TR Six Flags Great America 9/18 - 1st Visit, and Bit Lengthy
As I have mentioned before on this board, Six Flags Great America has been on my ‘To Do’ list for quite some time. I had always heard that it was one of the best, if not the best park Six Flags had to offer. Chicago always seemed so far away too, that I couldn’t justify or find the time to drive out there.
Well, that all changed when I married a girl from the mid-west, whose parents live in Chicago. I’ve been to the Chicagoland several times now, armed with a Six Flags season pass. But in the 5 years that I’ve been married we’ve either been in Chicago for Christmas when SFGA was closed, or in warmer weather when it would have been inconvenient fto everyone, for me to make the trip from Mokena to Gurnee (a little over an hour).
I love parks and coasters, but I draw the line at inconveniencing others to support my hobby.
We wanted to get away for a weekend, so we figured we’d drive out to Chicago for a few days, with the understanding that I wanted to check out SFGA on Saturday, the 18th. I didn’t know what to expect as far as crowds go. My brother-in-law came with me. He enjoys parks and coasters, but not nearly to the extent that we all do. My wife wanted to go out to dinner in the evening, so staying late wasn’t an option. I hoped to get one ride on each coaster, two on the big boys that are unique to SFGA.
I was willing to skip Superman, Dark Knight, V2, Ragin’ Cajun, since I have already ridden those identical rides at other parks. American Eagle, Demon, Iron Wolf, Whizzer, Little Dipper, Viper, and of course Raging Bull we musts for me, as was the original Batman, though I’ve ridden four others already.
On the way there, we encountered no traffic on 294, but we did hit a huge morning thunderstorm. There was lightning everywhere, and it was raining very hard. I was already nervous about my day, wondering what coasters, if any would be open. I was hoping that it would be one of those days when the rain scared off the crowd and the park would be empty.
The rain stopped as we entered the parking lot, and I was very happy to see that the lot was practically empty, and that trains, with people, were cycling on all the coasters I could see, including Raging Bull. I swiped my season pass, as my brother in law paid $58 (more than I paid for the season pass), and we entered the park.
I could see right away, and walking through the park throughout the day only confirmed it, that the park is very well maintained. It’s gorgeous and well laid-out. The landscaping and theming are perhaps the best I’ve seen at a Six Flags park. The themes certainly have their oddities, like V2 and Batman in the middle of the Yankee Harbor area, and American Eagle and a very patriotic frisbee ride in County Fair.
Overall the park was a treat for the eyes. One change I would make would be to add a path or two, running east and west, to better access the sides of the park. There’s only one way to walk the park and that is around. (Unless I missed something. ??)
I was right about the park being empty. All of the coasters we pretty much walk-ons, and I got to ride every coaster at least once, including the ones I had originally planned on skipping. The longest waits were Little Dipper (waited one circuit), Dark Knight (because of the Aaron Eckhart video – isn’t Harvey Dent dead?), and Ragin’ Cajun, which had a 20 minute wait for some reason. Everything else was a walk-on.
Two general notes about the roller coasters: I like how they tell you as you enter the ride how long the wait is, how many riders have ridden today, and how many riders have ridden this year. I love numbers, and that was cool to see. The other thing was that despite the light crowds, every coaster had two trains running, except Little Dipper and Vertical Velocity of course. That wouldn’t happen at many parks I know. Big thumbs up for that.
The Coasters, in order of least favorite to favorite:
12) Superman Ultimate Flight – 1 ride
I can’t say that I hate any coaster I’ve ever ridden, but these rides are not fun for me. I had ridden the same ride at Great Adventure several years ago and I really don’t care if I ever ride one again. The trains are comfortable only until you crest the lift hill. Then the blood rushes to and from your head for the next 30 seconds. I really don’t like the pretzel loop, and the rest of the course is just left and right turns. Perhaps Tatsu and Manta are better. While it’s a cool idea to ride a coaster laying down, I don’t think it was ever a real practical idea. Call me crazy, but I would have rather ridden Shockwave.
