Trip Report: AJ's Epic Theme Park Summer-Part 7 (Six Flags Great America)

November 15, 2014, 3:51 PM

Previously on AJ's Epic Theme Park Summer: Indiana Beach

Part 7: Six Flags Great America-July 29th, 2014

Tuesday, July 29th was not a happy day for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, this was the last day of the TPR Mini New Hotness trip. Around a dozen participants (including myself) would be continuing on to the Mini East Coast trip for another week of fun, but for the rest this would be the last day we would see each other. For most, however, the other main sadness for this day came from the last park of the trip: Six Flags Great America. For those of you who are local to the park or think highly of it, fair warning: You may not like my review, but it presents the park exactly how it was on that day, and it isn't a pretty picture.

Six Flags Great America

Unlike most days on the trip, our day at Six Flags Great America was not an early morning, as we didn't depart the hotel until 9:15 A.M. Wait, what? Before I continue, know two things: Six Flags Great America has long been considered one of the best parks in the Six Flags chain and has offered some good perks to TPR on previous visits as recently as 2013, and every park on this trip has gone above and beyond to ensure we had a great visit. Now, before the trip, the conversation with SFGAm went something like this (this dialogue is not real, but the sequence of events is):

Robb: Hey, SFGAm, we'll be visiting at the end of July to check out your new RMC woodie and were wondering if you'd be interested in hosting an event for a couple hundred of our members. Here's a schedule for an event we're doing at Kings Island earlier in the month. Think you could host something similar?

SFGAm: That looks like an excellent event. Unfortunately, we will be unable to accommodate that at this time.

Robb: Okay, we'll still be visiting with a group of around 50 members. Do you think you could give us a similar ERT package to our visit last year?

SFGAm: No, sorry, we'll be unable to do any ERT this year. We suggest you purchase the Flash Pass to ensure everyone in your group can enjoy all our park's rides.

Robb: Okay, okay, listen...we've got people coming from all over the world to ride Goliath. Could you just let us on 10-15 minutes early so that everyone will be able to ride at least once without a huge wait?

SFGAm Park President Hank Salemi: Sorry, but we just can't do any ERT this year. We often accommodate much larger groups than yours, some as large as a thousand, and many simply purchase the Flash Pass as it's impossible to give ERT to everybody. We hope your group is able to enjoy a typical Six Flags experience.

Yep, SFGAm was unable to give us any ERT, any backstage tours, anything special whatsoever. As a result, Robb and Elissa sprung for Platinum Flash Passes so everyone would be guaranteed one ride on Goliath. As it turned out, the very helpful people at Accesso were able to secretly slip a second Goliath ride on the Flash Passes, and by joining the mad dash in the morning most managed to get on within 30 minutes of park opening. Following that initial Goliath ride, everyone got into Flash Pass groups (I joined Caroline, Judd, and Nathan for the last time this tour), was given their Qbot and wristbands, then left on their own to explore the park.

I will not go into detail about my day at Six Flags Great America and will leave specific events for the summary at the end, but suffice it to say that the day was more of a credit run than anything else. Using the Flash Pass, we were able to get double rides where desired, but we had little time for anything other than coasters due to crowds and operations. We left the park at 4 P.M. for the farewell dinner at Outback Steakhouse, which may have been my favorite group meal of this part of the trip, then returned at 6 P.M. to finish our credit run (we were still missing four credits). Flash Passes were returned at 9 P.M., at which point we checked on the kiddie coasters (Little Dipper was still a 60 minute wait, and Spacely's Sprocket Rockets longer than it was worth), so my group headed out without me (my story will come at the end).

Coaster Reviews:

IMG_3690

If there is one element of Six Flags Great America worthy of praise, it is the park's coaster collection. The park has 13 coasters, all of which were enjoyable to some degree. In terms of average quality, this park is probably second best in the Six Flags chain and in terms of variety it's one of the best I've seen. The only issue is that SFGAm has a lot of good coasters but few great ones, as there are only two coasters at the park I would consider worth going out of the way for.

