|My friend Dave and I paid yet another visit to Six Flags New England.
The forecast was for thundershowers all day, but the forecasts for rain
had been wrong all summer. We were in the middle of a severe
drought. So I took a chance we'd end up dry. We arrived at
the parking lot about 10:30, and there were relatively few cars
there. We got a parking space near the front. The sky was
darkly overcast at that point. We followed the winding hilly
walkway over to the bridge across Route 159. The M&Ms were back; thin strips of printed canvas had once again been applied to the
concrete risers on the steps, making the staircase appear like a mound
of giant M&Ms.
We crossed the bridge and arrived at the main entrance where there were hardly any people in line. Dave had a free coupon for the park but had forgotten to bring it. I thought that the park was offering the bring-a-friend-for-free promo, so I approached the entrance gate and asked. There were two attendants there completely puzzled by my question. They scanned my season pass and had me verify my fingerprint, then told me to go over to Guest Services. So Dave and I walked over to the window and a pleasant woman assisted us. She said the bring-a-guest deal wasn't in effect, but with my pass she could give Dave a discounted entry fee of $30, so that's what we opted for. She kept trying to upsell him on season passes and dining passes. But he just took the day pass. We went back to the entrance, passed through the metal detectors and security guards and strolled into the park.
As we made our way down to Carroll Drive, an employee tried to separate me and Dave, telling us that season passholders needed to be on the right and day pass holders on the left. An over-the-top version of the National Anthem was blaring through the P.A. system, signaling the official opening of the park. I assumed the employee was separating us because season passholders often get exclusive ride time before the park opens. But we weren't bothering with that. Ropes had been set up along the midway to block the small crowd that had gathered at the bottom of the hill in front of the Looney Tunes Emporium. As we approached, the anthem stopped, the ropes were lowered, and the crowd dispersed onto the midway.
Since it wasn't very crowded (yet), I suggested we head over to Wicked Cyclone first. The north midway looked deserted. Many of the game and food booths hadn't yet opened. And guests were few and far between. As we approached Wicked Cyclone, a train was flying through its course with very few people on it. We entered the empty queue line and followed the path over to the station. To our surprise, we arrived at the station to find no one there. The attendant at the entrance told us to walk all the way down. The front seat was taken by a young couple, but they were the only people in the train. Dave and I took the second seat and belted ourselves in. The attendants came by to check our belts and lap bars, but thankfully didn't try to staple us into our seats. A few other guests arrived and took their seats. But even so, the train was dispatched half-empty. We rolled out of the station and around the corner to the extremely steep lift hill. I was concerned because we were in the back seat of the first car, which meant we were sitting on top of the wheels. That usually produced an extremely rough ride.
We crested the top of the lift and the track disappeared beneath us as we plunged down and blasted through the first rising turn. There was an incredible amount of air time on every hill, and it was much more comfortable since I wasn't pinned into my seat. Despite the high speed and rapid changes of direction, it was a really comfortable ride (even over the wheels). We arrived back into the station breathless. What an amazing ride!
It was still completely overcast, but the air was heating up. Dave wanted to ride Pandemonium, the spinning coaster. I passed on that and instead decided to look for something to drink. So while he queued up, I wandered around the north midway. I was in the mood for a milkshake, but the nearby ice cream stand wasn't open. All the concessions that were open were selling soda, but that was it for drinks. So I passed on that and went back to wait for Dave. While I waited, a few drops fell from the sky and then stopped. That would be the extent of rain for the day. The line moved pretty quickly and within a few minutes Dave was exiting. He enjoyed the ride.
From there I suggested we head up to Crackaxle Canyon to see if the Cold Stone Creamery was open. Along the way, we passed by the bumper car building and no one was in line. So we queued up for that. I had wondered how the ride functioned with no conductive poles on the backs of the cars. But I finally found a write-up about it online. It turned out that the floor consisted of alternating hot and ground plates that were contacted by brushes under the car. The electrical current was low voltage but high amperage and had a safety cut-out if it were shorted. Circuitry in the car dynamically managed routing the current properly. The one drawback was the inconsistency of the connection. While we were on the ride, my car would suddenly glide to a stop because the circuit wasn't completed. When someone bumped me, the circuit would reconnect and I'd again have power. The center of the arena had a really small island. With so much open space in the arena, cars tended to collide at all angles and pile up, creating bottlenecks. Even so, it was a fun ride.
We walked over to Cold Stone Creamery, which was empty except for the two workers there. I got the vanilla milkshake I craved and Dave got a dish of ice cream. We sat outside the shop in large Adirondack chairs. Normally we would have watched the activity in the park, but there wasn't much to watch. The midway was quiet. Goliath, the giant head-banging looping coaster in front of us, was out of commission because of a snapped lift cable. So we enjoyed the quiet.
