Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Other Parks: Six Flags Great America

We made our annual pilgrimage to Six Flags' Great America yesterday. We do this because our sons, avid readers (at least during the school year) both, each earned a free ticket. And the park currently is offering a special where if you buy your tickets at Jewel or online, you pay kids' prices. So off we went.

One of my favorite things about the park is this carousel as you walk through their entrance gates. I think it's striking, a park icon of almost (though not quite) Disney quality. It goes back to the original park, when it was Marriot's Great America, and was actually themed to be a mini-USA. I have fond memories of the way the park was in those days when it was brand spanking new. It was not the steel jungle of roller coasters that it is today (they said on the train ride that they have 14 roller coasters, the newest of which is a small wooden coaster that used to be at Kiddieland, called the Little Dipper), and though there were thrill rides in the park, it was milder stuff. The log ride and the boat ride were both there back then, as they are today, and the Whizzer (then called Willard's Whizzer) was on the premises, as were some of the smaller rides like the Orbit (then the Orleans Orbit), the rotating observation platform that ascends its tower, and of course, the train.

They used to have this towering Ferris Wheel, with three arms, and each arm held a Ferris Wheel that rotated independently of the other two. They'd haul us up in the air, turning, as they loaded the next arm's wheel. Great views, and a great place to take your dates. They used to have a roller coaster called "Turn of the Century", which did some corkscrews and was probably their biggest thrill ride at the time. That got replaced by "The Demon", a coaster that does a couple of looks to go with the corkscrew inversions, and is still there today.

Shows were a big part of the park then. "Hometown Square" featured a big theater where singers/dancers would perform a musical tribute to this era, or that era, depending on what the theme was that year. There was always a big parade midday, and Looney Tune characters were all over the place (they still are). There was an iMax theater that is still present also, but was a much bigger deal then (the technology was really new back then).

This year, we went on the Whizzer, the Demon and the American Eagle (their large wooden coaster). We went on Logger's Run once and the Yankee Harbor Boats twice. The boys did the Chubasco Teacups and the Condor and a couple other minor rides. And we took a train ride, for old time's sake, around the whole park. I think that maybe I liked that ride best.

They claim the title of "World's Cleanest Theme Park", which is interesting. Yes, there is no garbage laying around, there are plenty of supervisors walking around with their claws and brooms and such, sweeping up just like the custodial staff. But when you look just off the path, you notice that there really isn't a lot of attention paid to the landscaping. Dirt, gravel, and branches take the place of nicely trimmed grass or groundcover. There are flowers in some places, but not in too many places. All in all, I'd say any Disney park is better kept up and manicured than this place.

But that's not why people are there. They are there for the big roller coasters, like Raging Bull, the Iron Wolf, Batman and Superman coasters, and V2 (Vertical Velocity). That's just to name a couple of their bigger rides.

I still like the image of the carousel best, I think.



skeptic said...

Nice write-up. I loved Marriott's Great America and went frequently in the early to mid 1980s, and I agree that the double decker carousel is iconic. I also thought that of the triple ferris wheel, I can't believe it is gone.

The Demon was the first looping coaster I rode, and back then they had something called The Tidalwave that was nothing but one giant loop forward and backward. I never saw it devolve into a pure thrill park, but I do remember when The Edge first came to the park -- that might have begun the transformation.

I also remember the shows, particularly the dolphin show. It was quite the little amusement park back then.

Scott said...

Thanks for commenting. I felt the same way about the big Ferris Wheel.