Coastering in the Time of Covid - Part 4

August 23, 2020, 4:27 PM

Table of Contents:

Part 1: The Park Experience…Visiting During COVID
Part 2: Three Remote Small Parks…Wonderland, Frontier City & Magic Springs
Part 3: Beyond the Parks…Other Safe Outdoor Activities for Travelers
Part 4: New For 2020…A Review of Mystic River Falls & Texas Stingray (you’re reading this part now)

2020 has been a year like no other. Many activities that formerly were taken for granted are now deemed illegal. Businesses are shuttered for an indeterminate amount of time without consideration for the survivability of such. Major events have been postponed, if not canceled entirely. In the theme park world, this manifests itself in the cancellation or significant reduction to seasonal events, many of which will not return until next year. However, it also comes in the form of deferral on the opening of new capital projects. Some of these were still a good deal from complete when the parks closed in March, and corporate entities have simply opted to put off resuming construction until a clearer outlook on 2021 is available. Others sit complete, ready to welcome riders aboard, but as a cost cutting measure they’ll remain dormant for the foreseeable future. However, a few parks went forward with new ride openings, and these parks have generally seen the strongest attendance in COVID times.

On my trip, four parks had announced new for 2020 attractions: Silver Dollar City, SeaWorld San Antonio, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and Six Flags Over Texas. The latter two were not operational at the time of my visit, with SFFT’s in the testing phase (I believe it still is yet to open) and SFOT’s partially complete in a construction site under hibernation. However, at both SDC and SWSA, I was able to experience their respective new for 2020 attraction, and both these parks had winners on their hands.

Coastering in the Time of COVID
Part 4: New For 2020…A Review of Mystic River Falls & Texas Stingray

On my visit to Silver Dollar City last year, a portion of the park was occupied by a sizable construction site. This was the former home of Lost River of the Ozarks, a fairly typical river rapids attraction that closed the year before I visited. While it isn’t common for parks to replace old attractions with the same type of ride, it isn’t unheard of either, and in this case that’s what Silver Dollar City did. Rising on the grave of their old rapids ride was Mystic River Falls, an ultra-modern rapids attraction that combines flume ride elements with everything else expected from this genre of attraction.

At the time of my visit, Mystic River Falls was in the technical rehearsal phase, so I wasn’t certain I would get to ride. However, based on reports from those who visited in the weeks prior, the ride was generally opening an hour or so after opening, then would alternate between operating for a few hours and closing for a couple. Therefore, we started the day with Time Traveler and Thunderation before proceeding back to Rivertown to find an operating Mystic River Falls with a decent queue built up. After about 50 minutes in a slow-moving line (largely due to running half as many boats as normal and only allowing one party per boat), it was time to board.

Even though I’ve ridden a few modern rapids rides, Mystic River Falls is unlike any other I’ve experienced. The ride begins with a lift and a standard winding rapids course, this one focused more on rapids than on other tricks like waterfalls or geysers (though a couple of those are present). It is a long ride through a narrow channel, portions of which were repurposed from the old attraction.

The channel ends by entering a tunnel, but instead of returning to the station on the other side, rafts begin their ascent up a second lift. This time, the lift is in the form of an elevator platform on a rotating tower, something unique to this particular installation. This elevator lifts rafts up six stories, then deposits them into an elevated channel more like a raft slide at a waterpark than anything on a typical rapids ride.

A couple turns here get rafts spinning, then they plunge down a five story drop to the pool of water below. It is an outstanding finale, and by far the biggest drop on any rapids ride I know of.

So, how was the ride overall? I’d probably go with good but not great. On the plus side, the ride is long, probably about twice the length of a typical rapids ride. It also has tons of rapids with excellent theming along the course. Finally, the flume and drop at the end is excellent, and gives other flume rides a run for their money. On the downside, this one isn’t particularly wet, as the rapids cause limited splashing when the boats are lightly loaded and there aren’t many other tricks to soak riders (we got wetter on the park’s log flume, American Plunge, than on Mystic River Falls). Additionally, since most of the ride is rapids, there isn’t a lot of variety in the attraction, which is disappointing on a ride that goes on for nearly six minutes. Lastly, since the old ride used six person boats while this one uses eight, the channel is quite narrow and created some hard bumps and jerks as the rafts impacted the walls.

On the whole, I’d probably give Mystic River Falls an 8/10. For me, it falls short of top tier rapids rides like Grizzly River Run or Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, but compares favorably to most of the basic rapids rides out there. I’d probably rank it as roughly comparable to Shipwreck Rapids at SeaWorld San Diego…not a top ride, but a very good one. Put it this way…I doubt I’d wait an hour to do it again, but if the line were only 20-30 minutes I’d absolutely go for a spin.

The other new ride of the tour was located at the southernmost park on the trip. As most know, SeaWorld announced an impressive slate of new attractions for 2020, with every park in the chain receiving a new coaster for this year. Unfortunately, fate intervened and postponed four of these coasters to a hopeful 2021 debut. However, SeaWorld San Antonio managed to open their new attraction before the pandemic struck. That ride is Texas Stingray, the first coaster built by Great Coasters International in Texas and largest wood coaster in the state.

Upon approach, Texas Stingray looks like your typical GCI wood coaster. A 96 ft tall lift leads to 3,379 feet of twisted wood track, all supported by a steel lattice structure. The ride’s first drop is unusually straight for a GCI, but it plunges ten stories and gets trains going at 55 MPH.

