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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * How I do I get so lucky with park trips?
This last weekend provided me with the opportunity for a very spontaneous first trip of the 2018 season to my wonderful local megapark, Six Flags Great Adventure. Over the last four seasons, I've made almost 4 dozen trips to the park, but my 2017 visits had started to leave me with the feeling that I should focus more on trips to new and faraway parks and spend less of my time at Great Adventure. Nevertheless I bought a 2018 season pass, because at its price point it would be stupid not to. Naturally, having El Toro and his friends less than an hour from my house gives me an itch I often have the urge to scratch, but this parks rocky start to the season has had me a tad concerned. What would have been their opening weekend was pushed back a week, apparently due to our awful weather in Feb/March supposedly affecting their maintenance schedule and therefore their ability to get everything up and running in time.
The following weekend I was tied up but heard fairly mixed reviews, and not surprisingly complaints of staff being short and rides down (notably El Toro... boooo). Last weekend, I had tentative plans to visit which thankfully fell through as the temps wound up soaring into the mid-80s on Saturday, and finally enticed with a hint of summer weather the crowds descended en masse and the parks' predicted unpreparedness had those online complaints rolling in. The icing on the cake was cold weather with rain heading in that following Sunday, ultimately causing the park to shut down early.
Talk about a sh*tty start to the season.
All last week the forecast for Saturday and Sunday was basically perfect, sunshine and low-to-mid 60s. I'd confirmed with friends who frequent that the Bull had been back in action. The park was also hosting it's 5th annual Craft Beer and Food Truck event, which I had not checked out in previous years. I didn't have plans and wasn't sure if I was going to chance it with potentially heavy crowds but I also figured I could keep it low key... just some beer, food and bull rides.
Still not sure of a plan, I talked to Bill on Friday, and found out he and Brit were heading down w/ his Mom Linda, since it was both of their birthdays last week. I could meet up w/ them, but this would mean taking the train and Uber, but f*ck it I was in! Unfortunately, I got a text upon waking up Saturday morning from Bill saying that something came up and Brit was unable to make it but he and his mom were still driving down for some rides and grub.
I actually got off to a slow start on Saturday, but I eventually arrived at the park around 11:15am, but not until after a 10 minute bus ride to a 30 minute train ride that took me to a 25 minute Uber ride to the park. I've talked about this on TPR before but in case anyone is wondering its ridiculously quick and easy to get an Uber over to the park if you are taking the train to Trenton from Philly/NYC.
But don't plan on being able to get back that way - Jackson is no mans land and your chances of getting an Uber out there are slim to none. I'm not saying its not possible, but you may get stuck (I speak from experience). Lucky for me, Bill offered to drive me back to the train at the end of the day if need be.
I was in an Uber less than 5 minutes after my train pulled into Trenton Transit Center, and my driver was awesome. The 25 minute drive felt like 10 as we yapped the entire way about work, life and parks. By the time he dropped me off I am pretty sure I convinced him to come back later in the day to buy a season pass. Six Flags should be paying me. The parking lot looked pretty full but I joined the masses heading toward park entrance. Arriving 45 minutes after opening is always nice since the crush at the main gate has mostly dissipated by then and today was no different. Even security was relatively painless. While I waited I Bill texted they had just parked so I waited by the fountain.
Figuring they might want to head right to SORA to avoid a long wait later in the day, I was planning on heading to Toro and then meeting up with them after they were done, if that was the case. But Linda is the ride-or-die Nitro Queen and was having none of that. So I waited just a few minutes for them and before long the three of us were headed to the east side of the park to hit Six Flags' most explosive coaster.
The Food Truck/Beer event was being held in Movietown next to the new bridge over to Justice League, and on our way to Nitro we couldn't help but notice how busy the area was. As we entered the queue we saw a bunch of folks leaving the line. There were still trains cycling, and us knowing of the rides typically incredible capacity we did not waiver from our mission. The line wrapped around until it almost hit the second set of switchbacks, and we did notice they were strangely only running two trains, but in typical fashion we never stopped moving in line and were in the back seat lowering our lapbars within 15 minutes.
It was still pretty chilly and a little windy but Nitro was hauling on our first ride, delivering plentiful floater air with that little ejector pop off the mid course. We hit the brakes cheering. With the wait still hovering around the 15 minute mark we couldn't attempt a re-ride but it was early and we'd come back. As we advanced back to the station we noticed some activity in the train shed and hoped they were adding the third train.
Linda had yet to try Justice League and we also wanted to check out the food trucks so we headed that way. The trucks were slammed but as we rounded the corner, spotted another beer table set up in front of Metro Grill. Sweet!
Another 10-15 minute wait at Justice League, I'm still blown away by the meticulous theming and quality of this ride. Not only that, but the final scenes around and through the subway actually give me a little bit of vertigo. It may not be a big giant nutso coaster but this is such a great addition to the park. Bill got the high score for our car but our onride photos didn't appear upon exiting. Ah well.
