Welcome to the first edition detailing my family’s travels through the Southeastern US. This was our first vacation since a week-long WDW vacation at the end of January 2020. Both my wife and I have been fully vaccinated for a few months, but our son is only 11 and not yet able to receive the vaccine, so we judiciously wore masks throughout our trip to protect him. In general, I would say less than 5% of the people we saw throughout our 2-week trip were wearing masks, and that included most kids who appeared to be under 12. These behaviors from this part of the country was something that we expected, and why we predominantly remained masked and did whatever we could to keep our distance from others and mostly avoided eating at indoor restaurants. We were asked a couple of times why we were wearing masks by strangers (receiving a few complements for our mostly sports-themed masks), and perhaps turned on a few lightbulbs when we noted that kids under 12 like our son could not get vaccinated, and don’t yet have the same immunity to the virus that fully vaccinated teenagers and adults have (not that a majority of the population in this part of the country is vaccinated anyway). Nonetheless, we felt that the small risk of traveling through this part of the country was worth it to finally see a part of the country we had not visited in well over a decade (aside from my visits to Carowinds for various attraction media days). Overall, the plan was to visit 4 major areas (Atlanta, Pigeon Forge, Asheville, and Charlotte) over the course of 13 days traveling exclusively by car. We had considered using some public transportation in Atlanta, but decided against it after finding a hotel within walking distance of Truist Park and finding prepaid discounted parking at the Aquarium downtown.
We began our journey on June 29 with a long drive to Atlanta, arriving in the evening before checking into our hotel in the Cumberland suburb of Atlanta. This part of the area has really changed since our last visit a dozen years ago and when I last extensively drove around the region as a bus driver during the 1996 Olympics. Building a brand new baseball stadium (not that there was anything wrong with 20+ year old Turner Field when the Braves decided to move out of downtown – Georgia State uses it as their football stadium now) in what used to be the middle of nowhere will definitely spur some development, but the area was already drawing affluent residents and had become a destination for upscale retailers even before Truist Park (formerly Sun Trust Park) was built. The area around our hotel was a mix of mostly newer development with some older strip malls surrounding the core entertainment district around Truist Park called The Battery.
If you have read any of my previous trip reports over the years, you probably already know that a visit to a baseball stadium would be part of our vacation, but I’ll get to that in my next post. Our first full day in Atlanta would be spent at Six Flags Over Georgia. This park was the second Six Flags park built by Angus Wynn 6 years after Six Flags Over Texas opened in 1961. The park has your typical mix of various thrill rides with moderate theming that sprawl across nearly 300 acres. SFoG has a moderate amount of topography that is most noticeable just beyond the front entrance and near the back, but only a few of the attractions really take advantage of the park’s setting.
We arrived 30 minutes before the official opening to allow time to walk from the distant parking lot to the gate (somewhat like Magic Mountain where even “preferred” parking is not very close). The front of the park is pretty minimal compared to other Six Flags parks with just a small “Main Street” area leading to an event stage. From there, guests can either turn right or left to work their way around a mostly circular design. To the right of the entrance stands Twisted Cyclone, an RMC-built hybrid that revamped the 90’s era all-wooden Georgia Cyclone that operated until 2017. While standing just 95 feet tall with a 78-foot drop, the Georgia Cyclone didn’t give RMC a lot to work with, but they managed to squeeze in 3 inversions and an impressive outward-banked hill into the revised layout. As with most RMC creations, the experience on Twisted Cyclone has oodles of airtime and numerous points on the course where the ride feels out of control (in a good way). I was most impressed with the second half of the course that weaves its way intricately through the lower part of the coaster’s structure, which includes a slow zero-g roll. The coaster is a bit short and lacks an element to set it apart from better RMC designs, but given what they had to work with here, and no room to expand the coaster’s footprint, Twisted Cyclone is a solid improvement and one of the best coasters in the park.
To the left of the main entrance is the Georgia Scorcher, a B&M stand-up coaster. Stand-up coasters are a dying breed, so while it is not the most comfortable experience, the novelty of the riding position is worth a spin or two if the line is short. This was our son’s first stand-up coaster since he’s now exceeded most coaster height restrictions, and he thought the Georgia Scorcher was pretty good, especially compared to Vortex at Carowinds we would ride later in the trip.