11) Ragin’ Cajun – 1 ride
I’ve never spun on a spinning coaster like I spun on this thing. This was my longest wait for the day. I was half-way through the line when I realized there was a single rider’s line. Oh well. It’s your standard spinning mouse, but it packed a mean punch. I liked the themed cars too, and the station took some time and effort too (and $).
10) Dark Knight – 1 ride
Why is this coaster called Dark Knight? Batman only makes a brief on-ride cameo. The rest of the ride is about the Joker and his goons. It should be named for him. This isn’t a horrible ride, and it’s a solid addition to the park. I would never wait in line to ride it again at either park it’s at, but if the line was empty, I’d give it a go. I enjoy wild mice, and with the theming and indoor element it’s a winner in my book. I also like the how the cars are themed to busted-up subway trains.
9) Little Dipper – 1 ride
I applaud SFGA for this very un-Six Flags move. Saving this coaster was such a great idea, and all-tolled, they added a solid attraction to the park for probably less than $150K total. As stated above, we had to wait one circuit, but as a result, I got a front seat ride. There isn’t much to this ride, but it’s always a pleasure to ride a wooden coaster, in particular one that had be saved from the scrap heap. I also enjoyed the oldies music playing and the history of the ride on signs in the queue. Well done.
8) Vertical Velocity – 1 ride
I like the name, but it just didn’t seem to fit its surroundings in Yankee Harbor. I’ve ridden four different Intamin Impulse coasters. This one I would rank 4th. Wicked Twister and V2 Marine World are unique. Possessed at Dorney still brakes you at the top of the spike. This one does not. Still fun, but a tad disappointing.
7) Iron Wolf – 1 ride
We walked up the stairs, right on, and into the front “seat”. I was looking forward to riding this 1st generation B&M stand-up, having not ridden one before. I’ve ridden Mantis and Riddler, and I really like both of them. I was excited to experience this design in its early stages. I was prepared for a rough ride and rode defensively. It did not disappoint. It seems to me that the turns on this ride are too sharp for its own good, resulting in some head banging. The layout was good, but I think it would have been smoother as a sit-down – with a lower center of gravity. B&M definitely improved the design of these rides as they got bigger, with bigger turns and inversions. Iron Wolf was fun, but if you like a smooth ride, it may not be for you. I can only imagine the back is rougher than the front.
6) Demon – 2 rides.
I like how this station is at ground level. I can’t remember ever seeing that before, especially on a coaster that size. I was looking forward to Demon because I love Arrow coasters, and they’re becoming a dying breed. The theming was really neat to see, particularly with all of the canyons. Demon even has its own song playing as you walk through the queue. My first ride was in the back. It kicked my butt, but I was ok with that. The first drop just yanks you right out of your seat. I wasn’t ready for it, and I couldn’t recover (reposition myself) until after the loops.
At the end of my day, I just felt like I had to give it another ride, this time in the front. The front of the train is much less rough, and this time I was able to enjoy the first half of the ride. I’m glad I went for the second ride.
5) The Whizzer – 1 ride
I’m always worried that this thing will get removed, and I’m glad I was able to ride it finally. I have never ridden a Schwarzkopf speed racer before. They aren’t so much a dying breed, but an all-but-extinct breed. This ride was not testing as we entered the park. I was worried that I would not get my ride due to the wet conditions. It wasn’t until the early afternoon that I noticed trains running on it. We immediately walked over. It too was a walk-on.
What a fun little ride it is. I loved lounging in the soft padded seats. I loved the spiral lift, the long drops and swooping turns through the trees. This ride is a keeper, and I hope they can hang onto it for a few more years. If I was by myself, I would have ridden it several times over.
