Sunday, June 26, 2016

Six Flags Gurnee Illinois

My kids had a couple free tickets from school to Six Flags (Gurnee IL) so we decided last minute to head up yesterday.  Their website was inexplicably down but Jewel Osco has adult tickets for $50 each.  Anyway, we got there around 1:30 and it was pretty damn hot already, around 90 degrees.  Like most theme parks these days, they have "fast" or "flash" passes - if available, you pay a premium per person and you are able to skip much/most/all of line for certain rides.  I've bought these before, most recently at Universal Studios in Orlando, but they were very pricey there.

Given our lateness and the summer heat, and because one of my kids loves roller coasters (which always happen to have 1-2h waits), I bought a couple flash passes [1].  While it was definitely worth it (more on that), I actually felt guilty at times.  I mean, some of the lines were ridiculous and the flash pass line is usually right next to the mob of hot people waiting...and you just waltz by. We never had these at a kid and I still remember the long waits at Cedar Point, Kings Island or Canada's Wonderland.  I've put my kids through that already but no sense in teaching them the same lesson over and over.

I'm very happy with the gold level pass we bought - while it was $70 per person (almost 50% more than the ticket price!), there is no way we would have been able to hit every major ride in the ~8h we had available.  The passes we bought worked out perfectly where we could go ride to ride with very minimal wait.  The higher level pass is only worth it if you're trying to turbo OR want to do repeats immediately.  The alternative to spending all that money is to just upgrade to a season pass for another $30 - however, you have to keep coming back to the park and pay $25 to park per visit.  Not worth it for me (plus we probably drank about 2 gallons of pop yesterday).

How I'd rank the roller coasters:

  1. Superman - super unique in that they tilt you parallel to the ground so you're flying like superman.  The loop is nutty too.  Really fun experience. Definitely my son's fave.
  2. Raging Bull - very smooth and fun ride, one of the best coasters I've been on in a while.  I actually liked it just as much as Superman.
  3. Goliath - also crazy fun.  We actually got stuck on the first ascent for like 15m, that was a bit disconcerting.  That aside, this wooden hybrid coaster was sick - it's like a 85 degree drop and you go upside down with no shoulder straps!
  4. Vertical Velocity - basically like a big U.  Fast and fun, pretty unique in that it's the first time I rode this type.
  5. Batman - floorless looping coaster - smooth as well but lots of loops.  I'm not a huge fan of too many but my son loved it.
  6. X-Flight - pretty unique but nothing really exciting.  I had my strap on too tight which probably lowered my experience.
  7. Whizzer - my daughter LOVED this "family" coaster.  Just exciting enough for her to get a thrill as she scares easily, but fun.
  8. Dark Knight - not a fan, basically like an old "Wildcat" (or Goofy Sky School from Disney CA Adventure) two-car ride with lots of strong U-turns but in darkness.
  9. Viper - pretty old ride and shakes your head around as if you've been head-banging in a mosh pit.  My son liked it but I won't go on it again.
  10. American Eagle - atrociously bad on the body.  An old (has to be from the 70s) old wooden coaster that sounds rickety as heck, I kept thinking we'd break off the track.  Probably the worst roller coaster I've been on ever.  My body was aching and jostled riding that.  Can't believe it's in still in service.
We skipped the Demon because I already knew it was also old as dirt and would rattle my body too much.  I was impressed that they had so many good ones, we'll have to compare to Cedar Point if we go later this year!

[1] Six Flags has three levels, we got the middle tier which basically allowed you to reserve a time in the future based on half the current wait time.  You could only reserve one ride at a time based on this pager unit you carried.  For example, if it was 2PM and the current wait time for Raging Bull was 1h, it would "reserve" 2:30 and we could arrive anytime after 2:30 and "skip" the line.  You don't get put right to the front, usually just to the final leg of the line but it cuts down the wait to ~15m max, with most of the time being around 5m.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Acura MDX DVD broken...and the internets save me 2 grand!

We sadly realized during our roadtrip to Florida last year that the built-in DVD player to our 2006 Acura MDX wasn't working - screen was dead but the control unit still had the digital display.  At the time I thought (hoped) it was just a fuse but replacing that didn't help.  Fast forward to last month - during some routine maintenance, I also asked the shop to check out the DVD unit - they diag it and say it's an electrical problem, basically would cost around 2K to order a new replacement and install.

Well, I know my kids like watching movies on road trips but I'm not dropping 2K to be able to play some movies on an infrequent basis, especially on a ten year old car!  So, I turn to my attention to scouring the interwebs for solutions.  I've had success with pick and pulls before - basically pulling/buying parts you need from "junkyards".  They've modernized and you can find stuff all over the web.  Still, that will run around $600-$800 dollars for a used unit and there are all sorts of software security hoops to go through, plus the plastic may not even match your car (fading, etc).

More searching and I find a thread on MDXers [1] with others experiencing same problem.  Turns out some curious owner (aka HockeyDog) removed the embedded unit, took it apart, and found that the ribbon cable between the control unit and screen is highly susceptible to partial ripping if the screen is opened/closed to frequently and roughly (and yes, my kids and nephews loved opening and closing that screen for whatever reason, probably the big button).  He tracked down a third party cable parts supplier direct from Thailand (because neither Acura nor Panasonic, who actually makes it, will sell you just the ribbon) that sold a replacement ribbon.  He also posted how he opened and repaired the unit (yay).  While somewhat dubious, I was able to track this supplier on Ebay and order the ribbon for a whopping $12.99 including shipping.  I figured, worst case, I'm out a lunch (in Palo Alto haha) and 1-2 hours of my time.

Anyway, part comes in, I take apart my DVD unit following HockeyDog's instructions and yeah, I see the design flaw.  I really love my MDX but the DVD design for this ribbon is poor and near guaranteed to break over time. Anyway, I install the new ribbon - put the unit back together and reinstall, pop in Pacific Rim...and voila, I'm seeing Jaegers taking down Kaijus!  Kids and wife are happy, high fives all around.  Thanks HockeyDog, whoever your are, you just saved me (and a ton of other MDXers I imagine) a nice chunk of change.  The internets come through again!