Six Flags Great America 8/20 - 8/21: Six Flags Passes the Consistency Test

Monday, August 24, 2009 12:11 AM

I arrived at Chicago's Midway Airport late Thursday morning. After acquiring my rental car, I began the journey to Gurnee, a bit of a ways away. I was not too terribly far into my drive when I ran smack into a traffic jam. Shouldn't those people have been at work? It was after noon at this point! Alas, I had to contend with that nonsense as I drove around the city, enjoying checking out the skyline that contained so many massive office buildings where so many of the people on the road with me should have been.

Finally bursting forth from the congestion, I was treated to views of aircraft arriving into O'Hare, which is definitely the more convenient airport of the two Chicago-area airports if you are going to the park. An American Airlines 777-200ER was the highlight aircraft of the makeshift air show I enjoyed whilst cruising down the highway.

A little bit later, I was within sight of my goal, literally. Several of the park's coasters lay just off to the right of the interstate, and I drooled over the wood and steel superstructures while trying not to miss my exit. I stopped by the hotel before heading over, only to find out I could not check in that early. No matter. I grabbed a quick bite at McDonald's and headed the quarter-mile to the park. Serious convenience points were awarded, with the park being located extremely close to where I was staying.

I pulled into the lot unable to tell how the crowds looked as I was not familiar with the shape and size of the parking lot. I would soon be educated on the park's attendance for the day.

I breezed through the entrance, feeling cool with my Six Flags St. Louis season pass gaining me entry into a park in Illinois (and to think I live in Maryland on top of it all). I decided to break left after entering and head toward Superman Ultimate Flight. I was quickly upon the entrance when I saw a line of people standing outside of it.

Uh oh.

I checked to see if the line of people was caused by a full queue. Thankfully, it wasn't. It was due to the ride experiencing some down time. Perfect. Down time has blessed me with some serious queue reduction in the past, and so I opted to stick around. I got a locker and stuff, and voila, back open. I didn't stop walking until entering the station. I opted for the front row as though it would lengthen my wait, I considered the fact that lengthening a two-minute wait for another row isn't saying much. I boarded after only a few trains had run through, and relished in the fact that people often waited hours for this.

The ride was better than I remembered. While not B&M's most impressive work, I found that I still really, really enjoy it. It's just plain fun, and I think it's one heck of an experience. Kudos to B&M for such a wonderful ride, and for Six Flags for building not one, but several of these flying delights.

After disembarking, I discovered that in an effort to spare people the inconvenience of walking all the way down the exit only to turn right around and walk all the way back through the queue, a cut-through had been opened to allow for quick re-entry to the station. Excellent. I quickly grabbed another lap, this time in the back row, before opting to head on to the rest of the park's coaster collection.

The Dark Knight, located right next door, became the second coaster at the park that I added to my track record. Also a practical walk-on, my theory that Superman's non-existent wait was due to the downtime and lack of discovery of it's re-opening became less believable. Could it be that I had been blessed with low attendance? Time would soon tell.

The Dark Knight is a mediocre ride dressed up with some pretty cool theming. Well, at least as far as the line was concerned. The pre-show was quite cool, but the ride wasn't much more impressive than its outdoor clones. It was still fun, but a little bland. However, my concerns that a wild mouse wouldn't work well with the Batman theme were quickly assuaged, with the wild mouse actually fitting in perfectly. I won't ruin it for you, but trust me, it worked.

After that, it was time to venture further into the park. Ragin' Cajun was number three on the list, being about what I expected it to be: little more than a fill-in coaster. It was unimpressive, but then again, I didn't think it would be particularly amazing. Oh well. I got the credit, and now I don't have to bother with it again. It's not a bad ride. It's just nothing special.

I continued my loop around the park, and number four in the coaster collection was soon upon me. What ride was it? The legendary invert that started all the madness: Batman - The Ride. It would be my fifth out of the six at SF parks (SFFT's Goliath excluded), and I was pumped for it. Again utilizing a locker, I then passed through the gates to Gotham City Park to find perhaps the most cramped park area yet of any of the Batmen. However, it had a somewhat more sinister look to it than most, looking more like a line for a Fright Fest attraction than a roller coaster. It's hard to say why. It just seemed gloomier with the trees and stuff. As for the station theming, it's roughly on par with the theming of any of the other Batmen save for the inclusion of a few TV monitors. My final opinion saved until the Georgia model is under my belt, it looks like St. Louis is the one to beat as far as nifty queues and stations are concerned.

