Pros: Lots for your toddler and preschooler to do; cleaner, neater and friendlier
Cons: Overpriced food, parking, tickets and sundries.
This review will focus specifically on our preschoolers' view of the Six Flags Great Adventure (to be referred to as GA for the remainder of this review) theme park located in Jackson, NJ. I could write a book from the pre-teens' perspective, but since GA has changed around its approach to the family with small children, this review will discuss the rides and attractions geared specifically for the under 54" crowd.
We live exactly 7 miles from the GA front door and going to the park in the past has always been a major disappointment. The long lines, unruly crowds of teenagers, and the exorbitant prices have prevented us from purchasing season passes ever since our daughter came along 4yrs ago. It seems we'd much rather stay home or head to our local boardwalk for a night of rides versus heading off to make a mortgage payment at Six Flags Great Adventure theme park, Jackson, NJ.
This year, we decided to simply buy a daily pass (on eBay for $55 for 4 of us) versus buying a season pass. Most rides are height restricted so that our 4yr old and 6yr old must go on different rides than our 11yr old. This year, we had our children measured at the Guest relations office right through the gate and they each received wristbands identifying their height for the rest of the day. In the past, each ride worker would measure our children and find them to be different heights from ride to ride; the wristbands prevented this altogether.
The parking this year will cost you $15 for regular, $20 for "preferred" and $40 for a season parking pass. If you are handicapped, be prepared to prove it beyond the license plate or placard; they are looking for the DMV identification for proof of parking preference. Preferred parking is closer to the entrance and behind handicapped; regular spans an expansive lot that reaches at least a mile in all directions.
The entrance is heavily packed with park workers hawking everything from soda, $3 hot dogs, $4 water bottles and even a booth for the Six Flags credit card application center (where you can get a free Six Flags bag for applying for a Chase Six Flags credit card). Also, there are automated machines to purchase your tickets, process your credit card payments for season passes, and even ATMs that charge you $3 for your money.
There are lockers located right outside the main gates; I suggest simply packing a backpack and leaving your valuables at home. The park allows you to exit and return with a hand stamp; you can leave to eat, change or even sneak out for a short nap.
Bring your own food. A child's meal with a PB&J sandwich, HiC juice box, apple, and Hunt's Pudding pack will run you $8. A hot dog costs $3 and the water is $4 wherever you turn. The only item I would suggest you splurge on is refillable souvenir cups for $9. For an additional $1.05, you can refill it all day long as many times as you want and also bring it back with you if you choose to return to the park another day.
You can no longer cook in the parking lot; up until last year, you could bring your own portable grill and do a proper BBQ in the parking lot. This year, it's sandwiches for lunch and cold chicken for dinner out of the cooler in the back of your vehicle. I suggest stopping at the WaWa right before the entrance to GA for your lunch if you don't want to pack your own. There's also a slew of other fast food restaurants that have sprung up over the past few years on Rt. 547.
Bring your own stroller. The park rents strollers on a first-come-first-serve basis so there is no guarantee that you'll have one to rent from the park. Also, stroller rental is $15 a day; electric scooters can be reserved and claimed by 10:30AM by calling ahead of time. They scooters are meant for persons with disabilities and will cost you $35 for the day.
Children 3 and under are free but our 4yr old sat in her stroller and did not need a ticket. We did not try to defraud the park but for those whose children are small for their age, use a stroller and don't let your child walk through the gate. We only bought 4 tickets so if we had to buy one for her, no big deal...it's $30 for children under 18 and $63 for adults.
This year brought many changes to Six Flags Great Adventure for the family with small children. A new CEO meant major revisions to how the public views GA. Fortunately, the new powers that be listened to our outcry for better children's attractions and actually invested money in creating more child and family friendly areas throughout the park. The biggest revision to GA's park is the NO SMOKING AREAS. Smokers are confined to certain areas throughout the park that are not located near the rides nor would you need to walk through the areas to get to a ride. Can we say THANK YOU loud enough?
