Friday, June 29, 2001 9:29 AM
Hallelujah! I have just gained A LOT of respect for Six Flags!
After a perfect Tuesday of running around the streets of the windy city with my buddies – spending a little too much money on Michigan Ave, catching a hilarious comedy show at The Second City, and taking in Navy Pier and the views from skyscrapers – we headed north to Gurnee for what would be the highlight of the trip for me: a day at Six Flags Great America. Maybe I should explain the group dynamic. Of my friends, I am the only coaster fanatic. Basically, the three other friends who went with me are what we call “the GP” here at Coasterbuzz. On the entire trip, we saw and did things that everyone enjoyed but that one member REALLY enjoyed due to personal interest, and Wednesday was my day.
We arrived at the park around 11 AM after hitting some mildly heavy traffic in the city and eating breakfast at the IHOP outside the park, and we already knew it would be a busy day. The weather was hot (around 90 degrees) which didn’t make waiting in lines any more pleasant, but gladly, we didn’t wait in any lines for more than an hour. A breeze kicked up later too which made our day much more comfortable. We decided not to buy FastPasses, both because we had already spent too much money and because we all felt that they are just an unnecessary rip off.
General Park Observations: I only wish all Six Flags parks could be as well-run as this park. I was expecting a good park, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find what I believe to be a great park. Now, of course I am partial to Cedar Point, but I think I like SFGAm a little bit more than PKI, which I also have a very high opinion of. I was blown away by the quality of the theming, the appearance and cleanliness of the midways, and the HUGE (24 oz) courtesy cups of water I could get for free (CP gives these tiny little cups). The employees were friendly and mostly efficient (one vendor jokingly tried to charge me $3 for water – I reacted just as he wanted me to and we had a neat little conversation). The park layout can’t be beat. Not only is the circle layout perfect for controlling traffic flow, but it also makes a medium-sized park seem much bigger than it really is. Theming done right is a great asset to the park. I find theming to be pretty pointless when it’s just randomly thrown together (like a particular sister park in Ohio), and while Yukon Territory and Yankee Harbor are a little underthemed, Orleans Place, County Fair, and especially Southwest Territory make up for it. My friends complained about the price of food in the park, which I agree was highway robbery, but I accepted it since I knew this is Six Flags. Efficiency was good to great, with props going out to the Bull crew for timely and organized operations (heck, they even asked how many people were going in each row to try to double up pairs). The only slow, long line we waited in was for the Giant Drop (about an hour), and that can’t be blamed on the operators. Overall, a great park, a pleasant surprise. Also, thanks to Chitown for your helpful advice beforehand!
And now onto the important stuff: the coasters. I thought that this park has an excellent selection of rides with no weak or lame coasters. Every coaster is good here, but as you’ll see, some are better than others.
SHOCKWAVE (1 ride/ Seat 7-1 / 15 min wait): This was broken down when we first arrived but opened up in no time. When we finally made the loop around the park, we returned and rode it. I really love the intensity of these Arrow loopers. I don’t know if I like them better than B&M’s, but I definitely love being able to enjoy the best of both worlds. While I really like B&M’s huge loops, I also love being whipped through tight Arrow loops at high speeds…yes, I was seeing spots through them, and so were my friends. The infamous “turn” into the block brakes wasn’t as rough as I expected, but then again we were in the back. I definitely love the sequence of loop-loop-turn – I remember feeling dizzy on top of the block brakes. While going through the semi bland finale after the corkscrews, I thought, “This thing needs a helix finale.” Then I got off the ride and realized that I was so dizzy, a helix finale just might of put this thing over the top of the tolerance limit! The reaction of my friends was along the lines of, “Wow…” but when I wanted to ride it again later, they all said that one ride was enough for them. I love the intensity of this thing, but apparently it is a bit much for some people. This seems to be the case with Arrow’s megaloopers. I didn’t think it was very rough, just intense and fast. Great ride!
