Six Flags Great America is a theme park owned by Six Flags Theme Parks located in Gurnee, Illinois. It originally opened in 1976 under the name Marriott's Great America and is the largest amusement attraction in Illinois. Six Flags Great America is also home to Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, a 13-acre water park.
Marriott's Great America opened in May of 1976 as a celebration of the American Bicentennial. The park was designed by Randall Duell and Associates, and built with an Americana theme. The park was originally divided into six "territories", with those areas being:
- Carousel Plaza - Main Entrance
- Hometown Square - Themed to an early 1920s-era Village
- Great Midwest Livestock Exposition at County Fair - Based on a traditional late-1800s Midwestern County Fair theme
- Yukon Territory - Themed to an Alasken Klondike type village
- Yankee Harbor - Themed to a early 1900s New England Harbor
- Orleans Place - Themed to the New Orleans French Quarter
Shortly after the park's opening, the Gulf Coaster, a Bradley & Kaye kiddie coaster was removed due to several incidents involving fires. It only operated for one year.
Marriott expanded the park heavily in 1977 to include the Sky Trek Tower, a 330ft. Intamin Gyro Tower for guests to view the entire park, and the surrounding area. On a clear day, you can still see the Chicago skyline from Sky Trek Tower. Also built in 1977 was the Southern Cross sky ride, one of the park's two sky rides (the other being Delta Flyer/Eagle's Flight). Fort Fun was built in 1977 and was Marriott's first children's area. The opening of Fort Fun caused the relocation of the Saskatchewan Scrambler to Hometown Square where it operates as Hometown Fun Machine. Also to open in 1977 was Big Top, Davey Jones' Dinghies, and Hay Baler.
1978 introduced the Tidal Wave, a Anton Schwarzkopf shuttle loop roller coaster that launched riders from 0-57m.p.h. in 6 seconds straight into a loop, then after climbing a steep inclined track, riders went backwards through the ride's course. Tidal Wave was built in Yankee Harbor, on the site of the former Spinnaker ride.
In 1979, Marriott introduced the Pictorium, a colossal IMAX movie theater which still has the world record for the world's largest movie screen. The opening film for the new Pictorium was "To Fly".
The DemonTurn of the Century roller coaster in County Fair was remodeled for 1980, and received a new name, paint scheme, and theme. The new ride was called the Demon, a terrifying "repossessed" roller coaster featuring two loops, tunnels, two corkscrews, and several special smoke and lighting effects.
The American Eagle took to the skies in 1981 in County Fair. This massive wooden roller coaster became the world's fastest roller coaster, reaching speeds of 66 m.p.h. American Eagle continued to hold this world record until 1988 when Bandit at Yomiuriland in Japan was built.
1982 was a quiet year for the park, however several flat rides were removed from the park, including Davey Jones Dinghies, and the Southern Cross sky ride. The Edge, an Intamin First Generation Freefall was introduced to Orleans Place in 1983.
1984 was a very eventful year for the park. New for that year was White Water Rampage, an Intamin Rapids ride, which replaced the LeBump, Traffique Jam, and Orleans Orbit (the latter of which was relocated to Hometown Square). Early in the season, an accident occurred on the Edge, where a car fell back down the elevator shaft and crashed on top of another car. Although several teenagers were sent to the hospital, nobody was killed. 1984 was the final season of Marriott owning the park, both Marriott's Great America parks were sold in the middle of the season. The Gurnee park was sold to Six Flags, and the Santa Clara park was sold to the city of Santa Clara.
Six Flags, at the time, owned by Bally, began their ownership of the park by introducing the one-of-a-kind Z-Force, an Intamin Space Diver roller coaster in County Fair. To accommodate the Z-Force, the Great America Scenic Railway County Fair Station had to be moved by about 30 feet, and the Whirligig had to be relocated to Yankee Harbor.
For 1986, the Barney Oldfield Speedway was re-designed to accommodate Splashwater Falls, a Hopkins Shoot the Chutes ride. During that year, the Edge was removed after barely operating since the accident in 1984. The next year, Power Dive was added in the Edge's former location. Power Dive was an Intamin Looping Starship with a theme loosely based off the movie Top Gun. Z-Force was removed late in the season and sent to Six Flags Over Georgia, as part of the Ride Rotation Program.
A change of Six Flags' ownership occurred in 1987, this time to Wesray Capital, who brought many changes to the park beginning in 1988. First was the removal of themed costumes for all employees, and park food themed to the areas of the park, in favor of uniform outfits and food at all locations. Around this time, merchandise also became similar to all of the other Six Flags parks.
