Six Flags New England
June 14, 2019

copyright Jay Ducharme 2019

Six Flags New England had another one of their days for season passholders where you could bring a friend for free. So I got together with my friend Dave on a partly sunny but blustery Friday for an excursion there. We originally had planned to go the previous Tuesday (which would have been less crowded), but it was raining that day. So off we went to Agawam and when we approached the park, traffic slowed. Cars and buses were trickling in toward the parking area. It was going to be a busy day. The parking fee had risen to an astronomical $30, more than the cost for admission to many parks. Fortunately with my season pass, it was free for us. It was hard to imagine how an average family could afford this park without a season pass. Regular admission was $72 (without the periodic online specials). For a family of four, that came to $358 just to walk in the gate!

We parked and hiked along the winding sidewalk toward the bridge that led over the highway and onto the main concourse. Years ago, the park used to play fife and drum music in that section, a nice touch that matched the colonial look of the buildings. But it had been replaced by generic pop music that made it seem like every other park. We walked through the gates without a problem. I had abandoned wearing a fanny pack in parks, since they were no longer permitted on most rides. I instead chose cargo shorts as my amusement park attire so I could safely stash my wallet and phone.

We walked down Main Street. Oddly, all of the Christmas light cabling was criss-crossing above our heads, but all of the lights themselves had been removed. Most of the buildings still had them attached, however. The first ride we headed for was the one neither of us had ever tried: The Joker, a peculiar piece of machinery the park labeled a "4D" coaster. It was built by S&S, based on their rocky development of Magic Mountain's ground-breaking yet flawed coaster simply called X. Basically, there were four cars in a train. Each car had two seats. But unlike a standard coaster, these seats were cantilevered off to each side and (while in the station, anyway) suspended below the track. One set of seats faced forward and the other back, so that the riders faced each other. There were special rails built into the track that could trigger a mechanism on the trains that made the seats flip end-over-end. The entire structure was really compact and the ride was really short. So I figured if I didn't like it, at least it wouldn't last long.

The ride was running as we approached, which was a good sign because it had been prone to breaking down. There was hardly anyone in the queue, so Dave and I entered the long winding line, only to be greeted by guests coming back out saying that the ride broke down. And indeed the ride stopped running. So we left the queue. Nearby was Batman: the Dark Knight. I rode it once and nearly blacked out from the extreme G forces, so I passed on it. Dave queued up and within several minutes was gliding up the lift hill. Bolliger & Mabillard, the ride's designers, were famous for their meticulously engineered and smooth coasters. But something went wrong with their design of this one. I think there was simply too much coaster packed into too small and area. When Dave returned, he said it was the roughest B&M coaster he'd ever ridden.

Thankfully at that point Joker was running again, so we wasted no time in queuing up. We walked right over to the next train out and sat in the forward-facing seat. In retrospect, that was a mistake. We pulled down the over-the-shoulder harness. I was glad that it wasn't all hard metal, but mostly soft straps. We clipped our seatbelts and were pulled forward a short distance and then vertically straight up, as if we were in an elevator. When we got to the top of the hill, I realized why we were in the wrong seats: we were at that point heading backwards, and our seats began to rotate in that direction. We were being spun backwards, head-over-heels, repeatedly. We reached the end of that stretch of track and dropped vertically, heading back under the track we just traversed but this time facing forward. Then we flipped end-over-end again, dropped and headed back in the opposite direction and over a few bunny hops before hitting the breaks that lowered us vertically back toward the station.

That was without a doubt the weirdest coaster experience I'd ever had. It wasn't as painful as I feared, but it wasn't exactly fun either. It was more like riding in an old carnival Sky Diver or Zipper. One ride was plenty. Next door was Harley Quinn's Spinsanity, one of the few spinning rides I've seen that barely spins. Dave queued up for that while I went hunting for some water. I found some at the nearby Villians Snacks. There weren't many people in line, but it took a long time before the people who were there got their orders. It didn't take long to get my 20 ounce bottle of Dasani water, but the price gave me sticker shock: $5.49! I could buy an entire CASE of water for about half that price!

