While not planned as such, the Show Me the Coasters tour can be thought of as a three leg trip: pre Missouri, Missouri, and post Missouri. The first leg, covered in parts one through three, was Rob and I attempting to rack up as many credits as possible. Now, with the addition of two companions (Evan and Andrew), it was time for the second leg of the tour to begin. The first leg of the trip had been a ton of fun already, but it was this leg that had the most surprises in store. Three parks awaited in Missouri, all decent sized regional theme parks. Each was operated by a different chain, and as such had its own unique character. Of the three, two are often looked down upon by enthusiasts, but I'm going to be completely honest...our experience throughout was nothing like what we expected.
Show Me The Coasters
Part 4: Six Flags Over Mid-America
With a late night for everyone involved, it was difficult to keep to our morning schedule. Complicating this was the discovery of a breakfast area overrun with unsupervised children, several of which were pretending to run the room like a restaurant. Quickly realizing the two waffle makers were being controlled by the world's least efficient waffle chef, I abandoned my usual hotel standby for a much quicker muffin and attempted to usher the group out to the car. If there was a time I came off as annoying, it was this morning. Why, you ask, was I so insistent that we get going? Would it really matter if we rolled up to the park 5-10 minutes late?
Well, I like to include a few non-park activities in my tours, and today was one such day. Before heading out to the second (and final) Six Flags property of the tour, we had an additional stop: the Gateway Arch. Unfortunately, this is a low capacity attraction, and as such all tickets are timed entry. Miss your time, and you're relegated to standby status, meaning the experience could come with an indeterminate wait.
It was forty minutes to our tour when we finally pulled out of the parking lot, twenty-five minutes away from the monument. Fortunately, on a Tuesday morning parking was painless, and after putting a couple dollars in the meter we walked over to the arch. No, we didn't make our tour time, but low crowds meant we could be accommodated on the next tour.
The arch itself is somewhat like a theme park attraction. Guests queue in a hallway adorned with timelines highlighting significant milestones in the history of the arch. Forty at a time, the group is ushered into a room to watch a hokey preshow setting the mood of the 1960s yet making almost no reference to the monument itself. From here, you're grouped by fives and loaded into a small capsule to take the 4 minute journey up to the top of the monument.
This was my second visit to the top of the arch, and I must admit on my first I found it a bit underwhelming. This time, however, the experience was much different. When not packed full of tourists, the observation deck is quite unique, providing an experience somewhat different from the typical viewing level of a skyscraper.
Not only must you look out through small slits recessed deep into the wall, the arch also affords the ability to look straight down at the ground 630 ft. below. For those with a fear of heights, it may be unnerving. For those who simply enjoy a good view, lots could be seen from the top.
After about twenty minutes, we had seen all there was to see, so the four of us headed back to the tram and descended to ground level. Time did not permit a thorough examination of the adjacent museum, so we gave it a cursory glance, took a few pictures on the outside, then headed back to the car and set off for the park of the day. For 45 minutes away from downtown St. Louis was one of the original Six Flags parks, and with a tight schedule we had only a half day there.
Six Flags St. Louis opened in 1971 as the third and final park built from the ground up by Six Flags. As one of the chain's smaller parks (though still reasonably large), this park lacks the signature thrills often associated with the brand. Instead, this is perhaps the most family-friendly park in the chain after Six Flags Over Texas, with tons of attractions that everyone can ride together and a nice balance of rides for all intensity preferences. Sadly, the park has a bit of a poor reputation among the enthusiast community, with some advising to avoid the park even if you're in the area for other means. I, on the other hand, remembered enjoying the park on my previous visit in 2011, and tried my best to get the others hyped for a fun day.
Unfortunately, the first impression we got from the park wasn't so great. By arriving about 30 minutes after opening, we were caught in the crush of cars entering the parking lot, leading to a short delay. We also learned that Boss, the park's largest coaster, was down for unexpected maintenance, which put a slight damper on the day. However, we patiently waited in the crawling queue to enter the park, set on making the best of the five hours that remained before we had to head out.
Our first stop of the day was American Thunder, still no more than a two train wait even an hour after opening. The newest custom coaster at the park, American Thunder is a smaller GCI that rides more like a family coaster.
Despite the ride's age, it still runs reasonably smooth, and though the ride is a bit lacking in intensity it does have a few nice pops of airtime. Fun, but a tad forgettable compared to other GCIs.
One coaster down, we continued around the loop to Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast, a unique LIM shuttle coaster built by Premier Rides. I rode this coaster's twin at Six Flags Over Texas back in March, so I was particularly excited to ride this one again. Our group also contained a huge Premier fan (Andrew), and this would be Evan's 400th coaster, so it was exciting for all. The ride is pretty much the same as the Texas version...fast launch, really interesting layout, lots of intensity, some hangtime, and a bit disorienting. I'm not the biggest fan of shuttle coasters, but this is definitely among the best I've ridden of the type. This is also SFStL's most popular ride, with an hour wait for much of the day (we managed to ride with about a 20 minute wait).
