Justin Surguine
Community Member

Six Flags: The Journey Forward - Where They Went Wrong and What They Can Do to Improve

Six Flags New England's Cyclone is one of the multiple wooden coasters at various Six Flags parks that has undergone unecessary reprofiling, removing some of the ride's intensity.
If there is one chain the world often loves to hate, it's Six Flags. People are often quicker to point out the flaws at Six Flags parks more so than any other parks. It is the chain that receives the most criticism. Sadly, the criticism is often warranted.

It began shortly after Six Flags had built its original three parks in Arlington, Texas; Austell, Georgia; and Eureka, Missouri. They went on to purchase Astroworld, Great Adventure, Magic Mountain, and the former Marriott's Great America in Gurnee, Illinois (www.rcdb.com). New owners took over Six Flags every few years. However, not all of the owners made great decisions for the chain.

One of the most annoying trends was the ride rotation program that Six Flags became well known for. Multiple coasters are running today at a different park then they started out in. Six Flags Magic Mountain's Flashback, Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom's Greezed Lightnin', and Six Flags Astroworld's Batman-The Escape and Ultra Twister are just a few examples. This trend forced people to say goodbye to the rides they loved after only enjoying them for a few seasons. This trend was actually tied in with another undesirable trend that various owners took part in. Some of the seven Six Flags parks were heavily favored while the rest were left to get the hand-me-downs. Six Flags Great Adventure, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and Six Flags Great America would get the brand new rides while the other four would get the rides the big three removed. This process continues today; however, Six Flags Over Georgia and Six Flags Over Texas have joined the big three. Six Flags Great America probably shipped out more rides than any other Six Flags park at the time. It sent off a shuttle loop, a space diver, and many other rides of various types.

It was clear entering the 1990s that Six Flags Great America was still the favorite. It received the very first Bolliger & Mabillard roller coaster, the standup Iron Wolf. They would also receive the very first inverted coaster, also a B&M. Batman-The Ride was yet more evidence that Six Flags liked Illinois. By now, the former Six Flags Over Mid-America, now Six Flags St. Louis, was practically a forgotten park. It was, for a while, the lowest-attended park in the entire chain, a status probably due to the lack of attention it received. In 1993, Six Flags Great Adventure had its status as a favorite of the chain cemented with the introduction of its own Batman. Six Flags Magic Mountain followed suit the next year with the third Batman-The Ride. It seemed as though the other four parks were just the retirement homes of rides from the favored parks. After all, Astroworld is home to an Intamin standup, a Schwartzkopf shuttle loop, a Togo pipeline coaster, an Arrow mini mine train, and a Schwartzkopf Looping Star. Oddly enough, the Schwartzkopf Looping Star, here known as Viper, was a relocated coaster from Six Flags Over Mid-America. Thankfully, Time Warner, one of the more unpopular owners of Six Flags, decided to have mercy on Six Flags Over Mid-America and give them the fourth Batman-The Ride.

As the nineties plugged on, several of the seven Six Flags parks began to share the wealth. Six Flags Over Georgia received the fifth Batman in 1997 with the original Six Flags, Six Flags Over Texas, getting the sixth two years later. However, new parks began joining the Six Flags family. Premier Parks, a noteworthy chain at the time, became the new owners of Six Flags, bringing along a large portion of new parks over the last few years of the decade. That meant that there were a whole bunch of parks screaming for new rides.

Now known as Dominator, Batman Knight Flight at the former Six Flags Worlds of Adventure was the fiercest competition Cedar Point had to face in the way of rides. The end result was quite predictable, with the park now under ownership of Cedar Fair.

Premier Parks changed its name to Six Flags, Inc., and remains the current owners of Six Flags. However, the poor decisions were still being made.

