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Condor

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Everything posted by Condor

  1. In my experience the first trim doesn't bite hard or at all when the train is less than half full. Made a big difference on my rides. The biggest difference between Mako and my favorite B&M hyper, Goliath at SFOG, is that while Goliath has a similar trim that hits every time, it doesn't affect the rest of the ride the same way. And about Kraken... yeah, it used to be one of the smoothest B&Ms you'd ever find, but the last ten years or so have not been kind to it. I still think it's a top 3 floorless though.
  2. This looks really good and makes certain I'll visit a park I was on the fence about if I finally take a long envisioned Scandinavia trip in the next year or two. Will be my first new-gen Vekoma if so.
  3. Thanks! And I actually did forget about Anaconda. I've never grouped it in with the others for some reason. If I didn't live close by, I'd probably feel the similarly. An old poster on here, my friend Gnome, said SFMM kind of sucks the life out of you. I've never forgotten that! Oddly enough, the new single rail just might be the thing that gets me going back a little more often. I could see myself rotating between that, TC, and Tatsu for hours. Thank you to both of you! Means a lot coming from you guys.
  4. Six Flags Magic Mountain May 2021 TPR is fortunate to have a handful members who provide regular updates and photos from their respective home parks around the world. Until now, however, I’ve never written a trip report from mine. If we’re defining home park as “the park literally located closest to me,” then mine is Adventure City ten miles north from Huntington Beach in what I guess is technically still considered part of Anaheim. But no one actually cares about that place and I’ve never even bothered to go. The next closest is Knott’s Berry Farm all of twelve miles away in Buena Park, exactly one mile closer to me than Disneyland Resort. Then about sixty miles farther away than any of those is Six Flags Magic Mountain. Throughout my various moves around Southern California, SFMM has never been the park closest to me, but it is the park that made me a coaster enthusiast, so in a way, it always feels like coming home. And what I mean by that is it feels a lot like coming back to your parents’ house after spending your first semester or two away at college. You feel all warm, fuzzy, and nostalgic on the drive up, but once you’ve been there a few hours, you don’t see it the same way anymore and you’re kind of ready to leave. You’ve grown, you’ve changed, you’ve experienced what else is out there, and now you just want to go drink with your friends to Europa Park instead. Six Flags Magic Mountain has its fans for sure, but in our circles it has spent the last two decades as more of a perpetual whipping boy. Even when they do something right, enthusiast praise is almost always accompanied by a hefty dose of well-deserved criticism. I think you still have to call it the chain’s flagship (I tried to avoid that pun, but it’s the right word), but how many of us can honestly call it our favorite Six Flags? I personally put Great Adventure, Over Georgia, Over Texas, and Fiesta Texas above it, and Six Flags Mexico and New England make me less frustrated. Like many things that underwhelm, I think SFMM disappoints because for all its advantages, it could and should be much better. How does a park in this market, in this climate, and with this kind of consistent capital investment, acquire this kind of reputation? There are reasons for all of these, though I’m probably not the guy on here best equipped to explain them. A wealth of information can be gleaned from the main SFMM topic. The feeling I get these days is that twenty-odd years of poor management and narrowly targeting a clientele that isn’t especially lucrative has left the park in limbo where the only way forward is doing more of the same. I think Six Flags knows this now. After a couple of branding experiments, first as “the xtreme park,” and then as a more family focused destination didn’t work out, they’ve settled into the idea that the best plan is no plan at all. It might be the only option left. When I go, I find a park mostly devoid of atmosphere that is solely reliant on a quantity-over-quality coaster collection to draw people and placate them once they’re in. That said, it’s actually a little better now than it used to be in both regards. While I don’t care for it, Justice League: Battle For Metropolis is a sorely needed dark ride and Crazanity filled the gaping “OMG WTF is that???” giant flat ride hole SFMM had to fill. And Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom is probably my favorite non-coaster ride in the park. But two big flats, a dark shooter, and a bunch of redundant kids rides all jammed into one corner do not make for a well-rounded park. I contrast this with the last Six Flags parks I visited, the two in Texas, where neither park has the same quantity of large coasters, but blends those they do have with a greater variety of minor attractions, subtle theming, and regional flair to create a cohesive atmosphere. I don’t think anything can be done to create that at SFMM. If my nostalgia serves me correctly, it actually was a bit more like that at the end of the Time Warner era in the late nineties. For better or worse, the time since has simply taken a toll. It also isn’t like there are no standout coasters which make the trip worthwhile due to their presence alone. Twisted Colossus and Tatsu are world-class rides, if not the best of their type, and X2 certainly has its good days. SFMM simply lags behind other parks with similarly large coaster collections like Cedar Point or Hersheypark. This is true in terms of the consistent quality of its coasters as well as atmosphere and two other key metrics—operations and service. No Six Flags park in my experience has been an exemplar of efficiency and guest service basics. What stands out to me about the general demeanor of SFMM’s employees is not just that they seem unmotivated or lazy (because this is true of most parks in general), but how so many of the staff exude this attitude of thinking they’re just too damn cool for their jobs. As if showing they cared was an admission they don’t have better things to do. Maybe you disagree. I chalk it up to being an L.A. thing. May 2021 was my first visit to the park in almost a year-and-a-half. Since February 2020 when a conversation I overheard at the bar at the Knott’s Berry Farm TGI Fridays (I did both parks the same day) began with, “Have you guys sold fewer Coronas since this virus thing got started?” How times have changed. Did my lengthy absence from Magic Mountain make me any fonder? We’ll see. I still get amped seeing Goliath and Twisted Colossus running when I pull into the parking lot. I’m pretty sure the original Colossus was the first coaster I rode at this park sometime in 1996 or 97. I also remember what the Colossus ride-op told my dad after he asked what they were building when the first couple of Goliath supports went up a few years later: “Oh, just a roller coaster.” Twisted Colossus doesn’t have the same parking lot coaster reputation that Scream does. I assume this is because it’s been there so long, people have ceased to remember that it is one. Hurricane Harbor… As a kid I once said, “One day I shall go.” I have yet to fulfill that promise. Despite everything I’ve said about the lack of atmosphere, SFMM’s entrance plaza is absolutely one of the best and most iconic out there. Revolution and Tatsu function as the “weenie” (as Walt Disney coined it) once you’re through the gates the same way the Disney castles do. It really is the perfect weenie for a park built so heavily around coasters. Tatsu juxtaposed over Revolution illustrates how coaster technology and scale have progressed over the decades and how Magic Mountain has literally and figuratively come full circle. It would be less visually appealing, but my one critique of Tatsu is how the final turn doesn’t dive down the side of the mountain in a climactic swoop toward the midway before climbing back up to the brakes. I’ve always felt that would make for a more exciting finale. I had a 11:30 reservation but entered around 10:45 without issue. I don’t usually buy Flashpass when I come here, but I thought the gold version would be a good idea this time since I knew staffing and on-ride capacity were somewhat limited. This was the first time I used the new app-based version of Flaspass rather than the watch or Qbot and it worked flawlessly. I hope this is what all the parks do going forward. FP definitely helped as I would not have been down with some of the moderate-length, but slow as shit queues I saw. It does a few things pretty well, but overall I’m not a Full Throttle fan. A less gimmicky version not focused solely on stats could have been a much more fulfilling coaster. I am also not a fan of the current gen Premier trains. I cannot understand how a modern coaster car can be so open, yet so restrictive and uncomfortable. Full Throttle I’m beating a dead horse here, but another thousand feet of track at the end of the layout would have changed everything about how we look at this coaster. Anything to allow a proper, full-speed descent down the outside of the vertical loop that doesn’t abruptly cut off the airtime just when it should be getting good. Maybe a low-rise speed-hill over the station and a wave turn up the hillside followed by a ground-hugging turnaround threading the loop and an airtime climb into a decline brake run. Simple but makes a world of difference. That would still keep the length at just a little over 3,000 feet too. Alas, as fun as it is to dream, such a ride was not meant to be. With the version we have, I really enjoy the launch, loop, and reverse launch from the tunnel. 6.5/10 It looks tame now, but that drop seemed like a monumental undertaking to me back in 2000 in a way the inversions on Viper, Batman, and Riddler just didn’t. It’s funny to think of how now it is generally considered to be one of the cruder and least thrilling hyper coasters. My enthusiasm for Titan does not extend to its older cousin. It would not be all that hard to photograph SFMM in a way that makes it look bad. I thought it would be more interesting to make it look as nice as possible. I didn’t ride Superman: Escape from Krypton today. I usually don’t even think about it until I hear it running. It’s fun, but a ride on it doesn’t necessarily make my day. I didn’t get to Lex either. I planned to, but even with the gold Flash Pass it became a struggle to get a lot done. Ah, the Screampunk district. I long to return to Phantasialand one day to finally see who did the steampunk theme better. You know. That old rivalry. Magic Mountain vs. Phantasialand…. If nothing else, the old regime did a fantastic job with Goliath’s queue line and station building. It’s the micro-budget Indiana Jones queue we never knew we needed. There are few coasters that waste as much speed as Goliath. Goliath I’m happy it exists, even if only for its off-brand uniqueness. I love the fact that SFMM has a plus-sized hyper coaster with three-bench trains, a straight ramp first drop, almost no airtime, a MCBR that hits harder than an eighties Arrow, a grayout helix, and one of the great all time coaster entrances. It's at once hopelessly primitive yet smoother than almost any modern equivalent. A “Giovanola rattle” just isn’t something you hear about. It is remarkably consistent in its sheer averageness. There is little logic to why I think Titan is so much better, but I just do. 6/10 The best part about a good steampunk theme is how it is steamy, yet also punk. Oooohh… steampunk. What if steampunk actually was the future? Like it turns out the solution to eliminating fossil fuels was steam power all along and all the old sci-fi authors were actually right? Just a century or two later than expected??? Oooohhhh steampunk… Twisted Colossus For me, it’s a tossup between this and Ghostrider for the title of best coaster in California, with Railblazer in a tight third. TC fills the niche of elite destination coaster I realized was lacking at SFMM once I started to travel more widely. It’s fun (more so when it races), long, intense, and has more airtime than anyone needs, but it still falls a little short of what I consider the top-tier RMCs. There are a couple of elements that don’t work well for me. One is the double-down on the green side. It doesn’t level-off enough at the midpoint to deliver a true 1-2 airtime punch like it’s intended to. Second are the twin double-ups both sides share before the second pair of turnarounds. These level off properly and work better than the green double-down, but I think they’re still taken it a bit too quickly. Not like I want it slowed down or anything, but the air comes and goes a little too suddenly to enjoy it. With TC though, the good more than outweighs the slightly less-good. I love the pair of first drops, the dueling inversions, and my favorite part is actually the climb up to the first pair of turnarounds—the two strongest and most prolonged airtime moments on the ride. This is a very solid mid-tier RMC, which means it’s still better than a top-tier almost anything else. 9/10 RMC first drops do not need size to be great. TC’s pair of them are honestly no worse than Steel Vengeance’s for me, though neither can quite match the one on Iron Rattler. Twisted Colossus doesn’t race a lot these days, which is a shame, but predictable. The green stall over the blue camelback is probably the ride’s best part when it does. My favorite element when not racing—the apex of the climb into the first turnaround. I’d rather RMC had done a single drop with a right-left shimmy instead of an abbreviated double-down here. Scream (or SCREAM!) So… most of us seem to regard this (if not Hydra) as the worst B&M floorless, but on this visit it was running GREAT! And I mean that. Usually Scream is a rattle trap, has a big jolt at the bottom of the first drop, and lightly fries you like you’re riding over a skillet due to the hot asphalt it was built on. None of that happened this time. It was fast, smooth, and dare I say approached the quality of the rides I had on Superman Krypton Coaster last October. Problem is, I haven’t been able to say that about a single lap taken on Scream since its opening season. Maybe it was freshly refurbed, I have no idea. The vast majority of rides I’ve had on this over the past eighteen years have varied from mediocre to awful and that is where I expect it to return. Hope I’m wrong, but we’ll just have to see. Based on my cumulative experience with the ride, Scream gets a 5/10. Scream was built in 2003, when the “Xtreme Park” brand had fizzled and the attempted revitalization as a family destination had not fully begun. So the ride’s presentation makes it look like nobody quite knew what to do with it (or cared) so they just did a bare bones job as cheaply as possible. When is the last time you heard someone say, “My favorite elements are cobra rolls”? None come to mind. Imagine if they had just laid some sand down and planted like nine palm trees. Would have looked so much better. I even felt some airtime going over the s-hill today. Sometimes Scream’s corkscrews are barely more comfortable than Viper’s. Not on this day. They were great! From this angle you almost think Goliath’s whole run is through a grove of palm trees. But it’s only the queue. So this one time a few years ago I was at the park by myself and ran into a couple of other enthusiasts. We started talking and hung out for a few hours. One of these dudes was wearing this floppy looking clown hat that looked like something you’d find at a Disney gift shop, but minus the character touches. When I asked him about it, he said he always loses a hat on Goliath. Me: “You mean you intentionally wear a hat just so you can lose it on Goliath?” Him: “No! It just happens!” Me: “….” So we get on the coaster and he puts the hat behind his back until we go through the tunnel. Then he puts on the hat, holds onto it through the big turnaround, and lets go as we enter the camelback. Predictably, the hat flies off his head as the train goes over the crest, and he turns around and looks back at me while holding his cheeks like the most mind-blowing thing ever just happened. Don’t be that guy, folks. Ahhh the Golden Bear Theater… Home to decades and decades of… quality entertainment…. I’ve actually never gone inside. Like many of you, I was ecstatic when it was announced SFMM would refurbish Revolution with lapbars to become the New Revolution. It’s a drastically better coaster now. In the bad old days, the best part and only redeeming quality of shoulder restraint Revolution was how it wound through a forest of trees along the hillside. But then when it came time for the refurb, some clueless exec decided they needed to cut a bunch of trees down to improve the coaster’s sightlines from the pathways. I distinctly remember a promo video with this guy saying, “We wanted to open it up a lot so people could see it.” You know. So people would know a coaster that had been there for forty years was, in fact, there. Fortunately there are still enough trees that Revolution’s (and Tatsu’s) experience hasn’t been irrevocably harmed. Revolution It broke down before I got to it and I ran out of time later, so I didn’t ride it on this visit. