Karen and I and our two daughters drove the short distance from our home to Six Flags New England on Saturday, April 16, for the 2005 opening day. The previous Thursday there was a press preview of their newest coaster, Mr. Six's Pandemonium (a stock Gerstlauer spinning coaster). We were all eager to see what it looked like. We planned a short stay. Karen and I had season passes, and she got some discount tickets for the girls at a local supermarket. The weather was perfect: bright sunshine and mild temperatures (in the 60s).

We arrived at about 11:30. A lot of people were walking across the overpass. We drove into the front parking lot, only to discover it was now blocked off and appeared to be for employees only. The two parking attendants flagged us efficiently around in a great big semicircle and back out onto the street. So we headed for the distant back lot across the street. It really didn't seem too crowded, with the lot only about a quarter of the lot full. I noticed on the way in that the old Looney Tunes billboards that used to greet visitors were gone.

The park was running all three of their Chance trams. We climbed on board one and in a few minutes were being shuttled to the overpass. Along the way, the tram's sound system played a cheery promo, welcoming us to our first ride at Six Flags. The bouncy Venga Boys tune from the popular commercial was playing underneath. The announcer excitedly told us all about their new coaster and the new "water coaster," which could be seen only partially constructed in Hurricane Harbor.

We disembarked and headed up the long concrete staircase. The park appeared to be in full swing. The blue train of Superman was soaring around its course. Scream was running two towers. The Cyclone and Thunderbolt were rumbling through their circuits. Since we had processed our season passes online, Karen and I headed right to the turnstiles and walked through. The old Illions carousel still had its digital soundtrack, but it sounded pretty good. (I'm not sure if I liked hearing Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual" arranged for band organ’Ķ) I had lost my eyeglass retainer from last year, so I bought one at the entrance for six dollars, about twice what I'd pay at a drug store. We walked past the long line at the season pass processing booth and headed straight for the Looney Tunes area. The park looked very clean, which I would expect for the first day of the season.

The games attendants seemed unusually chipper. Every one called out to us in a friendly voice as we walked by, beckoning us to come play their games. I was used to attendants who sat silently at their booths, sulking as if they had the worst job in the world. Even though we didn't play any of the games, their banter certainly helped create a much more enjoyable atmosphere.

The bright orange and green structure of Mr. Six was striking. It wrapped around the Time Warp, which received a badly needed repainting to match the new coaster. The landscaping around that area was very well done. The coaster dove below ground level at a couple sections. The ride was surrounded by decorative fencing and the interior was mulched and filled with a variety of plants and shrubs. It looked quite classy. On top of the center support of the high helix, there was a likeness of Mr. Six himself. It looked like it was supposed to spin. We walked around the left side of the ride and were taken by surprised when a coaster car flew past us. The cars were nearly silent. It was somewhat eerie. Once again the Venga Boys tune filled the air. Whoever wrote that song will probably be able to retire quite comfortably. Pretty much everywhere we went in the park, that song was playing. Over and over and over.

We passed the north entrance of the old New England Skyway, which appeared to be getting some new cable. At the far end of the park, Blizzard River (the raft ride) was open but didn't appear to be too popular. As we continued circling around clockwise, we finally came to the entrance to Mr. Six. It was overflowing out of the queue and appeared to be over an hour wait. So we passed on riding it. The park appeared to be running three of the four-seater cars. Two others sat on the transfer track. It was interesting to watch the ride in action. A car was locked in place upon leaving the station (so that the body wouldn't rotate) with two people facing forward and two people facing backward. Out of the station, it took a sharp right hand turn 180-degrees and engaged the chain. I'd never seen a chain run in that way: rather than laying flat in the return trough like most coasters, this chain rose up out of the trough where the lift track leveled out. The chain was about two feet above the track at that point. The cars would sort of roll into the chain, colliding with it and flattening it down. Then the car would be pulled up the lift. There was something about that arrangement that just didn't seem right. I kept thinking that the chain would snap.

