Six Flags Great America
Six Flags Great America is a theme park located in Gurnee, Illinois in the Chicago metropolitan area. The park was created by the Marriott Corporation, who operated it as Marriott's Great America from its original opening in 1976 until it was acquired by Six Flags in 1984. The park features nine themed areas and sixteen roller coasters, as well as a 20-acre (81,000 m2) water park called Hurricane Harbor. Over 3 million guests visited the park in 2017, ranking it among the top 20 amusement parks in North America for attendance.
The Columbia Carousel, the icon of the park and the centerpiece of Carousel Plaza.
|Location||1 Great America Pkwy |
Gurnee, Illinois, U.S.
|Opened||May 29, 1976|
|Previous names||Marriott's Great America 1976–1984|
|Operating season||Spring – Winter|
|Visitors per annum||4.907 million in 2010|
|Area||304 acres (1.23 km2)|
|Website||Six Flags Great America|
Marriott era (1972–1984)
In the early 1970s, the Marriott Corporation, owner of several restaurant chains and Marriott hotels, sought to branch further out into the tourism and vacation industry. The largest of the projects it took on was a chain of state-of-the-art theme parks, each of which would be named "Marriott's Great America" and themed around American history, opening in time for the nation's bicentennial. From the beginning, three parks were planned, as Marriott identified three underserved metropolitan areas that could support a major amusement park: Baltimore–Washington, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Chicago-Milwaukee.
The largest of these, at 850 acres, was announced for Laurel, Maryland in 1972. The proposal was canceled after fierce opposition from local residents convinced officials to deny the park permits, and the plans were moved to Manassas, Virginia in 1973, where it faced even stronger opposition from local residents and the National Park Service. The planned opening of the flagship park was delayed repeatedly until Marriott abandoned the idea late in the decade.
Meanwhile, the plans for the other two parks proceeded more smoothly. The location in the north of the Chicago metropolitan area was chosen to bring in visitors from Milwaukee and Chicago. Marriott purchased 600 acres of rural land in Gurnee straddling the Tri-State Tollway in August 1972, causing speculation in the Chicago Tribune that an amusement park was planned for the site. The Gurnee park was officially announced on January 29, 1973, along with a hotel and an industrial park. Marriott received approval from local authorities, but the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority would not approve a proposal for an interchange on the tollway leading directly into the parking lot.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held on Flag Day, June 14, 1974. Randall Duell was the leader of the design team for the park, who created two nearly identical plans for the Gurnee park and the sister park in Santa Clara, California. Duell was a veteran theme park designer and for the Great America parks he sought to create his greatest design yet. With an overarching Americana theme in mind, Marriott's designers traveled across the country, observing styles and collecting artifacts to help inform an authentic atmosphere.
The park was broken up into six original themed areas, which are organized in a "Duell loop" that runs clockwise around the perimeter:
- Carousel Plaza, the front of the park, centered around the double-decker Columbia Carousel,
- Hometown Square, based on early 20th century small towns of the Midwest,
- The Great Midwest Livestock Exposition at County Fair, (now just County Fair) with its early 20th century rural county fair,
- Yukon Territory, resembling a logging camp in the Canadian Yukon,
- Yankee Harbor, a 19th-century New England port inspired by Cape Cod and
- Orleans Place, modeled after the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Each themed area had its own set of costumes for park employees, and the design of buildings, shops and restaurants were all unique to each theme. For example, the Klondike Cafe in Yukon Territory served beef dishes in large pans like those used for panning for gold. A seventh area, The Great Southwest, was planned from the beginning as a potential expansion but was not built until over 20 years later in 1996, when it opened as Southwest Territory.
The park opened on Saturday, May 29, 1976, two months after its sister park opened in California. The park was an immediate success due in part to coinciding with the bicentennial. From the beginning, the park made use of the Looney Tunes characters as costumed figures to interact with the park attendees, a tradition that continues today.
Operation under Marriott (1976-1984)
At its opening in 1976, Great America featured three roller coasters:
- Willard's Whizzer, originally named after Marriott executive J. Willard Marriott and later renamed simply the "Whizzer",
- Turn of the Century, now re-themed and renamed Demon and
- The Gulf Coaster, which lasted only one season due to its unpopularity and a small fire.
The park's other signature attractions during its first season were:
- The elaborate double-decker Columbia Carousel, which remains one of the tallest carousels in the world,
- The Sky Whirl, a unique, 110-foot (34 m)-tall "triple Ferris wheel" custom-designed for Marriott and visible miles away, which operated until 2000.
- Delta Flyer and Eagle's Flight, the two one-way gondola sky car rides. Eagle's Flight was a very commercially successful ride and was considered a top 10 ride by Roller Coaster Weekly magazine.
- The Orleans Orbit (later renamed simply the "Orbit"), an Enterprise-type ride which operated until 2016.
- Rue Le Dodge, a bumper car ride which became the world's largest after California's Great America retooled its copy of the ride into a one-way traffic ride in 2005. Rue Le Dodge has a floor area of 51 feet, 9 inches by 124 feet, 9 inches, or 6,455 sq ft (599.7 m2). Six Flags Great Adventure's Autobahn is larger, but has not operated since 2008.
The park's second season in 1977 saw the installation of several new rides. The 310-foot-tall (94 m) Sky Trek Tower opened in Carousel Plaza and today is one of the few rides to still operate under its original name. Sky Trek Tower was built as and still remains, the tallest freestanding structure in Lake County, Illinois. Also added was Southern Cross, a third gondola sky car ride which offered a round trip and a much higher view than the other two, whose station replaced the removed Gulf Coaster. A few new spinning rides were added, such as Big Top, Davy Jones' Dinghies and Hay Baler. The park's first children's section, dubbed Fort Fun, opened in Yukon Territory, which caused the Saskatchewan Scrambler to be relocated to Hometown Square and renamed Hometown Fun Machine.
Great America's fourth roller coaster, Tidal Wave, was a Schwarzkopf Shuttle Loop that opened in 1978 in Yankee Harbor.
The Pictorium, an IMAX theatre, opened in 1979 and claimed to have the world's largest screen, at 64.5 by 88.25 feet (19.6 × 26.9 meters).
