My first American coaster adventure in almost two years was set up at the last minute when it became apparent that I'd have a three day weekend to myself during a business trip to Seattle. It would have been sensible for me to spend the time relaxing, but the lure of some interesting credits (and in particular a scheduled opening event) made the temptation to book a last minute flight too much to resist. Regrettably it wasn't possible for Megan to join me at such short notice, but I did promise that we'll go back to get the credits she needs the next time we're in California.
The day began with me leaving my hotel in Seattle at 5:30am and walking to the Link Light Rail, which takes just over half an hour to cover the distance between the city and SeaTac Airport. I'd been advised to allow lots of time to clear security screening, though as things turned out I'd badly overestimated; it took just forty minutes to get through the checkpoint, leaving me ninety minutes to sit in the departure area with thousands of others who'd given themselves similar buffers. The queues for the various food outlets were predictably insane, and rather than join them I found myself a power outlet and wrote (and published) an overdue trip report.
The flight to Santa Ana was operated by Alaska Airlines, and the seat pitch in economy was great; there was more than enough room for me to work on my laptop, and I made the most of the two hours to do yet more writing. Complimentary soft drinks were served, an unexpected bonus, and in fact the only real embuggerance on the journey was a five minute sales pitch for a branded credit card which I can't imagine I was even eligible for given my residence outside of the United States. The car rental process was quick and efficient and I was driving out of the airport about half an hour after landing.
The journey was the first for Hortense, a new GPS I'd bought to replace Ermentrude, a long-obsolete unit that had developed a terminal technical fault towards the end of my previous trip. Things didn't start all that well when she stopped responding during the initial programming phase, but after a few moments it became clear that her default mode precluded operation of any kind when moving, and as I was parked under a roof at the edge of satellite coverage she'd gotten confused. I quickly deactivated that non-feature (seriously Garmin...) and headed for the motorway.
28th May 2016
It took about thirty minutes to drive to Adventure City, a small family park located just up the road from both Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. The main parking lot and the overflow were both almost full, though luckily a car pulled out of a space just in front of me. There was a fifteen minute queue just to buy admission tickets, and the inside of the park was quite crowded. Readers attempting to retrace my steps should be aware that this park has what is unkindly referred to as the pedophile rule, insofar as adults are normally admitted only when accompanied by a child. An exception is made for card-carrying members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts who also get a discounted $11 admission ticket.
The latest addition to the park is Rewind Racers (#2239), the first American installation of a Shuttle Family Coaster from Gerstlauer. The layout of this model is customised over the othertwo installations in order to fit into the available space, but only an enthusiast would notice something like that. The ride begins in the manner of a Eurofighter, with the train stopping at the base of the reverse spike for several seconds while the chain is moved into position. The train is then lifted to the apex and dropped for a forward cycle before being caught by a tyre drive mechanism on the second spike. A speaker system there announces that there's no time to turn around before the train is dropped backwards around the course. The track quality wasn't the smoothest, but the ride wasn't fast enough for that to be a major problem, and it's worth calling out that both of my rides were in the back row which probably had some impact on the overall comfort.
I considered a token lap on Freeway Coaster, but the wait looked to be in excess of thirty minutes and that didn't seem like a good use of time. After a few quick photographs I made my way to the exit after a stay lasting just half an hour.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
28th May 2016
Hortense predicted a two hour drive to Six Flags Magic Mountain, which was quite a bit longer than I'd estimated in my planning. It turned out to be correct, however; the clever little machine was accounting for traffic. At several points during the journey it gave me audible warnings of stopped traffic ahead, along with accurate estimations of how long it'd take me to get through. By the time I arrived at the park I was ready to stretch, which was probably just as well given that I ended up at the furthest edge of the overflow lot, a good twenty minutes walk from the entrance. I wasn't about to complain, however; ten minutes later and I'd have had to drive around looking for people who'd gone home early.
My first stop was at the Season Pass Processing Center but it turned out that this was not necessary; as I had purchased my pass online all I had to do was go to the main entrance gate where my printed page would be swapped for a plastic card. This process was extremely quick, taking about ten seconds to record my fingerprint, presumably to prevent the card being used by others. Once inside the gate I opened the Six Flags app on my phone to check out wait times, and it wasn't much of a surprise to discover times ranging between one and three hours for all the major rides.
