Six Flags Great America
August, 2001

We arrived in Milwaukee, WI, on Saturday, August 11, to stay for a few days with Karen's sister and family, whose hospitality and lodging were welcome after a week of muggy camping. On Sunday we went to the Wisconsin State Fair and ate the most delicious cream puffs in all of creation. I also found the one and only cheese-on-a-stick stand of our entire trip. It was my first cheese-on-a-stick in five years and I delighted in every bite. Oh, if I only knew how to make these for myself! (I've tried several times and failed miserably.) And I saw my first Skyscraper and ejection seat, and didn't have the courage to ride either.

We wandered the midway and sampled two fun houses. One was a walk-thru with a terrific ballyhoo of rapidly shifting platforms and wobbling barrels. It started off promising but rapidly deteriorated into a set of simple metal corridors and, at the end, a gigantic empty room with a small rotating barrel at the exit. The barrel was fun, though, since they're so rare. Karen and her sister struggled to make it through, laughing all the way.

We also paid $3.00 for a pathetic ride-thru that snatched and bent my glasses (even though they were strapped to my head). There were no stunts to speak of, just a few cheesy painted characters. The heat inside was horribly intense. It was like riding through a dark oven with a few loud buzzing noises thrown in.

Monday we headed an hour south to Gurnee, IL, to sample Six Flags Great America. As one kid in line said, "Doesn't anybody around here have jobs?" The park was absolutely packed. I couldn't believe it! I mean, heck -- this was a Monday, a traditionally slow day for parks. I planned for us to go there on a Monday specifically to avoid crowds. I was slightly disheartened because I knew that with only seven hours available to us, there was no way we'd be able to do very much. It was a good thing that our Six Flags passes got us in free (although parking cost $10).

I was very impressed with the architecture and landscaping. This was by far the most beautiful Six Flags park I've seen. I liked the reflecting pool and the double-decker carousel. I liked the large re-creation of the Alamo (housing a teacups ride). The different areas of the park reflecting different American traditions were nicely blended into each other. I did find an inordinate number of dead ends, and it was frustrating trying to get from one end of the park to the other.

The Whizzer, a Schwartzkopf creation and one of the oldest rides in the park, had the shortest line of all the rides we queued up for. I was glad I had a chance to ride this classic. The electric spiral lift was fascinating. I liked how on some of the ramped drops the track began banking early. In those vintage trains (much like the trains on Indiana Beach's Tig'rr Coaster), the feeling was unsettling. The turn around the hillside was really thrilling. Nature has grown up around this coaster, giving the ride a refreshing organic feeling.

We walked by the Viper, which had a sign claiming a 90-minute wait. Instead we headed for Raging Bull, which was listed as a 60-minute wait. The queue line for this ride was deceptive. It went on forever, but I didn't immediately realize that. I was very surprised at how compact this coaster was. The layout reminded me of the Viper next door. I couldn't hear the usual B&M roar as the trains flew by. The queue line was delayed while the park put a third train on the tracks. Our wait time actually came closer to two hours. The ride itself was interesting. I can see how B&M came up with the floorless concept -- just remove the floor from the Raging Bull trains. The lap bar was odd but comfortable and effective, though it left me feeling very vulnerable. (I guess that was the point!) I sat in the front (as usual) in the second seat from the left. We turned left out of the station and headed up the long lift. The tunnel surprised me. Through most of the ride I was thinking, "Where's the air time?" I mean, after all, about the only thing a hyper is good for is height, speed and air time. There was some speed and a respectable height, but to me the ride had a sort of stop-and-go feel to it. There were no laterals to speak of. As far as big rides go it had more in common with a Curtis Summers ride than an Intamin mega-coaster. It was fast and forceless. A tunnel through the helix might have provided a bit of a thrill. Maybe a waterfall or any type of scenery would have helped. I did enjoy the ride, but it didn't leave much of an impression on me.

I thought we were queuing up for the park's log flume, but we ended up on Splashin' Falls, a respectable mid-sized Shoot-the-Chutes. We got completely drenched, but it was still so hot that we didn't mind too much. Then we stopped to eat at Pizza Luigi. We each got a tiny personal pizza. Karen got breadsticks. We each got a small drink. The total came to a whopping $50! My jaw nearly hit the ground. That was a little less than our fancy dinner at Indiana Beach's Sky Room!

After that we headed for the American Eagle. The structure of this ride was so massive. It looked like so much wood for so little coaster. I wasn't expecting much, but wow! This ride was a pleasant surprise. I had heard somewhere that the track on the outward run was replaced with steel I-beams, but I couldn't tell from riding it. There was a slight roughness, but not too bad. But the airtime amazed me! Every hill threw me out of my seat. The top of the turnaround was overbraked (almost a complete stop). But I can see how if it was taken unchecked, the helix afterward would certainly cause injuries; it was pretty intense. There was also a hard brake coming out of the helix. Even so, the return trip was filled with welcome airtime. Except for the braking, there was a great sense of speed. We got a wonderful on-ride photo of Karen and Liz with their hair blown straight back. Overall, this was my favorite coaster of the trip after Cornball Express. After riding the Eagle, the time was nearly three in the afternoon. Karen and the girls wanted to take in a show and Mike and I wanted to ride Vertical Velocity. So we split up.

The park had initiated a smart system for V2: when we entered the line (which was so filled it was directed behind buildings and across the midway), we were given a numbered ticket. When we got to the station, we gave our ticket to an attendant who made sure that it was in the proper sequence. If our ticket had been out of sequence, we would have had to leave the line. There were no line jumpers to be found! Mike and I waited an hour-and-a-half in the blazing sun and when we finally got to the station the ride broke down. But I refused to leave the line. We chatted with one of the ride ops who's a coaster enthusiast and I basically ogled all the machinery and electronics that power the ride. In about fifteen minutes, the ride was up and running again.

Standing in line watching the ride take off, I thought it looked a bit sluggish. The linear induction motors (a series of powerful magnets) shot the train forward, partially up the twisted spike. The train fell backwards and the LIMs then boosted the train in reverse up the straight vertical spike. The train returned forward through the station and was blasted almost all the way up the twisted spike. Then the train was slowed a bit and went backwards up the vertical spike, where it was held for an instant before one more partial trip up the forward spike and then braking back to the station. It didn't look like much from the ground, but riding it was an incredible adrenaline rush. Mike said I was "screaming like a baby." The twisted spike was actually more effective when watching it from the ground. When I was catapulted up toward a clear blue sky, I really couldn't tell I was twisting. The launch was impressive, though not as quick as I expected. I thought I was going to be squished back into my seat, but I hardly felt any acceleration. I did keep my head back against the headrest the whole time and found the ride to be exceptionally smooth, with just a little jerkiness coming out of the forward spike. The "hang time" facing straight down was a thrill, one of those moments where I really felt that I was going to die. Vertical Velocity was my third favorite coaster of our trip.

When we finally exited V2, it was time to head back to Milwaukee. We were able to sample only four coasters in seven hours--on a Monday!--and not much else. That was a bit of a shock. But outside of the pricey food, the park was really impressive. It was a pleasure just walking around. There was so much we didn't get a chance to do, I hope we'll be able to return and spend more time there. It was definitely a two-day park, but we had to rest up for our long trip to Michigan's Adventure.

Return to Karen and Jay's Excursions