July 29-30, 2007

On a cloudy Sunday morning, Karen and I headed south to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. We left at 6:30 in the morning. The highways were refreshingly quiet, even down the usually busy I-95. At about 12:30 we reached the park exit off of route 195, just as the skies opened up. The rain was so heavy, cars were pulling off to the side of the road. At a rest stop on the way we saw a live doppler radar. The rain cell appeared isolated and swift-moving, so we kept on course for the park entrance. A modest sign backed by shrubbery and flowers greeted us. We followed the winding narrow entrance road. Two large signs, one for the safari and another for the water park, pointed off to the left. We continued on the right toward the amusement park and the rain let up. We arrived at the gates to the vast parking area. There was "preferred" parking for $25. But looking around, it was apparent that the park was nearly empty. As we approached the parking attendant she just flagged us through without taking any money. No other parking staff were visible. We took a left and headed down a lane next to the preferred parking. A few cars were parked in that area. In the regular parking section where we were headed there were perhaps a dozen rows of cars. We went to the frontmost row and found a spot there. Then the rain came down hard again. We sat in the car as a pond began forming in front of us. Seagulls with black heads, looking like bandits, circled above us as if searching for fish in the sea. Guests were beginning to flee and as they drove by us their cars were in water up to their grills. We waited in the car about twenty minutes, and once again the rain let up and the skies began to brighten a bit. So we took a chance and got out of the car. I put on some sandals instead of my sneakers and we walked along the fence at the edge of the parking area, stepping around the water, heading towards the entrance.

The vast panorama of coasters was impressive. It looked similar to Cedar Point when approaching it from the causeway. There was Kingda Ka in the distance, its giant tower seeming to pierce the clouds. In front of us was the twisted track of Superman: Ultimate Flight. Behind it was the old Great American Scream Machine and next to that was the huge parachute tower. To the right of that were three tall posts; I didn't know what they were. And then to the right of that was a double Skycoaster tower set. Colorful plastic Jersey barriers formed a pedestrian path. We followed them around a right-hand turn and there was the entrance plaza. I was struck by how quaint it looked. There were flowers everywhere. It was like a cross between Busch Gardens and Six Flags New England. The ticket gates in the distance had a colonial look with latticework and copper-topped cupolas. Off to the side was a giant balloon of one of the Wiggles characters playing a guitar, identical to the balloon at the entrance of Six Flags New England. There were also the same signs from SFNE on the trash cans ("Please keep the park clean... because MY FAMILY comes here too." It was also on the employees' shirts.) and there were also the same ads hanging from banners. Music was playing, mostly pop hits from the 1970s and '80s. ("Funky Town" happened to greet us.)

There was no one in line. We walked right up and presented our season passes, passed through the metal detectors and gazed upon a nearly deserted midway. Everything was so quiet. We couldn't hear any screams, any laughter. None of the coasters were running. It seemed that no other rides were, as well. We walked into a nearby shop and I picked up a park map. We were standing on "Main Street," with New-England-styled shops lining each side. At the end of that stretch of midway was a large circular fountain gushing water high into the air. From there the layout was a bit strange. Main Street basically split the park down the middle. On each side of it were nine loosely-themed areas. Several of the areas were dead-ends. The very back of the park skirted a large lake. What struck me immediately about this park compared to other Six Flags parks was that there were trees -- lots of them, everywhere. This wasn't a park that had shaded areas; everywhere we walked there were trees arching high above our heads. And the plantings that greeted us at the entrance were carried all through the park. Flowers of every variety and color were not only on the ground, they were hanging from light posts, from ride supports, off of buildings. The park felt so lush. And it was immaculate -- not a speck of trash was on the ground, and all the trash barrels were emptied. Naturally, we weren't there on a busy day. But I had gotten used to Six Flags leaving trash unemptied for days.

