One curiosity of trip planning in Covid times is the fact that many parks have cut their opening hours. My decision to visit St Louis today was triggered by the requirement to be in Memphis on a weekday, Branson on Tuesday, Tulsa on a Wednesday or later, San Antonio on Friday, and New Orleans on a weekend. The easiest way to accomplish all of the above was to move my draft schedule out by 24 hours, and an origin point in Iowa left only one sensible side tour. While I’ll freely admit to being a little crazy in my routings, there’s method to my madness – honest!
I’d hoped to get to Six Flags St Louis in time for the posted 10:30am opening, but an overly comfortable bed put paid to that. Fortunately light traffic en route compensated for the worst of my sloth, allowing me to pull into the car park just before 11:00am. Entry was a breeze thanks to a wonderful new screening system supplied by Evolv Technology; instead of traditional metal detectors guests walk slowly between two metal plates that use AI to identify potential threats. Those flagged by the computer are stopped; everyone else can keep going. There is no need to empty pockets, open bags, et al. It took less than five minutes to get through the gate after parking, which is not bad at all for a large corporate and positively exceptional on a weekend. I look to a future when these systems find their way into airports, though I fear it might be a while; liquid bans are still in place in most countries despite the fact that suitable spectroscopy technology has been available for more than a decade.
Printed park maps were not available today, so I decided to begin my visit with a high-altitude reconnoitre from Colossus, a 56 metre high wheel from Huss Rides that has been a staple of the park since 1984. The 40 individual cars are surrounded by anti-suicide cages, meaning that single riders are welcomed – and as an added bonus there are plenty of good photo opportunities from the heights. An enthusiast planning a full day at the park might want to think about riding both in the morning and evening to take advantage of the sun being in different places; for my cycle the front of the park (including American Thunder and Batman the Ride) was in shadow.
My first coaster became Boomerang, an ex-Six Flags Over Texas machine that I rode in its first home eighteen years ago. Each row in the station was separated by a human-sized wooden barrier presumably installed with the aim of reducing virus particle transmission. I subsequently discovered that these had been retrofitted throughout the park. Though a nice idea in theory, they had the unfortunate side-effect of making it impossible to see which rows were available, causing guests to walk up and down stations looking for space – and in so doing, spewing disease over a much wider area than they might have done otherwise. Clear plexiglas would have been a better choice, though perhaps it was beyond the budget. (I didn't think to take a photo at the time, but I caught one later on American Thunder that is reproduced below.)
The ride had two interesting features that caught my attention while waiting to board. The first was a sign advising guests that any loose object taken out on ride would result in a one year trespass warning. On the whole I like the clarity of this approach in a world populated by degenerates eager to get their ten seconds of YouTube fame, though it does rather assume that the people involved can read. The other was a great deal nerdier: the air brakes in the station disengaged in sequence over about two seconds, and you could clearly hear the sound moving from one end of the train to the other. The effect was very cool even if it did presumably result in a slight delay to dispatch.
I ended up in row five for my solitary lap, from where the experience was more or less what I expected: a respectable if moderately uncomfortable ride that is probably best described as a product of its time. The newer generation trains with soft vest restraints (and the Sunkid replacements with lap bars) are an enormous improvement; it’s a shame that this unit hasn’t been retrofitted. (As an aside, the end of the road for the venerable Vekoma Boomerang has apparently been reached after fifty-four installations spanning almost four decades; the final new example was fabricated some years ago for Attrapark VDNKH and will presumably open there if construction ever resumes.)
My next stop was at River King Mine Train, an Arrow design that dates from the park opening in 1971. In its formative years the name was used for two similar but different tracks. The primary track (and the one that remains today) was rebranded to Rail Blazer in 1984 and gained stand-up trains, though these didn’t last long; a fatal accident led to the original rolling stock and name returning in 1985. In an unrelated move, the secondary track was removed in the late eighties and sold to Dollywood, which subsequently sent it to Magic Springs. Today the ride was operating with only one train, and as a result the wait was far longer than it should have been. On the plus side though the operators were making an effort to keep things moving; I was called forward to take an empty seat in row two. The experience was enjoyable for what it was: a family-friendly example of the mine train genre with three lift hills. The only really memorable moment was the drop into a tunnel towards the end.
