My first date with my now husband was at Six Flags Great Adventure, back in the late nineties, a few years after Batman: The Ride opened up. Since we were still somewhat young and single, we were hung over, and the ride’s intense G-forces literally threw us for a loop.
We both walked off the coaster nauseous, with headaches and the realization that the kind of rides we loved as season-pass holding kids feel different now that we're adults. Who would’ve thought then that one day we would return to the park with our own family, the next generation of thrill-seeking coaster lovers?
Fortunately, Great Adventure has grown considerably too, with more rides and attractions than ever, so there’s something everyone in the family can stomach.
Here are a few of our park pointers to help your family make memories that will last a lifetime:
FORGET THE COKE CANS. BUY TICKETS ONLINE
Not only will you avoid the long lines at the gate, you’ll save even more money, with no restrictions. Daily tickets on Great Adventure’s website are just $36.99, a big savings from the park price of $59.99, and you can print them out right at home.
Also try googling “great adventure coupons” for promo codes like COLDSTONE that can save you a few dollars more.
Even Better: if you’re an Optimum Rewards Member, buy through their site to save 50% on the gate price. I got tickets for $28.99 each!
THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE FLUME
Plan on getting to Great Adventure a half hour before it opens to get the closest parking spot possible, so you’re one of the first families through the gate. Then hit your favorite rides when they first open, before long lines can form. Last week, we rode Congo Rapids three times in a row before 11am, and lines were so short the operators didn’t even make us exit the raft in between turns.
The most popular rides include Kingda Ka, SUPERMAN: Ultimate Flight, Nitro, BATMAN: The Ride, El Toro and GREEN LANTERN, and Saw Mill Log Flume, and lines are shortest early in the day or after 6pm. We waited until dinnertime to do the Log Flume and shaved a half hour off our wait time.
Also, try to visit when the crowds are lightest: summer weekdays, or any day in April, May, June or September.
UNLESS YOU’RE ROCKEFELLER, PACK A LUNCH
As a child, I remember getting my hand stamped and leaving the park temporarily to have lunch in my Mom’s station wagon. Now that I’m the Mom and know how overpriced park food is, I understand why.
Stuff your faces right before you get there, and bring one meal to eat in the car or right outside the gate. (There are lockers at the entrance where you can store your cooler bag if you don’t want to hike out to the parking lot). This way, you’re only on the hook for one meal at park prices, and have extra bucks to blow on ice cream and games.
Also, you’re allowed to bring in one factory sealed water bottle per person, which you can keep refilling at water fountains throughout the park (the bathrooms near Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure have a ton of them).
Bonus Tip: though our twin 5 year-olds are borderline too big for a stroller, we brought one anyway and used it to schlep our bag of water bottles and hidden stash of snacks. By night, all the kids were fighting for their turn to ride in it. You can also rent strollers or electronically controlled vehicles on Main Street on a first-come, first-serve basis.
BEAT THE HEAT & AVOID MELTDOWNS
During the heat of the day, Splash Water Oasis is a great pit stop full of sprinklers and sprayscapes to keep the kids cool. There are also misting stations throughout the park, and the water tower in Bugs Bunny National Park is an even better bet than Congo Rapids for getting soaked.
You can also find shade at indoor attractions like Skull Mountain, THE DARK KNIGHT Coaster, Kingpin Bowl-A-Rama, the Wilderness Theater and the BUGS BUNNY Fun Factory. Or, eat in air conditioning at The Great Character Café, Granny’s Kitchen, or Best of the West, where there’s ice cold beer to keep the grown-ups from melting down too.
Another option, for $10 bucks a person: take a ride on Great Adventure’s new Safari Express, an air-conditioned bus that departs near Kingda Ka for a tour of the Wild Safari. (buy advance tickets in Safari Discoveries).
COASTERS FOR KIDS & THEIR QUEASY PARENTS
Even my twin 5 year-olds braved Rolling Thunder, the Runaway Mine Train and Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure Train. My son Luke, who’s 8, dragged my husband on Skull Mountain and The Dark Knight, and both came off each coaster smiling, with their lunch intact. I can’t say the same for El Toro.
OUR PERSONAL “MUSTS”
For Team Sassa, no day at Great Adventure would be complete without enjoying a dolphin show, at least one Dream Street Skyway ride, and a scenic jaunt around the Big Wheel after dark. I’ve recently discovered I’m now afraid of heights, and sitting at the top of this 15 story Ferris wheel waiting for it to unload is a physical challenge for me, but being rewarded with a breathtaking view of the whole park lit up at night is worth the panic attack.
Last time we were there, Luke told me, matter-of-factly, that he wasn’t scared of anything, not even being up high. Now I know where all my steel nerves went to: I must have passed them down to him.
When he’s tall enough, he can go on Nitro and tell me all about it.