We arrived shortly after 10:00 a.m. and the entrance plaza, as usual, was a "fright" to be seen. The front "pond" was dyed red and there were several skeletons, torches and graves surrounding it. New to us was the giant pumpkin monster in front of the caroussel that every 5 minutes or so goes from squatting to full standing position (about 25 feet high) and tells guests of the terrors of Fright Fest. He's very imposing and quite impressive!
Six Flags always does a great job decorating the park from head to toe in every section. Look up in the trees and you'll find hanging bodies. Look up in the 2nd story windows and you'll find scary clowns in rocking chairs. Funny voices cry for you to let them out of nearby coffins. Torches occasionaly flare up. Blasts of air blow out of masoleums. Horror music (especially the theme from Halloween) plays constantly throughout the park's speakers. Every section gets re-themed (i.e. "Southwest Scaritory," "Area 51" and "Seven Sins Cemetery."). It's really quite an all-engaging experience.
Actors roam several areas. The new "classic movie ghouls" in Tinseltown Terror were a bit cheesy and non-scary, but the clowns in the Mardi Gras area were on their game this year with the actors really getting into their roles. The Illinois Trollway trolls were there again, but we were very sad to miss out on the werewolves on stilts that usually roam the Seven Sins Cemetery aka Orleans Place. I'm assuming the mid-day downpour that occured may have prevented them from coming out due to the wet pavement.
We never see the shows when we're there because we're too busy riding attractions so we missed out on Susan Rosen, Dead Man's Party, Love at First Fright and the Zombie Jamboree Parade.
We also skipped the Area 51 section which has moved to the Space Shuttle area and out of Hometown Square. I also cannot report on the curiously added "haunted attractions" Rise of the Demon Scare Zone and Cell Block "A" which required additional admission unless you were a season pass holder. These appeared to be very short outdoor walk throughs and we just didn't have time to go through them - especially with their short open hours on Sunday from 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. and the fact that it was a fairly wet and cold day.
The crowds were incredibly light and thinned out even more during the afternoon rain storm. I had taken Six Flags up on their offer of a $69.99 2009 season pass that allows you access to Fright Fest in 2008 and had it quickly processed outside of Hometown Square soon after we arrived (although they cut off the top of my head in the picture so I look as if I'd had a lobotomy).
We also took advantage of the Flash Pass-Gold which we found to be a delightful tool to give us front of the line access throughout our day. I would consider this the 2nd best "front of the line" system that I've experienced with Universal's Express Pass room keys when you stay at their on-site hotels taking the #1 slot. The device is a "Q-Bot" which I believe Dollywood was the first to use. It looks like one of those "virtual pets" that used to be so popular. It's attached to a caribeaner and you can easily latch it on your belt loop and swing it into your pocket.
Several of the rides were available on the device - which we nicknamed "Tootie." Batman, Dark Knight, Raging Bull, Iron Wolf (rethemed Predator for the evening), Giant Drop, V2 and the Whizzer. It appears that the two water rides are also included during the summer and Superman would have been included if it had not been closed during our visit. The device would give us ride times and we'd select what we wanted, then when our time was up - we could go ride. Because we had purchased the "Gold" version (around $80 for the 2 of us), this gave us options only minutes away from the current time. Apparently the "non Gold" version estimates the full wait time and makes you wait that long before getting front of the line access - but, you don't have to be in the actual line. What's nice is that when your time is up for riding, the device maintains your reservation until you get there.
Because the crowds were so light, we really didn't need the device except for Raging Bull and Dark Knight - but since Raging Bull is our favorite and we probably rode the coaster at least 8 times, "Tootie" came in very handy.
What I noticed throughout our visit is a complete change in their employees. Those of you who have read my previous reports know that I very much pay attention to employee attitude and customer service when visiting amusement and theme parks. Six Flags is starting to work their magic! Many of the employees wore bright yellow shirts that said something to the effect of "Please keep our park clean because my family comes here too!" Several of the ride operators were getting into the announcing role prior to sending a coaster out of the station. The V2 operator would begin a countdown to launch and often push the button prior to getting to "0" to add an extra thrill to frightened riders. The Raging Bull operators were lowering their voices and welcoming everyone to "challenge the bull." Even the Whizzer operator was cracking jokes and making everyone laugh while boarding the train or when returning to the station.
And the employees working the lines were a delight. The young man running V2 recognized us everytime we rode. He'd give us a big smile and had some fun banter back and forth with us as we passed by him. The Q-bot operator at Raging Bull got to recognize us and she and I would jump into a "dueling" position and animatedly touch our Q-bots together (the employee's Q-bots would wirelessly verify our ride time then clear our Q-bot).
Plus, the park was clean, security - in costume - was present constantly and even the food employees, for the most part, were pleasant.
I think the Six Flags executives took a page from Cedar Point's employee manual because I really noticed a difference and my experience was much better for it.
