been running all summer, had been closed for the year so they could upgrade it.

So yes, I am jinxed, avoid parks when I'm heading to them......

From Denise Rambo on May 6, 2013 at 2:57 PM
I've been to three Six Flags parks (Great Adventure being closest to me also) and, while their coasters are great, everything else about their properties and practices are so rundown, dirty and frustrating that I doubt I'll ever go to one again.
From Eric G on May 6, 2013 at 4:13 PM
Most theme parks try to open their new attractions for Memorial Day weekend. That's the traditional goal. If your visit revolves around a new ride then you shouldn't schedule it before that date unless you know otherwise.

Rarely will a park announce the actual opening day until it's known for sure they will open the new ride by that date. There is nothing worse than announcing the date and having some unforeseen circumstance delay the opening.

Iron Rattler will be shown off to invited media on May 15. The park is hosting a VIP preview party on Friday, May 17 for invited guests or those who purchase one of ten tickets being sold on eBay.

I've also been informed that Iron Rattler will be open for Six Flags "Gold" Season Passholders on Saturday and Sunday, May 18-19. The coaster opens to the general public on Friday, May 24 (the start of Memorial Day weekend).

May 24 by the way is technically Spring, so the park's marketing of opening this spring was correct. The first day of Summer is June 21.

From 71.42.118.10 on May 6, 2013 at 4:25 PM
This reminds me of the time I made a week-long side trip to visit a longtime friend only to find out the friend couldn't visit w/me hardly at all & ended up only visiting w/my friend for about 3 hrs & I spent the remainder of the week piddling around trying to find something to do since paying extra to change my flight was out of the question, not knowing I was only about 4 hrs away from Cedar Point! Go figure lol. I have wanted to visit CP for the longest time & I was right there! I didn't take the time to look at the map closely to see what other parks were in the area that we were in. It turns out, there were about 10 parks in the same area! I could kick myself! Instead, I had to stay in an over-priced hotel for a few days as there were no cheapies in the area so, my money could've been put to better use for park tickets! Oh well, live & learn! At least I know for next time!
From Tracy Bates on May 6, 2013 at 5:29 PM
I had to make five trips to universal to finally catch Rip Ride Rockit. It wasn't worth it

Disney made me angry this weekend by having a 'May the fourth be with you' special event selling exclusive Tshirts and pins. they only had them in one store with three cash registers. It took 2.5 hours in line to get one with part of the line being out in the rain. (About 45 minutes standing in the rain.)

You'd think they'd know that a special star wars event would bring people to the park and they would plan ahead, but apparently not.

From Robert Niles on May 6, 2013 at 7:02 PM
Sometimes, you've just got to swing by a park and take a chance. My first trip to Singapore (for a journalism conference) coincided with the approximate time that Universal Studios Singapore was going to be soft-opening. But it didn't open while I was there. :^(

I did pull as many strings as I could and managed to get a walk-through tour of the park. But they wouldn't let me take pictures, which just about killed me. But I enjoyed my few minutes in the park, got a picture of me outside the front gate and scrounged what hand-out photos I could. (Here's what I posted.) It wasn't the dream trip I'd hoped for, but I enjoyed every minute of what I could get.

I think that's a pretty healthy attitude to bring to any vacation or get-away. Do the best you can. Thanks for the report, Bobbie!

From Eric G on May 6, 2013 at 7:28 PM
The author's comment overemphasis on inverted coasters doesn't make sense.

There is only one inverted roller coaster at Fiesta Texas - Goliath.

The park's other B&M coaster is an exceptional floorless coaster and one of the park's signature rides. Iron Rattler when it opens is without a doubt going to be another signature roller coaster.

Fiesta Texas is not a roller coaster park like Great Adventure, Cedar Point, Kings Dominion or Magic Mountain. The park instead is better known for its live entertainment and atmosphere. It's a relatively new theme park compared to most with detailed themed elements throughout. It's also got a unique setting residing in the bottom of an old rock quarry. It also doesn't have the same property zoning as Great Adventure. Fiesta Texas unfortunately has building height restrictions and Great Adventure does not.

What I'm saying is that it's really not fair to compare the two.

From Brandon Townsend on May 6, 2013 at 9:37 PM
I'll be at USS this Friday and will send you tons of pics if you like. As well as the previously discussed review assignments. My contact info is bet1227@hotmail.com.
From Mike Gallagher on May 7, 2013 at 11:42 AM
Charles said: "Or the ride will injure someone, like Geuaga lake's Jack Rabbit, so it will be closed until the end of the year, and then just to spite me they'll shut the entire park down so I'll never be able to go back."

Geauga Lake, according to RCDB, has never had a coaster called Jack Rabbit. I assume you meant Raging Wolf Bobs. I was at the park the day of the accident. Even *I* heard the noise, and I'm somewhat deaf.

On the vote, I didn't. I'm on the Jim Koehl train..try both, see what sticks!

From Rob Pastor on May 8, 2013 at 5:53 AM
Raging Wolf Bobs, I loved that coaster.But it did have the accident.....There's a Jack Rabbit coaster at Kennywood Park, Pittsburgh area. Could have that confused with Geauga Lake.

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