Book Review + Giveaway: Six Flags Great Adventure
Until reading Six Flags Great Adventure, the newest addition to the Images of Modern America series, I didn’t know much about the New Jersey amusement park in its pre-Six Flags years. I knew it opened in the 1970s, but most of my knowledge of the park began at the Premier/Six Flags era — when the park grew from a modest regional amusement park to the largest theme park in the world as it stands today.
But perhaps the most interesting chapter of the park’s history took place before that explosive growth. And now there’s a book that beautifully summarizes and illustrates that interesting past.
The book, authored by Harry Applegate and Thomas Benton, details Great Adventure founder Warner LeRoy’s grand vision for an amusement park and that park’s subsequent transformation into one of the United States’ largest collection of roller coasters and attractions — as well as a water park and animal preserve.
The picture-filled book is divided into five sections:
1. The “Come Together” section summarizes how Warner LeRoy’s Great Adventure vision came to fruition when the park opened in 1974. It delves into his plans for what he hoped would become an East-Coast equivalent of Disneyland.
2. The “Heck of a Show” section outlines the park’s live entertainment offerings in its decades of operation, from dive shows to Halloween-themed productions.
3. “A Short Ride from Great Rides” may be the most relevant section to coaster and ride enthusiasts. It details the park’s many rides and attractions, past and present, from the park’s Runaway Mine Train to the world record-breaking Kingda Ka.
4. “So Much to Do, So Close to Home” explores the intricacies of Great Adventure and the human element that intertwines with the park’s history. The section discusses what sets Great Adventure apart from other regional amusement parks.
5. The “Three Worlds of Adventure” covers the parks that make up Great Adventure. The complex was originally comprised of two concepts: the Enchanted Forest amusement park and the Wild Safari animal park (which has since been incorporated into the amusement park). The third gated park, Hurricane Harbor, opened in 2000.
I had the chance to ask the authors of the book a few questions about the park:
C101: What is your favorite operating attraction at the park?
Harry: That would be a tossup for me – split between two classics which have been at the park since opening day. In a world where amusement and theme parks are getting rid of their aerial skyway rides, Great Adventure is home to a rare dual Von Roll Sky Ride which is a hybrid of the ones once found at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and a similar attraction at the now defunct Freedomland in New York. The ride offers guests incredible views of the entire park as well as the scenic lake and woodlands that surround the park. Secondly, the Log Flume rates really high in my list of favorite attractions. This unique Arrow flume is one of the longest around today and makes use of the park’s landscape, providing riders with a fun-filled trip over the treetops and Great Adventure natural waterways. Both attractions are stars in Great Adventure’s ride lineup.
Tom: The Skyride is my favorite. It is one of the original park rides and has a history dating back before it was at Great Adventure at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. It’s always a great way to see the park, a great break from walking across the park, and something that I always think of riding together with my family when I was young.
C101: If you could bring back any former attraction, which would it be and why?
Harry: I would love for the park to bring back a Monster Spin style ride. Great Adventure had three different versions of this type of ride over the years- Pretty Monster, Monster Spin, and Spinnaker. The park hasn’t had one of these rides since the Spinnaker’s removal in 2000.
It is such a great family ride with a wide demographic appeal. I can remember riding the Pretty Monster on my first visit to the park in 1974 and laughing the entire time. It is one of those type of rides that gives you that tickling feeling in your stomach and you can’t help but smile and giggle.
Tom: I would choose to bring back the Joust-A-Bout. It was my favorite ride offering thrills and just a unique experience that you couldn’t find anywhere else (as far as I can tell it was the only Schwarzkopf Junk ride in North America).
C101: The park already has an impressive lineup of coasters, but what type of coaster do you think the park needs?
Harry: Great Adventure has a great mix of coasters from record setters to coasters that feature all the latest trick maneuvers. It also has a great selection of family coasters all of which are steel. It would be nice to see a classic style wooden coaster that bridges the gap for younger riders who want something more than the Runaway Train but aren’t quite ready to challenge El Toro.
Tom: A really good mid-size woodie would be a great addition. Since we lost Rolling Thunder there’s no real mid-sized coaster like that with everything being either much bigger or much smaller.
C101: What do you think sets the park apart from other parks in the Six Flags chain?
Harry: There are a bunch of things that sets Great Adventure apart from other Six Flags park but the #1 thing would have to be the Safari Off Road Adventure. Originally a separate gated attraction, the drive-thru Safari was integrated into the theme park for the 2013 season and has been one of the top “E-ticket” attractions ever since. The journey allows guests to escape the boundaries of the theme park for a couple of hours and experience a one of a kind ride which gives guests the opportunity for face to face encounters with well over a thousand animals – a trip that makes other safari rides like at Disney’s Animal Kingdom pale in comparison.
Tom: Great Adventure was from the very start a park with bigger ambitions than most theme parks at the time. Aside from Disney, nothing else was even close to being the same scale and scope as what Warner LeRoy envisioned for Great Adventure. I just wish he could have seen grow into his full vision. The things that he did get built were so spectacular (the Fort, Yum Yum Palace, Super Teepee, Conestoga Wagon, etc.), I can only imagine how amazing it would have been!
C101: What do you think the future holds for the park in regard to general expansion and other changes?
Harry: I think the park is in great hands and the current management team will continue to make the right decisions for future growth and expansion. Over the past several years, the mix of attractions that the park has introduced has really addressed the needs of the park and the desires of guests. We have received a family ride package, the Safari upgrade, a record setting drop tower, the incredible Holiday in the Park event. and the new Joker coaster. Each was a well thought-out addition which filled a need. I am sure that we will continue to see additions which add to the Great Adventure experience, be it a thrill ride package, more shows, or whatever the amusement industry can dream up to entertain us.
Tom: I’m so encouraged by the way that the park has expanded the season, now operating 9 months of the year and offering so much. I would love to see them finally add a hotel, especially one with an indoor waterpark, which would be something that could be enjoyed all year long. I feel like a Great Wolf Lodge type hotel would be a great addition. Especially if it could somehow incorporate the Safari’s animals somehow like Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
From the park’s first coasters to the world record-breaking Kingda Ka, Six Flags Great Adventure has one of the most interesting stories of any U.S. amusement park.
Purchase your copy the book here. As of this posting, it was available for $19.72.
Whether you’ve never been to the park or you buy a season pass every year, you’ll enjoy the photos and trivia packed inside the book.
Giveaway: For a chance to win a copy of Six Flags Great Adventure: Images of Modern America, post your favorite Six Flags Great Adventure attraction (past or present) in the comments section below. If you haven’t been to the park, that’s fine! Just post whichever roller coaster or attraction you would most like to ride. Enter through Monday, May 16, 2016 at 11:59 eastern time. Please enter only once. We’ll randomly draw one winner.
UPDATE: Congratulations to Cyndi A. for winning the book giveaway! Thanks to everyone who participated.