Six Flags Great Adventure

4th July 2016

In the planning stages of this trip it became apparent that we'd be driving past a major Six Flags park on Independence Day. The sensible thing to do on paper would have been to skip the place entirely, given that the new credit on our hit list would (probably) still be around on our next visit to the area. Nevertheless we decided that we'd use our pre-purchased season passes to do a hit and run on the grounds that we could do so at no cost, and when the expected crowds failed to materialise we changed itinerary on the fly and stayed for several hours.

We didn't quite manage to get to the park in time for opening despite best intentions, a not altogether surprising after-effect of a five hour time zone jump, but we were only a few minutes behind the multitudes as we drove into the car park shortly after half past ten. My parking pass was scanned by an effervescent and ebullient employee who told us to "have a wonderful day and a very happy fourth" with remarkable sincerity given that he'd probably repeated the same catchphrase at least a hundred times in the previous hour.

Security screening was handled efficiently, and once through we found about fifteen different entrance gates that were labelled with a variety of choices, including "day tickets", "processed season passes", "season pass vouchers", and "early entry". Megan had yet to process her pass and joined the slow-moving voucher line, though she was one of the few to actually do that up front. While waiting I saw several groups attempting to use the faster lines for pass processing only to find out the hard way that they couldn't. It was hard not to feel a sense of schadenfreude as one set decided to create a scene after learning that they'd been standing in the wrong place for fifteen minutes.

Joker

Once through, we walked directly back to the Joker (#2249) to determine the lay of the land. I'd seen a test car dispatch earlier in the day, but that was all, indicating that something wasn't quite right. It wasn't much of a surprise to discover a closed ride, though the staff member at the entrance was able to tell me that they expected to open in about twenty minutes. With that knowledge in hand we joined the fourth queue of the morning to rent a locker.

It is perhaps instructive at this point to describe the usual steps required to arrange lockers at theme parks. The vast majority of those in American parks seem to come from the GoPod family, and rental requires three steps: payment by cash or card, entry of a user-selected pin, and a repeat of the same pin for safety. A promotional video from the manufacturer shows the process taking approximately twenty seconds to complete from start to end, and indeed that is roughly what it took us to do. However, we were in the minority; the four groups in front of us in line took an incredible fifteen minutes between them, and one even had to seek assistance from a member of staff, making it fairly obvious that the wheel was turning but the hamster was dead (and quite possibly decomposed).

The designated queuing area was kept closed throughout the testing process, resulting in a substantial unofficial line stretching back along the side of Switlik Lake at the back of the park. Once the ride opened however it moved quickly, and we managed to claim a spot just a few feet beyond the posted thirty minutes from this point marker. I'd expected to have to wait far longer for an almost new ride on a holiday, and it's worth calling out that the estimate seemed on the high side; before we knew it we were next in line to board on the lake side of the track.

The new ride is a compact coaster with vertically stacked track sections negotiated by eight-seat cars that rotate around the vertical axis. That description sounds familiar because it isn't a new idea; rather, S&S Sansei have come up with their own version of the Intamin ZacSpin, a type that I've found distinctly variable over the years; the first two installations were great, but I couldn't say the same for the larger models, both of which were memorable mainly for the series of punches they delivered to my stomach. I was quite nervous when boarding, but I'm glad to report that my concern was misplaced; there were no comfort issues on the ride today.

Our car was dispatched very efficiently by Six Flags standards, with the time from gate opening to wheels rolling taking less than thirty seconds. The lift hill was fairly quick, and at the apex our car began to rock back and forth, delivering a variety of unusual forces. The experience, though novel, was somewhat tamer than I'd expected, as our car only flipped over once as we coasted over the "big" drop, a fifty-four foot descent and climb out located roughly two thirds of the way through the course. Reports online indicate that the intensity of this ride design is adjustable on demand, and I found myself wondering whether park management had deliberately chosen a gentle programme instead of the extreme experience that the hardware could theoretically provide.

