Six Flags New England
August, 2005

Saturday, August 27th, was a fairly noisy day around our house. Across the street at Barnes Airport was the Westfield Air Show featuring lots of stunt pilots and the famous Thunderbirds. So Karen and I took the opportunity to use our season and parking passes for Six Flags New England. The weather was clear and dry, and near 90 degrees.

Not a lot had changed since our last visit. The one question that we kept asking was, "How can the Six Flags chain be losing money?" We arrived at about 11:30, and the main parking lot was completely filled. We parked in the new overflow lot to the south. That lot was absolutely huge and was just beginning to fill up. The park was running three trams, one to the front of the first lot, one to the back of the first lot and one to the front of the overflow lot. We decided to walk instead. It was quite a hike. Once we reached the end of the front parking area, we still had to follow the entrance road over to the bridge across Route 189. The top of the bridge afforded an expansive panorama of the whole park. It has become very difficult for me to remember what the old Riverside Park skyline used to look like. The Six Flags makeover had become so thorough that the only reminders were the Cyclone, Thunderbolt and the Colossus.

The entrance was bustling with guests getting tickets and filing through the gates. We showed our season passes. The stone-faced attendant swiped them under the barcode reader. We passed through the security checkpoint and opened our fannypacks for the guard to inspect. The cobblestone entrance area around the carousel was crowded. We turned right, heading down the hill. On the left was a long queue line waiting to purchase Q-bots. I was stunned to see that the park had doubled the price of renting the nefarious little things: it was $20 per person -- twenty dollars extra so that a guest could get onto a ride in a reasonable amount of time! So if you had already paid $10 to park, plus the $39.99 entry fee, a single guest then purchasing a Q-bot so that s/he could actually get on more than four major rides in a day will have spent $70! How can the Six Flags chain be losing money!? Obviously there must have been a lot of season passholders in the park that day. But even so, there were a heckuvalot of people renting those Q-bots. I can just imagine how angry some parents might feel if they have two kids and spent well over $100 just to walk in the gates, only to waste their entire day standing in lines unless they shell out another $70 (with Six Flags' small bulk rental discount) for a device that lets them cut in front of people who don't pay the park's extortion. (And the people who don't pay for it end up paying for it anyway with even longer waits!) To me, this doesn't seem like the scenario for a good guest experience.

As for myself and Karen, we couldn't really complain too much. After all, the park was a short drive from our house and we didn't pay anything extra to park or get in. So we passed by those Q-botters (who, ironically, were standing in a long line in order to avoid standing in lines). The path down to the intersection in front of the Looney Tunes Emporium was thick with people. A small display was set up to advertise the park's Halloween Fright Fest weekends. Giant banners were strung across between the buildings featuring the ubiquitous park mascot Mr. Six. His slightly creepy face was impossible to avoid. We found it more disturbing to look at than the Fright Fest display.

We turned left and headed toward the New England Skyway, since there weren't many people in line for it. That whole section of midway appeared so meticulously themed. There were obvious elements, like the gigantic fake shark in front of the Shipwreck Falls queue. But what made it so convincing were lots of small details, like the fishing nets, oars, life preservers, many authentic items that I'd expect to see in a real New England fishing village, judiciously placed around all the buildings. I wished they had carried the cobblestone look out to that area, instead of switching over to cheaper asphalt.

The Skyway was running just six cabs, so even though the line was short it took us almost twenty minutes before we boarded. The old Von Roll sky ride cabs (which I operated at Riverside many years ago) reminded me of cat toys, those little ball cages with a bell inside. We sat down inside our cage, rolled out of the station and smoothly engaged the cable. We watched the action from high above the midway. Shipwreck Falls splashed down. The new bright-orange-and-green Mr. Six's Pandemonium coaster spun around its twisty course. After about two minutes we had stopped at the south station.

