Somehow we didn’t feel the effects of jetlag. I suppose we never really do when we’ve travelled to the states and gone “back” in time zones. Needless to say, we’re up reasonably early for our visit to the first park, Six Flags Great America.
This park is located to the north of Chicago in an area called Gurnee. Sounds funny. Needless to say, this is where we’ve planned things quite well. We’ve got our GPS to direct us and, with the hotel being located where it is, access to the nearby freeways is quite easy.
Along the way our GPS starts moo-ing.
We wonder what the hell it’s doing for a while until the penny drops. It thinks we’re speeding. To be fair, we are sometimes but half the time the GPS is wrong and the roadsigns say something different. And every time it thinks we’re speeding, the GPS “moos”. Yep, someone who had it before us must’ve decided to set it to moo.
A name was required! The GPS, now with some form of personality (admittedly an annoying one) required a title, and “Bessie the GPS” was born.
Shortly afterwards we stopped her from moo-ing, for which we can only beg forgiveness. It was that or destroy the thing and we didn’t really want to have to pay the very nice GPS company back.
With that out of the way, our tickets and parking vouchers bought and printed beforehand, we arrive at the park!
Sadly we didn’t take many pictures through the day so this is one of the better ones.
We’ve arrived just after opening time but even so, there aren’t that many people coming in. Maybe we’ve just chosen a good day (a weekday). With that, onto our first ride of the holiday – Raging Bull.
The Raging Bull is a pretty decent coaster. A steel coaster (I don’t really know enough about coasters but I think it’s a floorless coaster), it’s apparently also the world’s first hyper-twister coaster. I’ll admit I have no idea what that means. It doesn’t have any inverts but is still a great deal of fun and a good start to the holiday. Got a little tunnel and the general area is well-themed to a western area.
Also nearby is the Giant Drop – a shooty-uppy-droppy tower thing. Fair enough. Again, the theming here is pretty good as you progress through a mine area. However, some bits were out in the sun so I could see that waiting a long time would be a pain. Fortunately for these two rides there have been no queues so far.
From memory, I think that’s because people were waiting for Viper, which we didn’t go on straight away. Primarily because of that.
There are lots of little rides dotted around the park – and we did manage them all. So sorry if I don’t mention particular ones – I’m mentioning the roller coasters, any rides that I do recall quite well, and of course what the park itself is like.
We do eventually manage to get onto Viper, and I’ll mention it now in case I forget. The Viper is a wooden coaster and was quite fun. It was pretty good going on this in the dark as well. Not too rough but also not too smooth – just right. Again, the wooden struts suit the surroundings well.
Towards the back of the park is the American Eagle, a wooden racing coaster which has a long queue area to get to it (fortunately empty). Sadly they were only running one train when we went. I do enjoy these coasters – reminds me of the Grand National at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. This one though was pretty big, probably bigger than the Grand Nash. However, it of course lacks the interesting scenery that Blackpool Pleasure Beach has, where rides wind in and around each other, ducking under paths and bridges or passing over another coaster.
The Demon proves a bit of a tight corkscrew coaster. Initially we weren’t going to go on it but we decide to anyway. It’s a bit painful in how tight it is, not a very pleasant coaster. A quick photo, as taken from the queue for another ride:
Also nearby is the Whizzer, a very family-oriented coaster. And it’s surprisingly good fun, as well as fast. Well, probably not fast but it certainly seems it and it’s a ride I’d recommend everyone who goes to this park try, regardless of your age or how macho you think you are with coasters. After being dispatched by the ride ops (one of which apparently, according to them, went on X-Factor America) the train goes up a spiral lift hill – a new one on us – before going down the least steep drop I’ve ever seen on a coaster. It’s almost adorable. Then we’ve got a few passes and 45 degree bankings, quite close to the ground, and a few other bits and bobs before it’s all over. If I could go back to the park and only go on a handful of rides this would be one of them, as adorable as it is.
Also nearby is Batman – The Ride. Or whatever. It’s got a great setup – walking into what is apparently the Batcave (which includes LED signs flashing “Welcome to the Batcave”) through a reasonably convincing sewer (sorry but Raptor Attack at Lightwater Valley holds the medal on reasonably convincing sewers), you come across the Batcave itself which has, apparently, been tricked out with a suspended looping coaster to be used in case of emergencies. Or if Batman’s got a slow day. It’s an alright SLC – to be honest, the two of these I hold in high regard are Infusion at Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Montu at Busch Gardens Africa (I must admit I’ve only been on Nemesis at Alton Towers once, as I’ve only been there once since it opened). Still, an alright ride. However, we were stuck in the entrance for a while for some reason, so food is required.
Took us a while to find somewhere decent. We should’ve just gone to the chicken place, which we visited for dinner. Nevertheless, we eventually find the park’s food court. My girlfriend gets a chinese and I wait for something called a “gyro”. I have no idea what this is.
Whilst waiting I get talking to a woman from Detroit. Her son was graduating from university and she was taking the family here. It’s a bit of a wait for our gyros (still no clue what they were) so I tell her where we’re from and that everything’s so clean here in America (believe me, it is, but more on that later) and everyone so friendly. She can’t quite believe me. I also ask her about Detroit 1-8-2 (one of my favourite shows of last season, cancelled before it’s time) which she, hailing from Detroit AND watching the show (yay – another fan), says that the show’s grim portrayal of the city is actually reasonably accurate. She also mentions that her family has more cars than people (even including those that don’t drive).
