Six Flags New England
April 9, 2016

copyright Jay Ducharme 2016

Our daughter's family came from Ohio to spend some time with us. Since her husband Andrew was a big amusement park buff, he wanted to check out Six Flags New England on its opening day. The weather was a bit chilly, but that was to be expected for early April. At least the sun was shining brightly.  This season the park was advertising two new coasters.  At least that's what the marketing department was claiming. One of the coasters was Bizarro, which reverted back to its original form of Superman. This was long overdue. The absurd wrap-around headrests were gone. Instead, the park came up with a new gimmick to impose on the ride: virtual reality. The management just didn't seem to get it.  Superman was the greatest steel coaster ever built. It didn't need modifications or gimmicks to keep it relevant.  With this new gimmick, guests could don Samsung's Gear goggles and watch an animated movie while riding. The images supposedly synced with the ride action. The park wouldn't be implementing that until June, though, so the exit of the ride wouldn't be covered with vomit until then.

The other "coaster" was a Larson Giant Loop, a fairly common ride at state fairs and carnivals that mimics the action of those space shuttle flat rides that repeatedly spin riders through a vertical loop.  The marketing department really had to stretch to call it a coaster.  All in all, the additions were inauspicious. I was most excited about the return of Superman. Andrew was eager to ride Wicked Cyclone. He had never ridden an RMC coaster before.

We arrived at the park at 10:30, opening time. The parking lot was filling up. My season pass gave me free parking (normally $25) and I also could bring a guest for free. We passed by the tram and walked the short distance to the bridge across Main Street.  The graphic advertisement for M&Ms that used to decorate the stairs was gone. The entrance gates weren't that crowded and in just a few minutes we had passed through the security check and were on the midway. I purposely didn't bring my fanny pack this time; it was becoming more trouble than it was worth. It wasn't just having to empty it for the security check, but the fact that the park was now banning fanny packs from many of the rides, forcing guests to pay for lockers.  So this time I travelled light.

The first thing Andrew wanted to try was Wicked Cyclone, so we headed down that way. The pylons for the New England Skyway were still standing, though the ride was long gone. When we arrived at the Cyclone's entrance, the attendant there told us we had to put our hats in lockers. I took mine, folded it up and stuck it in my pocket. "Can't I just do that?" I asked. She said that was fine and we saved ourselves a few bucks.

The only line was at the ramp to the station. In about five minutes we had made it to the top of the ramp and appeared to be next for the front seat, a rare occurrence on that ride. But at that point a pre-recorded announcement came over the P.A. stating that the ride was experiencing mechanical trouble. Guests were advised to try one of the many other rides in the park. Andrew and I held our ground. The sun was shining somewhat warmly, so the wait wasn't too bad. It was strange to see all the bare trees surrounding us, though.

After about ten minutes the train was dispatched to blast through its insane course. The riders returned cheering. Andrew and I were let into the station and sure enough got the front seat. If nothing else, that would make the trip to the park worth it. Soon we were seated and belted in.  The thick restraints were tight but comfortable. We rolled out of the station and up the steep lift. The first drop felt almost like an inversion, especially since we had such a good view of the track from the front seat as it disappeared in front of us. For one of its first rides of the season, the train was amazingly zippy. The track twisted every which way but the ride was still smooth and enjoyable and packed with non-stop airtime. Andrew loved the ride. It was still the best one in the park, and also one of the best steel coasters ever built.

It was hard to top that experience. But since it was nearby, we queued up for the 420-foot Sky Screamer swing ride. Once again, we only had to wait about five minutes before we were strapped into the small seats held by their alarmingly small chains.  The magnetic locks engaged on the seat belts and we were hoisted high above the park, gently spinning.  At that height, the wind was pretty strong. I tried to wear the hood on my jacket, but it kept blowing off.  The view from the ride was stunning, but I would have enjoyed the view more if the ride was an observation tower, where I could take in the view without the intensity or the chill.

