SeaWorld San Antonio
After ZDT's my next stop was SeaWorld San Antonio. And the two parks could not have been more of a contrast to each other. One was a tiny little FEC that used every square inch available while the other was a corporate park with a huge, sprawling layout. Having been to the San Diego one a few years back, I had a rough idea what to expect- a park primarily full of shows with rides sprinkled throughout. For the most part, that assessment was true.
Since I only had a single weekend in Texas, I had a pretty jam-packed itinerary. I knew I wasn't going to leave that state without making it to both of the Six Flags parks. Because my travels brought be close to ZDT's and SeaWorld, I was able to squeeze them in as well. ZDT's is a park meant for a quick credit run. SeaWorld? Not so much. SeaWorld is definitely meant to be a full-day park so you can take in all the shows and enjoy the rides at a more relaxed pace. By the time I entered SeaWorld's gates, it was already 2:30 pm, so a speed run ignoring the shows was necessary to make it to Fiesta Texas at a reasonable hour.
Being Texas, it was hot as balls. While I think my car slightly over-exaggerated the temperature, this gives you an idea just how hot we were talking. I'm just glad it was a dry heat or else I would have been tempted to hop a fence to swim with Shamu.
I had to park pretty dang far away from the gate. The walk to the gate was probably 10 minutes. Meanwhile at ZDT's, in 10 minutes I was probably boarding Switchback for the second time. Just to ensure I got in and out of the park quickly, I purchased the QuickQueue for a reasonable $25-30. I know the lines at SeaWorld typically aren't too bad for the coasters, but any time I could save would be worth it since it would give me an extra ride on an awesome looking RMC later in the day that ended up becoming my new favorite coaster. So I'd say it was money well spent.
Having worked up a sweat walking into the park (Holiday in the Park 30 degree temperatures are more my thing), I was ready to cool off. So my first stop was Journey to Atlantis. The time estimate wasn't up at the main entrance, but the entire queue building was filled so it looked to be a pretty substantial wait...but not with my handy dandy QuickQueue. I felt kind of bad bypassing that entire queue, but that quickly went away when I was strapped into the next boat.
While San Diego's version was light on theming compared to the original in Orlando, the Texas version made San Diego's look like Splash Mountain by comparison. All Texas had for theming was a nice looking queue line and a single tunnel after the main drop. The ride did look nice though, but I guess I expected more from a SeaWorld park.
The turntables were really slow, but a neat little feature. The backwards drop was tiny, but any backwards drop gives me a good free-falling sensation I rarely get on forward facing drops. The final plunge is taken forwards and was a really good drop; it was much larger than usual for a ride of this type. The subsequent splash got me quite wet, but not to the unbearable level of most shoot the chutes which was much appreciated even on a hotter day. It's basically a glorified shoot the chutes, but it's a massive one and that makes it a pretty fun ride. 7 out of 10
As I continued counterclockwise around the park, I was reminded that 95% of guests visit SeaWorld for the shows. The midways were packed to the gills as a few shows had appeared to have gotten out. I'm sure the shows were pretty good based on my experience at the San Diego park, but there was coasters to be ridden so I navigated my way through. Because of how narrow the walkways were relative to the number of people, I had flashbacks to all my visits at Disneyland trying to get through seas of people in Tomorrowland to use a Space Mountain fastpass.
Actually I have to correct myself. There were coasters and a water ride to be ridden. Since I had QuickQueue, I decided to hop on the park's river rapids ride, Rio Loco, on my way by. Like Journey to Atlantis, this one also appeared to have a pretty substantial wait. Without QuickQueue, there is absolutely no way I would have even considered riding Rio Loco.
Rio Loco didn't really have any theming, which was disappointing haven ridden the rapids ride in the San Diego park. However, the ride did have a very nice setting through the woods. The ride experience was also a bit different from the other river rapids I've been on. Usually any rapid sends a wave of water cascading into the boat, soaking guests. But on this one, 90% of the rapids didn't send water in the boat. Instead, the rapids just caused the raft wildly oscillate through the water, which made it a surprise when one of them sent a small wave towards the boat. Towards the end, there was an absolutely drenching waterfall that I somehow avoided, but other than that, you can escape this ride with nothing more than a few splashes.
While unthemed, it was still a decent river rapids ride thanks to the wilder river, the nice setting, and the Russian Roulette waterfall at the end of the ride. If you have QuickQueue or a full day, Rio Loco is worth checking out. I'd say it's in the middle of the road for river rapids rides. 6 out of 10
Enough of the water, it was time to ride the Batman that isn't actually Batman in Great White. I used the QuickQueue entrance, but it really wasn't necessary as it was just a one train wait. I boarded in the back. The first drop and three inversions were the standard forceful affair of any Batman clone, but the second half felt different. There was a bit of a rattle and the forces weren't nearly as pronounced as I didn't feel the blood rush to my legs. Not sure if I just got a sluggish ride or if there was a subtle difference accounting for it. The corkscrews are still plenty fun, but it was definitely a bit tamer than the one I rode a few hours later or the next day at SFOT. Still a very solid invert. 8 out of 10
Up next was the park's new hotness, Wave Breaker. This was another ride I was very thankful to have QuickQueue for since it was posting a 45 minute wait. Once I reached the station, I made my way towards the back of the queue. Well as far as I was allowed to go. Someone had unloaded their lunch by the air gates for the back row, which is impressive since it had to have been before they boarded the coaster unless they exited on the wrong side (wait that's entirely possible from what I've seen so scratch that). Thankfully I was allowed to swipe the back by entering through another row.