Goliath: A lot of people found this ride underwhelming. However, I found the ride to be outstanding. It may be because this was my first RMC, but Goliath was way better than I thought it would be. The ride has a great first drop and just continues through a series of exciting elements including the very unique Zero-G Stall. Yes, it does end abruptly and is not a long ride, but I didn't think it was too short as many tend to say. No, it is not the best wooden coaster in existence (and actually feels more like a steel coaster) and was not my favorite coaster on the trip (third on Mini New Hotness, eighth for both trips + Cedar Point), but it is absolutely a top tier coaster. If someone were to get off the ride and say "it's great but not top ten material," I'd have to wonder what ten wooden coasters they think are better. A

American Eagle: This is a solid racing woodie with a good out run, a shaky helix, and a mediocre return. Honestly, the main problem of this coaster is that it has strong trims. If the park removed these trims (or at least toned them down) and gave the ride a bit of retracking, American Eagle would probably be one of the better racing coasters. Either way, I still enjoyed it more than I ever enjoyed Colossus, it just doesn't justify the 75 minute line (no Flash Pass on this one). B

X-Flight:

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You know, I've heard this is a better ride than GateKeeper, but after riding I really don't think it's any better. It's not worse, at least not significantly, but it still has that feeling of "this should be better."

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X-Flight doesn't have any dull sections, unlike GateKeeper, but it never really delivers the ride I'd expect it to as the elements are slow and repetitive and the ride just never gets intense. It's still a pretty good ride and one I'd definitely ride again, but it feels a lot more like a Silver Bullet than like a Batman. B

Demon: Having ridden CGA's Demon, I knew what to expect here. The drop, loops, and tunnel were better on this one, but I prefer the second half of CGA's Demon as this one seemed a bit rougher. Both coasters are just okay in my opinion, though the fact that CGA's usually is only a few train wait and this was 45 minutes in the regular queue gives CGA's a few bonus points (though this one has better theming). C-

Raging Bull:

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Raging Bull is considered the worst B&M Hyper by many enthusiasts, but I really liked the ride. The ride is very long, has a good amount of airtime, a great first drop, decent forces, an unconventional layout, and none of that B&M rattle some rides are known to get. If the trims were deactivated, I would probably rank this above Diamondback, but even in its current state Raging Bull is still somewhere in the middle of the B&M Hypers for me and is easily the best steel coaster at Six Flags Great America. A

Viper:

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Viper was a bit of a disappointment, as I always hear amazing things about the ride. While I enjoyed the ride, I didn't think it was spectacular.

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The ride is known for having a ton of airtime, but I personally thought Raging Bull had more on this visit. I did hear from others that Viper was running very sluggish, so that may be why I was disappointed in the coaster, but I can only rate based on my experience.

IMG_3696

Good, but not worth going out of your way for. B+

Whizzer: This was a pretty fun bridge coaster that has a lot of history behind it. At least once, the coaster was about to be removed but was saved by fans and it is now the last Speed Racer in North America. Being a family oriented coaster, the ride is fairly tame, but it's still a decent ride. It did have a 75 minute wait, however, which is far more than it's worth, but if the wait was 30 minutes or less I'd definitely do it again. B-

Superman-Ultimate Flight: Like the SFGAdv version of this ride, Superman is fun but doesn't compare to the larger flyers like Tatsu. The pretzel loop is great, but after that the ride just meanders until it uses up its energy. Additionally, the coaster is on the short side. I did find this better than SFGAdv's version, however. It's a fun ride, but nothing special. B

Dark Knight: This was much better than the SFGAdv version of the coaster because all the effects were working and you were not forced to view the preshow. However, the ride is still little more than a wild mouse in a box. The coaster is fun to ride once, but I wouldn't wait in line for a re-ride and would consider this the park's worst coaster. I'm still shocked people were actually waiting 75 minutes for this. D

Vertical Velocity: I like the Twisted Impulse coasters, and Vertical Velocity actually ended up being the first standard model I've tried. While I didn't enjoy it as much as Wicked Twister, it was still a very fun ride. Like others of this type, the ride is extremely short but is more intense than you'd expect by looking at it. B+

