Part One from Six Flags Over Texas.] While we most recently visited Dallas around six years ago, it’s been almost 17 years since we were last in the San Antonio region. After an uneventful drive down I-35, including a stop to see what all the fuss is about Buc-ee’s,After spending the first three days of our vacation in the Dallas/Ft. Worth region, it was time to move on to the next part of our Texas Two-Step in San Antonio. [Here was
we arrived in our hotel in the mid-afternoon, allowing us time to spend the evening at Six Flags Fiesta Texas and to witness their nighttime projection and fireworks show, Rock the Night that runs on Saturdays and a lone Sunday corresponding to when we arrived in San Antonio.
Fiesta Texas is a relatively new theme park, originally opening in 1992 and then purchased by Time Warner and gaining its Six Flags branding starting in the 1996 season.
While SFFT operates under the Six Flags hierarchy and utilizes a number of Six Flags trademarks and purchased IPs, it is quite possibly the most un-Six Flags park among all their U.S. properties (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is probably a close second). You notice that difference the second you walk through the gate as the entry area is full of vibrant colors and Southwestern motifs. While these buildings in the entry area house your typical souvenir shops, customer service offices, and drink/snack stands you find in most theme parks, the theming here is clearly a step above the normal Six Flags treatment. The park’s setting is also very different than your typical Six Flags park situated in an abandoned rock quarry, which becomes an integral part of some of the attractions and overall theming.
Much like Six Flags Over Texas, we were following the construction of a new attraction for 2022 leading up to our trip. Dr. Diabolical’s Cliffhanger, the first B&M Dive Machine built with a beyond vertical drop, had just started testing a couple of weeks before we arrived, and we hoped that it might have a soft opening some point during our time in Texas. Unfortunately, like Aquaman, it still appeared to be a month or more away from being completed, though the park announced recently that it would open officially on July 31, so we missed it by about a month. The new coaster dominates the center of the park, and in addition to the unique features on the ride (seven-across seating creating a “middle seat” and the aforementioned beyond-vertical drop), the queue for the attraction is supposed to include animatronics and other theming unheard of on your typical Six Flags coaster. It’s a shame we just missed it because it looks like a real winner.
With Dr. Diabolical off the menu, we headed straight for what right now is easily the best coaster in the park, Iron Rattler. I recall riding the original Rattler back in 2005 and the pounding my body took back then, comparing it to similarly the jarring experiences I had on Hercules at Dorney Park. Those two were probably some of the worst experiences I’ve ever had on a wooden coaster (Mean Streak was a distant third), so I was eager to see what RMC learned from their conversion of New Texas Giant to turn such a painful ride into a highly rated masterpiece.
I take back all my criticisms of New Texas Giant if building SFoT’s hybrid was necessary to get to Iron Rattler, because the result it truly magnificent. The layout has a lot in common with Lightning Rod, minus the outward-banked airtime hills, and plays with the topography so perfectly much like Dollywood’s RMC. The tunnel through the quarry is pitch black (impossible to achieve with a building around the track), accentuating the sensation of speed as the coaster reaches the end of the course. There’s an excellent mix of airtime throughout that omits some of the rapid-fire pops of air that I find a bit tiring on RMC’s more recent designs.
I guess if I were to criticize the design a bit, it would be that the middle section of the course is a bit on the slow side, particularly in the morning when it’s not warmed up. Nonetheless, this instantly vaulted into one of my favorite all-time coasters, probably on par with Twisted Timbers at Kings Dominion. Another slight drawback during our visit was that the coaster was only running with one train - an issue the park communicated to guests clearly with a sign at the front of the queue, along with a promise that a third train is in the works to prevent single-train operation in the future, such as during the routine maintenance events that were causing the current single-train operation.
To mitigate the lines, SFFT was actually operating a single-rider line, which we used to keep our waits for the coaster below 20 minutes. Learning from the recent issues with Iron Rattler, Dr. Diabolical is being delivered with an extra (fourth) train, so the park can always have the capability to operate the coaster at optimal capacity even when one of the trains is undergoing routine maintenance.
Next to Iron Rattler is Roadrunner Express. At most Six Flags parks, coasters tabbed with this name are pretty small kiddie coasters. However at SFFT, Roadrunner Express is an Arrow mine train with two lift hills. This one is not quite as well themed as Runaway Mine Train at SFoT, but it’s pretty intense compared to other coasters sharing its name. The helixes here pack a punch, and it’s not nearly as rough as some other similar coasters like Trailblazer at Hersheypark and Cedar Creek Mine Ride at Cedar Point.