The Turn of the Century roller coaster closed and took on a new look in 1980. Two loops were added, along with three tunnels and the "new" ride was re-themed and renamed The Demon. The ride featured an original theme song and new hellish theme elements, some of which were removed following a backlash from those who thought that the ride's theming was too "demonic".
The American Eagle, a pair of racing wooden roller coasters, opened in 1981. The two twin coasters share a drop of 147 feet (45 m) and they reach speeds of 66 mph (105 km/h). The bottom of the first drop is built 20 feet (6.1 m) below ground level. When the American Eagle first opened, it had the longest drop and fastest speeds of any wooden roller coaster in the world. It remains the tallest, fastest and longest twin racing wooden coaster.
The Picnic Grove was added in 1982, allowing for more company outings and corporate events to take place at the growing theme park. No new rides were added that year, and several small rides were removed in the last years of Marriott ownership.
Southern Cross was removed in 1983. That same year, The Edge, an Intamin first-generation freefall ride, was added to much fanfare. Bottoms Up, a Chance Trabant ride and Traffique Jam were removed at the end of the 1983 season.
The last ride Marriott added to the park was White Water Rampage in 1983, an Intamin-built rapids ride that was later renamed "Roaring Rapids" and remains the park's most popular water ride. The ride was added to Orleans Place, which required the removal of small rides such as Davey Jones' Dinghies, Le Bump (a children's bumper car ride), and Traffique Jam. The Orleans Orbit was moved from its original Orleans Place location to Hometown Square, and became simply The Orbit.
By the mid-1980s, the Marriott Corporation was disappointed with the financial performance of its theme park division, with lower profits than the company expected, in part because the third and largest of its Great America parks was never realized. As a result, Marriott decided to focus on its core businesses and began searching for buyers for its two amusement parks. After the California park was sold to the city of Santa Clara, Bally Manufacturing, then the parent company of the Six Flags Corporation, offered to purchase the Gurnee park for $114.5 million. The deal was finalized on April 26, 1984 and as a result Six Flags also acquired the right to use the Looney Tunes characters at all of its other parks.
Six Flags ownership
Bally era (1984–1987)
After the sale of the park to Bally Manufacturing in 1983, Great America officially became a Six Flags park. For the upcoming 1984 season, the park was re-branded as "Six Flags Great America". Regarding the acquisition of the park, Bally CEO Robert Mullane stated that it would be "foolish to change anything major" at the park. Less than a month after the purchase, a software failure caused a car on The Edge, a freefall ride, to be stalled at the top of the lift shaft before moving forward into its drop position. The car was stuck in this position for a short period of time before it dropped in the lift shaft, causing injuries to all three occupants. Despite many attempts to reopen The Edge with installation of anti-rollback devices by Intamin, the ride was never able to escape the stigma of its 1984 accident. The ride was removed in 1986 and sold to Rocky Point Amusement Park before reaching its final location at Geauga Lake as Mr. Hyde's Nasty Fall, where the ride was dismantled and scrapped in 2005.
In 1985, Six Flags added Z Force to the County Fair area, a one-of-a-kind Intamin space diver roller coaster that closed in 1987 and was the only one ever manufactured. The site was later used for Iron Wolf, which opened in 1990. Z Force was relocated to Six Flags Over Georgia as part of Six Flags' (now discontinued) Ride Rotation Program. At the end of 1991, the ride went to Six Flags Magic Mountain, where it operated as Flashback before being demolished in 2007.
Power Dive was added in 1987 to take over the spot where The Edge had stood. Power Dive was an Intamin Looping Starship ride; it swung back and forth before eventually rotating a complete 360 degrees a few times. It was eventually removed at the end of the 2002 season due to maintenance issues.
Wesray era (1987–1991)
In operating the Six Flags chain, Bally found that the excess resources demanded by and high seasonal fluctuations of, the theme park business made it an unnecessary burden on its core interests. In 1987, Bally sold Six Flags to Wesray Capital Corporation and a group of Six Flags managers. Several acquisitions were re-sold or closed, while Wesray moved the company's focus from theming to major attractions. This ushered in an era of major new rides and roller coasters at Six Flags parks like Great America.
Most of the original themed staff costumes began to be retired at this point in favor of more modern unisex garments more akin to uniforms — basic short sleeve shirts with slacks or walking shorts during the warmer months. Some of the costumes survived longer than others, with the Yankee Harbor striped crew shirts and clamdigger pants being retired last. Also the restaurants became more aligned and offered basic fast food cuisine and lost the dishes that were unique to individual themed areas. While a few specialty restaurants survived, almost all were abandoned in favor of cheaper, mass-produced food items. Similarly, merchandise throughout the park became homogenized at this point as well.
1988 saw the first of the new coasters, with the addition of the massive roller coaster Shock Wave (sometimes also written as Shockwave or ShockWave), an Arrow Dynamics mega-looper, opening in the Orleans Place section of the park on June 3. Shock Wave was the world's tallest roller coaster at the time it opened and was surpassed the following year by Cedar Point's Magnum XL-200. It also featured a record seven inversions, which was surpassed in 1995 by PortAventura Park's Dragon Khan. Shock Wave stood on the site now occupied by Superman: Ultimate Flight.
When Six Flags Great Adventure's Sarajevo Bobsled, an Intamin Bobsled roller coaster, closed in 1988, it was moved to Great America and became Rolling Thunder in 1989. It was added between Demon and Whizzer, where it operated until 1996. It now operates as the Alpine Bobsled at The Great Escape.
Iron Wolf, a compact steel stand-up coaster which was Bolliger & Mabillard's first design to be built, opened on April 28, 1990. The company has since created four other coasters for Great America. Iron Wolf took over Z-Force's former spot in County Fair.
The Condor was added to Orleans Place in 1991, next to Shock Wave. During the same year, the IMAX screen in the Pictorium was upgraded to allow 3D movies to be shown and fans said goodbye to Tidal Wave at the end of the season. It was relocated to Six Flags over Georgia where it operated as Viper from 1995 to 2001, then to Kentucky Kingdom as Greezed Lightnin' from 2003 to 2009.
