|I wanted my friend Dave to ride Wicked Cyclone at Six Flags New England.
Fridays in August offered a special for season passholders: you could
bring a friend for free. So on a beautiful sunny Friday morning,
we drove to Agawam, MA, by the back roads through Feeding Hills ... and
encountered a long line of traffic. It was 10:30, and I had hoped
to beat the rush and avoid the highway traffic. We arrived at the
main parking area, which was already half filled. I reached into
my wallet only to discover that I had left my season pass at home in my
fanny pack. That sort of defeated the whole purpose of coming on
that specific day. We stopped next to one of the parking lot
attendants. I asked sheepishly if there was any way she could
look up my season pass (which would allow me to park for free).
She couldn't. So I had to pay $25 to park.
Since the tram stop was packed with people, we decided to walk (as did many others). As we followed like cattle along the winding sidewalk, a tram drove past and all the people on it were screaming. I could hear the driver encouraging them. We climbed the steep stairs to the bridge and when we arrived on the other side we encountered a veritable sea of people. The entire concourse, from in front of the entrance gates all the way back to the bridge, was packed tightly with guests waiting to enter. I'd never before seen so many people there. I wormed my way through the crowd and over to the Guest Relations booth to the right of the entrance. There was even a line in front of that. After about 20 minutes, I approached one of the windows. The guy there turned around and left, and another worker took his place. I explained my embarrassing situation. He said it was no problem; I could get a temporary pass for $5, but that wouldn't give me any other discounts. I told him I was at the park for the "bring a friend for free" promotion. He said in that case I'd have to pay $20 for a replacement pass. So I coughed up the cash for that. It was my own fault, and even after paying a total of $45 it was cheaper than Dave having to pay full price to enter.
We found a line that seemed incredibly short at the far left end. It turned out it was for ticket holders only (implying no season passes). An employee standing next to the line asked Dave if he'd like to take a survey, but it turned out she wanted to interview season passholders. So she interviewed me instead. I first mentioned that we were in the wrong line, but she assured us we were fine. I thought it was interesting that her first question was whether we came to the park because of Wicked Cyclone (which we did). She finished her brief questionnaire just as we got to the gate. The good thing about not having a fanny pack this time was that I didn't have to take it off to get into the park. I also wouldn't have to rent lockers to ride the coasters (since the park now didn't allow fanny packs on some of the rides).
I suggested we first head to Wicked Cyclone, the park's newest coaster. I anticipated a huge line for it, but when we arrived in the queue (shortened from my first visit) it wasn't too crowded. I noticed that the park had put the nylon-coated wheels back on the train, which were supposed to deliver a smoother ride (even though my first ride with steel wheels was really smooth). The park was running two trains and the line moved steadily. I liked how the queue line kept us surrounded by the ride. It really did sound like a raging windstorm every time the train blasted by us. I noticed that the ride's designer didn't use all of the Cyclone's original footers, and actually poured a lot of new ones. Even so, it was impressive that the ride layout followed the footprint of the original so closely. I also noticed that the TV monitors in the queue line were no longer showing the non-stop newscast about a cyclone headed toward Agawam. Instead, they played music videos from VH1, occasionally punctuated with the brief "weather reports" that I had seen on the opening day. Within about a half-hour, we were standing at the base of the stairs leading up to the station. I was still puzzled at why the park hadn't slightly widened the station to allow for any-seat queuing. Instead an attendant stood at the top of the stairs and allowed in just enough people to fill the train. It was a crap shoot as to which seat you'd get.
The line gradually shortened, and to our surprise Dave and I found ourselves first in line at the station entrance for the next train out. That meant that by sheer luck, we'd get the front seat. The station queue emptied and the attendant approached and unhooked the chain. Dave and I walked to the gate at the front seat and stood there. A ride attendant to our right blandly turned to us and mumbled, "No. You can't sit here. Sit there." We looked around confused. "Where do you want us to sit," Dave asked innocently. The attendant nodded his head and said, "Over there." We couldn't tell what we were supposed to do. "Can you point?" Dave asked. The attendant pointed to an empty seat in the middle of the train. Crestfallen, we did as we were told and sat in the middle seat. Right when we did, a flood of people rushed into the station. So much for the front.