We took a right off of Main Street and wandered down into an area called Old Country. The music subtly changed to German oom-pah bands and the architecture looked as if Busch Gardens had been transplanted there, with tudor-style wood and stone buildings. A large building with a working clock tower was the home of Autobahn, a bumper car ride. A few people were riding on it. We peaked in. The bumper cars looked old and dirty, some with their lights knocked out. A private picnic grove was to our right. To our left was a gigantic anachronism, Batman and Robin: The Chiller. It was technically in the Movietown section, but it completely dominated Old Country as well. The architecture was from the old Six Flags school of gritty realism. A big spray-painted metal building housed part of the ride, and it looked like a big metal building with spray paint on it. There were various scenery pieces applied to it. But the most stunning part was a huge circular building that looked like a cross between an observatory and a jail, with massive grey hands surrounding it. The track of the coaster (actually two coasters in one) went right through it and ended up in a gargantuan knot of black and red steel supports rising nearly 200 feet into the air. The ride wasn't running but it didn't look like it did much anyway, an oversized magnetic-launch boomerang for one track and a top hat for the other. Opposite that was the showcase theater, which appeared to be closed up. A fenced path, like a queue line, began at the midway next to it but strangely emptied into the dining area for Ruben's Glatt Spot, a kosher food concession.

We circled around to the back of the area. There was a large ugly metal building much like The Chiller's. It was the entrance to the semi-circular Movietown Adventure Arena. It looked like a junkyard. The corridors to enter the arena looked like rusty drainage pipes. It wasn't very inviting.

We continued walking. The sun began to peek through the clouds. Movieland was more like a ghost town. Nobody was around. There was the oddly-named Movietown Water Effect, a standard shoot-the-chutes ride. Across from that was Batman: The Ride, the second inverted coaster ever built. I came to Great Adventure nearly fifteen years ago to ride it when it was new. But that and a few other rides were all I got a chance to sample in that short trip. Outside of new paint, the ride looked pretty much as it was, with a fenced-off circular area in front of it containing a replica of the Batmobile from the movie. (I would have loved to have seen a replica of the Batmobile from the old TV series, instead!) Overall, the look of Movietown was like a pimple on the face of the park. It just looked ugly compared to everything else.

We took a right out of Movietown and ended up in the new Wiggles World kid section. It was an overload of primary colors. But nothing was running, and not even the super-cheery soundtrack was playing. The speakers were emitting brief crackles and pops, but no music. In general, the area was identical to the one at Six Flags New England with a standard assortment of appropriately-themed kiddie rides. To the right of Wiggles World was the Looney Tunes Seaport, another kiddie area. Next to that was the massive steel coaster Nitro, which was (of course) closed. Opposite that was Congo, a river rapids ride. Karen and I didn't feel like getting wet at that particular moment. Instead we searched for something to eat. Papa John's pizza joints were everywhere, but we weren't in the mood for a meal. Karen spotted some stands with snacks. She ordered a Diet Coke and a 12 inch pretzel. I ordered a "fresh-squeezed" lemonade. The girl behind the counter took a large ladel and emptied two huge portions of sugar into a small cup, filled it with water and then stuck it in a blender. Then she dumped the concoction into a cup pre-filled with lemon flavoring and a slice of lemon. We walked across the midway to a covered dining area near Nitro. The lemonade was sickeningly sweet. I couldn't finish it. Karen's pretzel was dry and chewy.

We headed back for the entrance so that I could go to the car and get my sneakers. We passed the Big Wheel, an ornate giant Ferris wheel that must have looked great at night. As we walked back through the parking lot, Karen took a piece of her pretzel and tossed it in the air as the seagulls flew around overhead. Suddenly we were surrounded by dozens of seagulls, hovering or landing near us, gazing at us with hunger in their eyes. Karen gave me a chunk of her pretzel and we began divvying it up, tossing small pieces out as fast as we could. One gull caught the piece square in its bill.

We walked back into the park and walked straight past the fountain into the Fantasy Forest. The large building for the Houdini's Great Escape ride fit well in that section, looking like an old house surrounded by trees. In front of us was the whimsical carousel building with its coloful arabian-style spires. The carousel was one of the few in this country to run clockwise, like a european carousel. Across from that was the most vivid memory I had from my previous trip to the park: a large building made of ice cream. Upon seeing it again I laughed out loud; I felt like a little kid. It almost looked edible and fit the style of the carousel building next to it. There was only a small Ben & Jerry's window inside it, though. Statues of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck (on roller skates) were positioned outside and the building had been renamed The Great Character Cafe. It served the usual hamburgs and hot dogs.

