Safari expansion nets Six Flags Great Adventure new title
In 2005, Six Flags Great Adventure introduced the park’s crown jewel – a record-breaking roller coaster that glides over the hump of a lanky 45-story green and teal tower that could be seen for miles down I-195.
The fanfare that came with opening Kingda Ka, at the time the world’s tallest and fastest coaster, carried the park to an estimated 6 percent attendance increase, with coaster enthusiasts lining up for hours to be able to say they conquered their fears and touched the sky.
The buzz carried over to the next season, when Great Adventure had another easy marketing campaign based around the newly minted El Toro – the world’s fastest wooden coaster.
Great Adventure is using an old favorite to break a new record this summer. The Jackson, N.J., theme park re-imagined its 38-year old drive-through Wild Safari park during the off season, outfitting the 350-acre, 1,200 animal preserve with 18 open-air safari vehicles customized from surplus army trucks. Renamed Safari Off Road Adventure, the attraction will be included in park admission for the first time and is accessible through the Frontier Adventures section of the theme park. After merging the Safari reserve with the existing Great Adventure property, the park is now 510 acres – surpassing Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom as the world’s largest theme park.
Paul Ruben, a theme park expert and North American editor of Park World magazine, says that attaching the “world’s biggest” distinction is almost always a boom for a theme park.
“This is a new claim of having the world’s largest park and I think it’s a good one,” Ruben says. ”By including the ride as their new attraction this year, it should give them a boost of 5-10 percent in attendance.”
Great Adventure declined to comment on the financial or estimated attendance impact of the new attraction.
Parks typically don’t hold on to their records for long. Cedar Point’s Top Thrill Dragster opened in 2003 as the world’s tallest and fastest coaster, only to be topped by Kingda Ka two years later. Kingda Ka still retains its world’s tallest coaster status, but lost its recognition as the world’s faster coaster to Formula Rossa at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Ruben traces the quest for bragging rights all the way back to 1952 when Cinerama, a movie theater experience with three projected screens surrounding the audience, introduced a film that simulated the Atom Smasher roller coaster at the now defunct Rockaways’ Playland in Queens.
“Soon after that film came out, the park started to define their roller coaster, not by the name Atom Smasher but by calling it the Cinerama Coaster,” Ruben says.
When the new coaster smell begins to wear off, park attendance starts to suffer. After seeing a steady increase in attendance in the two years after Kinda Ka and El Toro were introduced, Great Adventure attendance slightly dipped in 2007, according to a published report by the Themed Entertainment Association. Because of the fierce competition for their customers’ disposable income, parks heavily advertise their records in the first year to pull in customers who want to claim they toppled the world’s biggest or fastest.
“The battle for marketing or bragging rights began back in the late ’70s with the introduction of the looping coasters at Cedar Point, Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags Over Georgia and Busch Gardens Williamsburg,” says Gary Slade, publisher of Amusement Today.
“Cedar Point took it to another level in 1989 when they opened the first coaster to break the 200-foot tall barrier with the Magnum XL-200. After that the battle was on from all of the park’s marketing department’s looking for something to hang their hat on in a press release.”
Records aside, Great Adventure is again seeking to capitalize on an enhanced park experience.
“I do think their ability to add the animal safari into the theme park admission will be positive for both the park and the guests,” Slade says.
“Everything I’ve seen thus far from Six Flags appears to be one of those where everything was designed correctly to let the guests get close to the animals. It was long overdue.”
Follow Chris Longo @east_coastbias .