4) American Eagle – 2 rides
This was another ride that wasn’t open initially. I kept an eye on it most of the early part of the day. Occasionally I’d see the blue train go up and stop on the lift. (I swear it was the blue side.) By early afternoon, the red side was the one that opened. Blue would not run, and since the crowd was so light, I guess it didn’t need to. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to ride that side, but I understood why. I got a back seat ride and a front seat ride on American Eagle.
I was surprised by how much I liked this ride. It’s got a great first drop and great speed and air throughout the course. The turn-around is very fun as you keep getting faster and faster until WHAM! Out of your seat you go as you drop out of the turn. ‘Ejector air’ doesn’t quite capture the feeling. The bottom totally falls out from underneath you. Great moment, especially in the back - and totally unexpected the first time through because you can’t see it coming. I loved it.
Another thing. As I walked down the exit of Raging Bull, I was awestruck by both the size of the American Eagle’s turnaround and the amount of wood it contained. That thing is massive, and it had to be 100 feet of the ground. Amazing.
3) Batman: The Ride – 1 ride
Not much to say about this ride, since it exists all over the place. But, I considered it necessary to ride the coaster that started the inverted craze. While American Eagle sticks in my head more, this is a better ride. The novelty has worn off, I guess, but the Batmen still pack a mean punch after all these years. We walked right on the FRONT seat. Can’t say I’ve done that on an inverted coaster before.
Interesting side note: one of the trains had its trademark B&M wheel covers removed for some reason. They were on the ground in the tunnel as you entered the station.
2) Viper – 1 ride
I know, one ride? Again, with different company, or by myself, I would have ridden it several times. Viper was our first ride of the day. It was pretty much a walk on to the very front seat. I walked away very impressed with Viper. It’s just a very fun, smooth wooden coaster. I’m ashamed to admit that I have yet to ride the Coney Island Cyclone, but if Viper is patterned after it, then I understand why it’s so loved. Great America did a great job with this ride, from the station’s theming to the actual ride itself.
I wanted to get back in line immediately, but Raging Bull was calling my name. I thought we’d return later, but it didn’t happen. When I return to Great America someday, many rides on Viper will be on my to-do list.
1) Raging Bull – 4 rides
While Great America has many good coasters, Raging Bull is the star, make no mistakes about it. It too, like the others in the park was a walk-on. I could have ridden it all day long. I love B&M hypercoasters, and this is a great one. I’m wondering why no one talks about it like they do the others.
Raging Bull is a back seat ride all the way. Our first ride was in the back, the second towards the front. The back was much better, so rides three and four were there as well. The yank from the back on the first drop, after that straight-away, is just awesome – better than Apollo’s I think. I love the banking turn from the height of the second drop. With those B&M trains, you really feel like you’re flying.
The only negative is that damn trim going up the third hill. What is the point of it? It just kills the momentum for that third hill, and subsequent hills leading to the block brake.
The pop off the block is just wonderful in the back seat as well, and I love the low to the ground twists and turns. Though the Bull was built first, I was reminded of Goliath at SFMM, having ridden that already. Both great rides, but Raging Bull is the better ride, in my opinion. It’s really a first class ride, and the best SFGA has to offer.
We only spent about 4 hours in the park, and we got all of those rides in, plus a $30 lunch at Panda Express. Again, had I gone by myself, I would have stayed longer and ridden a lot more. But I was very satisfied with my Great America experience.
Unfortunately, due to the weather, and the fact that I have a big camera that I had to lock away all day, I didn’t take any pictures inside the park. There will be other trips for that, perhaps with a more pocket-friendly camera.
I can’t say it’s my favorite Six Flags park, but it’s a close second. I still remember my trip(s) to Magic Mountain with much fondness, so I give the edge to Goliath, X and the gang. I had a great time, and I will be sure to return when they add their next major coaster, which I think will be a custom floorless B&M named Bizarro (2012).
> Interesting side note: one of the trains had its trademark
> B&M wheel covers removed for some reason. They were on the
> ground in the tunnel as you entered the station.
I was at an enthusiast event earlier this summer when the park director was asked why the wheel covers were off. The park director just shrugged his shoulders and said that was a question for maintenance. So I'm not sure why they are off but they have been off a while.