We headed down toward the Lakefront area, and the skies opened up again. We dashed back into the Great Character Cafe and sat on the veranda. The few people remaining in the park had run for cover as well. We waited around about a half-hour and the rain let up slightly. Karen suggested we head across the midway to a big colorful tent that housed an arcade. So we dashed through the rain and entered the stuffy noisy tent. There were lots of air hockey tables, video games (especially first-person shooters) but to our surprise there wasn't one pinball machine. In fact, in our entire stay at the park, we couldn't find any pinball machines in any of the arcades. There were four tents arranged next to each other. We walked from one to another. One was a gift shop. They had a supply of Six Flags rain ponchos for sale at $6 each. So Karen and I each got one. The clerk asked if we had a Six Flags season pass, and when we showed one to her she gave us ten percent off our purchase. I thought it was really nice of her to ask. A little thing like that helped to make us feel like the park cared about us.

Now dressed in our ponchos, we didn't fear the weather so we walked back outside and headed for the Boardwalk area. The lights along the many game booths were all lit up against the dark grey sky, and it looked just like a state fair midway. Even the ground was nicely detailed, with poured concrete formed into fake wood planks. Nothing much was happening in this section; all the rides were closed. The Great American Scream Machine looked sort of quaint, with its tiny loops perched way up on stilts. Those three towers I saw turned out to be a catapult ride.

We took a right and walked into the Golden Kingdom, a beautifully themed African section. This is where the record-breaking Kingda Ka was. I had ridden Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point and wasn't impressed. Kingda Ka was basically a clone of that ride, plus a speed bump. There was a sign at the queue line that read, "150 minute wait from this point." So even if it had been running I would have passed it by. On the right were some sort of display areas, with curved glass walls looking out onto small grassy areas that were caged in with heavy netting. There was a small artifical pond there as well. But no animals were visible. On the left was a huge themed kid's play area. We stopped into a nearby gift shop. I bought an impressive Kingda Ka magnet. The clerk there also asked if I had a season pass, so I got a discount on the magnet as well.

We moved on toward the Plaza Del Carnaval, a spanish-themed section. The venerable and quirky Bill Cobb wood racing coaster, Rolling Thunder, was there. It was once the biggest coaster in the park. But it was dwarfed by its new neighbor, El Toro, a 200-foot-high wood coaster of a new breed built by Intamin. I had heard various reports about it being "engineered" wood, which I took to mean composite wood. Someone else told me that it was a regular wood coaster, but just pre-formed in the factory. The whole Carnaval area was surrounded by El Toro, so I was able to get right up close to it. I was stunned to discover that the track laminations (normally 2x8 pressure treated lumber) were made of 14 pieces of 1/2 plywood stacked side-by-side! Track sections were bolted together with a sort of large metal boot. On top of the wood was the typical 6-inch-wide steel track. There appeared to be some sections of track where the laminations were stacked one on top of another. But most of it seemed to be side-by-side. Karen and I stood there for a while gawking at the enormous amount of lumber, the unusual steepness of the lift hill and the severity of the first drop. But as with everything else, the ride was silent. It was amazing to look at, though, especially with the hundreds of colorful plantings surrounding it.

From there Karen found a path on the opposite side of El Toro that led over a bridge to the Frontier Adventures section, themed like an old western town. To our immediate left was the hulking silent steel structure of Medusa, which didn't quite fit in. Why did most of the big steel coasters in the park have yellow track and blue (or purple) supports? We turned right and walked past the huge Northern Star Arena on our left. A big concert titled "MTVU" was happening there that night. In front of us was the whimsical and gigantic Conestoga Wagon, one of the oldest food stands in the park. To the right of that was the largest teepee I'd ever seen, about 30 feet high. We walked over to it. There were two sets of doors, but both had been blocked by huge planters. On our right was a very large structure that looked like a wooden fort. One half of it housed the station for the old Arrow Runaway Mine Train; the other half was the station for the Sky Ride. Karen pointed to the area across the midway that was occupied by the Saw Mill Log Flume. All of the buildings associated with the flume were covered by cedar shakes that had been painted in a crazy quilt of subdued colors. It looked fanciful and made us both smile.

