Six Flags Great Adventure – Jackson, NJ

Six Flags Great Adventure was the first place I ever rode a roller coaster.  It was in 1977, and my father took me on the Great Mine Train.  At the time, there was one lap bar for both passengers, and when we got to the top of a hill, I slid under the bar, and since the side of the car was open, I have a distinct memory of fearing that I was going to fall out (as unlikely as that was).  My father grabbed me and pulled me back up into my seat.  I didn’t ride another roller coaster for years, but when I tried them again in my early teens, I loved them.

Joel, meanwhile, is now 10 and will take on any ride.  It’s amazing and gratifying to experience his joy, and we have tremendous fun together in the parks.  These are memories we will both carry forever.

We had a fantastic day at Great Adventure.  It rained on and off throughout the day, but we did indoor attractions when it rained and ran to the outdoor attractions when it stopped.  We rode 11 coasters, including some of the best in the world.  I had wanted to return to Great Adventure for many years, and as the main park in New Jersey, I felt a strong connection to my childhood.

Rides/Attractions
Houdini’s Great Escape
– An entertaining ride/attraction that tells you a bit about Houdini and has an amusing spooky intro, followed by a ride/illusion, known as a haunted swing.  Not a great ride, but certainly worth trying, especially if it’s either hot or raining outside.  Could give some people a bit of vertigo.

VIP Options
Parking: Standard parking is $22, preferred parking is $32.  Our season pass included standard parking, and we were not permitted to upgrade to preferred.  As we arrived early, the difference in the walking time was only a minute or two.

Flash Pass: All Six Flags theme parks and some of their water parks now have a virtual queuing system called The Flash Pass, where you get a device that allows you to reserve your next coaster and skip the majority of the line.  The key is to immediately reserve the next ride as soon they scan your device at any given ride.  There are three different tiers of this service: Platinum, Gold, and Regular.  The higher the tier, the less time you wait for your next ride.  With Platinum, you can also ride twice in a row without getting off the ride (much to the annoyance of the next person waiting).  When we buy this, we always get Gold (and feel like it’s worth its weight in gold).  We have never had to wait for our next ride to be ready, and it saves hours of waiting.  Prices vary based on time of year and how many people are in your party.

Safari Off Road Adventure
For nearly 40 years, Great Adventure’s Safari experience was a separate admission and was a drive-through – you would drive your own car, and animals would walk around you (and occasionally attack your car).  In 2012, the park decided to convert the Safari into in experience more along the lines of the Kilimnajro Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and they opened the new experience in 2013.  It is now included in park admission, and you take a guided tour in a truck.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough trucks to meet the demand, so at opening, people were waiting 5+ hours to ride.  On the day we went, the standard wait was about an hour, but with the Flash Pass, that wait was reduced to about 15 minutes.

We truly enjoyed this ride.  We saw hundreds of animals, including some species we had never seen before.  We saw several baby animals, including a calf that had been born within the past hour.  You do have to get off halfway through the ride, explore an area in the middle of the savannah where you get some up-close encounters with animals, then get back on another truck, which worked out fine for us, but could be annoying on a hot, crowded day.  They were in the midst of installing a zipline in this area when we visited.  The guides were very good, and since it was an hour long, we really felt like we had a safari-like experience.

On the downside, the Off-Road Safari doesn’t have the magic of Kilimanjaro Safaris in Orlando.  Part of the brilliance of Disney’s version is that you do not see any fences in between the animals (they’re cleverly hidden), so it truly feels like you’re out on the open savannah.  The Off Road Safari has a lot of pavement, large enclosures, and numerous security gates, so it occasionally feels like an animal military installation rather than a preserve.  Even with these issues, it was one of our favorite non-coaster activities on the entire trip.

Hotel
For reasons no one could explain, there are no hotels near Great Adventure (perhaps zoning laws?).  We stayed in East Windsor, about 15-20 minutes to the north.  This was a mediocre Hampton Inn, with dated carpet and furnishings, freezing air conditioning, poor views, and an indifferent staff.  The accommodations were fine overall, but not up to Hampton’s normal superior standards.

Food
We ate the day before our park visit and for dinner after the park at the Americana Diner, a high-end diner in East Windsor.  These were two of the best meals on our trip, and the diner was a real find.

At the park, we ate at Best of the West by the Off-Road Safari.  Their big selling point is that it is indoors and air conditioned.  The food is typical theme-park fare: burgers, chicken, BBQ pork, and questionable salads.  They do serve beer, which makes it more appealing for some.

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