Coaster101 Takes on Six Flags Great America
For only the second time in history, all seven of the U.S.-based Coaster101 writers met for a day full of coaster-riding — this time at Six Flags Great America.
Since I’ve spent more time at this park than any other, I (John) consider it my “home away from home” park. I could navigate from ride to ride with my eyes closed. So I thoroughly enjoyed going to the park with my fellow coaster friends, several who have never been.
After our visit, I asked the group to give their initial impressions of the park:
Which Six Flags Great America coaster were you most excited to ride prior to your visit?
Andrew: Admittedly, I purposefully did little to no research about Six Flags Great America before visiting, because I wanted to experience the park with a pretty open mind. I knew they had Goliath that was different from all the other Goliaths out there (RMC instead of B&M or Giovanola), but not much else, so I’ll go with Goliath.
Eric: Whizzer! It closed before I could ride it at California’s Great America, so I’ve always wanted to come out to Six Flags Great America to get to experience a ride that my older brothers talked about fondly. Plus I’ve loved every Schwarzkopf I’ve ever ridden, so figured it’d be fun.
Kyle: I really was looking forward to getting on The Joker, just because these rides are so weird looking. It was a lot better than I expected, smooth and the flips weren’t too abrupt. Unfortunately it was broken down Sunday and I only got to ride it once.
Nick: There were going to be a few “firsts” for me at Six Flags and I was looking forward to all of them. I had never been on a B&M flyer before (thanks broken chain at Six Flags Great Adventure!), nor had I done a free spin, Rocky Mountain Construction topper track coaster, or Justice League dark ride.
Mike: This was actually my second trip to Six Flags Great America, so I had already ridden most of the coasters in the park (or at other parks in the case of Joker and The Dark Knight). This was my first time riding Demon and Viper, but I wouldn’t exactly say I was excited to ride those. So I’d have to say the ride I was most excited for wasn’t even a coaster, Justice League: Battle for Metropolis. It was nice to see how it compared to similar dark rides here in Orlando.
Larry: I’ve gone to Six Flags Great America a few times over the years since its the second closest park to me, but I always look forward to riding Raging Bull and Goliath again.
What were your initial impressions after arriving at the park?
Eric: So because my home park and the one I grew up with is California’s Great America, my initial impression was, “what the hell is this Bizzaro world I’ve entered?” Seriously though, I basically kept noticing little things that were similar or different between them. Like, SFGA doesn’t have the big “Great America” sign in front of the Carousel pool (or any palm trees), but the Orleans Place sign is identical. I kept noticing little things like that throughout the park, and it was really fun for me.
Larry: The staff seemed to be pretty efficient at processing everyone through security and getting their passes up and running. The new mobile phone ticketing system seems to be a lot more efficient than the old fingerprint system.
Kyle: I remember just seeing how all of the rides were so close together! From the parking lot, the skyline is just packed with coaster after coaster.
Nick: I signed up to become a Six Flags member online before visiting, because of the deal they were running at the time that seemed by far the best option price wise, especially considering Platinum level includes parking and free soft drinks, among other perks. I was expecting to have to wait in a long and horribly inefficient member-processing line. I was pleasantly surprised to find out they simply take your picture with a cell phone and give you your membership card right at the turnstiles! It was a surprisingly quick operation. They must be selling a lot of memberships too.
Andrew: A lot of times, Six Flags parks get a “reputation” of sorts in the enthusiast community. Now, I know Six Flags Great America wasn’t an original Six Flags property (and was built with the west coast Great America by Marriott), so it obviously had some differences from other Six Flags parks I’ve visited. That said, it felt impressive. The entrance plaza with the fountain and double-decker carousel was nice, and it didn’t exactly “feel” like a Six Flags. (This isn’t a positive or negative opinion, just an opinion.)
Mike: With the addition of Maxx Force, it amazes me to see how the park is able to cram so many quality coasters in such limited space. Seeing Maxx Force towering right next to Raging Bull is probably intimidating to park goers who aren’t huge coaster enthusiasts. But there’s nothing like seeing a beautiful coaster skyline to coaster fans!
Was there a sleeper hit at the park — something that exceeded your expectations?
Larry: I was pleasantly surprised that Viper is still running pretty great. It seems majority of everyone is in agreement but yeah, it wasn’t rough, still had good pops of airtime. Going through the super dense wood structure still gives the old head chopper effect.
Eric: I’ll go with Viper as well. I assumed it was a mediocre big wooden coaster, and never really hear people talk about. It turns out it’s a mirror image clone of the Coney Island Cyclone, and the layout gave lots of good bits of airtime without being too rough. Definitely surprised me. I’ll also give an honorable mention to Raging Bull. I thought it would be good (like most B&M Hypers), but it might actually be my favorite hyper. Who knew?
Kyle: I’m going to go with Demon here. For an old Arrow looper, it was not too rough and had some very fun elements that differentiate it from other coasters of its kind. There are three tunnels (with working effects) and great rock work by the loops – you even go through the rock during one of the loops!
