Fiesta Carnival, Manila’s Disneyland of the 70s, 80s 2
Fiesta Carnival in its heyday. Photo courtesy of the Araneta Group

Whatever happened to the Fiesta Carnival, Manila’s Disneyland of the 70s and 80s?

The opening of a new kiddie park in Cubao’s Araneta City has stirred many happy memories
RHIA GRANA | Aug 19 2022

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.

Araneta Fiesta Park
The Fiesta Carnival vibes is back at Araneta City via Fiesta Park. Photo from Araneta City's Facebook account

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.”

Fiesta Carnival
Lorilyn Soqueña with her father Ricardo Bordomeo at Fiesta Carnival in the '90s. Photo courtesy of Soqueña
Araneta Fiesta Park
Lorilyn's son Rick Dylan on their recent visit to Araneta Fiesta Park. Photo courtesy of Lorilyn Soqueña

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. 

Fiesta Carnival
Edmar Hamut at age seven, riding the Merry Go Round at Fiesta Carnival. Photo courtesy of Hamut

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.

Fiesta Carnival
For people living outside of Manila, excursions to the capital weren’t complete without a trip to Fiesta Carnival. Photo courtesy of The Araneta Group

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.” 

Fiesta Carnival
With a floor area of 27,098 square meters, Fiesta Carnival was poised to become Manila’s mini-Disneyland. Photo courtesy of The Araneta Group

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
The Nadela brothers loved to ride the kiddie car at Fiesta Carnival. Photo courtesy of Johnny Nadela

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.

Fiesta Carnival
Fiesta Carnival offered a variety of kiddie rides and attractions for kids and kids at heart. Photo courtesy of The Araneta Group

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.

Fiesta Carnival
Five-year-old Jac Nilo at Fiesta Carnival. Photo courtesy of Nilo

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.