Time Warner era (1992–1998)
By 1990, Six Flags was on the verge of bankruptcy. Time Warner, which had held a major influence at Great America since the beginning through the licensing of its Looney Tunes characters, was a minority owner in the company and it purchased an additional share of the company for a controlling interest of 50 percent. The entrance of the entertainment and communications conglomerate gave the company not only a much-needed influx of new capital, but a chance for increased usage of Time Warner properties in Six Flags parks.
The first of these collaborations between Six Flags and Time Warner came with the 1992 opening of Batman: The Ride, a first-of-its-kind B&M inverted roller coaster based on the 1989 film Batman that replaced Tidal Wave. Batman was unlike any other roller coaster at the time, as its outside-looping trains rode below the track and took riders upside-down five times. It was a tight fit for Yankee Harbor, but it proved so popular that lines stretched out of the ride area and across large parts of the park. The surrounding area of Yankee Harbor was re-themed after the Batman films, with The Lobster being renamed the East River Crawler and the park's nearby swing ride Whirligig briefly renamed the Gotham City Swinger, with the original name returning in 1993. In 2005, Batman was awarded landmark status by the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) at their annual convention.
To add to the hype around Batman from the opening of Batman: The Ride and the mega-hit film Batman Returns, the Batman Stunt Show opened in 1993 in a brand-new amphitheater located past Demon; which would later come to be known as the Southwest Territory Ampitheater. Six Flags and Time Warner had debuted The Batman Stunt Show at Six Flags Great Adventure the year prior, with great success. The theater would be a popular venue with several stunt shows for years to come, before being torn down for the 2016 addition of the Justice League: Battle for Metropolis dark ride.
Space Shuttle America, a motion simulator ride, was built in 1994 near Sky Trek Tower. In addition to its purpose-made titular film, Space Shuttle America was home to three other shows during its lifetime: Escape from Dino Island 2 - 3:D, Stargate - SG:3000, and Superstition during the yearly Fright Fest Event. The original Space Shuttle America film returned for the 2006 season. In 2009, both the Space Shuttle America building and Space Shuttle themed facade have been removed.
In 1995, construction began on a new themed area for the park. The Southwest Territory was originally intended to be added to the park in 1979, with the Southern Cross ride intended to bring guests to it. The first ride built for the new area was the Viper, a wooden roller coaster with a layout based on a mirror image of the Coney Island Cyclone and themed after a snake oil salesman. Although smaller in stature than American Eagle, this twister-style coaster features many more instances of negative gravity, or "airtime," during the ride. It was built next to Rolling Thunder, which was removed later the same year to make room for the new area. The ride was stored in the back parking lot (between American Eagle and Washington Street) from 1996 to 1997 before being relocated to The Great Escape in New York, where it continues to operate as Alpine Bobsled.
Southwest Territory opened in 1996, with a desert theme based on the Old West. Three new rides were added: River Rocker, a pirate ship ride; Chubasco, a teacup ride; and Trail Blazer, a Zamperla Joker. The Big Top was moved in from County Fair and renamed Ricochet. Viper's entrance, which had previously been located in Hometown Square, was moved to Southwest Territory. To add to the excitement surrounding the new area, the ampitheater that has previously been home Batman Stunt Show was named the "Southwest Territory Ampitheater", and an all-new show, the Warner Bros. Western Stunt Show, debuted. This show followed the misadventures of three outlaws as they tangled with characters from Western films such as Maverick, Blazing Saddles and F Troop. The Western Stunt Show ran for three seasons and was replaced in 1999 by the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Stunt Show.
Giant Drop, an Intamin second-generation drop tower and Dare Devil Dive, a skycoaster, were added in 1997. Giant Drop was placed on the southwest side of Southwest Territory across from the mission, and was themed to be an ore excavator in the fictional Loco Diablo Mine. Dare Devil Dive was added in Big Top's former location in County Fair. In August 1997, a hitch bar connecting the third and fourth cars on the blue side of the American Eagle roller coaster separated as the ride was braking, causing the rear two cars to bump into the front three cars. Several people were sent to local area hospitals. The ride re-opened in time for Fright Fest 1997.
Premier Parks era (1998–2005)
Time Warner sold 50% of its stake in Six Flags in 1995, and in 1998, Premier Parks had its IPO and became the parent company of Six Flags Theme Parks after purchasing the remaining stake from Time Warner as well as the other 50% that had previously been sold off to holding companies. Premier Parks opted to follow the trend set by Bally's and began acquiring more properties.
1998 saw many family-friendly additions. Yukon Territory welcomed Camp Cartoon Network, with five new rides, including Spacely's Sprocket Rockets (a Vekoma junior roller coaster), Scooby-Doo's Mystery Machine, Yogi's Yahoo River, Rocky Road's Rescue Service and Bedrock Boulder Roller. Bugs Bunny Land was renamed Looney Tunes National Park and included the Looney Tooter Choo Choo Train, the Waddaview Charter, Porky's Buzzy Beez, Petunia's Lady Bugz, Looney Tunes Lodge Foam Ball Factory, Pepe Le Pew's Peak and the Nature Trail. An accident occurred on Demon, stranding 23 passengers upside-down on the black train for nearly three hours.
1999 saw Bolliger & Mabillard return to construct Raging Bull, a hyper-twister roller coaster that was added to Southwest Territory as its new signature attraction. This 202-foot-high (62 m), 73 mph (117 km/h), and 5,057-foot-long (1,541 m) ride was built on the former lot used by Rolling Thunder, and became the tallest and fastest roller coaster at Great America.
The park celebrated its silver (25th) season in 2000. This was the last year for the Sky Whirl, as well as the Hay Baler ride. Since the removal of Sky Whirl after the 2000 season, Six Flags Great America has continued to operate without a Ferris wheel. That same year, an accident involving a guest occurred on the Cajun Cliffhanger ride, which led to its eventual removal.
