It’s day 9. After just over a week in the states, we’re heading towards our third theme park – Six Flags Great Adventure, situated about an hour’s drive out of Philadelphia, in New Jersey.
We’re leaving early for a few reasons – to get to the park early, to try and beat work traffic, and to get out of the nightmarish confusion that is the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Bessie is no help here – as useful as she is for pointing us in the right direction and making sure we stay on track during the long trips, for pinpointing exact locations or dealing with the complicated inner cities she’s distinctly lacking.
Nevertheless, we’re off. Some nice picturesque scenery, a few train bridges and accidentally driving past the entrance (in her defence Bessie did point it out, it was I that missed it) and we arrive just after opening time.
Six Flags Great Adventure isn’t a huge theme park. It’s also strangely shaped. Cedar Point was huge and seemed to have one big loop. Six Flags Great America was a more traditional square-ish area with lots of different lands and different ways between them. Six Flags Great America, however, seems to be mostly one long strip. The park seems a lot longer, going left to right with the entrance in the middle, than it is wide. It’s got a good setting with lots of trees scattered around the place, and different sections being different lands.
In actuality, we arrive literally at opening. We’re able to go into the park, but none of the rides are operating yet. As such, we join the main throng of people heading through the boardwalk area towards the park’s main attraction – the highest and second-fastest rollercoaster in the world, Kingda Ka.
The boardwalk area consists of mainly games attractions, all brightly lit, themed like a circus area. Looks nice enough, but no need to look at that – Kingda Ka’s giant green framework is directly ahead, in the Inca/Aztec/Mayan (pick your own ancient south-American civilisation here) area. There are a fair few people waiting, and once the green light is given, guess where everyone is headed!
So, Kingda Ka… we do manage to get on it reasonably quickly. It is, for all intents and purposes, identical to Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point, just a bit higher and faster. Where TTD gets up to 120mph and hits 420ft, Kingda Ka manages 128mph and 456ft. Only the speed of Kingda Ka is broken by Formula Rossa at Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi, which manages 149mph (when it’s open).
Compared to Top Thrill Dragster’s red and yellow paintwork, Kingda Ka is a nice metallic green and also features a bizarre hump of a hill at the end. Quite what the purpose of this is eludes me, but it’s something different.
Managing to get on the ride quickly, we’re loaded in and off. Those who’ve read about the Top Thrill Dragster will know what happens – for those that don’t, here we go again.
The train is put into position on the first straight of the track and stops. After a few seconds the train is launched bloody fast, directly towards a vertical incline. Hitting the incline, we begin going straight up. Towards the top the train banks 90 degrees clockwise, then crests over the top. On the way back down (again, vertical) the train rolls 270 degrees clockwise, then goes back onto the straight flat section. Now, instead of the Top Thrill Dragster’s pure straight run out and brake, Kingda Ka has a relatively small hump (relatively small for this ride, but a decent size compared to other rides) to ride out.
And that is Kingda Ka. Launch, up, down and stop. Same as Top Thrill Dragster? Nearly. The hump at the end makes no difference to us – but the slight increase in both speed and height are noticeable. Still, the ride is quite a boring one – it’s there for show and not really much else. If you’re not afraid of heights or speed, Kingda Ka (like Top Thrill Dragster) has nothing to interest you. It’s alright, but the forces that hit you aren’t much and the ride doesn’t do anything interesting.
So, leaving Kingda Ka for those that think it’s ace, we wander around the park a bit more. I believe the next coaster was Nitro, which actually does have a fair bit of the forces hitting you laterally that were missing on Kingda Ka. A great coaster (I believe it’s a hyper coaster), the ride is smooth with a fair few pops of air, some nice turns and bends and lots of soaring tracks above and through the trees. Definitely one of the favourites of the road trip, though not the favourite. Also not the favourite of the day, but more on that later.
Nearby is a Batman coaster – basically, the same as the one from Six Flags Great America. It’s a suspended looping coaster with the riders entering through a nicely-decorated Batcave, before boarding the trains and looping about the place. It’s *alright*, though I do wonder whether SLCs are becoming a little too… well, common around theme parks now. Generally they don’t last long and all try to be so extreme that you generally don’t get to pay attention to what the coaster’s doing before you’re thrown into a barrel roll with a loop at the end.
Heading back through the park, we also come across another Superman ride. Yep, just like the one at Six Flags Great America again. You can tell these parks are all part of a big franchise. In any case, it’s a flying coaster – sit in the seat like an SLC and the seat will tilt so you are facing the ground, then off you go! They’re okay – again, the only other ones I’ve been on are Air and Manta, and Manta’s the only one I’d rate.