What are these poor decisions? The five examples are excessive cloning, excessive re-profiling, playing of favorites, ride neglect, and unwise spending. The excessive cloning has led to parks with more copies than original designs. Often coming in the form of compact, semi-thrilling coasters, clones have practically overrun several of the parks in the chain. Six Flags America has seven adult coasters and one kiddie coaster. Of those adult coasters, one is completely original, one is a near clone, one is a mirror-image, and the other four are clones. Six Flags Elitch Gardens suffers from a similar problem with its collection, as do a few other parks. Why must Six Flags keep throwing clones around and making people feel lucky to have something original?

Rides such as the various forms of the Vekoma Boomerang are production models with a layout that has been designated to it. Could Vekoma change the layout? Yes, they could make a shuttle coaster with the same lift configuration, but they could change inversions around. However, they in a sense have the right to remain the same. Though the inverted coaster is not a production model and is known for custom, unique layouts, Batman-The Ride is the definitive Six Flags ride and perhaps their signature attraction. However, those, and perhaps other shuttle coasters, are the only excused rides.

The B&M flyer ought to be custom. There is no need for a new army of Superman Ultimate Flights when there could just as easily be a bunch of custom flyers that might keep the famous elements that Superman contains, but they could easily be expanded upon. Also, the Superman-Ride of Steel twins at Six Flags Darien Lake and Six Flags America ought to be different. Darien Lake's model is not the one that needs a new layout as it was the first. Six Flags America's should have been custom. There was enough land to build a completely custom ride. Six Flags New England got a custom model. Perhaps the Six Flags America model could have started off the same as the Six Flags Darien Lake ride, but the layout could quite easily have changed for most of the ride.

Scream! at Six Flags Magic Mountain did not need to be a mirror image of Six Flags Great Adventure's Medusa. The Premier Rides LIM "spaghetti bowl" coasters could have enjoyed some other severely twisted, but completely unique, incarnations. The Vekoma Suspended Looping Coasters, or SLCs, should not have gotten the popularity they did, at least with the same layout. Six Flags should have ordered custom layouts. The Vekoma Flyers could have had different layouts. Six Flags put in too little creative effort, and it cost them some of their reputation.

A view rarely obtained these days is this one on Six Flags Magic Mountain's Flashback. The ride is down the vast majority of the season for various reasons.

Another costly mistake made by Six Flags is the excessive re-profiling of some of their coasters. While some of it was for the better, i.e. replacing the over-the-shoulder restraints on Premier Rides LIM coasters, most was for the worst. With the exception of the Texas Cyclone and the Rattler, rides re-profiled due to lawsuits, most was just unnecessary. The Texas Giant was tamed on a whim. The Georgia Cyclone received trim brakes for no reason shortly after it opened. The Cyclone at Six Flags New England had its first drop modified to make it less severe and intense, again for no apparent reason. Now the dearly-loved Comet at the Great Escape is going to be tamed for no real reason. Why do the folks from Six Flags, Inc. need to perform all these modifications? They don't. They are just doing so for no apparent reason. Maybe a guest said a ride was too intense. So what? That is what most people like about them! That's why they rank so high in most people's opinions! Nobody likes a wimp of a ride.

Six Flags obviously plays favorites. Due to the close contention with Cedar Point, Six Flags Magic Mountain is clearly the favorite nowadays. That is a sad fact, as the playing of favorites has led to the downfall of several other parks. There is a prime example: the former Six Flags Worlds of Adventure.

While not the only reason, the choice of coasters for the park certainly had to be a factor. The reason that the park needed to have an excellent collection was because of its extremely close proximity to Cedar Point. Geauga Lake, as it was known and is currently known, is about as far away from the glorious peninsula as Knott's Berry Farm is from Six Flags Magic Mountain. However, it does not have the Disneyland or Universal Studios to help take away some people from the larger next-door neighbor. If Six Flags Worlds of Adventure did not get guests to come, it was because they were going to Cedar Point.