Joker

Joker meets all the rules to be classified as a roller coaster, but it honestly feels like it should be thought of as a flat ride. The layout has no sensation of speed, no sensation of being high off the ground, and no airtime; instead, riders are treated to a rocking sensation of the type more traditionally associated with products from the Huss Park Attractions stable, albeit without the lateral motion and with a modicum of unpredictability. Readers who enjoy spin and spews will love the experience, but those who tend to favour coasters will probably consider it a tick that, once completed, is not something worth waiting for a second time.

We retrieved our various accoutrements from the incredibly complicated lockers and relocated to Nitro, which had been adorned today with a series of banners celebrating fifteen years of operation. There were three trains in use and as a result we were able to walk directly on to the back row. The track looked decidedly shabby today and badly in need of a fresh coat of paint, but the ride experience hadn't changed all that much barring a small amount of vibration, as I noted in my 2010 report. Though mildly unpleasant it wasn't severe enough to impact the enjoyment of what remains one of the most family friendly hypercoasters in North America.

Bizarro was also badly in need of fresh paint, with rust everywhere and flecks of the original colour scheme clearly visible in places. It was great to see two trains in use despite no queue whatsoever, but we became somewhat less impressed when it became apparent that the loading speed was best measured using an hourglass. We decided to eschew the front seat as we didn't feel like waiting twenty minutes for two trains to go through, and instead selected row six, from where the seven inversions were negotiated effortlessly. I could have done without the blast of heat from the fire effect, but that was a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.

It was an unexpected treat to find both sides of the Swiss-built Skyway running at the same time, something that hasn't happened on any of my previous six visits to the park. We decided to take full advantage of this for photographs, riding the external section of each track in order to get all possible angles. The only worthwhile shot on the lake side was of the new coaster; for everything else the opposite side was best.

The final coaster of the morning became El Toro, and I'm sorry to report that it wasn't running well at all. The lift and first drop were as good as they've ever been, and the following airtime hill (complete with triumphant Intamin fart noise!) was great. However, the turnaround was absolutely dreadful, with the train jackhammering badly enough to induce a severe headache. The rest of the layout became an unpleasant endurance test, and I wasn't at all sorry when the train hit the final brakes. Given the condition of the track it was quite a surprise to see one of the trains wrapped with Kia Soul branding; I'd have thought that a car company would prefer not to associate itself with a vehicle doing its best to hurt customers.

El Crappo

 

Blackbeard's Cave

4th July 2016

Blackbeard's Cave is a small family entertainment center located a few miles in from the New Jersey shore. Though not exactly a must-visit destination even for the most obsessive of enthusiasts, I'd nevertheless planned brief stops there as part of my trips in 2006, 2010, 2012, and 2014. All four attempts had to be aborted for one reason or another, and given that I was absolutely determined that we'd get there this year. The parking lot was nearly empty when we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, making me wonder if this was going to be a fifth consecutive fail, but the gate was open and moments later a member of staff in the ticket booth sold us two coaster tickets for the princely sum of $7.50.

It was great to finally tick off Dragon (#2250), a family coaster from Wisdom Rides that felt the same as just about every other non-powered coaster of theirs that I've ridden over the years. The layout was standard fare, featuring a tyre drive lift hill (negotiated in a decidedly haphazard fashion) followed by a helix, an airtime bump, and a return to the ride station. Unusually however the on-board experience was actually fairly respectable in the front seat. Megan took the back, from where she had a clear view of every single car rocking from side to side on the lift, which she described as being as if the train were driving over a small animal.

 

Steel Pier

4th July 2016

My first visit to Steel Pier was just over a decade ago, coming at the end of a fifteen hour day during which I managed to clock up twenty credits spread across eight small parks along the east coast of the United States. At the time the pier was owned by Donald Trump, and though his ownership ceased a few years later his name lingers on the adjacent Trump Taj Mahal casino, a dispiriting place that today was being picketed by a branch of the local union over health care and pension benefits.

There were huge crowds in the pier area, unlike at both of our earlier stops, and given that we decided that'd it be best to limit ourselves to one ride on each coaster. The twenty-two ride tickets required came in at $24.86, a cost reflecting both the (nominally) premium location and the stupid American idea of excluding sales tax from published prices that causes everyone to carry around large quantities of loose change. The additional ten dollars we had to pay for parking made the little kiddie credit we'd come for ridiculously expensive, but it had to be done, and that was that. We thus threw what remained of our dignity aside and boarded Loco Motion (#2251), our second encounter this year with the Double Coaster from SBF Visa, a twin-helix design with ten installations worldwide as of this writing. The version here lacked the nasty kink in the track present on the British example, but it did have an infuriating train whistle sound that was played at top volume on every one of our five laps.

