|I thought I was all through with parks for the season, but I got an email from my friend Dave who was interested in going to Six Flags New England. Even though Karen and I had seasons passes, we hadn't even bothered to get them processed by that point. So on a hot and sunny Monday, Dave and I made the short trip to Agawam. We arrived at 10:30 and the main parking lot was already 3/4 full. I assumed most people were going to make a beeline for the waterpark. We parked and then made the long trek along the access road and up over the bridge to the entrance. It was packed with people who were backed up at what used to be the ticket gates but were now the security gates (a trend at most of the large parks). It took about 20 minutes to make it through that gauntlet, then we lined up to pass through the entry gates. I showed my season pass printout. The girl scanned it and then immediately gave me my season pass. That was convenient, rather than having to then go get my pass processed. It was bring-a-friend-for-free day, so Dave didn't have to pay anything. And that was a good thing; there were nearly a dozen rides that were down for the day, including Joker -- which I knew Dave would have liked -- and Goliath.
Being late August, the park's Halloween Fright Fest promotions were in full swing. There wasn't as much set up along Main Street, just a large skull. Normally they had coffins and corpses and cobwebs (the three Cs of Halloween). It was also a little anachronistic to see all of the buildings decked out in Christmas lights, which I guess had never been removed from last year.
Dave wanted to get something to eat, so we stopped into the Riverside Cafe (formerly Captain Rivi's), the park's largest eatery with the smallest selection of food. Dave wanted a hamburg, which was advertised on the big LCD screen. But there were none to be found. There were packages of fixings for the hamburgs, but that was it. There were two baskets with chicken nuggets and French fries under the warming lights. And there were several baskets of pizza slices with French fries (an odd combination). So we each got a pizza slice with fries and a soft drink. That came to a whopping $35! That would explain why the "restaurant" was so empty. The only bright spot is that Six Flags was now accepting Apple Pay, my preferred method of payment. We sat at a table and noshed. The fries were old and lukewarm. The pizza was pretty good though, with a chewy flavorful crust. But not $35 good.
I suggested getting a ride on Wicked Cyclone before the lines got too long. So we headed toward the north end of the park. The queue line, surprisingly, was nearly empty and we only waited a few minutes to get into the station. Thankfully, the park was no longer forcing guests to sit in certain seats. Dave and I were able to line up for the front seat, and within a few more minutes were rolling up the lift hill. It was still a phenomenal ride, the best coaster in the park, with its insane air time and unexpected changes of direction. And the front seat made it all the more enjoyable. That alone was worth the trip to the park.
Dave had been hemming and hawing about Sky Screamer, the record-breaking 400-foot swing ride. But he decided to give it a go. We followed the confusing queue over to where we thought the line ended. After about ten minutes we discovered that we were in the Flash Pass lane. The only signage was a small logo painted on the ground partway into the queue. So we circled around and found the actual "normal guest" line. From there it was nearly an hour wait. Fortunately the queue was underneath a sun shade. More and more rides at Six Flags seemed to be using holding pens for guests. So the attendant would let a certain number of people into the pen. Then another attendant would actually let the guests onto the ride. I couldn't figure out why they did that. It didn't fill the ride any more accurately; each one had empty seats. It looked more like a practice appropriate for a slaughterhouse.
We eventually made it onto the ride. From the edge, I could see Blizzard River, the raft ride next door that had a full queue line but was cycling empty boats. The swing chairs seemed so fragile, with nothing but four thin chains holding them. We ended up with the same ride operator who had just dispatched us on Wicked Cyclone; she sent passengers off with an odd, "Byeeeeeeeeeee!" And she did it again on Sky Screamer. The wind at the top of the tower was pretty intense, but it felt great on such a hot day.
The ride itself was fairly short, and when it was done it Dave wanted to go on Pandemonium, the spinning coaster. I passed on that and told him I'd wait by the exit. While he was in line, I went to the nearby Sweet Confections and got a cherry Icee for the fairly standard (and fairly exhorbitant) Six Flags price of $7.50. I sat on a bench near the Pandemonium exit and watched the cars fly through their course. After about a half-hour, I hadn't seen Dave go past. I searched the queue line and couldn't see him. So I stood by the exit. Guest after guest walked past. A woman approached me and told me if I was a single ride, I could just walk up the Flash Pass lane and get on. I didn't know that, and that would have saved Dave a lot of time. After about an hour, he was still nowhere to be seen. He had mentioned riding Blizzard River, so I searched the queue line there. After an hour and a half, I was becoming concerned. So I called Karen and work and asked if she could pick me up when she was done. And at that moment I saw Dave walking down the midway. He had gotten off the ride and didn't see me, so he went to the park's "lost childre" area at the Main Street gazebo. I didn't even know they had such a thing. Now reunited, we headed into the air-conditioned Take Six Cafe. They had serve-yourself soda machines. Dave wanted a lemonade ($6) but the machine was broken so he settled for flavored water.
After that he suggested we take a ride on the venerable Thunderbolt. I rarely rode it anymore, since queuing was hit-or-miss and I would often end up near the back of the train, which was really rough. But I took a chance. As we stood in line, two girls cut in front of us to be with their dad and brother. If they hadn't done that, we would have been in the front car. But as fate would have it, we wound up with the first seat of the second car, which was okay by me. The seats were a bit snug (or I'd gotten a bit fat). The seat divider seemed different, a padded L-shaped bar. The nearly unintelligble ride operator dispatched us with a "Whoop whoop!" We rolled out of the station and up the lift, the old PTC train creaking and shifting. I had noticed that they no longer had a second train in the station, so they could run only one train. There weren't many people in line for the coaster, so that wasn't a problem while we were there. But on busy days it must take forever to load. We rounded the top of the hill and dove down the first drop. The bottom of the hill jackhammered. That surprised me because the park had retracked the ride only a few years ago. The rest of the ride wasn't much better, with lots of rough spots, especially on the dips. And I had forgotten how powerful the laterals were. Dave was glad when the ride was over.