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed it since the refurb. It’s smooth, comfortable, and scenic. The loop delivers and is probably still the second best vertical loop in the park after Full Throttle’s. My issue, and the one thing keeping it from making a perfect Six Flags Schwarzkopf trifecta with Mind Bender and Shockwave, is how the block brakes are still applied as trims. Unless there are structural concerns I don’t know about, Revolution doesn’t need them. Nothing you can do to it will ever make it as intense than the other two and the brakes make it feel almost Goldrusher-esque at points. Regardless, we should all be thankful anyone cared enough to modernize and preserve it at all. 7/10 Rounding the path up through the Baja Ridge section. Viper’s placement still lends it a larger-than-life presence. I thought the “greatest coasters” wall was the coolest thing ever when I was a kid. And I believed it. Not that I condone actually doing this, but I think it would be low-key hilarious if someone snuck in after closing and put up murals of Expedition GeForce, El Toro, Helix, and others in their place. Ha. SFMM might not even care. It’d be cheaper to just leave it up. Looking up at Viper from here in the 90s felt like staring up at nothing short of Mount Olympus. The mythical one, not Big Chiefs. It was so intimidating I wouldn’t ride it the first time I visited. But the second time around, I was ready. Viper more than any other is the coaster that made me an enthusiast. Just look at that entrance sign. It’s perfection and typifies everything a roller coaster is supposed to represent. SFMM doesn’t make the same effort with its entrance and station structures these days. Everything about the experience of Viper was meant to be daunting. You go underneath a sign with a demonic looking snake, then you climb up the path to the main queue, where you then have to walk up two flights of stairs to the station proper, from which you proceed upward again to the peak of the nearly hyper coaster-sized lift hill. Then after the drop and the first loop, you take a victory lap high above the queue and station in celebration of what you have conquered. Viper isn’t a great or even good coaster anymore, but the psychological aspect of it works as good as ever. The bridge spanning Baja Ride from Viper to X2 is one of the most scenic spots in the park. Viper was my favorite coaster for several years from 1997 to 2001 when I made my first trips to Cedar Point, Busch Gardens Tampa, and Islands of Adventure. I knew nothing of its already by then old-fashioned technology or how to evaluate its myriad of faults. I just knew it was scary as shit and pulled the strongest g-forces I had experienced up to then. In hindsight I truly admire how my dad, who was pushing 50 around then, marathoned it with me on such a regular basis. I made him ride it over and over… Now at 33 I don’t even want to marathon it. Viper’s first loop is still a good one. Snappy and pulls hard. The second and third can be good depending on the row and the day, but they tend towards whiplash more. Viper’s second half is often determined by the MCBR. Sometimes it damn near stops you, others it slows you down a lot but still lets you carry some speed. When the former happens, you kind of fall into the harness during the slow corkscrews. If it’s the latter, you can still make a comfortable enough ride out of it if you brace correctly. Viper There’s no way around it. Like almost all Arrow coasters of its vintage, Viper has aged poorly. It was outdated only a year or two after it was built and it survives now on nostalgia and the cost-benefit analysis of dismantling it. But I will always love it and it has a firm claim in my sentimental top 5. It’s a coaster that delivers a good ride maybe two or three times in ten, but I’d be devastated if SFMM decided to get rid of it. It’s the last mega-looper standing after Shockwave, GASM, and Vortex all bit the dust and it looks primed to remain so for the foreseeable future. A fantasy of mine is for Viper to receive the Phantom’s Revenge treatment, getting new trains with lapbars and replacing all the track after the first loop. It could instantly rival Twisted Colossus for best coaster in the park. Too bad it will never happen. As it stands, 5.5/10 X2 is a coaster with a pretty cool setting and presence of its own. Now 20 years old, it still carries a mystique. A perfect pair: the last coaster of Arrow’s golden age and the one that proved so costly, it put them out of business for good. Weirdly, I didn’t like X when it first opened. I thought it was an overblown gimmick lacking in substance. I’ve grown to appreciate it over the years. Now I think it’s the second or third best coaster in the park depending on how it runs on a given day. X2 just isn’t the same for me after I fell in lust with Eejanaika a couple of years ago. Now with that coaster entrenched in my top 10, X2’s faults are a lot harder to ignore. It’s still good, but at least for me, that mystique I mentioned has diminished. X2 Somehow, with chronic one-train ops and perpetually slow loading, I still find X2 worth the wait. Hold on, that’s not true, that’s my FlashPass talking. That and I tend to visit on days I can be certain are slow. I don’t think I could ever ride this coaster and wait through the full switchbacks again. If it reliably ran two trains and cycled as quickly as any other coaster in the park (which still isn’t fast) it would be a different story, but X2 has become a novelty experience for me when the day’s conditions allow. Its reliability has improved a lot since then early years when you never had the faintest clue if would be running. That’s a great thing, because as cynical as I may sound, X2 can be a very good coaster. The first drop is absurdly spectacular as is the first raven turn and whatever they call the inversion following them. It’s after that where X2 starts to fall apart a bit. As the seat rotations get more complex and the track profiling tighter, roughness sets in. The second raven turn in an outside seat near the back of the train can be pure brutality. Riding in an inside seat mitigates it, though not completely. This is a very tough coaster to grade for me because the experience varies so much from one ride to the next. I will split the difference and say 8/10, though there are times I could have given it a 9. X opened up some great views of Viper that were not possible before. Viper-watching is an X2 queue line guest’s favorite pastime. I had something to say here, but I think I’ve now written enough about Viper to last the whole forum at least a year. If you take the winding route up from Baja Ridge past Revolution, you arrive at the… camp area. Which may or may not also be part of Samurai Summit given how it’s the location of Tatsu’s entrance and queue. This is actually one of my favorite areas of the park due to the ample tree cover and space to relax. Tatsu’s placement atop the magic mountain is so perfect I almost can’t believe the park did it. The elevation made what would have otherwise been a ho-hum first drop into a real highlight. The Orient Helpful Honda Express. It provides about the same rate of acceleration I imagine that new swing-launch version of Blue Fire going to Dreamworld Australia will deliver. An excellent terrain coaster is one that uses said terrain to do things no other coaster could. Tatsu is a perfect example. No other flyer could copy and paste Tatsu’s pretzel loop. Flying Dinosaur gives it a try by placing its midcourse pretzel loop in a tunnel, but without the elevation change the effect isn’t the same. That said, Flying Dinosaur is in totality the superior coaster. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, don’t bother going to Kyoto. If you’ve been to Samurai Summit at Six Flags Magic Mountain, then you’ve basically already seen it. The pagoda-style architecture of this oft-closed gift shop is a textbook example of the early Edo Period style ushered in when Tokugawa Ieyasu completed the unification of Japan’s once waring provinces. At the garden-like peak of Samurai Summit, Tatsu’s colors serve an aesthetic purpose analogous to the gold-plated walls of Kyoto’s Kinkaku-Ji temple. Ninja’s red station building is modeled on Senso-Ji temple in the Asakusa ward of central Tokyo. Oh my god, I really hope no one is taking these last few captions seriously. Tatsu My second favorite coaster in the park after Twisted Colossus. Tatsu is not an especially intense coaster outside of the famous pretzel loop. It’s a graceful coaster that successfully creates a flying sensation better than any other flying coaster has been able to thus far. It will probably never be equaled in this regard unless F.L.Y. rides even better than it looks, and even then it still doesn’t have Tatsu’s terrain and elevation. Tatsu is still a very smooth ride fifteen years on, displaying almost none of the rattle that has come to define Scream and Riddler’s Revenge. The train shudders quite a bit at the pullout of the pretzel loop, but that’s understandable given the speed and forces it endures in that element. Only the crazy intensity and originality of Flying Dinosaur top it among flyers. 9/10 I didn’t ride Ninja today. The 6pm operating day was already waning by the time I got up here and I had other priorities. Overall, I think Ninja is fun and the second best suspended coaster I’ve ridden after The Bat at Kings Island. I never got to experience Big Bad Wolf, though I hope to ride Vortex at Canada’s Wonderland sometime soon. West Coast Racers and Apocalypse make for a pretty nice view down the backside of Samurai Summit. It’s too bad the park couldn’t have built the beer garden (and I use that term very loosely) up here instead of the space between Riddler and West Coast Racers. Having a drink in the shade while watching the coasters from above would have been great. And somewhere around here is where I would have put it. Would have gotten less foot traffic, but that’s not my problem. Is it safe to say the whole “YoloCoaster” meme has been retired now? The Underground, home to what I think is… wait for it… the best themed coaster at SFMM. Bear with me on this. The area still looks a little sparse, but it’s a huge improvement over the desolate stretch of nothing that was here before. The dueling/racing moments look great from the midway, but I think the effect is felt better on-ride on Twisted Colossus. It doesn’t seem like the West Coast Racers trains come together as closely as they do on TC. At the very least, the midway has some great kinetic energy now. The upper story loading floor of the WCR station building. And now here we are down on the ground level of the WCR station, which is of course a complete lie. That’s just my Mustang on the dyno. I should have taken more photos from the actual ride station to help make my point, but this is why I call WCR the best themed coaster in the park. If accuracy is your metric, they captured the look they were going for perfectly. It ain’t fancy, but it’s accurate. There’s some alright airtime here, especially on the white side. If you drive the I5 and I405 enough around LA, chances are you’ll see a Maserati or two doing exactly this along the median some day. West Coast Racers I feel like saying the exact same thing in every review here, but WCR does a couple of things well while the bulk of it is somewhere between disappointing and average. Granted it’s a slightly different case here since this one is supposed to be a deluxe family coaster to some extent, but so is Cheetah Hunt and I can’t criticize that one at all. The dueling aspect syncs up well and adds to the fun. The white side has a couple decent airtime moments. The yellow side helix pulls some nice g’s. Those are fine and good. However the trains are clunky and uncomfortable, the inversions do nothing, and there’s something about Premier’s track profiling on this and other recent coasters that feels awkward to me—like they did a first draft of the heartlining and called it a day whereas Intamin or Mack would have dialed it in further. Its not for me, but I’m glad people seem to like it. 6/10 You know what, everything I said was wrong. This is the most well-themed ride in the park. Actually, I’m not sure. Maybe when it still had the Terminator IP. And the queue still has a lot of theming. But then the station is all bare wood, so…? Apocalypse I was pretty excited when Apocalypse first opened as Terminator Salvation. After years of Colossus and Psyclone stinking up the place, a fast, fun, smooth GCI sounded like just the thing. Because, I mean, GCI’s are all of those right? Well, yes, just not this one. It was smooth and fast when it opened. And it still carries that fast pace today. But it stopped being smooth real quick, though it is again now, but probably just temporarily. And was it ever all that fun? Ehh, not really. The first drop has some good air in the back when it does its mini-Wodan impression. There’s some floater on the low-rise camelback and a good airtime pop in the hitch of the elevated turn that follows. But after that it’s just… meh. Once Apocalypse enters the tunnel it commits the remainder of the layout to doing absolutely nothing. There’s no more airtime, laterals, or any of the complex transitions GCI layers into their other coasters. It just hurdles along through some flat turns and ineffectual directional changes. This isn’t a first-gen GCI like Wildcat or Roar either, when GCI had yet to adopt their current style. Apocalypse is a contemporary of rides like Prowler, Renegade, and Thunderbird/American Thunder, each of which offers a lot more. 6/10 The preshow video was pretty cool in the Terminator days. You got see real, honest to god, legit movie stars like Moon Bloodgood in a Six Flags park! I guess Common was in it too and he’s pretty famous. But I think most of us can probably act better than him. Apocalypse is running quite smooth at the moment. But the majority of wooden retracks seem to be going the way of ipe wood or GCI titan track/RMC RetraK lately to improve longevity and Apocalypse didn’t get any of that. So it may be only a matter of time until it deteriorates again. I seem to remember people referring to this as a dead man’s turn when the ride was built, but I don’t think I’ve seen the term used in a while. The last coaster I made it to this day was Riddler’s Revenge. It still dominates the skyline around the back of the park. Its position in front of the hillside has always made the world’s largest standup coaster look even larger than it is. Riddler’s Revenge was the other coaster that, along with Viper, made me an enthusiast. It was still under construction the first time I visited. The supports for the lift and first drop were up and I remember staring up at them and thinking about how they absolutely dwarfed Batman, which I had just come off. I was both terrified of and drawn to it. Once it opened in 1998, I couldn’t get enough. Everything about it was just so big. I had never seen or heard of a hyper coaster then and Riddler had this immense, twisting drop and these huge diameter loops that looked totally different and much cooler than the tighter, elevated ones on Viper. The back-to-back dive loops were my idea of coaster nirvana at the time. A typical day at SFMM for me back then was one ride each on Colossus, Batman, Ninja, Psyclone, and Revolution, and then as many as I could possibly manage on Riddler and Viper. As the penultimate standup, Riddler benefited from experience learned on Mantis and Chang. Its elements are less snappy and a little more drawn out. Probably why it stayed smooth well into its second decade of operation when its predecessors had long since gotten rough. Georgia Scorcher is my favorite standup now. And like Viper, Riddler’s Revenge has fallen deep into my rankings to the point where I rarely think about it unless I’m at the park. It’s much more re-ridable than the old Arrow, but time finally caught up with the big B&M standup too. You aren’t guaranteed a smooth ride on it anymore. Riddler’s Revenge This had always been a backseat ride for me. You got a little more torque on the twist down the first drop and a combination of hangtime plus a final, little yank in the four big loops. Nowadays it’s front or second row only for me. It took about twenty years, but Riddler finally began to get a little rough. The back is still tolerable, but if I want to ride it more than once, I have to ride farther forward. One thing I love about this coaster is how it adds plenty of non-inverting elements to the mix of inversions. The layout feels grander this way and gives the ride a more unique personality even if it can be kind of dull. On a hot day with a full train, Riddler can still deliver the thrills. 7/10 The worst-kept secret in town is the RMC single rail raptor for 2022 taking the place of Tidal Wave and spanning the distance from Batman: The Ride to Justice League. The Riddler’s Revenge Plaza is about to look pretty different in a year’s time. Assuming they name it Joker or another DC character, the new coaster could be a great opportunity to fill in the space between the current DC Universe and the Justice League/Riddler area. Combining the two into a single, larger DC Universe might greatly improve the atmosphere in the back of the park. Back in the parking lot as the day ran out and I ceased to be able to reserve anything with the Flash Pass. I may give SFMM a hard time, but I’ll always be back.
