The words here we go again seemed oddly appropriate as yet another coaster trip began in yet another new airport (fifty six now...). The plan was to meet George in the Chicago-Midway Holiday Inn, as his working week allowed him to fly in a day before me. This he had put to particularly good use, visiting both Cedar Point and Six Flags Great America, some six hours apart by road. Though Six Flags Great America was on the agenda for today, George decided to make a start on it before I arrived. The reason was simple; we wanted to minimise the time spent therein, and I had already ridden all but three of the coasters there on a previous visit. One might ask if it truly represents value for money to spend less than a full day in a major theme park, and this is certainly a legitimate question. However, since we both would be using season passes, the actual financial cost was negligible, and working this way would allow us to visit two additional parks that we would otherwise not have time for.
The first step for the morning was to get me added as a named driver of the rental car George had picked up in Cleveland the previous day. The driving distances this week made this a practical necessity; the journey would be completely unrealistic for a single driver to cover in the time allowed, and for that matter is stretching the bounds of sanity for two people. It took me about ten minutes to get used to the car, a Pontiac Grand Prix. If you exclude from consideration the turning circle (roughly equivalent to a barge), the braking ability (similar to a cruise liner), and the fuel, er, economy, it was actually not a bad car to drive. It was definitely an improvement on the last car I drove in the USA, a horrible Ford Taurus SE, although it still serves as a reminder of why American cars don't sell outside of America.
We arrived at the park some fifteen minutes before the published opening time, only to find that things were already up and running. As many reading this will know, Six Flags went through a management change this year, and it has to be said that the general impressions of the changes are positive, the only general gripe being the extortionate charge of fifteen dollars (!) for parking. My season pass was also twice what I paid for one last year, though it was still very reasonable ($100) given the number of parks it lets me into.
George's decision to visit on the Saturday meant that he had just five coasters left to ride today, three of which were in common with me. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, one of the five, Vertical Velocity, had a sign in front of it saying that This ride will not open today. One of the occupational hazards on coaster trips is attractions being out of commission; we have adopted a largely philosophical attitude when this happens; it just provides a reason to return in the future.
We had planned before entry to spend less than three hours in the park in order to make it to the other planned stops with enough time to enjoy them. With that in mind, we headed straight for Superman Ultimate Flight (#713), the last major coaster to be installed in the park. The ride replaced Shockwave, an Arrow multi-looper that had closed permanently just one week before my last visit to the park in 2002. This installation is, as near as matters, a clone of the other two, but that isn't a criticism; once again, B&M have delivered a magnificent ride, with the only criticism being possibly excessive force as the train goes through the pretzel loop. The only problem encountered was on disembarking; there was a hold up on the train in front of us, leaving us hanging from the brakes for more than five minutes. Not ideal, although it could have been worse.
Ragin' Cajun (#714) had a twenty person queue in front of us, which for some reason took ten minutes to move up to the platform. This can only be described as embarrassing; one only need look at this same ride design operating on any fairground in Europe, where as many as nine cars can be on course simultaneously. It only goes to show the difference made when every rider on board equals more revenue for the operators; suddenly staff become much more enthusiastic about throughput. Whinging aside, however, we were very lucky with the balancing of our car; a small child took up the opposite side, meaning our side was probably five times heavier than his - the perfect recipe for maximum spinning.
Throughout my travels there have been various reasons for rides not operating, ranging from weather conditions through to technical difficulties. A whole new one, however, was presented by the ride operator for Spacely's Sprocket Rockets, who told us that she could not run the ride as she did not have the keys (!). Rather than hang around while they were located, I joined the queue for season pass processing while George went to ride Deja Vu. As luck would have it, the timing for this was pretty close to perfect; George was just disembarking as I got back to the ride.
There was absolutely no shortage of time in our planned schedule, allowing the option of reriding some of the coasters that we might otherwise have skipped on this visit. First port of call was the fantastic Raging Bull, a truly awesome coaster and probably my favourite of the B&M hyper coasters, largely because it has an imaginative layout rather than the traditional out and back design. Two new hyper installations have opened this year which I have yet to ride, and it remains to be seen if one of those will take the new top spot.
The same could not be said for the red train side of American Eagle, which was in a sorry state. Running a twin track coaster with an odd number of trains (three) makes for interesting queueing, especially when it is not immediately obvious that one line is moving at twice the speed of the other. Unfortunately, this was probably the least offensive feature of the ride as it stands now; severe trim braking wasn't enough to stop the train bouncing all over the rails, shaking itself and passengers to the point where the train must have been causing structural damage to the track. The entire ride seriously needs retracking at this point; hopefully that will happen soon.
The operator on Spacely's Sprocket Rockets (#715) had found her keys by this stage, so we took one circuit before making an early exit from the park.