The theming around Iron Rattler and Roadrunner Express is decidedly Western, but with the addition of Dr. Diabolical and the next ride we came upon, Daredevil Dive Flying Machines, the park is introducing more Steampunk elements into the area (a la Wild Wild West) and has rebranded it as Crackaxle Canyon Screampunk District. Daredevil Dive Flying Machines debuted for the 2021 season and is a Zamperla Super Air Race attraction. Until we had ridden Super Air Race at Luna Park a few weeks earlier, we had never ridden an attraction quite like this. It’s a peculiar looking ride where guests are loaded into four-seat planes (two rows of two seats) that lift, spin, and flip. You can get dizzy just watching this ride operate, but on board it is quite thrilling, especially on SFFT’s version that includes fire effects and a custom soundtrack. As with many of the big attractions at SFFT, the queue is well themed, providing guests a bit of backstory on the ride while you’re waiting.
As you walk around the back portion of the park and exit Crackaxle Canyon, you reach the confluence of DC Universe and Spassburg, a German-themed land to celebrate the heritage of this area of Texas. Similar to SFoT, the DC theming has grown beyond the original attraction that used the IP (here it is Superman Krypton Coaster), but while there’s no clear delineation between the German-themed land and the Comic Book-derived land, it’s not nearly as random as the Arlington park (though Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster is well outside the DC Universe boundary). Speaking of Wonder Woman, like Iron Rattler, the park provided very clear on signage in front on Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster that maintenance crews were working on significant issues on the coaster, and it would not be operational during our visits. A bummer for sure, but the sign clearly explaining the issue was far nicer than a chain or trash can across the entrance and an empty station typical of most Six Flags parks.
Back to DC Universe proper, there are two roller coasters and a couple of flat rides in the land. Superman Krypton Coaster is probably the second best coaster in the park right now, and is one of the best B&M Floorless coasters in the US. This coaster further exemplifies why SFFT is better than pretty much every other Six Flags park even though the theming on this coaster is pretty weak compared to the rest of the park’s collection. The layout places the track along the walls of the former rock quarry as trains playfully dance up, down, and around the landscape. It’s not as intense as Kraken or Medusa (SFGAdv), but Superman Krypton Coaster has great pacing and excellent visuals. The one drawback aside from the mediocre theming is that on our second day, the park was running just one train, which resulted in agonizingly slow-moving lines given the two-plus minutes it takes for the train to run its course. I’d still rank Kraken as a better traditional B&M Floorless coaster (not including Dive Machines), but Superman Krypton Coaster is not too far behind.
The other coaster located in DC Universe is Batman The Ride. No, this is not the B&M Invert you’d find with this name at many Six Flags parks around the country, it’s the first-ever S&S 4D Free Spin coaster. Six Flags has installed a few of these same coasters around the country, including The Joker we rode a few days earlier at SFoT. However, this one has a detailed indoor queue area before guests reach the Batmobile before the line split that sends guests to each side of the coaster’s loading platform. Again, the theming is not on the same level of Disney or Universal, but it’s far beyond what most guests would expect in any other Six Flags park and makes an otherwise standard coaster feel like a better attraction than other clones around the country.
This unexpected level of theming carries on to one of DC Universe’s flat rides, The Joker Carnival of Chaos. The ride itself is a run-of-the-mill giant spinning pendulum ride that is virtually identical to rides found at Six Flags parks around the country.
The difference here is that there is an interior queue that is like a haunted maze loaded with practical, automated effects. Guests are briefly held at the entrance to the building and are queued to enter in small groups. As with so many attractions at SFFT, the park here goes the extra mile to make a standard attraction that much better and more memorable. I’m not sure how much extra it costs SFFT to make these modest additions to their attractions, but in my eyes it really pays off and separates SFFT from all other Six Flags parks – almost to the point where I don’t even think of this park as part of the chain.
Unfortunately, the other DC Universe flat ride, DC Super Villains Swing, lacks the level of theming and that extra touch indicative of many of the SFFT attractions. This is your standard rotating carnival swing painted with different DC villains around the attraction. The artwork on the swing is really well done, but it doesn’t affect the experience one bit.
The next land adjacent to DC Universe is Rockville - a 50’s themed all-American town. The theme of this area is disrupted a bit by Wonder Woman in the back portion of the land, but the rest of the area is similar to some movie sets we’ve seen in Hollywood. In addition to Wonder Woman being closed, Rockville High, which is a jukebox-style musical show, was also not running. The show was not listed on the entertainment schedule, though photos of it can be seen on the website, so I’m not sure if it’s not running at all this season or is on a temporary hiatus. I recall this show being on par with Dreamland Drive-In at Dollywood, so it was a bit disappointing to see this theater dark, particularly with 100-degree high temps when spending 30-40 minutes in a dark, air-conditioned theater would be highly desirable.