  5. Thanks! I don't know if you've ridden it, but you'd probably like Iron Rattler a lot too. It's a little more intense than NTAG, but still a lot tamer than Steel Vengeance.
  6. Great photos and report from both Walibi and Toverland. Sorry your day at Walibi didn't go smoothly. It's still one of my top must-visit parks.
  7. Six Flags Over Texas Long time coming with this, the final installment of my October 2020 trip report. I haven’t been active on the forums lately because I’ve used the time to write my first novel. It has nothing to do with theme parks, but there are characters named Stengel and Gerstlauer in it, so if you belong to the nigh-impossible to ascertain overlap between the coaster and horror communities, consider yourself Easter egged. So where was I? Man, I don’t know how some of you can write these step-by-step trip reports for days you spent at parks sometimes a year or more ago. I suppose I could do it for something like my Japan trip, but a single day at SFOT just doesn’t leave an imprint on the memory quite the same way. I do recall that it was one of the better days on the trip. My dad and I said goodbye to Bert at Fiesta Texas the day before, spent the night in San Antonio, then drove up to Arlington in the morning. The park was crowded, but less so than Fiesta. We rode everything we wanted to with re-rides on all the biggies. More importantly, there weren’t enough people to negate the advantage of the gold Flash Pass this time. The only missed coaster we had not already ridden was Joker. I’ll make an effort to credit hunt as long as it doesn’t become an impediment to other, more important things I’d like to get done, and on this day Joker’s wait time crossed that boundary, Flash Pass or not. Neither of us particularly cared about riding another S&S Free Spin anyway, especially one almost certain to disappoint compared to Fiesta’s Batman. The resemblance is coincidental given that the parks were built by different owners, but I’ve always liked how SFOT’s Oil Derrick is analogous to SFMM’s Sky Tower. I rode one of the four rides in this photo. Hint: it’s not a credit. My first visit to SFOT came during Holiday in the Park 2015, so it was a little truncated with the shortened hours and several major rides were closed including Batman, Mr. Freeze, and Texas Sky Screamer. I came away impressed with the park’s atmosphere, scenery, and well-rounded coaster collection. Especially surprising were Titan and Runaway Mine Train, both of which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to. In 2020, all of the major attractions I missed five years ago were open and I snagged the Runaway Mountain and Mini Mine Train credits I missed back then as well. I can count Runaway Mountain as another one of the park’s very pleasant surprises, as referring to it merely as a “credit” in the sense we often term inconsequential coasters does this one a disservice. It was great! We didn’t bother with Pandemonium or La Vibora this time, but we squeezed in everything else. For being relatively crowded and some rides still running below capacity, it felt like we got a lot done. I think we rode Titan, Shockwave, Runaway Mine Train, and Mr. Freeze twice each and New Texas Giant four or five times. Overall, SFOT might be the hardest park in the chain for me to classify and grade. It’s easy to look at a park like SFFT and place it into the “good Six Flags” category or to dismiss oh let’s say… SFDK as “bad Six Flags,” but the original doesn’t feel particularly right in any category. It’s too large and complete a park to lump in with something more middling like Six Flags St. Louis, yet neither does it hit the highs of a coaster lineup like Great Adventure’s. SFOT has a baked-in, almost tactile history that permeates huge swaths of it. The park feels very much like its own thing in a way that other parks Six Flags later acquired and draped in all the corporate trappings don’t. Only SFOG, understandably, shares this presence somewhat. But something still feels missing from Over Texas. I hate to be so, I don’t know… shallow(?) as to simply clamor for another big RMC/Intamin/B&M/whatever, but one more true destination coaster honestly seems to be all the park needs—and Aquaman Power Wave ain’t it. As a whole, SFOT’s coaster collection is very satisfying. But unless you prefer the original, more graceful, tamer style RMC of New Texas Giant or you’re a hardcore Shockwave-stan, it just doesn’t have a real gem to get irrationally excited about. It’s another one of those parks with lots of good and even very-good coasters still awaiting a truly excellent one. This kid in black operating Sky Screamer drove me up a f’n wall. It’s been long enough I don’t remember exactly what his “sanitation” process was, but it could not have been any slower if he tried. I mean the minimum possible effort at the slowest possible pace. And the kid in blue just stood there with his drink and watched. If I didn’t have Flash Pass I’d have been so mad I’d have stayed quiet and just waited longer. My quest to find a functioning Zamperla Endeavour remains unfulfilled. Runaway Mine Train This was one of my favorites in the park five years ago and it still is. This was Arrow’s first mine train, built all the way back in 1964, and I don’t think they surpassed it until Thunderation in 1993! There are a few of these models that may be slightly more thrilling, but none of them are as well integrated with both theming and natural scenery. There’s water, tunnels, lots of trees, wooden shacks, and a lift-section through an old west saloon. It does everything these mine trains are all supposed to do, this one just does it more cohesively and better. There are none of those jarring moments other mine trains have where you see an absolutely baffling banking transition ahead of you, you brace for it, and then it still just ragdolls you even though you’re only going about 12mph. The profiling is somehow less crude than on many of those that followed. It’s still very tame, but tame in the best way. Sunset or magic hour rides on this are honestly some of the best experiences in the park. 7.5/10 Runway Mountain I don’t know how I’ve been an enthusiast for twenty-plus years and I’ve never caught-on to the secret that this little enclosed Premier is one of the best rides in the park. This thing was a blast and I’m sad I only got to ride it once. We hit it fourth after Mr. Freeze and the two mine trains, got right on with our Flash Pass, but later in the day it had as long a wait as New Texas Giant, which I just couldn’t justify. It’s smooth pretty intense for its size. There was also some Halloween theming and lighting effects I don’t remember that I thought added to the experience. It reminded me of a more compact, budget version of DL’s Space Mountain with a few actual drops instead of nothing but endless spirals. 7.5/10 Runaway Mountain—where a modest station belies an immodest experience. Mr. Freeze: Reverse Blast The whole Gotham area was closed for Holiday in the Park in 2015, so I didn’t get to ride it then. I rode its twin at Six Flags St. Louis once in 2013 before it closed for the rest of the day, and to be honest, I remembered almost nothing about it. I obviously knew the layout and how the launch and LIM boost worked, but it must not have made much of an impression because I couldn’t recall if I even liked it. I have kind of a love/hate thing going with Premier as a manufacturer so I had milquetoast expectations going in this time. Well knock me over with a feather because Mr. Freeze is now my #2 overall Premier after only Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Orlando. The reverse launch is gut wrenching and the top hat and overbank are packed with positive g’s. I’d gladly trade Full Throttle and West Coast Racers for it. 8/10 Imagine how much better the Mr. Freeze experience would have been if Six Flags had Arnold Schwarzenegger hosting the queue video. The puns would be unreal. I can’t see it working very well on many other coasters, but Freeze’s dual-loading, sliding switch-track station will always be the coolest. It powers through the overbank. No hangtime here. So Mr. Freeze is red and Batman is yellow. Sure. Batman: The Ride After failing to get the Great White credit, at least I claimed this one, giving me 2/3 Batmen in Texas. Whenever you find yourself thinking, “Poor Texas, all three of their inverts are B:TR…” just remember, Canada also has three inverts… and two of them are SLCs. 7/10 I don’t have much to say about Batman, but I did ride Magnum XL-200 behind former pro wrestler Al Snow once. Titan It’s on-trend to dump on Titan and SFMM’s Goliath. I’ll defend Titan to the day I die, but boy do I ever love to dump on Goliath. It’s amazing what a better view and an extra helix do for Titan. The two big drops are still just giant ramps that don’t do a whole lot. However the immediate, sharp contrast between the long floater hill and the upward helix that follows makes the first half of Titan feel complete in a way that Goliath isn’t. Multiple helixes are often a sign that a coaster is about to waste a bunch of its momentum on practically nothing, but this isn’t the case here. Titan’s first helix is almost as strong as its second and it also means the train can cruise through the MCBR without the jolting kick in the chest Goliath gives you. Texas’s inherent flatness and the skyline of the football and baseball stadiums makes the horizon simply vast and allows Titan to feel even taller than it is. If its stats weren’t published, we could all be forgiven for assuming it was a giga. 8/10 Titan is neither a parking lot coaster nor a terrain coaster, but from some angles it manages to look like both. It's as if the engineers at Giovanola discovered the parabola sometime between designing Goliath’s (and therefore Titan’s) first drop and the pullout from the floater hill. If one extra helix improved Titan this much, Surf Coaster Leviathan will probably be my favorite coaster one day... Titan’s placement makes it look absolutely massive. Do you ever wonder why Six Flags didn’t copy and paste Titan’s name all over everything like they did Goliath? I do all the time. I love Titan’s queue area. It’s like it has its own themed land where the theme is, what else, Texas. Titan is a great ride after dark. The night wind had tears forming at the corners of my eyes by the end. Judge Roy Scream What I feel is the lone “bad” coaster in the park. While it looks like it could be Blue Streak at Cedar Point’s cousin, it rides nothing like it. I even assumed it was another classic John Allen designed woodie for years. But it’s actually a much more recent Bill Cobb coaster from 1980, which explains a lot. Cobb apparently collaborated with Allen on a number of projects, but nothing Cobb designed without him was ever well regraded outside of the original Riverside Cyclone. As for the Judge, there is little-to-no airtime and the trains do not track well. It’s a small, slow, uncomfortable woodie and nothing more. If it weren’t for its location and setting, I’d see no justification in keeping it. 4/10 Shockwave Do you ever feel like there are certain coasters that were designed just with you in mind? Like in 1978, Anton Schwarzkopf was sitting at his drafting table and thought, “You know, in about a decade, there’s gonna be a guy born who’s really going to appreciate what I’m building here.” This is how I feel about Shockwave. It was built at the nexus of when engineers could design some really intense, awesome stuff, but before CAD and ever more-precise heartlining made everything just a little too perfect. The loops on this old workhorse even supposedly pull 5.9 g’s. Whether they actually do or not, I have no idea. So then why do I merely enjoy Shockwave instead of love it to death? It’s definitely a case of liking the idea of something more than liking the thing itself. It’s very good. I wish I had time to ride it more. But despite appearing like it was designed with my sensibilities in mind, it never blows me away. The loops are pretty good, but no better or worse than Mindbender’s at SFOG and I think I like them a little less than the one on Montezooma’s Revenge. There are a couple spots of what I technically have to call ejector airtime, but for some reason it doesn’t feel like it to me. It’s as if Shockwave has all the ingredients to make my ideal 1970s roller coaster, but the essence was lost somehow. Maybe I’m right. Maybe I just need to ride it more. Or maybe I should be less introspective and stick to writing anecdotes about riding behind forgotten professional wrestlers. 8/10 Shockwave is a great coaster to photograph. That said, I think all of mine turned out just okay. The RIDDLER Shockwave… Clunky airtime. It doesn't feel like ejector air the way we usually think of it. It's more like the car just drops out from underneath you and leaves you hanging, then you plop down onto the hard seat a fraction of a second later. It's both uncomfortable and awesome. Schwarzkopf totally should have built a double-looping shuttle loop. Gray-out city, folks. I honestly wonder how feasible it would be for a park to do this. Cobble together parts of various retired shuttle loops and let it fly. Like if a park actually cared enough and thought it would net a return on investment. It might not be impossible from a technical standpoint. New Texas Giant When I last rode Goliath at SFOG, I turned to my friend and stated that it rode more like New Texas Giant than a B&M hyper. I think the inverse is also true, because for as innovative and significant as it is, NTAG is kind of like the B&M of RMCs. That’s not a diss. Put down your Molotovs and Antifa hoods. What it means is this coaster follows a more deliberate, graceful profile that eases you into its ejector airtime instead of grabbing you by the back of the neck and shot-putting you. It’s an excellent ride that will thrill you at its own pace and without the coaster—or you—breaking a sweat, just like… well, Goliath at SFOG. There’s nothing wrong with New Texas Giant at all and nothing about it I’d change. I just prefer to be shot-putted. I waivered on scoring it half-a-point lower, but 9/10. The drop crossing under the lift hill is probably the Giant’s strongest airtime moment. RMC came a long way from New Texas Giant to Steel Vengenace. It's especially telling considering how similar the two coasters they used as starting points were. RMC started out on a high note with this ride, but strove for constant improvement and refinement. It's amazing how far they've progressed in such a short time. I much prefer the Gerstlauer trains on New Texas Giant and Iron Rattler to RMC’s in-house trains. They probably couldn’t have handled the dynamics of the later designs, but they’re so much more open and comfortable. This might seem like a weird comparison, but this first drop feels like that of Millennium Force to me. Different scale, similar sensation. Some of the Halloween “theming” in the Mine Train station. Nothing fancy, but it kind of fits with the old south/old west theme. Some of it was a bit, um… morbid. Lighting, cobwebs, and the odd scare actor gave the older, more highly-themed areas have a great atmosphere in the evening. I would have liked to experience a proper Fright Fest here. The show scenes were not quite as well done as at SFFT. That sets were more elaborate and expansive there. December and October visits to the Texas Six Flags parks were nice, but it's time I come back during the summer for a regular season visit with full staff and operating hours. Looking forward to it!
