#TBT: Great Adventure Theme Park, Before It Was Six Flags

In the mid-1970s, a brand-new full-sized theme park opened just off Exit 7A on the New Jersey Turnpike. It was (and is) located in Jackson, New Jersey, mid-way between New York and Philadelphia. Great Adventure. Back then it wasn’t Six Flags Great Adventure, as it’s known today. Nope, it was just “Great Adventure.”

Developed by businessman Warner LeRoy (he later bought and renovated Tavern on the Green and the Russian Tea Room), the original plan was for the single park to develop into a multi-park resort, just as Walt Disney World (which had only opened 3 years before Great Adventure) eventually would do. Over time this just didn’t happen and only the original park and safari were developed and Hurricane Harbor, the park’s water park, opened about 25 years later.

The original Great Adventure opened to the public on July 1, 1974 with the following attractions:

  • Boats (1974)
  • Antique Cars (1974-1976)
  • Pretty Monster (1974-1977)
  • Grand Prix (1974-1979)
  • Great Train Ride (1974-1980)
  • Matterhorn (1974-1986)
  • Calypso (1974-1987)
  • Swiss Bob (1974-1991)
  • Traffic Jam (1974-1992)
  • Flying Wave (1974-2007)
  • The Nineteenth Century Carousel (1974-Present) (it was originally built in the 1800s in the U.K.)
  • Giant Wheel (1974-Present) (When it as built, it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world)
  • Log Flume (1974-Present)
  • Skyride (1974-Present)
  • Super Round Up (1974-Present)
  • Big Fury (1974-1977)
  • Runaway Mine Train (1974-Present)
  • Flying Copters (1974-1975)
  • Moon Bounce (1974-1975)
  • Roundabout Boats (1974-2004)
  • Dune Buggies (1974-2004)
  • Cars! Cars! (1974-2004)

GA09There was also an outdoor walk-through attraction called the Garden of Marvels that used working G-scale (o-g scale) LGB trains and boats amongst models of American landmarks and 1/25 scale recreations of European castles. Food could be purchased at the Yum Yum Palace, Best of the West Barbeque, Gingerbread Fancy, and several other restaurants, which souvenirs and gifts could be bought at International Bazaar, Past & Present, Souvenirs & Crazies, Super Teepee, etc. In those very early years there was the Wild Wild West Show at the Great Arena, as well as diving and jet ski shows (oh, how my mom and dad LOVED the shows. Meanwhile, I was bored to tears and just wanted to go on RIDES!).

When Great Adventure opened (and for several decades afterwards), the safari was described as the largest drive-thru safari outside of Africa, with more than 1,200 animals from six continents spread across 350 acres. There was a winding path through the safari that visitors could drive on, in their own cars, allowing the animals to get up close and personal (I remember our 1969 Plymouth Fury experienced the occasional ostrich pecking and antelope licking). In the early years, there was a turn off towards the end, for those whose cars had soft tops, as the baboons in the last area could tear those car top to shreds (the “drive your own car” part of the safari ended in 2012).

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By its second season in 1975, Great Adventure had added 8 more attractions (Enterprise 1, Wild Flower, Super Cat, Skooter, Panorama Wheel, Schwabinchen, Rotor and Hydro Flume) and was ready to accept more guests than ever, so they showed the following commercial throughout the local PA/NJ/NY/CT area (sing along if you remember):

Their attendance increased by 83% that year. However Warner LeRoy’s involvement in the park had all but disappeared (he was frustrated by the business aspects of it) and the park’s new investors were calling the shots.

In 1976, Great Adventure had new owners and managers. In an attempt to fix some of the problems of the original design, they moved its park entrance from the end of Dream Street to a more central area, directly in front of its large fountain. This caused several attractions to have to be be relocated within the park, including the kiddie area where the trains and Garden of Marvels had been (it had been located where the new park entrance now was). Paths were adjusted to encourage guests to move to the outer ends of the park and to improve the flow. Only 2 new rides were open that year: Super Sidewinder and Musik Express.

GA03
1977 saw more growth and improvement, although only 1 new attraction, the Spindeltop Gondola, opened that year (like the carousel, it was another ride originally built in the 19th century. Unlike the carousel, it was only open that one season and then placed in storage). Entertainment in the form of Marvel characters was added, as well as a new puppet theater, new shows and a parade. More food, merchandise and game locations were added to keep up with the increased crowds. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Six Flags theme park chain bought the property and began melding Great Adventure into its style of theme park at the start of the 1978 season.

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You may wonder how I know all of this. Welp, I was a visitor to Great Adventure in 1975, which was followed by visits every few years, and eventually every year, especially during my teens and very early 20s. So I have very fond memories of the Yum Yum Palace, Giant Wheel, the Safari, Log Flume, etc. and we have film-transferred-to-a-DVD of the trains and buildings in Garden of Marvels, me in the Moon Bounce and some other things from our earliest visit.

But the place where I got most of my historic information was here. GreatAdventureHistory.com. That website is, by FAR, the most inclusive site for “all things Great Adventure,” from original park concept drawings, to the early pre-Six-Flags days, to post-Six Flags takeover, to today. It’s just awesome and has the full history of the park from its beginnings to now. If you have ever been a fan of Great Adventure, trust me…it’s a great site. Enjoy!

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