Although I’m a theme park fan, that doesn’t mean my fandom only applies to the Disney resorts. There are gems to find across the country from Cedar Fair, Herschend, and Six Flags. Many parks remain on my wish list, even some that don’t focus on theming. The Tomorrow Society lives a mere half-hour drive from Six Flags St. Louis, which was a frequent haunt during my teen years.
Opening in 1971 as Six Flags over Mid-America, it doesn’t have the same recognition as Great America (Chicago) or Magic Mountain (L.A.) due to the size of their markets. Even so, that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to give the park a shot. Six Flags uses the slogan “Missouri’s Coaster Capital” to sell the St. Louis location as a regional haven for coaster fans. Instead of facing down superstars like Cedar Point, they’re looking to compete with Silver Dollar City and Worlds of Fun.
My recent visit to Six Flags St. Louis was a great time but did have a few issues along the way. I took my daughter (who’s six), so this wasn’t a trip for tackling the headlining coasters. Past trips have given me that opportunity. The Tomorrow Society takes the parks seriously, but we still love a great thrill ride. This trip focused on two things: introducing my daughter to the park and riding Justice League: Battle for Metropolis. I wrote about the exciting new attraction last week, so this post will focus on the other aspects. It was a fun day, and my daughter had a blast. The park’s crowd management techniques are a bit puzzling, however, and wear and tear is evident.
Tickets and Fees
Before entering the park, I have to mention the ticket-buying process. Discounts are easy to find, though the savings are limited because of online fees. Six Flags promises that you’ll save $15 by booking in advance online. The price starts at $46.99, but purchasing online brings an $8.99 processing fee plus tax. The “Coke” discount code brought $16 of savings, but it faces the same fee. The list price of my ticket was $45.99, but it cost $58.88 in the end. The online processing fee subverts much of the promised discounts and creates a sour taste before you even reach the park.
The other option is buying at the gate, which isn’t recommended because it wastes time you could spend on rides. The adult gate price is $61.99, but you can save $8 by bringing a Coke can. When you add tax to the $53.99 price, it’s slightly cheaper than online. Essentially, there was no way to pay less than about $57 for a one-day adult ticket. With a Season Pass starting at about the same price, you can see what Six Flags wants you to do. They’re hoping you’ll make the logical choice and buy the pass. The Regular Pass gives you admission to every Six Flags park around the country, so it’s a very good deal for enthusiasts.
The Checkpoints Gauntlet
With tickets in hand (my daughter’s was free through a school reading program), we excitedly arrived shortly before the 10:30 a.m. opening. It was a Monday, so I assumed we’d face lighter crowds. That theory was incorrect. Following a 15-minute wait in a line of cars, we reached our parking spot. The $20 parking fee seemed a bit high, and it felt rougher because of the many empty spaces in the “preferred” lot. Few were willing to pay the extra $10 to skip the longer walk. The next step included passing through these five (!!!) checkpoints before we could enter the park:
- The Metal Detectors
- The Bag Line
- The Box Office
- The Queue for the Turnstiles
- The Actual Gates
Thankfully, we didn’t have a bag and already had tickets, so that skipped two stages. Even so, the amount of layers to bypass seems poorly designed. Each section has little shade, so even milder temperatures felt like an oven. The main challenge was the queue for the turnstiles, which was set up as a series of switchbacks using ropes. I understand Six Flags’ thinking; they’re preventing the chaos of everyone lining up at each gate. Instead, employees direct you to specific turnstiles like you’re boarding a ride vehicle. This measured approach slows down the flow of traffic, however. We hadn’t even started the day, and my daughter was overheated.
Before I get too negative, let’s switch gears and talk about the fun stuff. Six Flags St. Louis has nine coasters, including three wooden ones. The highlight is American Thunder, which is technically wooden but has more in common with smoother modern rides. History buffs will enjoy the Screamin’ Eagle — a 1976 woodie that follows the traditional up-and-back layout. The most recent coaster is Boomerang, which opened at Six Flags over Texas in 1989 and moved here in 2013. This example explains one reason why enthusiasts may be less excited. A good percentage of the coasters are present in a similar or identical form at other Six Flags parks. I should also mention The Boss, which is rough but also provides some solid thrills.
This trip’s purpose wasn’t coasters and instead brought us to some old-school attractions. After exiting Battle for Metropolis, we ventured to the aptly titled Log Flume. This 1971 attraction isn’t themed, but that’s part of the charm. Most of the track is a leisurely jaunt through the woods. There is so much concrete and visual noise in the park, and it’s a true relief to escape it. The big drop at the end isn’t too large for kids, and the splash doesn’t soak you. I’ve come to appreciate this type of ride more as a parent. It may look simple, but it’s still a crowd-pleaser.
The big surprise was my daughter’s love of Shazam, a typical scrambler. In fact, it was easily her favorite ride. Six Flags has replaced many of its carnival rides since my teen years; the bumper cars, Octopus, and barrels are long gone. Shazam is one of the few remaining examples, and it’s still good fun. My daughter’s reaction surprised me, though. She also enjoyed the old-time Moon Antique Cars, despite the loss of scenery from earlier versions. You’re now essentially driving between fences crammed around American Thunder. The contrast between the large coaster and the old-school amusement ride tells a perfect story of the changes in the industry.
The Bugs Bunny National Park Section opened in 2006 with quite a few rides within a small space. Eight small rides and a playground are slotted into a contained area near the back of the park. My daughter turned six in April, so these attractions still interested her. Considering the limited number of family rides in the rest of the park, this area is essential. There are few surprises with the offerings, which include swings, biplanes, a small train, and mini tea cups. The large slides at the Bugs Bunny Fort Fun (pictured above) were a big hit. It’s comparable to one of the better city parks, and the kids were having a blast. Getting them to leave this area could be its own challenge.
There’s nothing here that you won’t find in many parks, but it’s still a good addition to a park that really needs kids’ rides. On the other hand, it’s seriously lacking in shade. The combination of concrete and the powerful afternoon sun is dangerous for little ones. When you add spinners to the mix, it’s a recipe for trouble. It wouldn’t take much for Six Flags to add more covering to the rides. They don’t go very high, so it wouldn’t be cutting off any impressive views. When you combine the setting with limited drinking fountains, it seems designed to get parents to buy drinks. The stand in the middle of the action had a long line despite the small crowd in the area.
Six Flags St. Louis is one of the original Six Flags parks and retains charm from its early days. It’s changed so much in the past few decades and offers plenty of thrills. There are issues with line management, high food prices with limited variety, and an uncomfortably warm environment. I’d love to see Six Flags invest more in rides like the new Justice League attraction and less in typical roller coasters. Having fewer copies would allow this regional park to draw more enthusiasts and repeat visitors.
Despite my short drive and the benefits, I’m hesitant to buy a season pass and return frequently. My trip was fun, and there is potential for more success. If Six Flags works to enhance the guest experience, they could deliver something beyond what’s expected. I’m unsure if it’s a priority after visiting, however. Leadership seems content to draw local crowds and day trippers with new rides without upgrading the infrastructure. It would take a significant investment to make this change, so I understand the financial challenges. Given the possibilities, I believe the rewards would be worth the effort.