Yesterday I hit the Six Flags park near us called Great Adventure along with three friends. Great Adventure has the title of “largest amusement park in the world” though I’m still not quite sure how that gets defined. Other parks I’ve been in certainly feel larger (Disney) but maybe that doesn’t qualify.
Anyway, thanks in large part to the economy and gas prices, the cost of going to Great Adventure has dropped like a rock. Using a promotional code four of us were able to get in all for the price of a child which has also already been reduced by the aforementioned impact of the economy.
The park has had it’s own roller coaster history. It’s had great periods, iffy periods and downright fatal periods. For much of its existence it’s been plagued by poor management resulting in mis-managed patron planning, dirty parks, understaffing, bad traffic management, overpriced (even for amusement parks) concessions along with other problems. This trip was mostly positive.
We got to the park before opening with the goal of trying to hang in as close to closing as possible. While, for some this might seem a breeze, I’ve found that it can be a challenge. Long waits in hot lines, fighting the crowds, the impact of the rides and other things can zap your energy to such a degree that by 6pm you’re looking to get the hell out of Dodge.
We’d pre-printed our tickets so we were able to blow right by the ticket line. Thankfully it wasn’t long anyway which was a good sign that the park wouldn’t be too busy. I’ve been there on busy days that resulted in our being there all day and getting on two rides. That’s no fun for anyone.
Once past security and in we waited for the full park to open. I took the mantle of laying out our itinerary as each of my friends hadn’t been to Great Adventure and weren’t big park go’ers to begin with. However, each of them were more than willing to try anything which is a must for coasters—especially at Great Adventure.
We headed first to Kingda Ka which holds the title as the world’s tallest and fastest coaster. It’s just over 400′ in height and launches you nearly 130 mph in 3.5 seconds. You rocket down the rails and then catapult 90 degrees straight up before turned downward for a straight-down drop. You finish off at high speed over a hump before returning to the station. It’s quite a rush.
We decided to go for the front seats which means we’d have to break into two groups of two. I got on with Marnee while Mike and Luke waited for the next train. We road it and returned only to find Mike and Luke still waiting for the next train to materialize. Kingda Ka is in a constant state of repair it seems. While they waited Marnee and I headed over to the next ride.
Thankfully the wait wasn’t too bad and Mike and Luke got on. Everyone universally loved the coaster and I had concerns that nothing else would measure up to it for them. However, due to its popularity it was best to knock it out right off or risk standing in a huge line for it later.
We then hit an old favorite, The Great American Scream Machine. In years past this was a marque coaster. When it was new it was silky smooth but age has made it a bit rickety. It also looks dated and under-maintained. The trains are really weathered and in need of replacements that are likely never to happen. It’s still a fun ride and offers some thrills that nothing else in the park matches.
After that we hit the always intersting Superman: Ultimate Flight coaster. This is a suspended coaster with a twist. You sit in it and when the restraint is put down (over your shoulders) you notice that your feet also get restrained. Then the floor drops out and the car rotates so that you’re now laying face down towards the ground. That’s how you go through the ride—flying like Superman (sort of). This ride is a mixed bag for me. It’s too short and the lines are often horribly long made worse by a really bad and boring line corral. However, it too has some twists that make it extremely unique. There’s nothing like laying face down and then getting flipped upside-down onto your back to fly through an inversion on this coaster. Then there are the dips that take you seemingly head-first and within inches of the ground.
To finish off this section of the park we went over to the 3D theater for a chance to see their new 3D show which replaces the Spongebob show that’s been here previously. This one was a bust. The 3D effect is marred and it’s now really only enteraining for young kids. Sitting in chairs that bounce you around-unconvincingly-has grown old quick.
We then headed off to ride El Toro. I’ve had a bad history with this new wooden coaster. I’ve tried to ride it a total of four times previously failing in every attempt. I’ve gotten to the very front of the line only to be turned back and have, more than once, gotten onto the ride and actually started up the first hill only to have it stopped requiring us to climb out of the cars and walk down the hill. This trip seemed to have the the same fate in store for us. We waited and waited and finally we got in and made it through the whole ride. It was worth the wait. El Toro has an amazing number of surprises for a wooden coaster. It features the second steepest drop for a wooden coaster (eclipsed just this year) at 76 degrees. Coaster enthusiasts rank this coaster as number 1 and it’s easy to see why. The key spot on this train is the back. You want it. Do all you can to keep the restraints loose* and you’ll be rewarded with more air time over hills than you can imagine. It’s pretty intense.
We then went over to the venerable Rolling Thunder coaster. This used to be something but its best days are long gone and I think this might have been my last ride on it. It’s just not fun anymore and isn’t worth the jarring you take on it.
It was then time to go hit the log flume and cool off. I love splashing on a log flume much to the chagrin of two of the four of us. Sorry guys. For me the log flume is about getting wet. GA’s log flume is pretty crappy as log flumes go. It’s stuck in a 70’s design that was neat in 1970 and not much later. It’d be great to see them tear this one down and replace it with something dramatic like Splash Mountain at Disneyworld.
We crossed the park to check out the dull Skull Mountain coaster—an indoor coaster that could be interesting but has never gotten the right attention. We only really rode this as a matter of completeness and to kill time before a show.
We checked out a kid-oriented dolphin show. It was cute but sort of bland. The dolphin arena is showing major signs of neglect. They used to host amazing diving displays and Sea World-worthy animal shows here but now they’re all pretty limited in scope.
We then checked out my favorite coaster in the park (and one of my favorites anywhere)—Nitro. Nitro has high regard in the coaster community and after riding it you’ll know why. it’s not all that tall (but tall enough) and not all that fast (but more than fast enough) and doesn’t feature any theming but none of that matters. The ride just impresses at every drop and turn. The seats are incredibly open adding to the thrill. You’ll experience a hammerhead turn, a double helix and six awesome camelbacks. We ended up riding this three or four times. All of us universally put it at the top of the list.
After Nitro we rode Batman. This coaster was interesting the first time I road it and not really since. I hate the queue for it as much of it is inside a long upward stairwell that gets insanely hot in the summer and smells badly when lines are long. This coaster just beats the crap out of you. Nothing in the park loosens the head more than this thing.
We then tried to get on the newest coaster in the park-Dark Knight. This is a new indoor wild mouse-type coaster. However, the line was overly long and never relented so we gave it a pass for this trip making it the only coaster we didn’t ride.
We finished up the first-runs with on old favorite—Medusa. Medusa used to be special but now has aged badly. What used to be a totally smooth ride is now laden with rough spots that detract from the fun. It’s also weathered heavily and has been stuck in a corner of the park away from everything else.
In the end we pretty much reached the goal of closing out the park heading out the doors as the finale parade was heading down the main strip. A count showed us hitting 15 rides for the day which means that we got our money’s worth out of it and then some. The friends had a blast and I think I converted them into full-on coaster fans. I’m really proud of the approach they all took to the day and we managed to fly through it after a night of limited sleep.
*If you follow this recommendation you do so at your own risk. Safety measures exist for a reason.
So much envy – I’m a huge coaster fan. Maybe if I’m ever around during coaster season I’ll have a chance to go with you guys