by Paul Ruben
This year I started the Park Hoppin’ season with a visit to Six Flags New England, Agawam, Massachusetts, where I rode Bizarro, still this column’s Number One Coaster on the Planet.
Built by Intamin in 2000, this 5,400-feet-long (over 1 mile/1.6km) monster has a 221ft (67m) drop and a top speed of 77 mph (124 kph). I keep waiting for a better coaster to be built, but so far it hasn’t happened.
Would you like to know why I’m so enamoured with Bizarro? In a word, pacing. It’s the best-paced coaster I’ve ever been on. From beginning to end it provides non-stop action. There’s never a dull moment, a chance to regain your composure. It interacts repeatedly with onlookers, flying above, around and beneath them. It combines high speed, tunnels, darting turns and so much air time that seats are superfluous. Atop the lift hill there is even a picture-postcard view of the stately Connecticut River which is so serene while the ride that follows is so wild. A few years ago the park added facades close to the track to enhance the sense of speed and danger.
During my recent visit I was pleased to find that Six Flags New England isn’t sitting on its Bizarro laurels. Over the winter it had done extensive track work on their big wood coaster, Cyclone. I had been to the park when they first opened the attraction in June 1983. It was called the Riverside Cyclone then, as the park was then Riverside Park operated by Ed Carroll. It was designer Bill Cobb’s masterpiece, a 112ft-tall (34m) 3,600-foot-long (1km) bucking bronco of a coaster filled with mischievous whoop-de-doos. It was arguably the best wooden coaster of its era, but over the years it became rough and uncomfortable to ride. That’s changed now. With the latest track work it is again a top-ten woodie.
The park has also painted Thunderbolt, its classic 1941-built wood coaster. It’s their anchor coaster, right in the middle of the park. The old paint was peeling, and a fresh coat of gleaming white paint makes this ride look like new again. Paint adds to any coaster’s appeal.
New trains have also been introduced on Goliath, the park’s Vekoma Giant Inverted Boomerang coaster, a needed upgrade, and for young children there’s a train ride called Whistlestop Park.
In addition, park president John Winkler took me on a tour of the construction site of Bonzai Pipelines, a 65ft-tall (20m) waterslide complex from ProSlide featuring six fast and intense drop hatch looping body slides. It is set to debut at the huge Hurricane Harbor waterpark later this month. After the floor drops out from beneath riders they will body surf at 40 mph (64kph) through 257 feet (78m) of twists and turns including a tight 360 degree loop. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
I should mention that I visited Six Flags New England on April 16, the day after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, 90 minutes to the east. For all the craziness one finds in a theme park, it felt like an island of tranquillity in a maddening world. I didn’t want to leave.