A few days ago, SkyScreamer opened. Guests pointed to the ride’s similarity to the old school amusement park staple, known as the swing carousel or wave swinger. Of course SkyScreamer is about ten times taller than those rides.
Six Flags Over Texas is celebrating their 50th anniversary in a big way. The park spent $10 million remodeling their massive wooden roller coaster Texas Giant. The twenty-one year old coaster had gotten rough over the years. So, Six Flags brought in Rocky Mountain Construction for a first-ever transformation that involved replacing the ride’s wooden track with steel track.
The new track not only allows for a smoother ride, but it also allowed the designers to incorporate some thrilling new elements. The New Texas Giant, boasts highly banked turns taken at more than 90 degrees and a taller and steeper first drop. I was lucky enough to make the trip to Texas for the ride’s opening day last week. Anticipation certainly ran high as the wait was reported to have reached 4 hours. Thankfully, the riders that I spoke to were thoroughly satisfied when they returned to the station as they claimed that the wait was well worth it.
The experience begins as you board one of the three trains that are themed to look like 1961 Cadillac DeVilles. In true Texas fashion, the hood of the front car is complete with a custom-made cattle horn. After the relatively quiet climb to the top of the 15-story tall lift hill, you are treated to a smooth and exhilarating ride that’s packed with numerous air time hills. Air time refers to moments when you are briefly lifted out of your seat. The lengthy ride finishes with the train racing through three tunnels that feature fog and special LED effects.
Guests were shocked at how smooth the Texas Giant had become and were excited that their rough ride was not only ride-able again, but actually the park’s main attraction. I gave the New Texas Giant a rare 10 out of 10 and I placed it at 6th in my top ten list. I highly recommend this roller coaster and I hope that this is only the beginning of such transformations.
Theme parks have evolved greatly over the years. Even in my lifetime, the theme park experience has changed substantially due to advances in technology. Today’s guests have the tools to enjoy their visits more than ever. In no particular order, here are five ways the theme park experience has changed in just the past two decades.
1. Apps are putting park information at your fingertips
The task of finding your way around an unfamiliar theme park is becoming a lot easier thanks to apps like Thrillseeker. The app functions like a park map, but with the added advantage of GPS to show you your location. It even gives you step-by-step directions to attractions and detailed ride descriptions so you’ll know what to expect. While the app currently covers just the major theme parks in Florida and the United Kingdom, it does point to a pretty cool future.
2. Home videos are going public and getting dangerous
Cell phones and the ever-shrinking digital cameras have given guests the ability to easily capture memories of their theme park visit. Unfortunately, this has led to the dangerous practice of some guests whipping out blunt objects on roller coasters so that they can film themselves and their friends. If dropped, those cute little cameras turn into missiles that could injure other riders or onlookers. I’d recommend guests buy on-ride DVDs or photos rather than put other riders’ in danger. YouTube has plenty terrible, shaky home videos already.
3. Guests can avoid waiting in long lines
Waiting in line has always been a part of the theme park experience. Today, at many parks guest have an alternative to forgoing hours of shuffling through quarter mile-long queues. Rather than waste precious time, ride reservation systems like Six Flags’ Flash Pass and Disney’s FASTPASS allow guests to enjoy other rides at the park until their ride time. When your time comes, guests simply enter attractions via a special entrance and only have to wait a few minutes before boarding the ride.
Orlando’s Universal Studios posts wait times for the park’s most popular attractions via electronic billboards all over the park. So, there’s no need to wonder if that attraction on the other side of the park still has a long wait.
4. Visiting in groups and splitting up is much easier
Anyone who’s ever visited a theme park in a large group knows that splitting up is inevitable as some want to challenge the biggest and baddest rides while others would like a more relaxing visit. Years ago, you might have planned to meet someone at a certain place and at a certain time. If a ride broke down or you missed your group, you could waste a good portion of your visit looking for your party. Today, you can simply call your friends with your cell phone when you’re ready to meet.
5. Guests are better informed than ever
With the Internet, guests can do extensive research on an amusement park before their visit. Aside from official theme park websites, there are fan sites, theme park news sites and blogs, and resources like the Roller Coaster Database and Wikipedia that make it easier than ever to know anything you’d want to know about a theme park. You no longer have to rely solely on word-of-mouth from friends and family or the park’s often exaggerated advertising about their exciting new rides.
With theme parks around the country set to open soon, here’s my take on the most anticipated new roller coasters opening in the United States this year. I’ll start with my top pick.
Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens Tampa (Tampa, Florida)
Busch Gardens Tampa’s Cheetah Hunt is by far my most anticipated new roller coaster. The multi-launch coaster looks to be an adventure that will rocket riders from 0 to 60 mph. Launch coasters are nothing new, but one with such a diverse layout is. At times the coaster will climb up 100 feet into a unique figure eight element, then dive down below the ground as it charges through a trench. Add to that a corkscrew and an airtime hill and you’ve got an action-packed journey with Busch Gardens Tampa’s Serengeti-themed area as the backdrop. The park has a history of well-themed, well-executed thrilling roller coasters and Cheetah Hunt looks to be no different.
Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas (Dallas, Texas)
Six Flags Over Texas is completing a potentially ground-breaking $10 million upgrade of the Texas Giant. The twenty year old wooden coaster has been re-tracked with steel rails in order to provide a smoother and more exciting ride. Thanks to the new rails, constructed by Rocky Mountain Construction, Six Flags claims the Texas Giant will achieve two World records for a wooden coaster. It will have the steepest drop at 79 degrees and the steepest banking at 95 degrees. I argue that the ‘Giant is now technically a steel coaster, but either way the redesigned Texas Giant could be an amazing ride that encourages similar transformations in the future.
Dare Devil Dive at Six Flags Over Georgia (Atlanta, Georgia)
Six Flags Over Georgia will be opening their 11th roller coaster in the ultra-steep Dare Devil Dive. The ride will boast a vertical lift hill followed by a beyond vertical 95 degree drop. Then, the rocket-themed cars will traverse a thrilling course with three loops, a zero gravity hill, and a tunnel. Dare Devil Dive follows the removal of the park’s Deja Vu roller coaster in 2007. This should be an excellent replacement as a similar roller coaster, Dollywood’s Mystery Mine, was well-received.
Green Lantern at Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, New Jersey)
Six Flags has a history of reusing themes and ride names at a number of their parks. So, it’s no surprise that there will be two Green Lantern roller coasters to tie in with the forthcoming film. Six Flags Great Adventures’ Green Lantern coaster is a stand-up coaster that was previously at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. One of the largest of its kind, it features five loops and a 144 foot first drop. The 14-year old coaster is getting a paint job and may also receive new trains and special effects. While it’s not a completely new roller coaster, it should still be one of the best to open this year. It’s easily one of my favorite stand-up coasters and I really enjoyed it when it was Chang at Kentucky Kingdom.
Green Lantern: First Flight at Six Flags Magic Mountain (Valencia, California)
Six Flags Magic Mountain is set for a big year. Not only will Magic Mountain reclaim the title of the theme park with the most roller coasters (surpassing Cedar Point) with 18, the park will be adding two new roller coasters. The most noteworthy of which is Green Lantern: First Flight. Similar to the park’s extremely intense X2, this new ride will be a 4th dimension roller coaster where riders are positioned in spinning seats on either side of the track rather than on top or below it. While First Flight will be a much smaller coaster than X2, it should still deliver an exciting and disorienting ride.
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