Once our ride came to an end we relocated to Crazy Mouse, an original Reverchon machine that had definitely seen better years; the once white track was grimy with rust and dirt, and there were several moments where our car jolted abruptly in an unexpected manner. One of these thuds happened when we hit a slightly off-center brake segment just prior to the main drop, and much to our delight it unlocked our spinning mechanism prematurely, causing us to go down the main drop backwards. The coaster gods were apparently smiling on us, as we watched several other cars from ground level and all of those unlocked in the usual place.

Steel Pier

 

Gillian's Wonderland Pier

4th July 2016

Gillian's Wonderland Pier is a very pleasant family park located close to the northern end of the Ocean City boardwalk. My only previous visit to the park almost eleven years ago approached from the road, and as a result I never actually saw the elegant ninety metre long entrance building, adorned with castle turrets and a purple dragon halfway up the wall. The Wonderland name was spelled out on ten evenly spaced pillars whose decor was reminiscent of the toy letter set that I owned in my formative years. A food shop was visible right in the centre under the Gillian's logo, selling a variety of healthy local delicacies such as Funnel Cake Fries, Kettle Corn and Snow Cones.

My first Wacky Worm (#2252) credit in almost two months was a surprisingly lively model, traversing what Megan likes to call "the wiggly bits" with gusto. There was even a nice pop of airtime on the main drop, and we were given two laps to enjoy it. The ride is actually the second Fajume Worm to operate at the park; the original was moved to Gillian's FunLand in 2009, and was subsequently sold to Alabama Adventure after that park failed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Our next stop was at Runaway Train, one of the final coasters to be manufactured by L&T Systems. As with my previous visit the ride was superb, with a good first drop followed by series of smooth yet forceful turns. I found myself wondering just how many more of these rides might have been sold were it not for the manufacturer going out of business in 2009.

With the credits done we spent a few minutes taking photographs before joining the queue for the Haunted House Dark Ride. The scenery inside was lit in bright neon colours, and included cartoon figures making frightening faces, a two manual organ with a single rack of pipes, a grandfather clock with an axe instead of a pendulum, an enormous rat standing on a box of cheese, a sewing machine on a desk, a cemetery with humorous gravestones, and right at the end, a circus scene.

 

Playland's Castaway Cove

4th July 2016

Playland's Castaway Cove caught the attention of the enthusiast community at the end of last year when they announced that they were replacing both of their adult roller coasters with new custom designs. The old machines were both around twenty years old and well past their prime. There was further excitement when it became apparent that management had also bought a SBF spinning coaster, making it the first American park in several years to add three new credits in the same season.

Unfortunately something went wrong during the construction process, causing the two big rides to completely miss the summer peak. GaleForce, the premiere of a new launched coaster design from S&S, tested for the first time in mid-June but as of our visit was not expected to open to the public for at least a couple of weeks. Wild Waves, a family coaster from E&F Miler Industries was even further from completion, with lots of track segments yet to be installed. An enthusiast friend of ours said he didn't expect either to take paying customers this season, and while there are a few weeks to go as of this writing it must be said that things don't look all that good. One has to feel sorry for the park owners, as the delays must have cost them an enormous amount of money; one hopes that they have enough in reserve to ride things out.

We were left with two consolation prizes, both of them small. The ride operator on Pirates Gold Rush (#2253) gave us a slightly disbelieving raised eyebrow as we walked up to the station platform, but was happy to run the ride with both of us in the same car, giving us three thoroughly unmemorable laps. Whirlwind (#2254) was even more flaccid, to the point that Megan suggested it should be renamed Gentle Eddy in a Tidal Pool. We slowly rotated our way around five uninspired laps before heading back to our hotel for a rest.

Gale Force

2016


Six Flags Great Adventure

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Blackbeard's Cave

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Steel Pier

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Gillian's Wonderland Pier

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Playland's Castaway Cove

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