Laura and I challenged ourselves to ensure we had 25 "rides" by the time the park closed at 8:00 p.m. (haunted houses included) and nicknamed our challenge "25 in '08: Ride it Out!" We succeeded in our quest taking our last Raging Bull ride at 7:50 p.m. thanks to the magic of Tootie. Raging Bull continues to be one of my favorite coasters and Laura and I always choose something to do different each time we ride (keep your eyes closed, look up the whole time, cross your arms the whole time, etc.). V2 is our 2nd favorite and we took full advantage of riding this multiple times with the light crowds - both in the front and the back (the very front is still the best but the very back gives you quite a thrill going up the rear strecth of track).
For whatever reason, we enjoyed Batman (seemed faster than I'd ever experienced), American Eagle (again - seemed faster and more thrilling than ever before) and the Whizzer (it still packs a whallop for a small coaster) much more than during previous visits. We skipped Iron Wolf and Viper altogether (we weren't into head knocking or spine vibrations during this visit) but we did take 2 spins on The Dark Knight. I know that ride got bashed on this site so I went in with low expectations. Sure - it's just a mouse coaster (same track as Mulholland Madness at DCA) and they already have another mouse with the spinning Ragin' Cajun - but you have got to give Six Flags credit for doing something different. They instituted line control by creating the preview room with the Harvey Dent press conference. The cars never stop when moving through the station so throughput can remain high. And putting something inside at a Six Flags park and making an attempt at themeing is a step in the right direction in my book. And you know what we noticed the most? Parents with their young childen riding - exactly the demographic that Six Flags needs to attract to survive. And our pictures were hilarious each time we rode because the little dip where the camera is located suprised us every time and we appeared frightened in the photo which cracked us up. Plus - this became the most popular ride in the park when the rain started.
The Haunted Houses -
After waiting for over an hour for each house in previous years because we chose to experience them near the end of our visit, we opted to hit the houses soon after they opened. Six Flags charges extra for their haunted houses and both opened at 3:00 p.m. They had a special deal that if you explored the houses prior to 5:00 p.m., they were only $5 each, so entered both houses between 3:30 and 4:30.
In the past, the Masoleum of Terror had always been the superior haunted house and we always chose to visit that one second. We did take note that the house in Southwest Scaritory had been rethemed to "Studio 13" this year but we assumed it was once again the neon-painted 3D experience of the past. Because of our location in the park in the afternoon during the rainstorm, we opted to break tradition and visit Masoleum first.
To get to Masoleum, you have to walk through the picnic area rethemed as "Necropolis: City of the Dead." This is always entertaining as they hire the same actors every year to play the demon mayor and several of the other regulars. It's always entertaining, a bit gory, but never that scary - although the squirting port-a-potty is always a hoot!
There was no line for Masoleum so we walked right in once we got through Necropolis. It's still a good house with several good scares and a solid use of mirrors and blinking lights to throw you off track. We screamed a few times and especially enjoyed Leatherface with the chainsaw at the end. Oddly enough, there weren't too many memorable scenes inside so I cannot recall any of my specific experiences with the exception of a good scare involving a rising mannequin on one side and a live actor on the other. Again - I'd recommend it, but I'd put it just in the "good" category.
We then trekked over to the other side of the park to Studio 13 - which we fully expected to be just a renamed 3D experience. We were wrong. They have completely redone this house and it is truly one of the best I have ever experienced. Worth the price of admission to the entire park!
The ghoul that lets you into the maze recognized our more mature age (yes, I'm almost 40) and chatted with us in a whispered tone (she'd lost her voice screaming at teenagers the night before). She seemed to like us so Laura and I were permitted to enter on our own for the scare of our life.
A majority of the scenes in this house are based upon a horror movie. It was incredibly dark inside so navigation was slow and we never caught up to another party (nor did a party catch up to us) throughout the maze which added to the experience. There were several memorable scenes including the Saw room, the Friday the 13th room, the Psycho room and the Night of the Living Dead room. The actors did a great job at coming at us from the front, the side and the back. It was so dark that sometimes Laura would scream behind me as an actor was pestering her and I could not see anything behind me - adding to my terror. Truly a top notch maze that other parks should take note of building. It's more about the "surprise" and "scare" then it is about the gore and this house delivered the chills in EVERY scene!
We walked out of the park shortly before its close at 8:00 p.m. feeling very satisfied with our Fright Fest experience. Six Flags is really putting their money where their mouth is by building more family friendly attractions, training employees on superior customer service, and keeping guests entertained and engaged at every turn. The new Flash Pass system is brilliant and most of Great America's rides are good ones (Deja Vu RIP unfortunately). I'm going to be keeping my eye on Six Flags and hope their stock split will keep them in the markets. Great America is a crown jewel in the chain and I will continue to be a repeat visitor - especially with my 2009 season pass!
What are the perks for Season pass holders? I could have sworn you wrote something about that. Its great stuff!
Good stuff, great deal the season passes have become over the years.
The short walkthroughs are a good warmup for the bigger attractions. I got on free (season pass), but it probably isn't worth $5. Then again, what isn't expensive at SFGA?