All things in bold are still in existence as of this writing. A more current overview can be found at the bottom for potential triptakers.
Judge Roy Hofheinz was a busy man.
He had just purchased the Houston Colt .45's and renamed them after the burgeoning space industry in Houston, Texas. By 1965, he had built the 8th Wonder Of The World, the Astrodome, and play began there on April 9. Hofheinz, a former mayor of the town, had plans for South Houston, eager to cash in on the new economic boom.
The busy man would build a theme park.
He purchased 60 acres of land just south of the 'Dome and began construction on AstroWorld. It would have 8 sections:
- Oriental Corner - "Where the East meets the Wild West." The notable ride was The Black Dragon, which surprisingly enough, was actually an octopus ride (8 rotating cars that move up and down as they go).
- Alpine Valley - "Yodel-ay-hee-hoo!" The Valley featured the Alpine Carousel, a carousel built originally in 1895 by the Pennsylvania Dutch. It also
- Modville - I can't believe Houston ever knew what the word mod was, but sue me. This had the "track-cars" ride, called Spinout. It even featured a miniature Bond car - the Aston Martin! Also here was the famous Astrowheel, a double ferris wheel and the first of its kind. Finally, there was The Happening, another spinning ride - the catch was that as the whole ride spun, the 3 sets of cars also spun in smaller circles.
- European Village - "Across The Ocean in 30 minutes." The European Village featured the only mountain in South Texas, the misnomered Alpine Sleigh Ride.
- American - "Home Of The Brave." The American section's centerpiece, Skyrama, rose 340 feet in the air (slowly!) and gave riders an amazing view of the Houston skyline.
- Children's World - Here was the classic Barnyard Petting Zoo, as well as Rub-A-Dub, a waterboat tunnel ride through a montage of Mother Goose stories.
- Western Junction - "Welcome To AstroWorld, Cowpoke." Here we had the The Wagon Wheel, a spinning ride shaped like, of course, a wagon wheel. Basically, the physics of the ride are kind of like when you drop a quarter on the ground - as one side goes down, the other side goes up. It also featured the world's first electronic shooting gallery, entitled The Shooting Gallery
- Plaza de Fiesta - There were no rides here - this was the main shopping area. Hofheinz invited all sorts of merchants to hawk their wares here as a kind of year-round Houston exposition.
The park itself was encircled by the 610-Limited Railroad, a play on the newly constructed 610 Loop in Houston. Hofheinz's business was a huge success, so much so that Astroworld expanded in every single year of his ownership. Some of the additions included the Bamboo Shoot (1969), the Fun Island area featuring the Wacky Shack funhouse (1970), a real live seal pond for Children's World (1971), the County Fair area, featuring the infamous Dexter Frebish Electrical Roller-Coaster with its 80 foot drop (1972), the Mod Shop and Horseless Pavilion (antique shop) (1973), and the addition of the AstroStage for concerts and the Marvel McFay Theater, featuring AstroWorld mascot Marvel McFay (1974).
In 1975, Hofheinz sold Astroworld to the Six Flags Corporation, who continued the expansion process he had begun. First off, one of the most impressive roller coasters in the world, the Texas Cyclone, was added in 1976 to the newly-built Coney Island area. 1977 saw the addition of 2 more live shows, bringing the total to 9. Unfortunately, this also saw the death of Modville, replaced by the International Plaza. 1978 saw another fan favorite, Greezed Lightnin', open: the ride featured a loop-de-loop - and then the same one in reverse as you careened back towards the station! In 1979, the Grandstand water theater was added, and many aquatic shows (water skiing, high diving, dolphins) have performed there since. 1979 also marked the end of the mechanically plagued AstroWheel.
The 1980s brought unabated progress to Six Flags AstroWorld. The white-water adventure Thunder River premiered in 1980, Warp 10 in 1981, and the Showcase Theatre opened in 1982. Also, the County Fair area was remodeled as Nottingham Village, with Dexter Frebish being updated with a castle theme and renamed the Excalibur.
1983 saw the single largest addition to AstroWorld: WaterWorld saw its debut. At the time it was a separate park (although combined admission was cheaper) with 5 water rides and a giant wave pool. Also, the Sky Screamer free-fall elevator ride was built in the Plaza de Fiesta, marking its end as the premiere site for Houston merchandise.