Also in 1988, the ShockWave roller coaster made its debut in Orleans Place, and broke the world records for tallest and fastest roller coaster, along with having the most inversions of any roller coaster in the world. The next year, however, ShockWave lost its title as tallest and fastest roller coaster when Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey built the Great American Scream Machine, a nearly identical roller coaster to ShockWave.
Great America added the Rolling Thunder in 1989, a bobsled roller coaster that previously existed at Six Flags Great Adventure. Rolling Thunder was built next to the Demon and behind the Whizzer, on the empty land that was originally intended for the unbuilt Great Southwest themed area.
Another roller coaster was built the next year, the Iron Wolf. Iron Wolf was a Bolliger & Mabillard Stand-up Roller Coaster built on the site where Z-Force once stood.
Six Flags' ownership once again changed for the 1991 season, this time to Ted Turner's Time-Warner, Inc. The Condor was built in Orleans Place that year, on the site of the Delta Flyer. Also for 1991, the Pictorium was remodeled to allow 650 guests to view 3D movies. This was also the final year for the popular Tidal Wave in Yankee Harbor. It would be replaced with the highly popular Batman the Ride, the world's first inverted looping roller coaster. Built by Bolliger & Mabillard, the same design firm that introduced Iron Wolf two years earlier, Batman laid the foundation for the future of roller coaster design.
In 1995, Six Flags was sold again, this time to Premier Parks. Six Flags introduced Viper, a wooden roller coaster built next to Rolling Thunder (which was removed later in the year). The opening of Viper also marked the beginning of construction of the Southwest Territory, which would be completed and opened for the 1996 season. Southwest Territory was built on the site of the Rolling Thunder, brought three additional new rides, and an all new Warner Brother's Western Stunt Show in the renamed Southwest Amphitheater.
Six Flags continued to expand the Southwest Territory in 1997 with the introduction of the Giant Drop, an Intamin Drop Tower that would become the second tallest ride in the park (behind Sky Trek Tower). Also new for 1997 was the Dare Devil Dive upcharge attraction, taking over the Big Top's elevated platform. Big Top had been relocated the previous year to Southwest Territory, and was renamed Ricochet.
1998 was an awkward year for the park. Originally, a clone of the Mr. Freeze roller coaster is said to have been in the works for the park, however, these plans were canceled due to several problems with the two already existing Mr. Freeze roller coasters at Six Flags Over Texas, and Six Flags St. Louis. Instead, Great America remodeled its aging children's area "Bugs Bunny Land" to Looney Tunes National Park. Great America also added Camp Cartoon Network in between Logger's Run and Iron Wolf. Space Shuttle America's original film was replaced with "Escape from Dino Island II in 3D". An unusual accident occurred on the Demon in the middle of the 1998 season. Also, Premier Parks changed their name to Six Flags, Inc. that year.
Raging Bull was added to Southwest Territory in 1999, and took over as the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the park. Standing over 200 feet over the park, it was an instant hit, and is still an extremely popular ride today.
Six Flags Great America celebrated its Silver Season (25 years) in 2000, however it would also be the final season for the much-loved Sky Whirl triple ferris wheel. A tragic accident occurred on the Cajun Cliffhanger, resulting in a pre-teen girl's toes being smashed and later amputated. Cliffhanger would never operate again following the accident.
"Record Breaking, History Making" was the slogan for the 2001 season with the introduction of two brand new roller coasters. The first being Vertical Velocity, an Intamin Impulse coaster that replaced a lighthouse in Yankee Harbor. The construction of Vertical Velocity also resulted in the second relocation of Whirligig to the area where the Batmobile replica used to sit on display (it was moved 10 feet away to the right of the current Whirligig entrance). The second new coaster was Déjà Vu, a Vekoma "Giant Inverted Boomerang" that replaced Sky Whirl, and Hay Baler. Unfortunately, due to several problems, Déjà Vu did not open until Fright Fest of that year.
The 2002 season was mostly a quiet one. Early in the season, Power Dive was removed due to maintenance issues. The removal of Power Dive, and the removal of Cajun Cliffhanger during the 2001 offseason left that portion of Orleans Place nearly empty aside from Roaring Rapids, New Orleans Grill, some games, and a few shops.
In late July, after years of rising maintenance costs, the park announced it would close the Whizzer forever on August 11th, 2002. However, after several days of the park's Guest Relations office being flooded with angry phone calls demanding that the Whizzer be saved, it was announced on August 8 that Whizzer would stay, however, ShockWave closed forever the day afterward. It would later be removed during Fright Fest for a new attraction. ShockWave's demise was mostly because of extremely low ridership in the past few years, however its large amount of daily maintenance and a rumored accident during testing one morning may have contributed to its removal.