We grabbed our first round of beers at the table across from the ride, and found a really nice selection. At a lot of craft brew events I feel like they have mostly IPAs, which I am not a huge fan of, but here they had a decent, varied selection. I wasn't feeling fussy so I went with a plain and simple Blue Moon to start off with.
We also couldn't help but notice the new alcohol policy at the park which is RIP BEER JAIL. It actually felt really strange walking around Great Adventure with suds in my hand, but the signs don't lie!
Not yet ready to eat we scoped out the food trucks and decided to come back later, because now we had a bull to ride. Of course Bill also wanted to hit Ka, so we slowly walked with beers in hand over to the west side of the park and into Plaza Del Carnival, noting that the park felt very busy, and worried we might have a wait at Toro.
We stopped to drop a dollar on a fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo to avoid practically being patted down at the ride entrance (I'm joking, but damn they ain't f*ckin around) and were elated to find the ride a station wait! Woot!
Of course we headed right back to the last two rows and noted the crew to be hustling - dispatching a train just as the other one hit the brakes. Impressive. Of course the ride is ridiculous as ever. Noteworthy was that for once I didn't get stapled and had a good inch between my thighs and the lapbar. With a little bit of a loose seatbelt I was fearing death... with a smile of course! Upon exiting we all agreed with the non-existent line and all our crap firmly secured in a fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo, we had to walk around for another lap. I got a wheel seat and while there is definitely as noticeable difference in a few spots, and it wasn't exactly my favorite lap ever on the ride, it is still so amazingly smooth for a 12 year old wooden coaster. Once again we were almost launched into Pennsylvania, repeatedly. I am so lucky to have this ride so close. God damn.
While heading up Toro's lift we had noted how completely deserted Bizarro was, so after our second Ole, we left our stuff in the fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo and walked across the bridge into Frontier Adventures. As we suspected, the ride was a walk on and we had a phenomenal lap in the back row. It's amazing how butter smooth this ride is. The mist was on in the shield thingy but no fire and no mist on the meat grinder. Honestly who gives a sh*t, this ride is awesome. Dominator just barely edges it out as my favorite floorless. But Dominator is missing an amazing zero-G, and Bizarro has one of the best.
We probably should have just left our stuff in the fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo there since we paid for a whopping two hours and it hadn't been half that time yet, but we wanted to hit Ka and according to Queue-times the wait was almost an hour and we didn't want to chance it. So we cut though Safari Discoveries (saying hi to a goat and the cutest sea lion ever), hit the bathroom, and plopped down another dollar on a fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo at Ka. Big pimpin'!
Into the queue we found Queue-times to be a big fat liar, with the ride only having a station wait, and of course Bill wanted to wait for the front. I offered to wait out row 2 so the three of us could ride together, him trying to convince me to ride before or after them in the front, but I personally find row 2 to be OK as well. Thanks to the stadium seating, I can see (and have the wind try to pop out my eyeballs) just fine from there. Its also not rough at all like every seat behind the first two rows. So I let a bunch of people ahead of me while they waited maybe 20 minutes for the front. Zumanjaro was also running, and Ka had three trains on. But even with only two attendants they seem to have the dispatches down to a science, loading the trains quickly to have two of them ready to launch back to back after each of Zums drops. So far the operations on the big three were stellar.
Kingda Ka is absolutely ridiculous. That launch is like nothing else. I'm pretty sure the last time I'd ridden was on opening day last year. I definitely don't *love* the ride but its quite an experience and there isn't much out there like it. To no surprise Bill was positively buzzing.
With us now being as close as we would be all day, we walked back to Guam to have us a ride on the worlds tallest drop tower. We're used to this never having much of a wait, but we literally walked right on to the next cycle. It's still not my favorite drop ride but the view as always is tremendous and the drop just goes on forever and ever. I enjoy it much more than Ka, I don't know if its the long ascent or the neverending freefall, or just a more comfortable ride experience, but I love it. I'd say after Nitro and Toro its still my favorite ride here.
It's no secret around here Bill and I are huge Joker fans and his mom had yet to ride one of these so we got our crap and headed through the boardwalk and over to the lakefront, stopping to rent yes, another fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo. Every one complains about this but none of us care at all. We spent $3 so far to make sure we didn't lose our shit or injure anyone else. You can argue its a money grab all you want and I'm half inclined to agree because I feel like anything at any park (Six Flags or not) is a money grab but at the end of the day its a fraction of what I'd spend on food/beer/transportation so whatever.