BATMAN: THE RIDE (2 rides/ Rows 6 and 8 / 45 and 20 min.waits): I had been dying to ride this thing and compare it to the Raptor, so this was the first ride we hit when we arrived at the park. First I want to comment that the theming in the queue is perfect. It almost makes waiting in line enjoyable…well maybe not that good…but still, it gives riders something to look at while waiting. The police car and the trash lying everywhere is great…I wonder if Six Flags picked up that stuff from a local dump. We all noticed the horrible bottleneck in the stairs leading up to the station (with the line for Row 1 stretching all the way down and ride ops having to come down and bring people up to the station to fill remaining rows). Since this was the first Batman, did Six Flags fix this problem when designing the stations for their other B:TRs? As for the ride itself, it is definitely more intense than Raptor. I loved the ride in the back, especially from the helix to the end of the ride. Much more forceful than Raptor, although a bit too short. Unlike Shockwave, a helix at the end of the ride would have been a perfect ending. Still an awesome ride, but I have to give the slightest edge to Raptor just because of its length and its finale.
VERTICAL VELOCITY: (Skipped due to Hour-Plus Wait). Both one friend and I have been on S:UE which is the exact same thing. My other two friends did not feel like waiting in the insanely long queue, and we promised to take them on the one at SFWoA, so we didn’t ride.
IRON WOLF (1 ride / Row 7 / 30 min. wait): One thing my friends learned about on the trip was the magnificent company known as Bolliger and Mabillard. All of my friends can now identify a B&M coaster by its appearance and 4-across seating (so maybe they’re a little better than the “GP”). Their opinions also reflect general sentiment about B&M excellence. One said, “I’ve yet to ride a bad B&M” (this friend has been to CP, SFWoA, SFMM, PKI, and now SFGAm). So we took a spin on B&M’s entry into the coaster industry. I was expecting a decent stand-up and got it. I especially love the second half of the ride. It is hidden well, so I had no clue what it would be like until I actually experienced it. Now I see where Mantis gets its ending. Very intense and enjoyable ride. Yes, it’s a bit rough due to sudden transitions, but I rode using Jeff’s stand-up method, and it was fine. A side note, one of my friend’s restraint was a bit high so he referred to this ride as “The Nutcrusher” for the rest of the day. Poor guy. :(
AMERICAN EAGLE (1 ride / Red train / Seat 5-3 / 25 min. wait). We caught this during the wrong time of the day. They didn’t open the blue side until just before we got to the loading station. Taking Chitown’s advice, we waited for the red car. This could really be a great ride with some TLC. While I enjoyed it, I think it is the worst coaster in the park. Still a fun time worth a few spins (I regret only getting one ride). First of all, the trains squeal all throughout the course (Mean Streak style). Second of all, what’s up with those goofy looking, barely padded “elbow guards” sticking up from the cars? I would rather have my elbow hit air than those hard things! Then there’s the braking. This ride has a great first drop, some decent airtime, a pretty quick course, but two potentially great helixes are ruined by excessive braking. I mean, the train comes to a near stop before each one! The last helix is especially this way. It is so slow that it’s a joke. This could really be a great coaster, too! Also, didn’t the first drop used to go into an underground tunnel? Why did Six Flags remove this?
DEMON (1 ride / Seat 6-1 / 5 minute wait): I was surprised by how good this ride is. I was expecting a basic early Arrow looper and got much more. The first drop in the back pulls great ejector air, the theming is superb, and the entrance into the corkscrew under the waterfall is insane. I just wish the waterfall and pool were still blood-red! All of us joked about the harnesses on both this ride and Shockwave. What exactly is the point of those gigantic handlebars?