Batman The Ride: The original inverted coaster, this is the ride that put B&M on the map. I've been on several clones of this ride, but the original is better than all of them. That said, I'm not the biggest fan of the Batman clones as I don't care for non-stop intensity, but they are a good ride (although short) and prove that bigger isn't always better. B

Six Flags Great America Coaster Ranking:

Must Ride:

1. Goliath
2. Raging Bull

Good Coasters:

3. Vertical Velocity
4. Viper
5. X-Flight
6. Superman-Ultimate Flight
7. Batman The Ride
8. American Eagle
9. Whizzer

Average Coasters:

10. Demon

Credit Coasters:

11. Dark Knight

Non-Coaster Summary:

Due to limited time, I was unable to experience many non-coaster rides at Six Flags Great America, but from the looks of things it appeared that the park's non-coaster selection was pretty average. Of the three I did ride, my favorite was Giant Drop, a standard Intamin 2nd generation drop tower. Giant Drop is neither the best nor the worst of its type that I've ridden, but it was still a fun ride. We also rode Yankee Clipper, which had a good final drop with fairly wet results but was otherwise a somewhat boring log flume with my least favorite boats anywhere (four adults is a squeeze). The only other non-coaster ride I did was Columbia, which is a unique double-decker carousel that's little different from the normal single deck variety once you're on it. In addition, the park had a decent number of other flats, but nothing that really stood out. The new kids' rides for next year will help, as the park's kiddie area seemed fairly limited as well, but SFGAm really needs to focus on non-coaster attractions for the next few years before building another major coaster (5 coasters in 10 years is too many).

Overall Thoughts:

I really want to like Six Flags Great America, and I went in hoping that I would get past my negative impression based on how the park responded to Robb's requests (a polite "we're sorry, but it's just not going to work this year" would have been much better). However, what I found was a park that embodies the typical Six Flags experience almost perfectly. The physical park of SFGAm is actually quite decent. They have an outstanding collection of coasters, the whole place is laid out well, and compared to most Six Flags properties the theming is actually pretty good. Sure, the non-coaster selection isn't anything special, but that's honestly the only issue I have with the physical portion of the park.

The way Six Flags Great America is being run, however, is absolutely unacceptable. Here is a list of things I encountered at SFGAm that I would not expect at a major park:

-Unacceptable operations. I don't expect every park to be as good as Cedar Point or Holiday World, but I expect attractions to be run in a reasonable manner. 2 minute dispatches are reasonable on most coasters. 5 minute dispatches are unreasonable on any coaster, but we encountered these on X-Flight, Raging Bull, and Viper on every single ride. Raging Bull even has a countdown clock (60 seconds) and was running three trains, but practically every single time the trains would double stack and the clock would count back up to around 150 seconds before the ride was actually dispatched. Viper was the worst offender as the train would often complete the course and reach the brakes before the loading gates were even opened. This goes hand in hand with...

-Outrageous lines. I get that we were visiting in the middle of summer at a park with a short operating season near one of the largest urban areas in North America and that the park doesn't really have any competition and just opened the most exciting new ride in 15 years, so I expected it to be busy. I'm not complaining about the fact that every major coaster was 75-90 minutes and even the smallest rides were 30+ minutes open to close, or that Goliath got over 3 hours in the middle of the day, as I wasn't waiting in those lines. I'm complaining about using a Platinum Flash Pass and then having to wait 20-30 minutes AFTER merging before boarding the ride. This wasn't the case everywhere, but on Batman The Ride, Dark Knight, Vertical Velocity, Viper and especially X-Flight, even with a Flash Pass there was a substantial amount of waiting involved. I don't expect immediate access, but when you're paying $100+ per person for an advertised 90% wait time reduction, anything more than 10-15 minutes just isn't right. Every other Six Flags park does this right, so why can't SFGAm?

-Inadequate food service. How can it take 20 minutes to get a basket of chicken strips when there's one person in front of you? Why are only two people working at a food stand during the lunch rush? It just doesn't make sense. To the park's credit, the food itself wasn't as bad as I've seen at some Six Flags parks, but that isn't saying much.