We passed by the Bugs Bunny National Park, another kiddie land, and then we were back in the Boardwalk area. We took a left and headed down by the Lakefront. The lake at the back of the park was huge. Some sort of water show seemed to be set up next to the Great Lake Grandstand. A little further down was Fort Independence, which featured a dolphin show. It looked convincingly like a giant stone and stucco fort. Across from it was Blackbeard's Lost Treasure Train, a standard Zeirer family steel coaster.

By then it was about four o'clock. Karen and I walked over to Guest Relations to ask about the early ride time the park offered for season pass holders. There was a line of people there getting vouchers for a return trip because of the rain. The woman behind the window told us that the ride time started at nine in the morning, and the coasters would be chosen then. So Karen and I headed back to our hotel to rest up for what hopefully would be a sunny full day at the park.

The next morning the skies hadn't improved much. We found a Bob Evans restaurant near our hotel, had a good breakfast (with one of the friendliest waiters we've ever encountered) and then got to the park at about 8:45. There were a handful of cars there. This time we paid $15 for parking and we ended up close to the entrance, directly opposite the preferred spots. We headed over to the entrance plaza. Karen noticed a nice set of plantings there, with topiaries in the shapes of various Looney Tunes characters.

A security guard greeted us and handed us a little card detailing Great Adventure's good behavior policies. We thanked him and were going to head for the restrooms, but they were locked. When we told that to the security guard, he knew about it and couldn't understand why they weren't opened. He asked why we were at the park so early and we told him. He said the early ride time didn't happen until ten o'clock. When we told him what Guest Relations had said, he replied, "There's no communication around here!" He was quite chatty and we talked for about a half-hour on subjects ranging from other parks to his daughters. I saw a young supervisor standing near the entrance gates, so I asked him about the rest rooms. He was surprised and immediately got on his walkie-talkie. Finally the rest rooms were opened. The supervisor, Steve, was a coaster enthusiast and was very friendly. He noticed our Boulder Dash t-shirts and asked us about the ride. We chatted with him for a while about various parks. He loved Holiday World's Voyage. And he was heading off to Dollywood the next week. Finally the gates opened. The early coasters were Kingda Ka and El Toro. So Karen and I made tracks for the big woodie.

When we arrived in the Carnaval section, the ride was quiet. Two maintenance guys were standing about half-way down the first drop. There were two guests ahead of us in the otherwise empty line. We were stopped by a serious-looking ride operator who chained up the queue line, told us there would be no ride time that day, and walked off. I asked a nearby security officer if that was true. The officer assured us that the ride would be running in just a few minutes after they finished their safety checks. "You do want the ride to be safe, don't you," he asked rhetorically. "They decide which coasters they're going to run at the last minute, and then scramble trying to get them ready." Sure enough, in a few moments the same ride operator reopened the queue and let us through. Dozens of people began following us up the stairs to the big station.

We queued up for the front seat, behind the first two guests. The crew sent an empty train out. The first thing I noticed was how big the trains seemed. Each car had three sets of seats, surprising because of how twisted the track appeared. Each car looked sort of like a Shoot-the-Chutes boat. The wheels were concealed behind a flush-mounted panel. The front of each train had a 3-D bull's head with its horns sticking out. At first I thought the seats looked really uncomfortable, with large headrests and odd side restraint bars. When we sat down in the seats, though, they were spacious and quite comfortable. We clicked our seat belts and pulled the lap bars down. And then we rolled out of the station.

