Reporting from Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey--
Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., has a long and winding roller coaster history that's filled with as many twists and turns as the amusement park's many record-breaking rides.
Great Adventure was a must-see on my road trip across America's coaster belt, in large part because of the park's three world-class rides: El Toro, Kingda Ka and Nitro.
On El Toro, I spent as much time out of my seat as in it.
At 128 mph, Kingda Ka felt like I was being launched off the deck of an aircraft carrier.
And Nitro offered a panoramic view of the picturesque New Jersey countryside at breakneck speed.
Opened in 1974 midway between New York City and Philadelphia, Great Adventure has as many former coasters (13) as currently operating coasters (13), according to Roller Coaster Database.
The recently retired triple-looping, double-corkscrewing Great American Scream Machine was credited with reviving Great Adventure in 1989 after a pair of deadly accidents in the 1980s threatened to shutter the park.
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw a series of short-lived coasters, relocated from sister parks in the Six Flags chain, come and go from Great Adventure, including the trackless Sarajevo Bobsleds, the pipeline-style Ultra Twister and the stand-up Shockwave.
Today, Great Adventure boasts a stellar line-up of record-breaking and world's first rides that ranks just below Ohio's Cedar Point and Valencia's Six Flags Magic Mountain, which have battled for a decade over the title of "Roller Coaster Capital of the World."
In compiling my top 10 list for Great Adventure, I tried to combine the can’t-miss roller coasters with one-of-a-kind rides.
1) El Toro – The out-and-back wooden coaster is among the tallest (181 feet) and fastest (70 mph) wooden coasters in the world, with an intensely steep first drop (76 degrees). Since its 2006 debut, El Toro has been consistently ranked among the top wooden coasters in Amusement Today’s annual poll.
2) Nitro – The inversion-less ride features six camelback hills, an over-banked hammerhead turn and a 540-degree helix over more than a mile of track. Bolliger & Mabillard built similar mega-coasters at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (Apollo’s Chariot), Carowinds (Intimidator) and Kings Island (Diamondback). Since its 2001 debut, Nitro has been consistently ranked among the top steel coasters in Amusement Today’s annual poll.
3) Kingda Ka – Opened in 2005, Kingda Ka is the world’s tallest coaster, reaching 456 feet at the tip of its signature top-hat element. The hydraulically launched coaster accelerates from 0 to 128 mph in 3.5 seconds, making it among the world’s fastest. Intamin built similar accelerator coasters at Knott’s Berry Farm (Xcelerator), Cedar Point (Top Thrill Dragster) and Hersheypark (Storm Runner).
4) Superman: Ultimate Flight – Opened in 2003, the Superman flying coaster simulates the flight of the ride’s namesake comic book character. Bolliger & Mabillard built similar flying coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain (Tatsu) and SeaWorld Orlando (Manta).
5) Bizarro – The floorless coaster features seven inversions – the most at Great Adventure -- including two loops, two rolls and interlocking corkscrews. Formerly known as Medusa, the ride opened in 1999 as the world’s first floorless coaster. In 2009, the rechristened Bizarro added fire, fog and water effects along with an audio soundtrack. The Bolliger & Mabillard coaster is similar to Scream at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
6) Batman the Ride – Opened in 1993, the inverted steel coaster with two loops, two corkscrews and a roll is set amid a graffiti-scared Gotham City scene. Six Flags installed similar Bolliger & Mabillard-built Batman coasters at several other parks in the 1990s.
7) Rolling Thunder – Opened in 1979, the racing coaster’s twin tracks separate at several points along the ride. The four Philadelphia Toboggan Co. trains feature traditional single-position lap bars, but seat dividers and headrests added in the 1980s diminished some of the coaster’s classic characteristics.
8) Green Lantern – Featuring three loops and two corkscrews, the rethemed stand-up coaster opened in 2011 at Great Adventure. Green Lantern began life in 1997 as Chang at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom before relocating to Great Adventure with a new superhero theme. At the peak of the 1990s coaster wars, Chang set a series of short-lived records for height, drop, speed, length and number of inversions. Bolliger & Mabillard built similar stand-up coasters at Cedar Point (Mantis), Six Flags Magic Mountain (Riddler’s Revenge) and California’s Great America (Vortex).
9) Runaway Mine Train – The out-and-back steel family coaster is the oldest at Great Adventure, opening with the park in 1974. Arrow Dynamics built similar mine train coasters at Cedar Point (Cedar Creek Mine Train), Hersheypark (Trailblazer) and Six Flags Magic Mountain (Gold Rusher).
10) Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure Train – Opened in 1999, the family coaster makes two circuits around a double figure-eight track. Zierer built several of the Tivoli Gardens-inspired coasters at a number of parks in Europe.