While Bill and I love the thing, Brit absolutely loathes this, and Linda knows it so she approached with trepidation. My advice to her was the same as I give to everyone else: its a unpredictable, completely disorienting ride, and if you don't like the feeling of being tossed around to simply make your restraint as tight as possible. Joker had one of the longer waits but topped out maybe around 15 minutes. Worth it. Bill and his mom sat next to each other across from myself and a single rider they paired with me, who informed me he had ridden but only once the year it opened.
Up the lift we went and were immediately flipped forward twice, before careening across the upper level upside down, my new friend and I cackling all the way. We got a quick glance of Bill and Linda as we tumbled across the middle level, and got one more flip right before hitting the brakes. I don't mind the brevity of these S&S free spins, if it was any longer I'm not sure I'd enjoy the experience as much as I do, but as it stands its a totally wild laugh fest every single time.
Linda enjoyed it, but of course had her brain set to "more Nitro", and since our stomachs were drawing us to the food trucks we hit up the fluffy, fluffy bunnies filled with medicine and goo to retrieve and headed toward Movietown/Gotham/whatever they're calling it this week. Walking by Skybar, Linda noticed they had frozen margaritas and I joked about stopping for one. Next thing I knew we were saddling up to the bar with the bartender asking if we wanted just plain ol' margaritas or if we wanted her to make us frozen margaritas. Because, you see, she "makes them pretty". I told her I didn't care if it was pretty, just to make it strong.
Suddenly she hands us these massive bougie cocktails that weren't exactly stiff, but you could taste the booze in them at least.
They were delicious, and potentially messy to walk with (still amazed that we could!) so we took them over to a nearby high top to chill and ran into our friend Marc, a regular at the park and yapped with him for a while enjoying our beverages.
Noticing it was already around 5pm, we finished up our drinks and headed over to the food trucks in search of sustenance, the lines over there still pretty long we decided to kill time and grab some beers, and Bill and I settled on some flights so we could try a few different things.
While we soaked in some suds, Linda ran off to ride Nitro by herself (have I mentioned she's awesome!?)
Maybe it was the hunger, maybe the beer, but I wasn't in a photo taking mood at the time. Luckily our aforementioned bud Marc took a bunch and agreed I could share them here. Drool time.
Once Linda got back she ran off to get one of these insane looking chimney cakes we'd been eyeing up since earlier in the morning while Bill and I continued to mull over whether or not we were just gonna BBQ it up as we often do.
While she waited, Bill and I sauntered over to the Jersey Devil BBQ truck. Neither of us can resist good BBQ, and it smelled incredible.
The line was 10 people deep, but these food truck workers are obviously trying to make a killing (and likely are) and were getting food out faster than people could order it. I know with trucks there is a lot of prep involved so that they can crank stuff out during breakfast and lunch rushes, but its kinda mindblowing when your accustomed to getting Six Flags service while at Six Flags.
My first choice was the competition platter (ribs, pork, chicken, corn bread, etc) but I knew that would be entirely too much food, so I went with the Pig Mac, which is a simple pulled pork and mac and cheese on a bun. I put a little of their sweet BBQ sauce on it.
The pork was melt-in-your-mouth and the mac and cheese added a nice touch of creaminess. I've had a very similar sandwich at a local Philly bar they call "The Chronic" - its basically the same thing but with bread crumbs and bacon on top. It's a little better but this was still fantastic. (Come on son, everything is better w/ bacon)
We sat and enjoyed our food and yapped a bit before deciding the best thing to do after stuffing our faces was to pull insane Gs and flip around a bunch on Batman. Can't go to Great Adventure and not ride Batman. Its like a million years old but its still one of the top coasters in the park. The ride was a station wait, but we waited an extra 10 minutes for the front.
This coaster is phenomenal. Though it was the only ride I was not able to get the belt snapped on, but no worries, Ride Attendant Bill jumped into action to give me the extra nudge. This is always a super tight ride for me, but who gives a sh*t! It's so freaking amazing. It's short, but it packs a ton of intensity and forces into that layout, and even after riding it as many times as I have, has a few moments that still take me by surprise.
Of course we couldn't leave the area without Linda getting her Nitro on a few more times. By this point they did in fact have all three trains on and the ride was a station wait. Our rides earlier were great but now the ride was absolutely flying. We managed to hang around and get a few last rides here.
The most amazing part was how insane the crew on this was. The operator only had two attendants checking restraints, but in an effort to speed loading she was repeatedly offering free admission to the park the following day to anyone that could touch the ceiling (aka put your hands up and out of the way so they can check your lapbars AFAP). She would then joke she wasn't working the next day anyway. I love this girl. The efficiency was incredible. They were actually holding the locked and checked train until the train prior to it cleared the lift block, then sending the next one right out. Some of the best Six Flags operations either of us have ever seen.
With the park closing at 8pm, we had limited time to hit a few last things and all agreed we needed to end the day at El Toro. If only there was some sort of quick little aerial shortcut to get back over there that also provides an amazing view while filling Bill's monthly Von Roll quota?