In 2001, two new roller coasters were added: an Intamin impulse coaster named Vertical Velocity, stylized as V2; and Déjà Vu, a Vekoma Giant Inverted Boomerang ride to replace Sky Whirl and Hay Baler. Vertical Velocity was added to Yankee Harbor, with the swing ride Whirligig moving closer to the lift hill of Batman: The Ride to make room. On V2, riders are launched at speeds over 70 mph (112 km/h) up a twisted vertical tower, then fall backward and climb up another straight tower. The ride repeats, but on the second time up the back tower, riders are held facing straight down for a moment before being released. This holding brake on V2 has not been used since September 2008 due to maintenance issues. On Déjà Vu, the riders were pulled backwards up a vertical tower and dropped through the station and into a cobra roll inversion, followed by a loop over the station and up another vertical tower. After being pulled up a bit more, the ride then repeated the course in reverse. The ride did not debut until October 7 that year due to mechanical and design issues, causing a public relations nightmare for Six Flags, including being threatened with lawsuits regarding false advertisement of the opening date of the ride. Déjà Vu continued to be problematic maintenance-wise, with guests frequently finding it closed. Due to increasing operating costs, Six Flags announced in 2007 that the Déjà Vu coasters at this park and Six Flags Over Georgia would be removed before the 2008 season.
At the beginning of the 2002 season, there were no major changes to the park. The Pictorium's original IMAX film, To Fly, was once again shown. In the summer, plans were announced to remove the Whizzer, which would offer its final rides on Sunday, August 11. The announcement confirmed existing rumors. The plan to remove the coaster, which was one of only two operating Schwarzkopf Speedracers in the world, an original ride from the park's first season and a popular family-friendly attraction, was met with outrage from the public, particularly because the intended replacement was a major thrill ride. Six Flags announced on August 3 that its plans to remove the Whizzer had been cancelled and instead, it would replace Shock Wave. Major additions to the entertainment department included brand-new parade floats. Power Dive was also removed, due to maintenance problems.
In 2003, Superman: Ultimate Flight opened in Orleans Place, on the plot of land where Shock Wave stood. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, Superman was the Midwest's second flying roller coaster, the first being X-Flight at Geauga Lake. The layout of the ride is identical to rides of the same name at Six Flags Great Adventure and Six Flags Over Georgia. Shock Wave had partially stood in the parking lot and for Superman the entire landscaping of the ride area was redone. Additionally, the historic Ameri-Go-Round in County Fair was removed at the end of the 2003 season.
Mardi Gras, a new themed area and an extension of Orleans Place, was added in 2004. It was built in the area where Power Dive and Cajun Cliffhanger had stood. The wild-mouse roller coaster Ragin' Cajun was added, along with a HUSS Top-Spin model named King Chaos, Zamperla Rockin' Tug named Jester's Wild Ride and a Zamperla Balloon Race named Big Easy Balloons. The same year, the removed Ameri-Go-Round from County Fair was replaced by Revolution, a HUSS Frisbee ride taken from Six Flags Great Adventure.
A major expansion to the park opened in 2005, with the addition of the Hurricane Harbor water park. It was the seventh Hurricane Harbor water park to open at a Six Flags park since the branding was created in 1995. The new 13-acre (53,000 m2) water park, replacing a parking lot area behind Viper and Raging Bull, features attractions such as Hurricane Bay, a 500,000-gallon wave pool, and Bahama Mama and Bubba Tubba, two family slides. The new water park was a success and boosted attendance by 24% in 2005. In 2006, a new "Tornado" water slide was opened, although to some scandal, as reports surfaced of rider injuries early in the 2006 season.
Shapiro era (2006–2010)
In December 2005, stockholders approved a plan offered by Daniel Snyder of Red Zone, LLC to take over management of Six Flags, Inc., following a fierce stockholder revolt due to rising financial concerns. Snyder appointed former ESPN executive Mark Shapiro as the new CEO of Six Flags, after Kieran Burke was ousted from the company. Snyder and Shapiro's plan of action was to move Six Flags away from Premier Parks' thrill-heavy focus and move more toward a family-friendly environment.
During the 2006 season, Great America celebrated its 30th anniversary. The classic Triple Play ride in Hometown Square was dismantled prior to the start of the season because Six Flags Over Texas had received a similar HUSS Troika that had been damaged during the hasty demolition of Six Flags AstroWorld, and so a part was needed from the Great America ride for the ride to operate. Triple Play returned for 2007. Revolution also sat dormant for most of the season, but reopened on October 20 after being down the whole season due to maintenance problems with rides of similar types at other parks.
Also in 2006, Six Flags announced it would replace its sign that sits along Interstate 94 during the off season. The sign, which had been standing since the park opened in 1976, was replaced with a smaller one featuring an LED screen. The new sign went up within a week after the old one was taken down in December 2006, and uses the old sign's post.
2007 marked the introduction of the electronic Flash Pass virtual queue system to Six Flags parks, including Great America. For an additional fee, guests can purchase a Flash Pass and wait in line for a ride without actually standing in line. The system, themed after the DC Comics character, replaced an existing punch card system that was used at the park.
As part of the new focus on entertainment, Six Flags introduced a new stunt show, Operation SpyGirl, in the Southwest Territory Ampitheater for the 2007 season. Operation SpyGirl was an original live-action production created by Joel Surnow, co-creator of the Fox television series 24. Operation SpyGirl debuted in May, and closed for the season in August. The show marked several new ventures for Six Flags, including pre-show entertainment in the waiting area, which set up the storyline that the evil archvillain Max Condor had stolen the "Super Viper Rocket" from the agency for which SpuyGirl works — as well as a merchandise cart outside selling "SpyGirl" themed merchandise. Operation SpyGirl did not return in 2008. Other new shows introduced for the 2007 season were "Spirit of America" at the reflection pond in front of the Columbia Carousel, and "Show Stoppin'" in the Grand Music Hall.
Also in 2007, the tented area in front of the American Eagle was converted into Wiggles World, a third children's area themed after the Wiggles. Wiggles World featured five new rides, Henry's Splash Fountain, the USS Feathersword Play Area, the Yummy Yummy Cafe and the Get Ready to Wiggle Stage show. American Eagle's entrance was relocated to the right of the tent, utilizing part of the entrance building for the adjacent Dare Devil Dive skycoaster, to accommodate the Wiggles area.
In 2008, Great America added The Dark Knight Coaster, an indoor Mack wild mouse roller coaster themed after the film and located in Orleans Place. The ride is located indoors, mostly in the dark, and has a storyline based around Batman and The Joker. The Theater Royale was converted into a queue building for the ride, which features a preshow starring Aaron Eckhart, reprising his role as Harvey Dent from the film.
