Robert's Tour, Part One -- Six Flags Magic Mountain
Slather on some sun block, chug down a water and get ready to broil as we look for an open ride at Six Flags' 'extreme park.'
Written by Robert Niles
Valencia, California -- When the traffic's light, there's no easier city in America to drive through than Los Angeles. Freeways stand six to sixteen lanes wide, ready to guide you to any point you want to go in the metro area. And when rush hour traffic clogs those arteries, smart drivers can whip through the city on the right choice of surface streets. Friends refuse to believe me when I tell them I had a shorter commute living in Pasadena and working in downtown Los Angeles than I did when I lived and worked in Denver, Omaha, Neb. or Orlando.Tweet
Which brings me to how I pulled into the parking lot at Six Flags Magic Mountain waaaay too early this morning. If half an hour from the southeastern corner of Pasadena isn't a record for a semi-law-abiding driver, it ought to be. Guess nobody commutes *to* Valencia, eh? Still, a few dozen other cars beat me into the lot. And by the way, I've never before been handed a hotel chain's national directory and road atlas upon forking over my parking fee at a theme park. Welcome to Six Flags: let the corporate tie-ins begin!
Typically, an early arrival puts theme park visitors in place to knock off two or three of a park's most popular attractions before enough other visitors make their way through the park to build up substantial lines. No more than a dozen people stood in front of me in the season passholder's line, and I took time to chat with family from the Bay Area, who were looking forward to getting a up ahead of the crowd to ride X. And so was I, though, given Magic Mountain's track record, I knew better than to get too excited.
Why the season passholder's line, when I don't have a pass? That's the line you use if you buy a one-day ticket online through www.sixflagsticketing.com. It's a great deal -- I got my ticket for half-price, and skipped the ticket lines I'd have had to wait in to use the current buy one, get one free (or half-price for a single visitor) Coke can deal.
Ten 'o clock finally arrived, and we rushed through the gates on our way to X. Why, I have no idea. You guessed it.
Closed. For how long? "Could be a while."
Okay, then let's dash over to Deja Vu.
Batman? Colossus? Scream?
Closed. Closed. Closed.
It's 10:20 a.m. and the back side of Magic Mountain's filling with bewildered thrill seekers, searching desperately to find any ride in this joint that's open. I hear rumbling overhead and see a test train climbing up Goliath's lift hill. A few run toward that coaster, but I know Goliath does a relatively high capacity and won't build a nasty line until much later in the day. I decided to take my chances with Batman and Riddler's and wait to see if one of them opens soon.
Two minutes later, I see a train go up on Riddler's. And with people on it! So I dash that way, getting aboard the fourth train out at a little past 10:30. In the park half an hour, and I'm just getting on my first ride. Not a good sign.
At least I am on, though. The ride? Well, can I talk with the fellas for a moment? Just skip to the next graf, ladies, and I'll get back with y'all in a minute... Good. Now, guys, this is a standing coaster, so do take a moment to, um, adjust things before snapping down that shoulder harness. You'll be flipping up, then down, six times on this glorified bicycle seat and you do not, repeat, do not, want to be landing on the family package each time. Two guys in the row behind me did not heed the advice and stumbled off the coaster like they'd been rochambeau'd half a dozen times. Which... they had. Thank you for listening to this public service announcement.
Now ladies? Thank you, and let's get back to the review.
Riddler's Revenge is all about inversions. You get six of them on this smooth Bolliger & Mabillard stand-up coaster. My first time on a stand-up left me a touch apprehensive, as I felt like I had less control than I did sitting on a traditional coaster seat. But you do have a bicycle-style seat underneath here and the ride ends up feeling much like a dirt bike ride amplified to 11 and beyond. Riddler's also dives into a few trenches on its final corkscrews, a nice touch that I wish more coasters would employ. I know that digging adds a few bucks to the budget, but I appreciate a ride that plays and interacts with its landscape, rather than simply skimming above it. Even the loading area offers some nice, though light, theming.
TPI reader John K warned that Riddler's runs with just one train these days, and as I exited, I glanced back to the entrance where a sign announcing a wait time from that point -- "3 hours" made me very glad I'd gotten this one done early.
By now, a quarter 'til 11, several rides were actually running. I walked on to Scream and got my first chance to revisit this ride since its media preview over a year ago.
When did this ride get so rough? The smooth B&M floorless experience that I immediately loved on SeaWorld Orlando's Kraken is gone now, replaced with a persistent jerkiness that robs Scream of its remaining charm. The sparse parking lot setting had put this ride at a disadvantage from the beginning. Now, a year older and bumpier, Scream simply failed to entertain me.