Despite that however there was no queue whatsoever for Speedy Gonzales Hot Rod Racers (#2240), a standard model Zamperla family coaster upgraded slightly with theme elements and shiny red cars, each of which featured a seatbelt in addition to the standard lap bar. I'd been warned of a rule precluding adults from riding without children, but that didn't appear to be an issue today. The track quality was marginally above average for an 80STD, though still not something I'd go out of my way to repeat beyond the two laps we were given.
With that out of the way I joined the queue for Twisted Colossus (#2241), a hybrid coaster by Rocky Mountain Construction built on the superstructure of Colossus, a classic wood coaster that as of my last visit was well past its sell-by date. The remodelled ride combines the original two tracks into one, albeit with a second lift hill whose speed is adjusted to allow two trains to race provided that the operators can dispatch in time.
The experience now begins with a really neat section of undulating track that features three airtime hills and two sideways tilts despite a height differential of no more than five feet. This slightly silly introduction sets the stage for the first proper drop, a 128ft descent taken at an 80° angle that, though smaller, feels very similar to the that of Millennium Force. The immediately following airtime hill is particularly powerful as the train crosses its diminutive height at something close to full speed. A turnaround and a pair of airtime hills leads to the first inversion, a left-turning zero gravity roll that works beautifully. The second half of the ride starts out in the same fashion as the first, hardly a surprise given the parallel lifts, but it becomes much more aggressive following the turnaround with a top gun stall, a section of track where the train stays upside down for several seconds before rolling back to the upright position. The ride ends with a double-up and turn into the final brake.
Regular readers will be well aware that I tend to be quite parsimonious with my use of superlatives. In this case, however, they're absolutely necessary; Twisted Colossus is positively wonderful, and arguably the best coaster in the park. One cannot overstate the abilities of the fine people at Rocky Mountain who once again have managed to convert a tired old ride into a signature attraction that was holding a seventy minute queue despite the operators keeping trains moving at maximum efficiency. The front seat had a slight edge for me over the back, though in both locations the ride delivered in style.
I had high hopes for New Revolution, the classic Schwarzkopf coaster upgraded this year with new rolling stock fitted with lap bar restraints. However, the ride was also given virtual reality headsets at the same time, and staff have yet to master the art of efficient loading. The posted wait time tonight was ninety minutes but it was actually in excess of two hours, thanks to the twenty seat trains dispatching no more than once every seven to eight minutes. The woeful throughput from the standby line was made even worse by a steady stream of Flash Pass users.
The headsets in use were somewhat different to those seen at Europa Park, insofar as they lacked a focus ring and they were not quite large enough to block out outside light entirely. These issues were annoying, but manageable. However, there was a much more serious problem, in that the video frame rate was very poor, resulting in visibly jerky animation. One of the limitations of VR technology at the present time is that all imagery has to be rendered in real time by the headsets based on the position of the train and the direction that the rider is looking in, and it felt very much like Six Flags designers had gone beyond what their hardware was capable of handling.
It's also worth commenting briefly on the video itself, which featured a plane flying around lots of skyscrapers and at one point crashing right through the middle of one, a somewhat bizarre choice in a country that still obsesses over the 9/11 attacks. The post-apocalyptic landscaping was reminiscent of the movie Independence Day, with a token evil monster that turned up right as the coaster went through its signature vertical loop. The brake run featured the aircraft landing on a carrier that had somehow materialised right in the middle of the city, and any hope that its presence might be explained was destroyed when the screen faded to black, only to be replaced by a Six Flags logo and a message saying to keep the headset on until the train came to a complete stop.
There's no question that the VR experience was interesting, but it was absolutely not worth the time I queued for it, and while guests could ride without the headset they had to wait in the regular queue regardless. In the future I'd like to see VR only added to coasters with a double loading station so that non-VR riders can continue to enjoy reasonable throughput; perhaps there might be a market for retrofitting old coasters in that way?