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Galveston Pleasure Pier brings thrill rides back to Texas coast

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A disaster-prone Texas tourist destination that for more than a century has been an on-again, off-again home to oceanfront amusements will once again lure thrill-seekers with roller coasters, midway games and carnival confections.

PHOTOS: New rides at Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier

The $60-million Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier plans to open in May with 16 rides, including a vertical-lift steel coaster, a 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel with programmable LED lights and a 200-foot-tall swing tower offering panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico.

Among the highlights:

Iron Shark — A Gerstlauer Eurofighter steel roller coaster with a 100-foot vertical lift, a beyond vertical drop and four inversions. Coaster trains reach 50 mph over the 1,300-foot-long track that includes a diving loop and a backstretch that cantilevers over the water.

Texas Star Flyer — The 200-foot-tall Funtime Star Flyer is being billed as the tallest tower swing ride in Texas. Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio is home to a similar ride called SkyScreamer.

Galaxy Wheel — The 100-foot-tall Chance Morgan Ferris wheel at the end of the pier features programmable LED lights.

Pirate's Plunge — A twin-drop log flume built by Interlink with an initial 22-foot descent and a 42-foot finale.

Carousel — A Chance Morgan double-decker merry-go-round with ride-on sea creatures, horses and chariots.

Gulf Glider — A 22-foot-tall Bertazzon wave swinger featuring single and double seats.

Revolution — The 60-foot-tall Chance Morgan Revolution pendulum claw ride swings out over the water. 

Sky Shooter — The SBF Visa Airborne Shot lets riders control the "fly-out" feature of the arms on the spinning thrill ride. 

Cyclone — The 60-foot-tall Larson International Fireball travels forward and backward at 25 mph around a ring-of-fire-style loop.

Rock & Roll — The Bertazzon Musik Express-style ride features hot rods that travel forward and backward around an alpine bobsled-style loop.

Sea Dragon — The Chance Morgan pirate ship-style ride reaches 50 feet in the air as it swings out over the water. 

Pier Pileup — The Bertazzon bumper cars feature antique and classic cars with separate ride areas for kids and adults.

Frog Hopper — A 22-foot-tall S&S Power kiddie drop tower.

Texas Tea — A Zamperla tea cup similar to the ride at Coney Island's Luna Park.

Big Wheelin' — SBF Visa kiddie big-rig truck ride.

Designed to evoke waterfront wonderlands such as Chicago's Navy Pier, Southern California's Santa Monica Pier and Coney Island's Luna Park, the new 1,130-foot-long Galveston amusement pier is expected to draw 3 million visitors annually to an area of Southeast Texas with a long history of amusement attractions and natural disasters.

In 1906, the Electric Park opened along the Galveston coast at the foot of the current pier, billing itself as "The Coney Island of the South." The waterfront park's brightly illuminated rides included a carousel, a figure-eight roller coaster and an aerial swing that created a mesmerizing stroboscopic effect. The 1915 Galveston hurricane, a powerful storm that killed hundreds, destroyed Electric Park in 1915.

In 1943, a recreational pier for military families was built on the location of the current pier. After World War II, the facility was turned over to the city and transformed into a pleasure pier with amusement rides, midway games, an arcade and an aquarium. Hurricane Carla severely damaged the pier in 1961.

In 1965, the Flagship Hotel opened on the repaired pier, billing itself as the only North American hotel situated entirely over a body of water. Hurricane Ike severely damaged the hotel in 2008.

The year-round Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is being built by Landry's, a restaurant management company that operates the Rainforest Cafe, Claim Jumper,Morton's Steakhouseand McCormick & Schmick's. The new Galveston pier will include a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., another restaurant chain owned by Landry's.

Landry's also runs Kemah Boardwalk, a waterfront amusement park with a wooden roller coaster located 30 miles north of Galveston.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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