August 22nd, 2001 - I've decided to give these old pages a new home. The content is old, but perhaps it is still useful.
Review of Adventureland theme park (Des Moines, Iowa)
Picture a theme park which is part of a resort complex including a hotel and a campground. Sound familiar? No, I'm not talking about Disneyland in California. I'm referring to Adventureland - Iowa's own amusement center located just outside of the capital city of Des Moines.
Adventureland sits on 160 acres of land with the adjoining Adventureland Hotel providing 130 rooms. The original complex opened in 1974 and has steadily grown over the years. The park itself is small when compared to chain giants such as Six Flags, yet it has a unique charm you can only find when things are done on this scale.
The first refreshing feeling is parking. Pulling into the lot (after entering under a large light sign which displays daily park hours) costs only $2. Entrance to the park itself is just under $20 for adults for a single day. Adventureland does not offer any type of seasonal pass, unfortunately.
Just around the ticket booths are entrance gates where the receipt is used as your ticket into the park. Right past the turnstyle stands a hill with the Adventurland "A-Train" station on top. On the side of the hill is a large letter "A" planted in flowers. To the right and left are tunnels under the train tracks that lead into the initial area of Main Street. Visitors to Disney's Magic Kingdoms will find this layout very familiar.
"Main Street" presents a brightly colored town of yesterday with two story buildings lining each side. There is a theater which houses various acts each year (in 1996 it was the Unbelievable Magic and Mystery show), and an assortment of food places, gift shops, and arcades. At the very center of the main entrance court is a gazebo which houses an animatronic musical show "Daniel and the Dixieland Diggers" where several animal characters play and sing throughout the day. This show is on par with those found at some of the pizza restaurants which were popular during the 80s. (Think: Chuck E Cheese or Showbiz Pizza.)
Most of Adventureland doesn't contain a definate theme, though a few areas do. At the right side of the park an archway leads you into the "County Fair" area which houses a variety of carnival style games (where you can win prizes) and a selection of rides. Most of the rides at this park are carnival style in nature, though permanently installed. The large attraction here is the Tornado wooden roller coaster. It's a moderate beast with several drops with nice air time (depending on where you sit, with the rear being the best). The middle section of the car I rode one time sounded like it was bashing up and down off the track - adding a bit of true terror to the experience. One can only hope their maintenance crew is reliable.
Next to the Fair is "Dragon Island" which has more games and the Dragon dual loop roller coaster. This one offers a very short ride (less than a minute) with none of the maintenance fears of the Tornado.
The newest location, "Outlaw Gulch", is just past the Island (and, in fact, going through the island area is the only way to get in and out of it - part of the "dead end" problem appearing at many of the theme parks I have visited). The Gulch represents a small western town with a row of buildings on one side (one housing the rest rooms, the middle one an employee area, followed by a drink bar and then the Wrangler, a "Scrambler" carnival ride). The themeing is nice, with all kinds of small touches like "wanted" posters and artifacts on the walls. Inside the ride building for the Wrangler (only the queue area is indoors) the fantasy ends, as bland 2x4 walls with protruding nails surround you. Well, no one comes to this park for the lines. (And hopefully they stay away from the nails on the walls.)
The only other ride there is the Outlaw, a large wooden roller coaster constructed in 1994. While not as wild as the Tornado, this coaster offers a very nice opening drop and decent ride time. I personally enjoyed the Tornado more, though I felt safer on the Outlaw. On of the internet groups lists the Outlaw as a Top-40 coaster, and there is even a plaque on the wall of guest relations on Main Street from the American Coaster Enthusiasts congratulating the park on keeping the wooden coasters around.
In the center of the area is a small "boot hill" cemetary holding several tombstones with amusing epitaths. There is also a free standing shack near the edge of the area which looks like it might host some sort of performance from time to time, but I saw no evidence of what it might be.
Several times during the day "Showdown at Outlaw Gulch" is held (tho it was sadly missing during the '97 season due to the circus which was brought in). This is a comedy performance with four main characters, including the Sheriff and his goofy deputy sidekick. Guns are discharged, and sound effects and music play to highlight the bad jokes. It's worth seeing if you have a love for puns. The show now is the same as last year, but with a few new extras (possibly just ad-libs that made the cut). I recommend this as a high point to any Adventureland visit.
Back towards the center of the park you will find a bridge that leads to a whitewater rafting ride, as well as a log flume journey. Both of these have the potential to drench you on a hot day. There is a section that has the slight feeling of New Orleans (with the ironwork on the second story facades) which is mainly home for an arcade and more food places. The other sections of the park show no obvious themeing. There's a rocking pirate ship, a large ferris wheel, many kiddie rides, and even a spinning barrel where centrifical force sticks you to the walls as they turn. One shouldn't miss the shooting gallery which acts rather oddly if you attempt to take a flash photograph of the targets. There is even a Tilt-a-Whirl, my all-time favorite carnie ride.
