The Lone Star Coaster Round-Up (Part 3)

April 19, 2019, 6:50 PM

Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Fiesta Texas...two solid regional theme parks. Alone, these properties make for a very enjoyable weekend trip. However, we had a full four days to fill on this tour, so there was still much more to explore. Beyond SFOT, all of our time was spent in the San Antonio area. So, naturally, we took some time to check out other local attractions.

The Lone Star Coaster Round-Up
Part 3: Odds and Ends in Texas's Oldest City

While I do base my tours around theme parks, I try to include a day for general city sightseeing if there's a major new city I'll be visiting. On this tour, both Dallas and San Antonio qualify under that category, but unfortunately there was only one spare day. Figuring it would be the more interesting option, our spare day was spent in San Antonio, the second largest city in the state of Texas. Unfortunately, issues with Six Flags Fiesta Texas trimmed our sightseeing time, but we still got a chance to do a little exploring.

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Remember the Alamo.

After a less than stellar day at Six Flags, we opted to make our way downtown rather than returning directly to the hotel. Once parked, we headed to San Antonio's most famous tourist attraction...The Alamo. Originally known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo Mission was one of many missions established by Spanish explorers in the 18th century. While its original purpose was to spread Christianity to Native Americans, the structure ended up becoming a military fortress and is most often remembered for the Battle of the Alamo, the turning point of the Texas Revolution. Today, the mission is now a World Heritage Site and the restored buildings are operated as a museum.

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Unfortunately, this is as close as we were able to get.

Sadly, our arrival was shortly after the line had been cut off for the day, so we were unable to enter and tour the interior. However, it was still neat to see the building from the outside and read about the history of the place. Next time I visit San Antonio, I'll be sure to arrive a bit earlier. We did take a bit of time to explore Alamo Plaza, but unfortunately the area is little more than a tourist trap with all sorts of overpriced and uninspired attractions.

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Despite being in the American state of Texas, this felt very European to me.

Instead, we turned our attention to the San Antonio River Walk, a series of pedestrian streets located below the street level of San Antonio. An extensive network of pathways connects all of the city's main tourist attractions by following the path of the San Antonio River.

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TH, does this count as a theme park? (photo by Evan)

While parts of it are touristy with shops, restaurants, and other attractions, other portions of it feel like a city park (or, if you're TH, at least as much of a theme park as Disney Springs). We spent at least an hour just wandering the walkways along the river, and had we not been at a theme park earlier could probably have spent more time. However, tiredness of the feet led us to one of the restaurants along the river for a full service dinner.

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Margaritas in San Antonio. (photo by Evan)

We were felling Mexican, and had I done more research I would have suggested Casa Rio, the first restaurant to open along the river. Instead, however, we wound up around the bend at the Iron Cactus, a regional chain famous for their tequila. The food itself was pretty good...not the best Mexican I've had, but far better than most chain Mexican. The margarita accompanying it, on the other hand, was excellent. Overall, the whole experience of the River Walk was an excellent evening out and a satisfying end to our day.

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We're here to see fish and ride coasters.

Saturday, March 23rd, was originally planned to be a visit to Schlitterbahn, some sightseeing, and then dinner at a Texas BBQ joint. Unfortunately, due to our issues at SFFT the day before, plans shifted. Therefore, we decided to cancel our plans and bump SeaWorld San Antonio forward to Saturday. Wary of crowds, we made sure to arrive plenty early. Fortunately, there was no line to get through security and only perhaps a couple hundred people waiting at the gate.

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From what I've been told, this is a fairly exotic species.

Once the park opened, we made our way first to Steel Eel, a Morgan creation with an out-and-back layout resembling a hyper but standing just 150 ft. tall. Despite it being Saturday, there was no line at all for this one, so we climbed aboard the next train and were off. Last summer, I rode the very similar Steel Force at Dorney Park, and I was expecting this one to ride similarly...like a giant mine train with virtually no airtime.

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The eel from across the lake.

To my surprise, Steel Eel actually featured a few moments of good airtime over the larger hills, with mild floater on the bunny hops toward the end of the ride. It's not going to wow a well-traveled enthusiast, but it was a fun ride and the best coaster at the park. (8/10)

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"Welcome to the Waaaaaave Breaker!" - Anonymous SWSA Employee

Due to a staggered opening, Steel Eel was the only coaster open initially (excluding the kiddie coaster, which had a line consisting of almost all the kids in the park), so we took advantage of the lack of crowds to do several rides on it. About an hour after opening, the remaining attractions opened up, so we continued around the lake to Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster. Built by Intamin, this is a family coaster that feels like a cross between Cheetah Hunt and Pony Express. The ride features seats that feel like riding a jet ski, with a course of low curves over the lake intense enough for all to have fun yet tame enough that few would be actually scared by it. It wasn't a bad ride, and if it's any indicator what Universal Orlando has in store for Hagrid's then Florida visitors are in for a treat. We did two rides on this one before moving on. (7.5/10)

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That's no baby shark...it's a batshark!