After that both of us were a bit dizzy. We walked through the sunny midway and up toward Crackaxle Canyon. Andrew wanted to try Goliath, the park's 200-foot tall Vekoma suspended boomerang coaster that began its life as Deja Vu at Magic Mountain in California. While at Magic Mountain, it had the dubious reputation for breaking down all the time. Six Flags New England put a lot of work (and money) into it and had it running a little more reliably. But still, it was a Vekoma ride, the same company that built the head-busting Mind Eraser at the other end of the park.  Since Andrew had never ridden that type of ride (and neither had I), he wanted to give it a try.

Again, the line was short. Andrew noticed the odd gates, with a blocked-off set in front of the rear of each 4-person seat. The ride originally featured staggered train seating, with the center seats slightly in front of the outer seats.  That would explain the odd gating.  The park switched to a standard four-across seating style to streamline their operations.  As we stood in line, the train was pulled backwards up the lift. When it was released, it barreled through the station with a deafening roar.  As it flew into the first inversion above the station, the air pressure was so great that our hats blew off.

We queued up for the second-to-last seat. Andrew was toward the middle and I was on the outside. The over-the-shoulder harnesses were huge, blocking any view to the left or right. In front of us was the back of the next seat. I pulled up my hood; I knew Vekoma's reputation for head-banging and I hoped the hood would give me a little extra cushion.

It's difficult to describe the situation of being pulled backward up that lift. Without any visual reference, I could feel my body sag forward, with my full weight on the restraints. I was really concerned what would happen if they let go. With no safety belt holding the restraints, a malfunction would be fatal.

Our progress upward stopped. There was a brief pause, which probably was more effective for the people in front seat who could actually see the ground below. Then we were released, roared through the station and raced up into the cobra roll.  The train shook and my head shook with it from side to side.  Fortunately, I collided with the restraints only once.  We dropped out of the cobra roll and rolled through the loop and up the other vertical lift which brought us to the top and then released us backwards through the entire course.  The whole ride lasted about a minute.  The most thrilling part was hanging vertically.  I was glad my head didn't get any more abuse.  Andrew, however, ended up with a headache.  He was glad he rode it, but he vowed never again.

As we made our way along the midway, Andrew wanted to check out the park's various gift shops.  The primary one at the end of Main Street no longer had many park-specific gifts.  A large amount of the merchandise had little to do with the park; it was mostly generic necklaces or keychains or toys.  There was a lot of Six Flags branded clothing, but only a couple of shirts specific to Six Flags New England.  And there was next to nothing representing the specific rides in the park.

By then it was about noon and we were hungry.  So we headed over through the nearby Kizopolis area to my favorite eatery at the park, Go Fresh Cafe.  There were five people in line in front of us.  Andrew wasn't crazy about the menu, so he walked next door to the Primo's Pizza stand.  But $10 for a slice of cheese pizza wasn't much of a bargain.  I told him about the Johnny Rocket's eatery in the DC Comics area.  He was familiar with that chain from his time at Cedar Point, so he decided to go there while I waited for my veggie burger.  And waited.  And waited.  The line wasn't moving.  No one seemed to be getting their food.  The guy in front of me left in disgust leaving four people ahead of me.  The people at the front of the line finally got their order, about fifteen minutes after they had ordered it.

There were three workers behind the counter.  One girl was taking orders.  She would take them one at a time and wait until that order was completed before she took the next one.  Another girl was lazily chopping chicken parts at a cutting board.  The first girl told her to leave and go get ice (rather than help take orders).  A guy in the back was in charge of cooking the food.  Most of his time was spent pacing back and forth.