We walked across the midway to the park's rapids ride, Blizzard River. It was hot enough outside that getting soaked would feel really good. The line was moderately long and was moving slowly. Fortunately, the park had strung misters over the main queue line, and that helped keep us cool. After about a half-hour of waiting we had arrived inside the giant station, beautifully themed to look like a giant factory building from the early 1900s. There was a sign in the queue warning guests to keep their Q-bots dry, but someone had humorously altered the word "water." The warning took on a whole new and more truthful meaning: "This attraction will expose you to a substantial amount of wate ." And right after we noticed the sign, the ride operator's console started beeping. The two operators looked at something in front of them. And then a pre-recorded announcement blared over the P.A.: "Thank you for riding Blizzard River. We apologize for the delay. The ride technicians have been notified...." Karen and I looked at each other. "We'll give them fifteen minutes," she said wearily. So we waited. I watched the Cyclone travel around, squealing loudly from its dry track. The technicians appeared and then disappeared. The water pumps were shut down. Fifteen minutes passed. We walked out of the queue line.

So with over an hour spent standing in lines so far, we decided to get something to eat. We passed by Mr. Six's Pandemonium, which had a really long line. We walked through the nicely-themed Looney Tunes kiddie section. We eventually made our way up to the equally well-themed Crackaxle Canyon area, which looked deserted. A lot of the concessions in the area were shuttered. A musical revue had just begun, Country Jambouree, and the performers sang to no one except a little girl sitting at a table near the stage. Karen and I ordered some delicious skillet potatoes at a nearby stand. Two small orders and two drinks came to almost $17. Then we searched for a place to sit that wasn't in the sun. We found a bench against a wall opposite the show and we watched the performers for a little while. They were okay, singing passably to a synthesized soundtrack. Why have so many parks begun using those annoying Karaoke recordings in their shows? I'd rather hear live musicians, especially if the singers aren't really strong.

We finished our potatoes and left before the show was over. We walked up toward Houdini, but it was still closed. Even so, there were more people in that area (because of the Tomahawk ride) than in all the rest of Crackaxle Canyon. The park should have put a show in that area (maybe a magic show to go with the Houdini theme). Then they could get rid of that outdoor country western stage. Maybe they could put it inside their barbeque restaurant to draw people in there, and use the outdoor stage area for another ride.

We headed back out toward the Looney Tunes Emporium at the center of the park. We ordered two gelatis at the ice cream stand. They were tasty and huge. (They had better be at $5 each!) The Looney Tunes characters had just finished their dance they did every hour or so. At the end of their performances, they would throw confetti. The midway was littered with flecks of multicolored confetti. I was thinking what a mess that must be for the custodians to clean up. But Six Flags was one step ahead of me. The M.C. with the Looney Tunes characters called out over the P.A. system: "Who wants to play a game? Come on! How many of you would like to win a Six Flags V.I.P. pass? Well here's what you gotta do: I'm going to give you two minutes to run around and pick up all the confetti you can find. It's all over the place -- by the gazebo, next to the Emporium. Just pick up as much as you can find, and the one who collects the most confetti gets a V.I.P. pass!" What a great idea! Six Flags can completely eliminate the need for custodians! Next they should have a contest to give a season's pass to whomever cleans the most toilets.

While we stood there watching the proceedings, Karen pointed out an odd man. He was rather small and stood with his back to us in the middle of all the kids rushing around picking up confetti. He was wearing a blue Six Flags staff shirt, baggy jeans and big sneakers that appeared to be unlaced. He also wore a bright and rather unkempt Superman cape. He just stood there as if he was lost. He sort of looked like Pedro from the movie "Napoleon Dynamite." Then he slowly shuffled off down the midway past Captain Rivi's. If he didn't have that staff shirt, I would have thought he was a deranged bum. He probably didn't fit most people's conception of the Man of Steel.

The Main Street Gift Shop was loaded with Mr. Six merchandise. It was bordering on overkill. Added to the magnets and T-shirts were Mr. Six snow globes, candies and a new assortment of bobbleheads in various dance positions. That ugly little man was inescapable. The shop also featured a wide assortment of Six Flags-branded toys, including three types of motorized roller coasters and water "rides." In many cases those same toys were available at retail stores at nearly half the price. Why would anyone buy them at Six Flags? Wouldn't it make more sense for Six Flags to sell them slightly cheaper? We made our way through the park's Rockville section. I really like the theming throughout that area, from the old "TV and Appliances" arcade to the chrome and neon Diner. We walked past the big Wilderness Excursions sign and queued up for the Poland Springs Plunge. It was one of the older rides remaining in the park, and was formerly known as the Red River Rapids. When it was installed, it was one of the few flume rides in the northeast. It was also one of the ugliest. The gigantic holding pond in front of the ride was just that, a huge shallow concrete pool. The trough was set on top of crushed stone, out in the blazing sun. It looked shabby and barren. And to top it off, the ride was really short and the lift was really shaky. But Six Flags had actually improved the look of the ride considerably. The holding pond could still have used a nice fountain in the middle of it, but it at least had some water cannons that guests could trigger. There were also some small plastic ducks floating around. The meandering trough was now completely engulfed by cattails and other marshy weeds. It gave the feeling of floating along down a small creek. The only thing to break the illusion was the massive Hurricane Harbor waterpark that loomed over the ride to the right.

