Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...US and Canadian Territories

The United States has, over the last 120 years, come into ownership and possession of a number of overseas territories. These stretch from the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. But one thing we don't necessarily recognize in America is that Canada has territories too. Admittedly, the territories say "territory" right in the name, but we in the US often look at them no differently than the various provinces. They operate differently - very differently.

In this edition of Hidden Rides & Themed Attractions, we're about to travel the world but stay in America. From the arctic to the rainforest, yes - we've got it covered.


2017 was a bad year for the island, having been whacked with a Category 5 Hurricane that devastated large tracts of the island.  This presents some challenges with identifying locations for the island, as some of them have been wiped out entirely but no one is around to tell us which for sure. One thing is clear: Las Cascadas Water Park in Aguadilla never opened for the 2018 season. Whether or not it ever does again is largely a mystery. Parque Familiar Padua Adrian Sanchez is a small family amusement zone in Arecibo, a town most known for its massive radio telescope, but there's been total silence on its operation since early 2017. Arecibo has a splash pad that is being reopened this month, but the park with it's animatronic dinosaurs and mini golf appears to be quiet.

The most expansive offerings on the island are behind closed resort gates. El Conquistador, the massive beach resort managed by Waldorf Astoria, features a full water park called Coqui. There's a mix of body and tube slides present, along with a lazy river. Fewer slides are available at the Ritz Carlton-run Dorado Beach Resort's Watermill, but it too has a lazy river and a somewhat appropriate to the area theme built around an old sugar plantation. Families on the island are much more likely to be found at the small Arroyo's Surfing Park, which appears to be built around a single water play-platform and some small pools.

For dry rides, there's only one permanent option and a couple of larger temporary ones. Castillo Del Nino is a very small facility with some kids rides and a small carousel that seems to target the birthday party market more than anything, but it's the closest thing to a traditional amusement park in PR. There are a pair of fairs, both in Hato Rey - the largest is La Feria at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, which for several years prior to the hurricane was serviced by Wade Shows. It took 2017 off, but will be returning in the winter of 2018 as part of their typical Caribbean swing that includes Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. There's a smaller fair as well known as "Winter Park"at the Coliseo; pictures from the January 2018 version made it look not much bigger than a typical small county fair in the US, but that's more than nothing.


About 100,000 people live in the USVI spread primarily across three islands - St. Thomas is the most populated, followed by St. Croix and St. John brings up the rear. The latter is overwhelmingly national park land; St. Croix and St. Thomas by comparison are basically available for development. However, as many cruise passengers learn, both islands have treacherous terrain poorly suited for any kind of amusement development. Paradise Point Skyride (fully enclosed gondola) does exist, and offers views of the main harbor on St. Thomas from the restaurant/bar at the top. For a time, it was also home to an Eli Ferris Wheel on the top, but that was short lived. Coral World is also plenty popular with cruise passengers, offering experiences to enter the water with sea lions, turtles, and soft adventure diving activities like Snuba.


OK, nothing here. Sorry to get your hopes up! Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands has a reasonable amount of development, but the atoll shape is so thin that it is extraordinarily difficult to picture even a mini golf being built here as there is just not really any room. American Samoa's low wages from being the tuna canning capital of the American Pacific probably retard the ability of locals to demand a go kart track, mini golf course, or prefab steel building filled with inflatables.


Now we're talking about somewhere with rides! More than 160,000 people live on Guam, but it also has a healthy transient population thanks to the US Military and Japanese tourism. These entities have money, and people with money on vacation like fun, and ergo: rides!

First, a quick history - Guam's most beloved amusement center was Yigo Amusement Park; opened by Filipino investor Mark V. Pangilinan back in the 1970s. The park was unprofitable and abandoned sometime later (perhaps as late as the 1990s), and there are actually log flume vehicles which can be found on the old site based on various urbex pictures.

In subsequent years however, other attractions have opened up. Tagada Amusement Park opened in the tourist district of Tumon in 2012 anchored by - what else? - a Tagada. This may mean absolutely nothing to most people. I get that. But look:

The Tagada is a ride that is so outrageously dangerous on multiple levels to the unsuspecting guest that it has been the topic of discussion of being banned in the UK. There are none operating in the continental US or Canada, almost certainly due to liability insurance concerns. Having been on multiple and having been thrown to the floor aboard one, I can tell you that it is not an experience for everyone. Those intending something passive should stick to the pirate ship here (the only other ride is a set of Bumper Cars).

Funtastic Park, located inside the Micronesia Mall, is an indoor family entertainment center featuring a smattering of rides geared for children. There's a powered coaster, a small carousel, bumper cars, a children's swinging ship, ball pit, and lots of arcade games. Kid geared rides can also be found at Talofofo Falls Resort Park. This is a strange sight: the main draw are water falls and a swimming hole, but there's statuary of a outright sexual nature, a home built train ride, some kids flat rides, bumper cars, suspension bridges, Yokoi Cave (where the last Japanese soldier hid until the 1970s being unaware that World War 2 was over), a museum on the history of Guam, and a cable car.

