A few days ago out of the blue, I got a Facebook message from one of my friends whom I had met the previous year during the Disney College Program. She was meeting up with several other mutual Disney friends from the tri-state area, she said, and maybe going to Six Flags, and would I like to come?
Would I like to come?? Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear shit in the woods? Does Deadpool like chimichangas?
It had been several months since I had entered an amusement park, and the lack of roller coasters was starting to negatively impact my life, so I jumped at the opportunity to brave the cold and head out to New Jersey. And by cold, I mean cold – probably the coldest weather we’ve had all year, with the thermostat playing hopscotch with the 40-degree mark all day.
(I’ve done crazier things in the name of roller coasters, such as being the only adult on this gem of a coaster.)
So I bundled up, hopped in my friend’s car, grabbed some questionable breakfast at a Jersey rest stop, and arrived at Six Flags Great Adventure by early afternoon. We had worried about having enough time to do everything we wanted, but it turned out to be a moot point: the parking lot was practically empty, and we had our choice of parking spots to take. It was shaping up to be a great (if freezing) day.
Once we entered, we made a beeline for the back of the park, where Nitro (my #4 coaster at the time of this writing) was waiting in all of its yellow regal splendor. Sadly, here was our first (and only) disappointment of the day, as we found out that Nitro would be closed due to the weather. We refused to let that be a downer on our day, though, and promptly made up for it with two laps on Batman: The Ride.
Batman is a clone – one of many – of the original inverted coaster at Six Flags Great America. It’s enjoyable enough, but it’s been far outclassed several times over throughout the years by bigger and better installations. Still, it’s a fast and intense ride, and for us, that was enough to spike our adrenaline, and we took a second go-around without leaving the station thanks to the completely empty queue.
The Dark Knight was next, and ‘unremarkable’ is the most positive thing I have to say about this Wild-Mouse-in-a-box. We followed this up with yet another roller-coaster-in-a-box, Skull Mountain, which I deem marginally better due to the lack of an excruciatingly long pre-show that we were forced to sit through, and a first drop that will catch riders unawares if they’re not careful.
After a turn on the bumper cars, we grabbed a bite at Panda Express, and followed it up with a spin on the Swashbuckler, Great Adventure’s round-up ride that would never be built today in our litigious society. It’s basically a wheel that spins around really fast, with the riders arranged in a circle so that the centripetal force is the only thing preventing them from losing their balance. It’s a fun ride, although the Chinese food in our stomachs begged to differ by the end of it! (All of the operators were letting us stay on longer than usual, due to the eminent lack of crowds – we must’ve seen about a hundred people all day, combined.)
We quickly ran through a lap on Harley Quinn Crazy Train, which was a walk-on. This was one of the coasters that I had skipped in my previous outing, when it had shut down as I was literally just about to board. It was a decent-sized family coaster – enough to provide a couple of whoops, but nothing spectacular, and I couldn’t help but mutter a “cha-ching” under my breath as we crested the lift hill. Roller coaster #118 acquired! (I’ve been on over 100 unique roller coasters. This is a list of my favorites.)
The Joker was next, and it was running very well; much more so than my previous (and only) time riding this S&S Free Fly model. Perhaps it was the cold weather, or the near-nonexistent wait (sensing a pattern here?), but the cars seemed to be running slightly faster than normal, and the spins were smoothly executed and with little whiplash to speak of.
By this point, we were getting all tuckered out from nonstop riding. There was a severe lack of people in the park today, probably because of the weather (reminder: it was dipping below 40 on and off throughout the day) and also because it was the first day of Great Adventure’s “Holiday in the Park” offering, which runs through January.
In any case, we smelled the telltale smoke of a bonfire in the distance, and headed there to warm ourselves up for a few minutes before tackling the other side of the park. Six Flags had set up for us a pretty decent selection of Christmastime snacks, including materials for s’mores and roasted almonds, but what caught our eye was the spiked drink selection – hot chocolate, cider and more, all with a generous pour of alcohol. And, let me tell you, a spiked cider plus the roaring flames of a bonfire does wonders to warm you up after a few chilly hours in the Jersey winter.
Since Six Flags advertises “Holiday in the Park” as a post-season offering, much of the park remained closed, to our chagrin, including headliners like El Toro and Kingda Ka. The latter wasn’t too much of a loss (these strata-coasters are generally a one-and-done ride for me), but I was somewhat upset that I would be missing out on my #1 roller coaster of all time.
On the bright side, all of that time that I would’ve spent marathoning El Toro could now be diverted to exploring the smaller rides that Great Adventure had to offer, including Houdini’s Great Escape, a Vekoma Mad House attraction that I last experienced about a decade ago at Lotte World in South Korea.
Houdini is a one-trick pony, but it’s a pretty decent pony. The ride consists of benches, arranged facing each other (think House of Lords in the British Parliament), that can tilt up to 50 degrees in either direction. This contraption is surrounded by walls (usually themed to a room) that have an independent axis of rotation, which means that despite the seats never tilting above 50 degrees, the “room” can spin to give riders the illusion of traveling upside-down. It’s a neat trick, and definitely worth a ride – but once you figure out the illusion, you tend to spend more time trying to figure out how it works rather than simply enjoying the experience!
The rest of our time was spent marathoning the remaining flat rides that were open – a Top Spin, a carousel that was in desperate need of a good refurbishment, a Viking and the perquisite spinning teacups (that we rode twice, with the result being several minutes of tottering and sitting and groaning) – with breaks in between to warm ourselves up by the bonfires Six Flags had kindly set up for us.
We closed out the day with an extra lap on Skull Mountain, for the sheer fact that it was indoors (and out of the cold). We called it quits after that, finally giving Mother Nature the victory she always wanted. Our heated car waited in the parking lot, and we unanimously decided to crank the heat to high.