Looking for a thrilling way to enjoy the Halloween season with your family? Last Sunday, mine headed up to Gurnee for "Fright Fest" at Six Flags Great America and had a fabulous time. For two decades, Six Flags has reportedly morphed 'from theme park to scream park' every weekend in October (Friday through Sunday and Columbus Day), but we'd never checked it out before. What a difference a day makes. October may just be our new favorite time to visit, after all. The mood may be creepy, but for this mom there's nothing scarier than a long line on a scorching hot day. I'll get my thrills in the off-season, from now on, thank you very much. That said, I have a hunch that folks hitting the rides this weekend will enjoy the sweetest treat of all: short lines and comfortably warm days.
New shows and attractions with haunting themes have been added for Fright Fest, including a haunted house. We skipped a few of these extras. Some are appropriate for children under twelve, and some, not so much. A few require an additional fee - which I think is excessive if you've already coughed up cash for park admission - but there is a new cost-saving measure available this year. Aside from picnicking in the parking lot to avoid eating overpriced food, visitors may purchase admission tickets, souvenirs and even food and added attractions with a Discover Card, which will save them five percent.
The Halloween theme, including decorations, music and costumed characters, made for a really fun day for my family. The only downside to the changes made for Fright Fest, as far as I'm concerned, is the confusion I experienced regarding the rides' names. Many are changed for the season, which, for someone not intimately acquainted with the park who's hunting for a particular ride she recalls from her last visit (okay, me), this can be a tad confusing.
Roller-coaster enthusiasts, my son Noah and I knew just what we wanted to ride. The smooth and twisty 'Raging Bull' coaster used to be my favorite, but after this last visit I may be leaning more toward Noah's top pick, 'Batman the Ride.' That is a "sick" ride, to quote Noah. We steered clear of the 'Iron Wolf' coaster this time, as we learned the hard way that it's a pretty serious head-banger, and discovered that 'Demon,' a coaster we'd never ridden before, is a little tough on the noggin, too.
Noah and I have officially tried every one of the fourteen roller-coasters at Six Flags. Every one, even 'Superman: Ultimate Flight.' We agree that control freaks might want to take a pass on this one, though, one ride where you just have to give in to the experience and let go. I recall that the first time I rode it, two years ago, I squeezed my eyes closed and briefly prayed - 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 and literally soar over the park, I might as well let go and take in the experience. Oddly enough, I rode it again, last Sunday. (I guess amusement parks are a little like childbirth: we remember the excitement but forget the pain, and find ourselves doing it all over again.) By the way, if you plan to fly like a superhero, do yourself a favor and invest in a fanny pack, like I did before this trip. The first time I rode 'Superman' with Noah, he said he saw my cell phone zip past his head like a missile, and I watched in semi-amused horror as about $2 in change rained down from my pockets to the ground many, many feet below. I had officially joined the club for 'fools without fanny packs.' (Amazingly, the Six Flags folks actually found my cell phone - sans battery, which probably snapped off when it hit the ground. They do a daily sweep of the grounds and have a very busy lost and found department.) I did notice that they've since installed a rubber vest on each seat of this ride, which probably catches a lot of stuff that otherwise might fall, but I'm sure the grounds crew is still quite busy.
By the way, the thrills and chills aren't confined to the rides, during Fright Fest. My family got a big kick out of watching costumed actors spook other park visitors as they walked by, and developed a theory. We decided that for safety reasons, they're probably trained to avoid startling people who are eating, lest they cause them to aspirate and choke. It'd be a shame to waste a Six Flags funnel cake, after all. Not that I would know.
Six Flags' Fright Fest isn't just for thrill seekers. As usual, there are several kiddie areas with shows and rides suitable for younger children, including my daughter Holly's favorites, the Great American Raceway and the Carousel, which she rode with my husband. But this time she also mustered up the courage to join me, the designated thrill-ride-rider, on a few of the bigger rides, including 'The Orbit' and 'Chubasco,' spinny rides that she insisted we ride twice. It seems that Noah's my speed seeker while Holly gravitates toward the spins.
All that speeding and spinning really threw me for a loop last Sunday, so much so that I even forgot the 'rules.'
"What did I say about the arm thing?" Miss Holly asked, rolling her eyes, when at last I couldn't resist putting my arm around her on 'The Orbit.' At least my kids still want their old Mom with them on the rides, right? I offered to bring one of each of their friends on this trip to Six Flags, but as Noah put it, "I like it when it's just us, Mom. I'm sure of you, that you'll go on (the rides) with me." Works for me, buddy.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
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