As far as the ride itself, this would prove to be the most epic of the Batmen thus far experienced, due to the setting in which the ride's second half is located. Somehow, Six Flags Great America managed to squeeze in trees and other foliage, resulting in some wild close calls. The setting was fantastic, especially given the small space into which the ride was shoehorned. I would snag three laps (front row, back row, and somewhere in between) before moving on to the next conquest.

Located very close by, V2: Vertical Velocity would come in at number five. I enjoyed a nearly non-existent wait for the back row, and then had a blast on this impulse. I was surprised to find that the brakes were not in use on the reverse spike, which took away from the thrill a little bit, but it was still a fun ride and the lack of a wait was outstanding. It was very enjoyable, but it would prove to be my only lap on the ride during the trip.

Having retrieved my items from the locker, I moved deeper into the park, eventually arriving at B&M's first endeavor: Iron Wolf. I bought yet another locker, then walked right up to the front row.

I would learn over the course of this lap that perhaps B&M didn't nail things perfectly from the start. While the ride was pretty cool, it suffered from some serious roughness at a few points, going from slight headbanging to all-out discomfort. I don't hate the ride, but it needs to track a little better if possible. I went around for a second lap, this time in the back, and proved my theory that if it's rough up front, it's only going to get worse father back (exception being SLC's).

Still plugging away at the massive coaster collection, I found myself in the back of the park with American Eagle being next on the list. A locker purchased yet again, I then began the long trek through the massive queue which weaves back and forth, over a roadway, and then back and forth again. I jumped in the back car, center row on the blue side (red was not operating that day, presumably due to low crowds). The ride was nice and long, but not overly thrilling. It is not a bad ride, but I think the it was designed to thrill riders with size and not much else.

Next on the list was the Southwest Territory, home to two of the park's best coasters: Raging Bull and Viper. The mighty B&M mega, the last of the park's four that I needed to ride, came first. Utilizing a locker, again, I then entered the line. Surprisingly enough, I actually didn't walk right into the station on this one. I attributed that to the fact that only two of the ride's three trains were running, again probably due to the minimal crowds. I opted to take a front row lap first, which pushed my wait time to maybe thirty minutes. It wasn't terrible, although it seemed like it took a little longer than necessary to check the train (on some occasions at least). It would not have really bothered me save for the fact that it is probably the most basic restraint system in the coaster world, but nonetheless, it could have been so much worse. As for the ride, it started out rather well, until I began climbing the notorious camelback that crosses over the first drop and psh! The trim brake squeezes hard and I'm slightly thrown forward in my seat. Perhaps this ride should become the next to feature on-board audio, as when hitting the trims the audio could shout out, "Suck mode activated!" Seriously, it totally drained the ride of energy. I don't care what people say. The trims on Mantis, Nitro, etc. don't do jack. This one did, and this wasn't the only one on the ride. That camelback would have been one of the most righteous airtime moments in the coaster world and the brakes sucked the life out of it. The second half of the ride following the midcourse was an improvement, featuring some great airtime and a pretty cool zig-zag finale. There was one more trim going into the twists and turns that closed the ride, but it didn't squeeze quite as hard.

I opted to go around for a back row lap immediately thereafter, hoping to notice some difference. There wasn't much more to write home about save for some nice airtime on the first drop, but that was about it. It was definitely a fun ride, but the brakes need to go. It would be one of the best rides on the planet, but for now it is far overshadowed by most of B&M's other installations that I've ridden.

I headed over to Viper afterward, purchasing my seventh locker of the day, and then walked down the nice queue to the Crackerbarrel of a station. Frankly, I thought it was pretty nifty, being better themed than most mine trains. There was almost no wait for the front, and many empty rows elsewhere, so front row it was. The ride was very good and definitely the better of the two Cy-clones I've ridden (besting the 2004 version of the Texas Cyclone), and I had a great time. I was not at all disappointed, and though I would only ride it once that day, it made an encore appearance on Friday.

Leaving the Southwest Territory behind, it was off to nab the last two credits I needed. First up was Demon. I liked the fact that it had a theme song, cheesy as it was. The station was kinda funky, what with the corny lights flashing around the tunnel that leads out and also with the extremely basic loading platform. The ride was a typical Arrow looper, but the scenery and theming were pretty cool. I kinda liked it, actually. It's definitely worth a lap.