The first thing I noticed was how weird the vehicles and restraints were. I expecting moto-coaster seating similar to one of the Zamperla versions. The ride vehicles are themed to freaking jet skis after all. Instead it's a sit-down train with restrictive rectangles for your feet and an odd "lap bar" that's really more of a knee bar. With how far ahead of you the handholds are, I believe you are supposed to lean forwards like on the motocoasters or a real jet ski. That much freedom in a vehicle was definitely different.
The ride began with a launch. The pre-launch sequence feels more like something out of an educational exhibit rather than a coaster. The ride's story is simple enough; there's an animal at sea, so go rescue him. Soon enough, the doors open and you are off. The launches start slow (they're tire driven) but by the end they have a pretty good kick to them despite this being a family coaster. The first swooping hill is pretty large and has some solid forces at the bottom. The next few turns have nice placement over the water, but are graceful and forceless. I know it's a family coaster, but I was hoping those turns would have the standard Intamin magic in them.
The second launch is better than the first since you already have a decent head of steam entering it. The second half feels identical to the first. There's another huge sweeping hill with some solid Gs at the bottom and then there are a series of graceful turns above the water until you hit the brake run. Unfortunately there's no airtime (though I'm not sure if that'd be a good idea anyway with those restraints) but the ride is definitely a solid family coaster with a great location. 7 out of 10
It was at this point that I was worried I wouldn't be able to get on the park's marquee mechanical attraction (since we know Shamu is their true marque attraction), Steel Eel. After I rode Journey to Atlantis, I saw a train stuck on the lift hill and hadn't seen the coaster run since. I was hoping the ride just had incredibly slow dispatches (something no one should ever wish for, but I was trying to be optimistic), but nope the ride had been down for the past hour and a half.
I was momentarily debating if I should leave the park and try coming back later that evening after Fiesta Texas, but then I heard the unmistakable clickity-clack of the lift hill. I looked up and saw an empty train crawling up the lift like any train does on an old Morgan or Arrow coaster. Thank you SeaWorld maintenance crew. I just had to wait a few test cycles and then I'd be on the hyper coaster that technically isn't a hyper.
My first ride was in the back seat. I hadn't heard too much about Steel Eel over the years other than a general complaint that the seats were hard and a bit uncomfortable. I never had a problem on Steel Force and the oversized trains looked nearly identical, so I was hopeful I wouldn't have an issue. Having ridden Steel Force quite a bit over the years, I wasn't sure what to expect with Steel Eel. Some of my rides on Steel Force have been far tamer than what you'd expect a coaster taller than 200 feet tall to be while others did have some really solid airtime thanks to the oddly shaped hills that continue increasing in steepness the entire way down.
Steel Eel was wilder than any ride I've ever gotten on Steel Force! The first drop had amazing floater air and I actually lost my stomach. The same happened on the next two hills, which were equally as fantastic. The MCBR only slowed the train slightly as it then dove into the second half. The far turn was pretty forgettable but the 4-5 return hills were anything but. The airtime wasn't quite as intense as the first half, but the hills still gave some wonderful floater air. Despite having a shorter layout in track length than other hypers, it didn't feel any shorter.
I tried the coaster in the front afterwards and definitely preferred the back. The pops of air were more abrupt in the front, but the air was sustained far longer in the back seat, particularly on the first half. So the one area I didn't address yet was comfort. The track was glass smooth, but were the trains comfortable? I personally didn't have a problem but can see how others may find the harder seats uncomfortable. I think the reason this may not be an issue on the other Morgan hypers like Steel Force because the airtime isn't as intense as it is on Steel Eel. Overall I loved Steel Eel and I think it rates similarly to the better B&M hypers. 9.5 out of 10
Last but not least (I'm a credit whore after all) was Shamu's Express. Despite the 2-3 train wait, the park didn't have the QuickQueue open so this ended up being the coaster with the third longest wait in the park. Though I would have felt mighty embarrassed cutting a bunch of kids here with QuickQueue anyway
. I was lucky enough to get the back seat. I got 2 laps on Shamu. I was fine with that though the kids ahead of me looked like they could go a few more laps. The ride was smooth, but that made it beyond uneventful after riding the other 4 coasters. 1 out of 10
I can now cross two SeaWorld parks off the list. Sadly the one I'm missing is the one that's widely considered the best, Orlando's. With all the additions Disney and Universal have slated in the next few years, I'll definitely be back in the Orlando area and hope to finally hit that park. I believe San Antonio was superior to San Diego, though I had two wildly different types of days. I had a full relaxed day at San Diego so I was able to soak in all of the shows while my visit to San Antonio consisted entirely of the coasters. San Antonio wins in that area, but I can't comment on how their shows compare since I skipped those to ensure I had enough time at Fiesta Texas. And I'm glad I gave myself time at Fiesta Texas since (spoiler alert) it was the best Six Flags park I have visited.