On its 30th anniversary, I thought I would post a "retro" Trip Report for Great Adventure.
First off I will ask forgiveness if some of my info is a little off. This trip took place 29 or 30 years ago, so some of my memories are a bit clouded by time. Also, I was 9 years old at the time of the visit, so I was looking at the park though the eyes of a 9 year old… and anybody who can remember that far back knows that 9 year olds in 1975 were not as “advanced” as 9 years olds today, both in their view of parks and the world in general. My two visits to Great Adventure came in 1974 or 1975 and 1978, and some of the events blur between the two trips. Up until looking at the dates on one Great Adventure time line, I always believed that the trip occurred in 1975… but when I see when certain rides made their appearance, I think it may have occurred in 1974. For instance… it says that Moon Flume made its debut in 1975… but it was not open (just being built) when we were there on our first visit. Either means that it opened half way through the 1975 season and we just missed it… or we were there in 1974. I do remember lots of construction going on during our visit.
Now, on to the trip…
The idea to visit Great Adventure began in the summer of either 1974 or 1975 when the old Mike Douglas Show did a week of shows from this brand new theme park in New Jersey. Now to my 9 year old mind, New Jersey was nearly on the other side of the country (in fact it is a 3 hour drive), but I knew I had to see this park. So the plans were made and during the summer of 1975 my mom, dad, my friend Danny, and I climbed into my families 1969 Chevrolet Malibu and headed down the PA Turnpike, bound for Jersey.
We stayed at a Howard Johnson’s Motor Inn in Bordentown, a few miles from the park… the same hotel where the cast and crew of the Mike Douglas show was said to have stayed. Hard to believe, because even to my 9 year old mind I knew that this was a crappy hotel. But we were there for the park, not the lodging, so it could be over looked.
The first day at the park we visited the Safari and it was exciting for me to see all of the wild animals. At one point our car over heated and someone in a jeep came by to help us out. He opened the hood and when he left for a few moments to get water, an ostrich came over and stuck his head under the hood to investigate (later that evening at a gas station near our hotel, the attendant said we needed a new hose… the one that was there had some strange looking holes in it… hmmmm… could it be?). We soon got moving again. I couldn’t wait to see the baboons and see them jump on our car, but since our car had a vinyl roof, we had to take the “Baboon By-Pass” so they would not tear it up. Oh well.
Late in the afternoon we entered the Theme Park part of Great Adventure. Instantly we were stunned by the crowds. The parks we were used to were Williamsgrove (relatively the same then as it is now) and Hersheypark. Hershey was still known as a local park then, just in the midst of its transformation into a Theme Park and lines were usually short. Not so for Great Adventure. The first (and only) ride that Danny and I rode that first day was the Pretty Monster (monster ride with 4 passenger cars).
I believe we also stopped into the giant Indian TeePee that first day and bought some thing. I remember getting a toy musket… and not the short type seen in many toy stores, but a LONG one (with Bicentennial fever beginning to sweep the country, I NEEDED that musket to fight off those pesky Red Coats of my imagination in my back yard at home... and while I still have that toy musket, stopped using it in favor of a real musket which I use to fight off those pesky Rebels during Civil War re-enactments) We also saw a show in the Great Arena that included a wild west show and a chariot race.
Getting to know the lay of the land on that first day, on the second day of our visit we knew what we had to do. We got to the entrance early and waited for the gates to open. When they did, we, like practically everyone else, charged into the park toward its one unique thrill rides… the LOG FLUME!!! We had never seen anything like this. Hersheypark’s Coal Cracker was only a year or two old at that time, but we had not been there since it was built (in the early 1970’s, aside from trying to turn into a Theme Park, Hershey was also trying to rebuild its image which was tarnished when the park began to become rundown in the 1960’s… Many locals, my parents included, had a negative image of the park and stayed away), so the Log Flume was new and unique to us. What a wild ride! Imagine… floating in “logs”… in water… and you get wet!!!! Woah! What a concept! (Flumes it turned out were some of the only rides my dad could ride… he would get sick on most everything else, including carrousel’s).
We rode many other rides that day, including what seemed like a very long car ride and a Trabant in the Strawberry Fields (or Strawberry Fair?) area that was designed to look like you were sitting on the edge of a dancing Senorita’s dress. I also remember walking through the Miniature Village.
The other “amazing” ride that I remember was the sky ride. We boarded in the Giant Fort and took it to the other station. I don’t like heights now, I didn’t like them then either. The only other sky rides I were the dangly feet type at Hersheypark (Skyview) and Fantasyland (in Gettysburg PA). I was not ready for Great Adventures gondola version. I was so scared that I sat in the middle of the gondola on the floor, not wanting to look over the sides. Foggy memory says that there was some sort of support in the middle (?) that I wrapped my arms around… or perhaps I was only wishing that there was such a pole to hold on to so I would not fall to certain death.
Another ride near the Giant Fort that I remember was this really wild and insane and crazy looking roller coaster called the Runaway Mine Train (remember… I was only 9! I had never been on anything more than a kiddie coaster). Well, I half wanted to try it… but mom overrode my desires (I would have to wait until the following year at Busch Gardens – The Olde Country for my first real coaster ride… Glissade). How far things have come.
I do remember that the park was still seeing construction going on.... including a new flume, the Moon Flume, on the opposite side of the park. That one I rode on our 1978 visit, along with Big Fury, Alpen Blitz, Calypso, Train, Runaway Mine Train (at last), and a Ferris Wheel (not the Giant one, but a smaller one, though still pretty large). During that second visit Lightning Loops was running but, because of the long lines (and being a bit scared of it) I did not ride it. Ironically, the very next year Roaring Thunder made its debut. We seemed to miss major coasters by one year… we missed Roaring Thunder by one year at Great Adventure and missed Loch Ness Monster by one year at Williamsbur
After a two fun days at the safari and park, it was time to return home to PA. The Ironic thing is… it has been 26 years (and nearly 150 coasters and 40 parks) since my second (and last) visit to Great Adventure even though it is only 3 hours away.
One thing that this first trip to Great Adventure did do… it changed the way I looked at parks from then on. Little local Williamsgrove was suddenly knocked down a notch (a few notches really), and “old” Hersheypark lost much of its “glamour” that I remembered (though it gained it back when I visited this park for the first time in years in 1978… after it shed the “local” park image for the “Themepark” image and upgraded and modernized). That trip to Great Adventure was really my first to a “modern” Themepark. Perhaps one of the reasons that I was never really in a hurry go get back is, knowing what Six Flag parks are like (having SFA, Great Escape, Darien Lake), I almost am afraid to see the cookie cutter image. I almost want to hold on to my childhood memories of wonderment of my first Themepark experience.
But who am I kidding… Nitro, Medusa, et al (yes, even Rolling Thunder) are there… and with those coasters an easy day trip away, either this summer or next I will get back there. It’s been nearly 30 years. It’ll be like visiting a brand new park after all of that time.
*** Edited 7/1/2004 4:37:56 PM UTC by SLFAKE***
You should get back to SFGAdv- you may be surprised with what you find. I've been to quite a few SF parks and my home park remains my favorite because much of its charm has been retained through the years. Plus the park has a collection of steel coasters that is really hard to match. Now if only they'd get serious about wood...
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