After turning a sharp 180-degree left turn through the structure, we engaged the lift hill. I looked up and thought, "We're not going to make it -- this is much too steep!" The train rolled onto a block and the cable lift engaged with a clunk, just like on Millennium Force. The train was whisked to the top of the 200-foot lift with alarming speed. As we crested the lift we had a spectacular view of the park. I could see the entire layout of Rolling Thunder -- but only briefly. We turned a sharp 180-degree left turn back around. The track vanished from under us and the train tipped downward, further and further until it seemed we would invert. And then we plunged down the long first drop, diving under horizontal supports that threatened to take our heads off. We flew up the second hill and were violently thrown upward. Another severe airtime hill followed, then a ludicrously banked high-speed turn. Every hill tried to throw us out of the train. The turns and twists came fast and furious, resulting in complete disorientation. The train shook a bit and there were some bumps, but overall considering the constant high speed it was pretty smooth. Then we hit the brakes gasping for breath.

This was certainly a new breed of wood coaster. No other one I'd ever ridden had that much extreme speed and intensity. In that way it was like a steel coaster. But it really felt like an old woodie, and it sure looked like one. The theatricality was there: the head-choppers and numerous plunges through the structure to create a real sense of peril. The airtime was unprecedented for a wood coaster. It was "Superman: Ride of Wood." Karen thought the name El Toro was completely appropriate -- if felt like what we'd imagine a rodeo rider would experience.

We headed around the exit. Karen stopped at the photo booth and got a fun picture of our wind-blasted faces. Then we queued up for the front seat again. The crew was running both trains and in a couple minutes we were flying up the lift hill. Our second ride was as disorienting as the first. After we hit the brakes we felt exhausted.

Six Flags created a great coaster, and Intamin did a terrific job. It was a perfect fit for that section of the park. The ride was certainly thrilling, but in some ways it was also a family ride. It wasn't too rough and wasn't overly-intimidating. But it provided lots of well-orchestrated thrills. It certainly became one of my all-time favorite coasters. I didn't know how anything could top that at the park.

After taking lots of photos of the coaster, we walked across the bridge to Frontier Adventures. We watched Medusa running its course. I wasn't a big fan of looping coasters and nearly blacked out on Six Flags New England's similar Batman: The Dark Knight. So we passed on that one and instead walked over to the old Arrow mine train nearby, one of the park's original rides. On the way we passed that big teepee, which was still closed up. It looked like it had been some sort of shop at one time, but was now just scenery. The station was empty when we got there. The train was unusually spacious, with plenty of legroom. The simple lapbar was all that held us in place. Most Arrow mine trains were built with multiple lift hills; this ride had just one. The course was extremely short. There were two nice drops around the edge of the creek and plenty of Arrow's signature rough transitions, the kind that knocked the wind out of us.

We were going to take the Sky Ride next door, but it was still closed. So instead we walked across the midway to the Saw Mill Log Flume with the colorful buildings. The entrance was difficult to find; it was behind the large structure of the Best of the West, an eatery. The flume was enjoyable, with three (!) drops and nice scenery, skirting an island next to the lake.

We checked out the Sky Ride again, and that time it was open. The view from high above the midway wasn't as impressive as I expected because so much of the park was hidden under a dense canopy of trees. The ride dropped us off by the Lakefront area. We then walked over to Mama Flora's Cucina for lunch. It looked like a medieval castle. Karen got a large tasty salad and garlic knots. I got an absolutely delicious calzone. The garlic knots were basically pretzel chunks soaked in a greasy garlic sauce. But that was the only disappointment to the meal. The calzone was made fresh while we waited, and it rivaled those I've had at nice italian restaurants.

After lunch we walked back to the car to put away our El Toro photo. The sun finally began to peek out from behind the clouds. The parachute drop was operating in the distance. We headed back into the park and walked toward the Fantasy Forest area. There was a marionette show near the Big Wheel so we decided to check it out. Along the way, various Looney Tunes characters could be seen waving to guests and hugging children. Next to the Big Wheel was a small square platform. We waited around for a few minutes. Then in the distance we saw walking towards us three people. Two were girls with faces painted to make them look like dolls. The third was a girl on huge stilts holding two wood crosses. One of the girls pressed something under the stage and prerecorded music began playing. They stood on the stage, the stilts girl in the middle. The two "dolls" began dancing and the stilts girls sort of lazily moved her crosses around in a half-hearted attempt to make it look like she was controlling the other girls. The stilts girls looked like she would rather have been anywhere but there. The idea behind the show was cute. It seemed to be something that would have fit more at an old trolley park, like Whalom Park. The songs were mostly old standards from the '20s and '30s. There were just a handful of people hanging around to watch the performance.