Glad you enjoyed yourself at Great America. While not my favorite park, it is a very solid park. Any park with two well above average woodies is okay in my book though.
I have been to SFGAm only once, with other enthusiasts a few years ago, had a nice day there, and I liked the place a lot.
I remember wishing it were closer, same as I feel about SFoG and SFStL and...oh never mind!...they beat out my local SF park except for one particular coaster (I live in MA).
Viper remains high on my list of favorite woodies.
My one visit to SFGam was in '07, and various circumstances prevented me from enjoying the park to its fullest. It is indeed well kept and aesthetically pleasing, and the entranceway with the double-deck carousel is my second favorite of the parks I've visited. I enjoyed The two woodies a lot, but none of the steel left much of an impression..especially Raging Bull. I'll stick with another Bull that's much closer to home..he's waiting for me tomorrow night, I hope. Funny that Raging Cajun was your longest wait. It's pretty standard for mice..spinning or otherwise..to have a long wait. But I waited about half hour (my longest) on a lightly crowded June day at the park. Never got on, though..it broke down.
You mentioned the drive. In which state do you reside?
Thanks for posting!
> Raging Bull is a back seat ride all the way. Our first ride
> was in the back, the second towards the front. The back was
> much better, so rides three and four were there as well.
> The yank from the back on the first drop, after that
> straight-away, is just awesome – better than Apollo’s I
> think. I love the banking turn from the height of the
> second drop. With those B&M trains, you really feel like
> you’re flying.
Raging Bull is still my number one steel coaster even though it has come very close to losing that title after riding several other coasters. Like you, I could ride this thing all day and the back is the only place to ride.
Everyone complains about the brake but it's never really bothered me. I think it adds a little hang time on the next hill, especially if you are sitting on the left edge seat.
Thank you for the detailed report. I haven't been back since 2005 but I could relive the entire experience in your TR.
As for the camera, if your pockets are deep enough, I would suggest a point and shoot camera that fits in your pocket [i wear jeans, so it's well tucked in]. I always bring it along with me and have been on the likes of S:UF, Nitro, KK, etc. I never had to worry about losing it. I can get my pictures and still ride on all the rides without need to use a locker or leave the camera with a non-rider.
I appreciate all of the kind comments. I love parks and coasters, and I love to write. I'm glad there are a few of you that enjoyed the TR. I enjoyed writing it. In response...
Mike B. I hope to be up that way some time this fall. Boulder Dash and Bizarro are right at the top of my to-do list. It would be a first visit to both of those parks. I need to find a weekend in October that works.
Mike B(eastmaster) Not that I'm opposed to meeting anyone on this board or having people on this board know anything about me, but I plead anonymity for various reasons. Will it suffice to say that I lived in Pennsylvania for some time and that I drove 11 hours west to get to Chicago?
G-Dog, Raging Bull is an incredible ride, though Mike is right - that SFGAdv's Bull is better. I'm glad you could re-live your trip vicariously.
A pocket-sized camera, heavy on the megapixels is on the list. My Canon takes great shots, but more and more parks are making you lock up your stuff now. I guess I need to adapt.
Very nice TR! I'm happy to see that you lucked out with the crowds, because the three visits I've made to the park this year have all been at the very top of the busiest days I've had at any park this year.
I would agree with your ride rankings just about all the way through. Raging Bull is definitely the best ride in the park, with Viper (when it's running well) coming in a close second.
The trim brake on Raging Bull is IMO, completely unnecessary. The most egregious trim brakes, again IMO, are (1) the trim on Raging Bull and (2) the trim just before you get to the top of the second hill on the Beast. The interesting thing about the Raging Bull trim is that it is ALWAYS on. Last year we saw an empty train cycling through in 50 degree conditions, and the trim was STILL SLOWING THE TRAIN DOWN. I've always wondered how good the ride could be without the trim.