We got only slightly damp from the splash (even though someone shot a water cannon at us), but it was refreshing. We then passed by the painful Mind Eraser and the intense Batman: The Dark Knight. Instead we headed for Colossus to get a scenic view of the park and the Pioneer Valley. We probably could have even seen the Westfield Air Show. But we didn't get a chance to find out. There was a deceptive new queue line snaking tightly next to the entrance, and it was filled. Even though this was potentially the highest capacity ride in the park, they were once again using only a dozen seats. It would have been another long wait in the sun. Why was shade such a rare commodity in this park? Instead we decided to walk down to the DC Comics area. We took a right by the Mind Eraser only to discover that the old shaded bridge leading to Tiny Timber Town was still blocked off. It's been that way for three seasons. It can't be a very expensive job to fix it. That whole area of the park was a dead end.

So we backtracked and walked through the nicely-themed Tiny Timber Town kiddie area (which probably would have fit in better in Crackaxle Canyon) and then down the long stairway into the DC Comics section. Poison Ivy's Tangled Train was now so surrounded by trees, bushes and ivy that it was nearly invisible among the foliage. Superman: Ride of Steel was running both of its trains, so we headed over to check out how long the queue was. Unfortunately, it was probably an hour or more wait -- mostly in the sun. Karen was starting to get heatstroke. We stopped into the Superhero Cafe for something to drink, but the line there was incredibly long as well. So we called it a day. We walked the long winding path under Superman and out of the DC area. We stopped into the Looney Tunes Emporium, thinking it would be air conditioned. But it wasn't. Karen got a small bottle of Diet Coke and I got a small bottle of water for $3 each. We looked at some of the merchandise. There was a really nice cast resin sculpture of Looney Tunes characters riding a roller coaster. It was about eight inches high and cost $150. I passed on that.

Karen and I dragged ourselves up the hill and out the exit gate, up the long stairs across the bridge and over to the tram, which dropped us off at the first parking lot. We walked the long distance back to our car. The overflow lot was filled. Once again we asked aloud, "How can Six Flags be losing money?" I don't know how many more people would have comfortably fit in that park. With the crowded midway, brisk Q-bot business, outrageous food prices and high souvenir costs, I would have thought Six Flags would be making money hand over fist. And yet it was just announced that the company is putting itself up for auction. Go figure. Maybe the parks should have more contests to make guests work in the restaurants and do ride maintenance too. Or maybe the chain's problems stem from something more basic. After three and a half hours in the park, we rode just two rides. And outside of rides, there was nothing else in the park to interest us. We don't enjoy spin-and-barf rides and the coaster lines were too long. That didn't leave much else to do. For the expansiveness of the park, there was very little variety to the activities. The old Riverside had the train, the Jungle Cruise and the Monorail along with the Sky Ride, Antique Cars and Colossus. The last three remained at Six Flags, but they weren't worth the interminable wait in line. We considered checking out the magic show that was in the Rockville Gym, but I wasn't really inspired after seeing the country revue. Even if we had found a shady spot outside to sit and relax, we would have been happy. But the only place we could find was a hard wooden bench against a building. So instead we chose to go back home.

Will we return to Six Flags? Yes, because it's basically free for us and it's nearby. Will we get a season pass next year? Maybe, because it can get us into other Six Flags parks too. But at some point, even the amount of a season pass won't be worth the rapidly decreasing amount of fun we're able to glean from the parks, no matter how much Mr. Six would like us to believe otherwise.

Return to Karen and Jay's Excursions