DISCLOSURE: This photo report, while not a full-fledged review, does contain my own opinion and perspective. I paid for my own tickets. Six Flags Great America did not grant me any special access.
16 months after it last operated its world-class set of roller coasters, Six Flags Great America was operating smoothly — with some glaring pandemic-related exceptions.
Illinois was one of a few states that didn’t allow theme parks to reopen rides or attractions in 2020. Great America settled for ride-less holiday events, including a drive-thru lights festival. With COVID-19 vaccines becoming more widely available, Illinois gave theme parks the OK to reopen at 25 percent of their pre-pandemic maximum capacity and with plenty of other safeguards, such as requiring masks and physical distancing.
Throughout the day, I saw few guests wearing masks incorrectly, but this seemed like mostly self-imposed cooperation. I did not see any sign of park employees enforcing the mask rules or saying anything to the small number of scofflaws.
Physical distancing, however, was a problem immediately upon arrival.
Crowds built up right in front of the temperature check tent and people remained packed together until getting past the turnstiles. Park employees seemed to act like it was business as usual here, encouraging guests to move up and fill the available space — physical distancing be damned.
In queues, distancing became an issue in switchback areas, like at Raging Bull. The park confusingly chose to use two adjacent switchbacks, even though this forced groups of guests within six feet of each other. Like other theme parks, however, opening day procedures in the era of COVID-19 can be improved, so we’ll check back on how the park adapts to the times in the coming weeks.
On the plus side, this was only an occasional issue due to the low crowds on reopening day. Perhaps guests were scared off by overcast skies, but popular coasters like Goliath, X Flight, and the original Batman The Ride were close to walk-ons, even in the early afternoon.
The exceptions to this rule were Whizzer, the Schwarzkopf classic that has been with the park since opening day, and Maxx Force, the newest coaster in the Great America lineup. Both have limited capacity to begin with, and the need for distancing on trains extended those waits even further. My tip for anyone visiting in the near future: hit up Maxx Force right after the park opens, assuming it’s in operation when the day begins.
A few major attractions throughout the park remained closed throughout the day. The park’s version of Justice League: Battle for Metropolis wasn’t running (likely due to being a high-touch, indoor attraction); neither was the Dark Knight Coaster, another indoor ride, or the park’s railroad.
All of the water-based rides were unavailable, which is typical for April operations at Great America, but one of those those closed attractions brought the day’s biggest surprise.
The sign for Roaring Rapids has been removed. While we can only speculate about what this may mean, it’s notable because the sign had been present during the holiday events in late 2020. The rapids ride, which has been at the park since 1984, is still listed in the Six Flags but labeled as “closed for the season.”
Could Roaring Rapids be removed and used for another coaster? Only time will tell, but I think this is a space to watch at Great America if the ride doesn’t come back online in the summer.