Children's World was revamped into the Enchanted Kingdom in 1984 with the addition of XLR-8, the world's first suspended roller coaster. The Southern Star Ampitheater opened in 1985 along with the Videocity arcade. 1986 brought along the nausea-inducing Looping Starship (the ship-like ride that does a full clockwise revolution), which temporarily replaced the Warp 10, and the first "Fright Night." 1987 saw the return of the Warp 10 - as the Warp 2000. 1988 brought the Tidal Wave, a splashdown water ride (and the wettest ride I've ever been on), while 1989 saw the addition of the Viper to the Oriental Corner.
1990 saw an innovative ride appear in the Alpine Valley: the Ultra Twister was half-roller coaster, half-gyroscope. To ride it is to experience it. 1991 saw the premiere of Blast! which, at its demise in 1998, was the longest running and most elaborate puppet show in America. 1992 brought a more lucrative deal with Warner Brothers and the Batman Nights Fireworks Spectacular, and in 1993, Batman: The Escape replaced the Alpine Sleigh Ride. The world's tallest and fastest standing roller coaster, B: TE is one of the best coasters at AstroWorld. In 1995, the first indoor roller coaster at the park was built, the Mayan Mindbender. 1996 saw the birth of Looney Toons Land, a kid's area which features set designs based on some classic Warner Bros. shorts. The Dungeon Drop, a 230 foot tall free fall, arrived in 1997 to Nottingham Village, which brought the Sky Screamer to an end. In 1998 the beleaguered Taz Texas Tornado was built: praised as the most exciting roller coaster in the park, its continual problems with the harnesses caused several cases of whiplash and it was dismantled in 2002.
In 1999 the newest attraction, the Serial Thriller, opened, causing a sensation: with the addition of this and the Tornado, Six Flags now boasted 8 roller coasters (a large number for a rather modest park). Plans have continued, and now 2 new rides are being planned for the start of the 2003 season.
So, you're planning a trip to AstroWorld, are you? Well, let me try to be your guide. Here we go ..
Before You Go
I can't emphasize this enough: Kroger has got the goods. Go to any Houston Kroger store and you can get buy AstroWorld tickets for $21.99 (instead of the at-the-gate $38.99). Conversely, during AstroWorld season, every Coca-Cola can in town has an admissions discount. If all of this fails, walk around outside the park (usually in the parking lot) - people are usually handing out coupons for entrance. Do NOT pay full price.
Eat a good (but not too big!) breakfast and wear plenty of sunscreen. If you're in a large group, I recommend the Viper as a meeting point, if only because it's close to the entrance and so people can ride while they're waiting for the slowpokes. Alternatively, the Main Street is full of good "meeting spots" (the gates, the restrooms, the water fountain) so do as you will.
Bring plenty of cash - everything's expensive - and bottled water (the only drink they won't confiscate). Houston summers can reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit - you'll thank me. Also, there is a picnic area in the parking lot which is a great place for a nice sit-down meal. Be sure to get your hand stamped before exiting the park for lunch!
Also, WaterWorld and AstroWorld are combined now - no separate admission! You can walk back and forth between them as often as you'd like. If you plan to go to WaterWorld, rent a locker. There's too much at stake, and I wouldn't trust most AstroWorld patrons. Again, sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!
http://tinyurl.com/saae (link to Mapquest)
Well, you could always just hit up Mapquest, they seem to know what they're doing. But the easy way is this - north, south, east, or west, you can make it to Astroworld:
- Get on I-10, east or west. (Yes, this step is the longest part.)
- Exit at 610 South. This is the loop that encircles Downtown Houston, so be prepared to drive through the city a bit to get to it.
- Merge left as soon as possible! Traffic is always bad on 610 (it does encircle downtown, silly) but getting in the left lane always goes faster and gets you to AstroWorld faster, since you don't have to take any exits.
- Stay on 610 the whole time; follow it until it becomes 610 East (or West!). Keep driving (the cars should've cleared by now.)
- Exit at Fannin.
- For 610 East people only: Use the turnaround beneath the underpass to head back west on the 610 access road.
- Head west on the access road to 610 West (don't go back on 610!) - the parking entrance to AstroWorld is on your right, you really can't miss it - Oo look! There's Reliant Arena! Have your cameras handy!
- Park and voila.
- If you're totally lost, their number is 713-799-8404.