RAGING BULL (2 rides / both in Row 9 / 15 minute waits): My friends and I invented some pretty interesting names for this ride. “Raging Hormones” is about the cleanest one so I won’t repeat any of the others on a family site such as this. :) I came to Great America expecting this to be the greatest ride there. I actually was expecting this thing to top Magnum as my favorite coaster. Maybe I came in with too high of expectations, but this thing was just a slight disappointment. I think that because it just seems to run too slow to be a hypercoaster. It just doesn’t “rage” quite enough. While I’m sure the airtime would be a bit too much for some to handle if not for the trim brakes, I would love to see it running without them just so the ride would feel fast. The figure-8 ending was the biggest disappointment – it pulls NO forces at all. It needs to be much tighter or faster. On our first ride, the trims leading into this section were on - a rare occurrence if I am correct. On our second ride, they were off and that section was better, but still sort of a disappointing ending. Now I was expecting this to become my favorite coaster so that explains my slight disappointment. I absolutely love the airtime on this beast, especially on the first drop. Going up the hill, I said to a friend, “Get ready for some hardcore yank.” He said, “What does that mean?” “You’ll see,” I replied. After the ride, he said, “Yeah, that definitely yanks.” My restraint was a bit looser the second ride, and I almost put my hands down to hold on when that forceful ejector backseat airtime kicked in on the first drop. That ranks as one of my favorite moments on any coaster. After that, more great airtime kicks in down all the drops, but I just thought the ride was a little too slow and lacking lateral g’s for a coaster that is known as a “hyper twister.” As for my friends, one of them agreed with me, and the other two absolutely loved it.
VIPER (2 rides/ both in back car [seat 1-3 closed L] / 15-20 min. waits). If Raging Bull was a bit of a disappointment, then the discovery of how great this ride is more than made up for it! This is easily the best ride in the park, and I believe its underrated within the enthusiast community! I could not believe the performance of this ride! It is now somewhere up around the Beast as either my #1 or #2 wooden coaster (I can’t decide). It runs so smoothly, and it is filled with ejector airtime on every hill and strong laterals on every turn. Don’t forget about the headchoppers that made me put my hands down on both rides. I just can’t get over what a great ride this is (still)! On my second ride, I had plenty of lapbar room and was STANDING (not by my choice) down every single drop (even the first drop). I rank that spin on Viper as the best single ride I’ve ever taken on any roller coaster. The best thing is to think that Six Flags pulled this off in-house. I know that the design isn’t completely original (based on CI Cyclone) but still…WOW! My favorite part of the ride was the SF-added double dip drop out of the fan turn (with a wicked headchopper effect). My friends all agreed that this was the best ride in the park, and my two friends who haven’t ridden the Beast agreed that it was the best wooden coaster they have ever ridden. This proves that even the GP recognizes that bigger isn’t always better (are you paying attention, CP…build a CCI now!). Did I mention that I REALLY like this ride??? :) I can’t wait to ride the CI Cyclone now.
Finally, the WHIZZER (1 ride / back seat / 5 min. wait). The terrain makes this coaster. I liked it because of its historical value and it’s a fun, relaxing ride. The lack of a lap bar is neat…it kind of freaks you out a little bit through a couple of the turns. While I really liked this ride, my friends were a little mixed in their opinions. After explaining to them in line that this is the last of the Schwarzkopf speedracers, one of them got off the ride and said, “I can see why parks don’t have these anymore.” Hey, every park needs a family coaster, and I found this one to be incredibly fun.
So that was my day at Great America. Once again, it was a great experience and a pleasant surprise that the park was this good. Now I just need to find a way to go back sometime!
By the way, I would not complain whatsoever if a certain high-up official from this park (any official) would get placed in charge of a certain SF park in Ohio. It could only mean good things for that particular park and for the SF chain in general!
Take this day and throw it in with my already-mentioned Tuesday, and also our stops on Thursday at the museums of Science and Industry and the Art Institute, dinner at Harry Carey’s, and a car ride home blaring music, and this was a perfect vacation. Now I just wish I weren’t so broke! :)
Signature Under Construction: More Thrills Coming in 2002!
*** This post was edited by MooreOn on 6/29/2001. ***