Friday, July 24, 2009

A Visit to Six Flags Great America

My sons won free tickets to Great America in Gurnee, Illinois, for a reading program at school, and yesterday was the day I took off work and we drove up there to spend the day.

I can remember when Great America opened. Back then, it was called Marriot's Great America, and at least a few of the rides that debuted with the park are still there today. The theme, obviously then and now, was that various areas are patterned after different regions of the country. The "lands" consist of Carousel Plaza, Orleans Place, Mardi Gras, Yukon Territory, Yankee Harbor, Hometown Square, Southwest Territory and County Fair. Some predictable attractions are in predictible areas; for example, the Logger's Run is in the Yukon Territory, and the Yankee Clipper flume ride is in Yankee Harbor. And of course, the very nice double decker Columbia Carousel is in Carousel Plaza. A railroad station and a live theater are located in Hometown Square, and various shops and restaurants are themed to the areas in which they are located.

There are a lot of coasters in this park. Here's a list:

  • THE DARK KNIGHT - indoor dark coaster


  • RAGIN' CAJUN - spinning family coaster




  • VIPER - wooden coaster


  • THE DEMON - two loops and two corkscrews

  • IRON WOLF - standup looping coaster

  • AMERICAN EAGLE - wooden coaster

  • The Whizzer is original to the park, when it was called Willard's Whizzer back in those days. There also used to be a huge, three-armed Ferris Wheel but that's been gone for years. The only other ride I can think of that is no longer there (I'm sure there are a lot of them) is the Tidal Wave, a high speed coaster where they shot you through a loop, then up, then you do the same thing backwards.

    They advertise that they have been voted the "cleanest park" in either North America or in the world. I have my doubts, but in years past it was NOT a clean park at all, and this year it looked pretty presentable. Much cleaner than in the past, and there were a lot more employees walking around picking up trash. Some of this is probably due to the fact that their attendance is down, but still.

    All in all, a pretty good day at the park.

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    Kiddieland Closes in September

    This NOT just in...but I thought I'd drop a quick blog entry about it.

    Kiddieland, one of the oldest kid's amusement parks in the country, is closing for good in September of 2009. This park is located in Chicago suburb Melrose Park, right next to the horse races at Maywood. It's been in business for over 80 years now. I went there when I was a kid, a time or two, and we've taken our kids there several times until they got spoiled by the grandeur of Disney and grew up too much to really appreciate the rides there.

    Let me tell you a little about the park: It has one roller coaster called the Little Dipper, an old looking wooden ride that for some reason is more fun than similar sized rides at, oh, say, Great America. It has a smallish log flume ride, an "Autopia" style old car ride where you or your kid drives a vintage car around the track. It has a train ride, quite undersized but still rideable for adults, which goes through the parking lot and then weaves around the property, through a tunnel with a low clearance. It has a number of rides for toddlers. It has a vintage carousel, and then another German Carousel where riders mount cars, trucks, bikes and motorcycles, and even rockets. There are some spinny rides and an old-ish Ferris Wheel. And, a real plus to the value, the park offers free sodas all the time. Believe me, on hot days this could be a godsend.

    Apccording to the article in the Chicago Tribune fom July 12, 2009, there is a dispute between sides of the family: Mom (daughter or daughter in law of the founder, Art Fritz) and brother own the land and have refused to renew the lease of Kiddieland, apparently because the land should be more valuable than the lease provides for, on the one side, and her children (Fritz's grandchildren) on the other side, as owners of the park. Apparently the park has been profitable, charging around 20 bucks for an adult admission (IIRC, it's a little less than that), less for kids, and there's always a promotion going on. So it's closing, and the rides are up for sale.

    Apparently the owners would like to sell everything intact, as a whole, to one buyer who might open another "Kiddieland" somewhere. (If I had any money I'd consider trying to open an amusement park down around where I live in Chicago's southwest suburbs...that is, if my wife let me...)

    One interesting story in the article in the Tribune: When Walt Disney was planning his Disneyland park, he called Art Fritz to possibly discuss those plans. Fritz had the sort of park that Walt was considering building - fun for the whole family. Fritz, however, had no interest in discussing things with Walt, telling him he was "too busy to get involved with that. He made his park and Walt should make his own. He kind of blew him off", says one of the grandkids.

    One less option for family entertainment in the Chicago area. It will be missed.

    Here's the link to that article:  Kiddieland's Farewell Summer