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Where the good times roll
Revised August 2, 2000
By JULIE COOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 23, 2000
SAN ANTONIO -- The celebration starts as soon as you push through the turnstiles at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, where every day is Cinco de Mayo, played out to Tejano tunes.
That's the first taste of the founding cultures of south Texas, where Spanish, German and cowboy flavors meld with the rockin' 1950s in the theme park here. This Six Flags, which opened in 1992, sits in a former quarry on the city's northwest side, a 20-minute ride from downtown, the Alamo and River Walk.
A train carries visitors to the 200-acre attraction's six sections: Los Festivales, Crackaxle Canyon, Armadillo Beach, Spassburg, Rockville and Fiesta Bay Boardwalk. Whether walking or riding, the park is well-marked and easy to navigate.
Rides, gift shops, snack bars, game rooms and entertainment venues are themed to each area. In Spassburg, a slice of old-time Germany, visitors can have a bratwurst and a beer in Sangerfest Halle while the lederhosen- and dirndl-clad "Sauerkrauts" pump out oompah music. Tubas, cowbells, clarinets and accordions set the toes to tapping with biergarten favorites.
Those tunes linger in your head as you mosey over to Crackaxle Canyon, part Western town and part oil boomtown. Amid the frontier town storefronts are adventures thrilling enough for the wild, wild West. The Wagon Wheel, a high-flying merry-go-round, starts out tame on a horizontal axis, then tilts vertical, spinning like a Ferris wheel gone wild.
Nearby, parents wrangle their little buckaroos through lines of rides named for Looney Tunes characters: Yosemite Sam's Wacky Wagon, a pint-size Ferris wheel; Foghorn Leghorn's Barnyard Railway; and Daffy's Duckaneer, a child-scale swinging pirate ship.
The Roadrunner Express, a roller coaster next door, is a favorite with families and is suited for younger kids who meet the 42-inch height requirement. The trains mimic the Roadrunner, "beep-beeping" around the track to outpace the trap-setting coyote.
Board the Whistle Stop at a nearby depot for a leisurely train ride across the park to Fiesta Bay Boardwalk, which emulates the sights and sounds of Atlantic City. The train chugs its way through tunnels and along the river that meanders through the park, giving passengers a good overview of the grounds.
The centerpiece of the boardwalk area is the Crow's Nest Ferris Wheel, offering a panorama of the Texas hill country, which seemingly stretches to the Oklahoma prairies.
In neighboring Rockville, a slice of '50s Americana, children can get behind the wheel of electric sports cars for a spin around the Motorama Turnpike or go for a whirl on Chaos. That oscillating ride straps two people in each seat and inverts them as it lifts from a horizontal to a vertical position. It starts tamely enough, but just when you think it's nothing, the ride tips and taunts you with its inversions.
Cool off after that with a plunge on the Power Surge, a boat that plummets down a watery slope. Or forgo the lines and get soaked as the splash from the ride douses observers on the bridge above -- refreshing, on a summer day in Texas.
If you're more of a water rat than a landlubber, look for other flumes, chutes and water coasters.
On Bugs' White Water Rapids in Spassburg, riders enjoy a wet adventure of steep climbs and deep plunges on a ride themed to the Oscar-winning cartoon Knighty Knight Bugs. The ride, which is docile enough for little ones but thrilling enough to keep teens and adults entertained, begins with visitors winding through a medieval castle, complete with snoring dragon and a continuous reel of the animated adventure.
Visitors also can soak up heat relief on sweltering summer days in the Texas-shaped pool at Armadillo Beach, the water park within the park. Breezes don't circulate well in the old quarry, so summer days are hot and late afternoon crowds flood the area. Get there early.
But it is the roller coasters that draw the big crowds. From the Rattler, a wooden wonder, to the Superman Krypton Coaster, the only floorless coaster in the Southwest (the track is below the riders), Fiesta Texas keeps the crowds coming from March through October.
The Rattler, the park's original coaster, chugs 180 feet up on wooden scaffolding, then plunges 122 feet into the quarry, reaching 65 mph. In the 2 minutes, 26 seconds of terrifying twists and drops, riders are carried back to the top of the cliff into a triple helix before sailing through the tunnel bored through the cliff. Though the Rattler was tamed after its inaugural season proved its bite too fierce, the coaster packs plenty of venom.
Additional coasters continue to spring up around the Rattler. On the newer Superman Krypton Coaster, the floor drops away seconds after start-up, and the cars rocket along 4,025 feet of red and blue steel. Feet dangling, hanging on to the shoulder harnesses, passengers move into a roll at 78 feet above the ground before heading straight down, rushing into a sharp turn and plunging once more. Time elapsed: 3 minutes, 20 seconds.
Across the park in Fiesta Bay Boardwalk, the Joker's Revenge is like a ride through an old fun house. Getting through the catacombs, with their Day-Glo paintings and upside-down mirrors, is an exercise in nervous laughter. At the apparent end of the hallway is an "exit" door, but this is the passageway to the Joker's last laugh on his visitors: Riders are whisked away from the station in reverse, and though this ride isn't as fast as others in the park (only 48 mph), it still packs plenty of punch.
If you'd rather catch your entertainment in a theater, head for the musicals that play throughout the park, from a rock 'n' roll revue in the Rockville High School Auditorium to the country beat at Sundance Theater to the multicultural flavor of performers at Teatro Fiesta.
At high season, you'll need a two-day ticket to catch all the Fiesta Texas fun. Most shows get under way in March and run through mid-September or early October.
Grab a seat on the grassy hillside before closing time to catch the park's finale, Lonestar Spectacular, a laser and fireworks extravaganza.
Julie Cooper is travel editor of the San Antonio Express-News.
If you go
Six Flags Fiesta Texas is on Interstate 10 West, 1 mile north of Loop 1604 at La Cantera Boulevard.
Admission: The following figures do not include tax: adults, $32.95; children under 48 inches, $16.47; seniors, $22.74; multiday visit, $36.19. Parking is $6.
Hours: Opens in early March; through August the weekday hours are generally 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Weekend openings and hours vary, though it is generally open on weekends from May through August. In September and October, it is open only on weekends.
For information: Call (800) 473-4378 or see the Web site, http://www.sixflags.com/sanantonio.
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