-Rude employees. This was not the case everywhere, but I did see it. Robb and Elissa themselves had one of the worst customer service experiences they've had: Their daughter rode Goliath and American Eagle (both with 48" height restrictions), then got denied at Viper (also a 48" height restriction), and even after getting officially measured the crew still refused to let her on until a supervisor intervened. We also witnessed someone getting their seat stolen on Raging Bull, and what did the attendant do? Tell those who were entitled to the seats to get off the platform so they could send the train.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. Now, I will say this: Not everything was bad about SFGAm, and not all of the above applied universally. We did have a few good surprises, the most notable of which was receiving an exit pass for being stuck on Demon for about 20 minutes (which enabled us to get both American Eagle credits without a 75 minute wait). A few rides (namely Goliath, Superman, and American Eagle) did have good crews and reasonable operations. However, for the most part the way the park was being run reminded me a lot of how Six Flags Magic Mountain has been in the past few years (although SFMM does seem to be rebounding a bit this year). Still, throughout the day I kept thinking "this wouldn't happen at SFMM," and having been to a majority of the Six Flags parks, it probably wouldn't happen at most of them either. La Ronde is the only one that seems to have more problems than SFGAm, at least from what I've experienced. Therefore, I'm going to say this: We did not receive our promised "typical" Six Flags experience, but rather we received an atypically bad one.

In summary, I will say this: I really want to like SFGAm, and I did make the best of it and have an okay day at the park, but this was definitely my least favorite day of the trip. It is entirely possible that I visited on a bad day and got unlucky, but as the reviews of the place seem to have been on a steady decline over the past couple years, I'm guessing that is probably not the case. The park does have an outstanding collection of coasters, but that alone is not enough to justify a visit. I am absolutely willing to give the park another chance, but I'm unlikely to visit again until the park gets new management and things improve. With proper management, this would be one of the top three parks in the Six Flags chain, but as it is now the park is enjoyable while riding coasters and frustrating at most other times.

Ride Totals:

Note: Due to Platinum Flash Pass, we were able to do double rides on everything except Goliath, Vertical Velocity, and Giant Drop. For what you would likely experience without Platinum Flash Pass, divide the totals by two (where applicable).

American Eagle: 2
Batman The Ride: 2
Dark Knight: 1
Demon: 1
Goliath 4 (including previous night's ride)
Raging Bull: 4
Superman-Ultimate Flight: 2
Vertical Velocity: 1
Viper: 4
Whizzer: 2
X-Flight: 2
Columbia: 1
Giant Drop: 1
Yankee Clipper: 1

[b]Total:[/b] 28 rides in 11 hours (2.55 rides per hour)

Without Platinum Flash Pass, you'd be lucky to get more than about 16 rides in a day (1.33 rides per hour). With no Flash Pass, you'd probably get about half that.

What happened after I left my group? Well, in typical Midwest fashion, it began to get really windy really fast. I returned to the Flash Pass drop off point and met up with a couple of my friends from the area (JoAnna and Zack), who advised me that it could start storming within the hour and offered me a ride back to the hotel (due to bus driver regulations, we were required to walk back after SFGAm). I decided to try for one last ride on X-Flight before leaving to see if it was really better than GateKeeper or not, but just after getting in line I hear this: "Attention guests waiting in line. X-Flight's operation is determined by weather. While we will do our best to accommodate everyone in line, it is possible we may have to cease operation at any time. In an attempt to permit everyone in line to ride, we will begin assigning boarding aisles at this time." Deciding that waiting for a ride I might not get to take was not worth the risk of making the 3/4 of a mile walk back to the hotel in a torrential downpour, I decided to bail out. On the way out, I ran into JoAnna and Zack, who were just leaving the parking lot and offered me a ride. Just as I was getting in the car, three more TPR members came running out. I will not reveal the details of what happened on the way back to the hotel, but I will say that it was definitely a memorable experience.

That's it for the TPR Mini New Hotness Trip, but not for this trip report. I've still got four more updates from the TPR Mini East Coast Trip (Harrisburg to New York City) and a final update for my family New York/Boston trip.

Replies (7)

November 16, 2014, 7:55 AM

Well, I will say that you did get the park president to respond to your inquiries so your request was taken seriously.