Next to this is the Green Lantern – a new addition, based on the movie that’s based on the comic. It’s a standing coaster, which has a bloody great big queue and a fighter jet parked in the middle of the queue. It’s also set in the worst area for theming – a big grey flat parking lot of a place (but without the cars). The track is, as you would expect, painted green, except for a small yellow bit – apparently where the evil giant space snake Parallax comes along and menaces the riders for a bit. Still, it’s probably the best standing coaster, but also one of the worst coasters of the holiday. Mainly because it’s standing. When standing, it seems as if all the judders the ride goes through are magnified, and the crotch bar and general discomfort don’t help matters much.
Before lunch, we do head out to try and ride another coaster – El Toro. Unfortunately it was either shut or had a huge queue, so we make a note to ride it later.
Lunch is handled by a small cafe near the park entrance. Decent prices and okay sandwiches, except they kept adding cheese to my girlfriend’s (now wife’s) sandwich. She hates cheese. Hates it with a vengeance. Which makes eating in America hazardous as they seem to think that anyone who dislikes cheese “just needs to try it”. We asked for no cheese. Whilst it was being prepared, we heard a manager go to the lady who was preparing it and say “there’s no cheese”, to which the lady said “they asked for none”. Manager replied “I know how to make these sandwiches” and, lo and behold, cheese was added! So of course we sent it back, asking for no cheese. They bring it back with *most* of the cheese removed, leaving a few bits seemingly as some bizarre form of compensation (or again, their version of “just give cheese a chance”, an attempt to bring us into their national past-time of cheese loving) so we just pick out the pieces and make a note not to eat there again.
In any case, lunch over. What’s the park like?
Unlike Six Flags Great America, which was a big block shape, and Cedar Point with it’s curious lightbulb circuit, Six Flags Great Adventure is quite a long park. If you imagine a rectangle, about seven or eight times as long as it is wide – that’s the park. The entrance is in the middle of the rectangle, and differently themed areas take up different sections of the rectangle, running from top to bottom.
I do know that the park, in reality, isn’t actually that long compared to it’s width, but it really does seem that way as a guest.
Even like this though, the park does cram a lot in and there’s a handy cable car (that we made quite a lot of use of) running along the park. There are plenty of trees – indeed this does seem to be the prettiest park so far – and despite the space restrictions, quite a lot of themed areas.
But, in any case, back to the rides! I think we headed on over to Skull Mountain, which seemed to be a powered coaster, set inside a big fake mountain. With a skull. Hence the name. It’s decent enough. Just outside was a bird show with two parents and their young daughter doing all sorts of tricks with birds. The girl seemed to be lumbered with the task and you’d suspect she wished she was at the mall with her friends. Perhaps social services should be notified – American kids cannot be denied their mall rights. In the words of her parents, she’d be there “all summer” (clearly said with an evil grin on their faces). There was even a dolphin show there (though obviously the girl doing the bird show wasn’t also doing this – if she was, she would have been hugely talented and her parents should probably be in jail for being too pushy!).
Around that general area was a small kids coaster – amusing just because it was empty, apart from the same kids who just kept going on it repeatedly. They were in small child heaven! And the coaster did at least two laps each time it left the station! Who could ask for more? We went on it once – there was some space so we didn’t displace any of the afore-mentioned small kids who had made that ride their home for the day. It was okay – small hill, winding course, gets a bit of speed up – perfect for small kids. The attendant also loved the kids coming back on the ride all the time.
But back to the larger rides! There was a mine cart that I barely remember, but also Bizarro! I also barely remember this. The only things I remember were the theming, including a cow stuck to the side of the station and some flamethrowers. Why not, Zoidberg?
Back near the Superman ride, I think, was another Dark Knight. Again, like the one at Six Flags Great America, it’s… exactly the same. Except the pre-ride area is a little different. People queue up and then go into a subway area, where they… queue again. Evidently the Joker has been at his evil, terrible hijinks and graffiti’d “why so serious” all over the place. Apparently this is what insane people do before they blow up the subway. Into a subway escape car (I wonder if these exist in real life?) and we’re into a quite-well-lit dark coaster with lots of 90-degree turns and drops. To call this a Wild Mouse is an insult to the Pleasure Beach’s Wild Mouse, but that’s the nearest comparison. In any case, plenty of weirdness abounds with a static Batman, a truck… doing something… and a floating police station that’s right out of the Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego cartoon. Oh, and a wibbly light effect – just about the only difference with it’s Gurnee counterpart. Again, for small dark coasters, Raptor Attack at Lightwater Valley is miles better. For dark coasters in general, The Mummy at Islands Of Adventure is a lot better. For general Wild Mouse coasters, Wild Mouse at Pleasure Beach (and Wildcat at Cedar Point, though I’m unsure that can be classed as a Wild Mouse and I believe it’s gone now) is miles better.