We then headed for Boardwalk area. Along the way we passed by Twister, a nicely-themed Huss Top Spin. The awkwardly-named Parachute Training Center: Edwards AFB Jump Tower had the longest wait of the day, mainly because of the slow nature of the ride. There were six bench-like seats being used. They were set up in groups of two, with one operator controlling each group. I was amazed at the miles of cables used on the ride. Three guide cables on each seat kept it in line. Two other cables raised and lowered each seat. It all seemed impossibly tangled but was also graceful in a strange way. The seats were nicely themed to a safari. Strips of colored cloth above them formed a sort of parachute. After about fifteen minutes, Karen and I were seated. Karen was really nervous. The re-assuring ride operator lowered the thin bar and up we went. And up. And up further. And even further. It was getting much too high, and the seat felt much too flimsy. There was too little holding us in. And yet we kept rising. Finally we slowed to a stop. I felt myself begin to sweat. We were about 250 feet in the air, but it could have been 400 feet. I felt so vulnerable. The view was astounding, but I was almost afraid to look. And then we began to gracefully fall back toward the ground. In another moment we were standing up, a little shaky. I found it amazing that such a seemingly mild ride could be so terrifying.

The air was becoming hot as the sun grew stronger. There was a Ben and Jerry's ice cream booth nearby, so we stopped to get a treat. I got a butter pecan cone and Karen got a cookies-and-cream cone. Both were piled high, even though we ordered the small size. We headed off down the midway and our ice cream began to rapidly melt. Karen's ice cream tumbled from her cone and landed on the pavement. As she was picking it up, thinking of scraping it off, a game attendant neaby said, "You don't have to do that. Just go back to the ice cream place and they'll replace it for free." It was another example of how helpful the employees were. So we went back and sure enough the girl behind the counter put more ice cream on her cone. We then sat at a nearby table to eat. Commander K-9, a Looney Tune character, stood waving to people as they walked by. I snapped a picture of him, and then his escort took a fun picture of us sitting with him.

After that sweet treat, we wandered through the Golden Kingdom. It felt like we were in a different park. Kingda Ka was running steadily. The whooooosh from the launch and the screams of the passengers formed a backdrop that mingled with the atmospheric soundtrack playing throughout the area. We walked past those glassed-in cage areas. There were three tigers there. One was in the distance, a white tiger. Another was cooling off in the small pool. The third was leaning against one of the glass panes, with its back to us. I'd never before been that close to a tiger, and it was a sobering experience. Its paws were as big as my head. I got a real appreciation for how powerful those massive beasts were.

From there we merged back into the Carnaval section. We decided to take a spin on Rolling Thunder. I rode the left side on my last visit to the park. It seemed like it could have been such a great ride, but it had been neglected. Bill Cobb, as he did with La Ronde's Le Monstre, created a racing coaster with two different tracks, so that each one would provide a unique experience. It was only during the last stretch of the ride that the coasters were side by side.

We got into the queue line and ended up at the left-side train. I really wanted the right side, but I couldn't figure out how to get there. So we backtracked and found that the queue split in two at the entrance, but it wasn't labeled very well. So we walked up to the right-side station and soon were in the front seat. The crew wasn't really racing the trains unless they just happened to leave the station at the same time. Our train went out solo. From the top of the lift hill, it was obvious how different the tracks were. The left side's second hill was a huge camelback. Ours was a much smaller hill but had a much larger turnaround. After having ridden El Toro, the first drop seemed so slow. But maybe that was because the tracks were bone dry and had quite a bit of rust on them. The train squealed throughout its course. The second little hill provided light airtime. The barely-banked turnaround threw us to the left and then dropped us quicking down. Then we flew over the long series of bunny hops back to the station. We really liked Rolling Thunder. I just wish the park would grease the tracks and let the trains run at the speed they were designed to. There would be almost as much airtime as El Toro. (Well...maybe not.)