So, what to do, what to do? Here are my top 10 rides in order (your mileage may vary):
- The Serial Thriller
- The Ultra Twister
- The Texas Cyclone
- Greezed Lightnin'
- Batman: The Escape
- The Viper
- Tidal Wave
- The Mayan Mindbender
- Dungeon Drop
- Warp 2000
Here's a good general itinerary for covering the whole park:
Disclaimer: Some of these rides have height requirements. Some of these rides have medical warnings. Be advised. Also, all directions assume that after you've gotten off a ride, you're facing the same direction as you were walking up to it.
- When you walk in, head up Main Street, take a left and jump on the Viper on your right.
- Keep walking and hop on the Dungeon Drop. If you want, there're plenty of carnival games here, but remember, them rabbit's got teeth.
- Keep walking straight to the back to The Serial Thriller.
- Obligatory Water Ride: Take a right and walk up to the Bamboo Shoot (log flume), or cross the railroad tracks on your left and get on the revamped Thunder River. Don't worry, neither one gets you too wet.
- Also on the other side of the railroad tracks is the Mayan Mindbender, as well as the entrance to WaterWorld.
- Cross back over the railroad tracks and walk past the Bamboo Shoot. Keep going, take a left, keep walking (the Tornado would've been on your right) and on your left is the Tidal Wave. You will get quite wet on this.
- After this, hop on the Warp 2000 across the way to get dry again. For bonus points, try to grab a tree leaf.
- Keep going and the road forks: if you take the left, you can go to XLR-8 (a great family ride - fun but not scary), and then the road just loops back around to where you are now.
- If you took the right, and walk to the back of the park, you'll find Greezed Lightnin'. Ride this at least twice (it's a short ride and worth it!)
- You'll notice the road curves around and heads back to the entrance of the park. On your right is the Crystal Palace Theatre, which always features a Western-themed show, be it a revue, band, or, in one case, two trick lassoists. On your left are more carnival games, including that electronic shooting gallery - play it so you can tell your kids you played on the first one ever made.
- Keep walking and you'll see the Wagon Wheel on your right - WARNING: I'm 6', 200 pounds and this ride is excruciatingly small for me.
- If you take a left and walk a bit, you'll see Looney Toons Land - if you've got the little ones, take them there and watch their faces light up. It's also a guilty pleasure of mine to run among the giant carrot patch.
- Keep going until you get to Batman: The Escape. Unfortunately, they shut down the pre-ride walkthrough of the BatCave, but the ride is still one of the best mock-ups. Trivia: As you're escaping Gotham City Cold Storage, notice the employee's jumpsuits have G C C
F S on them. As in Gotham City Correctional Facility. It's the little things you come to love ...
- After that, the road curves right, and there is the Alpine Carousel (the classic) and the Ultra Twister (the uber-classic) on your left. Also, here's the skyway cable cars back to the Oriental Corner - lets off right by the Bamboo Shoot, in case you need to meet someone somewhere.
- Still walking? Well, if you're hungry and can't take it anymore, Chat N Chew is right here. A sock hop joint, and the best burger in the place. There's also a McDonald's back by XLR-8 and the Western Smokehouse by the shooting gallery, if you want authentic Texas barbecue. Again, everything is expensive, but hey! Your presence here proves you're a glorious hedonist.
- Keep walking past the Chat N Chew: there's the Antique Taxis on your right (totally for the kids); instead, you can walk into the Coney Island area for the ride of your life: The Texas Cyclone! 60" and over, head for the back cars, and the rest of you pile in, it's a bumpy ride, but a blast.
- In this area, you can also find the Videocity arcade - expensive - and the Showcase Theater. There's also the new extreme bungee flying ride here, but it's an extra $10 for a solo flight, $15 for 2 people.
- Walk on by the bungee ride and keep going - there're remote control boats and cars here, if that's your thing - until you get to the Looping Starship. I personally get sick on this type of ride (major headache) but there it is.
- Now you've ridden everything - with any luck, it's only 4 or 5 o'clock and you can ride your favorites all over again! If you keep walking in the general direction of the entrance, you can get a funnel cake at Francesca's and shop at the Looney Toons stores that smother Main Street.
Before You Leave
So it's all been done, you're tired, you're beat, and you wanna go home. Hopefully, there will be either a concert at the Southern Star Ampitheater (on the south end, entrance near Greezed Lightnin') or the Lagoon Theater (in the center of Astroworld, entrance near the main entrance). If not, take a picture at the globe just outside the entrance. Maybe a before-and-after shot. Hop in your car and smile - you've had a busy day!
- My 14 visits