Friday, July 27, 2012

Road Trip! - New York's The Great Escape

It was just a couple years back that a road trip took me to some of New England's larger amusement and theme parks, and while I loved all those rides and new experiences, there was still plenty more that the area had to offer.

Taking that into consideration, this year's pilgrimage once again took us North, only this time the goal was to visit the smaller parks that the region has to offer.

Welcome to the Great Escape!
Our first stop was at Lake George, NY, for the Great Escape, a part of the Six Flags family of theme parks.  Originally known as Storytown USA, the Great Escape had some very modest beginnings in 1954 as a 5 acre park that offered static displays of everyone's favorite nursery rhymes and children's tales.

It was the dream of Charles Wood to open a park that told the cherished stories of his childhood, and it is said that his idea for Storytown was kicked off by a visit to Knott's Berry Farm.

The park's roots are still visible with displays such as these.
As time passed more displays were added to Storytown, and once New York's Freedomland closed Mr. Wood saw an opportunity to snatch up a few mechanical rides for a good price.  Expansions then continued in that direction and over several decades of development more attractions, and even a water park, were added to the grounds.

With Storytown having much more to offer than just displays, the park switched gears and re-branded themselves as The Great Escape, a name that better reflected all that was available to guests.

Sasquatch will blast you up or down - your choice.
Big expansions at the Great Escape started shortly after Premier Parks, which eventually turned into Six Flags, purchased the park in 1996.  Aggressive expansion was something that Premier Parks favored, and quite a few modern thrill rides were added in the following years.

Interestingly, many of the Great Escape's rides also had previous lives in other parks.  Take for example Sasquatch, seen above.  The S&S Power combination tower stands 200 feet tall, one side blasts riders up, the other downward.  The attraction once lived in Louisiana at Six Flags New Orleans, but was moved North after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.

Frontwards and backwards thrills on the Boomerang
Boomerang: Coast to Coaster is actually the park's only large coaster that was built specifically for the Great Escape, and not moved there.  It was one of the first additions that Premier Parks made, and was placed near the front of the park in the Storytown section.  Riders are lifted up 115 feet and let go to travel through three inversions at 47 miles per hour, then the course is taken again - backwards.

The Storytown area also is still home to many older rides, such as a Cinderella meet and greet, the Grand Carousel, the Storytown Train, and Thunder Alley - a 50's style car ride.

The Steamin' Demon greets visitors at the entrance.
When Mr. Wood was looking to really pump up the thrills at the Great Escape he made the decision to purchase the Ragin' Cajun from Pontchartrain Beach, also located in Louisiana, when it closed.  The coaster was renamed Steamin' Demon and placed high up at the front of the park, making it impossible to ignore to vehicles passing on the roadway below.

The coaster turns riders upside down three times, once in a vertical loop and twice in a corkscrew.  Designed by Arrow Dynamics, it is one of their Loop & Corkscrew designs, several of which are still operating around the world.  The Screamin' Demon currently has a bright orange, yellow, and blue color scheme that helps attract even more attention.

Kidzopolis' bright colors draw families in.
While many of the park's original displays can still be found at the Great Escape, there are also two large, modern, kiddie areas at the park.  Seen above is Kidzopolis, a brightly colored area that features three rides and other activities for families.

Located in the park's former Jungleland section is Timbertown, a large shady area that has eight different children's rides.  The area is themed very nicely and has a wonderful rustic feel, complete with a large sprayground area that's super popular with kids.

Beat the heat at Splashwater Kingdom.
It was a very hot day when we visited the Great Escape, so their full water park, named Splashwater Kingdom, was very busy.  The water park has expanded over time to include a selection of both relaxing and thrilling attractions, and there's something for everyone in the mix.

The photo above looks out over the lower section of Splashwater Kingdom, with Paul Bunyan's Bucket Brigade in the foreground.  The structure features a giant tipping bucket, several slides, and lots of ways to keep guests busy.

You can also catch a glimpse of the park's wave pool, named Lumberjack Splash, in the background.  The 25,000 square foot pool features waves that the whole family can enjoy, neither too tame or wild.

Plenty of slides await visitors.
The water park has seen other expansions in recent years, giving visitors some modern slides to choose from.  Above is the large Tornado funnel slide with Noah's Sprayground in front of it, an area where kids can splash around.  While not pictured above, the park also offers the Mega Wedgie, a slide that takes riders down into a twisting bowl at the end.

New for 2012 is Alpine Freefalls.
The new attraction for the 2012 season at the Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom is a tower of slides named Alpine Freefalls.  The slide is located next to the wave pool, tucked in neatly between the turnaround of the Comet roller coaster.

There's actually two different experiences contained within the Alpine Freefalls.  One slide, named the Cliffhanger, features a Skybox launch area, where the floor literally drops out from underneath riders.  They then plummet down a steep slide into a long run out area.