So… the last two coasters. Rolling Thunder, a wood and steel combination (I think) that was uncomfortable as hell and made us weep in sheer pain. If ever you wanted to ride a roller coaster for sado masochists, this would be a good one, fitting firmly into the category of “ow ow ow my spine”. That’s literally the only thing we remember about it. As we pulled into the station, the American kids also in our train shouted to the poor waiting victims on the platform “don’t do it!”. Even worse than the Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s ageing (but still great) stock, the Ultimate at LWV and possibly even more nausea-inducing than Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa.
And the final coaster… El Toro.
Words cannot describe this coaster, but I’ll give it a go anyway. A purely wooden coaster, it also now has the honour of being our favourite coaster on the trip, and one of our favourites ever. Everything else, as good as it is, pales by comparison. It is up there with the Incredible Hulk, the Revolution, the Pepsi Max Big One and the Ultimate, among a few others.
Getting into this manic contraption, the train sets off and rolls through a 180 degree corner before coming to the lift hill. It’s quite a fast lift hill. It’s not launched, it just goes fast in order to get you up there. As soon as all the cars connect it speeds up until you get to the top, some 188ft, making it the third tallest wooden coaster.
At the top, another 180 degree corner to get you in position, then it’s DOWN.
Yep, capital letters. That DOWN is a big DOWN, because you suddenly plummet at 76 degrees, hitting 70mph. That’s the second steepest and third fastest wooden coaster there.
Then there’s a whole load of hills until the coaster decides to do something you don’t expect from a wooden coaster – 90 degree bankings!
Yep, this wooden coaster is pulling off stuff that you wouldn’t even think a wood/steel hybrid would do. It’s like a condensed second half of the Ultimate, but with hills and made of wood. And it’s pure coaster joy!
The ride is over all too soon however, but we do dedicate a lot of time to this coaster at the end of the day, doing a fair few re-rides along with the same group of American college kids.
I haven’t mentioned the visual check yet, one major point of hilarity about this park. Whenever a ride is ready to set off, the ride attendants have to do this visual check which involves running to your designated point, putting your hand to your eyes in a sailor fashion, looking around lots with this and, if all is well and good, giving a big thumbs up. Of course the ride attendants have to shout “visual check!” first, in a strange fashion similar to those jolly old German fellows from the 30s and 40s who we dare not mention.
Of course it’s easy to take the mick, and several people did so with gusto. In our final hour (which was more or less continuously going on El Toro, coming off then dashing back into the line to go on again), there were various American college kids doing the same. Of course, when the “visual check” came about, they did the same thing – gave the coaster a clear check, thumbs up etc. Even the attendants couldn’t suppress a giggle.
So, having been through all the coasters in the park, what’s left? Well, there are the usual flat rides and one of those odd turning-room contraptions like Hex at Alton Towers, called Houdini’s Great Escape. It’s difficult to rate these rides as half the “ride” experience is telling a story, before you’re herded into the eponymous spinning room. Of course you don’t spin – the room does, though the seats themselves may move a little. It seems to me that, in recent years (well, on this and Hex in particular) great lengths have been gone to in order to make it look like you’re spinning around the room and all sorts of effects occur. Even once you know what’s going on your brain can still be fooled, but to me these rides are worth a look at best.
Dinner was handled by a chicken restaurant pretty similar to the one at Six Flags Great America – go in there, order what you want from a small selection of contenders and hey presto – chicken with a bit of mash, sweetcorn and gravy. And a biscuit. Biscuit, in American terms, meaning some form of sweet bread for dunking in gravy. Good price and reasonably filling.
We stay until the park closes, with one or two re-rides on Nitro and then, for the rest of the evening and what we can manage of the night, rides on El Toro. Managed to perfect the art of making people laugh on the ride photos, by pointing at the camera and grimacing in an evil fashion or by doing the “visual check”.
So… what do we think of this park? My wife enjoyed it immensely – to her, it was the best park on the trip. It had the best rides and was a decent size. For me… I’m not so sure. I think I rate Six Flags Great America, Cedar Point and Six Flags Great Adventure about the same. SFGAm was a decent size, well laid out but didn’t have anything special. CP was huge, but not that well laid out and for me, didn’t have anything special. SFGAdv was well laid out and DID have something special (El Toro), plus a fair few other good rides. But, for some reason, possibly the setting, CP keeps popping into my head.
We leave at closing, having ridden El Toro nearly to a coaster-induced-stupor. Finding our way back is problematic due to a few wrong turns, and Bessie the GPS keeps saying “bear left”. In the dark, with the huge amount of trees around, I think she was probably right. There probably were bears to our left, lying in wait. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is thankfully easier to navigate due to the relative lack of traffic, and we arrive at the hotel and promptly go to bed. Tomorrow’s a big day in Philly.