Both the Georgia Scorcher and Twisted Cyclone were running before the official opening time, so we were able to ride both before the rest of the park opened for the day. Once the park officially opened, we made our way towards Dare Devil Dive, which has an extremely low capacity (6 riders per train). The vertical lift/drop coaster is nothing spectacular when compared to other similar coasters like Hangtime at Knott’s, SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge at Nickelodeon Universe, and Mystery Mine at Dollywood, but offers a unique experience compared to other coasters in this park. Dare Devil Dive is extremely smooth, probably due to the small trains and lap bar restraints, but the low capacity and slow loading meant we only rode once as lines were long throughout the day.
Next up was the newly revamped Gotham City area of the park. Since The Riddler Mindbender coaster has yet to debut as part of the renovated area (Mindbender was a Schwarzkopf coaster that went down in 2019 for the revamp), the changes are mostly cosmetic with the addition of a new flat ride, Catwoman Whip. Catwoman Whip is an odd ride that is kind of like a classic “Enterprise” ride that spins riders around in a circle while tilting skyward until the seats are making full vertical loops. Catwoman Whip operates a bit differently than an Enterprise ride, but achieves the same result, aside from riders being in open seats instead of enclosed cars. Also, the ride is a bit of a slow loader due to the automated restraints and limited ops running the ride.
Also in Gotham City is Batman: The Ride. This classic B&M inverted coaster can be found in numerous Six Flags parks around the country, and this version of the ride doesn’t have anything unique to set it apart from other installations, except for the fact that the air conditioning actually worked on the interior parts of the queue. This was our son’s first experience on a B&M invert, and he was wowed by the intensity and rapid-fire nature of the elements. While there are plenty of other inverts out there that are better than Batman, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this coaster, and should be a must do whenever you’re in a park with one.
Next up was the biggest coaster in the park, Goliath. This hyper-coaster from B&M was SFoG’s newest coaster the last time my wife and I visited, and after riding dozens of other hyper and giga coasters since last riding Goliath, it’s still decidedly middle tier in my book. Much like Batman, Goliath has plenty of solid elements and intensity, but there’s nothing unique about the coaster that stands out. The best part of the coaster is definitely the downward helix, a feature that would put Nitro at the top of my hyper-coaster list if it replaced the New Jersey coaster’s upward helix. Nonetheless, Goliath has plenty of airtime, though minimized somewhat by slight turns at both the top and bottom of some of the hills, and good positive g’s in that downward helix. Also, the setting of the coaster that starts near the center of the park and winds outside the front gate enhances the nearly 4,500-foot long course, a far more interesting trip than some “down-and-back” layouts.
After a few rides on Goliath, we worked our way towards the back of the park. This is where you will find the park's obligatory Western-themed section. We rode the park's rapid ride, Thunder River, which has an oval layout. There’s nothing particularly spectacular about this raft ride, but it serves its purpose in giving guests a chance to cool off on a hot day. There’s some generic Western theming along the course and in the queue, but no animatronics or full scenes relaying a story. This portion of the park also has an mini steam-punk section where Pandemonium (spinning pendulum) lies that is a bit out of place, but most of the Western theming is pretty well done for a Six Flags park. Additionally, there’s an entertaining Western comedy show called Shenaniguns. I initially thought this show was going to be a Western-themed stunt show similar to the ones staged at Six Flags America (and are always a must-see), but even without the stunts, this comedy show was a pleasant surprise.
After the show, we worked our way around the back of the park to two of the oldest roller coasters at SFoG. Blue Hawk is an early 90’s Vekoma looper, a type of coaster that is almost always a painful, headbanging experience. However, Blue Hawk has been recently repainted, providing a slightly smoother ride, and the old horse-collar-style restraints have been replaced with more comfortable OTSRs with ratcheting vests similar to what is found on newer B&M coasters (like Valravn and Banshee), eliminating any headbanging. Blue Hawk takes riders up a 122-foot lift hill and through 5 rapid-fire inversions all over a lagoon. The coaster won’t win any awards, but for a 30-year-old steel looper, it’s not the terrible experience many would find on other similar coasters of the era like Viper at SFMM, Vortex at Kings Island, or Anaconda at Kings Dominion.
The other coaster at the back of the park is Great American Scream Machine. At nearly 50 years old, this wooden coaster is starting to show its age and is frankly mediocre. The coaster is a classic double down and back design similar to Comet at Hersheypark, but plods through the course with few airtime moments or other notable elements. I guess the only thing going for GASM is that it’s not too painful, mostly because it's not very fast or intense.