After nearly a half-hour, the two guests in front of me made it to the counter.  One of them asked for a regular hamburger.  The girl behind the counter told the guest that they didn't serve those.  So those guests left.  I was next in line and asked for the All-American Black Bean Burger.  I got bottled water for a drink, and she told me there was a special today: two bottles for six dollars.  So I got both.  All totaled, my veggie burger, chips and water came to about $22.  I stood off to the left at the pick-up counter and watched as the girl then ignored the other people in line and lazily strolled back and forth behind the counter.  I watched the guy prepping my food in the back.  He placed hamburg buns in the bun warmer and then put the veggie burger in an oven.  And then I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

He took the veggie burger out of the oven.  It was on a cast-iron pan and it was steaming.  But it wasn't a black bean burger, as advertised, at least not the same one I had gotten there in the past.  It looked like a generic garden burger (which cooks differently).  Then I watched the guy as he tried to figure out how to get the veggie burger off the pan, as if he was doing it for the first time.  He tried to hold the pan, but burnt his fingers.  Then he took a steel spatula and tried to scrape it off the pan.  It had apparently adhered to the cast iron like glue.  He gently poked and prodded it, but it wouldn't budge.  Finally he jabbed it and it broke into pieces.  He scraped up the pieces, dumped them onto the bun (which was now cold) and put a cold slab of cheese on it and wrapped it.  The girl picked up the mess and brought it over to me.  The whole ordeal took about three quarters of an hour.

I walked down the steep staircase into the DC Comics area and headed over to Johnny Rocket's to meet up with Andrew.  I had assumed he had already finished eating his meal.  I walked into the the eatery, and the guest line snaked around the counter area and stretched over to the front door.  This was a bigger operation than Go Fresh, with about a dozen workers behind the long counter.  To either side of the counter were separate rooms with booths.  I scanned the rooms but couldn't see Andrew.  I figured he'd be sitting there waiting for me.  I walked from one of the side rooms to the other and encountered him just coming out of the serving line and heading for the condiments.  He had been waiting about as long as I had.  He said the guests were getting so angry they were about to riot.

The workers had a bizarre method for calling out orders.  There was a string of numbers at the bottom of each guest receipt in small type.  The workers would call out numbers from the middle part of the string.  Many guests had no clue when their orders were ready because they didn't know what the numbers meant.

We found a table and sat down to eat.  I took a bite of my veggie burger.  It indeed was cold, a simple dry and flavorless garden burger.  I was really disappointed.  Andrew's burger was okay, but he didn't think it was worth waiting that long for it.

We exited Johnny Rocket's.  Next door, Superman was waiting.  I was really glad the original ride was back ... sort of.  The ride looked brand new, with a fresh coat of red and blue paint and a spruced-up station.  There wasn't much of a line, but the park was running only one train so there would still be a long wait.  The other train sat in storage.  It looked like the park hadn't finished unwrapping it.  The headrests weren't completely gone, unfortunately, but the wrap-around speakers were.  The trains were also still missing a pair of seats that had been removed when Bizarro debuted, the space instead holding a big metal box that I assumed contained the computer equipment necessary for the virtual reality system.  The restraint system wasn't the simple and comfortable one from the original ride, but it seemed a little less confining than Bizarro's.

Within about forty minutes, we had made it into the station.  Andrew didn't want to wait the extra time for the front seat, so we queued up for the third seat and in a couple minutes were gliding up the towering lift hill.   The park had added a new scenic panel (Superman's logo) around the tunnel on the first drop.  But outside of that, most of the scenery and gimmicks from Bizarro had been removed.  That was a welcome change.  The odd steel geometric structures near the ride's exit remained, but those at least didn't have the cheap cardboard-cutout look of the other scenery.  Even on the park's first day, the ride packed a punch with intense airtime and G forces.  The tunnel near the end of the ride had been outfitted with a speaker system, but we shot through it so fast I couldn't tell what the audio was.  The train rolled into the brakes with guests cheering.  It was good to have the original ride back (or at least, pretty close).