Balin's Jungleland, inside the Golden Kingdom, is specifically targeted for the under 54" crowd. There you will find a slip and slide miniature water park, a small train, a multi-level play tower, three smaller rides, and even two caged tigers. Smaller restrooms, absolutely no lines, tons of benches, lots of shade, a kid-friendly snack bar and even a area set aside for breast-feeding women. Our 4yr old had a blast and I loved the closed-in feeling of this new area. The rides were small and child-friendly; she was able to buckle herself into the swings and the flying airplanes and then run up to the tippy-top of the tower and slide down the twisty slide all by herself. I'd call this new area a huge success!
Jungleland Express - An exotic train ride. (around the tall climbing structure)
Monkey Around - Not-so-high flying swing ride. (maybe 5 feet off the ground in all)
Bugaboo - Circular ride on charming bugs. (cute, but not for the 4yr old sect)
Raja's Rickshaws - Rickshaw-style cars scramble in circles. (Went very slow and didn't entertain but she did ride more than once)
Royal Elephants - Kids fly 'round and 'round on pretty pachyderms. (They again went about 5 feet off the ground but she loved it)
Tigerland Treehouses - Three-stories tall play structure packed with cargo nets and web ramps for climbing, slides, punching bags, bongo drums, wacky mirrors and more. (She spent 1 HOUR in this treehouse...she absolutely loved it!!!)
Cub's Corner - "Toddlers only" play area for climbing, sliding and romping. (For the under 40" crowd only; no older siblings which meant the toddlers were safe from big kid accidents!!)
Splashwater Oasis - Wet 'n wild play area packed with "jumping fountains," tipping buckets, hydro-blasters, water curtains, water sprays and more. The coolest place to be to beat the summer heat. (Bring that swimsuit and towel; she didn't want to leave!!)
The next child-friendly area was Bugs Bunny National Park. 6 more smaller rides for the under 54" crowd and no lines. Tons of benches, easy to get to and closed-in area that was separated from the crowds flocking to the roller coasters. This new area was both relaxing and fun. Our 4yr old enjoyed all 5 rides here without concern; she even rode several of them again and again without getting off!
Bugs Bunny Camp Carousel (went on by herself)
Daffy Duck Hot Air Balloons (her 11yr old brother went with her)
Porky Pig Camp Wagons (boring and she only went around once)
Wile E. Coyote Canyon Blaster (went on with both older brothers)
Bugs Bunny Ranger Pilots (flew high with dad!)
A Water Play Element
Kids can cool off as they run under this new, oversized, sprinkling fountain on hot summer days. (a water tower with a shower down below that every so often shoots out water)
Bugs Bunny Wilderness Theater
Features a fun, interactive children's show starring Bugs Bunny and pals. (show times are early afternoon and the 80s theme show was cute)
Looney Tunes Camp Kitchen
A snack bar-style eatery with wide assortment of sweet treats, snacks and junior meals for kids. (pricey as a kid's meal will run you $8)
The last area we visited after lunch was Looney Tunes Seaport. This area is split in half by the larger rides; yet it still manages to keep the foot traffic to a minimum. Three rides on the park side and the remainder over the bridge makes this the best for the 54" and under PLUS the big brother who still wants to be small park.
There's a dozen rides in the Looney Tunes Seaport and you won't be disappointed; plenty to keep your child active and alert yet hardly any rides at the height of the day to bother you. Nestled inside this area is the Looney Tunes Seaport is the Fun Factory: an indoor ball pit/shooting arena for all ages! Your older child can accompany your younger children in to shoot it out with foam balls and your housecleaning daughter can use the vacuums to clean up the mess! Three floors up and a slide ride down made this the last visit of the evening and the best fun all day!
This whimsical six-acre section allows young children and their parents to join Bugs Bunny and all of his friends on more than 12 exciting rides and interactive attractions!
Bugs Bunny Fun Factory -- Interactive soft play area (best for all children who love to shoot it out)
Yosemite Sam's Flight School -- Flying airplanes (Up and away with mom asking why she got on)
Daffy's Deep Diver -- Submarine "in motion" (Closed for repairs 7/8)
Taz's Seaport Trucking Co. -- Join a convoy of trucks about to make a delivery (Once around the track in this miniature monster truck made it boring...)
Pepe' LePew's Rafts of Romance -- Spinning mini-teacups (Smaller version of the spin inside the spinning cup...mom liked this as much as the bigger ones...)