When we finished with the back of the park, we moved into Metropolis, where Superman: Ultimate Flight and Justice League are located - not sure why this park needs 3 different DC-themed areas. SFoG's Justice League: Battle for Metropolis is the 5th version of the shooting gallery dark ride we've ridden, and was very much like the others aside from SFMM with its extra scene and slightly different queue. The park was not operating the single rider line, so with a technical shutdown, it was a 25 minute wait to ride, the longest wait of the day. I’m not sure if my eyes were not fully adjusted or what, but the projected images did not appear as bright or vivid as other versions of the attraction we've ridden. Perhaps the projectors are old or deliberately being run at a lower brightness, but it was something I definitely noticed. However, the gameplay and competitiveness still made it worth the wait.
Superman: Ultimate Flight next door to Justice League is virtually identical to the coasters of the same name found at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey and Six Flags Great America near Chicago. However, the first B&M flying roller coaster in North America is the best because of its integration into the landscape. Instead of being installed over a parking lot or flat land, this version cleverly uses the surrounding hills and valleys to accentuate the coaster’s elements, including the iconic pretzel loop. It doesn't come close to topping Manta at Sea World Orlando or Tatsu at SFMM, but this coaster is a notch above other flying roller coasters.
Since our son has gotten tall enough for all of the big rides and roller coasters, he turns his nose up at smaller flat rides and attractions he’s ridden at other parks. That means we skipped over a number of rides in the middle section of the park (mostly themed to DC characters) that we’ve ridden elsewhere or are smaller versions of bigger rides.
After all those rides, it was time for a late lunch, and we chose to share a generous plate of nachos from Macho Nacho. Similar to other Six Flags parks, guests can customize different Mexican-style meals Chipotle-style that provides more than enough food for three. Our nachos weren’t going to win any beauty competitions, but they were quite tasty and more importantly filling.
Next up was one of the more unique attractions at any Six Flags park. Monster Mansion is a classic flume-based dark ride that was one of the park’s original attractions. The theming has gone through some changes over the years resulting in the current version with hundreds of friendly (and a few not so friendly) monsters inviting humans to their picnic. The slow boat ride features tons of animatronics and effects that put it on par with other similar attractions like The Old Mill at Kennywood and Log Chute at Nickelodeon Universe and just a notch below iconic attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and It's a Small World. More importantly, this attraction gives guests a respite from the Georgia heat inside the dark, air-conditioned show building.
As we worked our way back towards the front of the park, we took a spin on the Dahlonega Mine Train. As with most mine train coasters, this one is a little rough, but features 3 lift hills finishing with a dive into a tunnel before the final brake run. As mine trains go, this is one of the better ones in terms of overall experience, though it would be better if was actually located in the western themed area of the park.
Across the main walkway from the Dahlonega Mine Train is Acrophobia, which was closed the last time we visited the park over a decade ago. This Intamin gyro-drop is one of a kind as riders rotate around the tower while the seats are pulled to the top. Once at the top, the seats are tilted slightly forward so guests get a better view of the ground below. The seat tilt is nothing compared to Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens Tampa where guests are tilted 90 degrees to face downward, but considering Acrophobia opened 14 years before Falcon’s Fury, it’s a pretty impressive feat of engineering. The seats aren’t very comfortable, and the tilt and drop can’t match BGT’s tower, but Acrophobia is still a pretty exhilarating experience.
Our last unique ride of the day was Log Jamboree located near the Georgia Scorcher (we skipped this on our first loop around the park to get to Dare Devil Dive before lines swelled). This fully elevated log flume isn’t very big or wet, but does have a pretty long and winding course. After that, we took a few more rides on Goliath and Twisted Cyclone before calling it a day.
Overall, the park was not terribly crowded, even for a summer weekday, and ride ops were doing a very good job keeping the lines moving. We never waited longer than 25 minutes for any attraction, and were able to ride every major coaster and unique attraction in the park over the course of a 10-hour day. I was also struck by the park’s safety that required all ride ops checking restraints to verbally confirm that each restraint had been checked. I’m sure it’s pretty monotonous for the employees, but hearing that they were engaged in their jobs showed a commitment to safety I have not seen from other Six Flags parks. We were planning a return to the park over the weekend on one of the nights they were presenting fireworks, but we decided against the prospect of heavy weekend crowds given that we had such a good experience with lines and crowds on Wednesday.
Next up - Atlanta attractions and baseball
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