I wanted him to at least see Joker, so we walked to the south end of the park where the giant green and purple pile of metal stood silent. Something else there caught Dave's eye -- Harley Quinn's Spinsanity, the park's new ride. It was a smaller version of the Huss Frisbee ride (MaxAir) that Karen and I had ridden at Cedar Point. So Dave queued up for that. I watched the ride go through its paces. For something called "Spinsanity" it actually hardly spun at all. The queue line (and its holding pen) moved excruciatingly slow for such a high capacity ride. While waiting, I decided to get a milkshake. So I walked around to the far north end where there was a Cold Stone Creamery. Along the way, I passed the entrance to the torture device masquerading as a coaster, Mind Eraser, which had been given a bright new paint job and renamed The Riddler Revenge. But a torture device by any other name was still a torture device. It was strange how half-baked so much of the theming was at Six Flags. Beside's the ride's sign, there was nothing much different about the queue nor the ride. The same with Spinsanity (which by itself would have been a fine name). They just can't seem to follow through with their theming unless they can do it cheaply. The DC Comics area that contained Superman and the Rockville section had probably the best theming in the park, and they'd been done two decades earlier.
I walked all the way around the concessions at the south end, and apparently the Cold Stone concession was removed. The nearest milkshake was back in the Rockville section. So I headed to Fast Eddie's Diner. I had to wait in a line that seemed to take forever to move. A couple of families with a lot of kids were getting drink refills and the kids couldn't seem to make up their minds as to what they wanted. I finally ordered my shake (for -- you guessed it -- $7.50) and went to the other end of the concession to pick it up. It was pretty tasty, if overly sweet. I went back to Spinsanity, and Dave was still inching his way through the line. It took another 20 minutes before he was herded into the holding pen. He boarded the next ride and eventually was swinging back and forth. He enjoyed the air time on the ride, even though there wasn't much spinning.
Dave was in the mood for ice cream after that, so we hiked over to Crackaxle Canyon at the other end of the park to the one Cold Stone Creamery that remained. The air conditioning was a big relief. They were advertising a new gimmick, bubble cones, which basically were inverted waffle cones. Dave ordered one with mint chocolate chip. We each got a water. Seventeen dollars later we walked outside and sat in one of the big Adirondack chairs in front of the shop. Dave liked the bubble cone. It really was just a Belgian waffle. We stared across at Goliath which had been testing earlier in the day but was once again silent, nothing but a towering green metal eyesore. I still wished they hadn't removed Shipwreck Falls, the enjoyable shoot-the-chutes that once occupied that area.
When Dave was finished, we decided to check out the line for Superman, one of the greatest roller coasters ever built. We hiked all the way down to the DC Comics area. From the length of the line, it would have been about an hour-and-a-half wait (if they were running efficiently). So instead we rounded the corner to ride the park's Wild Mouse, Gotham City Gauntlet. There was hardly any line, but again there were a few families cutting up to the front. It was weird how they apparently thought no one else would mind waiting longer while they took precedence. We watched the industrial-looking ride with its half-hearted theming go through its paces. As we got near the station, I noticed an amusing notation on the state inspector's information sign: for Direction of Travel, the attribute was "All Directions". At once? That was one wild ride. Within a fifteen minutes we were boarding the little car that seemingly was made for children. My knees were nearly up to my chin. We clattered up the lift. At the top we went into the zig-zag track with alarming speed. It felt like the wheels were going to detach from the car. But I guess that was part of its thrill. Overall the ride was smooth and fun.
After that, it was after 6:00 and we were both wearing down. So we called it a day. We walked back up the winding path and watched Superman go through its paces. I noticed that they still had a missing seat where the virtual reality battery packs used to sit. I was suprised they hadn't replaced it to at least increase capacity a bit. But I guess that was the Six Flags way; it's never about the guests. It's about monetizing everything.
We headed for the exit, following people in front of us. When we approached the exit gate, the guard stopped us and said, "Are you coming back in?" We shook our heads. "Then you have to go out the other gate!" The other gate was just to the left. I didn't see what difference it made; we were leaving one way or another. So we left the concourse without looking back and plodded back across the bridge and to the car far out in the parking lot. The tram station was crowded with people and it was quicker to walk.
Did we have a good time? Well, I don't think the heat helped. But we had an okay time. For the price we paid, that was acceptable. If we had paid full price to get in (plus the exhorbitant $25 parking fee), it would not have been all right by any means. The food is adequate but outrageously priced. The ride operations are lackluster at best with long waits even with short lines and high capacity rides. The ride selection is still a strictly teen thrill affair. Normally I wouldn't have gone on the Sky Screamer, but I wanted to accompany Dave. In eight hours I rode four rides. That's not a great average for a full day's experience. And really, the only reason I had gotten a Six Flags season pass was because I thought Karen and I would be making a trip to Great Adventure in New Jersey. By itself, Six Flags New England wouldn't entice me to get a season pass; it's the fact that the pass is good at all Six Flags parks. I really like Wicked Cyclone, especially since I can wait for the front seat. And I like Superman. But out of an entire park, just two rides doesn't exactly make me want to return, no matter how good they are, if there's nothing else of value in the park. Several years back, Six Flags pledged to bring in more "family" rides. I hoped that eventually they'd make good on that promise.
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