May 25, 2017
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No joke: Six Flags ready for summer

Joker ‘free fly’ coaster headlines theme park’s season

By Elizabeth Snyder


GURNEE, ILL. — Despite the presence of cuddly mascots and enough cotton candy to feed a third-world country for six months, the theme park business is a rough one.

To keep thrill seekers returning year after year, park operators must always be chasing the Next Big Thing.

At Six Flags Great America, the Next Big Thing this year is The Joker, a “free fly” roller coaster that opens to the public on May 27.

The Joker coaster features:

* A floating and twisting I-box track frame in a two-tone design.

* Onboard magnetic technology featuring smooth head-over-heels free-fly flips, which park officials say “provide guests the feeling of weightlessness as they soar outside the confines of a traditional track.”

* 4-D wing vehicles that seat up to eight people per vehicle.

* Face-off seats that allow riders to face each other as they tumble head over heels.

* A 120-foot-tall, 90-degree hill that is ascended by an elevator-style, chain link lift.

* Two beyond 90-degree “raven” drops that give riders the sensation of free-falling.

Those jokesters at Great America have placed The Joker next to Batman: The Ride, playing up the superhero/supervillain rivalry.

Want to get on The Joker before its official opening on May 27? If you’re a season pass holder, you can ride on May 26. You can also ride on May 25, from 4 to 6 p.m., if you buy a Joker Free Fly Coaster T-shirt on May 25.

The shirts can be purchased at Bugs Bunny & Co. and Yankee Engraver.

While The Joker is the biggest news at Great America this summer, it’s not the only thing rocking the theme park for 2017:

Drop of Doom VR

Through Memorial Day (May 29), Great America is offering the “Drop of Doom” virtual reality experience.

The theme park’s Giant Drop ride — which is scary enough by itself, sending riders plunging from a 227-foot tower (more than 20 stories in the air) — is transformed into “Drop of Doom,” a VR adventure in which the riders battle mutant spiders while plunging. “

Drop of Doom” is free with park admission. You must be at least 13 years old to ride with VR gear. Note: Riders can choose to ride without VR, too.

Share a Coke

Today and Friday (May 18-19) park visitors can stop at the midway in front of the X Flight roller coaster and have their name printed on a miniature can of Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero or Coca-Cola Life.

Representatives from Coca Cola will also be handing out samples as part of a summer promotion celebrating that names are back on the company’s soda cans.

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 18-19.

Splash party!

Hurricane Harbor — Great America’s waterpark — opens May 27 for the season. There are several water slides, a kids’ zone splash area, a wave pool and even a surfing simulator.

The waterpark is free for season pass holders or an extra $10 with a Six Flags admission ticket.

Fourth Fest

On July 2-4, the park features fireworks each night and special activities each day.

Check next month for more details.

Funnel Cake Day

Great America celebrates Funnel Cake Day on July 16 with special funnel cakes — topped with powdered sugar, fresh fruit or ice cream — and more flavor options for this classic theme park food.

Check next month for more details.

If you go

What: Six Flags Great America

Where: In Gurnee, Ill., just off I-94 at Grand Avenue

Cost: Daily admission at the gate is $72 for adults and $52 for children under 48 inches tall. (Doesn’t that penalize tall kids?) Children age 2 and younger get in free. (Note: Discounts can be found on

Discounts: One-day tickets bought online in advance at start at $47 (plus fees). Season passes are also available on the website.

Parking: $25 daily; season passes also available


Surviving Six Flags

How can I save money? If you go to Great America more than once every summer, your best bet is buying a season pass at There are different tiers of season passes, with Gold Passes including parking, too. You can also become a Six Flags Member, paying a monthly fee.

I hate waiting in line forever — what can I do? Avoid going to the park during peak times. The best times to visit are during April, May, early June and September and on Tuesdays-Thursdays.

Also — run! Be ready to enter the park when it opens and sprint directly to the ride you really, really want to get on first. (We suggest heading straight to one of the popular coasters like Goliath; as the park fills up, the waiting time can stretch to two hours.)

