As we eagerly await our trip to Walt Disney World this August, my 7 year old daughter and I decided to whet our theme park appetite with a trip to our local Six Flags park, Great Adventure in nearby New Jersey. It's not quite Disney World, but the weather was warm and the park was having special mid-week hours because of Spring Break, so why the hell not?There would be no thrill rides for me this time around. It's always a thrill to see my daughter on kiddy rides and she loves to meet the Warner Brothers characters. I checked out their website and saw that a new kid's area, Bugs Bunny National Park, was open and I was curious to see what they had added. There's also a gigantic wooden coaster under construction that I wanted to see.
Great Adventure has been around for some time now, and I have memories of grade school trips and excursions with my mom and dad to this old park in Jackson, NJ. Like most of us Disney fanatics, I'm a theme park nut. I enjoy spending the day walking around a good park. The inevitable comparisons to the Disney parks always pop into my head. Even though most Six Flags parks certainly have a way to go to reach the level of theming and magic we all experience at WDW or Disneyland, they have a certain charm to them. In recent years I've especially noticed a definite attempt by the chain to tap into that Disneyesque magic, whether it be through more elaborate theming or adding more Warner Brothers characters to certain areas of their parks.
Last year for instance, Great Adventure added an entire new area called The Golden Kingdom. Within the Kingdom is an area called Balin's Jungleland. Essentially a children's area, with an assortment of midway rides, Jungleland has become one of my favorite "lands" outside of a Disney park. They've swayed me by adding heavily to the theming, and by featuring a white tiger habitat as the focus of this new land. There is a tiger show, which we have yet to catch, but looks intriguing.
Here you can see one of the tigers resting in his little world.
There are also two enormous tortoises.
Photo by Chris Barry
The whole land is surrounded by tall bamboo plants and features a sort of temple ruins theme. Here you can see some theming that seems very Animal Kingdom-like to me.
There are woodcarvings of animals on many of the posts.
The highlight of the kids section is a five story play area with a vast assortment of slides, nets to climb, instruments to bang on, and bridges to cross, all also well jungle themed.
Even the standard kid rides are plussed up with the jungle theme.
They even have their own version of Dumbo.
We enjoyed Balin's Jungleland last summer with the whole family. This time, with just my daughter and myself, I could focus more on the details of this great addition to Great Adventure. Kudos to the designers for going the extra mile to really give the area a cohesive theme.
We were both looking forward to the new Bugs Bunny themed area, Bugs Bunny's National Park. I have to say it was a bit of a letdown for me. They had hit a high note with The Golden Kingdom and Jungleland.Once again, fairly standard amusement park midway rides were just sort of placed in an open unused area. No big theme going on here. There were a few nice touches. I like the Bugs and Daffy topiaries. Tip of the hat to the Disney horticulturists, of course.
The carousel consisted of great vintage looking Warner Brothers cartoon posters. Some of my favorite classics were well represented.
This was also the place to meet your favorite Loony Tunes characters…
…or catch them in "We Got the Beat," an 80's music themed show.
Hearing Tweety sing "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" to Sylvester was a bit rough, but my daughter seemed to get a big kick out of it. The things I'll sit through for my kids!
We hadn't seen the afternoon parade the last time we were here, so we made sure to see it this time. Now, as a spoiled Disney veteran at 7 years old, I think Samantha was expecting a little more than a few busses and some superheroes, but overall we both enjoyed the attempt.
It was good to see some "B List" Looney Tunes characters in the parade like Speedy Gonzalez…
…and Marvin the Martian and his dog.
Some members of The Justice League made an appearance...
…as did the Batmobile itself.
I understand you can meet the Justice League characters this year, a welcome addition for comic fans young and old.
I also noticed a few new things here at Great Adventure that were definitely influenced by a certain mouse's theme parks. First off was their newly retooled version of Fastpass called Flash Pass! I'm sure Mickey's lawyers took a long look at that name.
Next was, Brunch with Bugs, where you can have breakfast accompanied by Bugs Bunny and his pals. Hey, when an idea works, an idea works, right? We've been to the Pooh breakfast, the Princess breakfast, maybe next time we'll go to the Bugs Bunny breakfast.
All in all, we had a great 7 hours at Six Flags, Great Adventure. My daughter was in no rush to leave. Balin's Jungleland is certainly worth checking out. It's good to see a theme park besides Disney pay attention to the whole picture, and not just drop a ride on some concrete or an empty lot. I wish they did a bit more with Bugs' National Park.
I'm also glad they are really pushing the Warner Brothers stable of characters in their attractions, shows and gift shops. They are hard to come by on television these days. If it weren't for the Six Flags parks (and my DVD and VHS collection) my kids might not even know who Bugs, Daffy and Porky Pig are. Impossible to fathom, when I compare their childhood to mine. I watched Looney Tunes on a daily basis. That explains a lot, I think.
Our trip certainly got us in the mood to visit our favorite theme parks in Walt Disney World this summer. Samantha said to me after touring the various kids areas, "Daddy, they don't have any dark rides here, do they?"
(My 7 year old is using the term dark rides. I consider that a small personal triumph.)
I responded, "No sweetie, we'll have to wait until Disney for those."
She pressed on, "Well, how come they don't have dark rides here?"
As I thought about the many levels of answers to that question, the best I could come up with was, "Well kiddo, some things have to stay special to Disney don't they?" She agreed and wanted to know if we could come back to Great Adventure a lot this summer. I told her we would. Maybe I'll even consider a Season Pass. After all, life can't be all about fairy tales and pixie dust can it?
Now if Six Flags could only build a monorail, and a castle, and a pirate ride and some cool mountain rides, and a whole area of international pavilions and some really nice hotels, and a few manmade lakes and rivers, and maybe they can pipe in some of that magic happy gas I seem to inhale as soon as I cross through the turnstiles in Florida. What do you think?
Like I said, some things have to stay special to Disney don't they?