While the two biggest draws of Rockville were closed, we did take a spin on one of the coolest-themed teacup style rides of all time. The Hustler swaps out the teacups for pool balls, and the ride platform is made to look like a giant pool table. It’s not only a neat attraction to watch, but since the seats are covered, they don’t get hot in the blazing sun, and the axles were well lubricated, making it almost as easy to spin as the Mad Tea Party at Disneyland. Yet another example of SFFT going the extra mile to make an otherwise stock ride feel special and unique.
While Scream!, the park’s S&S Power Tower, lacks the level of theming indicative SFFT attractions, Poltergeist, a Premier “spaghetti-bowl” launching roller coaster, has a queue that’s more like Disney’s Haunted Mansion than a Six Flags roller coaster. The indoor station is air conditioned and filled to the brim with objects and items relaying the paranormal theme. There are identical versions of this coaster located at Kings Dominion, Kings Island (both called Flight of Fear with fully indoor track), and Six Flags America (Jokers Jinx), but Poltergeist is the best of the bunch. Both versions of Flight of Fear still have lots of the original Outer Limits theming, but as those attractions have been neglected over the years, they’ve lost the ambiance that made them some of the best themed indoor roller coasters.
Behind Rockville in the back corner of the park is Fiesta Bay Boardwalk. This area is themed to look like a seaside amusement park, which means most of the attractions don’t need extensive theming. There are mostly stock flat rides here, but there is a Pandemonium spinning coaster, identical to the one at SFoT, though with far more theming to reenforce the skateboard motif, and Pirates of the Deep Sea, a Sally shooting gallery dark ride. The last time we were in this park, this attraction was still themed to Scooby Doo (very similar to those found at Cedar Fair's formerly Paramount Parks), and while many of the scenes still bear a resemblance to the old Scooby Doo ride, they’ve done a good job applying the new pirate theming to the ride. What I thought was interesting though was that a number of the pirate characters shown on “Wanted” posters displayed in the queue were the same as those found at SFoT’s Pirates of Speelunker Cave.
As you make your way back to the front of the park, guests will pass through Spassburg. Keeping with the German theming, this area is home Sagerfest Halle, which is very much like the FestHaus found at both Busch Gardens Tampa and Williamsburg. The main attraction in Spassburg is Bugs’ White Water Rapid, a highly themed log flume. This ride follows the adventures of a Medieval Bugs Bunny with indoor and outdoor scenes and finishing with splashdown. Six Flags typically uses Looney Tunes theming on their kids’ attractions, but the use here is really well done, appealing to the whole family. If think that Six Flags should look at the success of this attraction and the applicability of the Looney Tunes theming to more than just kiddie rides.
Near the front of the park you’ll find the last two big coasters, Boomerang and Goliath. We never ended up riding Boomerang, but it’s a Vekoma boomerang shuttle coaster still equipped with the older trains and horse-collar style restraints. Goliath is another clone (actually a mirror clone) of B&M’s Batman The Ride. Goliath was brought to the park from Six Flags New Orleans after that park was closed following Hurricane Katrina. The vividly painted track is a departure from other BTR clones, but aside from an Aztek-style entrance arch, there’s really not much theming here, making it one of the few rides at SFFT that has a better version at another Six Flags park. While the coaster starts with a right turn at the top of the lift, hence why it’s a mirror clone, it doesn’t really impact the overall experience on the ride.
SFFT also has an extensive waterpark called Whitewater Bay that is included in admission and accessed through an entrance near Dr. Diabolical. Compared to Hurricane Harbor in Arlington, this waterpark was far superior. Whitewater Bay has a massive wave pool, expansive kids play area, and even a water coaster, Thunder Rapids. I was surprised how good this waterpark was, especially when there are other highly rated waterparks in the area that I will talk about in future articles.
Overall, SFFT is worthy of its status as one of the best Six Flags parks in the country. It doesn’t necessarily have the huge record-breaking rides that the chain has at parks closer to larger cities, but what SFFT lacks in the record books, it makes up for in their attention to detail and theming. When Dr. Diabolical opens later this month, it will be an even more desirable destination park. With that said, I’ll leave you with a video of Rock the Night, the award-winning nighttime spectacular.
Next up: Sea World San Antonio and Aquatica.
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