Do not feel bad, TPI gets about as much as you get!

Glad you enjoyed the coasters. I really wouldn't call them average, but you were pretty correct on your reviews.

I would have liked to have seen what you LIKED about SFGA. From what I have heard, it is probably the cleanest and freshest looking Six Flags Parks.


The problem that I see with SFGA is this: people expect to get Disney World when they enter this park. If you (and we) want those issues addressed above, they need to up their gate prices.

Edited: November 16, 2014, 1:17 PM

Here's the thing...TPR visited Six Flags Great America in 2013 and got morning ERT on Raging Bull and X-Flight, night ERT on Viper, Hurricane Harbor ERT, a great group lunch and an extensive backstage tour. The fact that they were unable to do anything for our group was surprising to all the participants on the trip, and Robb said its the worst customer service he's received from a Six Flags park. Most of the reviews I've read of the park this year are significantly worse than those from previous years, so I wonder if something is going on or it is just Six Flags.

As for me, I've been to Discovery Kingdom, Great Adventure, Great America, Great Escape, La Ronde, Magic Mountain, New England, and St. Louis in the Six Flags chain. Compared to the other parks, Great America is only better than average for roller coasters and theming. Nothing else at the park sets it apart from others in the chain, and in a few areas (particularly operations and efficiency) it was among the worst.

I really wanted to like the park, and I did enjoy most of the physical aspects of the park, but the employees and operations leave a lot to be desired. I don't expect a Six Flags park to even come close to Disney quality, but it needs to be enjoyable and not frustrating. Waiting 30 minutes with a Platinum Flash Pass and watching 5 minute dispatches is not enjoyable. As I stated, I am willing to give the park another chance in the future as I accept the possibility I may have visited on an off day, but when I prefer my home Six Flags park (Magic Mountain) it makes it difficult to justify a return trip until a new attraction on the scale of Goliath is added.

November 16, 2014, 4:54 PM

Not way better than St Louis? Granted, you did mention the other top line Six Flags parks, but St. Louis? As far I as I remember, SFGA was much cleaner and fresher looking.

I am not saying that SFGA is perfect. In fact, I think if they have the mind and the cash, they can go from being a pretty good park to an outstanding park.


I get the customer service headache, especially since they accommodated you sooner. I have been through it myself a bit. I always need to need to find the right person. I will also say that SFGA has never done anything extra special for TPI either.

November 16, 2014, 5:50 PM

Okay, Great America may be cleaner than most of the other parks, but it's not something I really pay much attention to unless it is a problem. I will say that Great America is absolutely the better physical park but without a doubt Six Flags St. Louis had better employees and operations.

As far as perks go, this was my first time visiting Six Flags Great America but TPR has done trips including the park in 2007, 2010, and 2013, and from trip reports they got some good bonuses on each of those trips. For them to offer hours of ERT, a good group meal, and an extensive backstage tour one year and then offer absolutely nothing the next is astounding. Keep in mind this isn't a small group visiting, it is a tour of 50-100 people from all over the world. Also, it isn't a chainwide thing because we got ERT and backstage tours at Six Flags Great Adventure (as will be covered in a later report) and TPR hosted an event at Six Flags Magic Mountain in September with 4 hours of ERT and two group meals.

I really don't know. I want to like Six Flags Great America but based on how our visit went I'd probably be more likely to return to Six Flags St. Louis (actually, I'm not all that likely to return to either without significant reason to do so). At least Great America was still far better than my La Ronde visit back in 2011.

November 16, 2014, 6:10 PM

AJ, what is your top Six Flags park? You mentioned something about SFGAm being something like #2. Just curious.

Edited: November 16, 2014, 8:56 PM

My overall Six Flags park rankings...

Overall:

Good Parks:

1. Magic Mountain
2. Great Adventure
3. Great America
4. Discovery Kingdom
5. New England

Average Parks:

6. St. Louis
7. Great Escape

Bad Park:

8. La Ronde

Since this is based on several various criteria, the ranking for the parks in any specific category may vary dramatically.

November 19, 2014, 10:06 PM

I can agree with that list!

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