Most of the show listeners by now know that I am a huge theme park nut (as if you couldn't tell with two of my blog posts being Rollercoaster Tycoon) and a coaster junkie. Well today I figured I'd give a review of my experience at a theme park I've not been to before. This new park was Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois (greater Chicago area).
I went into this park knowing they had over 10 coasters for my friend and I to try, as I always do my research of different theme parks from the awesome people over at the Rollercoaster Database at rcdb.com. There you can pretty much find every roller coaster on the planet. During our visit, we stuck mainly to the coasters, with one log flume ride thrown in as well, mostly because those are the main attractions, the rest are child's play compared to the big rides in my opinion. Now I may get extremely negative in here, but I do have good things to say as well.
I will start with entering the park and how much it sucks the excitement out of your sails. I'm one who gets really excited to go to a theme park, more so when I haven't been there before. This park all but crushes your adrenaline before you even get into the gates. No matter that we didn't have our park tickets already, we still would have waited just as long to get in the gates. We showed up at park opening, and it took at least 45 minutes to get in. Time lost and wasted, if I was Six Flags, that is time spent by people not in the park spending money.
Before this though, I just want to talk about entrance fee for a second. I won't ever complain about the cost of admission for theme parks, I get it, but when you charge almost Disney prices, you get to be compared to them. This park, and most Six Flags parks make the cost so high that buying a season pass is what you have to do regardless of how close you live to another park. So that's what I did, but now everything inside and out of the park, you are now in direct competition with Disney, and I mean absolutely every detail and service. So honestly, if I ever hear someone complain about Disney being expensive, I will tell you to visit any theme park NOT named Worlds of Fun.
So after you get your park ticket, you then are subjected to the asinine amount of time just to enter the park. They have pretty much a mob rush setup to get through metal detectors, with hundreds of people jamming to get through about 20 detectors. Then you get to the gate. I'm not sure why it took so long to get people through the security here, it isn't an airport. I get that in today's day and age that security is a big deal, but guess who doesn't have metal detectors at their theme park? Heck Universal Studios only has metal detectors at coasters that go upside down, not to get in the gates.
Time to take a deep breath and relax. After finally getting in the gates we headed over to ride our first roller coaster of the day called The Dark Night Coaster, which is based off of the highly popular movie of the same name. This is an indoor dark coaster and the wait time was only a half hour early in the day, so we did it. However, this ride didn't meet my standards for being a good roller coaster. It is of the steel, mini, and compact nature, but it was tacky in its theming and way short. With such a cool premise for the backstory to a ride, this ride failed miserably. It seemed it was just a quick addition to capitalize on the movie's success.
Next we headed over to the Batman inverted roller coaster. Now this is always a great roller coaster. Almost every Six Flags has one of these, of course in different layouts, but this one doesn't disappoint at all. On inverted roller coasters, sitting in the front is absolutely necessary the first time you ride one. Now you might have to wait an extra 3 or 4 trains (about 5 to 10 minutes) at the platform, but you have already been waiting 45 minutes, so what's a little more? The addition of urban looking scenery here, with entering the ride through Gotham City Park with the original (and best IMO) Batmobile parked out front is awesome enough, but this is always a favorite.
Next we shot across the midway and rode the inverted twister coaster Vertical Velocity. I had never been on one of these before, and can say that it was okay. I don't consider these kinds true roller coasters in the sense they don't really behave like one. I scared the living daylights out of my friend though.
We then tackled the oldest coaster in the park, American Eagle. This wooden classic coaster has been around over 30 years, and for its age, it still is pretty good. It provides enough fun for its short line and feels like a piece of history. If you are looking for Fit Bit steps, this one actually gives them to you during the ride with its bumps!
After this, we went on one of the two 'deuling' log flumes. It isn't a Viking Voyager or Splash Mountain by any means, but on a hot day, it felt really good and got fairly wet. The worst part was the long wait in line until we downloaded and started playing Pokémon Go while in line. It made it go so much faster.
This brings me to another comparison gripe. So Six Flags has this thing called a Flash Pass which is their version of Disney's FastPass. Disney was the first to every have such a thing, and it remains the best, and it isn't even close. First of all, FastPasses are included with park admission. You do not need to pay extra money for this. Universal has one too, but you have to pay, and there you don't need it, it is a waste of money. Here though, it would be great to have, but not for $45 at the lowest. Adding this cost to your park entrance fee, you would be looking at a cost greater than getting into any Disney park. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
The only way this makes sense is if you bought a season pass and visited Six Flags almost every weekend. You then would essentially be entering the park at $45 a day (roughly Worlds of Fun price last time I was there) and get to ride something guaranteed short wait every hour. If you are on a one time visit, it isn't worth the cost.