I disembarked and headed across to Superman Tower of Power, an Intamin Freefall relocated from the late Six Flags Astroworld – but found that it had permanently closed at the end of 2020. In an ordinary year I’d be surprised to see a decommissioned ride left in situ for an entire season, especially one that materially alters the park skyline, though this can perhaps be forgiven at a time when cashflow is tight. Signage at the entrance indicated that it would be replaced by Catwoman Whip in 2022, and a little digging has revealed that this will be the third Funtime Vomatron in North America.
As I was most of the way there already I continued to Screamin’ Eagle, a classic Philadelphia Toboggan Company design celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. This was a terrible disappointment. When I rode for the first time eighteen years ago the experience was top notch, but today in row three the train was jackhammering so badly that I couldn’t wait for the end. It even managed to bounce a few times on the brake run. The kindest thing I can say about the ride was I managed to disembark without serious injury; the words “an accident waiting to happen” spring to mind. As a direct consequence I elected not to do a ride on Boss; recent trip reports have been far from positive and I fe1lt like I couldn’t deal with another physical assault.
Instead I made my way to Pandemonium, one of five Gerstlauer spinning coasters acquired by Six Flags between 2005 and 2008. This unit was one of four to use with the name and likeness of skateboarder Tony Hawk, albeit only for a few years; the licensing deal was one of a number terminated at the end of 2010 as the corporate chain sought to reduce costs. The ride operates with eight cars, and unlike competing designs the seating is face-to-face, which adds immeasurably to the experience. The layout virtually guarantees enthusiastic spinning, and while the design has been superseded by the latest Mack product it remains a top notch family coaster; it’s a shame that more examples haven’t been built.
Next up was Mr Freeze Reverse Blast, where I claimed the back row (otherwise known as the front of the train). Some years ago the park made a big deal about turning the train on this ride around, so that it goes backwards and then forwards. This is, of course, entirely different to the original experience which went forwards and then backwards…. right? It was here that an otherwise good day rapidly got irritating; Six Flags’ implementation of flash pass allows users to access the ride via the exit, and there are no restrictions as to where they can sit. This means that guests waiting for premium seats will often find them occupied when the air gates opened. This happened to me three times in a row on Mr Freeze Reverse Blast, adding a good twenty minutes to my wait time courtesy of one train operation. I sincerely hope that the money made from Flash Pass sales justifies the hit to guest experience, because this frankly sucked; it’d be far better to merge guests right before the station so that everyone has a fair shot at competing for the good seats. Rating aside, however, the ride was good; smooth, fast, and thrilling. Premier shuttles are not exactly common due to their power requirements, so it’s good that this one remains in service.
I was Flash Passed once again for the front seat of American Thunder, though it was somewhat less annoying here as there were two trains in use. Today the the thirteen-year-old GCI creation was right on the edge of what I’d consider to be comfortable; it was wild and thrilling, but it will definitely need replacement track in the very near future. (As a fun aside, the ride was temporarily renamed to Cubs Thunder a few years ago after park management lost a bet with their counterparts at Six Flags Great America. I'm kind of sorry I missed that.)
Batman the Ride had been down for a technical issue but opened just as I approached, allowing me to head straight into the back left with no wait whatsoever. It had been three years since my last encounter with the original inverted coaster layout, and I’d somehow allowed myself to forget just how good it is. There was a significant pins-and-needles effect in my feet for much of the journey, which despite its intensity remained absolutely glass smooth. It seems incredible to think that it has been almost thirty years since B&M revolutionised the roller coaster industry with their first production model coaster; I have fond memories of watching footage of the version at Six Flags Magic Mountain on America's Greatest Roller Coasters in 3D.
The last ride of the morning was on the Justice League dark ride. I’ve written about this before in other trip reports; the only thing to be said about the experience today was that, as far as I could see, all of the effects were working. It’s nice to see a proper modern dark ride in a Six Flags park, even if it is a cookie cutter design reused in a few places.