You can also purchase The Flash Pass, which holds your place in line electronically. When it’s almost time for your turn to ride, an alert is sent to your Flash Pass. With a regular Flash Pass, you wait as long as everyone else is waiting, just not in line. With a Gold Flash Pass, you get on the rides quicker — and a Platinum Pass offers the shortest waiting time. A limited number are available each day — and only for specific rides. Check out the Flash Pass options at

Ouch! Parking is $25! Help! Unless you can convince a friend or family member to drop you off at the park, it’s tough to avoid that steep parking fee. We recommend cramming everyone into one vehicle and, if you are a frequent visitor, buying a season parking pass for $80.

When my family goes to Six Flags, we end up spending $200 on meals and sodas. How can we avoid this? No outside food or beverages are allowed inside the park; however, families can pack a cooler with food and drinks and take a meal break in the parking lot. Remember to pack some of those chairs-in-a-bag and include chips and other goodies so kids (and adults) don’t feel like they’re missing out.

Inside the park, scope out the water fountains and grab a drink every time you pass one. (Hint: Look near restrooms, but don’t loiter — that looks creepy.)

Also, season pass holders can purchase a Season Dining Pass at and save on those expensive chicken strips and fries lunches.

Mad about coasters

Six Flags Great America’s roller coasters include:

American Eagle

Pro: With a double track, the Red and Blue trains race each other

Con: This wooden coaster, which debuted in 1981, is a rough ride. Expect to get off the Eagle with a case of whiplash (or at least a bad headache).

Batman the ride

Pro: A true thrill ride for coaster fans, this was the world’s first inverted, outside-looping coaster, with your feet dangling free in the air.

Con: If they run this ride backward again — like the summer of 2013 — don’t do it. (Trust me.)

The Dark Knight

Pro: This indoor coaster (opened in 2008) has more than 1,200 feet of track and twists, turns and loops its way through the darkness. Riders go through a cool Gotham City railway station to get to the ride platform.

Con: Not thrilling enough for hardcore coaster riders (though it’s fun for the rest of us).

The Demon

Pro: It’s a true classic. When Great America opened, this was called Turn of the Century, and was one of the first roller coasters in the world to feature a double corkscrew.

Con: This ride truly is a Demon. As you hurtle through those corkscrew loops, you’re likely to crack your head — more than once — on the restraints. Ouch! You’ll walk away with one devil of a headache.


Pro: One of the park’s newest roller coasters (opened in 2014) is a thrill, with record-breaking speeds and a record-setting 180-foot, near vertical 85-degree drop. And it’s a smooth ride, despite being a wooden coaster.

Con: Be prepared to wait up to two hours for this ride on busy days.

Raging Bull

Pro: It’s a favorite of roller coaster fans with good reason — at 202 feet tall, 5,507 feet long, and 73 mph, it’s the tallest, longest and fastest coaster at the park.

Con: That first drop (a 65-degree slope) is what we in the newspaper business call a “doozy.” Once you’re past that big drop, the rest of the ride is classic roller-coastering fun.

Superman: The Ride

Pro: This is as close to flying as most of us will get. The unique design of this roller coaster has riders positioned face down and head first — just like Superman flies.

Con: For hardcore riders, Superman may be too tame, at “just” 52 mph.

Vertical Velocity

Pro: It bolts out of the station, hitting 70 mph in less than four seconds, thanks to an advanced electromagnet propulsion system.

Con: What goes up must come down ... backward and at a top speed. It may be too intense for some people (read: me).

The Viper

Pro: It’s a classic cyclone-style wooden roller coaster with cavernous drops and high-banking turns. Perfect for you coaster purists.

Con: As a wooden roller coaster, it’s a rough ride. (See: American Eagle.)

X Flight

Pro: It’s fast, it’s smooth — and you hang over the edge on this “wing” coaster. There’s no track above your head or below your feet. This ride has it all: intense drops, five inversions, a barrel roll and a zero-g roll.

Con: Once you ride it, you have to get back in a long line for another run.


Pro: This family-friendly coaster debuted when the park did, in 1976. It was one of the last “Speedracer” coaster models ever built.

Con: There is no “con” here. It’s the best ride ever! (Nothing too crazy, just roller-coaster fun.)

Spacely’s Sprocket Rockets

Pro: A fun ride for kids (and adults). It’s a curvy, wavy, junior roller coaster with a “Jetsons” theme. How cool is that?

Con: If you shame easily (I don’t) people may giggle at an adult riding this “kiddie coaster.” Don’t let the haters keep you from this ride.


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