From off of the short (40-foot) lift, the car body began its gentle free spin. Unlike the Reverchon spinning coaster (like Kennywood's Exterminator), which spun with a whipping action like a Tilt-A-Whirl, these cars seemed to barely spin at all. Weight distribution played a big part in how much the cars spun. But in most cases, there was just a slow and steady rotation.

The car dove down an abrupt short drop and then flew up into a banked right-hand turn. Then came a short stretch of the ride that resembled a Wild Mouse: the car engaged a really brief zig-zag section that helped get some spinning action. Then it flew into a heavily banked helix high in the air and plunged earthward. That was the speediest portion of the ride. The rest of the short (1800-foot) course was a series of bunny hops and sharp swooping turns. The car straightened itself out as it entered the brake run.

Obviously I can't vouch for the ride experience, but it certainly had a lot of visual appeal. I was amazed at how tightly packed it was. The whole idea of theming a ride to the Mr. Six character seemed a bit strange, but the management certainly chose the right type of ride. I'm not sure if they could have placed it any better within the park. It was basically its own theme and wouldn't really fit anywhere else. But that area had become a bit congested. Within a few hundred feet there were Mr. Six, the Boomerang, the Cyclone, Time Warp and Blizzard River ’Äì all major rides. Several other smaller rides were scattered about, as well as the Looney Tunes kiddie land (which also had the Great Chase kiddie coaster). The Thunderbolt was just around the corner. That added up to five coasters in one area.

One idea might be to include Cyclone as part of the western-themed Crackaxle Canyon section. That area, although beautifully themed, lacks a major attraction. It would be easy and inexpensive to put a nicely-themed entrance into the big ugly wall that dead-ends that section of the park (next to the Tomahawk). A queue could lead from there to what is now the Cyclone's exit (which actually used to be its original entrance), and then have the Cyclone's current exit lead out of what is now its entrance at the back of the park. I don't know of too many people who would immediately want a re-ride on the Cyclone. They'd probably want their bruises to heal a bit first. So having its entrance and exit separated might be a good thing.

As we strolled through the Looney Tunes area, we admired the landscaping. The flowering white trees around Taz's Prop Delivery ride were stunning. But still there was so little shade on the midway itself. The patterned concrete walkways were a big improvement over Riverside's asphalt, though. Karen wanted to stop into the various gift shops along Main Street. Most still had typical generic Six Flags souvenirs and Looney Tunes toys. There were two new model coaster kits themed to Batman. The Emporium featured a Mr. Six love-fest. There were Mr. Six t-shirts, bobbleheads, mugs, eyeglasses, bow ties, magnets’Ķit really seemed like overkill. And there was no escaping him: his likeness was on banners all over the park.

By far the best-looking area of the park was the Rockville section, which recreated a sort of idealized 1950s. All of the buildings and games booths were themed with whimsical detail. The antique car ride, Route 66, had no line so we hopped on. It seemed odd to have those old jalopies themed with NASCAR logos and billboards scattered about. It was a nice ride but I've gotten spoiled by other parks we've traveled to where the car rides have really long winding tracks. Route 66 has become almost an anachronism, an obvious holdover from the old Riverside days when it was a good fit for a small park.

The long steep staircase led us down into the south end of the DC area. Poison Ivy's Twisted Train had no line either, so we climbed aboard. Karen and I sat in the front and the girls sat in the back. It was really enjoyable, mostly because of that ridiculously long train. We could feel ourselves getting pushed and pulled over the hills and around the turns. The fauna in that area had matured really well. But the ride really could have used another coat of paint. In fact, that was true everywhere, made only more painfully obvious by the brightly colored new coaster. If a ride wasn't brand new, then it was dingy and faded with rust spots dotting its surface.