Next around the loop was Great White, the third and final Batman clone of the trip as well as the first coaster ever installed at a SeaWorld park.

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Batman...the official B&M of Texas. (photo by Evan)

Of the three, this one ran the best, though the lack of theming does knock it down a notch. Still, it's a thrilling and intense coaster worth a couple rides when the line is non-existent. (7.5/10)

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Is this a credit? All three of us think so. Many of my friends think so, but some do not.

The next ride we passed was Rio Loco, a rapids ride we all opted out of (especially given the cool and cloudy morning). However, we couldn't pass up Journey to Atlantis, a Mack SuperSplash that, while technically a roller coaster, has more in common with a splash boat ride. Boats climb the hundred foot lift, then they are spun around backwards and sent through a coaster-like dip before spinning forwards for the final plunge. It was okay...certainly not as immersive as the other Atlantis attractions in California and Florida, but still decent fun with a moderate amount of wetness. (6/10)

At this point, we consulted the park map. We'd done all the coasters, and there weren't any other rides to do. Animals are neat, but there weren't any that can't be seen in San Diego. None of the shows were until the afternoon, and we didn't really feel like hanging around just for that. So, after just a little more than two hours in the park, we decided to call it a day.

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Quite similar to the entrance to a certain park in San Diego.

Overall, SeaWorld San Antonio is not a bad park, but it did feel a little lacking in comparison to the other SeaWorld properties. Coaster-wise, it has the edge over San Diego for now (though that may be a different story once Mako opens next year), but in every other aspect it falls a bit short. I'd best summarize it like this...if I lived in San Antonio, I'd likely be a pass holder to the park and visit a handful of times each year to spend a half-day riding some coasters and seeing a couple shows. As a traveling enthusiast, however, I enjoyed visiting but don't really feel the need to return until they've added something new. (Park score: 7.5/10)

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Yes, that is a climbing wall built on an old grain silo. It is also the tallest auto-belay climbing wall in the world.

With much of the day still left, we headed to a Whataburger for lunch and discussed how to fill the rest of the day. The decision was quite easy, as once again I had a contingency. On the outskirts of San Antonio lies a small amusement park known as ZDT'S Amusement Park. Named after the owner's three children (Zac, Danielle, and Tiffany), this small park has been in business since 2007 and currently hosts a dozen attractions. However, it wasn't until about five years ago that the park became known in the enthusiast community. At IAAPA 2014, Gravity Group announced that they would be building a one-of-a-kind coaster at this tiny park. That coaster's name is Switchback, and it is the world's only shuttle wooden coaster.

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There it is...Switchback!

1,196 ft long. 64 ft. tall with a 56 ft. first drop. Max speed of 41 MPH. From the stats, Switchback sounds like a family wood coaster, and for the most part it is.

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This drop is the most normal part of the ride.

The ride begins with an ordinary lift and drop, then races through several twists and turns all over ZDT's property. Airtime and laterals abound on this small woodie, which is deceivingly aggressive despite its small stature. Then, the moment happens.

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"HOLY S***!" - Random Teenager I rode with (photo by Scott)

Riders ascend a perfectly vertical spike, almost like a miniature version of the one found on Mr. Freeze, then stall and roll backwards throughout the entire course. Finally, once they reach the bottom of the first drop, brakes kick in to bring the train to a complete stop. A switch track slides over, then the train advances down a separate track back to the loading station. It is a very unique coaster.

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I could ride this all day. (photo by Evan)

Even more surprising than the uniqueness, however, is just how good of a ride Switchback is. After one ride, Scott thought I was crazy for not making ZDT's officially included on the tour (it was considered a "time permitting" park). After two more rides, we decided that Switchback was good enough it would be in the top three at either Six Flags park on the trip, and despite being a family coaster it was more fun than anything we rode at SeaWorld earlier in the day. In fact, I'd probably give the ride an 8.5/10, making it one of the top five coasters on the trip. We ended up riding several more times.

Beyond Switchback, there are several other small rides to do at this park. We all took a spin on the Dizzy Toucan, a miniature pendulum ride that was hilarious just because of how ridiculous it felt. Next, we moved over to the Parachute Drop, which felt very similar to DCA's Jumpin' Jellyfish but ran a cycle at least twice as long. We also decided to race around the ThunderVolt Speedway, a half indoor, half outdoor electric go-kart track that was the most popular attraction at the park. But our fun was not over yet, as something loomed at the far end of the property. If your name is Robert N., you may consider this to be ZDT'S second coaster. For everyone else, it was more of a substitute for missing Schlitterbahn's most famous attraction.