So I trudged up the hill toward Goliath, dripping sweat as the temperature in Valencia climbed towards its forecast 100-plus degrees. I noted a cooler of Arrowhead (an official Six Flags corporate partner! Natch) through the window of a food court next to Goliath and resolved to chug a bottle and rest after my next ride.
This Giovanola megacoaster offers no inversions -- just a soul-crushing 60-degree, 250-foot initial drop and speed, speed, speed after that. I had to grab the sides of the seatback in front to steady myself as the train plunged from a dead stop at the crest. Kudos, again, to the ride's designers for not rushing us over that hill. Height like this on a lift hill should be savored a moment, allowing the fear, even terror, to build. Of course, if you keep your eyes open and your focus ahead on the track, it's not so bad. Goliath offers up a few more pleasing hills and valleys before squeezing your skull in a final helix before the station. Plenty of riders have reported blackouts around the curves, and I felt my right eyeball contracting toward my nose as we spun around. But I recovered quickly, and felt no ill effects on my way out the exit.
But it was time for that water.
I can't stress enough the importance of staying well hydrated before, during and after a theme park visit. Especially to a park as broiling as Valencia's Magic Mountain. I ordered the 24 oz. ("small") Arrowhead and sat down in the air-conditioned food court to cool down.
By the way, I wouldn't dream of ordering anything more complex than water in a restaurant dubbed "Food, etc." That's some confidence in your cuisine there, Six Flags. The place advertised sushi, in what I hope was merely some post-modern attempt at ironic humor. Surely, no one's would ever order sushi at a Six Flags food court called "Food, etc." Right?
A phone call from a reporter extended my break to 20 minutes, which was probably for the best, given the increasing heat outside. So let's take a break from the coasters, and try Magic Mountain's Log Jammer flume ride.
The first line of the day did not deter me, nor did the feared "We're sorry, but this ride is experiencing technical difficulties" spiel five minutes into the wait. Logs started moving again within another five and ten minutes later I was on board.
Log Jammer's pastoral setting reminded me of the charm this park once offered when it was a Valencia developer's answer to the Orange County theme parks, and not an Oklahoma company's vision of an "extreme park." This traditional flume ride lacks the story and songs of Disney's Splash Mountain, or even a few topiaries or rough-cut wooden statuary to liven up the views. But it does glide across the Samurai Summit hilltop at a brisk clip, and drop riders down a two-part splashdown at its end. It's a refreshing break from the coaster dips and flips.
But it is one of the few breaks that this park offers. Part of the charm of Disney's and Universal's parks is the variety they offer riders throughout their visit. Hit a coaster, a flume ride, a dark ride, then a show. Ride outside, or in. Need an attraction that's cool and dark in the midst of a broiling day? They've got it.
Six Flags... doesn't. Yesterday, we celebrated Natalie's seventh birthday with a cake and candy for her and her friends in a local park. In youthful days, before my metabolism died, I fantasized about spending the day eating nothing but cake and sweets. Variety in taste and texture meant nothing to me. Heck, as a kid I'd never dream of reading Ruth Reichl or Sherry Virbila's opinion on food when all I wanted to do was scarf down some more cotton candy.
So, ultimately, what I have to say about Magic Mountain doesn't matter. This is a park for amusement park fans who want hear a one-note song. Ride outside, all day long, from one heels-over-head thrill to another. Pacing, rhythm and style mean little to Magic Mountain's target audience. So why bother trying to analyze this park like a show? It's not. It's the carnival midway, not an artist's modern, interactive entertainment production.
So be it. Forget ride strategies. Forget concepts like narrative and theme. Just bring some friends, get there a few minutes after the park opens and go on what you can. Eat as much ice cream and ride as many coasters as you can stomach. Then call it a day.
And after a trip to Colossus and Batman, I did.
Don't bother trying to be a door-buster. Despite the posted 10 a.m. opening time, many rides don't open until 10:30 or later. So take your time getting into the park in the morning. (But do get your tickets in advance, as the ticket booths here are notoriously slow.)
If you *must* ride X, wait there when you arrive until it opens for the day, even if that means blowing an hour or two. But if you are willing to sacrifice that, plenty of other rides will be operating with little or no wait for the park's first two hours.
Drink plenty of water the night before, the morning of and throughout the day of your visit. Keep drinking it after for a few hours, too, as your body won't want to stop sweating for a while. The heat in Valencia in summertime can kill you. Literally.
I can't offer you any food advice, because even Magic Mountain employees urged me to eat outside the park. Given the oppressive heat, I recommend taking off by 1 p.m. for a leisurely sit-down lunch in one of the many chain restaurants in the area. Then head back to the hotel for a nap before returning to the park in the very late afternoon or early evening. Of course, if you're a thrill junkie kid, you're not reading this site and you're gonna ride all day until you're crispy and dizzy anyway.
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