We put on our seat belts and pulled the lap bars down to a comfortable position. To add insult to injury, the attendants came by and jammed the lap bars down into our stomachs, knocking the wind out of us. The ride operator dispatched us and we rolled up the steep lift hill. The even more steep first drop plunged us into the over-banked turnaround. Even in the middle of the train, there were powerful moments of air time (made painful by how tightly the lap bar had been crushed down) plus those wild changes of direction. It was still a great ride. Oddly, even with the new nylon wheels, the ride felt rougher than the first time I rode it (perhaps because we were in the middle of the train).
Dave liked it, saying it was a worthy successor to Bill Cobb (the original Cyclone designer). On the way out, Dave wanted to stop and see his on-ride photo at the small booth near the exit. I had wanted an on-ride picture when Karen and I were there, only by the time we got to the booth our photo was no longer visible. But Dave saw our picture. I noticed only one sign advertising prices: $19.99 would get you a "Photo Pass" (allowing you to get unlimited ride photos). For $1.99, you could get a digital copy e-mailed to you. I preferred the e-mail copies, so I asked for one of those. The attendant told me that first I had to purchase the Photo Pass for $19.99. After that, I'd have to pay an additional $1.99 for the digital copy. I was nonplussed. Twenty-two dollars for them to e-mail me a digital image that they didn't even have to print? Dave and I both turned on our heels and walked away.
It was past noon by that point and I was hungry, so we headed over to the Go Fresh Cafe in Kidzopolis. Fortunately, it was open (unlike past visits). I ordered a fresh-squeezed lemonade and the all-American black bean veggie burger. Dave was a bit shocked at the prices, and just ordered a lemonade. The cashier said something, but I couldn't understand a word. So I asked her to repeat it. I still couldn't understand. It was as if she was talking in a strange language. I apologized and asked her to repeat it again. It sounded like she was trying to say something about lemonade. Another attendant nearby went to the soda machine and asked, "You want a lemonade?" I reiterated that we both wanted FRESH-SQUEEZED lemonade, not Hi-C. The attendant seemed a little put out by that request. The cashier then asked me another question which I also couldn't understand. After about the fifth try, I realized she was asking me what kind of cheese I wanted on my veggie burger. I told her American. (After all, it's an ALL-AMERICAN burger!) I paid and then we stood back and waited.
Other customers came to the counter. All of them had the same reaction I did: they kept asking the cashier to repeat herself. She definitely had a thick foreign accent, but I couldn't place it. I thought she'd start getting angry with the continuing requests to repeat, but she didn't seem phased by it. But she also didn't speak any clearer.
While we stood there, I watched the other attendant prepare our lemonades. He took two large plastic cups, reached into a box under the counter and then put three whole lemons into each cup. He then went to a large white machine at the back of the stand and dropped the lemons in. The machine apparently just sliced the lemons in half. He dropped the sliced lemons into each cup. Then he walked over to an odd press nearby. It was basically a long vertical steel cylinder with a handle. He put one of the cups under the cylinder and then proceeded to mash the living heck out of the lemons, ramming the cylinder up and down inside the cup, pulverizing the fruit. I just stared in disbelief. He then took a cup of sugar and dumped it in each. He walked over to the soda machine and filled each cup with water. He put a lid on each cup and shook them vigorously. Then he handed each of us our concoctions. It was a six dollar floating mess of lemon seeds, pulp and rind, not at all the delicious drink I was served on our last visit. As he walked away, I asked him if I could have a straw. "They're over there," he said, as vaguely as the Wicked Cyclone attendant. I wandered to the other side of the concession and found a few straws remaining in a bin. I took a sip of my lemonade and immediately a lemon seed shot into my mouth. I spit it out and tried again, but the same thing happened. Eventually, the lemon seeds began to settle to the bottom, and I found that if I kept the straw at about the middle of the cup I didn't suck up the seeds.
Meanwhile, I watched the cook. He was walking idly back and forth behind the grill. I wasn't sure what he was doing. Other customers came and were served their grill orders before mine appeared. It took about twenty minutes before I got my veggie burger. And the French fries were cold. Dave and I went over to the Primo Pizza pavilion and sat down to eat. I had neglected to take some ketchup packets. Primo had barbeque sauce, so I took that instead. The burger was really good (as usual). The fries were tepid. And as long as I dodged the seeds, the lemonade was pretty good. Dave and I tried to hold a conversation, but between the televisions blasting Looney Tunes cartoons in the pavilion and the show going on at the nearby Kizopolis stage, we couldn't hear ourselves think.