  8. I don't think I was able to appreciate how good Pantheon has the potential to be until seeing it in motion. I really hope they can open it by the time I visit in late June.
  9. I haven't been on the forums as much lately so the poll snuck up on me this year. Almost missed it! No newcomers in the top 25 pictured here, but I had a few important additions like Candymonium, Boardwalk Bullet, and Wonder Woman (SFFT). Thanks once again for keeping this going!
  10. Six Flags Fiesta Texas At some point in the last decade Fiesta Texas quietly became a sleeper pick for best Six Flags Park. It feels like it happened overnight. Before we all knew it, what was a novelty park with a big floorless on a quarry wall was suddenly the shining example of how the Six Flags formula can be done right. In 2020 it feels more like a Cedar Fair park in how the corporate brand is more skillfully woven into the local culture and identity. After a long, fun, and surprisingly busy day at Fiesta, I declared it my second favorite in the chain close behind the perpetually overlooked Six Flags Over Georgia. Joining me was TPR’s favorite Austinite, the one and only Bert! He and I kind of had dueling 2019 Japan trip reports going for a while and discovered that besides coasters, we also had a love for Godzilla films in common, so the only sensible thing to do was to meet up once I made my way to his home state of Texas. This was not my first visit to SFFT, but it’s Bert’s home park so he was able to help us navigate the larger than expected crowds and show us the ins and outs of the place. Bert and I are such hardcore coaster enthusiasts that we wore Godzilla shirts instead. My first time at SFFT was in 2001 just a few months after my dad and I had our big Kraken marathon at Sea World Orlando. Superman Krypton Coaster was the new hotness back then. This was when B&M floorless coasters seemed cutting edge and avant-garde, so as a 13 year old proto-enthusiast who had just ridden the two biggest and baddest floorlesses in the country, I felt like I was in coaster heaven. The park’s only other major coasters at that point were Road Runner Express, the Vekoma-built Joker’s Revenge (closed), Poltergeist (closed), and the original, full-blown wooden, John Pierce-designed Rattler. This was after Rattler had been modified to shorten the drop and reprofile the curve off the quarry wall, but I still remember it to this day as the roughest coaster experience of my life. Not even Son of Beast or Psyclone at their worst could outdo Rattler’s worst. It took 14 years for my next visit when we came during Holiday in the Park 2015. The park had seen numerous upgrades by then, most importantly Iron Rattler. I finally got to ride Poltergeist, but Superman was closed so I’d have to continue relying on a fading memory instead of reevaluating it. One-train operations on Iron Rattler kept us in line there for most of the day, so I didn’t get to explore the full park the way I would have liked, but the handful of night rides on Iron Rattler were well worth it. Its height, speed, terrain, and airtime make it one of the best night rides out there and the cold December air only amplified everything. Now in 2020, armed with a Gold Flash Pass in one holster and Bert in the other, I felt ready to take the park by force the way I had always wanted to. Things started well. We got two quick rides on Wonder Woman and powered through the other coasters on our way to Iron Rattler. But little by little the midways became more clogged and by noon it felt like regular October Saturday in terms of crowds. With our Gold Flash Pass this would not normally have been a problem. Gold is all I’ve ever needed at any Six Flags park even on peak days. Usually I’ll select the next ride as soon as my current one is scanned and by the time I’ve exited the station and walked to the next one it’s either already time to ride or will be in a matter of minutes. Not so today. Social distanced seating meant that every ride was hovering somewhere around 40-50% capacity and the park just could not handle the crowds. Bert will correct me if I remember incorrectly, but I believe the state had just approved raising theme park capacity that week and the result was an influx of guests the exceeded what the rides could accommodate with their current restrictions. I can’t be too mad about it. These are unbelievably tough times for this industry and if letting in the most guests allowable is what they have to do to keep people employed and the park running, then good for them I guess. Mask wearing and sanitation were overall very good, so it never seemed like a safety concern to me. The unfortunate effect of all this is that it rendered our Gold Flash Pass almost moot. By mid-afternoon wait times for all the major rides were 70-90 minutes on the Flash Pass. Now keep in mind the Gold level means your wait time is reduced by 50%, so the regular queue was double that. We made the best of it but we eventually had to accept that we just weren’t going to get as much done as we thought. Getting any more rides on Wonder Woman was out of the question as were Joker Carnival of Chaos and Road Runner Express. The real kicker came near the end of the night when our reservation for Iron Rattler got booted out of the system so they could close the line two hours ahead of the park closing. We had already waited in limbo for our prior reservation on Superman while it broke down, only to finally get off that and see that our existing Iron Rattler reservations had been wiped clean despite being only 8:00pm ahead of a 10:30pm closing time. If the ride had broken down it would have been one thing. But to see Iron Rattler continue sending out trains full of riders when our reservation we paid the combined total of $380.00 for got canceled was infuriating. As someone who works in hospitality, I hate complaining and I try to give staff the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, but I couldn’t do that here. We went to the Flash Pass office where several other groups were already there about the same issue. I guess my voice must have been the loudest in the room because a more-senior manager came over to speak with me. To his credit, he was totally professional about it and asked what we wanted in compensation. I said we wanted passes to ride Iron Rattler or Wonder Woman. When he replied he couldn’t do that and floated the idea of a partial refund, I asked for 50% to which he agreed. When we left and checked our receipt I was beyond impressed to find that he had in fact given us a full refund. If you’ve ever taken any university level hospitality courses, you might have had a professor who taught you this type of thing is called the “service paradox.” While any real hotel manager would probably laugh at you for using the term in general conversation, the gist of it is that guests look more favorably on a business that rights a wrong rather than one where nothing goes wrong at all. With that in mind, the park did the right thing in compensating us, but it’s inexcusable that they’re cutting off Flash Passes like this in the first place. I don’t buy the excuse that it was to accommodate the fireworks show still over two hours from then. I work in a business where every hour of payroll feasible is being cut right now to manage losses. As far as I can tell, this was just Six Flags trying to get their ride staff off the clock at the earliest possible convenience. Did this experience taint my opinion of Fiesta Texas as a whole? Not really. I’ll chalk this one up to Covid and hope for better next time. We still had a great day hanging out with Bert and I got to see all of what the park has to offer better than I did the last time. I think there are a couple of Six Flags parks with better coaster collections, but none of them have the all-around blend of quality and quantity of attractions, atmosphere, theming, and a great natural setting like Fiesta Texas does. I can see why Bert is proud of it as his home park. Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster If the Raptor clones aren’t the top pound-for-pound coasters out there, then I don’t know what is. Short as they are, Wonder Woman and Railblazer are so packed with ejector airtime, intensity, and inversions, their brief duration never registers. I don’t know if I have a preference for one installation over the other. It will be interesting over time to see if much variation develops as more of them are built the way it has with some Batman clones. SFFT has an elite 1-2 punch now with this coaster and Iron Rattler. 9/10 The raptor train carries so much speed over this hill the physics almost don’t look real. Superman and Wonder Woman are two very different steel loopers from different eras that complement each other perfectly. One is a short, tight, bundle of energy while the other is a long, flowing epic. It looks not unlike the Roman fanfare theming from the original Roller Coaster Tycoon, huh? Iron Rattler Well, I never got to follow up on my world class night rides from 2015 like I wanted, but with the two rides I got on it, Iron Rattler moved up on my list anyway. I noticed they don’t slow it down at the top of the lift anymore. I don’t know how long this has been the practice, but it definitely improves the drop in the back of the train. The quarry wall and bits of support structure you fly through add so much to the sensation of speed, really making Iron Rattler feel like a grandiose experience. This coaster possesses an “epic” quality that some of the world’s greatest coasters, including ones I rate higher than Iron Rattler, lack. It shares a sense of magnitude and of conquering something formidable I otherwise only feel on giga coasters or one-offs like Dododonpa. The zero-g-roll atop the cliff remains one of my top five favorite inversions and the cliff dive would be the most ideal coaster midpoint ever devised—if it were actually the midpoint. The storyteller in me yearns for the layout to complete its narrative and by hitting the brakes straight out of the tunnel it doesn’t get that chance. Still an excellent coaster though. 9/10 I failed to take any good photos of Iron Rattler. The old Rattler had more track circling this space that was omitted from the RMC conversion. I’m sure cost was the reason they didn’t retain more of it and it’s too bad because the lack of a proper denouement is the only thing keeping Iron Rattler from being a top tier RMC. How our standards change over the years—Until Rattler surprised us at the end of the night, Road Runner Express and Superman Krypton Coaster were the only coasters open when I visited in 2001—and I was very satisfied with that at the time. Iron Rattler frames the Gully Washer loading platform like a gigantic horror creature sprawled atop the quarry wall. Superman Krypton Coaster It’s too bad I didn’t get to ride this back-to-back with Kraken like I intended since they seem to have been the consensus two best floorless coasters for years. Fortunately, SKC was running great, in fact a lot better than I remember Kraken riding the last time. It has a bit of that vibration and shuffle B&Ms pick up as they age, but it was never uncomfortable. Maybe this is due to having not ridden it in nineteen years, but SKC is a more intense coaster than I realized. That’s by B&M looper standards, mind you, however it was not the big, floaty floorless I remembered. It pulls just hard enough to be interesting in a few places, which together with the strong layout and terrain visuals make it my new pick for best floorless, finally overtaking my beloved Kraken. 8/10 I have it on good authority that Brandon Routh valiantly, yet unsuccessfully petitioned for years to reprise his role as Superman right here atop the vertical loop at Six Flags Fiesta Texas before ultimately returning to the DC Universe in a different capacity on Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. I think this is one of B&M’s finest zero-g-rolls. My only criticism of Superman Krypton Coaster is that it doesn’t utilize the quarry wall more. A tunnel or another dive off the edge would have been ideal. Other than the first drop and the elevated spiral, most of it follows a typical B&M looping layout. Poltergeist Who would think that despite having two excellent RMCs, a twenty-one-year-old, cloned Premier would be Bert’s favorite coaster at his home park? I was surprised when he told me, but I understand. Like Joker’s Jinx which I rode earlier this year at Six Flags America, Poltergeist is a well-rounded, thrilling, and comfortable ride. Without the MCBR found on the Flight of Fear twins, Poltergeist take every element at just the right speed and the intensity mounts as the ride nears its conclusion. I still think it’s a crime Premier never sold more of these. 8/10 The first-gen Premier launched trains always look like toys to me. Batman: The S&S This was my first Free Spin coaster back in 2015 and it remains one of only two that I actually enjoy. Nagashima Spa Land’s Arashi spins so much it’s in a class by itself, but of the more pedestrian, US-based models, only Fiesta’s allows the concept to flourish. Unlike the later installations, you’re likely to get a couple of inversions on this one and it doesn’t feel like the ride vehicle is being reigned in constantly. 7/10 Batman has a central location and doesn’t fit squarely in the DC area by Superman and Wonder Woman. So help me out with this. I’m not particularly steeped in Batman lore, but was this specific Batmobile featured in any movies/shows/games, or did someone actually go to the trouble of making an original design just for the park? The only Free Spin in North America I’ll wait in line for. Goliath This is one of my two favorite Batman: The Ride clones along with the one at Six Flags Over Georgia. I routinely gray out on them whereas I rarely if ever have on the rest of them. For whatever reason, these two just seem to pull a little bit harder. Props to SFFT for doing a parking lot coaster the right way too. Putting some grass, sand, and shrubbery down goes a long way. As intense as it is and as nice as it looks, the Batman layout still leaves me a bit cold. I’ve never been able to figure out why this is, but it may be that the layout is so tightly paced that it doesn’t leave adequate time to enjoy what the train is doing. 7.5/10 Goliath: The Invert Goliath was already running intense on an early morning run then became even more so once it had ample time to warm up. Probably my favorite paint scheme on any of the Batman clones at the moment. I feel like SFFT’s eclectic mix of themes should not work together on paper, but somehow in practice it just does. It would be one thing if this were a true Disney/Universal style park with themed areas designated by a cohesive plan, but that isn’t quite the case here. Instead you have Western, Medieval, Boardwalk, 1950s, DC Comics, and (seasonally) Halloween elements that all somehow just avoid clashing with each other. Bugs’ Rapids is as good a flume ride as you’ll find at a Six Flags park. This dragon alone wets riders more than the rest of the ride combined. To their credit, the scare actors seemed into it despite being unable to roam like they have in years past. One could actually make a case for keeping this approach instead of returning to the old scare zone model. Parks could opt to expand on these show scenes with multiple contained characters featuring story arcs and dialogue. Each one could be its own ten-minute horror set piece that plays out several times per hour. I appreciate touches like turning the Gully Washer river red. Steampunk horror pumpkins? Sure! I didn’t stop to check if the kiddie train at Kemah Boardwalk was named Tilman Fertitta. The steam train at Fiesta Texas is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s long, scenic, and atmospheric without resorting to hokey show scenes or long stops in the middle of nowhere. And where else can you find such great views of exotic attractions like this Vekoma Boomerang? Crowds almost seemed to double after nightfall. The park atmosphere was still great, but it eventually became clear we just weren’t going to be able to get as much done as we had earlier in the day. As good as Joker’s lighting package looks, it will have to wait until next time.