Whizzer would be the last credit to obtain, and let me tell you, this was one cool ride. I didn't expect much, but wow, was it a good time. I remember thinking at several points throughout the ride that a lap bar would be appropriate, but hey, I'm not complaining. If you should find yourself at Six Flags Great America, you must hit this ride up. I admit that I was skeptical, figuring it was another one of those rides that ACErs rate highly because of the nostalgia value rather than the actual thrill of the ride, but this one was outstanding.

The eleven credits I was out for now all obtained, it was getting later in the evening, and so I decided to go back for another round on the rides I really enjoyed. I went back to Superman Ultimate Flight first, as I had become enamored with the ride and wanted more laps on it. Seriously, the ride was still a walk-on, and I couldn't get enough of it. I would hit it up for three more laps, enjoying every one just as much, if not more so, than the one before it.

Once I had my fill, I returned to Batman - The Ride for one final lap before calling it a night. Still my favorite ride out there, I always make a point to get several laps on it if possible. After the lap on the B&M masterpiece was over and done with, I left the park and grabbed a huge dinner at Outback Steakhouse before calling it a night.

The next day, I returned to the park once more, leading off with a ride on the observation tower. The second day was intended primarily for photos as well as any remaining laps on the rides I wanted them on, and I did not intend to stay long. I really enjoyed the views from the tower and appreciated the fact that we remained at the top for several spins around, allowing for time to take and re-take photos if necessary. After the ride was over, I headed off to Raging Bull, hoping to squeeze a few more laps in before leaving the park for good. I took two laps on it and then returned to Viper for an encore performance, this time opting for the back car, middle row. The ride was just as good in the front, and again I must comment on the fact that it really was a good ride. It was not particularly rough, and it had some good forces to it.

After completing Viper, I began to do the park loop once more, collecting photos only until I reached Batman - The Ride, which I took a final spin on as well. It would turn out to be my last coaster ride of the trip, an honor I was trying to save for Superman, but in an effort to try and get home earlier, I decided not to wait for Superman, which actually had a little bit of a line, and grabbed one more ride on the tower before leaving the park for good.

I would regret the decision to leave early as flights into BWI were all delayed due to horrendous weather, and the traffic I hit prevented me from getting on a flight that may have beat that weather. Oh well. Live and learn, I suppose.

As far as conclusions drawn from the trip, Six Flags passed the consistency test, at least among the two parks I have visited thus far here in 2009. No, Six Flags St. Louis did not stand alone as a guest service masterpiece in the Six Flags chain. I think between St. Louis and Great America, St. Louis held the edge as far as employees went, and also as far as average ride quality went, but Six Flags Great America was no slouch. The park really is outstanding, the employees are phenomenal, and much like its sister park in Missouri, it is not just a great Six Flags park, but a great park, period. The theming was great, albeit slightly inconsistent as far as quality was concerned. No matter, though, as it was light years ahead of many other parks.

A quick note on the lockers, though. I must've spent maybe $12 on lockers over the course of the trip, give or take. You know what? I did not mind one bit. Considering SF will collect no more than $45 off of me for admission over the course of the whole season (which will average in the single-digit dollar amounts come the end of the season), I'm happy to pay some money elsewhere and support a struggling chain. Seriously, I didn't mind at all. It saves station clutter, it moves things along a little bit quicker, and most of all, it is not that expensive that I have a problem with it. Seriously, a dollar per locker. No biggie.

Out of all the rides, Batman - The Ride remains my favorite ride, period, and it was one of the reasons why Six Flags Great America was so high on my list, but I give the ride of the trip award to Superman Ultimate Flight. I didn't expect to become as enamored with the ride as I was, and the lack of a wait allowed me to keep on enjoying it. Honorable mentions go to Whizzer and Viper for being pretty neat, often unmentioned hits.

I would like to throw out that my visits to Six Flags parks this year instill great confidence in me in the direction they're going. Yes, the parks have more ads than NASCAR vehicles, but I don't feel that they negatively impact the experience as much as one would think. In the interests of the chain surviving, I know that they are necessary, and the outstanding service the parks I've visited are offering more than compensates for them. Kudos to Six Flags for offering such outstanding experiences. Seriously. They are doing a bang-up job and deserve recognition for it. Here's to more great memories at more great Six Flags parks.

Last edited by sirloindude, Monday, August 24, 2009 12:20 AM
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