I checked out the line for Superman. I really wanted to ride it, but there was only one train running and the ride cycle time was about six minutes. Unfortunately, it was a fairly long line with at least a one to two hour wait. Instead, Karen and the girls decided to stop in to the Superheroes Grill for something to eat. The place was pretty empty. One thing the park sorely needs is a good sit-down dining establishment. Like most of the food places in the park, Superheroes is set up like a cafeteria, with pre-made food sitting under warming lights. My jaw dropped when I saw the price of a single slice of cheese pizza: $6.29 (plus tax). Ouch! Great Escape used to sell WHOLE pizzas for just a couple dollars more! I tried a piece of Karen's pizza. It was tasty, but certainly not worth the price.

It was my turn to eat, and I knew what I wanted: the skillet potatoes from Crackaxle Canyon. We walked into that nicely-themed area. The potatoes (basically, pan-fried and peppered chunks with peppers and onions thrown in) were more reasonably priced: $4.79 (plus tax) for a heaping portion. They were quite tasty.

We wandered back through Rockville and over to one of my favorite rides, Colossus. We passed by the brutal Mind Eraser. Batman: The Dark Knight didn't appear to be running. A trainload of riders sat on the brake run, motionless. The north end of the park was still a bit of a mess. Theming was thrown to the wind. There was the old flume, the teacups, Mind Eraser, Batman, Double Trouble and Colossus. And hidden over in a corner was the old Spider. It was like a dumping ground for rides that the park couldn't figure out what to do with. Originally, the Mind Eraser was added (in the Riverside days) to draw people down to that end of the park. But with Hurricane Harbor now encroaching into the area (and getting bigger every year; it now occupies a tremendous chunk of the overall real estate), the park was dead-ended there. The old bridge that used to help circulate people back into Timber Town had been closed off. The old entrances and exits to the Colossus were still there, but simply were gated off. I had a wild idea of theming the 150-foot Ferris wheel as a giant hubcap, to fit in with the Rockville section. Next to Batman, there should be an additional stretch of midway leading back to the DC area. The path already was there, but has been used only for maintenance vehicles.

Anyway, we got in line for Colossus. There were about ten people in front of us. The ride had forty cabs. The ride attendant was loading two cabs at the bottom of the wheel and two cabs at the top. And that was it. To make matters worse, the two cabs were at either end of the loading platform, the most difficult loading positions to utilize (requiring a step up into the cab of about a foot and a half). The ride spun verrrrrry slowwwwwwly. We waited about twenty minutes to board. But the ride itself was (as always) spectacular, with amazing views of the Pioneer Valley and the entire park. This has always been a great ride during every New England autumn. It should be required on all Fall Foliage tours. From high above, we could see that the Batman ride was being shut down for maintenance, and Superman was also shut down. For the first day of the year, that wasn't very encouraging.

After that ride, it was about 1:30. We'd had our fill of the park for one day. For such beautiful weather, I was surprised at the light attendance. But as we walked back across the overpass, throngs of people were making their way into the park. We re-boarded the tram and were greeted by the same recording we'd heard earlier: "Welcome to your first ride at Six Flags New England!" Karen wondered why they couldn't have two different spiels, one for the inbound trip and a different one for the outbound trip, thanking us for coming.

Overall, the park did look nice. I wish the management would just go that extra step to make the park outstanding: more careful thought to crowd flow, spruce up the rides with fresh paint, lower the cost of food and drink and create more areas to just sit and relax. As much as Six Flags tries to claim otherwise, it's still a teen thrill park with very little for adults to do. The new coaster strikes a good balance; it has enough action to appeal to teens but it's mild enough for adults. In fact, we saw lots of adults riding it with their kids.

We got really sick of looking at Mr. Six's face everywhere we turned, and that danged song played incessantly at almost every ride. That seems like a trap big entertainment companies fall into: they latch onto something that becomes popular and then they kill it, repeating it so often you get sick of it. Mr. Six's useful life might end up being very brief. I hope Six Flags can outlive him.

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