Snakes Alive!

It's 1996 and me and a fellow amusement park pal are chewing the fat:

Pal: "You ever been to Marine World in California?"

Me: "Ya mean SeaWorld in San Diego? Nah, not in years."

Pal: "No, the one near San Francisco."

Me: "There ain't no SeaWorld in San Francisco."

Pal, slapping me upside the head: "Marine World... in Vallejo..."

Me, thinking hard: "What the heck are you talking about?"

That's the way it was, just a few years back, when the former Marine World Africa USA was sliding down a mighty slippery slope. Attendance at this wildlife park and oceanarium had declined steadily over four consecutive years, its vital signs dropping fast. This funzone needed intensive care, stat.

Along came Premier Parks, already famous for resuscitating underdeveloped properties. Taking over management of the ailing Marine World, Premier reached into its bottomless medicine bag and pulled out $9 million worth of TLC for the 1997 season. That year, the company added the Tiger Island Splash Attack exhibit/show, the DinoSphere TurboRide(TM), an Iwerks Entertainment simulator ride, and Popeye's Seaport, a themed kiddieland complete with seven rides suitable for the Thrillseeker-in-training. Marine World's pulse was on the rise and Premier was just beginning to work its curative magic.

Over the next two years, Marine World exploded with new thrill rides: Vekoma's Boomerang and Kong, a suspended looping coaster; the spectacular Great Coasters-designed Roar woodie; a Top Spin; a Wave Swinger; a Hammerhead; a Wipe Out; and many more. Marine World had become the kind of Wild Life park we all appreciate most and when it earned the Six Flags prefix in 1999, its return to robust health was sealed.

Of course, 1999 was also the year that New Jersey's Six Flags Great Adventure introduced the first of Bolliger & Mabillard's astounding Floorless rollercoasters, Medusa. Little did we know that another would soon follow.

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Here it is, Spring 2000, and Six Flags Marine World is giving the good folks down at Paramount's Great America reason to be looking over their shoulders. Sure, PGA, home to the new Stealth, is still NoCal's thrill ride pacesetter. But this upstart is coming on strong.

Walking around the hilly territory, you get the feeling it's a place in transition, a work in progress, caught a bit between the park it was and the park it is rapidly becoming. But from the moment we arrive, the message is clear: Marine World wants our love. Grandstanding right over the main gates are SFMW's two star attractions: Roar to the left and Medusa to the right. That's called putting your best foot forward, people.

SFMW's own Medusa, while sharing a remarkable number of layout elements with its East Coast sister, is just a little taller, a little faster and a little more outrageous, thanks to a new variation on B&M's Cobra Roll that's been dubbed the "Sea Serpent." And like everything else that arrives with "Bolliger & Mabillard" stamped on the customs manifest, this floorless is flawless.

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More than ever, I'm convinced that when it comes to these floorless critters, it's the front row you've gotta go for. Track and thin air and nothing else. What a panoramic punch in the gut...

We pull out of the station, round a U-turn and start heading up. First time or not, ya can't help but look down between your flip-flopping toes and see those fat tubular rails and cross-sections passing slowly beneath them. From this too-close-for-comfort perspective, they look bigger, meaner, than they do from within the confines of an enclosed train. There's gotta be more than 12 inches of clearance, but it seems like so much less.

Soon, we're about 15 stories high and off to our right is the first leg of Medusa's course, a one-two-three inversion medley waiting to churn us like butter, just like the Jersey Girl does. We swing around a bend and plummet.

Hitting 65 MPH, our trains soars right into the gorgeously pure geometry of the vertical loop, those rails coming alive and curling back to snap us head over heels nearly 130 feet above the ground. Back down we race and climb right up again into the dive loop, rising, tipping to the side, inverting and falling, only to swoop directly into an exquisite Zero-G roll. Bada-bing, bada-boom!

And now this Medusa goes her Atlantic counterpart one better with the Sea Serpent element. Masters that they are, Messrs. Bolliger and Mabillard started with a standard Cobra Roll but then grabbed one leg and twisted it all the way around to face in the opposite direction.

The train blasts up the introductory slice of this zany curlicue and performs the first upside-down tumble. Pulling out of that inversion, we make a mid-air dive to the left. But instead of continuing in that direction, as we would at the halfway point of a Cobra Roll, we jam up to the right and go wonky a second time, screaming back in the same direction we were headed before it all began. Genius never rests, friends.

You've got a very short time to figure out which way is up as we glide onto a brake run. But we're off that single horizontal stretch of track in no time, making a smooth, banked plunge down into the first barrel roll.

There's a high-speed spiral to navigate before we slither through the second barrel roll, and then we come to a stop, forced to lift the shoulder harnesses and disembark. Ah, parting is such sweet sorrow...

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In terms of quantity alone, Marine World's ride collection is a long way from being anything spectacular. But consider what it was just three years ago. Amazing.

And now with Medusa and Roar riding high, this Six Flags toddler is home to both a woodie and a steel coaster that are among the best in the world. Even more amazing.

It's a given that the friendly Marine World/Great America rivalry will heat up in the years ahead, which can only mean continued surprises from this burgeoning member of the Six Flags family. And PGA has already announced a major addition for 2001... Do you smell something cookin' in the kitchen?

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  • TRACK LENGTH: 3,937 feet
  • TOP SPEED: 65 Miles Per Hour
  • MAX. HEIGHT: 150 feet
  • MAX. DROP: 150 feet
  • RIDE DURATION: Approx. 3 minutes, 15 seconds
  • CARS: Three trains composed of eight cars. Each car accommodates four passengers across.
  • CAPACITY: Approx. 1,600 guests per hour
  • MANUFACTURER: Bolliger & Mabillard, Monthey, Switzerland

Medusa logo artwork © 1999 Six Flags. All rights reserved. SIX FLAGS and all related indicia TM & © 1999 Six Flags Theme Parks, Inc.





© Robert Coker.
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