Next we decided to ride Superman, which this season had been heavily publicized as the new "virtual reality" coaster, where you would don a Samsung Gear and watch an animation as you traveled the coaster's circuit. I had heard reports from friends that riders would disembark upon returning to the station and immediately throw up. Some passengers were throwing up on the ride. Dave was curious about the concept, though not eager. I had no intention of wearing the goggles. It was a great ride without them.
We followed the winding path down into the DC Comics area as the Superman train roared past us. As we entered the queue line, there was a mob scene at the lockers. Since you could no longer stow your possessions at the ride, scores of kids were lining up to pay for a locker before riding. Since we were travelling light, we walked right past them, through the winding queue line and over to the station, where we encountered the only extensive line of the day. There had been reports that the goggles were going to dramatically slow down the coaster's loading time. But the line seemed to move along, if slowly. The park had installed a string of misters in the station. There was no way to escape them. Given how brutally hot the summer had been, it was a nice amenity. But I wished they had turned them off, since the sky was completely overcast and the air wasn't really that hot. By the time we got to the stairway up to the loading platform, we were a bit damp. Speaking of damp, I noticed that the park had installed two water cannons at the ride's huge helix. The cannons were more or less timed with the train, but were largely invisible on the ride. They shot streams of water straight up about ten feet. I'm not sure why.
We arrived at the loading area at the top of the stairs to discover that the attendant there was letting in only a few people at a time. I wondered why, since the station was huge and there was plenty of room. Well, when we entered I discovered why: the loading area had basically been cut in half. In place of the queuing rails were two ... I'm not sure what to call them ... offices? They looked like a basic high school office, one at the front of the ride and one at the back. There was a long grey metal desk with drawers. Above it were a series of long pegs sticking out of the wall. Next to it were a set of large metal cabinets with rolling doors that were closed and locked. Was it for a supervisor? I couldn't understand why the park would eat up so much of the station for it. Then I realized it must have been for the VR goggles. That must have been what the pegs were for. The cabinets must have been for storing them. That whole area was probably where the goggles were fitted onto the riders. But everything was locked up and deserted and no one was wearing the goggles. In fact, I didn't see anyone asking for them either. Why slap a gimmick onto the greatest roller coaster ever built?
Thankfully, we could still line up for the front seat. There were only four people in front of us, making for the shortest wait I've ever experienced for Superman. The park was running two trains fairly efficiently; the only hold-up was the person at the station entrance allowing just a few people in at a time. In fact, the train we were on was sent out with much of the middle section completely empty. The trains also were looking a little worn because of some odd decals that the park had applied. Along the sides were grey strips imitating riveted steel. The front had a huge piece that was similar. The appliques were scraped up and looked cheap.
Within a short time, Dave and I were in the front seat. Once again, there was no attempt to staple us in. So we were quite comfortable. The old John Williams Superman theme had returned, playing over the speakers that were strung up the lift hill. The first drop plunged us down into that seemingly impossibly tiny tunnel filled with mist. The ride had lost none of its kick over the past sixteen years, with the most powerful air time I've ever experienced on a coaster. The giant helix pulled some serious G forces, and the bunny hops back to the station were insane. It was still the greatest ride on the planet. On the way out to the exit, we stopped to check out our on-ride photo. Curiously, the park had replaced the photo's normal background image with illustrations from the VR ride. Our photo was suitably silly, so I purchased it.
The clouds began dissipating and the heat continued to rise. We queued up for the nearby Gotham City Gauntlet wild mouse ride. Once again, the queue line was lined with misters that created a thick inescapable fog. The ride's theming was pathetic. But with so many obscure comic book characters recently having been given their own movies, at least I could recognized more of the cartoon cutouts scattered about the ride. The ride operator would dispatch each themed car according to the character on it. So we might hear a cheery, "Have a good ride, Penguin!" Or, "Have a good ride, Harley Quinn!"
By the time we reached the loading platform, we were pretty damp. And if the misters in the queue line weren't enough, they also had them in a tunnel on the ride. Within a few minutes we were seated in our small car. The seating was a bit tight, so I sat in the middle of the front to give myself more leg room and Dave sat in the back. But the attendant told us we had to sit on one side of the car or the other. So I slid to the left and we rolled up the lift. I had to brace myself during the ride because of the extreme lateral forces on the sharp turns. But overall it was a smooth and enjoyable diversion.
