Sunday, January 05, 2014

Six Flags (Not so great) America

By Terry Mulcahy

Six Flags America is Washington, DC’s home park, and that sucks.

It’s not that the park itself is terrible (more on that later) it’s that, as the park closest to the nation’s capital it’s a huge disappointment.

Of course, D.C. is lucky enough to have both Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens Williamsburg within a couple hours drive. But despite a notorious throng of tourists during D.C.’s hot ‘n’ humid summer months, Six Flags America is the only park to offer some form of public transport system from the city.

Six Flags is not a terrible park. But when the chain includes a “Great America” (near Chicago) it’s unfortunate that SFA... isn’t.

What it is though, is a mixed-bag. The park has some nicely-themed areas (the entry plaza is pretty, and the Coyote Creek section is appropriately rugged) and a sprinkling of badass rides (Superman: Ride of Steel is a solid Intamin Mega Coaster full of airtime but devoid of theming).

But for everything right, there’s a wrong.

The Gotham City area of the park is a depressing expanse of thinly decorated concrete plazas, the South West Territory section is little more than a dumping ground for fairground flats and the park’s two woodies are rough and forgettable.

A lot of complaints in the past have settled on poor operations and unfriendly staff, something which the park have taken great strides to address. Staff are usually friendly, enthusiastic and ready to offer high-fives and sing-a-longs in stations, but whether they will operate more than one train, is another matter. Strolling the midway, staff in day-glo shirts flash eager smiles and exude energy, even if all they are doing is hawking Flash Passes.

The park has had a shaky few years too. Removing their decently-themed kinda/sorta WaterCoaster “Skull Mountain” left the park with a huge, grinning skull facade and little to fill it. That is, until the B&M Standup Iron Wolf from Great America was relocated and re-themed as Apocalypse. (And fitted with fireballs!) A standup coaster offered a more compact layout than some alternatives but was never going to wow the enthusiasts. Renovations to the waterpark (included in admission) though, were a welcome step.

But it could be so much more!

If the park were to embrace Washington’s history and incorporate it more heavily into the theming, it might better befit the tourism juggernaut that the city has become. Sure, the upcoming Mardi Gras area sounds cute, but relocating a spinning coaster, adding a Flying Eagles ride and hanging a few colored beads won’t turn the park around.

Imagine a Mount Vernon Vekoma or a National Mall plaza? What about a White House-Whitewater River or a Congress Corkscrew?

If you’re in town, without a car, consider stopping by. If you have wheels though, there’s so much better nearby.

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