Anyway, as for the rides, Six Flags Worlds of Adventure did not receive enough amazing coasters to combat Cedar Point's collection. It's stand-out rides were a set of good woodies combined with an Intamin impulse coaster, a large B&M floorless coaster, and a Vekoma Flyer. It had no hypercoaster to combat Cedar Point's massive Millennium Force/Magnum-XL 200 duo. It had a Vekoma SLC to combat Cedar Point's Raptor, a fight with an obvious winner. It's impulse faired well, and is still perhaps the best; however, Wicked Twister brought with it some fierce competition when it opened in 2002. Top Thrill Dragster had no opposition anywhere when it came to a launched coaster, at least until now. X-Flight, Worlds of Adventure's Vekoma flyer, never got too much time in the spotlight, as B&M practically took over the world of the flying coaster, though it seems Zamperla Volares are all the rage these days. As for the rest, well, the woodies made it higher in the rankings than Cedar Point's did, so Worlds of Adventure at least had the upper hand in timber. However, with so many super-coasters unmatched at Six Flags Worlds of Adventure, and often adverse opinions from guests due to various other problems, it seemed the best option was to just pull out of Ohio. Six Flags was not exactly in the best financial shape, either, as they spent so much only to watch the economy plummet and people find less-expensive means of entertaining themselves.

One wonders if the addition of the upcoming Kingda Ka is even necessary as Six Flags Great Adventure has very little competition in its market.

Ride neglect has affected many rides at Six Flags parks today. A lot of rides are rusted over and in dire need of new paint jobs. Maintenance has been a problem for several parks. Thankfully, the Batman-The Ride coasters at Six Flags Great America and Six Flags Great Adventure were repainted and look great. However, such is not the case for many other rides. Take Magic Mountain's Flashback for instance. Flashback gets to run only if the adjacent Hurricane Harbor is closed. However, it seems it still is closed at the time of this writing, and Hurricane Harbor has been closed for a while. The ride is reportedly very rusty and the trains are in disrepair. Many of those who have gotten the chance to ride this one-of-a-kind ride hold an appreciation for it and enjoy it. However, it seems that the odds of a tourist visiting the park at a time when the ride is open are slim. Is Six Flags really that low on cash that they cannot repair it? No, but that will be discussed in the next paragraph.

Many rides at several parks run on limited capacity. Supposedly one-train operation was prevalent at times during the summer of 2004 at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Batwing, now Six Flags' sole Vekoma flying roller coaster, is almost guaranteed one-train operation, with two trains being an extremely rare occasion that happens about one out of every twenty-five visits. Again on the subject of paint jobs, paint can be seen peeling off of cars on various coasters, and sometimes track as well. Oddly enough, paint does not peel off of roller coasters at other parks. Usually, parks will repaint their rides if the track looks filthy. In the case of Raptor and Mantis at Cedar Point, both rides got rails repainted from gray on both to green on Raptor and pinkish-red on Mantis. Most trains probably get repainted during the off-season as well. However, it is clear that the trains on Six Flags America's Superman-Ride of Steel have rarely been repainted if they have even been repainted at all. People have etched things onto the front of the trains. Also, the trains are dented at various spots. Gee, put that ride up for most beautiful coaster of the year. How can a chain just sit there handing out new rides while the old ones are falling apart? The sad part is, most of the rides in disrepair are new ones. One can only imagine how often Kingda Ka is going to break down.

Seen here during the launch is Six Flags Over Texas' Mr. Freeze shuttle coaster, arguably one of Six Flags finer investments.

The last major problem that affects Six Flags parks is unwise capital spending. For 2005, Six Flags Great Adventure will be getting a whole new themed area with a brand new record-breaking coaster. Six Flags Magic Mountain must watch Flashback fall apart. Also, the chain invested too much into its parks in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, as the economy fell apart, they cannot be blamed too much. Yet instead of saving the money for upkeep of current rides, they decided to keep on spending on new rides. They absolutely had to allow Six Flags Magic Mountain to continue to challenge Cedar Point. Six Flags Great Adventure and Six Flags Great America, though already blessed with excellent collections of coasters, had to get unnecessary Superman Ultimate Flight coasters that really did not do all that much for the park. With top-notch rides such as Nitro and Raging Bull, did those two parks really need the new rides? Might not it have been a better decision to not build those two rides and use the money to purchase the materials for sound reduction so that the noise of Magic Mountain's Flashback would not be loud enough to distract lifeguards at Hurricane Harbor? Or perhaps some more of it could have gone to fixing Batwing and X-Flight so that they could operate with all three trains.

