Six Flags New England, May 2004
by Jay Ducharme

Karen and I visited Six Flags New England the evening of May 30th to process our season passes. I thought after 5 pm there wouldn't be anyone taking money for parking in the front lot. But I was wrong. The park was open only till 9 pm. But we paid the $10. I wasn't sure how many times I was going to come to the park, so I didn't want to spring for the parking pass. (We mainly got the season pass so we could go to the Great Escape.)

The park was fairly crowded. The weather was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky. The jaunty colonial music was playing as we walked through the gates. The season pass processing center had a huge line, so we decided to head there later. Instead we walked through to the Crackaxle Canyon section for some skillet potatoes. This section probably has the best-executed theming in the whole park. It really feels like an old western town. We each got a serving of potatoes and a soda. That set us back about $18. The potatoes were lukewarm. When they're hot they're really good.

Having just got back from Cedar Point, we really could feel how cramped SFNE was. Plus, except for the entrance, Crackaxle Canyon and the DC area, there was so much asphalt. Overall, not much seemed to have changed from the previous season. (We noticed a new brick security station at the exit.) Superman was indeed running. We headed down to DC to check out the new restraints. We took the delightful long ramp down, so Superman was soaring above us and around us. At the base of the ramp, Karen immediately noticed that the big fountain that had run for the last three seasons was now filled with dirt and a couple of pathetically anaemic plants. That was a shame, because that fountain provided a little relief on sweltering summer days. Kids would splash each other. I don't know why the park replaced it with dirt. I guess dirt can feel cool, too.

The line for Superman didn't seem to be that long. The attendant at the entrance said it was an hour and a half wait. There was only one train (the blue one) running, and it was cycling really slowly. I saw the new demo seat at the entrance and tried it out. The T-bar had two flat steel bars running off each end of the top down to the shin guards. My legs fit comfortably between the bars. The shin guard was so thin I couldn't even feel it. The top of the T-bar had grab bar sticking out of it where a seat belt was attached. The belt clipped to the outside of the seat. It was pretty short, perhaps a foot or less long, but it allowed the lap bar to float about three inches above my thighs. There was a new seat belt, not the stock Intamin but an old-style orange one that was fairly short. Both Karen and I had no trouble fastening it. The seat felt quite comfortable.

Satisfied that we could still ride, we decided to wait until the line thinned out a bit more. So we walked through the DC section toward Poison Ivy (which for the first time I can remember had a long line). We walked up the stairs and headed for our favorite ferris wheel, Colossus. Unlike at Cedar Point, at SFNE it was easy to spot trash on the ground. The asphalt made it that much more obvious. We arrived at Colossus' entrance ... umm ... entrances ... well, what *used* to be entrances. One had a locked gate and the other had a barrier leaning against it. It was confusing. People were in line to ride it on the other side of the wheel, but there didn't seem to be any way to get there. There was a big sign, but it was blank. So Karen and I walked around past Mind Eraser to Batman. And there we found both the entrance and exit. I don't know why the park didn't find a more intelligent way of re-directing traffic to the new entrance. The way they had it set up created an awkward bottleneck on the midway. Actually, I think it would have been better to have kept the entrance at the front of the ride, and have people exit toward Batman. But what do I know?

Colossus has one of the highest capacities of any ride ever made, but it's always had a long line. The loading procedure was so slow. One attendant would simply stand at the entrance gate while another attendant would lazily walk to each of the eight cabs being loaded or unloaded and latch or unlatch the door. After about fifteen minutes in line, Karen and I boarded. We rode all the way to the top. The wheel stopped so that the bottom cabs could load. The wind was blowing strong, and the entire ride swayed slightly, unnervingly. We got a tremendous view of the park from 150 feet in the air. And we watched it for a while ... probably about ten minutes. I don't know what the heck the crew was doing underneath us. Finally the wheel resumed its slow rotation. In the past, the ride was given one revolution and that was the end. We went around three times and once again were stopped at the top. There was a pause, and the wheel resumed turning very slowly until we were in the three o'clock position. Then we paused again. Evidently, the crew decided to open more seats (since the line for the ride was spilling all over the midway). Eventually we returned to terra ferma.

By that point it was after 7 pm, so we decided to head for Superman. When we arrived at the queue, I noticed that the entrance building was redesigned. The railings were gone, as were the cartoons. Instead, the room now had wall-to-wall lockers. I noticed that the red train was missing. I assumed it was being retrofitted with the new restraint system.

The queue line looked pretty short, stretching only a short distance out of the station. I figured we'd have maybe a half hour wait. Nearly an hour and a half later, after the sun had disappeared below the horizon, we queued up for the third seat. Waiting for the front seat would have taken the rest of the night. Karen and I watched the attendants: four of them (two on either side, at each end of the train) would work toward the middle of the train. First they'd yank hard on everyone's seat belt. I mean, *really* yank -- leaning back and with two hands. Once that was done they'd walk back to their starting positions and then head toward the middle again, this time stapling the lap bars into the riders' guts. Every so often, the ride operator would have them repeat the whole procedure. That was why it was taking so long.

We also noticed that although the attendants (there appeared to be two supervisors among them) were diligent in stapling riders into their seats, once that job was done and the train left the station they stood there chatting with one another or looking off into the distance, not paying any attention to what was going on around them. People were smoking in the station and sitting on railings, but occasionally the ride operator shouted only, "Get back behind the red line!"

