Show Me The Coasters - Part 4

August 24, 2019, 5:22 PM

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Six Flags St. Louis has been called lackluster by some and a pit by others. I, however, found the visit to be rather enjoyable.

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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.

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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.

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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:

B Tier:

1. Batman The Ride
2. Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast
3. American Thunder

C Tier:

4. Screamin' Eagle
5. Pandemonium

D Tier:

6. River King Mine Train

Credit Tier:

7. Ninja
8. Boomerang

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?

Replies (5)

August 26, 2019, 9:40 AM

I had a similar experience at SFSL in 2015. The one thing I will note is that we actually visited the park twice. Once at the beginning of our Midwest trip and a second partial day right before we flew home. We flew in and out of St. Louis, but went all the way up to Chicago, Milwaukee, and over to Santa Claus as part of that trip, with our second visit to the park exclusively to ride Justice League - it was supposed to open when we were there the first day of our trip, but we kept tabs on it, and circled back on the last day of our trip, which ended up being the public grand opening day. As such, we spent a lot of time that second day standing around waiting to ride, but had a chance to chat with a number of employees. The one main takeaway I got was that the park seemed to have a lot of older staff that were slowly being pushed out either through natural attrition or through changing policies at the park that discouraged the more experienced workers. From what I gleaned, despite their loyalty and high level of care they had for the park, management didn't reward long-tenured staff, and seemed to hire younger temp employees to cover jobs that used to be performed exclusively by older staff.

You definitely didn't miss anything with The Boss, but I actually didn't mind Ninja and didn't find it any more uncomfortable or bumpy than a standard Arrow looper.

Definitely the one thing I noticed about the park was that it seemed pretty large, but rides were kind of clumped together with unnecessarily long queues to reach loading platforms. The transitions between areas are very stark as you would expect in a SF park, but it seemed even more so because there are few attractions near the edges of each themed area.

The Arch was definitely cool, though when we were there the platform area was under construction with very little open in the visitor's center at the base of the Arch. The visitor's center proper at the time was temporarily relocated to the courthouse, which wasn't as inconvenient as it sounds since it forced us to spend some time at the historic landmark. The courthouse is where the Dread Scott Case was heard, so just spending 20-30 minutes walking around a learning about that important time in American history was certainly worth the forced diversion. The one thing I've noticed in virtually every place I've been along the Mississippi River is that if there's a city or major development on one side of the River, there's very little on the other side. It's a very strange phenomenon, but seems to repeat itself at all 4 of the major cities we've been to along the River (St. Louis, Memphis, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans). We actually ended up staying on the Illinois side of the River when we were in St. Louis, but definitely felt like we were in the boonies compared to the Missouri side, even though we were less than 15 minutes from downtown. Cities along the Ohio River seem to do much of the same, though not nearly as striking as along the Mississippi.

Edited: August 27, 2019, 7:03 PM

It's funny that you say areas of SFSTL felt abandoned. I had an interesting experience there once in 2006 we went opening day and everything was fine, but then we went again the morning after and it was cloudy and drizzly and there were only a few people at the gates when they opened the park (I think there were maybe 10 including us).

Anyway they opened the park and there was no one anywhere...I mean like literally NO ONE. The rides all had chains up at their entrances but there were no employees working on any of them, all of the attractions were just abandoned. There weren't any employees or park guests, just dark clouds and occasional drizzle with eerie silence. The only rides I remember being open were Scooby Doo and Xcalibur and the rest of the park was totally devoid of any activity lol. There was no explanation or anything it was just like all the employees woke up and looked out the window and said "F it." Eventually in the afternoon they did get more of the rides going as I remember Mr Freeze opening sometime around noon.

Granted i've been to SFSTL several times after that and didn't have any problems, and the day before was fine, it was just a really odd day at the park.

August 31, 2019, 3:35 PM

Really appreciate the detailed report about SFSL. Not giving me any compelling reasons to make a trip there, but certainly a place I would consider under the right circumstances. Especially since we have 6 Flags passes that would get us in for free.

Did you ride that Newer "Supergirl" Sky flyer included in your pics ? Since we are getting one of those at our home park (SFoG) in 2020, I was curious what your impression was. Looks halfway fun and maybe has a bit of intensity ?

August 31, 2019, 5:24 PM

Russell, this was actually my second visit to the park as I visited on a family trip back in 2011. I rode the Boss at that time, and from what I remember it wasn't anything special but was my favorite of the park's three wood coasters. It would have been interesting to see how the ride was holding up. Ninja is approximately equal to a bad Arrow looper in my book...not horribly rough and painful like some Vekomas, but not a particularly enjoyable ride either. I also agree with you about the oddities of the park...it does seem to have lots of ride clusters with lengthy stretches of nothingness in between.

The_man, that is a really odd story. I can't imagine anything like that happening at a major park like SFStL, but I guess even corporate parks can have really odd days. There's some interesting operational tidbits from this trip coming up once we get to Iowa.

Ed, I wouldn't recommend going out of the way for SFStL, but if you happen to be in the St. Louis area it's worth checking out. I did not get a chance to ride Supergirl Sky Flyer, but I have ridden that model of ride at a couple other parks and it's pretty fun. Not as intense as the old-school enterprises, but still has a bit of force to it and a nice open feel.

Thanks for all the comments, everyone! The next report will be up either this evening or sometime tomorrow.

Edited: September 3, 2019, 1:30 PM

I was at Six Flags - Mid America around 1990 or so. It was the first time I had ever been to a six flags park, and while I was young I do remember it being a fun time. Interestingly enough, the reason we went there as a family was my older brother won the trip as the grand prize on a nickelodeon game show he was on. We also visited St. Louis and the arch. It was a nice trip.




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