After that, Andrew's headache was worse.  He was discovering the body's decreasing tolerance to amusement rides as it ages.  We went back to Johnny Rocket's for milkshakes and then leisurely walked back to through the winding entrance path up to the main midway.  Our day fell in line with most days Karen and I now have at parks: we have to do them in small doses, or take frequent rests between rides.  Even so, apart from the poor food service we had a good time at the park.  And considering it didn't really cost us anything to get in, I shouldn't complain too much.  It could be argued that this was the park's first full day of operation and so there were bound to be some mistakes.  But I expected the park to actually train the workers before they opened.  It seemed like the staff at Go Fresh either weren't trained well or simply didn't care.  Neither of those scenarios are ones guests should have to encounter, especially when non-season-passholders would have to shell out $52 to step into the park plus $25 for parking.

We returned to the park the following Friday afternoon, this time with Karen, her daughter and the two grandkids.  Isabelle was two-and-a-half and Benjamin was one-and-a-half.  Both seemed to have boundless energy and didn't need strollers, instead walking throughout the entire park on another beautiful sunny day.  Bugs Bunny greeted us at the entrance, but the kids didn't take to him.  We queued up for the 1909 Illions carousel.  The elaborately carved horses with their tails made of real horsehair were looking a bit worn, though it appeared that a few of them had been recently refurbished.  The kids enjoyed their ride.

From there we walked over to Kidzopolis.  I noticed the same people were behind the counter at the Go Fresh Cafe, but this time there were no customers.  Andrew took the kids on the Krazy Kars, a small auto ride.  It had a nice setting, on the cliffside overlooking the DC Comics area.  We walked through the rest of Kidzopolis and then out into the Rockville area, where more Looney Toons characters were wandering about, this time Daffy Duck and the Tazmanian Devil.  The kids didn't like them any better.  From there we wandered back along Carroll Drive.  Andrew took the kids into the gift shop.  I went around the corner and got myself a fried dough.  It was freshly made and delicious, but at nearly $8 it was a bit pricey.

Then we all headed for the Looney Toons kids area at the north end of the park.  Isabelle was just tall enough for The Great Chase, the park's kiddie coaster.  So Andrew queued up and they got the front seat.  It was her first roller coaster, and she seemed to really enjoy it.

They were hungry, so we next stopped into Take Six, the eatery in the Looney Toons area.  It featured pasta, meatball subs, wraps and salads.  I got a Caesar salad for $12.  It was huge and I split it with Karen.  It was quite tasty.  The kids got kids' meals featuring juice, chips and a slice of cheese pizza for $9 each.  That was a bargain compared with getting a plain slice of pizza.  Andrew was surprised that the park didn't have any sit-down restaurant-style eateries; they were all either cafeteria-style, or just stand-alone concessions.

We went back outside.  Even though the sun was bright, there weren't many people hanging around the big Looney Toons water sculpture nearby.  Andrew then took the kids on Taz's Prop Delivery Company, another auto car ride like the Krazy Kars, except on this one the vehicles were themed like monster trucks.  I wasn't sure why the park ran the ride with sets of two cars hooked together like a train.  But the kids enjoyed it anyway.  After that, the daughter decided to call it a day.

Although Andrew went on the kiddie rides, they were still kiddie rides.  Six Flags can't claim itself to be a true family destination.  The park offers three very distinct ride types: kiddie rides, family rides and thrill rides.  There are really only three family rides remaining in the park, rides that all ages can do together: the carousel, Catwoman's Whip (their mild coaster) and the New England Express train.  The park advertises nineteen family rides, but eleven of those are water rides (most located in the water park) and four others have more in common with thrill rides (like the Tea Cups and Kon Tiki) and would make me throw up.  They claim Wild Wheels is a family ride.  It used to be when it was Route 66 and could seat more than 2 people.  But now it's more like a kiddie ride.  Sure, families can ride it -- but not together.

Without more family rides like a Ferris wheel, sky ride, dark ride and the like, there's little reason for Karen and I to stay in the park very long.  And Andrew has gotten to that point as well.  There are only so many spins I can take on Wicked Cyclone and Superman, no matter how good a ride they are.   But I'm not the park's targeted audience.  Six Flags has made its name synonymous with teen thrills (and, ironically, creepy old men).  I'm just glad their season pass has made the few rides I do like affordable enough to experience a few times each season.

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