While in the area, we headed across the path to check out one of the original Justice League Battle for Metropolis installations. Built inside of an existing building that formerly housed a Scooby Doo dark ride, this version of the attraction features some minor differences compared to installations that came later. Surprisingly, upkeep was much better than the version at SFGAdv, with all the effects working as intended. Sadly, the park was running the attraction at half capacity, which made this an hour wait.
With more credits to claim, we moved on to Pandemonium. Several Six Flags parks feature these Gerstlauer spinning coasters, and this installation is one of the better ones. The ride was smooth, had minimal braking, and spun quite a lot. Additionally, the operations really impressed me. With a continuous loading station and eight cars on the track, the long-looking line took just 15 minutes.
Our next coaster was Screamin' Eagle, a classic out and back woodie dating back to the 1970s. The final coaster designed by the legendary John Allen prior to his retirement, Screamin' Eagle is a two-and-a-half minute romp through the wooded hills surrounding the park. Age has rendered this ride a tad rough, but it is in far better shape than many coasters of a similar vintage and does offer a handful of airtime moments.
Next door was the first of two Boomerang coasters on this tour. The newest coaster at SFStL, this was a transplant from SFOT to add a major thrill on a budget. At the time of riding, this was my thirteenth experience with the type of ride. I'm sorry to say that it was one of the worst installations I've experienced. The coaster crawled through the course, resulting in awkward forces and discomfort due to the old Arrow restraints. I'm glad we only waited about 15 minutes for this one, because even as a credit coaster it was bad.
River King Mine Train was the park's only coaster on opening day, and this would be our next stop as we continued our tour. An old Arrow mine train with three lifts, this is a nice long family coaster with everything to be expected from the type. While not among the best mine trains out there (and inferior to the similar ride at SFOT), it's still a fine ride worth checking out. Our ride also ended up being longer than normal as a technical issue stranded us on the final brake run for about ten minutes.
The penultimate coaster at the park was Ninja, the black belt of roller coasters. This ride is a strange abomination that was started by Arrow for Expo '86 in Canada. Partway through construction, however, Arrow went bankrupt, leaving Vekoma to come in and complete the project. The result is a ride with a quirky sequence of elements and some really rough and painful transitions. It's telling when we were at the park on a busy day and this ride was a walk-on...nobody enjoys fighting the Ninja (except Andrew, apparently).
That left us with one coaster to go, one that most familiar with Six Flags know. Batman The Ride is a staple at almost every major Six Flags park, and St. Louis is no exception. Like the rest, the coaster features a rapid-fire sequence of five inversions packed full of positive forces. It is a short ride, but it is a thrilling one, and St. Louis's installation is one of the best in the chain (though not better than the original at Great America). The main downside is an extremely lengthy queue line that takes ten minutes to walk...we didn't encounter a wait until we arrived at the station. If it weren't for that, we would have definitely given the coaster a second ride, but time and energy were not on our side.
The coasters complete, we gave each of the woodies a re-ride and did a couple miscellaneous flats. Before long, our mandatory departure time of 4 P.M. arrived, so we quickly browsed the gift shops and departed for Branson.
Six Flags St. Louis has been called lackluster by some and a pit by others. I, however, found the visit to be rather enjoyable.
The park has a nice setting and some reasonably good theming in parts, though it does feel that much of that has been lost to time. Operations were generally better than average for the chain, with most coasters running two trains without stacking. The ride selection is more balanced than most of the chain...only Over Texas features a more balanced attraction line-up in my opinion.
That said, the park is not without its faults. Coaster-wise, the park's collection is incredibly weak, and ranks dead-last among the Six Flags parks I've visited. For such a wooded park, shade is surprisingly lacking, and the asphalt pathways don't help in the Missouri heat.
Lastly, upkeep needs some work here. In late June, over half a dozen rides still had yet to open for the season (including three of the park's four water rides), and some of the more remote portions of the park felt a tad abandoned. I get the sense that this park has a ton of potential, but they do not have sufficient financial resources to reach greatness.
Still, we all felt the park gets more hate than it deserves. Andrew considers it a top three Six Flags park, and while I rank it more in the middle of the pack I will say this...with the exception of Great Adventure and perhaps Over Texas, Six Flags could learn a lot about keeping customers happy by looking at what this place is doing.
Six Flags St. Louis Coaster Ranking:
1. Batman The Ride
2. Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast
3. American Thunder
4. Screamin' Eagle
6. River King Mine Train
Six Flags St. Louis was a great start to the tour, but it was only the warm-up. Our drive after the park took us across the state to the tourist town of Branson. It was here that the most anticipated park of the trip awaited us, but would it live up to the hype?Tweet