Karen wanted to see the dolphin show at the Fort Independence theater. So we headed in that direction. When we got there, a sign was posted out front saying that there would be no show that day. A long line had formed at the gate anyway. We hung around for a few minutes to see if the sign was a mistake. Nearby was a wonderfully-themed kiddie ride, Jolly Roger. It was like a small Musik Express. A big (but not too scary) skull with a patch over one eye was the centerpiece. Each car was a skeleton hand holding a treasure chest.

After waiting fifteen minutes past the scheduled show time, people began dispersing. We walked over to the nearby Skull Mountain. I wasn't sure what was in the building. If it was like Nightmare at Crackaxle Canyon, I wasn't interested. I didn't know how long the wait was, and Karen had no interest in riding it. I probably should have questioned people coming out of the exit. But we passed it by. We walked by Fantasy Fling, an Round-Up. I was surprised that such a small old carny ride was in still in the park. It was painted a sort of cyan color. It didn't look like much of a fantasy. We walked past a pretty stone pond with a fountain. There were interesting misters placed around the midway. Many of them were billboards with ads on them. But some were more whimsical, like a watering can hanging in the air.

We were thinking of riding El Toro again, so we boarded the Sky Ride and headed back to the Frontier section. As we approached the coaster from across the Frontier bridge, Karen called out, "Did you see that? Someone just threw something off the train!" She didn't know what exactly it was. It had floated gently and landed on the catwalk part of the way down the second hill. We walked around the side of the coaster and there it was -- an open umbrella, sitting on the track! We wondered who the looney was that threw it off the train. But how did they get an umbrella on the ride in the first place? (Perhaps it was one of those compact folding ones.) Karen wanted to notify someone, but there was no one around. So I ran around to the queue line. An attendant at the front of the line had already seen it and was on the intercom. Karen also found a supervisor nearby and told him. Needless to say, we weren't going to get another ride at that moment.

We casually strolled about the midway. Karen got a bag of popcorn. "This is a bag of salt!" she declared, and threw it away. It was getting really hot, so we walked to the other end of the park to ride Congo, the river rapids ride. The queue line was really nice, a long twisting pergola with lots of shade. There were two separate loading areas, but again there was no signage to indicate that. In short order we were seated in the huge 12-person rafts and were on our way. This was without a doubt the shortest rapids ride I'd ever been on. There were no gimmicks (sudden waterfalls, water cannons, etc...), just lots and lots of waves. A few people on our raft got soaked but Karen and I came out of it just mildly damp. I liked the interesting way that rafts were lined up with the two side-by-side lift hills: water jets blasted each raft to the correct side.

The sky became a thick grey again. Nitro was next door, so we entered the line not knowing if it would start raining again. How many times did the park have to display the name of the ride? It was on the ground, on the entrance, on the building -- even written in stone! The queue itself was pretty industrial. I wish they had taken as much care theming this ride as they did with so many others. Karen and I loved Apollo's Chariot at Busch Gardens, so we figured we'd like this ride as well. We sat next to a guy who had never ridden it before and looked really nervous. The lift hill was slow and long. From the top, it was really difficult to see where the coaster was going. Small sections of structure peeked up above the tree line, but most of the ride was hidden. We careened down the steep first drop and flew up the next hill with surprising airtime, more than I had ever experienced on a B&M coaster. One of the things I loved about those comfortable trains was that my feet didn't touch the floor and there was nothing in front of me. It felt like flying. There were really severe changes of direction. The ride felt really out-of-control in spots and was quite thrilling. The final helix nearly caused me to brown out. It was extremely forceful. And then we hit the brakes. Nitro was a terrific ride, a bit too intense in places for my taste. I still liked Apollo's Chariot better. I wish B&M could build more rides like these. I remember when Walter Bolliger said at a conference many years ago that his company wouldn't build any "hypercoasters" because they specialized in smaller looping rides. I think that B&M has proven they can master any style of ride. Parks only have to ask for them.