Andrew: Viper. Having done minimal research, I had no idea what to expect with this ride, and before walking up to it, assumed that “Viper” was an Arrow looping coaster like it is at Six Flags Magic Mountain and at Six Flags Darien Lake. (Nope, that’s actually “Demon” at Great America) It looked rough from the queue, but actually provided a pretty enjoyable ride as older wooden coasters go. Definitely the best “traditional” wooden coaster in the park.
Nick: Viper probably number one as well, but in general I thought all their wooden roller coasters were very well maintained! I was expecting a bruising but instead found them all very re-rideable – props to the maintenance department for doing a great job. But besides that, I’m agreeing with Eric on Raging Bull. I expected it to be good because I’m a B&M fan, but it was even better than I was expecting. I’m convinced if they had built that ride now rather than in ’99, pre-social media explosion, that it would have a completely different reception and would be hailed as unique and superior to many of the other B&M hypers. And I’m also going to add Justice League. It was my first time on and I loved it (even with the screens being so dark you couldn’t separate Batman from a bad guy).
Mike: Viper probably gets my vote as well. I had read that it was a Coney Island Cyclone clone and wasn’t holding my breath on enjoying it. The last Cyclone clone I rode was Georgia Cyclone at Six Flags Over Georgia. My last ride on that was excruciatingly painful! It felt like I was being lifted up and crushed back into my seat like with General Zod’s World Engine at the end of the movie Man of Steel. But my experience riding Viper was actually pretty pleasant! I read that Viper is the only coaster that was actually built directly by Six Flags. Kudos to the park for building and maintaining such a good ride. Also have to give a shout out to Batman: The Ride. I’ve ridden the coaster so much at other parks that I usually skip it. I always forget how intense the ride is!
Was anything not as great as you were hoping?
Eric: Hmm, this is tough, because I didn’t know a ton about the rides and all of them were pretty good. If I had to pick one, maybe Goliath? Don’t get me wrong, it was one of my favorite rides at the park, but it felt like it was missing something (maybe length). I feel like most RMCs have long “close to the ground” sections that Goliath didn’t have. Still, that’s kind of a nitpick, and it’s mostly because my expectations for it were really high.
Nick: X-Flight. I sat in the last row in an outside seat and it may have been the bumpiest ride on a B&M I’ve ever had. I would have loved to ride it again in another seat to give it a second chance but we didn’t get the opportunity due to weather and time. And please fix the screens on Justice League!
Larry: I have to go with X-Flight as well. Even though I rode it not too long ago, it was the roughest B&M I’ve been on in a while. The seat was flailing up and down leaving it a rather bumpy ride that I did not expect at all. I don’t know how Six Flags managed to do that but they did.
Kyle: The Whizzer, while it was fun and is a great historical coaster, was uncomfortable to ride. The helix turns were quite rough and there are a couple spots in the backrest that aren’t padded and it just so happens they are also the spots you push into during those turns.
Mike: I wouldn’t say I found any of my rides disappointing. I will say that my first time riding X-Flight, I ended up being underwhelmed. I figured it must have been my seat location. Now having ridden it again, I have to say that it’s probably my least favorite wing coaster. Not a bad ride at all, but definitely not thrilling to me. I probably had more fun watching the ride (and all of it’s near misses) than riding it.
Andrew: The seats on Batman: The Ride. I know that it’s the original Batman, but I’ve never seen a B&M invert without at least one “double belt” seat. That was odd, and also a bummer, because I didn’t get to ride because of it.
How does Six Flags Great America compare to other Six Flags parks?
Larry: I have only been to a small fraction of them (Great America, Discovery Kingdom, Magic Mountain) but I do have to say that it’s still one of the more premier version of the parks, only second to Magic Mountain. They’ve done some work to keep up on a lot of classic attractions, but unfortunately let some slide down a bit such as American Eagle.
Eric: It’s probably a bit above average for a Six Flags park. I like that they have some solid attempts at theming (like the Southwest area), and have kept a lot of the old Marriot’s Great America area attractions and design. Like, I love that they’ve still got a train (although it wasn’t running while we were there due to Maxx Force construction) and some classic flat rides. It makes it feel a bit more like a “classic” park than a lot of Six Flags do, while still having a great coaster collection. It does feel odd that the DC themed rides are sort of scattered around the park, but I guess you build where you have space.
Kyle: Call me a bad coaster enthusiast, but I actually haven’t been to a Six Flags park since circa 2001 when the now defunct Geauga Lake park was Six Flags Ohio. But, from what I saw and what I’ve heard regarding the stigma other Six Flags park have, this one was very well kept and the theming was on-point!
Nick: Aw man, so much about this park exceeded my expectations. My expectation going in was we were going to be standing in long, hot lines all day with very poor operations not only for rides but for anything and everything. Our visit was anything like this. The longest wait we stood in was for Justice League and that is because we opted not to go in the single rider line and it was one of the few rides open due to a storm passing through. But the quality of Justice League is just a notch below Disney/Universal and way above your average shooter dark ride.