For excitement that will trend older: Grand Prix Guam USA Go Kart Racing has modified racing karts that probably go twice as fast as what you'll find at the average mini golf in the US. Atlantis Submarines has an outpost here, and you can dive over 100 feet to a variety of sea creatures (St. Thomas in the USVI also has one, it should be noted). And then there's Slingshot -  a 70m (~220 or so foot) reverse bungee attraction using steel cables and springs to drive the bouncing motion. That's a good thing in terms of safety, by the way.


The commonwealth you forgot of the US! This is a big time vacation destination for the Japanese, and Saipan is the most significant island in the area. Much of the coolest amusements are located behind resort gates, kinda like Puerto Rico. Resorts World's Saipan World Resort has a whole water park (Wave Jungle) for it's guests complete with water coasters, but it is open to outsiders at a price. Mariana Resort and Spa has a racing go-kart track with lots of turns and really fast karts. Not much else though, unlike Guam can be found here.


Not all that long ago, Canada had one gigantic space north of its provences called "Northwest Territories". This was split up in the 90s into what we recognize today as the Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. Nunavut doesn't have any themed attractions: if you manage to get to Iqulit (or the smaller towns, for that matter - only 38,000 people live in a space larger than Alaska), you're in the frontier. The end of civilization. You're going to see things like Narwhals and eat seal flesh raw. Forget theming; this is what the theming is of. The other territories are kinda similar, but have slightly larger developments requiring an escape.

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory has a Rotary Club outpost, and they in turn run a small city park with a splash pad. There's also Sign Post Forest along the Alaska Highway - think of it as a crowd assembled attraction, where literally anyone can bring a sign and make it part of the overall array of thousands of various signs (homemade, stolen, "found", etc).


In 1987, the Wade Hamer Mini Putt was constructed in Yellowknife in memory of a young hockey player who died in a car accident that same year. It remains the sole "amusement" in the territory, and has a variety of themed holes such as shooting your ball through a curling puck. A news report in 2012 noted that the ticket booth for it burned down, and there's been no updates since though Google still reports that it is open.


Well, that's it! 62 pieces and 2 years after it started, we're finally through to the end. If you haven't looked through the other pieces in the series, click on the Label for "Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...." just below and leaf through all the states and provinces previously done. Most importantly - get out there and explore!

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Wyoming

10th largest by area, least populated, and last in the alphabet - Wyoming appears on almost no one's radar unless they're thinking about skiing or hate crimes. Contending with Colorado as the nation's squarest state, Wyoming's entire population is eclipsed by that of the city of Milwaukee. Ohio State University has more students enrolled than the largest city in the state (Cheyenne) has residents. We're talking sparse here, people. Sparse. And where people are sparse, so are amusements.

As is often the case in places where there's not a ton of taxable income, citizen organizations often attempted to step in and fill the void by providing entertainment. The Lions in Cheyenne provided the space for a small park that ran until 1990 here called Fun City, home to the state's one known historic roller coaster (some kind of kiddie steel coaster with Allen Herschell cars). The Putt Hutt and Ampitheater still remain in operation, but the mechanical rides are long, long gone.

As the largest city and center of much activity, Cheyenne isn't without rides these days. Cheyenne Steamers operate a miniature train in the city at the Ice and Events Center; dates are limited for public rides, but they exist from time to time. Another location that's limited in terms of availability quite by design: The Party Pony. It's a children's event center with a carousel of indeterminate origin (probably a two row portable Herschell but I haven't seen a good enough picture). The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of the state's premier tourist destinations, and is home to a skyride and a 1925 Herschell carousel.

In 2015, the state once again welcomed a coaster: Cowboy Coaster, constructed at Snow King Mountain Ski Resort. Like so many in the US, it is Wiegland Mountain Coaster and is capable of year round operation. Like many other ski resorts, there's scenic chair lift rides and kids activities (mini golf, a maze).

Big dreams exist in a big land. Old Town Family Fun in Casper is a fairly substantive FEC that's been expanding right along; mini golf, climbing wall, and arcade. They also have impressively themed exteriors to the buildings, which suggests either they might have aspirations beyond this. Aspirations are running wild in Buffalo, WY where they're collecting money to restore a CW Parker carousel they've called the " Carousel". This rare machine features Cowboy and Native American pieces together, but is in need of significant restoration before returning to public utilization as part of an arts center in the town.


And with that, every state has been covered: but this project hasn't ended quite yet! Canada and the United States both claim a number of territories, ranging from the arctic to the South Pacific. What wonders do they conceal? Find out in our next installment!