The recent opening of Fiesta Park in Araneta City has somewhat brought back good ol’ Fiesta Carnival vibes to Cubao, this historic, intriguing, ever changing, and always vibrant, shopping and entertainment hub. On weekends, from afternoon to late evening, Times Square Park—located beside the Araneta City Bus Station and just behind Shopwise–is bustling with the energy of children eager to try the different rides and attractions. Some are excited to have their snaps taken with the walking dinosaur.
Visiting the newly opened outdoor amusement park does bring back memories, mostly for people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who were there during what some might call Cubao’s golden years. Lorilyn Soqueña, who recently dropped by the park with her two-year-old boy, was about the same age when she first visited Fiesta Carnival with her father back in the late ‘90s. “Super saya din,” she tells ANCX of their recent visit. “Naalala ko tuloy nung bata pa ‘ko.”
The country was still reeling from the initial impact of Covid in September 2020 when the Araneta Center stirred a nostalgic frenzy online after posting a photo of Fiesta Carnival, the country’s most popular amusement park in the ‘70s to the ‘80s.
Consider the comments: Mae Mesina, who used to go to the indoor amusement park a lot in her grade school and high school years, called Fiesta Carnival her “happy place.” Meanwhile, Carlos Bong Sangco referred to it as “my Disney,” one of his favorite places to go to with family and friends. It was a place of “firsts” for some. Dexter Barbosa said it was at the amusement center where he first rode the Horror Train and ate soft ice cream in 1980. Juanita Mendoza has a special fondness for the place because it was where she first rode a roller coaster and ate jumbo hotdogs. “Wala pang Tender Juicy Hotdogs noon,” she recalled.
Dennis Domingo had loads of fun hopping from one ride to another—from the Horror Train to the Space Train, the Merry Go Round to the Caterpillar and Space Ride. Completing his carnival experience were the hotdogs on a stick and buying lots of G.I. Joe & Transformer action figures at the park. “The last fun I had was in 2000, entering a Tamiya mini 4wd race at the 2nd level, where I won 3rd place,” he shared.
Even award-winning writer Butch Dalisay has his share of Fiesta Carnival memories, immortalized in the “The Araneta Center” book. “After work in Manila, and still in my barong Tagalog, I would put my briefcase down on the Fiesta Carnival floor and feel pocketful of coins into a machine to play ‘Night Rider,’” he wrote. He would also bring his daughter, Demi, then in her toddler years, for a round or two of the carnival’s “50-centavo rides.”
Araneta City (formerly called Araneta Center) was born in 1957. The development was a response to the growing need for a commercial and recreational center in the young city. The visionary behind it was the prominent industrialist and businessman Don Amado Araneta. In a 33-hectare tract of undeveloped land bounded by two intersecting major thoroughfares—Highway 54 (now EDSA) and Aurora Boulevard—he built what would become an iconic landmark.
In the sprawling property, Araneta constructed the Araneta Coliseum, the New Frontier Theater (now known as Kia Theatre), Ali Mall, Aurora Tower, Farmer’s Plaza, and Fiesta Carnival.
Fiesta Carnival was built in 1971, and was envisioned as an enclosed amusement center with roller coaster, a carousel, skating rink, a mini-train circuit, a fairy-tale castle, and an area with 2,500 seats. With a floor area of 27,098 square meters, it was poised to become Manila’s mini-Disneyland, a year-round, all-weather place for leisure and amusement.
From the stories shared on the Araneta City Facebook page, the iconic Pinoy Disney left an indelible mark in the lives of many children who grew up during the ‘70s and the ‘80s. For people living outside of Manila, excursions to the capital weren’t complete without a trip to Fiesta Carnival.
But as with many amusement parks, it had its own ups and downs. With the advent of mall-based entertainment, computer gaming, and the rise of grander theme parks in the ‘90s, Fiesta Carnival eventually lost its appeal to the younger generation. In the early 2000s, the Araneta Group decided to close the park and make way for another business venture. Today, Shopwise supermarket stands in its place.
Will the Araneta Fiesta Park leave a mark as enduring as that of its predecessor? Only time—and the kids of today—can tell.