We walked up the long staircase at the south end of the DC area and arrived in Kizopolis. It was about 12:30 at that point, and I suggested getting a slice of pizza. I wasn't keen on spending $10 on a pizza slice, but I really didn't have much of an option. I guess we could have gone all the way back to the Take 5 Cafe in the Looney Tunes area, where they did have decent food and an air-conditioned room. I didn't want to eat at the nearby Go Fresh Cafe, given my last experience there. So instead we walked around the corner to the Primo Pizza shop. I was surprised to find it completely enclosed. The park had created its third indoor air-conditioned eatery. (Last year, it was open-air.) So that made it more inviting. The menu and prices were the same, though. Dave got a meatball sub and a beer. I approached the counter and said, "I know I don't look like a kid, but is it possible to order the kid's meal?" The attendant said sure, without hesitation. So I got the cheese pizza kid's meal, which was the best value in the park. It included a slice of cheese pizza, chips, juice, applesauce and fruit snacks, all for less than the cost of a regular slice of pizza. Dave and I sat at one of the comfy new booths. My kid's meal came in a cute cardboard holder with a cartoon rollercoaster on it. The pizza was dry and had a sort of chemical taste to it. The PopChips were really good, but I was surprised they were the barbecue style; they would have set a child's mouth on fire. The applesauce and fruit snacks were good. For a little less than $10, it was all worth it.
We walked back out onto the midway. The newest ride in the park was nearby in the Rockville section, Fireball. Dave wanted to try it; I passed. The park advertised it as a rollercoaster, but it was really a standard flat ride, a Larson Giant Loop, that could be found at nearly every county fair. It did look good in that area which had been empty for many years. The structure was painted red and yellow and had flame cutouts rimming the top portion of the loop. Out front of the ride was a nicely detailed 1950s Chevy Bel Air. Dave said it reminded him of both a pirate ship ride and a Skydiver. Basically, the "train" had seats facing forward and back, and it was simply propelled around the loop, stopping at the top so that the riders hung upside-down. After the ride, Dave said it was okay, nothing too thrilling, but hanging upside-down was pretty uncomfortable.
By then it was about 1:30. Dave suggested we ride the Thunderbolt, the only wood coaster in the park. I actually used to run that coaster when I worked at the park in 1992. I didn't like the fact that my seat on the ride was completely random. I wasn''t allowed to line up for the seat I wanted. So I told Dave that if we ended up near the back, I'd have to walk out of the station. So with that agreement, we queued up. Dave admired the ACE Coaster Classic plaque underneath the famous neon Thunderbolt sign. There weren't a lot of people in line, but the operators were loading the ride really slowly. It was taking upwards of six minutes just to cycle a train through. To compound the wait, the clouds finally broke and gave way to baking sunshine under blue skies. While we waited interminably in line, I noticed that their spare coaster train was no longer stored in the station. Because of the old-style skid brakes, the park rarely ran two trains anyway. But I wondered if the spare was out for repair or whether the park simply got rid of it.
After waiting for what seemed like ages we finally entered the gate area. We ended up in the middle of the train. It took the attendants seemingly forever to check the restraints and belts. Then we rolled out of the station. The ride was a refreshing contrast to the modern steel coasters. As we slowly glided up the lift hill, I could feel the old wooden train gently flexing and twisting under me. We turned the corner at the top of the lift and rolled down the first (and biggest) drop. Then we turned again and hopped down the double-dip with sharp pops of air time. Since we were in the middle, we could also feel air time on the drop as well as rising up into the hills. The ride delivered its usually powerful punchy ending with strong air time, proving a coaster didn't have to be huge to be good. When we arrived back at the station, we experienced one of the reasons the ride was loading so slowly: the automatic restraint releases weren't working, so the attendants had to manually release the restraints in each car.
When we left the ride it was 2:30 and we decided to call it a day. The sky had cleared up and it was witheringly hot (which I guess meant good business for the water park area). Dave decided to hit the rest room near the entrance on the way out of the park, but discovered the rest room had been removed.
Overall we had a good time. Wicked Cyclone and Superman are still the best coasters out there. The food wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. The milkshake was good. It was interesting that my two food purchases in total cost as much as the admission to many smaller parks. If I had spent the full park gate fee of $64, and then also had to pay for parking and food, it wouldn't have been much of a value at all. In fact, at those prices I probably would have vowed that I would never again visit the park, especially if it had been crowded. But my season pass made it all palatable and allowed me to overlook some of the park's shortcomings. A friend of mine who works there said this season had seen some of the biggest attendances in the park's history. So I assumed the new managers were doing something right. Under their leadership, the Six Flags chain had bounced back from near bankruptcy. I guess as long as I don't have to bankrupt myself in order to go there, I'll keep returning to New England's largest amusement park.
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