The remainder of the ride has a couple high curves, but is mostly low to the ground zigzags and twists, with hops and transitions providing brief bits of floater airtime. The coaster interacts with the neighboring Rio Loco rapids ride, and also contains a tunnel for good measure. It’s a reasonably lengthy ride and doesn’t start to peter out until just before you hit the brakes.

My first thought after getting off this coaster was that it’s one of the more family friendly GCIs. Intensity-wise, it’s about on par with the smaller Invadr, focusing on a dynamic and smooth ride without too many extreme forces, but the execution is much better. It does offer enough in the airtime and laterals departments to keep even seasoned riders entertained. For those that have ridden a number of GCIs, this isn’t likely one to stand out as among the best of the bunch. I also don’t believe it is the best wood coaster in Texas, and enjoy the smaller but more unique Switchback better. However, it is a superior ride to a majority of wood coasters out there, and well worth a couple rides on a visit. It also is my current pick for favorite new coaster of 2020, beating out the only other one I’ve ridden this year (West Coast Racers). Single train operations and only loading half the rows led to a short wait (10-15 minutes), but I still gave this one five laps during my day at SeaWorld.

Now that this report has come to a close, it’s time to end with my customary statistics updates. On this tour, I added 13 new credits to my count, bringing my total to 549. I visited four new parks, raising my park count to 115. I was able to complete the sets of all Premier Parks and Six Flags parks in the United States, along with riding the last North American Arrow Mine Train, GCI Woodie, and Martin & Vleminckx creation missing from my list. I am now down to just five high priority parks remaining the US that I have not yet visited (Alabama Adventure, Cliff’s Amusement Park, Dutch Wonderland, Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park, and Wild Adventures), which I am hoping to knock out over the next two years. After that, it’s time to head international.

The parks I visited on this trip, ranked best to worst based on my experience:

1. Silver Dollar City
2. Six Flags Over Texas
3. Six Flags Fiesta Texas
4. SeaWorld San Antonio
5. ZDT’S Amusement Park
6. Frontier City
7. Wonderland Amusement Park
8. Magic Springs Theme and Water Park
9. Kemah Boardwalk

The top ten coasters from the trip:

1. Outlaw Run – Silver Dollar City
2. Iron Rattler – Six Flags Fiesta Texas
3. Time Traveler – Silver Dollar City
4. New Texas Giant – Six Flags Over Texas
5. Superman Krypton Coaster – Six Flags Fiesta Texas
6. Titan – Six Flags Over Texas
7. Switchback – ZDT’S Amusement Park
8. Texas Stingray – SeaWorld San Antonio
9. Steel Eel – SeaWorld San Antonio
10. Batman the Ride – Six Flags Over Texas

*Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster was closed the day I visited Six Flags Fiesta Texas or it would have ranked on this list, likely right above or below Superman Krypton Coaster.

Lastly, here are a few updated ranking lists. First, my ranking of all the Six Flags properties:

1. Six Flags Magic Mountain
2. Six Flags Great Adventure
3. Six Flags Great America
4. Six Flags New England
5. Six Flags Over Texas
6. Six Flags Over Georgia
7. Six Flags Fiesta Texas
8. Six Flags St. Louis
9. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
10. Great Escape
11. Frontier City
12. Six Flags Darien Lake
13. Six Flags America
14. La Ronde

Second, here’s my list of Arrow Mine Trains:

1. Thunderation – Silver Dollar City
2. Runaway Mine Train – Six Flags Over Texas
3. Adventure Express – Kings Island
4. Road Runner Express – Six Flags Fiesta Texas
5. Big Bad John – Magic Springs Theme & Water Park
6. Dahlonega Mine Train – Six Flags Over Georgia
7. Gold Rusher – Six Flags Magic Mountain
8. River King Mine Train – Six Flags St. Louis
9. Carolina Goldrusher – Carowinds
10. Runaway Mine Train – Six Flags Great Adventure
11. Cedar Creek Mine Ride – Cedar Point
12. Trailblazer – Hersheypark
13. Canyon Blaster – Great Escape

Finally, here is my official ranking of GCI wood coasters:

1. Thunderhead – Dollywood
2. Gold Striker – California’s Great America
3. Lightning Racer – Hersheypark
4. Kentucky Rumbler – Beech Bend
5. Prowler – Worlds of Fun
6. Mystic Timbers – Kings Island
7. Texas Stingray – SeaWorld San Antonio
8. Roar – Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
9. Renegade – Valleyfair!
10. American Thunder – Six Flags St. Louis
11. Apocalypse the Ride – Six Flags Magic Mountain
12. White Lightning – Fun Spot America
13. Wildcat – Hersheypark
14. Roar – Six Flags America
15. InvadR – Busch Gardens Williamsburg

And with that, this report on a theme park trip under pandemic conditions comes to a close. It was an excellent trip given the circumstances, and writing this has been a good way to keep my mind occupied while California remains insistent on staying shut down far longer than helpful. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading, and if you’ve got any questions please do let me know. I have not yet decided whether I’ll keep writing reports for future US trips, but something like this where I just go over the highlights rather than a day by day travelogue is certainly possible.

Replies (1)

Edited: August 31, 2020, 1:18 PM

Thanks AJ. Really appreciate your time and effort to write this report of your latest road trip.

I was a little surprised at how highly you ranked Silver Dollar City, based on your comments regarding COVID precautions and its effect on their ride ops. FWIW, we made a trip to Dollywood in early August. I certainly kept your advice in mind about lowering my expectations and possibly buying timesaver passes if needed. Luckily for us, going on a Monday with rain in the forecast made for a pretty fun day there.

I also enjoyed part 3 of your report about the National and State parks.

I hope things improve for you in California and your next visit to a local theme park comes sooner than later.


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