Bright colors are used on the Alpine Freefalls.
The other set of slides on the tower are known as the Twisted Racers.  They consist of four separate slides that riders head down on a mat.  After all four riders start, the slides twist around one another until they even out and then it's a race to the finish line.  The Alpine Freefalls had visitors lining up while we were in the park and look to be quite a successful addition.

The Comet!
While in Splashwater Kingdom it is impossible to ignore the giant wooden roller coaster that roars by, stretching much of the length of the park.  That's the Comet, and it is probably the largest and most exciting coaster that the Great Escape offers.

In 1994 Mr. Wood decided to make a huge addition to the park, and to do so he purchased the Comet coaster from Crystal Beach in Ontario, Canada, when it closed.  Moving a wooden roller coaster isn't an easy task, so to help the transition the ride was rebuilt at the Great Escape using a steel support structure.

The Comet races over many small hills during its course.
Soon the ride was thrilling visitors in its new home, a tradition that's still continuing today.  The ride was originally designed by the legendary Herbert Schmeck, and features a 95 foot tall lift hill.  As the two trains, one red and one blue, speed down the drop riders encounter plenty of air time over the ride's double out-and-back layout.

The Comet reminded me of Knoebel's Phoenix, another Schmeck design, and that's a good thing!  The coaster was running smooth and giving plenty of nice pops of air when we visited, a true testament to great design.  The Comet is one ride not to miss if you visit the Great Escape.

A wintry ride on a summer day!
Another unique attraction at the Great Escape is the Alpine Bobsled roller coaster.  Themed as a wild trip down a bobsled run, it was added by Premier Parks in 1998 after they purchased it from Six Flags.  The ride had previously run at two different Six Flags parks, originally Great Adventure and then Great America.

The ride's entrance is seen above, and most of the course is obscured by tall trees that have grown in around the track.  Well I should say trough, as the individual cars run freely through the trough during the ride.

Racing down the mountain on Alpine Bobsled.
The ride is one of only a handful still operating of its kind in the world.  Not a lot of bobsled style coasters were built, and no new ones have gone up in over a decade.  The Alpine Bobsled at the Great Escape features four different cars, each themed to its own country.  Above we see the Canada car heading down one of the curving drops.

Up the sixty four foot lift hill.
Unfortunately for me the above photo was the closest I got to actually riding the Alpine Bobsled!  The slightly threatening sky in the background of this photo turned out to be rather threatening after all, and just before my turn the skies opened up into a full downpour.  Due to our tight schedule I had to abandon my plan to ride.  Darn!

Welcome to the wild west!
A bit more of the history of the park.  When Mr. Wood was looking to expand Storytown USA after its first few seasons, he needed something that would attract a more masculine demographic, one that stood as the opposite of nursery rhymes.  His solution was to add a Western themed land, today known as Ghost Town.  Originally a train took guests through a deserted wild west town, and while that is no longer running Ghost Town is home to several of the park's bigger rides.

The theming of the area is quite nice, and features plenty of Western themed facades on the buildings.  It is home to the Desperado Plunge, a large log flume ride that heads out past the now deserted wild west town the train ran through.

From outside the ride not much can be seen.
If you are a long time reader of NewsPlusNotes then you might know that I'm quite a fan of the original Arrow minetrain coasters, mostly for their distinct quirkiness.  That said, I was quite pleased to get to ride Canyon Blaster at the Great Escape, which is a classic minetrain that was saved from destruction when it was moved to the park.

Love the theming on the ride!
Canyon Blaster is a popular family ride at the park - it is not too wild for kids to enjoy, but gives enough of a thrill that they come off feeling as though they have experienced a 'big' coaster.

Perched on the edge of Ghost Town, the ride has some nice theming surrounding the course, and the trees that were originally planted have grown in wonderfully, further obscuring much of the ride.

The double helix is an exciting finale to the coaster.
Canyon Blaster isn't too tall, at 56 feet, or too long, at 2,000 feet of track, but it is a lot of fun.  The ride originally operated at Opryland Theme Park, where it first opened in 1972.  When that park closed the ride sat in a field for five years, finally being resurrected in 2003 as Canyon Blaster.  With a little TLC and some nice red paint, the coaster is once again giving kids that chance at a 'big' ride, and I for one couldn't be happier about it.

The Great Escape's skyline.
The Great Escape features plenty of other rides that I didn't have space to cover in this story, plus live entertainment, and shopping in a nicely themed village setting that that rainstorm nixed me taking photos of.

If you're ever headed near the Great Escape it is a great place to take your family, with a current mix of attractions that offers a little of something for everyone.  I will be interested to watch and see which direction the new Six Flags management takes the park in future seasons, too.

Our road trip didn't stop at the Great Escape, so watch for our next park soon!