  11. Sea World San Antonio This park was not on my radar until 2020. It always seemed like a pleasant, midsize park with a few okay coasters that I might go to if it was convenient but would never plan a trip around. Then they built Texas Stingray which rounded out the lineup enough to appeal to me. It was still very much a “convenient” stop in what had been a trip of pure planning turmoil and if any of the Texas parks had to get bumped from the trip, it would have been this one. Fortunately that didn’t need to happen. Our day at SWSA went much better than our day at SWO. Don’t interpret that as me saying Texas has the better park. Florida’s is the flagship for a reason and everything from coasters to animal exhibits to landscaping and dining is a notch higher there. The difference is that on the day we went, SWSA ran with at least some semblance of normal operations. The only rides closed were Great White and a couple of flat rides. We never gave the flats consideration in the first place and I’m not about to lament missing one of three Batman: The Ride clones in the state. Crowds were manageable and there were clearly budgetary cutbacks, but it didn’t feel like SEAS took a hatchet to the place like Orlando did. Not all the coasters opened right away. The two available at opening were Journey to Atlantis and Super Grover’s Box Car Derby and the rest opened an hour later. The layout here is kind of unique. As I understand it, when the park first opened the whole property functioned as a single park, then over the years it was subdivided into three sections. Now when you enter under the iconic triple arch structure, the southern and largest side of the park to your right comprises Sea World proper featuring all the coasters and shows, while the east end just ahead has been redeveloped into an Aquatica water park, and the north end to your left is Discovery Point with dolphin and shark encounters. Having seen a bunch of the animal stuff a few days ago, we spent almost the entire time on the rides side with a stop to watch the Beluga show since we didn’t see it in Orlando. You’d think Sea World Orlando might have the grandest entrance, right? No, it’s actually San Antonio! The Covid effect reared its head most obviously with the park’s seasonal Bierfest event. They advertise it as a pretty standard theme park Oktoberfest beer and food event and this was just what we had a taste for after completing our first laps on all of the coasters. In practice it didn’t turn out quite as well. It was held in a courtyard area between Atlantis and Texas Stingray with a stage featuring a German-style show surrounded by small craft beer tents with more tents scattered along the midway. Unfortunately the venue was practically empty and we just couldn’t bear to sit there and watch the German show troupe half-heartedly perform to a plethora of empty benches and a bunch of bored-as-hell bartenders seemingly suffering from caffeine withdrawals. And the staff didn’t seem to even know how the event was supposed to work. It was one of those setups where bartenders don’t actually sell you the drink—you have to buy a ticket/wristband/whatever from a different booth then take that to the individual beer tents. A shrugging bartender sent us to a pair of booths in the center to buy our passes where we were met by another employee who wasn’t sure what to do and was apparently waiting for someone else to come train her. Maybe we were early or something, I don’t know. We knew there was a German restaurant out the back door of our Hyatt right on the Riverwalk, so we decided to just skip this thing and go there for our Oktoberfest fix. While it would have been nice to share a few beers in the park, it wasn’t a big deal since operations were otherwise just fine. Do I think I’ll come back next time I’m in Texas? Ehh, maybe not. The park was nice enough but none of the coasters really stand out, even Texas Stingray, and I’ll likely continue making regular visits to Sea World Orlando in the years to come. So unless Sea World San Antonio builds a big B&M, Mack, or Intamin to peak my interest again, this visit will probably be it for a while. Great White and Vampire at La Ronde are the last two North American Batman: The Ride clone credits I need. We actually thought we were going to be able to ride it later in the day… …until we eventually found this sign, which was a little more definitive. The festive Oktoberfest atmosphere around here is just so strong I can hardly believe it. You pretty much feel like you’re actually in Munich. Texas Stingray I was not as hyped for the latest GCI as I was for the two Gravity Groups. I figured it would be a pretty good ride because the layout looked fantastic in videos, but as we know, GCI is like the B&M of wooden coasters and they rarely deviate much from their safe, proven formula. So count me one-hundred percent surprised/not surprised when I hit the brakes after my first ride on it and thought, “this is what all the coaster YouTubers are so excited about?” It felt like a watered-down Goldstriker with little of that coaster’s sharp pops of airtime or feeling of controlled chaos. Texas Stingray felt surprisingly tame, like the transitions were all just a little more drawn-out than usual for GCI. I don’t think running slow was the problem. Even with socially distanced trains it still ran blazing fast. I will say that Texas Stingray might be the smoothest wooden coaster experience I’ve ever had. The steel structure/ipe wood/Millennium Flyer combo runs like a dream and I will always prefer these trains to Timberliners. The only wooden coaster that felt comparably smooth might be an opening season Outlaw Run. Overall through, speed and smoothness are not enough. A great wooden coaster should carry either airtime, intense laterals, a near out-of-control ferocity, or some combination of the three. Stingray didn’t seem to do any of that for me. My tastes in GCI differ from the consensus though. My favorites are the relatively unheralded American Thunder and Joris en de Draak. If those two aren’t your cup of tea, maybe Texas Stingray will be, but it’s a middle of the pack GCI for me. 7.5/10 GCI Rankings: American Thunder Joris en de Draak Thunderhead Gold Striker Troy Wodan Texas Stingray White Lightning Kentucky Rumbler Lightning Racer Prowler Apocalypse Roar Wildcat I think Texas Stingray has one of the best looking structures of any GCI. It is built over some slight terrain though it isn’t apparent on-ride. I approve of GCI doing a straight first drop for a change. It’s no Gravity Group drop, but there’s some nice airtime in the back few rows. I’ll be curious to see where Texas Stingray ranks when the next round of polls comes out. Many new GCIs score highly at first before the excitement settles to a more appropriate level a few years on. Steel Eel This was better than expected. While not a full scale hyper, Steel Eel delivers a slightly more forceful ride than its cousins Steel Force and Mamba. It finds a nice middle ground between those two and the big outlier in Morgan’s catalogue, Superman El Ultimo Escape. The experience in the back car was enjoyable though nothing to get excited about, but things get a little more interesting up front. You actually get some very abrupt airtime at the crest of those big cammelbacks. I thought it was almost Magnum-like a few times. Steel Eel is not the kind of clunky airtime machine Cedar Point’s big classic is, but how often do you ever ride something even reminiscent of it? Not often, and that’s why Steel Eel was a very pleasant surprise. Contrasting it with Texas Stingray is a study in how expectations can impact one’s enjoyment of a ride. I’m giving them both the same score despite the fact that I enjoyed Steel Eel more. If two coasters are equally good and you entered one with higher expectations and the other with lower expectations, the former will always feel like a disappointment no matter what it does well while the latter feels like you earned a nice bonus. 7.5/10 The scale of these two coasters plays tricks on me. My eye wants to see Steel Eel as a full size hyper and it has the effect of making Wave Breaker look massive by association. SWSA has adopted the Cedar Fair method to painting roller coasters: (1) Give one coaster the most high contrast combination of bright, primary colors possible, (2) choose an opposing set of bright, primary colors for the next coaster nearby, and (3) throw your hands up in the air, walk away, and assume the aesthetics will work themselves out on their own. Fortunately it worked out okay in the case of Steel Eel and Wave Breaker. Be it a trick of perspective or merely the lack of anything taller around it, Steel Eel certainly doesn’t look like a junior hyper while approaching from the midway. Steel Eel fails the airtime eye test and passes the butt test. It looks a little slow, but it’s deceiving! Like Sea World Orlando, the San Antonio park has great views across the central lake. This was the best dual train shot I was able to get. Am I the kind of enthusiast photographer who waits around for such things? Well, maybe I am, and maybe I’m not. It has the same 36 passenger trains found on Steel Force, Mamba, and Superman. With Steel Eel’s shorter track length, I bet it’s a capacity monster when running more than one train. Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster This is everything a deluxe family coaster should be. It’s fun and mildly thrilling without being intimidating. Throw a bunch of expensive theming on it and it could feel right at home in a Disney park. Wave Breaker is a coaster I wish was a lot longer because I felt so relaxed riding it. Give me a scenic railway version of this that spans the entire park. I’d ride it. Like any family coaster, scoring it on the same scale as bigger coasters is deceptive because it’s not playing the same game. It excels at what it was meant to do. 6/10 Wave Breaker is um… not a capacity monster. I'm interested to see how the similar, but more compact Jet Rescue at Sea World Australia rides one day. With their new Gravity Group, that park just added itself to my to-do list. I don’t know how much use the park gets out of the lake as a show venue, but I’d like to see another large coaster skimming across its surface one day. Journey to Atlantis I don’t have a ton of thoughts about this one other than to call it like I see it: it’s a poor man’s Atlantica. The theming, setting, and scale Europa Park gave their Mack Super Splash is not found here. Even something as simple as the camelback after the drop adds a lot to Atlantica. Sea World really could have done a lot more with the Atlantis rides in Texas and California. 5/10 Journey to the chute-the-chute. The turntables and reverse drop are fun elements even if they seem kind of silly and pointless. Our hotel for this leg of the trip was the Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk. It’s one of the nicest downtown city Hyatts in the country and has the trademark atrium lobby. This was the only hotel we stayed at that felt somewhat busy. If it wasn’t for people wearing masks you could easily have fooled yourself into thinking it was business as usual here. The Hyatt has prime placement on the Riverwalk. Back in my Japan trip report from 2019, I recounted how my experience at the Roosevelt Lounge at Tokyo DisneySea was influenced by an earlier visit to another “Roosevelt lounge”—the Menger Hotel Bar in San Antonio. Well, we’re back! In 1898 Theodore Roosevelt used the Menger Bar as an enlistment station for what later became known as the Rough Riders, Teddy’s regiment during the Spanish-American War. Supposedly, if you enlisted, you were served a whiskey. Talk about an incentive. The Menger Bar wasn’t quite as charming this time in its Covid configuration with bar stools removed and seating confined to tables on the upper balcony level, but what can you do? I drank to the kindly, apologetic Japanese bartender at DisneySea who tried so hard to understand what I meant when I attempted to order an old fashioned. She has no idea there’s a buzzed coaster enthusiast 6,400 miles away in Texas thinking about her. If the staff is to be believed, this is a bullet hole from when Teddy’s trigger finger got a bit too frisky at the enlistment table. The lobby of the Menger Hotel is rich with history. Mounted antlers and horns from game animals Teddy shot. Teddy’s handkerchief with a likeness of himself. Hey, I’d carry a hanky with a pic of me on it if I were Theodore Roosevelt too. Dollhouse furniture belonging to Teddy’s daughters. A crow Teddy shot. Teddy’s Almond Joy wrapper. Okay, so I made these last five up, but I had you there for a moment, didn’t I?
  12. That may have been when I first learned of Boardwalk Bullet. I'd be very curious to know how lap times then compared to my visit. Riding it with full trains at night must have been incredible.