During that year, Six Flags began to add mandatory $1 lockers outside its major coasters, for guests to store loose articles while riding. The storage for loose articles had previously been in cubbies on the ride platform, which were removed because of theft concerns. In 2009, lockers were added to more rides. As of 2011, cubbies returned to the platforms and the lockers were no longer required, but they are still strongly recommended to prevent loss and theft of items. Additionally, Splashwater Falls closed for the 2007 season early on, and was removed in March 2008.
For 2009, Six Flags replaced Déjà Vu with Buccaneer Battle, a pirate-themed boat ride in County Fair designed by Mack. The ride consists of 14 eight-passenger boats navigating a channel 450 ft (140 m) long. During the ride, there are numerous interactive water elements that can be controlled by passersby.
Weber/Anderson/Duffey era (2010–present)
Six Flags officially emerged from bankruptcy protection on May 3, 2010 and announced plans to issue new stock on the New York Stock Exchange. Amid suspected disagreements regarding the future of the company with the board, Shapiro left the company and Al Weber, Jr. was brought in as interim president and CEO. Six Flags announced that Jim Reid-Anderson would replace Weber and become chairman, president, and CEO on August 13, 2010.
In 2010, Great America installed the Little Dipper, a "kiddie" wooden roller coaster that had previously operated at Kiddieland Amusement Park in Melrose Park, Illinois, from 1950 until 2009. It was placed outside Bugs Bunny National Park and opened to the public on May 27, 2010. The park also introduced the Glow in the Park Parade, which was already featured at other Six Flags parks, and MagiQuest was added to the County Fair Games Gallery in place of the Wii Experience.
Space Shuttle America, the park's motion simulator ride that had been closed for two years, was removed during the 2010 season. On May 26, 2010, Great America filed a petition with the Village of Gurnee seeking to exceed the village's 125 feet (38.10 m) height limit. Six Flags was considering installing Chang, a roller coaster moved after the closure of Kentucky Kingdom, in place of the shuttle. However, the park confirmed it was abandoning those plans in July 2010 and that the space would instead be used for Riptide Bay, a 3-acre (12,140.57 m2; 130,680.00 sq ft) addition to the Hurricane Harbor water park.
In late 2010, Six Flags began removing some licensed properties from concessions and attractions, with Wiggles World being renamed Kidzopolis and having Wiggles branding and theming removed for 2011. MagiQuest closed due to a lack of popularity and Great America Raceway, an original ride from 1976, was closed and removed.
The Iron Wolf roller coaster would be closing on September 5, 2011. The coaster has moved to Six Flags America, rebranded as "Apocalypse," before it was changed to "Firebird" in the 2019 season. Six Flags also announced that the former sites of Splashwater Falls and the Great America Raceway in County Fair would now be home to a new wing coaster that would feature 5 inversions, a 12-story drop and speeds of up to 55 mph. When X-Flight opened for the 2012 season, it was the second roller coaster of its type in North America and the fourth in the world.
The Glow in the Park parade was replaced in 2013 with IgNight — Grand Finale to the park. IgNight was held in Hometown Square, in front of the Hometown Station. Six Flags announced that 2013 would be the "Season of Backwards" at Great America, with Batman: The Ride, Viper and the Blue Train on American Eagle all running backwards for some part of the season. At the end of the season, Ragin' Cajun closed and was relocated to Six Flags America in 2014.
Goliath, a 165-foot-tall (50 m) wooden roller coaster which broke world records for the steepest drop, fastest speed and longest drop on a wooden coaster, opened in 2014 in the area where Iron Wolf formerly stood.
For 2015, three former kiddie rides were reinstalled in the all-new Hometown Park children's area, located in Hometown Square. That year, the park held a "40 seasons" celebration, a festival which celebrated the park's history.
In 2016, Great America introduced Justice League: Battle for Metropolis, a 4D interactive dark ride, alongside a new themed area: Metropolis Plaza. The area is themed after the city of Metropolis from DC Comics, and is located between Southwest Territory and County Fair. Six Flags also announced plans to add virtual reality headsets to Raging Bull by the end of that season, but the Demon received the VR headsets instead, creating a new 'Rage of the Gargoyles' ride experience. The Orbit, an original 1976 attraction, closed on August 6, 2016. At the end of the season, The Jester's Wild Ride was also removed.
The Joker, an S&S 4D Free Spin roller coaster, was added to Yankee Harbor for the 2017 season. The park also announced that The Orbit would not return, and East River Crawler was relocated to the former site of The Orbit and its name returned to The Lobster, the original name for the ride. For the first month of the season, VR headsets were added to Giant Drop, which became the "Drop of Doom".
For the 2018 season, Mardi Gras Hangover was added. It is a 100 foot tall looping flat ride which at the time was the largest of its kind in the world. King Chaos closed on August 26, 2017 to make way for the new ride. On April 11, Six Flags Great America announced that Holiday in the Park will debut at the park November 23, 2018 On April 27th, the park confirmed via their official Twitter account that Pictorium would be demolished to make way for new thrills. The Pictorium was mainly used for a hypnotist show during Fright Fest and also hosted the "Screams and Dreams" series about the park's history.
On August 30, 2018, the park announced that a new roller coaster called Maxx Force would open in 2019 replacing the Pictorium. Manufactured by S&S Worldwide, it will be an air launch coaster that breaks three world records and will feature the fastest acceleration in North America.
On October 9, 2018, the Rockford Park District announced a potential lease agreement with Six Flags Great America for the park to operate Magic Waters. On December 11, 2018 the lease deal was made official and Six Flags took control of the water park on April 1, 2019.
In 2019, Six Flags faced a lawsuit that went to the Illinois Supreme Court over Great America's collection of biometric data, including fingerprint scans, from its guests. Stacy Rosenbach sued the park after her teenage son was asked to provide a thumbprint scan during a 2014 field trip. In the case of Rosenbach v. Six Flags Entm't Corp, the park and its owners were found to be in violation of Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act.
On weekends in October, Six Flags Great America features its annual Halloween event "Fright Fest". The event started small in the early nineties and has expanded significantly since then. During the event the entire park goes under the knife to be decorated into several different "Scare Zones" featuring haunted houses, frightening street characters, Halloween themed shows, as well as transformed rides.