In the location which formerly housed a dolphin show lagoon, the new attraction for 1996, "The Underground", can be found. The area around it is a large rough cut wooden wall meant to resemble, I suppose, a mine area. The entrance contains a warning about the use of strobes and fog effects in the ride (always a good sign), and also an interesting sign saying, basically, "if the line is up to this point we suggest you find something else to do and come back later". It's nice to see this approach rather than making the line longer like some theme parks would do. (Plus, it gets you back in the park where you can spend money rather than standing still for an hour or more...)
The line is a simple zig-zag "cattle" queue under a patchwork of boards which offer a little protection from the sun and none from rain. Near the far right side of the line area the temperatures reached 103 as I waited in line. There is virtually NO air circulation here. As the line zigged to the other end, the temperature was almost 20 degrees less. A big difference. Unfortunately, there are NO FANS of any kind to make this line bearable. This was one of the worst line experiences I have EVER had at a theme park. When waiting near dark, there are also NO lights in the line. The only illumination was from a very bright set of spot lights above and on the other side, leaving most of the line in near total darkness - not a feeling I cherish at a public area. Another problem was trash and filth everywhere. For some reason, there are NO trash cans anywhere to encourage guests to put their garbage in the proper place. Sadly, even though this ride was only a month old, profanity was found all over. I read twenty "naughty bits" scribbled on the walls before I quit counting, along with dozens of phone numbers. Perhaps next time I'll bring my cellular phone and call them up and let them know they are being promoted at the park.
After zagging a bit more you go up a ramp (and, at night, are blinded by the spotlights shining down you). An employee lets groups of 28 at a time go through a door into the pre-show area. YES, that's correct! A non-Disney/Universal theme park with a pre-show.
The pre-show basically has an animated miner at the end tell you the story of how the mine was recently rediscovered and opened for exploration. After about three minutes of narration, doors open and you board the mine cars which resemble a roller coaster including lap bar. The ride itself is a slow moving "dark ride" through animated scenes of outlaws, miners, and falling rocks. There is mist that falls on you, fog, and other lighting effects. A very nice job for the budget. It's difficult to suspend belief during the ride due to being able to see all the cables, lights, and security cameras from scene to scene, but still enjoyable. The Underground is worth riding a few times to catch all the details. Be warned though. This ride only circulates 15 times an hour (about 420 people). Hopefully they can work out something to get capacity up in the future.
Other items of interest include musical performances at Sud's and Sounds, a 50's themed eating place. A stage rises out of the ground and they alternate two shows daily: a 50's performance and a country music one. There is also Sheriff Sam's Saloon housing a musical western comedy show along with the Magic performance mentioned earlier. All of the live entertainment was enjoyable and of good quality.
The food selection is quite nice with classic theme park items such as colas and snow cones, as well as barbecue pork and beef sandwiches. There is even a fried chicken cafe on Main Street, as well as tacos, hamburgers, hot dogs, and cotton candy. A very nice selection.
Is this a park to visit? I guess it depends on what you enjoy. If large thrill rides are your game, then you will find only a few things of interest here. For live entertainment, you will probably find more here than at the average Six Flags. For carnival style rides, we seem to have a winner. It's certainly no thrill park, nor is it a big budget Universal Studios. Adventureland seems to fit in to it's own little niche. There are enough touches which make it seem that the owners were inspired by Disney, such as the forced perspective second story buildings on Main Street. I found it a bit bothersome seeing "Disney ideas" used without the Disney budget, yet I'd rather see someone attempt this than some of the drivel the Six Flags company pipes out calling "theme areas".
The largest problem with Adventureland comes from guest experiences. Sweltering in an unventalited, unlit hour long line is not my idea of adventure. The men's rooms have those long shared urinal troughs that many of us hated back in elementary school. Most of the employees, including some ride operators, seem to be about 13. Still, a quick stop at Guest Relations was very pleasant and, upon exiting the front gates, I was wished a good evening. Adventureland gets credit for doing some things right, but, unfortunately, not enough of them. Overall, most of the problems I see could be eliminated with minimum efforts of the owners. Perhaps this review will do something to help make the park be a better experience.
In conclusion, if you have to do any lengthy travel to visit, you may want to stay at home. If, however, you are in the area, certainly stop in and check it out.
Please drop me mail if you've been to this park and would like to offer some additional comments about it. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.