Originally posted July 9, 2008
A day spent at an amusement park can make your wallet feel like
it's taken one spin too many on the tilt-a-whirl. Simple
planning and a few insider tips will make you and your wallet feel
a bit less spent when you head to Six Flags Great America and
Hurricane Harbor in nearby Gurnee, Illinois.
For starters, peruse sixflags.com or call Six Flags at (847)
249-4636 before you even think about packing your brood into the
mini-van. It's nearly impossible to do the whole park in one
day, so review the park map and create a game-plan. Buy and
print cheaper admission tickets on-line and consider purchasing
season's passes, which pay for themselves in fewer that two
visits. Kids under two are free and expectant mothers and
others with limited access to rides get in for half-price.
Buy and print meal vouchers on-line too. You'll be able to
stick to a budget and ensure that your teenagers don't spend their
meal money on games. Various dining options are available,
but food at Six Flags can be a budget buster. Bring a water
bottle to refill at water fountains and consider bringing your own
food and tailgating. Picnic areas are located just outside
the main entrance, so leave your cooler in the car (food other than
baby food is not allowed in the park) and have your hand stamped
for re-entry at mealtime. Early arrival at the park (before
the gate opens at 10 a.m.) will ensure a handy spot for tailgating,
made easier if you park in General parking ($25). Value
parking is $15 but is a longer walk from the park entrance.
Eating at off-peak times will save time in ride lines no matter
how you dine, but purchasing a Flash-Pass is the best time-saver of
all. Pricey at first glance (check website for options), the
value of the Flash Pass becomes infinitely greater once you witness
the lines at some attractions. Noah and I tried eight roller
coasters (you only live once!), and were stunned to learn that the
wait for the recently unveiled The Dark Night coaster was
over four hours. Even with the Gold Flash Pass we waited for
over half-an-hour to board (try it during off-peak hours.
Better yet, hit the big rides after five p.m. or visit the park
during off-peak days, Tuesday through Thursday and during
September), and we didn't think the ride experience came anywhere
close to matching the hype. We weren't fans of the
head-banging Iron-Wolf coaster either, but I could have
spent all day aboard the Raging Bull: a smooth ride
with lots of twisty thrills. Noah's favorite coaster is
Batman the Ride, and we both agreed that control-freaks
should steer-clear of Superman: Ultimate Flight.
This is one of those rides where you just have to give in to the
experience and let go, folks. I recall squeezing my eyes
closed and briefly praying (to a god who doesn't object to
swearing), but then I realized that since there was no way I was
going to board that dang ride again I might as well let go and take
in the experience.
Do yourself a favor and invest in a fanny pack before you go if
you plan to fly like a superhero, however. Noah said he saw
my cell phone zip past his head like a missile, and I watched in
semi-amused horror as about two dollars in change rained down
from my baggy pockets to the ground. I had officially joined
the club for 'fools without fanny-packs.' The Six Flags folks
actually found my cell-phone - sans battery (probably snapped off
when it hit the ground). They do a sweep of the grounds daily and
have a very busy lost and found department.
If you must bring personal items (remember sunscreen, bathing
suits and towels for Hurricane Harbor, which is free with paid
admission to Six Flags), budget for a locker rental: nine to
fifteen dollars per day. Lockers accept bills and credit
cards and are located throughout the park and in Hurricane Harbor
(don't miss the Tornado, a high-speed tube slide worth the
Six Flags isn't just for thrill seekers. There are several
kids' areas with shows and rides for children, including Holly's
favorites, the Great American Raceway and the Carousel. When
it's illuminated at night it's a stunning picture spot (in front of
the reflecting pond) - but keep your cash in your fanny pack and
avoid getting suckered into one of those official Six Flags
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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