The event features several haunts for an additional fee as well. The Mausoleum of Terror, located inside a special scare zone called Necropolis, has been with the event for many years, while the other haunts change every few years with past themes including Sleepy Hollow, a "dead" and breakfast, and a horror movie house called Studio 13. Past haunted trails have included an industrial area taken over by Demons, Area 51, and a Fallen Giant.
One of the most unusual things about the event compared to other parks’ Halloween events is the transformed rides. Many of the park's rides receive special theming, notably Chubasco - the park's teacup ride transformed into Terror Twister 2: A Turn for the Worse, in which the ride building is enclosed and a custom lighting design matched with a custom club style music mix is played. Also of note, Condor and Revolution, some of the park's more thrilling flat rides actually run different cycles during the event and are known as The Birds and The Pit and the Pendulum respectively.
Another facet of the event is the shows. Love at First Fright has been presented in the Grand Music Hall every year since the event's inception and follows the story of a couple on a dare to spend the night in a cemetery who get caught up in crazy antics when several classic Halloween creatures rise from the grave. The show often plays to capacity audiences during the event, and it is known for changing the show each year to include various pop culture and newsworthy references. Other shows include Dead Man's Party, Fantome, a parade featuring all the park's various creatures and Susan Rosan - a hypnotist who has been with the event for many years.
For several years a third party called JPM Productions provided street characters and haunted house actors for the event. While the company was praised for its costumes and makeup, in 2010 Six Flags moved the entire production in-house for greater creative control.
Holiday in the Park
Beginning with the 2018 season, Six Flags Great America will stay open through the end of the year with a new event called Holiday in the Park. The new event began on November 23, 2018, and ran weekends through December 23, 2018, and ran daily December 26 through December 31, 2018.
Holiday in the Park returned for the 2019 season.
Areas and attractions
The overall layout of Six Flags Great America has remained mostly unchanged from the original design that was created for Marriott. The park's designer, Randall Duell, followed the pattern of his trademark "Duell loop", creating a series of themed areas around a path which winds around the park clockwise, allowing space for employees and maintenance workers to work out of sight of guests in the middle.
The front entrance area to the park, between Orleans Place and Hometown Square. In addition to the rides, there are shops and food kiosks themed to the area. In Carousel Plaza Gifts, guests until the 2015 season could see a 1978 model of Marriott's Great America.
|Columbia Carousel||1976||Chance Rides
|At a height of 100 feet, the carousel is the world's second-tallest, surpassed only by its twin, the Carousel Columbia. The horses and other animals were furnished by Bradley & Kaye, based on reproduced antique molds. For the park's 40th anniversary the carousel was refurbished and repainted.||Mild|
|Sky Trek Tower||1977||Intamin
|The 330 ft (100 m) tower is the tallest freestanding structure in Lake County, Illinois and carries riders to a height of 285 ft (87 m). On a clear day, Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline can be seen from the top of the tower. As of the 2019 season the ride is operating less and less, most likely due to high maintenance costs.||Mild|
|This triple-record breaking 175 ft tall compressed air launch coaster from S&S features the world's tallest double inversion, fastest inversion (60 mph), and the fastest acceleration in North America (0-78 mph in under 2 seconds).||Max|
One of the park's original areas, themed after a small midwestern town around the turn of the century. Hometown Square is located between Carousel Plaza, County Fair and Southwest Territory. Guests walk through many shops and stalls and can ride many classic carnival-style rides. Whizzer, a Schwarzkopf spiral-lift coaster, is one of the last of its kind in the world.
|Triple Play||1976||HUSS Rides
|A spinning ride, slowly lifts and sets down||Moderate|
|Hometown Fun Machine||1976||Eli Bridge
|Opened in 1976 as Saskatchewan Scrambler in Yukon Territory. Relocated to Hometown Square as Hometown Fun Machine in 1977.||Moderate|
|The Lobster||1976||Anton Schwarzkopf (Monster III)||Opened in 1976 as "The Lobster" in Yankee Harbor. Rethemed, renamed "East River Crawler" and repainted in 1992 to match the new Batman: The Ride. East River Crawler was removed for refurbishment for the 2012 season and returned to service in 2013. Moved to Hometown Square in 2017 and renamed The Lobster, replacing The Orbit.||Max|
|This Classic ACE Coaster Landmark is one of the last "Speedracer" coaster models ever built. Originally named "Willard's Whizzer" after J. Willard Marriott.||Moderate|
|Great America Scenic Railway||1976||Custom Fabricators, Inc.
|3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge train ride around the park. Also has a station in the County Fair section of the park.||Mild|
- This area is a sub-section of Hometown Square. This section previously existed from the park's opening in 1976 until the rides were removed after the 2001 season. In 2015, three of the original rides returned as part of the park's 40th season celebration.
Ride Year opened Manufacturer
Description Rating Lady Bugs 1976 (opened); 2015 (Re-opened) Hampton Originally located here, was relocated to Bugs Bunny National Park until its closing in 2009 Mild Red Baron 1976 (opened); 2015 (Re-opened) Hampton Used as Fright Fest props from 2002-2011 Mild Tots Livery 1976 (opened); 2015 (Re-opened) Hampton Mild
Originally intended to be built in 1979 as The Great Southwest, the area, themed around an old Wild West town, was built in 1996. The area is outside of the park's loop, connected to both Hometown Square and County Fair. It also has the primary connection to Hurricane Harbor. There are many shops and carnival-style games based on the theme.
|Raging Bull||1999||Bolliger & Mabillard
|The tallest roller coaster at Great America, with a drop height of 208 feet, as well as top speeds of 73 mph. It was advertised as the "world's first Hyper-Twister".||Max|
|Opened before the rest of the Southwest Territory area, Viper is the only rollercoaster ever constructed in-house by Six Flags. The ride is an identical mirror image of the Coney Island Cyclone, like similar rides at other Six Flags parks.||Max|
(Giant Drop/Multi Drop)
|A 227 ft (69 m) drop tower, themed around an ore excavator at the "Loco Diablo mine."||Max|
|Chubasco||1996||Zamperla||A spinning teacup ride, housed in a building based on a Spanish mission.||Moderate|
|Ricochet||1977||Huss Rides||A swinging ride painted with cow spots. Originally named Big Top and located in County Fair, the ride moved to the new Southwest Territory area in 1996 and its former location was replaced with Dare Devil Dive.||Moderate|
|River Rocker||1996||Zamperla||A swinging pirate ship ride.||Moderate|
The newest and smallest themed area of the park, based on DC Comics characters. It replaced the Southwest Amphitheater in 2016, and is located between Southwest Territory and County Fair. As of 2017, it consists of the Justice League ride and an attached gift shop.