So we got up and proceeded down the steep stairs into the DC Comics area. We walked by the Justice League "Interactive Experience". I still had no idea what was inside that small building. We walked across the midway to Gotham City Gauntlet Escape From Arkham Asylum, the most awkwardly named ride ever. It was a standard Maurer-Sohne wild mouse coaster plopped down onto a concrete slab. A few small signs were the only attempt at theming. We queued up and in a few minutes were seated. The queue line featured plenty of misters to keep cool, and ironically had signs that cautioned, "No running -- slippery when wet". In other words, it was always slippery. The best wild mouse ride I've ever been on (at Idlewild Park) featured cars where the wheels were positioned near the back. That way when you came to a hairpin turn the nose of the car would actually go off the track, making it feel like you were going to plummet to your death. These cars, however, had the wheels in the middle. So when you got to a hairpin turn, the car turned as you expected it to. No thrills there. But it was still enjoyable.
Next we headed for Bizarro (formerly Superman). This had the longest line of the day. Even at 15 years old, the ride was still proving its popularity. If the rumors were true that the park was going to turn it back into Superman and get rid of those terrible headrests on the trains, the coaster would probably prove even more popular. It took us about an hour to reach the station, and once there we queued up for the front seat which, surprisingly, wasn't too crowded. The attendants were running an efficient two-train operation, so it wasn't long before we were seated. The speakers on the headrests were blasting painfully in our ears. There was so much other ambient noise that I couldn't tell what the speakers in the headrests were supposed to be adding to the experience. All I knew was that someone was shouting at me threateningly as cheesy rock music blared. Headrests and half-hearted scenery notwithstanding, Superman -- excuse me -- Bizarro was still a great ride, probably the best-paced coaster ever created.
We walked up the scenic winding path out of the DC area. We stopped to watch Bizarro speed by us. I felt like having some ice cream, so we walked toward Crackaxle Canyon. Dave stopped to examine Goliath, the park's giant lime green suspended boomerang coaster that once again was broken down for the day. We headed over to Cold Stone Creamery. Dave got a cup of the redundantly-named mint mint chocolate chocolate chip. I got apple pie in a waffle cone. Unlike the last time I was there, they actually had plain waffle cones available. The attendant placed my dessert into a cup, stuck a spoon in it and handed it to me. I told her that I asked for a waffle cone. She stared at me blankly. "Oh ... right." Then she unceremoniously dumped the ice cream, spoon and all, into a waffle cone and handed it to me. Twelve dollars later, Dave and I walked over to JB's Smokehouse so we could sit in an air conditioned room before our ice cream melted. JB's was mobbed, with not one free seat. So we sat outside at a cafe table, thankfully in the shade, and ate.
Thirty pounds later, we walked into the dead end at the top of Crackaxle Canyon where there were just two rides. Dave suggested going on one of them, Houdini: the Great Escape. It was one of the few "thrill" rides in the park that I could tolerate. Plus it was air conditioned. So we entered the Crackaxle Canyon Opera House and walked into the darkened waiting room with its flickering sconces on the walls. I had forgotten how wonderfully themed this ride was. Various contraptions supposedly used by Houdini were against the walls. A disembodied female voice explained that we had gathered for a seance to bring back the spirit of Houdini. A film played, supposedly very old, showing a young Houdini performing an escape routine. It ended with the boy giving the camera the evil eye, and then the film burned up. The older Houdini laughed ominously and took control of the room. His contraptions began rattling, bubbling and shaking, and then we were ushered in to a large area that resembled a large Victorian parlor with benches on either side. Dave and I sat on the right side of the room. Long lap bars automatically came down forcefully and pinned us in our seats. The lights dimmed and the seance began. The woman called for the spirit of Houdini. It felt like were were falling backwards. But nothing in the room was moving. It was probably the best effect on the ride. The entire room was in actuality tilting back, but without a visual frame of reference it felt really creepy. Then all hell broke loose. The room began spinning about the benches. Lights flashed. Eventually we appeared to hang completely upside down while Houdini's voice taunted us. Finally, Houdini released us; the room returned to normal and the exit doors opened. I had forgotten what a fun experience that was.