We walked back to the Fantasy Forest and took a ride on the Big Wheel (which at one time was the largest Ferris wheel in the country). It offered a relaxing ride and a splendid view of the park. Right after that, a Looney Tunes parade passed by on the midway. It certainly wasn't Disney and it was pretty short, but it was cute (although it left a pungent scent of diesel).

Over in the Old Country was a show described as living stone statues. The performance area was a small garden. Behind it was a large empty concrete area that looked as if it may have been home to a ride at one time. A small number of people stood around waiting for the show to begin. After several minutes, two performers sauntered over. They were dressed in textured grey costumes from the early 1900s and they wore grey makeup. The man, in a top hat, stood at a grey pedestal at one end of the garden. The woman stood at a pedestal at the other end and both faced out, placing their hands on the pedestals. Then they closed their eyes and stood very still. They really did look like statues. Then music began playing. I recognized it immediately as Dead Can Dance, not exactly the type of music I expected at Six Flags. Slowly, each performer opened their eyes. What transpired over the next fifteen minutes was actually quite moving. The basic premise appeared to be that the two people who the statues represented were connected somehow and longed to be alive again. Three separate Dead Can Dance tunes played, very mournful celtic keening, as the statues moved very slowly as if in a ballet. At the end, they resumed their positions at the pedestals, their longings unfulfilled. At one point a family with young children approached. One of the kids (perhaps eight years old) walked up to the woman and began yelling, "Hello! Hello! Hey! Hi!" Karen was understandably upset by that. It completely destroyed the mood. I thought the kid reacted quite normally though, since most of the other performers that kids encountered in the park were friendly Looney Tunes characters. What was this show doing in a Six Flags park -- and especially, what was it doing on the midway? It was definitely the best show we saw there, but it didn't seem to fit with all the other high-energy stuff going on. It might have worked better on a darkened stage in a formal theater. But then again, it was interesting to see the performers outside like that. I wish they didn't have to just walk over to their staging area. That ruined the illusion before it even began. There was all that unused space behind them. A better staging area there would allow them to appear more mysteriously. I praise Six Flags for putting on that performance, but it deserved a better venue. It was too "artsy" for its location.

Next Karen and I headed over to "Fire Flys" next to Batman. The show was just starting when we got there. Quite a few people had gathered to watch. They basically were twirling batons with flames at each end. This was the absolute worst performance I've seen at a park. The performers looked like they hadn't rehearsed enough. We could see hesitation in their movements, as if they didn't know who was going to be handing what to whom. They held the fire sticks as if it were their first time, not quite sure of what to do with them. They would raise them up and sort of half-spin them, then look at each other as if to say, "What next?" We wasted about three minutes watching them and then walked away.

We were getting hungry, so we went to the nearby Ruben's Glatt Spot. Although I was glad kosher and vegetarian fare was available there, no way was I going to pay $9.99 for a tuna wrap. So Karen and I called it a day after about eight hours in the park.

Six Flags Great Adventure was by far the best Six Flags park we'd ever been to. The employees were unfailingly friendly and helpful. There was shade everywhere. Food wasn't just one or two vendors serving the same stuff; there was a lot of variety. The quality control needed some work, but when they got it right (like with my calzone) it was delicious. But most importantly, Karen and I found a way to entertain ourselves there for a solid eight hours, and very little of that was spent standing in lines. We found lots of rides that we enjoyed and could have easily spent another day there. Perhaps Dan Snyder and Mark Shapiro were on to something after all. If Great Adventure signaled the future of all the other Six Flags parks, then there was hope. There were lots of families in the park, pushing lots of strollers. The park was really clean, even in the restrooms. It felt safe and most importantly it felt like the people who ran the park cared about our experience there. I felt sad leaving the park. But I'm sure Karen and I will be making many more adventures there in the future.

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