Scream!, the two Superman Ultimate Flights, and the purchase of Jazzland, however, were better ideas. Right. Keep building new things so people forget about that ride whose paint is in the form of a bunch of chips forming a colorful collage on the ground below. Let people ignore the fact that their wait has tripled due to the fact that there is only enough money to keep one train running continuously so that Six Flags Great Adventure can open the tallest and fastest coaster in the world. Let Six Flags Magic Mountain take on Cedar Point and have sixteen coasters while Six Flags Darien Lake has six with their most recent addition be Superman-Ride of Steel from 1999. How is that wise spending?

Six Flags Worlds of Adventure needed the money more than Six Flags Magic Mountain. Magic Mountain did not have to compete with Cedar Point. They had to compete with Knott's Berry Farm for being the larger regional park in the area. Disneyland had Universal Studios to worry about, and there are enough people in Southern California to keep those parks going. After all, if Knott's Berry Farm has been going strong since the 1920s, and it still does not even have ten coasters, certainly the Six Flags Giant had nothing to worry about. Worlds of Adventure, being only about an hour from Cedar Point, had to compete in the very same market, one which is not nearly large enough to provide enough people for a Knott's/Magic Mountain relationship. If Six Flags expected Worlds of Adventure to survive, it needed an arsenal capable of taking on that at Cedar Point and attracting a competitive number of guests. A signature coaster in the form of a floorless coaster whose match was Cedar Point's Mantis, arguably the least popular of the major four Cedar Point monsters at the time, was not exactly the way to go. Six Flags Worlds of Adventure needed X a lot more than Six Flags Magic Mountain did. The money was going to the wrong parks for the wrong purposes.

Serial Thriller is an example of the excessively-cloned Vekoma SLC, located at Six Flags Astroworld. However, its location right up against I-610 makes it one of the more interesting examples.

It still does today. One can probably put their money on another Six Flags park leaving the chain soon due to a lack of finances, and one might worry that it might be one of the original three. Six Flags St. Louis has not really been able to boast of some new, outrageous coaster since the opening of Boss in 2000. Six Flags Elitch Gardens left a landlocked area to move to yet another landlocked area. Six Flags should have let someone else grab Jazzland so that Elitch Gardens, a park with a lot more history than most of the Six Flags parks, might get to move to an even larger area where there was an excessive amount of land so that expansion would never be a problem again. But no, adding yet another park to the clearly financially strained chain was really the way to go. That kind of spending cost them an Ohio park and a whole lot more over in Europe. Granted, again, had the economy not tumbled, 2000 would have only been the beginning of perhaps the greatest age of roller coasters in history. However, with the limited funds they have, they should be spending their money where it is needed.

It is truly a shame that a chain that runs so many parks, most of which people truly love, treats their paying customers the way they do. While not a direct mistreatment, it is clear Six Flags does not always show guests the best time they can. The chain indirectly shortchanges people with excessively copied rides, recycled names, and poor treatment of rides and sometimes parks as a whole. One can hope that the chain will soon wake up to the apparent problems and fix them, but perhaps it would be better if Six Flags would just let someone else take over and start over with a clean slate.

Justin Surguine is a member of the RCPro Community. He can be reached with questions, comments, or just telling him how much he sucks via the RCPro Community under the screen name 'sirloin'. RCPro, it's staff, and affiliates are not responsible for the comments made in any user submitted article. RCPro does not necessarily support or endorse the views and comments made by the user.