No trip to Great Adventure is complete without a visit to The Mountain, so we popped in to an empty station and queued up for the two back rows. We had a laugh at the (new?) tribally techno music in the station, and while the strobes inside the Mountain were off, the music and screaming were ridiculously loud. So dumb, but so fun.
All day the Sky Way was impressively running both sides and even with less than a 5 minute wait, they were still doing so. It's been forever since I've ridden it with both sides and it was neat to have another gondola heading across with us on the other side. As always the ride makes for great views and we noted during the schpeil while boarding that they actually encourage photos - hear that Cedar Point!?!?! Enjoy.
Earlier in the day we joked about riding Runaway Mine Train but Linda scoffed at the idea of riding a crappy old Arrow. Determined as we got off the Sky Way, Bill and I decided it was time. I mean, we were literally right there. Once again the ride had a station wait, and of course we were the only asshol*es without any kids with us, so we cranked it up a notch and waited an extra train for the front row. So picture it: Bill and I, both tall ass m*therf*ckers, crammed into the front row of these tiny ass mine trains, yelling "Choo choo" at the operator as we dispatched.
This ride is hilarious. Its so boring through the first half and then suddenly the ride is trying to throw you off. The airtime hill over the lake is one of the best pops in the entire park.
Off to buy one final fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo for some more Bull rides as it was now well after 7pm and the sun was setting. The ride was still a station wait at this point, and we managed to get a few more rides in before park close. One interesting thing that happened was right after arriving in the station, we queued up for the last couple rows, the op asked if anyone wanted to ride twice - we assume this was because they wanted to transfer the second train off now instead of at close, so most people stayed on and some got off. So a bunch of people got a double ride - of course we wished it was us, but whatever no big deal. But a few folks that had just walked up
(keep in mind, the station is not even full - the front had a wait, most rows were empty or had 1-2 people waiting for them. There was NO WAIT at all for this ride. This couple, with their kids mind you, started FREAKING OUT yelling at the ride ops about how they know the ride supervisor and that they're reporting them for letting people ride twice and making them wait. As this is happening we notice these people have flash passes! They were causing a huge scene and I was certain security would be called. After tensions died down and we finally load, we can overhear the dude saying that when he pulls back in he's not getting up, that everyone deserves a double ride and how its not fair.
We had another amazing ride. Linda and I got magic seat while BIll sat behind us in the last row next to an early 80s Tom Cruise body double. We walked around for another lap and I noticed the front row had like 2 couples waiting for it, the shortest I've ever seen it.
Now, this might come as a surprise to some but neither Bill nor I have ever ridden in the very front of El Toro. With the line that short, I said I had to go for it. I am a backseat rider all day, but in the last year or so I've noticed I find some rides are considerably better in the front (Skyrush, Twisted TImbers, Mako, White Lightning), so now I try to give all the rides I really appreciate a shot up front as well. Now was my chance. Bill said screw it and jumped in line with me while his mom found a partner to ride with in the back.
We both found the experience kinda weird as the Bull rides totally different up there. I've sat in row 2, 3 etc but just never feel like waiting for the front. While you lose that insane yank over the drop that you get in the back, the view up front with no obstruction is incredible, and the pops as the train gets thrust over those first two airtime hills is more of an incredibly forceful launch than the sustained yank all the way over the hills that you get sitting in the back, same with the Rolling Thunder hill. Even the little speed hump past the station offers a bit more air up there. We both loved it, but agreed the back is just better.
During our ride, Bills mom had sat next to someone who witnessed the outcome of the angry assh*le from earlier and he did in fact refuse to get out of his seat. Subsequently security was called and the entire party was escorted from the park. I mean, it was almost closing anyway, but still some sweet satisfaction. I could understand a little more if the ride had an hour wait and the crew was pulling that stuff but god damn. What a bunch of impatient sh*theads. The train after ours was the last train of the night and we did try to move to a different row (per the ops encouragement) but our efforts proved futile as the train was actually mostly full, so we had to end the night with our first ever amazing front row ride on the Bull. I can't complain.
We slowly headed back to the park entrance stopping in a few shops to grab some souvenirs, and to cap off an amazing day in Main Street Market I found - after 4 years of looking - an El Toro fridge magnet! I also grabbed a Kingda Ka magnet as well just because, even though that ride is just silly and ridiculous. Bill picked up a sea lion plushy for Brit that has apparently completely traumatized their cat. It's a win-win.
Again, how is it that I get so lucky at parks? For a beautiful Saturday in April we couldn't have asked for a better day - great food & dranks, no lines, good times all around. Thanks to Bill and Linda for letting me crash your birthday party.
Thanks to everyone reading for following along and commenting, & make sure to check out the links to my older reports on page 1 of this thread and also subscribe for the future juice.
El Toro 4x