|Justice League: Battle for Metropolis||2016||Sally Corporation||An interactive 4D dark ride.||Moderate|
The Great Midwest Livestock Exposition at County Fair, almost always known simply as County Fair, is the largest section of the park, taking up most of the back area. There are many shops, stalls and attractions set in a theme based on a rural county fair. The area also features a food court and a gallery of carnival games.
|Originally known as Turn of the Century when it opened with the park in 1976, two vertical loops were added to the ride in 1980 in addition to its two clockwise corkscrews and it was renamed and rethemed the Demon. At the time, it was tied for the most inversions on a roller coaster in the world.||Max|
|X Flight||2012||Bolliger & Mabillard
|One of the first Wing Coasters to be built in the United States.||Max|
|Goliath||2014||Rocky Mountain Construction
(wooden roller coaster)
|Formerly the world's fastest wooden roller coaster at 72 mph, and steepest wooden roller coaster at an 85 degree angle of descent. Built on the site formerly occupied by "Iron Wolf" and "Z-Force". Currently holds the record for the tallest drop on a wooden coaster, and is currently the world's tallest, steepest, and fastest looping wooden coaster. Goliath was also the first coaster in the world to feature a "Zero G" Stall.||Max|
|Buccaneer Battle||2009||Mack||Located on the former site of Sky Whirl and Déjà Vu, 14 eight-passenger boats navigate a 450 ft (140 m) channel featuring interactive targets and water effects.||Mild|
(wooden racing coaster)
|With a drop of 147 feet, a top speed of 66 mph, and a track length of 4,650 ft (1.42 km), the American Eagle has remained the tallest, fastest, and longest racing coaster in the world since it opened in 1981.||Max|
|Dare Devil Dive||1997||Ride Entertainment Group
|A bungee jump ride where guests freefall from a height of 125 feet, and then swing forward on a steel cable. This ride requires an additional fee.||Max|
|Originally operated at Six Flags Great Adventure as Pendulum from 1999-2003.||Max|
|Fiddler's Fling||1976||Anton Schwarzkopf
|Has 25 cars for a total capacity of 50 passengers.||Moderate|
|Great America Scenic Railway||1976||Custom Fabricators, Inc.
|3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge train ride around the park. Also has a station in the Hometown Square section of the park.||Mild|
- A children's-specific area of County Fair, located in front of the American Eagle entrance tent. Originally known as Wiggles World, the area was added for 2007. The Wiggles theming was removed after the 2010 season.
Ride Year opened Manufacturer
Description Rating ZoomJets 2007 Zamperla
(Aero Top Jet)
originally named Big Red Planes Mild Bouncer 2007 Zamperla
originally named Bouncin' With Wags Mild Up, Up & Away 2007 Zamperla
originally named Yummy Yummy Fruit Salad Mild Splish Splash Zone 2007 (Pop Jet Fountain) originally named Henry's Splish Splash Mild Krazy Kars 2007 Zamperla
originally named Big Red Cars Mild Krazy Kups 2007 Zamperla
(Mini Tea Cup)
originally named Dorothy's Rosy Tea Cups Mild Pirate's Playship 2007 (Interactive Play Ship) Interactive Play Ship with nets and slides, originally named SS Feathersword. Since the Wiggles theming was removed, Six Flags has considered it a part of Splish Splash Zone.
This area is themed around the famous forests and mountains in northwest Canada, with references to logging, prospecting and gold panning. The area is located between County Fair and Yankee Harbor, and has a connection to the Picnic Grove near the Wilderness Theater.
|Winner's Circle Go Karts||1999||These go carts originally opened in 1999 in Carousel Plaza. The go karts were relocated to Yukon Territory in 2011 in the former site of Bugs Bunny National Park to make way for Riptide Bay. The ride requires an additional fee.||Moderate|
|Little Dipper||2010||Philadelphia Toboggan Company
(wooden roller coaster)
|Built in 1950, this junior coaster has been honored with the "Ace Coaster Classic" Award. This coaster was purchased by Six Flags Great America from Kiddieland Amusement Park in 2009. Six Flags Great America opened "Little Dipper" in 2010 as the park's 14th coaster.||Mild|
|Logger's Run||1976||Arrow Dynamics
|Water attraction with twin flumes.||Moderate|
- This is a sub-section of Yukon Territory. It was known as Camp Cartoon Network when first added in 1998. Despite the former name, the rides were themed to Hanna-Barbera properties and not Cartoon Network ones. In 2006 the area was renamed to its current name, with its entrance replacing the Cartoon Network characters with Hanna-Barbera ones. In 2018 the area was rethemed and with this removed all Hanna Barbera theming and so Camp Cartoon’s rides now feature more generic names.
Ride Picture Year opened Manufacturer
Description Rating Crazy Bus 1998 Zamperla
Formally known as Scooby-Doo's Mystery Machine (1998-2018) Mild Yahoo River 1998 Allan Herschell Herschell kiddie ride. Formally known as Yogi's Yahoo River (1998-2018) Mild Sprocket Rockets 1998 Vekoma
(Junior roller coaster)
kiddie coaster. Formally known as Spacely's Sprocket Rockets (1998-2018) Mild Rocky Road Rescue Service 1998 Hampton Rides Formally known as Flintstones Rocky Road Rescue Service (1998-2018)
Yankee Harbor is themed around a New England harbor and is surrounded by a large water feature. The area is connected by a covered bridge to Yukon Territory and formerly had another covered bridge connecting it to Mardi Gras which was removed to accommodate The Joker. The main entrance to the Picnic Grove, where the second covered bridge was moved, is located in Yankee Harbor.