  13. Day 4—Kemah Boardwalk The midpoint of our October trip was a morning flight from Orlando to Houston. While I have always liked Houston, we would not stay for long on this trip. The plan was to go from the airport straight to Kemah Boardwalk, spend the night at a downtown Hyatt, then drive to Sea World San Antonio the next morning. Kemah Boardwalk is an interesting place. It’s a small seaside amusement complex similar in scale to something like the Santa Monica Pier and far smaller than Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Unlike those two which are geared heavily towards rides, Kemah’s focus is more on dining and a marina with a small selection of rides as a secondary draw. It is one of countless properties fully owned by Tilman “I want to build the Houston Rockets into an NBA title contender, but I drove my highly-regarded team president out of town, slashed budgets in every department of the organization, and just traded for John Wall” Fertitta. The Boardwalk is thus a showcase for many of the restaurants under Fertitta’s Landry’s Inc. banner. I happen to think most of them are quite good, so I don’t feel like having the Tilman stamp all over everything is a bad thing at all, even if he’s one of my least favorite NBA owners. A quick Tilman anecdote. After I completed the WDW college program, I worked front desk at the Golden Nugget Las Vegas for a year right around the time Landry’s Inc. purchased the joint. One day when Tilman (everyone always referred to him by his first name) was touring the hotel, he walked out of the back office and stood right behind me, watching me check guests in for ten minutes or so. I was 21 at the time and still a fresh hire who didn’t really know what I was doing yet. Tilman obviously had no idea who I was and probably picked me at random, but having this billionaire owner hovering over me was the most nervous I’ve ever been in a professional setting. None of that colors my opinion of Kemah Boardwalk and Boardwalk Bullet however, both of which I really liked. Bullet was the only thing I rode. The standard-fare flat rides weren’t of any interest to me. I bought an all-day wristband and finished with eight rides on it that afternoon before we left for the hotel. I would have liked to have gotten there earlier and bookended a far longer Bullet marathon with lunch and dinner at a couple of the restaurants, but we made do with an intermission for drinks and aps at Landry’s Sea Food. Operations were okay but not great. The pair of Bullet ride ops were talkative and friendly if not particularly fast. Same with the Landry’s bartender and wait staff. Mask wearing was encouraged but not enforced. The boardwalk was clean and had a pleasant atmosphere I would like to soak in more during a future visit. Boardwalk Bullet This was my fifth Gravity Group after Voyage, Ravine Flyer II, Switchback, and Mine Blower. My understanding going in was that Bullet was a coaster that polarized people over its intensity, pacing, and roughness. I had heard thorough retracking over the last couple of years had mostly solved the latter two problems so I knew I was going to love it. In answer to my pre-trip question of which new GG coaster I would prefer, it was easily Boardwalk Bullet. I fully accept that it may have run like a hastily constructed wooden garbage heap years ago, but in 2020 this thing ran awesomely. It was as smooth as such an intense coaster running PTC trains probably can be and it was much more comfortable than the more recent Mine Blower-Timberliner combo. It also hauled all kinds of ass until the final stretch of the layout. It took all the big moments fast, even the tall-ish midcourse hill with the anti-rollbacks it just crawls over in older videos. However, the pacing does let up some at the end unlike Voyage or Mine Blower which never seem to slow down at all. There was never a queue and I never saw a train more than half-full. I imagine a full train would have run even faster and held that momentum until the very end. Like a lot of my top coasters, Bullet is an aggressive ride that constantly reminds you that it, not you, is in control of the experience, so I can see why it may not be for everybody. I would describe it as a more tightly wound and intense Ghostrider or a Knoebels Twister with more airtime. For me it’s also the best coaster in Texas, beating out all three of the Six Flags RMCs. 9/10 This slight wave turn doesn’t look like much from this angle, but it delivers a nice kick of lateral airtime that made me bust out laughing my first couple of times. That’s what I do when I’m taken aback by surprisingly intense elements. I laugh uncontrollably. Boardwalk Bullet’s Texas-themed station is just as Texas as all the other Texas-themed stations you'll find in Texas. As many highlights as Bullet has, the compact structure makes it difficult to photograph. All of my rides were late afternoon/early evening. I want to ride this thing at night when I suspect I’d love it even more. The coaster’s structure pushes right up to the seawall. Several of the restaurants including Saltgrass were closed. I bet the ambiance at Kemah Boardwalk is great when everything is open and the sky is a little darker. The ride selection is fine for what it is, but as the greater Houston area’s closest thing to a true amusement park, I’d love to see them find a way to grow with more rides. Perhaps by building another parking structure and expanding into the parking lot. I was pretty nervous that Bullet was closed when we arrived. We didn’t see a single train cycle during our approach to the parking lot. But it was merely the low crowds and Covid cleaning procedures. Like Ghostrider, the wooden structure’s proportions make it look bigger and more imposing than it is. The first drop is one of the best wooden coaster drops out there. It equals Mine Blower’s for sheer ejector airtime and easily bests it on view and setting.
  14. Thanks! For Phoenix I actually stood on the edge of the antique car track for a shot at one point. Part of me wonders if I might actually have preferred Wild One to Mine Blower! Thank you! That stretch of International Drive used to allow for some amazing photos across the Kraken (and now Mako) lake before the trees grew in. Thanks Bert. Our SFFT segment is coming up soon! It's funny how I'm anticipating returning to TDS more now after I've gone back to Animal Kingdom than I was prior. Even without Journey it has so much to offer.
  15. Sea World Orlando I hate opening a trip report like this, especially about a park I have always really liked, but our experience at Sea World Orlando was the worst of our trip. I feel guilty saying that because nothing about it reflects negatively on the park’s offerings during normal times. But, as we are constantly reminded of every day, these are not normal times. Every aspect of park operations has been affected by Covid-19. That’s as true for Six Flags as it is for Disney. For now, we can only compare what parks are offering under present conditions, not under ideal ones. With that in mind, I think Sea World Orlando is handling the pandemic worse than any park I’ve visited this year. Kraken was closed. Journey to Atlantis was closed. Empire of the Penguin was closed. Wild Arctic was closed. Infinity Falls did not open until 3pm (when the park closed at 5). Countless restaurants were closed. Sure, who cares about Empire and Wild Arctic. I don’t, but with so few rides to do, the park felt lifeless and depressing. Kind of like how Six Flags Magic Mountain feels when all rides are running. Sea World is not all about rides, but that is less the case now than ever. With the chain’s focus shifting further towards new ride additions over animal exhibits, it felt like the core of the modern Sea World experience was absent. Animal Kingdom and Universal Studios face the same limitations Sea World does right now, but at least they opened the vast majority of their major rides. Our day at Universal was wracked with breakdowns, but the effort was there. This is how Infinity Falls looked throughout most of the day—but its pumping soundtrack always made it feel like a careening raft with cowering riders was just around the corner! I’m not much of a rapids guy, but a big, flashy, new one like Infinity Falls still appeals to me at least to try it out. We didn’t get the chance for the five hours it was closed and didn’t feel like waiting the full 50 minute posted queue for the remaining two hours it was open. It’s something I’d willingly have waited 25-30 for, but with the operating day drawing to a close our time was better spent doing walk-ons on Manta and Mako. Still, it’s a visually spectacular ride and a great use of what was previously unused space, something SWO still has a lot of. Missing out on Kraken was especially disappointing for us. There are five coasters I feel a particularly strong sentimental attachment to: Big Thunder Mountain (both DL and MK), Viper (SFMM), Millennium Force, and Kraken. Each of them marked formative moments in my development as a coaster enthusiast. Each one was also the benefactor of some truly memorable times I shared with my father. It means a lot that we’re still doing this together over twenty years later. We rode Kraken twenty-four times in one afternoon back in 2001 when Kraken still had its new B&M shine. It was my first real coaster marathon and Kraken was even my #1 for a few years in the early 2000s. I’ve ridden Kraken myself lots of times in between, but we were really looking forward to riding it together again for the first time since 01. If Kraken alone were closed, my complaint would be little more than an emotional letdown and I wouldn’t dwell on it at length. But with so much else closed, learning we’d miss out on Kraken meant the day kicked off with a bad start. So what did we do? Well, we rode Manta and Mako a bunch of times, saw Shark Reef and Orca Encounter, and watched lots of Infinity Falls rafts with only 1-2 riders apiece from the midway. I’ve had worse days at parks, but if Universal can open shit like Jimmy Fallon and Shrek during a pandemic, I think the flagship Sea World park can at least run Kraken and Atlantis. The stillborn Icebreaker looks great and once it’s up and running will certainly add energy to this section of the park. I hope Sea World doesn’t skimp on the presentation though. The plot of land needs some faux icebergs and other bits of polar theming. The orange color may look odd now, but it matches the hull color of many actual ice breakers and will look great against icy tones if the park adds them. It won’t garner the kind of attention Iron Gwazi and VelociCoaster will, but it’s exactly what the park needs. Sea World Orlando lacks a large-scale family coaster like San Diego and San Antonio have—unless you want to count the second half of Mako. Ice Breaker looks like it could deliver some really nice airtime if it crests these hills fast enough. Doesn’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) ejector air, but some pleasant floater would be perfect. Manta To me, the day Dueling Dragons closed for good was the day Manta inherited the mantle of best coaster in Orlando. I don’t think it’s the best in Florida. Kumba and Montu still top it for me. I will also stop short of calling Manta an elite, A-level coaster. But in an area that, at least for a few more months, is home to lots of good and very good, but perhaps not great coasters, I think Manta has the most going for it. While no Flying Dinosaur, it has the intensity we’ve come to expect from the large B&M flying coasters, the visuals on-ride are satisfying, it’s well-themed and landscaped, and it’s still as smooth as the day it opened. No B&M rattle here and the train doesn’t vibrate at the bottom of the pretzel loop the way Tatsu has for a while now. Mine might not be a common opinion, but I can’t really say there’s another Orlando coaster I consistently enjoy more. Hulk and Mako finish weak, Kraken hasn’t aged well, Everest is playing a different game, Mummy needs an update, Rockit is too compromised from a designer’s perspective, Mine Blower runs Timberliners, and I haven’t ridden Hagrid yet so don’t ask. Hopefully VelociCoaster raises the bar, but until we find out, it’s Manta for me. A quick note comparing Manta to Acrobat at Nagashima. While obviously clones, they feel nothing alike to me and I’m not sure why. Manta is landscaped better, but that’s not it. Acrobat just felt lackluster and tame to me while Manta doesn’t. Maybe it’s the factor of having an RMC next door. 8.5/10 Manta is the most well-presented ride in the park. Empire of the Penguin and Journey to Atlantis are the best themed in the typical sense. What Manta has is the best full package. It fits in perfectly and feels wholly organic to its surroundings. Too bad the fountains are barely working these days. The drop of the midcourse delivers a nice punch of airtime in the back two rows. Something about the flying positions amplifies all the typical rider sensations. I don’t think Manta has another real highlight element after the pretzel loop. Nothing else stands out above the rest of the layout. Everything is all around very solid. Manta’s lift hill provides a nice view of the Orange County Convention Center area (it’s better than it sounds). The first drop feels like a slightly flattened version of Tatsu’s. While Tatsu’s pretzel loop is all about long-lasting positive g’s, Manta’s is a little different. You still get plenty of positives, but the best part is the surprise airtime at the peak in the first two rows. Mako If you slapped the ending of Candymonium onto Mako after the speed hill it would probably be B&M’s best hyper coaster (well maybe second best—Goliath’s helix and ejector bunny hills are pretty damn good). Everything from Mako’s drop up to the MCBR is great and then the ending just fizzles. Okay, so if you’re in the back left seat and the train is light enough not to get trimmed severely you can get a nice pop of air plus lats, but you shouldn’t have to place so many conditions on it to praise the ride experience. Mako’s final third comes across like B&M was so intent on mimicking the movements of whatever they think a shark is supposed to do that they neglected to design the best layout they could. I still think Mako is a very good coaster, but I put it fourth among B&M hypers after Goliath, Nitro, and Candymonium. 8/10 I find that Mako runs best when trains are about half-full. This way they still carry some momentum but are light enough to not get creamed by the trim brake after the hammerhead. It remained a walk-on for all but our first three rides of the day. I didn’t count my ride totals but it was enough to quell some of our disappointment over all the closures. Sea World’s three B&Ms complement each other nicely. That said, I hope the park sticks with other manufacturers going forward. I know nothing about the B&M “surf coaster” prototype they’re supposedly getting. I just know I’d rather the B&Ms go to the Texas and California parks now. Unless… Sea World wants to build a giga and call it “Long Fin Mako,” while reducing the existing Mako to “Short Fin Mako.” That would actually be an awful idea. Don’t do that Sea World. Mako asks “How come my cousin named after a snake gets a splashdown finale but I don’t?” I remember the first time I saw Kraken in person while riding along this road just after sunset. The trees were much shorter then and you could view the entire coaster across the glimmering lake. Now Mako rules the skyline.