It took a while for Dave to exit the ride. He said the operators were having trouble with the restraints. From there we headed down into the DC Comics area to one of the greatest roller coasters ever built, now called Superman: the Ride. Fortunately, it was still early in the day and there wasn't much of a line. We queued up for the front seat and within 20 minutes or so, our train pulled into the station. I thought it was interesting that there were no longer any traditional bins in which riders could stow backpacks or hats. Instead there were racks to hold the park's ubiquitous refillable soda cups. We sat down, belted in and in short order were rolling up the tall lift hill as threatening clouds began to gather around us. I kept forgetting how breathtaking that first drop was, with the track disappearing and the tiny tunnel at the bottom. The air time was fantastic as always. The wheels on the train were squealing loudly, and the train seemed to "hunt" more than usual, shimmying back and forth along the track. We blasted through the tunnel at the far end of the ride. That was followed by those three incredible high-speed bunny hops back to the station. At nearly 20 years old, the ride still packed a whollop.

We made our way toward the other end of the park, to the other star coaster that I figured would have a long line. On the way there, we passed by one of Dave's favorite coasters, Pandemonium. So we paused there so he could take a ride. The line wasn't too long and within about a half-hour he was spinning through its convoluted course.

From there we walked over to Wicked Cyclone, which was the best ride in the park. Even though the clouds still looked threatening and the wind was picking up, the weather seemed to be holding out. The line was suprisingly short, and I was really glad to see that the park was still allowing guests to queue up for any seat they wanted. So we headed for the front and after a few minutes were seated in the comfortable train. This season, the park really seemed to be doing a great job with ride cycle times, efficiently dispatching coaster trains and moving the crowds along. We traveled up the alarmingly steep hill and then sped down the seemingly inverted first drop. Even though I had ridden the coaster several times, each element still seemed like a delightful surprise with rapid changes of direction and copious air time. Yet all the while it was still comfortably smooth.

By then it was about 1:00, so we decided to have lunch. We stopped off in the nearby Take Six Cafe, but I wasn't in the mood for a veggie wrap. So we walked over to the Kidzopolis area and the Go Fresh Cafe. I found it odd that the one food place in the park supposedly offering healthy choices was now serving Dippin' Dots ice cream. But they still had the black bean veggie burger ... for a whopping $13.49. The sign said they offered apple slices instead of French fries but I was told they no longer had slices. It was just an apple. So I got that along with a small cup of lemonade. The total damage: $21.76. The burger looked great, like a picture-perfect advertisement, with a thick bulky roll for a bun. We went into the nearby Primo Pizzeria where Dave got himself a meatball sub and fries. We sat at a table to eat. My veggie burger was good, though the bun was a bit dry. There were TVs in the restaurant playing classic Looney Tunes animations, but for some reason all the TVs were tinted green. While we were eating, Sylvester the Cat and Granny entered and wandered around greeting people and posing for photo ops.

After lunch we headed back out onto the midway. The venerable Thunderbolt had a short line, so we queued up for that. For some reason, the classic neon sign at the front of the ride had been modified to read Thunder Blues. I had no idea why, though I suspected it had something to do with a local sports team. The only thing I didn't care for about the Thunderbolt was that there was no choice of seats; it was luck of the draw. The ride was violent enough that I wouldn't ride it near the back. So we crossed our fingers. As we got nearer, it was clear that we would end up in the back seat of the first car. So I asked a young couple behind us if they'd like to go ahead of us, and they readily agreed. That put us in the first seat of the second car. The train rolled into the station and we boarded. The park apparently got rid of the second train that used to sit off to the side in the station, unused. The seats were a tight fit. The ride operator kept screaming at the guests through his microphone: "DON'T PULL DOWN THE LAP BAR! I REPEAT, DON'T PULL DOWN THE LAP BAR!" The ride attendants then came along and stapled us into our seats, knocking the wind out of me. We rolled out of the station and up the lift, feeling both the train and the track shifting under us. We glided down the first drop and bottomed out severely. That would be the story of the entire ride: the bottom of each drop was pretty painful. And since I was stapled into the restraints, I couldn't brace myself. I was surprised how rough the ride had gotten. The park had done track work on it just a few years before.

