Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Louisiana

Louisiana is different. There aren't counties, there's parishes. Louisiana is different. Up until the 1990s, you could effectively drink alcohol if you were 18 (and they lost a lot of federal freeway money as a result). In fact, you still kinda can as long as a guardian buys it for you. Louisiana is different. Their heritage - Cajuns - is derived from French people kicked out of Canada's Atlantic Provinces by the British way back in the 18th century. "Acadian" does kinda sound like Cajuns once you put them next to one another, doesn't it? Louisiana is different.

Louisiana is a place that other things are themed to, not a thing that really needs escapism. Disney and Marriott both dug deep into the architecture of New Orleans' French Quarter for attractions. Alternately, the history of public recreation in Louisiana is not exactly all that wonderful. Early 20th Century Billboard Magazines place more amusement parks in Montana than Louisiana. In 1917, there were only three: City Park and Spanish Fort Park in New Orleans and Shreveport's Fair Park. Shoot forward to 1953, and we find Pontchartrain Beach replacing Fair Park and Spanish Fort in the list. That's it. Two parks. As for the Works Progress Administration, Huey Long and FDR had a falling out over federalism, and because of that, there were few projects in the state other than post offices. And there was racism. Desegregation is sometimes pointed at as a contributing factor for the demise of Pontchartrain Beach, the sole really significant park in the state's history prior to Alfa Smartparks' arrival.

Jazzland, later to be known as Six Flags New Orleans, has in many ways become symbolic of the Six Flags brand and of the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Opened in 2000 and sold in 2002 to Six Flags after attendance had already dropped by half, its then owner was weighed down with debt and in a state of slow motion collapse. Their New Orleans park was to that point a losing proposition: wrong side of town, middling ride selection, reputation for poor service. It would be naive of me to suggest that the factors responsible for Louisiana's poor amusement options weren't a contributor to the demise of Six Flags New Orleans. However, in fairness, the park was under some 20 feet of water. All electronics were trashed. The dark ride and food stations were obliterated. The B&M constructed Batman: The Ride clone (itself a used ride from Japan) was built with a high enough base off the ground to not be affected and was moved. Everything else was pretty much trashed. Regardless of the financial situation, anyone would be hard pressed to rebuild. And so the park has sat for 12 years.

I sometimes note anecdotally that my one trip to the state was in 2002 - I went to three amusement parks on that trip having lacked enough time to go to City Park. Two were modern post-war themers and one built out family run place that seemed comparatively low rent. The themers were Six Flags Astroworld and Jazzland, neither one of which is still operating. The lower rent family run place - Blue Bayou Dixie Landin' - is the largest operating amusement park near the I-10 corridor anywhere between San Antonio and Valdosta, GA. Houston, Mobile, Pensacola, New Orleans: None of these cities has an amusement park larger than Blue Bayou Dixie Landin'.

There's not a lot aesthetically here to get one's blood pumping if you're a hardcore theme park nerd, but they do have a respectable collection of 4 roller coasters. All 4 were bought used; that's kinda unique. They've also managed to create a lineup that offers some variety; A junior coaster for the kids, a spinning coaster and a Galaxi for family thrills, and a Vekoma Boomerang to excite people just a little more. There's some flat rides, S&S tower, antique cars, and a log flume for the dry park, and a fairly standard selection of modern water slides to go with it. Back in New Orleans itself, Carousel Gardens at City Park has been pretty much totally rebuilt since Katrina, and a new junior coaster operates at the site. Thus concludes the major outdoor amusement parks of Louisiana.

Beyond the parks, what else lies in the state? There are some mildly interesting water parks like SPAR in Sulphur and Splash Kingdom in Shreveport. There's the Audubon Nature Institute, home to a zoo and aquarium. Those are pretty normal sorts of things. Prehistoric Park is Henderson isn't the only giant dinosaur display park in the country, but it certainly isn't as typical as a collection of Proslide flumes run by a civic institution. You walk by giant dinosaurs in a wooded setting. Why? Why not? Lafitte also looks into history at the Barataria Museum, which features a movie presentation and animatronic alligators to liven up the much more recent past of Louisiana's colonization.

During the Halloween season, a state known for its proclivity to voodoo should be expected to show well, and 13th Gate in Baton Rouge managed to be the top rated haunt in the US by Hauntworld twice.

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