  16. Outlaw Run might be stuck the way it is. Maybe RMC will figure out a workaround for all I know, but I imagine the increased friction going from steel to urethane would prevent it from running the course as intended. Unless... they do something truly groundbreaking and add a midcourse launch to Outlaw Run to reclaim the record of world's first/fastest/only topper track wooden polyurethane wheel coaster once the enthusiasts of the world collectively decide Lightning Rod is now steel! obviously joking
  17. When ordering your Universal Studios park, branding by state, city, or country are available. Universal Studios Florida Eleven years ago, I had a tradition at Universal Orlando. This was during the seven months in 2009 I spent in the WDW College Program working front desk and concierge at the Yacht & Beach Club. Once a week I’d go to Universal by myself and ride Dueling Dragons, Hulk, Revenge of the Mummy, and the then brand-new Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit to my heart’s content. I’d take breaks here and there to ride Spider Man and Men In Black, or to grab pizza at Louie’s or beers at Finnegan’s, but it was all about the coasters. No Universal Express was needed. It was easy to use single rider lines and plot crowds and wait times as necessary. There was something about the regularity of being alone in a buzzing, crowded place with this collection of rides and food that I really cherished. Then I’d go back my WDW College Program apartment and have to answer annoying questions from other CPs. Usually on why I would do something as odd as buying an annual pass to go to Universal by myself when I could go to Disney with friends for free. Back then I was still the kind of guy who’d then start rambling to a bunch of people who didn’t know or care about things called “Bolliger & Mabillard” or “Premier Rides” until they lost interest and we all started drinking. So you could say I have some nostalgia for Universal Orlando. I love both parks, but we were only going to visit one of them this year. With VelociCoaster on the way for 2021, Islands of Adventure could wait. We were just going to tackle Universal Studios today. My dad had never been. He went with me to IOA for the first time back in 2002 and he’s actually closing in on 200 credits despite not being an enthusiast in the traditional sense, but somehow he had never walked through the Universal Studios arch. He loved it. It’s pretty cool seeing your nearly 70-year old father be wowed and impressed like a kid. I genuinely like this park even if it’s not one of my absolute favorites, but my dad really liked it. He kept pointing out theming details (some that even I’ve never noticed) and asking me to take pictures from different angles. His favorite parks are Cedar Point, Silver Dollar City, and the original Disneyland. I think Universal Studios is probably up there too, despite us actually not having the greatest day. I don’t know how capacity here compared to Animal Kingdom the day before, but it seemed like Universal was having a harder time of things. It’s obviously a smaller park. It also has more attractions to disperse guests around. For whatever reason, the greater number of rides did not matter. Rockit and Men In Black had manageable waits of 15-30 minutes all day, but the other marquee attractions all hit the 75-120 minute range shortly after opening and stayed that way throughout the day. Universal seemed stricter than Disney about social distancing both in queues and on rides. One example that stood out was Revenge of the Mummy. Those trains seat four rows of four riders across for a total of sixteen. I saw the two trains ahead of ours dispatch with only three and four riders total. I saw a single rider in row 1, a party of two in row 3, and rows 2 and 4 were left empty. Capacity just gets murdered if the park insists on being this strict about separating parties by a full row no matter the size. After waiting 80 minutes for Gringotts then 100 for Mummy we reached a point where we just couldn’t justify waiting another 70 for something like Simpsons or… Shrek… If I were by myself I could probably get by doing Rockit marathons until things settled down, but that would have been asking a lot of my dad. There is no coaster he won’t ride, but the endurance isn’t always there. Then things really went to hell when all the rides started breaking down. Gringotts, Mummy, and Transformers all went down at the same time for around an hour. We had already ridden the first two but never made it onto Transformers. It stayed down for as long as we remained in the park. When big crowds formed outside the buildings for those rides, I got the feeling that like us, a lot of people just ran out of places to go. You know it’s bad when there’s a line of people complaining about ride closures to the Duff Beer Garden bartender. After a while of wandering around, not riding anything, and staring aghast at the lengthy queues for secondary rides like E.T. and Despicable Me, we decided to leave. Our total for the day was Rockit (x3), Gringotts (x1), Mummy (x1), Men in Black (x1), and E.T. (x1). Even in the age of Covid, that isn’t great. Hopefully days like this are not the norm at Universal right now. Who knows, I’ll probably be back to scope things out again when I return to IOA for my first rides on VelociCoaster and Hagrid’s next summer. The themed areas of Universal parks can clash rather harshly when viewed together. But somehow it works. And a few words on Fast & Furious: Supercharged. It was closed. It has a 2/5 star guest satisfaction rating on the park’s official website. I’ll probably never bother riding it. I’m unusual in that I have no strong feelings on replacing Jaws with Diagon Alley. I don’t have the nostalgia for Jaws that others do, nor do I have the enthusiasm for the Harry Potter franchise that all the rest do. I had never even seen the full Harry Potter film series until quarantine this year. The movies aren’t my thing. Let’s all just face the undeniable reality here—they’re no Godzilla. That said, strictly as a theme park experience, I think both parts of the Wizarding World are awesome. First things first, we waited about twenty minutes for two butter beers. There was only one bartender despite the long line, so if you’re familiar with Miller’s Ale House on UFC night, you’ll feel right at home. Butter beer was too rich for my dad so I ended up downing both of them. Fine by me! I don’t think Escape From Gringott’s is quite the ride Forbidden Journey is, but the theming is still immaculate. If you work at Gringotts Bank you’ll have access to the same tailor as Conor McGregor and the same hair plugs as Lebron James. Diagon Alley is an exceptionally well-themed area. I just don’t care to chill and hang out in it the way I do at Hogsmeade across the resort. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit This is as bipolar a coaster as there is for me. I loved the thing when it was brand new. In 2009 I had only ridden around a hundred coasters and features like Rockit’s vertical lift, non-inverting loop, and treble clef seemed seriously impressive. It had all the presence and impact of hyper coasters far greater than it in size. Riding the thing in the dark during Halloween Horror Nights when you’re 21, four drinks deep, and floating all over the place in the open trains with comfortable lap bars was approaching the height of coasterdom back then. It wasn’t reliable, but it was smooth, intense, and had real airtime. Every visit since then, Rockit has oscillated between something approximating how I remembered it and downright awful. Over the years I’ve let myself become more bothered by the surplus of block brakes and the uneven pacing that results. There is a ton of waisted track in this layout. It hasn’t always stayed smooth either. Sometimes I’ve only bothered to ride it once because the Maurer X-car trains shuffled and bounced around enough to annoy me. And one of the ride’s big selling points initially, its on-ride soundtrack list, has not been updated in eleven years. Have I simply gotten tired of making music video history the exact same way for over a decade? I think so. But Rockit in 2021 was in rare form. It was fantastic and ran just the way I remember it from opening year. I even grayed out in the treble clef for the first time in I don’t know how long. It hasn’t clawed its way back into my list of current favorite coasters or anything, but it has redeemed itself, at least for now. 8.5/10 VelociCoaster is now the second coaster at Universal that would have been ideal for a vertical drop. Yet for some reason, as with Rockit, Universal decided against it. It makes me wonder if someone there feels a 90-degree descent looks too intimidating. Universal obviously goes for bigger thrills than Disney, but I doubt they want their coasters to look full-on Cedar Point either. Rockit is a great coaster to watch from the midway. I think it would be greatly improved if the trains featured three or four cars and the number of block sections was scaled back accordingly. I’ve always thought the corner of the midway just past the treble clef dead-ends awkwardly. I’d like to see a show building for a future ride go back here some day. Not one of my better photos, but I always enjoy walking beneath Rockit’s mess of track. The inclined spiral turnaround serves as Rockit’s finale I suppose, though any sense of narrative closure is lost when you hit yet another block brake before returning to the station. That’s about two brake runs too many by this point. Revenge of the Mummy As much as 2009 Condor loved Rockit, he loved Mummy just a teensy bit more. The single rider line made marathoning it effortless even when the park was packed. I always thought it was the coolest thing ever that the best ride in the park reliably had the shortest wait as long as I wasn’t visiting with a group (on a side note, I finally got a bunch of my Disney CP friends to go to Universal with me during HHN that year and they were pretty blown away by the place, several of them having never been to a non-Disney park). Mummy had a solid decade-long run where there just weren’t a lot of coasters that combined thrills, a complex ride system, visual effects, and theming like it did. It was the quintessential dark ride/coaster experience that ticked every box. In 2020 it mostly still is. Other than Brendan Fraser’s face making the whole thing suddenly feel dated every time he appears, Mummy shoulders the weight of being a marquee attraction as well as ever. The inclined launch, ejector airtime, blind directional changes, and drop out of the fake-out station hit just right every time. A few things didn’t click this time, however. The mummy animatronic at the start of the ride stayed firmly locked in his sarcophagus this year and the flame effect in the treasure room didn’t work properly. There are obviously Covid-induced cutbacks in all departments this year, so I can’t really fault Universal for not fixing this as long as the ride still runs. It think it’s also time the screen-based effects get a 4K overhaul like Spider Man’s did several years ago. I still think Mummy is the top ride in the park, but Rockit gave a slightly better experience this year. 8/10 Join me in a moment of silence for Universal’s Dark Universe films. Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella, we barely knew ya. Long live the Fraser. Men In Black: Alien Attack is kind of an orphaned attraction, sitting between Diagon Alley and Springfield—a part of neither—and without a themed area of its own. Does that matter? Not really. It’s still my favorite shooting dark ride of all time. While I like Men In Black and hope the theme stays for a long time, I would not be surprised for Universal to give the attraction a full overlay and theme it to something else one day since the film franchise fizzled out pretty bad with that Chris Hemsworth/Tessa Thomspon sequel. Simpsons… Love the show, but the ride is something I’d wait 20-30 minutes for. Not 70. I felt like taking my first ride on Kang & Kodos this year simply because I’ve never done it. It was closed. What a difference from the dense crowds I saw at Universal Studios Japan this time last year. On another note, for as similar as the two parks look, they now share surprisingly few rides. Only Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem (and not the same version) and Shrek 4D if I’m not mistaken. From some angles once could almost mistake Universal Studios for a real New York street. Then you step a few feet to the side and are reminded you’re in a theme park. I take this photo every time I’m here and I’ve yet to come up with a satisfactory caption for it. As many times as I’ve been to this park, I’ve never stepped foot in Mel’s. Maybe someday, but today is not that day. With Bourne as the only attraction, there is no longer any reason to walk down the Los Angeles midway of Universal Studios Florida. This is why it looks so empty here. Not Covid. No, Really. Honestly. Toothsome Chocolate Emporium looks straight outta Rookburgh. We tried to go to Disney Springs the night we arrived in Orlando, but it reached capacity, backing up the roads and parking, and turning the surrounding Hotel Plaza Blvd. into what was basically an omnimover ride system but with actual cars. We went to Fun Spot the next night and finally made it to the springs on night three. I didn’t visit the last couple of times I went to Orlando which means this was my first time seeing it since the change from Downtown Disney occurred. I’m not saying anything new when I tell you it’s a big upgrade. Since Orlando was a last minute addition to our trip, I wasn’t able to make reservations at restaurants as far in advance as I would have liked, which meant no Morimoto or Raglan Road, two I had hoped to eat at. What we ended up doing was still pretty good! First was the loosely Indiana Jones themed Jock Lindsey’s. For those unaware, Jock is the pilot who helps Indy escape during the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Indy references are there if you look close enough. For instance, the routes on the map mark the places Indy visits during at least the first three films, but apparently not Kingdom of the Crystal Skull! Nice list of custom cocktails at this place. We chose Paddlefish for dinner, which was good but not great. There are better seafood restaurants elsewhere on Disney property if that’s what you’re looking for. I will, however, highlight what the restaurant calls “lobster corndogs.” They neither look nor taste like corndogs, but they very much do contain lobster, which I suppose is more important. Across the lake rests the DVC property, Saratoga Springs, or as most of the guests I spoke to while working at WDW called it, “Sarasota Springs.” I look forward to visiting Disney Springs again in a year, hopefully without the same capacity limitations.
  18. Looks great, especially the "death roll" and wave turn/90-degree bank under the lift. Based on this video alone I'm not as sold on the last few elements after the stall, but I have faith in RMC.
  19. Florida & Texas October 2020 This trip was the result of the most convoluted planning process I have ever gone through. Before the pandemic, it was supposed to be a full week hitting all the usual sites in Orlando and Tampa. Once it became clear that rides like Iron Gwazi and Ice Breaker would be delayed to 2021 and Universal confirmed there would not be a traditional, full-fledged Halloween Horror Nights, it made sense to push the whole thing back a year. It just wasn’t worth the trip without the seasonal events I’m used to, several new rides closed, and the parks operating at reduced hours. But where to go instead? Since I live in the People’s Republic of California, doing anything local in SoCal or visiting parks up north in the Bay Area isn’t an option right now. We enthusiasts must go where parks are actually open and Tennessee and Texas fit the bill nicely. I’ve been to Dollywood before, just never when Lightning Rod was actually running, and there were a few desirable new credits for me to get in Texas like Boardwalk Bullet and Wonder Woman, so that became the new trip. My dad and I would spend three days in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area including two days at Dollywood and another to ride all the mountain coasters and see other sights. We would then proceed to Houston and catch Boardwalk Bullet after our flight, carry on to San Antonio for Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Sea World, then wrap things up in Arlington at Six Flags Over Texas. It was, like, really happening. I had our flights and hotels booked and my dorky planning spreadsheet plotted out and everything. Then the most predictable thing ever happened. After operating (mostly) reliably for the abbreviated summer season, Lightning Rod closed and Dollywood announced it would remain down for the rest of the year pending some upgrade from RMC. Well I was not about to go back to Dollywood without riding LR again, so I had to resort to Plan C, which was really just the first half of Plan A plus the second half of Plan B. One good thing to come out of the Covid pandemic is that many airlines have (supposedly) permanently eliminated change fees. But that’s kind of like saying one good thing to come out of World War II is that Germany got the autobahn, only not as bad. So with the ability to change flights as I pleased, I moved the first leg of the trip back to Orlando while the second leg remained in Texas. Then I hit another snag. My intention was to visit Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Universal Studios, three parks that would not be getting new rides in 20201 (Yes, I’m aware of the typo. After proofreading I decided to leave it because I believe it more accurately reflects the capital investment timeline for parks going forward). Then I could go back and hit the rest of the parks next year. But that pesky park reservation system got in the way. Shortly after changing my flights and hotels, Disney’s Hollywood Studios became unavailable for the three days I would be in Orlando. This irritated me. I still haven’t been to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and probably won’t be able to at home any time soon. I could still go to US and AK, but I’d need to swap something else in for DHS and Sea World Orlando came up the winner. Obviously Ice Breaker wasn’t going to be open, but I thought it could be fun to compare the Florida and Texas SW parks a couple of days apart. So that became my trip. Animal Kingdom, Universal Studios Orlando, Sea World Orlando, Sea World San Antonio, Kemah Boardwalk, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and Six Flags Over Texas. Weird but fulfilling. Now there are even rumblings that the new WDW coasters—Tron and Guardians—may not open until 2022. Maybe that means I’ll be doing an Islands of Adventure and Busch Gardens Tampa-only trip next year with a side of Volcano Bay. I don’t even know what’s going on anymore. The best thing about working for a hospitality company is getting to stay at hotels and resorts I otherwise could not afford as often or even at all. Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is big, a bit bland, but still very nice. The Regency brand is one that often has to be all things to all people and this one is certainly that. A hallmark shared by many but not all Regencies is a soaring atrium lobby. I’ve always preferred this type of lobby, Hyatt or otherwise. The Grand Cypress pool complex is expansive, but not remarkable. This is an older resort and the pool areas at some of the newer Hiltons in the area as well as the Hyatt Regency Orlando (closer to Universal) sister property surpass it. If you get a west-facing room you will likely have a view of Disney Springs, and further in the distance, the Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios area. Visible from left to right are Tower of Terror, the WDW Swan and Dolphin hotels plus the under construction Swan Reserve, and the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind show building with Spaceship Earth peeking out above it. Day 1—Disney’s Animal Kingdom + Fun Spot Kissimmee My last visit to this park back in 2016 didn’t go well on account of rain. My friend and I tried to split the day between Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, but it almost immediately started pouring as soon as we got to AK. It began on the lift hill of Expedition Everest and we got absolutely soaked through to our bone marrow while the train sat on the switch track. We got off, saw they were still sending trains out, and since we couldn’t get any wetter than we already were, got right back in line and rode again. Then the lightning started and we promptly left and went to our hotel a few hours early. Prior to that I hadn’t spent a proper day in AK since my WDW College Program days back in 2009, so it was a park I eagerly awaited returning to. The biggest reason was obviously Pandora. I’m still a big fan of the James Cameron movie even though Avatar has kind of lost its place in pop culture due to the obnoxiously long time between the original and its still forthcoming sequels. That said, I’ve avoided looking at too much content on AK’s Pandora so I could go into it as fresh as possible. Do I think Disney nailed it with this themed land? I think so for the most part. The level of detail is at or near Tokyo Disney Sea levels and I suspect it would have felt even more impressive had the Covid-shortened park hours gone late enough for me to see the bioluminescence in full effect at night. Even in daytime only I felt like I was in some kind of botanical garden or preserve on Earth that had been terraformed to mimic the real Pandora. The one thing that could feel missing is the inclusion of some of Pandora’s wildlife. The Avatar IP is already a slightly awkward fit for Animal Kingdom and seeing animatronic or stationary examples of the creatures that inhabit this world could have improved that fit and fleshed out the environment more. The reason for this is probably budgetary since Disney already spent colossal amounts of money on this and adding a bunch of animatronics or whatever could have made the cost obscene. Overall though, I really liked Pandora and Flight of Passage in particular. It actually took me a moment to immerse myself into the visuals of the ride and begin to fully appreciate it. But once that point came, I was sold. We rode it twice and both times my dad’s reaction was, “I don’t want to leave.” I agreed. I still have a general preference for Disney rides with physical environments over those with screens, but Flight of Passage is clearly one of the very best attractions in all of WDW. Navi River Journey is fine for what it is, essentially a supporting attraction meant to give guests something else to do in the area and provide an alternative for those who may not be able to handle Flight of Passage’s 3D visuals. I enjoyed it, though again, a few more animatronic Navi or animals would benefit it greatly. I can only dream of a mega-budget, Pirates of the Caribbean-length version of it. Outside of Pandora this is about as crowded as the park looked all day. It felt more mellow and relaxing than lively, which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, just an observation. I never realized just how much of a Disney park’s “energy” comes from the hustle and bustle of the crowds. Flight of Passage’s queue right after opening. It would only grow longer throughout the afternoon until subsiding in the evening. The end of the socially-distanced Flight of Passage queue stretched back to Harambe Reserve. I’m personally not bothered by queueing in close proximity to others right now, but for those who are, the good news is that Orlando guests followed the guidelines much better than those in Pennsylvania and Maryland when I last visited parks in July. Yep, it’s pretty much what I hoped it would be. As always, the Imagineers did wonders with forced perspective. It can be hard to tell where the organic flora ends and themed flora begins! Flora is what you call plants when you want to impress absolutely no one with your vocabulary. No animatronic banshees in Pandora, so this wooden one will have to do. The interior queue features cave paintings of banshees and the “uber-banshee” Leonopteryx. More theming like this banshee skull is about all you could ask to be added to Pandora. Remember 2009? Avatar came out, Diamondback was brand new, everyone had just learned who Sam Worthington was and were still a year away from forgetting. I feel like mech-suits would feature a lot more prominently in the area if Avatar was a Universal property. One lesson I can take away from seeing Animal Kingdom again after such a long time is how it taught me to better appreciate Tokyo DisneySea. When people near-unanimously rave about something as the greatest of its type in the world, it’s always going to be tough for it to meet or exceed expectations after that kind of primer. I’d say TDS fulfilled about 85-90% of my expectations when I went there a year ago. Granted a big part of that was Journey to the Center of the Earth being closed, but when your subconscious is yearning for some kind of quasi-religious pilgrimage only for your conscious mind to realize “it’s still just a theme park,” there is inevitably going to be some kind of come down. Now with a year to reflect on it and another Disney park to compare it with, I think I understand TDS’s brilliance better. Animal Kingdom just feels barren by comparison. Pandora is great and so are Harambe Reserve and Anandapur for the area they cover, but huge swaths of the park feel like an emptier Busch Gardens. There just isn’t a lot going on visually at Animal Kingdom. Maybe that’s a tradeoff the designers made when deciding to incorporate the animal exhibits into secluded trails instead of making them visible from the midways. It may also be a symptom of an emptier park in the Covid era. I was just left with the distinct impression that AK has a lack of kinetic energy compared to the other parks at WDW, DLR, and especially TDS. One fix for this is a redevelopment of the partially shuttered DinoLand USA area into something more befitting the Walt Disney World name and reputation. Given the current economic forecast, I suspect it will be the better part of a decade before something is even announced for this, much less built, so AK may have to soldier on as-is for a while, which is okay—they still have two of the best Disney rides in the world in Flight of Passage and Everest plus plenty of shows and other things to do that weren’t available on my visit. What might they eventually do with this plot? Something else with dinosaurs? Zootopia? South or Central America? I have no idea. Now that Hollywood Studios has received all of its announced additions and once we see what form Epcot’s renovations eventually take, in my opinion Animal Kingdom will again be left as the WDW park that needs the most attention. While it can feel a bit sparsely themed compared to other Disney parks, the attention to detail at Animal Kingdom is still amazing. Expedition Everest I suppose this is the only formal ride review I’ll do for this park. This is a great coaster that I like more and more every time I ride it. I haven’t been to Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong, or Shanghai yet, but out of the parks in Orlando, Anaheim, and Tokyo I’ve visited, I think this is Disney’s best coaster. It has all the scale and visual impact of Incredicoaster but with far superior theming and a more intense ride experience. Likewise it perfectly scales up and modernizes the themed experience of Big Thunder Mountain or Matterhorn with greater thrills. I think the pre-lift section is kind of a waste. That track would have been better utilized elsewhere in the layout. But other than that, every element delivers big time in ways you just don’t expect on a Disney coaster. During the backwards section I can feel my stomach turning over and rising into my chest every time as I momentarily lose all sense of direction in the dark. That sensation is perfectly complemented by the small taste of airtime on the drop out of the mountain that always feels much longer than it is and the not-insignificant forces the train pulls going through the helix. Flight of Passage is great, but for me this is still the top ride in the park. 8.5/10 One of the few problems with Expedition Everest is that there are only a few vantage points you can actually photograph it from. I always imagine what it would look like if the mountain was designed for 360-degree visibility like Matterhorn and the park expanded around it. It always looks odd to me with trains running, like two very different scales are clashing. Not an ejector airtime moment, but the big drop is always thrilling and serves as a perfect climax. Good to see the costumed characters out... ...even if it felt like there was no one around to pay attention to them. I’m not that big on rapids. I prefer log flumes because they usually interact with theming better and are less likely to soak you. Kali Rapids is a good one though, if maybe a little short. Meet bioreconstruct. He posts high quality aerial photos of Orlando attractions to his twitter account that he takes from his perch on these twin columns high above Animal Kingdom. Remember how I said back in 2016 I only rode Everest twice then had to leave due to rain? Well that was wrong because I now recall getting the second of two Primeval Whirl credits that day also. I’m glad I got it and that no one else ever has to worry about getting them again. Hopefully they remove it soon and don’t just let it rot SBNO for years. We came back to Pandora before closing for another go on Flight of Passage. The wait was much shorter this time. Barely 30 minutes. The floating mountains are breathtaking no matter how you look at it. However, to my amateur structural engineer’s eye it may not be as complex a structure as it appears. In its basest form it looks like an arch structure with lots of protrusions. Primeval Whirl was once an integral part of Michael Eisner’s grand design for-----No I’m kidding, this is Galaxy Spin at Fun Spot! But it hardly matters, does it? Is it just me or is this Fun Spot a lot more ghetto than the other one near International Drive? We only went to get a few laps on Mine Blower, grab the other two credits, then bail, and once we actually got there we had no desire to stay for anything else. It felt distinctly more Fun Spot Barstow than Kissimmee. Again, I’m not as worried about Covid protocols (or the lack of people following them) as others might be, but something feels wrong about a place that sanitizes trains after every cycle but doesn’t enforce mask wearing. If you aren’t going to take measures seriously across the board, why even bother keeping up appearances at all? I also could have done without the Hurricane ride-op going into a monologue about how difficult it is for him to concentrate on his job while on his new ADHD medication, but the guy was rotating among three different rides he operated by himself, so I guess he has to vent about things to somebody. Maybe I wouldn’t judge the place so harshly if it weren’t surrounded by Disney, Universal, and Sea World. After a good day at Animal Kingdom, the contrast was just so stark. Hurricane What a weird coaster. It’s not very big and without looking closely, it appears kind of tame. But the devil is in the details here. The track profile is abrupt with lots of sharp crests and pullouts and the banking doesn’t look quite right (where it exists). It gives the impression of a coaster designed on a tight budget with an aptitude for calculations somewhere north of Ron Toomer but still well south of Werner Stengel and that’s exactly how it rides. It’s kind of a violent, uncomfortable ride that is still just thrilling and surprising enough for me to still enjoy it while also having no desire to ever ride it again. This is the kind of ride that could scare off people new to coasters from riding more because they’d quite naturally assume larger ones would only amplify the experience Hurricane delivers. 5/10 Is adding a coaster like Hurricane after you’ve already built one like Mine Blower the park owner’s version of credit whoring? Fun Spot visitors should count themselves lucky! I mean it is kind of an I-box coaster, right? Hurricane wants you to hate how much you love it. Mine Blower I really like Gravity Group so I was excited to ride two more of them on this trip and I had no idea which I would prefer between Mine Blower and Boardwalk Bullet. My only previous experience with Timberliners was Switchback at ZDT’s in 2015. My group of three were the only riders on the train that day, so it seemed understandable that it would be running light and rattle a bit more than a fully loaded train. Switchback was almost brand new and still plenty comfortable even though we all sensed the train nervously jittering around on the track. If Switchback in 2015 was bouncing around at a level 3, then Mine Blower in 2020 is at a level 9. That said, I have a hard time describing it as rough. “Rough” on a wooden coaster means a specific thing to me. It implies a certain level of wear/abuse to the track often amplified by trains that cannot handle the track profile well. Mine Blower is not that. The trackwork looks and feels perfectly fine. There are no jarring moments from poorly profiled transitions or jack hammering from layers of wood screaming to be replaced. It all seemed to stem from the trains. It feels like the Timberliners’ articulated wheel assemblies are simply too busy hunting around on the rails for their own good. Coupled with their extremely lightweight construction, the Timberliners seem to lack the mass and rigidity needed to smoothly track on a coaster as aggressive as Mine Blower. Maybe someone on here who has ridden more GG coasters equipped with them can shed light on this. Despite all this, I just can’t make myself hate it. I have a high tolerance for roughness so I was able to put up with Mine Blower’s bullshit for four laps which was enough to appreciate what the coaster does well. This is a very intense ride. Real negative g’s over the crest of every hill with tight pullouts packing on the positives. The directional changes are quick, several of them alarmingly so. The first drop is one of the best I’ve experienced on a wooden coaster and the zero-g-roll is smooth with substantially longer weightlessness than I anticipated. Layout-wise, Mine Blower has everything I like. The trains just seem over-designed and do too much to their own detriment. This one is really hard to score, but despite how intense and fun it is, the highest I can go is 8/10. A picturesque park, Fun Spot is not, but Mine Blower has its angles. The ejector first drop into the zero-g-roll is as good a wooden coaster opening salvo as I’ve seen. Mineblower’s compact footprint forced Gravity Group to do some crazy things. That hotel’s front desk must get noise complaints from everyone staying on that side of the building. Don’t work in hotels, people. I’d love to see how a set of GCI’s new Infinity Flyer trains run on this. Galaxy Spin You know, even though it’s only been three or fours weeks, I barely even remember riding this coaster. It must have made exactly the same impression on me that most fairground style spinning coasters do—none whatsoever.
  20. I believe the highest stress areas on Ghostrider were retracked with Ipe wood instead of the Yellow Pine traditionally used. It's significantly stronger and denser which may be why the ride has held up so well now five years after the retrack. If the Ipe is doing its job for now I doubt they'd see reason to replace it with Titan Track any time soon.
  21. How long of a trip do you have in mind? If it's to just one park, then many of the suggestions in this thread will do. If you're staying in the US and want to do several parks over multiple days within a reasonable drive from each other I would consider these: 1. Kings Island, Cedar Point, and Kennywood 2. Six Flags Great Adventure, Hersheypark, and Kings Dominion 3. Busch Gardens Tampa, Sea World Orlando, and Islands of Adventure (once VelociCoaster is open next year)
  22. Great photos and recap, Bert! Glad we got to meet up. You were an awesome tour guide. I'll get started on my TR this week!
  23. ^Agreed. I think the newer Intamin lapbars are actually the best steel coaster restraint currently being produced. When comparing overhead lapbars on Taron and Blue Fire, I found the Intamin ones to be lighter, less bulky, and less prone to coming down further during the ride.
  24. I've seen a few people say this and I hope to the coaster gods they're right and I'm wrong lol. Braked top hats are apparently "in" these days and I desperately don't want this to be one of them.
  25. ^A full re-track would surprise me for the same reason, but who knows I guess. If RMC determines their trains can run on both types of track simultaneously I think we could see I-box replacing the highest stress areas first with more sections added in subsequent seasons if needed. I really have no idea, but I'm excited to see whatever this ends up being.
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