After another ten minutes or so we finally sat in the train and immediately discovered that the real restraints were slightly different than the demo. The shin guards were much more intrusive. My feet could no longer brace against the front of the car. The side belt attached to the lap bar was a bit shorter, but the seat belt was actually a bit longer. Sure enough, the attendants came by and yanked on our belts. Then they stapled the lap bar down as hard as they could. I took a deep breath right before they did, so I ended up with a little bit of play (but not much, maybe about 1/2 inch). In the past, I had about two inches between the lap bar and my legs.

The "all clear" was given and the train rolled onto the lift, was caught with a loud snap by the chain and we started heading up. About 1/4 of the way up the lift, the train stopped. By that point, the sun had set. The DC area was brightly lit in colorful neon. A cool evening breeze was strongly blowing in off the Connecticut River. It was getting chilly. We just sat there. Some people in front of us began yelling down to acquaintances on the midway: "Hey! We're stuck!" There were no announcements. We tried looking back down the lift, but couldn't tell what was going on. The guy in the seat behind us pulled out his cell phone and started talking with someone about being stranded on the lift hill, wondering what was happening. He sounded drunk. After about five minutes, the ride operator could be seen attaching a safety harness to the wire along the lift hill railing. He began walking up the steep stairs.

He eventually came to the seat just behind Karen and me where the guy and his girlfriend were sitting. The guy was one of the people smoking in line. The ride operator said to him, "Sir, you're not allowed to have loose articles with you. Could I please have your cell phone?" After some grumbling, he handed it over. "And your glasses?" He gave up his sunglasses. "And your keys?" He gave up the locker keys around his wrist. "Thank you." The ride operator slowly made his way back down the lift. "You jerk!" his girlfriend shouted. "It was all your fault!" The guy just laughed. He thought it was a big joke.

After a few more minutes the horn sounded and the lift smoothly resumed its course. We crested the hill. The track disappeared from under us and we plunged down the first drop into that great tunnel, brightly lit in red neon. Thankfully, the misters weren't on. We zipped up the second hill and were treated to a powerful burst of airtime. Although we were restricted more and didn't float as much, it still felt good. It certainly wasn't painful like Magnum.

The entire run was a blast. The big helix delivered a whopping dose of positive Gs, but the rest of the course was like a trampoline, just floating from one hill to the next. The brakes grabbed hard when we returned. For so early in the season, the ride was packing quite a punch. We both felt envigorated. When we arrived back in the station, Karen discovered that her side belt had popped out of its lock all by itself.

Yes, the new restraints were more restrictive and there will be some people who can't ride. But they were much less intrusive than I had feared. I actually liked having my legs more perpendicular to the floor. I found I could brace myself better during the helix. I think Six Flags modified the ride intelligently. Unfortunately, they shouldn't have had to modify it at all. In my opinion, the cause of all of this was not their fault. But in compromising with the demands of the Department of Public Safety, I think they came up with a workable solution. For most people, the new restraints won't impact their enjoyment of the greatest coaster ever built. I am glad, though, that we were able to ride Superman so many times over the years with the original restraints. I'll forever cherish those moments of flight that will never be repeated....

We left the ride about 15 minutes before the park closed. We headed over to the Strawberries & Cream shop on Main Street. Karen got a waffle cone with vanilla ice cream. I got a small caramel sundae. The total came to about $12. It was tasty and made a good once-a-year treat. But at those prices, I wouldn't indulge too often.

We took a brief look in the Main Street gift shop. Most of the items were generic Six Flags gifts. We saw one T-shirt that was identical to one at Cedar Point ("gotnophobia"). There was a collection of T's I'd never seen before that were fun, other standard park rides besides coasters: there was a bumper car shirt styled with a 1950's dad in an art deco car; there was a log flume shirt, styled in the same way; and a pretty nice "Roller" shirt with an old Wildcat-style train on it. There were a lot of shirts with the old guy from the new Six Flags commercial. We passed on those.

Four hours in the park; two rides ridden. That's about average for us at Six Flags. We had thought about riding the Cyclone, but it hasn't held much interest for us since it was emasculated. We don't care for the rigid queue policy on Thunderbolt. We'd had our fill of Flashback, Mind Eraser and Batman. That left just Poison Ivy, which we like but which had a ridiculously long line. It was too cool for the flume and the rapids ride. The wait was too long at the Antique Cars. We occasionally ride the Carousel before leaving. I guess we might seem picky, but that really didn't leave us too much to do at this park. At Lake Compounce, Cedar Point and many other parks, though, we never run short of rides we enjoy. I guess that's an inherent problem for us when we go to a "thrill" park as opposed to a "family" park. But all in all, we had a good time. Like Karen said, Superman is really worth the wait.

Before we left, we headed to the season pass processing booth. There were still some people in line, but as we got there a guy was locking the door. People in line were really angry. The guy kept repeating, "I'm really sorry but there's nothing I can do. Come back another day." As we exited the park, the song used in the Six Flags commercial was playing. There was a massive canvas tacked up on the side of the waterpark's raft ride structure with the "It's Playtime!" logo and the old guy's face. Six Flags is really milking that commercial. I hope it helps keep them out of bankruptcy....

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