(launched steel suspended coaster)
|Floorless coaches suspended beneath an overhead track traverse the track forward and in reverse. Launches riders 0-70MPH in less than 4 seconds.||Max|
|Originally located in County Fair on the site later occupied by Iron Wolf and Goliath, it was moved to Yankee Harbor and then moved again within the area to make room for Vertical Velocity.||Moderate|
|Yankee Clipper||1976||Arrow Dynamics
|Water ride with twin flumes. Between 2001 and 2005, the park had a corporate sponsorship with Nestlé and the ride was temporarily renamed Ice Mountain Splash.||Moderate|
|Batman: The Ride||1992||Bolliger & Mabillard
(inverted looping coaster)
|This Ace Landmark Coaster is the world's first inverted, outside looping coaster. It features a drop height of 109 feet, a top speed of 50 mph and 5 inversions. Built on the former site of "Tidal Wave".||Max|
|The Joker||2017||S&S Worldwide||4D "Free Spin" Roller Coaster, which took the former places of the East River Crawler in Yankee Harbor, and Jester's Wild Ride and Ragin' Cajun in Mardi Gras.||Max|
One of the park's newest themed areas, it opened in 2004, after being converted from part of Orleans Place. The area's theme comes from the Mardi Gras holiday and specifically the famous celebration of the holiday in New Orleans. Mardi Gras is connected to Yankee Harbor and Orleans Place.
(River rapids ride)
|Originally known as White Water Rampage, this was Marriott's last major addition to the park before it was sold. The location formerly hosted Traffique Jam, an antique car ride and "Davey Jones' Dinghies", a swing ride, until they were removed in 1982. This is the only ride in Mardi Gras which was built before the area was and the only one not to involve its theme or colors.||Moderate|
|Big Easy Balloons||2004||Zamperla
|A twirling balloon ride.||Mild|
|Mardi Gras Hangover||2018||Larson International
(Giga Loop 100 Ft)
|The ride is currently the tallest Larson Loop in the world. It replaced King Chaos, a top spin ride which closed at the end of the 2017 season. While Six Flags claims this attraction to be a roller coaster, it fails to meet the definition as it doesn't use gravity at any point in the ride to 'coast'.||Max|
Orleans Place is themed around New Orleans in the late 1800s, specifically the historic French Quarter. The area is connected both thematically and physically to the Mardi Gras area on the other side of the Scenic Railway, and also borders the entrance area in Carousel Plaza.
|Opened in 1991, after being relocated from Six Flags Great Adventure. Replaced the Yukon Yahoo, a Schwarzkopf Bayern Kurve that was located in the Yukon Territory area and later moved to Orleans Place.||Moderate|
|The Dark Knight||2008||Mack Rides
|A Wild Mouse coaster house within a dark, enclosed building, a cloned ride also located at Six Flags Great Adventure and Six Flags México.||Moderate|
|Superman: Ultimate Flight||2003||Bolliger & Mabillard||Suspended beneath a steel track, riders experience banked turns, 2 inversions and sweeping drops at 60 miles per hour while harnessed in a prone flying position. Built on the former site of Shockwave.||Max|
|Rue Le Dodge||1976||Soli
|A bumper car ride that features the world's largest bumper car floor.||Moderate|
Great America's water park, opened in 2005. It uses the Six Flags Hurricane Harbor branding that most Six Flags parks use for their attached water parks. Access to the water park runs along a path through Southwest Territory. Guests without a season pass must pay a separate admission fee to enter the water park.
|Wahoo Racer||2005||Proslide Technology Inc.
|6 lane slide||Moderate|
|Hurricane Bay||2005||Aquatic Development Group Inc.
(WaveTek wave pool)
|Hurricane Mountain||2005||Proslide Technology Inc.
|4 tube slides||Mild|
|Tornado||2006||Proslide Technology Inc.
|Funnel shaped tube slide that uses four person "cloverleaf."||Max|
|Buccaneer Bay||2005||Kiddie area||Mild|
|Surf Rider||2011||Surf simulator featuring 5-foot (1.5 m) waves with speeds up to 30 mph (48 km/h)||Moderate|
|Castaway Creek||2005||Lazy river||Mild|
|A pair of Plummets featuring 50-foot (15 m) drops and a top speed of 40 mph (64 km/h).||Max|
|Monsoon Lagoon||2011||A 14,000-square-foot (1,300 m2) pool featuring two play elements, a waterfall and seven spray columns||Mild|
|Paradise Plunge and Riptide||2005||Proslide Technology Inc.
|2 separate speed slides||Max|
|A pair of featuring a Superloops 50-foot (15 m) drop and a top speed of 40 mph (64 km/h) through horizontal loops while sliding through transparent tubes.||Max|
|Vortex and Typhoon||2005||Proslide Technology Inc.
|2 separate "CannonBowls" slides||Moderate|
|A ProSlide Tantrum featuring a 35-foot (11 m) drop and two funnels.||Max|
|Skull Island||2005||Proslide Technology Inc.||SCS Interactive Discovery Treehouse/WaterColors with slides, 66 feet tall.||Mild|
|Bahama Mama and Bubba Tubba||2005||Proslide Technology Inc.
|2 separate family raft rides||Moderate|
|Riptide Bay||2011||This 3-acre (12,000 m2) area features a double-sided surf simulator, a Caribbean-inspired activity pool, 5 thrilling new waterslides, luxury cabanas and more.||Moderate|
|Hammerhead and Barracuda||2005||Proslide Technology Inc.
|2 separate tube slides||Max|
Appearances in media
- Iron Wolf was featured in the movie Richie Rich.
- On August 26, 2009, the park was featured on Dinner: Impossible.
- In a July 2011 episode of the soap opera The Young and the Restless, Jack Abbot offers to take his son and his baseball team to the park after pitching a no-hitter.
- In the late 1970s, the park, then owned by Marriott, was featured in a television special starring actress Lisa Hartman.
- In 1977, the park's circus show, Circus Fantastic, had one of its performances broadcast on Captain Kangaroo with Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) himself as the ringmaster and special guest star Bob Denver of Gilligan's Island fame.
- In 2013, the park was featured in the Hindi movie Dhoom: 3.
- The park's B&M Wing Coaster X-Flight appeared in an episode of Insane Coaster Wars.
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- Filas, Lee (May 27, 2010). "Kiddieland classic coaster finds new life at Great America". Daily Herald. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
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