Superman - Ultimate Flight took to the skies on the site where ShockWave once stood in 2003. Superman became the Midwest's first flying roller coaster, and was an instant success. A temporary game was set up in the former Power Dive queue for the 2003 season, and the Ameri-Go-Round gave its final spin at the end of the season.
Six Flags split Orleans Place in 2004 and turned the Roaring Rapids section into Mardi Gras, adding two new family rides (Big Easy Balloons, Jester's Wild Ride), a HUSS Top Spin named King Chaos, and a Reverchon/Zamperla Spinning Wild Mouse named Ragin' Cajun. Also new for 2004 was Revolution: The Ride. a HUSS Pendulum that formerly operated at Six Flags Great Adventure. Revolution was built on the former site of the Ameri-Go-Round.
Great America's largest expansion occurred between 2004 and 2005 with the construction of Six Flags Hurricane Harbor on the former bus parking lot near Viper and Raging Bull. The end result was a massive 13-acre water paradise, featuring water play areas, several water slides, and a massive wave pool.
RedZone and Mark ShapiroEdit
In 2006, a deep in debt Six Flags was sold to Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, and his Red Zone company. Snyder appointed former ESPN employee Mark Shapiro as CEO of Six Flags, Inc. while he took the position of president of the company and chairman of the board. This began a new course for the company, focused less on thrill seekers, and more on families.
2006 was a very eventful year for both Six Flags and Great America. Loyal fans of the park were saddened by the temporary removal of the classic Triple Play during the offseason. Triple Play's center hub was needed for a similar new ride at Six Flags over Texas, and Triple Play's was the closest to the park. Also in 2006, the park added the Tornado water slide to Hurricane Harbor, and celebrated its 30th season on May 29, 2006. However, the entire chain of Six Flags theme parks was celebrating the 45th anniversary of the first Six Flags theme park, and a planned season-long celebration of Great America's 30th never happened because of this. Six Flags added a new daytime parade, and the existing night time parade was revamped by adding a new pre-show and fireworks. Tony Hawk's BoomBoom Huckjam tour stopped Great America for one weekend in June 2006, and was the most popular event at the park as of 2007. Space Shuttle America began showing its original film in 2006. Shuttle had previously been showing MGM's "Stargate SG-3000", who's contract had expired in September 2005. Revolution stood SBNO for much of the 2006 season due to a design error, but re-opened in time for Fright Fest. On September 14, Six Flags announced it would replace its sign that sits along I-94. The sign, which had been standing since the park opened in 1976, was replaced with a smaller one featuring a liquid crystal display. The new sign went up within a week after the old one was taken down in December 2006. The new sign uses the old sign's post.
The effects of Mark Shapiro's focus on families began to show in 2007 with the addition of Wiggles World in County Fair. This new children's area replaced the former American Eagle queue under the tent. Eagle's entrance was redirected to be next to Dare Devil Dive. Also new in 2007 was Operation Spygirl, a stunt show in the Southwest Amphitheater. Spygirl was not a success and only lasted one season. Advertising was heavily increased in 2007, particularly with GEICO and Comcast.
In September of 2007, Six Flags announced the Dark Knight Coaster for 2008. This new enclosed wild mouse was built in Orleans Place and used the former Theatre Royale for the themed queue house and pre-show area. Also for 2008, Space Shuttle America closed and Splashwater Falls was dismantled alongside Deja Vu for future projects.
Along with the Dark Knight Coaster, Great America received new queue line TV screens to replace many of the dilapidated TV sets in the older ride queues. In September of 2008 the park announced Buccaneer Battle, a MACK Free-floating boat blaster attraction to be built on the former site of Deja Vu.
Six Flags Great America is the only major theme park in the Chicago area, which results in large crowds during the summer and during Fright Fest. In 2005, Great America had over 3 million guests.
Six Flags is currently closed for the offseason, and will re-open April 3rd. The first few weekends in which the park is open are usually far less crowded than the weekends during the summer.
Hurricane Harbor usually has a very long entry line on summer days. As the park becomes populated, guests are allowed in until the park reaches 7,200 guests, at which point entry is denied. After waiting to get into the park, guests still have to wait in very long lines for attractions,and games,also while waiting for games many in line often rush the operator. In 2006, a season pass guaranteed pass-holders access to the largest water park in the state.
In the summer months, weekdays are usually less crowded than weekends, which get very crowded. The most crowded days are Saturdays and Sundays during Fright Fest. The park can get up to 49,000 guests on these days. The best day to attend the Fright Fest event would ironically be on Columbus Day.
Great America will only go against their schedule and close early if and when park attendance drops below a certain level. Great America has been known to do this only four times in the park's 32-year history.