Dave wanted to ride the Tomahawk next door, the combination pirate ship ride and spinning Frisbee. I passed on that, but he had a good time in the rocking centrifuge. From there we headed back down Carroll Drive toward the entrance. A Looney Tunes dance show was in progress in front of the Looney Tunes Emporium. There were some live percussionists, but much of the show was pre-recorded. Bugs Bunny was leading the proceedings. But why the heck was Scooby Doo behind him? That was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. And there was another strange dog (Astro?) next to him. I didn't get it.
We walked to the far south end of the park, but nothing appealed to Dave. He found Batman: the Ride to be too intense the last time he rode it. Mind Eraser was just plain painful. Right next to Mind Eraser's entrance was one of the strangest photo ops I'd ever seen: you could have your picture taken in front of a recycling center standing inside a Samsung Galaxy phone that was displaying a Six Flags logo. And there were actually people having their picture taken in it! We watched the nearby Catapult (a $20 upcharge) go through its paces. Then we walked back through Kizopolis. I noticed that Wild Wheelz, the former antique car ride, now had only two seats per vehicle. I thought it was odd that in such a crowded park, a ride with an already low capacity would be reduced even further.
We walked down the stairs again into the DC area and queued up for Catwoman's Whip (formerly Poison Ivy's Twisted Train). I was still amazed at how well-landscaped the ride had become. When it was new, it was basically coaster track in a dirt field. But now the track was surrounded by trees and bushes and was barely visible. We ended up in the middle of the coaster. For this particular ride with its incredibly long train, it really didn't matter. The forces were about the same no matter where you sat. It was still a fun family coaster with a twisting layout and generally mild forces except for some fun laterals.
After that, curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to know what the Justice League was all about. I wondered whether it was a walk-thru fun house, or a laser tag game or maybe a show. So we walked inside and just stared in puzzlement. It looked like the inside of a spaceship from a 1960s TV series like Lost in Space or Star Trek. There were lots of panels with lights on them. They weren't in any way interactive. Though it looked like there were buttons on the consoles, nothing could be pressed. In the middle of the small room was a circular area with a console on the floor and a large box hanging from the ceiling. The box was apparently a projector that shone an abstract image on a huge screen at the back of the room. Underneath the screen stood a guy in a tight suit and mask. I assumed he was supposed to be a member of the Justice League. He just stood there chatting with people and getting his picture taken with kids. That was it. There was nothing else in the building -- except for the obligatory gift shop which you had to pass through on your way out. I guess maybe kids who liked the Justice League might enjoy that room. But I didn't understand how they could call it an "Interactive Experience".
We walked into the nearby arcade that was very cramped and had a few half-size SkeeBall machines and a few other video games. Two children were playing on a small air hockey table. We headed back up the winding path underneath the Bizarro track. We looked down at the enormous amount of empty acreage below the track. The park was running out of room to expand; the Bizarro track was so high off the ground in that area, I'd bet a lot of the ground could have been used as midway. Maybe they could add another interactive experience there.
By that time it was about 5:00 and we were both getting burned out. We walked back to the entrance, climbed up the stairs and crossed the bridge. This time we decided to wait for the tram. After several minutes it came and the crowd waiting there (including us) climbed aboard. It appeared that several people didn't get seats. It also looked as if the park cut back on the size of the tram. It used to have three cars; now it had two. Once again, why would such a crowded park reduce capacity? As we rode along up to the parking area, the driver came over the intercom and shouted, "On the count of three, I want to hear all of you scream! Ready ... ONE, TWO, THREE!" And everyone screamed at the top of their lungs. He repeated that odd ritual twice. I sort of could see that as a type of warm-up act to get people excited when they're arriving at the park. But why do that on the way back to the parking lot? I had been assaulted all day by deafening music and loud noises. I didn't need more of that as I left the park.
Given how our day went, probably an easier way to get the full Six Flags experience would be to have someone hold you upside down, punch you in the stomach and shake you violently so all the money falls out of your pockets -- all the while yelling at you in a language you can't understand. If you're hungry after that, you can have cold French fries. Thank you, and we hope to fleece you again soon at Six Flags New England!
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