Gyro arrives and dear God, this is the greasiest thing ever! It is, basically, a kebab (I’ve since learned, through the powers of Wikipedia, that a gyro is another word for a kebab). Greasy unidentifiable meat and all. Still, for $10 you do get a lot. This is a lot more than traditional British theme park fare. Fortunately napkins are on hand – I think I need them.
It’s quite difficult to remember what rides we did when so I’ll say that the next one is Vertical Velocity, or V² (or Vee-too as those Yanks said, but they shouldn’t use the squared symbol in the logo should they?). This is a new one on us. Apparently this is something called a “suspended spiraling impulse coaster”. It’s an SLC on a track. The train is launched (bloody fast) and immediately takes a 90 degree incline upwards. It goes as high as it can, then goes backwards. Through the station onto a track going 90 degrees upwards again, with a slight barrel roll. Goes as high as it can. Starts going forwards through the station. Rinse and repeat. It’s a fun ride and also great to watch as it gets launched. The ride ops are amusing too, saying stuff like “Does anyone know what time it is?” (pause for effect) “11:58” (press the launch button). Amusing.
Batman’s a popular guy – he’s got a SECOND coaster. They can’t really call this one “Batman: The Ride 2”, it just sounds silly. So this one’s called the Dark Knight. Enter through a subway which the Joker decides to deface and into some form of strange subway getaway cars in order to escape the Joker’s evil graffiti. Or something. Then it turns into an indoor Wild Mouse-esque coaster with 90 degree turns and sudden drops, in the semi-dark. With strange Batman effects, including a strange wibbly thing, Batman himself poised like a statue and a floating police station. I don’t recall a floating police station in the Dark Knight. Maybe it’s from another Batman movie, where Batman has to battle Carmen Sandiego. Hell, she pulls off all sorts of crazy stuff without batting an eyelid. It’s an alright-ish ride, definitely one of the weaker ones though, and not a patch on Raptor Attack at Lightwater Valley.
Superman next, which is good as it’s right next door to Dark Knight. A flying coaster, with the only other two flying coasters I’ve been on being Air at Alton Towers and Manta at SeaWorld Orlando. It’s better than Air in that it actually does stuff, but Manta easily wins.
Our final coaster of the day (we missed one of the small kids coasters, and the Ragin’ Cajun – a Twister/Wild Mouse coaster which spins as you go on it) is the Iron Wolf. The first time either my girlfriend and I have been on a standing coaster. And they’re not comfortable at all. Getting in is a hassle – you need to pull the crotch support thing down enough and get on, then lower the shoulder support which also pulls up the crotch support and so on. Very strange. And when on, it’s nothing special. Sitting coasters are a lot better. It also bangs us about a bit.
There are lots of other rides and attractions though, and other other two I remember most fondly involve a giant evil lobster with red eyes spinning people around, and the King Chaos – a cool rolling-bench-ish ride. Or something. The ride op had great fun hanging us upside down on that for a while.
So let’s have another photo or two!
Again, there are lots of rides that we didn’t do – mostly the water rides. We dislike getting soaked unless there’s a damn good reason!
For dinner we go to the afore-mentioned chicken restaurant, Aunt Martha’s. And the stuff you can get here for $10 is ludicrous! Lots of chicken, biscuit, sweetcorn, mashed potato and gravy! Bloody brilliant!
I did get a T-shirt on the way out, quickly putting it over my other T-shirt. A Wile E Coyote T-shirt that simply said “Stalker”. Again, pretty good value for $10 (everything, it seems, is $10 or thereabouts).
I must admit we do start having some trouble using travellers cheques, but not much. It seems they barely see them – in fact, even the managers at the stores are puzzled as to what they’re supposed to do with them. They were probably trained about them in a by-the-way-you-may-find-someone-using-these manner but never imagined they’d have to serve someone using them. Nevertheless, after the staff got their managers to ask what the hell they were supposed to do with this strange new money, we were sorted and away.
The park itself is great – again, there’s loads to do. Out of the five parks we visited it’s definitely in my top 3. And my top 3 I can’t decide between, the standards were so high. But the park was spotless too! I only saw one piece of litter – someone had dropped a bag of popcorn, but it was quickly being cleaned up. Wouldn’t get that in the UK.
And, another culture shock – people are nice! I mentioned the lady from Detroit whilst waiting for lunch. We heard lots of people chatting with their kids, getting them involved. By comparison, in the UK we seem to think theme parks are something to take the kids to to shut them up. Not here. When going on Viper at night a kid was talking to the queue attendant, but actually having a good conversation with him. Not trying to mock him or take the piss or anything, but genuinely asking him about his job, what other rides he worked, which were his favourites etc. Also going on Viper, a family of two parents and two small children were waiting with us. When they couldn’t go on together we gave up our seats so they could – the kids adorably piped up their thank-you’s. It was quite sweet.
With very good theming too, and certainly a fair bit of real estate to sprawl over, this is definitely a good park. At night there’s a procession of neon floats and performers – another highlight. Whilst we do have video, I don’t have any pictures handy (and I can’t be bothered posting the video).
We stay until closing at around 10pm then head back to Chicago, also managing to stop Bessie moo-ing. Quickly go to bed so we can worry about the next day, where we take on Chicago itself…