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Mr. Niles, is this a roller coaster?

The first major ride at ZDT's, the Mad Raft is none other than a master blaster water coaster. While a bit on the small side, this ride still features a couple decent drops and three blast sections. As part of a dry ride park, swimsuits were allowed but were not required, so after a little deliberation about how wet we wanted to get we all removed our shoes and socks and climbed the tower. I think Scott put this one best: "It started out alright, and then suddenly everything went very wrong." The ride started off fine, but as soon as the raft reached the first blast section the boat was immediately flooded with water. By the bottom, all of us were dripping wet.

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Photographic evidence. Not pictured...me riding down in a raft with a broken rope.

Figuring it couldn't get worse, I then led the group over to the Viper, an enclosed raft slide. This one wasn't quite as fun as the Mad Raft, but was still well worth the ride. After a mostly fruitless attempt to dry off with a hand dryer, we grabbed a couple more rides on Switchback before returning to the hotel to change into dry clothes.

ZDT's was not the best park out there, but it was way more fun than it had any right to be. I originally figured we'd spend around an hour there, but I think we may have spent more time at this little place than we did at SeaWorld. As I've sometimes said, it's less about the park you visit and more about the way your visit goes. We had a great time here, partially due to the group and partially due to the atmosphere of this tiny family-owned park. Yes, having a great shuttle woodie certainly helped, but even without that it would have been a blast.

There isn't a whole lot more to tell of the trip. After ZDT'S, we got dinner at a good BBQ place near the hotel, went out for a couple drinks, then turned in for the night. The next day was the return to Fiesta Texas, then a five hour drive back to Dallas. Upon our return, Scott bid us farewell...he was staying with a friend that night. Evan and I grabbed a quick fast food dinner, refueled the car, and then went to bed.

That said, the trip home was exciting for all the wrong reasons. To avoid taking the day off work, I had booked a ticket on the first flight from Dallas to Orange County that morning, which meant a 5:30 A.M. arrival at the airport. Unfortunately, as we began boarding a funny smell was detected on board, which turned out to be a fuel leak of some sort. This resulted in a flight cancellation, and the next flight I could get wasn't until the afternoon. So despite my best efforts, I ended up missing part of work that day anyway (I work afternoon/evening most days at my job, so I still made the evening part of the day).

So, as a whole, the Texas tour was a huge amount of fun. I got to visit four new parks, all of which were a great time. I got to add 26 new coasters to my count, including the first two RMCs and a couple other unique rides. I got to see a new state, and explore an awesome city. And I did it all with some very good friends. Yes, there were a few hiccups along the way, and we didn't get to see everything of value in Texas (Houston got cut from the itinerary when the tour shrunk from a full week), but it was still a grand time in the Lone Star state.

Lastly, for those who are into lists, here's the complete ranking of coasters on this tour.

Outstanding:

1. Iron Rattler
2. New Texas Giant
3. Superman Krypton Coaster
4. Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast

Very Good:

5. Switchback
6. Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster
7. Steel Eel
8. Titan
9. Great White
10. Shock Wave
11. Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster

Good:

12. Poltergeist
13. Batman The Ride (SFOT)
14. Goliath
15. Batman The Ride (SFFT)
16. Judge Roy Scream
17. Runaway Mountain

Just Okay:

18. Road Runner Express
19. Pandemonium (SFFT)
20. Runaway Mine Train (SFOT)
21. Pandemonium (SFOT)

Not So Good:

22. Journey to Atlantis
23. Joker
24. La Vibora
25. Boomerang
26. Mini Mine Train

And thus concludes the Lone Star Coaster Round-Up. So, what could I have planned next? Well...Show Me The Coasters.

Replies (4)

April 20, 2019, 8:30 AM

Great series, AJ. Particularly enjoyed reading about ZDT's - love hearing about smaller places I'd otherwise miss out on. It reminded me of how I stumbled upon Waldameer simply because it was somewhere to stop on the way to Cedar Point - and Ravine Flyer ended up being one of my favourite coasters of the trip.

Edited: April 20, 2019, 9:22 AM

San Antonio looks so nice, I love the look of the River Walk area. It always reminds me of the movie "Cloak and Dagger", when I see it.

April 24, 2019, 10:29 AM

Thanks for taking us along again AJ! I most likely will never see any of these places. Went to Texas once on business, got sick and came home early. Sadly that is what I will forever associate with the state. Oh and it's very flat.

It's a shame you didn't get into The Alamo. I'm still curious if PeeWee's bike is in the basement. ;-)

April 25, 2019, 8:32 AM

Great Travelogue. I love the idea of a Wooden Switchback coaster... Should I ever end up in Texas I'll know not to skip it now.

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