After this, we then went on the flying coaster Superman: Ultimate Flight. My friend had never been on one of these before and it didn't disappoint. These coasters load you in like an inverted coaster, but the cars then flip up so you are face down to the ground and go through the ride head first, hence the flying part of the name. Despite the cramp I got in my hip after getting locked in, this coaster was great. Heck, even the line had awesome comic book info statues like the one seen below.
We then headed up to ride another really good roller coaster called Raging Bull. This steel hyper twister instantly became our favorite of the park so far that day. It is one of their top two in terms of height and speed, and is easily the longest. It was just a really good coaster. I highly recommend it.
We then rode another of the old classic roller coasters here called Demon, and this one has arguably the best theming in the park. Demon is a corkscrew roller coaster and has four inversions, two vertical loops and two corkscrews. The second loop features you passing through and over an old west style looking rock formation, and before you hit the two corkscrews you pass through a cave that is below a rock with a skull seemingly carved into it. It was pretty cool despite its shorter length, but at a wait time of less than 15 minutes, it was awesome.
Before I get to the last two coasters we rode on the day, I want to take a moment to comment on the other services encountered in the park. When we stopped for lunch, it took entirely way too long to get through the line, especially at a time when it wasn't busy. It might have been just that vendor, but holy cow it took forever to get to place an order and pay. They certainly weren't in any hurry to help customers get their food quickly. It was super annoying to see them trying to do their job and failing miserably, but who am I to tell someone how to do their job, I'm not and I understand that. As much as the cooks were keeping up getting the food ready (they were awesome and had a bunch ready) the cashiers were painfully slow. Disney gets food out super quick, but it also helps that you order and pay at a small register first, then pick up at the counter.
My last gripe of the day comes with ride operations. I totally get you want to make sure no one falls out of your coasters, which Six Flags has had happen in the past (looking at you Six Flags Texas...), but holy smokes their operators had to be the slowest I've ever seen. The line waits wouldn't have been bad at all if these people were efficient at what they did. The only coasters that were good at this were Raging Bull and Goliath. The other teams were dreadfully slow. Coasters are supposed to have a high hourly capacity of riders, however this park seemed to encourage slowness. Guests aren't happy if they are spending too much time waiting. One way to cut this waiting down is to increase ridership.
I swear that every closed circuit roller coaster had the other train (only Raging Bull had three trains operating that day) wait outside the station platform for at least one to two minutes before the train ahead of it LEFT the station. THIS INCLUDES THE ENTIRE TIME THE TRAIN SPENT ON THE ACTUAL RIDE! There is no way it should take 5+ minutes to load a train and check all the lap/chest bars. I would like to say the people checking them inspected each very carefully, but no, they didn't do anything special, just be extremely slow at what they did.
Fine, back to the final two roller coasters, both of which were really neat. The first was called X-Flight and is a wing coaster. I had never been on one of these before, and while it broke down while in line, a lot of people left the line and actually probably made the line a lot shorter for us. It's neat in the sense that your feet dangle and you are seated almost beside the center track (2 on each side) and you go through multiple twists and inversions. One barrel roll even sends you through the air traffic control tower as seen below.
The final coaster we rode was Goliath, which as stated on the park's website is "the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in the world". This can possibly be debated based off the RCDB site, but for the sake of riding it, I say it is. I wish I got a picture of it during the day, but you almost go vertical on the opening drop. It looks harrowing standing in line. Darkness fell while we were in line, but at night, I feel it was great. We chose to sit in the absolute back (best place on traditional coasters IMO) and got dragged over the first hill down the 85 degree slope and into absolute mass hysteria. This is also the first wooden roller coaster I had been on where you go upside down as this one has two inversions. We were so glad we went on this one last as it was both our favorite of the day. Only Raging Bull had the potential to match this one, but it doesn't. This coaster immediately jumped into my Top 5 Coasters I have ever ridden.
All in all, it was still a fun day of riding roller coasters. Yes there were some things that were annoying and could have been easily avoided from a park service standpoint. Oh, one more minor thing for you Six Flags, don't advertise you are the cleanest theme park in the world if you are not, and you are not even close. Disney is pretty much spotless. So there. Overall I thought a lot of the themed areas were really cool, and I say that in relation to other NOT Disney theme parks. Would I go to this particular Six Flags again? I would have to say I would, and I don't discourage anyone from not going. Hope you guys found this interesting and thanks for reading!
P.S. Here are my Top 5 Roller Coasters I have Ridden:
1. Expedition Everest (Disney's Animal Kingdom, Florida)
2. Goliath (Six Flags Great America, Illinois)
3. Millennium Force (Cedar Point, Ohio)
4. Riddler's Revenge (Six Flags Magic Mountain, California)
5. Nemesis (Alton Towers, England)