Road Runner Railway -- A pint-sized coaster featuring Wile E. Coyote (Older brother HAD to come back and take a ride with both siblings...our 6yr old had to ride this 5 times!!)
There are other rides your under 54" can enjoy as well:
You'll giggle and scream with laughter on these spinning, rotating, colorful tea cups! (Spinning inside spinning cups. Not for the weak)
Great family fun on this flat circular, rotating ride. (Super fast and too loud music.)
Watch out for other drivers in these fun bumper cars! (Under 54" must go with an adult)
Water cannons, bubbling springs and tons of great splashy fun for the little ones. (Cute but long lines)
Hold on for the ride of your life as the ride flips, spins and rotates all at the same time. (Not for those with weak stomachs or for right after lunch)
Hop aboard this magical 19th century Merry-Go-Round.
Hop aboard your magical flying ship and sail away. (Similar to the Buckaneer, this ship sails back and forth, back and forth...)
Stand up on this rotating ride as it lifts you toward the sky! (Gravitron for all people...those with motion sickness should avoid at all costs!)
Sky Ride Cable Cars
Enjoy your bird's-eye-view over the park. Aerial transportation to & from Fantasy Forest to Frontier Adventures. (Up and away from the crowds, the fastest and highest way from one end of the park to the other!!)
Hold on cowboy as these broncos take you on a wild spinning ride! (Cute but not too cute)
SpongeBob SquarePants 3-D
This 3-D motion-simulator ride takes you on a zany adventure, underwater voyage. (They provide your with 3-D glasses and the seats are made for people under 300 pounds and not pregnant. Not for those with vision impairment or bad backs)
Drop 40 feet on this refreshing, free-flowing water flume ride. A park favorite! (Two keychain pictures at the bottom will run you $17 so make sure everyone's on the same boat!!)
I suggest you start at Balin's Jungleland and then head off to Bugs Bunny National Forest and end at Looney Tunes, This L shaped layout is lined with boardwalk style games and shops plus tons of food places; if you walk along the waterfront to Looney Tunes Seaport, you'll avoid the more costly games section. Also, cell reception around the park is excellent; keep in touch with others in your group easily through your cell company.
All-in-all, I wish we'd bought season passes for this year. Our 4yr old had a blast and went on all the rides plus the others I listed more than once; her 6yr old brother met us after lunch and rode the same rides she did in half the time! Our 11yr old was disappointed as he only made it onto 5 big rides; he did accompany his sister and brother on the little kid rides and said as we were leaving "I wish I was small again".
At the start of your day, let the staff snap a picture with their digital camera; at the end of the night (10PM), they sell the pictures for 1/2 off...if you venture on a weekend when they have fireworks, you'll pass the picture stand and manage to snag their 2 5x7 pictures for 1/2 price of $10!!
There is a character parade at 3PM sharp; it starts at the water fountain at the entrance to the park and ends at Looney Tunes Seaport.
The fountain is the best place to meet up with others in your group; note that everyone uses the fountain as a meeting place so may I suggest another spot near the stores lining the entrance?
Purchase your disposable camera before coming; they sell the Kodak disposables for $21 at all locations throughout the park. The suntan lotion was surprisingly cheap at $8 bottle versus the same price at Walmart.
You can still purchase bounce back passes; these allow you to return to the park for $15 per person on another day within one week from purchase. You can also buy your tickets online for $40 a person...try eBay first to see if someone else has a better deal!!
Overall, I'm happy to say that Six Flags Great Adventure has definitely made my family happy and we'll be buying our season passes for next year. You can do this theme park on a budget if you buy your tickets online or on eBay, bring your own lunch and dinner, and buy only refills with your souvenir cup. Smoke free, cleaner, less commotion and virtually no lines in the kiddies areas made mom happy and dad glad to spend the money!!
Updated to add that I have visited this park for many years starting when I was a toddler myself; working here during high school and then coming here as a newly married woman and again once we had our son 11yrs ago. When I say cleaner and friendlier, I truly mean it!! Park security is highly visible and metal detectors at the gates help keep out most problems. The staff is highly visible and respond adequately to your needs and keep the park cleaner than it has been in years!!