Pirates, aliens, and Aquaman join the fray at Six Flags Over Texas
New dark ride and coaster at the original Six Flags park
Also in this edition (at the bottom): Do you want to work in the parks and attractions industry? There are some great mentoring programs available.
There’s a certain authentic je ne sais quois at Six Flags Over Texas. Opened in 1961, the original Six Flags park still has some echoes of its early days. Inspired by Disneyland, it is hailed as the first regional theme park and is the home of the first log flume ride as well as the first mine train coaster (both of which are still operating).
With the 1964 opening of The Cave, it can also lay claim to one of the first modern-day dark rides. A dark ride, by the way, is an industry term for any attraction that moves passengers through an indoor show building in a vehicle. They are not necessarily dark in tone or light level. The bright, cheery “it’s a small world” attractions at the Disney parks are dark rides, for example. (And don’t start yelling at me about those lower-case title letters; they are intentional on the Mouse’s part.)
Like “it’s a small world,” The Cave used boat vehicles. Built in house, it featured “speelunkers,” goofy-looking alien creatures that dwelled in the cave and mined its gems. The attraction remained until 1991 when it was replaced by Gold River Adventure, which gave Yosemite Sam, Bugs Bunny, and other Looney Tunes characters the opportunity to bring their silliness to the park.
A couple of weeks ago, the attraction returned to its roots with yet another makeover. Pirates of Speelunker Cave, as it is now known, brings back the funky aliens, but gives them some contemporary love.
“We wanted to make sure [the new attraction] would pay homage to the original, but also brought it up to the 21st century,” says Brad Malone, spokesperson for the park. The animatronics are considerably more sophisticated, and the physical sets include projected media that depict roiling seas and other effects. “The projections and technology make it seem like the scenes are larger and more immersive,” Malone adds.
The facade of the attraction includes nautical touches that gives it a coastal, Galveston-like vibe, befitting its location in the Texas section of the park. The first part of the story introduces pirates that are trying to find and pillage the speelunkers’ treasure. There are also encounters with mermaids and sea monsters. Guests then enter the speelunkers’ cave for the second half of the ride experience. The attraction is a curious mix of buccaneers, aliens, and Lone Star State ambiance that is distinctly Six Flags Over Texas.
Also opening later this summer will be Aquaman: Power Wave, a multi-launch water coaster. (This is not like the water coasters found at water parks, which typically feature small raft-like vehicles that navigate water slides. Rather, it is an actual coaster with a splashdown water finale.) The first of its kind in North America, Aquaman will feature 20-passenger, single-car trains that will shuttle back and forth on a U-shaped track bookended with two 148-foot towers.
It will first launch backwards, rising partway up one of the towers. The train will drop down and rev up a second time heading forwards up the opposite tower. Each time it stalls on the towers, passengers will experience airtime. For the final launch, the train will hit its top speed of 63 mph and head backwards up the tower with enough momentum to make it to the top. While it hangs momentarily on the tower, the water level will quickly rise in the pool under the tracks so that the train will make a big splash when it drops into the water. It will create a huge plume of water, and it’s likely that passengers will get positively soaked.
“The most technically advanced thing about this ride is how much water will be pumped into the splashdown pool,” says Malone. “It will be a great way for guests to beat the heat this summer.”
Aquaman was supposed to open in 2020, but was delayed by the pandemic. In the intervening years, Six Flags decided to add a second train and install a turntable in the loading station. It will effectively double the capacity of the ride by allowing passengers to unload and load one train while the other one is on the tracks.
Might you be heading to Six Flags Over Texas this season? What are some of your favorite dark rides outside of the Disney and Universal parks? Would you want to see a similar water coaster at your home park?
If you’ve ever considered a career designing parks and attractions, check out my Funworld article, “Mentoring the next generation of industry professionals.” It profiles mentoring programs presented by Skyline Attractions, Irvine Ondrey Engineering, and Vekoma Rides Manufacturing B.V. They could be your ticket into the exciting industry.
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Loved this article, and--as always--the history you so-interestingly provide.