Mike: I’d say it’s one of the better Six Flags parks. My favorite is still Six Flags Magic Mountain due to having two of my favorite coasters of all time (X2 and Tatsu). But Six Flags Great America definitely has a solid lineup of rides and coasters.
Andrew: Among the Six Flags parks I’ve visited, which isn’t a huge list (America, Great Adventure, Over Georgia, Over Texas) it’s probably my favorite or maybe second favorite behind Great Adventure. It had a lot of good things going for it. The park was clean, the operations seemed pretty good (not great), and the ride portfolio was pretty unique. The prices seemed pretty high for things like food and parking, but it’s also a park outside of a major metropolitan city, where things are expensive. I get it.
Any advice for a first-time visitor to Six Flags Great America?
Nick: If there are two or three lines to get into the park, go to the one furthest on the left. The park is essentially a giant circle layout. Go left to get back to Goliath the quickest route. We never had to buy a locker all day long either, every ride you could take your backpack into the station and leave it there while you rode, which was nice.
Andrew: Go into it with an open mind. There are some gems at this park for sure, and you’re going to find them if you walk around and just experience the park. Also, keep an eye on the weather report. We managed to ride everything in one day on a Saturday without a flash pass, but the forecast was overcast, chilly, and called for rain off and on all day.
Eric: Go when it’s cloudy and there’s a chance of rain? We were pretty lucky at how empty the park was on the full day we were there. The next day when a few of us returned for a few hours, you could tell it was going to be packed. I think on a normal day, a flash pass or a multi-day trip might be necessary.
Larry: Avoid the weekends! Being located only a half hour away from most Chicago suburbs and a ton of pass and memberships sold to the locals, the park gets extremely busy and most of the rides and coasters cannot handle the crowds. Got poor weather in the forecast, it’s probably be your best bet on visiting.
Kyle: Take advantage of the single rider lines! On Sunday we skipped a 45 minute wait on Goliath and a 30 minute wait on Justice League simply by using the single rider lines.
Mike: I don’t have too much to add beyond what everyone else said. During my first trip to the park, a Flash Pass was absolutely necessary, especially with Goliath being brand new. But with the rainy weather on the day that we went, the park was actually pretty enjoyable and the lines were easily manageable. Definitely something I can appreciate living in Orlando where a “good” day may be getting to ride four or so rides…
What is one attraction that Six Flags Great America is missing?
Kyle: I’d really like to see a mine train coaster here. I kept expecting one to pop up and it never did. The signage for the drop tower is deceptively bad and makes you think it is a coaster (there is track and a mine car).
Mike: Only thing missing to me is a family coaster like a mine coaster, as Kyle mentioned. Otherwise, they have a solid variety of coasters at the park, especially with the addition of Maxx Force this year.
Andrew: On this visit? Maxx Force. It was sad seeing a completed track, but obviously still a fair bit of work to do on the ride before it opens to the public.
In general, another dark ride or indoor attraction would be appreciated. During the thunderstorm that blew through in the afternoon, all of the outdoor rides closed, leaving Justice League and The Dark Knight coaster as the only open options. I think some sort of water-based ride (like Monster Mansion at Six Flags Over Georgia) would be a great addition.
Eric: I can’t really think of any coaster models or designs that they were really missing. Normally I want a high quality GCI woodie at every park, but the wooden coasters they have are pretty high quality so hard to say that. Maybe, like Andrew says, another dark ride of some kind? But, it’s a pretty solid ride collection.
Larry: I think they have a pretty great coaster diversity, especially with Maxx Force opening up, but what I think they’re missing is some of the more modern flat rides. It’s nice they have a super large Larson loop, but replacing the old Huss Frisbee with a more modern version like the other Six Flags installations would help a lot.
Nick: The log flumes were closed on our visit (not that we would have rode them with it only being maybe sixty degrees). I wonder how much longer their lifespan is. If they removed both that would open up a large plot of land for expansion. Besides a launch coaster, which they will soon have, there really isn’t a big gap in their coaster lineup, they have a lot of variety for families and thrill seekers alike.
Our top-5 Six Flags Great America coaster rankings:
- Raging Bull
- Batman: The Ride
- Raging Bull
- Superman: Ultimate Flight
- Raging Bull
- Batman: The Ride
- Raging Bull
- Batman: The Ride
(X-Flight was one of my top coasters, but fell significantly due to the roughness.)
- Raging Bull
- Batman: The Ride
- Raging Bull
- Sprocket Rockets (because it was my 200th coaster)
- Raging Bull
- Batman: The Ride
- V2: Vertical Velocity (love the back seat on Impulse coasters with straight vertical spikes!)
Six Flags Great America Video
Here’s eight minutes of watching the rides and coasters of Six Flags Great America. You can easily tell which clips were shot on Saturday versus Sunday due to the complete difference in the sky.
What do you think about Six Flags Great America? Join our discussion in the comments section below.