Dave wanted to get some ice cream, so we walked up Crackaxle Canyon and over to what used to be Cold Stone Creamery but was now Coaster! Creamery. I assumed Six Flags parted ways with Cold Stone, but they offered pretty much the same food. I ordered a vanilla milkshake, which had at least a quart of ice cream in it. It was really good. Dave ordered an ice cream cone. The attendant asked, "Do you want a bubble cone? It's all we have." I had gotten a bubble cone before. It was basically a waffle cone but with spheres instead of cubes. Seeing as he didn't have much of a choice, he got that and enjoyed it. We sat in the Adirondack chairs outside of the Creamery as we ate and watched the huge pile of metal called Goliath run through its paces. It had been malfunctioning most of the day, but finally seemed to be running reliably.

From there we walked over to the Stampede Bumper Cars. I was fascinated by this ride because unlike a standard bumper car setup, there were no poles on these cars that brushed against a metal grid ceiling. All of the electrical current was contained in the floor, and I couldn't figure out how the cars managed to operate that way. For the large size of the arena, they didn't seem to have that many cars. After several cycles, we boarded and had a pleasant drive around the pavilion.

We stopped into the park gift shop. There were a lot of generic Six Flags merchandise. There was one nice t-shirt with a colorful silouhette of Six Flags New England. We then hiked back down into the DC Comics area to take a ride on Catwoman Whip. I was always bothered by that name; why wasn't it Catwoman's Whip? At any rate, this coaster (once known more appropriately as Poison Ivy's Tangled Train) had the longest coaster train I'd ever seen, which created some interesting push-and-pull dynamics during the ride. We boarded the front seat and in short order were on our way. I loved the whooshing sound the train made as it wound around the heavily-landscaped course. There wasn't any air time to speak of and few laterals, but it still was an enjoyable (if short) ride.

There was a new ride in the park this season, Cyborg: Hyperdrive. Dave wanted to try it out. It was an indoor spin-and-barf flat ride located in what used to be the Justice League building. A make-shift queue line had been set up with stanchions outside the building. About a dozen people were allowed in at a time. This was a popular ride with the infamous Fast Pass people (who paid extra to cut lines), which made the entire queue move really slowly. A woman emerged from the exit and told a friend in line that once you were in the building, there was another entire set of queues that took over a half-hour to get through. Gradually, Dave made his way to the front of the line and disappeared inside the building. He wouldn't re-emerge for another 45 minutes. I stood around watching Superman run its course and feeling the increasingly strong cool breeze blowing in. It was getting downright chilly. When Dave finally exited (through the gift shop of course), he said the ride was nothing special, basically like a small Trabant in the dark with strobe lights.

We walked across the midway to Gotham City Gauntlet, the park's fun Wild Mouse coaster. There was hardly any line for it. We did have to wait a bit while the attendants loaded an elderly woman who was in a wheelchair. She looked to be in her 90s. Kudos to her for keeping young! It was a shame that the theming on this coaster was so half-hearted. It would have made a good in-the-dark ride. It had really powerful lateral turns and some fun drops. And it was also comfortable, though the cars were a bit small.

And after that we called it a day. By that point it was 5:30, and I was impressed we had been on as many rides as we had. On the way out, we passed by the gift shop next to Superman. The park was having a two-for-one sale on superhero capes, so I got one for each of my grandkids.

Overall, this was my best experience as Six Flags New England in many years. The park operation seemed much smoother overall. We did a lot more than I expected we would. Even though there were a lot of guests, we didn't have to wait long for the rides. My only real gripe was with food prices. Everywhere we looked in the park, there were advertisements encouraging guests to buy dining passes. That seemed to be the park's current focus: get the food money up-front. I guess by charging exhorbitant amounts for food and drink, they might have pushed many people to do just that. But for me there weren't enough choices to justify that expense. I could see how, for parents who used the park as a day care center for their kids, it would be a worthwhile expense.

I wished the park had more true family rides. (I mean, they were actually labeling Cyborg as a family ride!) How about a dark ride? Or a flume? Or how about bringing back the Monorail? I know I'm not really the park's target demographic, but I'd like to try out a new ride that didn't make me feel like I was being put through a blender. But at least this visit gave me hope that Six Flags could be moving in the right direction.

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