Monday, September 6, 2010

A Look Back At MGM Grand Adventures Part 7

Editor's note: This is the 7th part of a series looking back at the park. Don't miss Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Now that we've taken a look at all the themed areas, rides, and attractions that MGM Grand Adventures had to offer, we'll wrap up with the sad fate of the theme park.

When the park was under construction the operators actually planned to have to limit the number of admission tickets to around 10,000 per day to maximize guest experience. They also planned on adding new attractions every year or two. Neither of these plans really materialized; attendance was never the home run they expected, and while rides were added, they were hardly the big themed attractions that were planned.

One of the first reactions to the less-than-stellar attendance was to have Holiday events. Both Halloween and Christmas themed celebrations were held. 

Scream Park ran for a few years in the late '90s as an extra ticket attraction. Several haunted walk-through mazes were built, and special scary live entertainment was featured as well.

Christmas saw Holiday Wonderland held, featuring facades decorated in lights, an ice skating rink, and of course and area to visit Mr. Claus himself. Roaming carolers and other holiday themed entertainment rounded out the celebration.

While these events were mildly successful, the progress of the park wasn't enough to save it from being reduced in size sometime in 1996 in order to accommodate a $60 million conference center and a 6.6 acre Shangri-La pool and spa complex. The reduction resulted in the removal of the Backlot River Tour, Deep Earth Exploration, the indoor version of Lightning Bolt, and the Haunted Mine after only two and a half years of operation.

In an effort to improve the smaller operation, park managers wanted to expand the park's ride offerings to attract new customers. Las Vegas has always been "bigger is better," and that was probably the mentality for Sky Screamer, which opened in 1996 as the world's tallest Sky Coaster.

By 1997 the park had added several other carnival style rides to its midways as well. They had three rides from Chance Morgan: a Ferris Wheel, Zipper, and Chaos. Above is an advertisement for the Century Wheel, which was placed along the New Orleans Street.

The Chaos ride was plunked into the Salem Waterfront area. To its credit the Chaos attractions were brand new at the time, and it did attract a bit of attention for the park. While I do remember seeing the Zipper while at the park I cannot remember where it was located. I suspect the three rides were leased from Chance, as they didn't last very long at the park.

Image via MiceChat

The middle section of the park was quite different by 1998, as illustrated above. The upper portion of the central lagoon was removed for Sky Screamer, and the lower section was eventually made into a small children's area. A kiddie carousel, airplane ride, and bumper and paddle boats were added as something for the tots to do. You can also see the expanded Lightning Bolt coaster running over Grand Canyon Rapids.

Even with the additional rides, MGM had bigger plans for the land that the park sat on, and by the year 2000 was publicly admitting they were seeking other uses for the area. In the aerial above you can see what was left of the park as it stood once it closed. While the carnival rides are all gone you can get a good feel for what was left at the park in its final years.

The park was at 19 acres in summer 2000, down from 40 when it first opened. That summer hotel officials said that nothing regarding the park's fate was final, but by October of that year the park's rides were listed for sale through Performance Rides International for $2.75 million. Sky Screamer was listed separately, for $800k.

Even with the rides listed the park's closure wasn't yet official, as hotel operators were looking to see if anyone had interest in picking up the rides. If purchased, they would have been removed by January of 2001.

I'm assuming no great bids came in, since MGM Grand Adventures became "The Park at MGM Grand" in 2001, a space closed to the public and only used for group business and special events. Sky Screamer, Lightning Bolt, and the Bumper Cars, along with the theaters, were available to groups.

But group meetings and team building activities wasn't the long term plan for the park, no, three 40 story condo towers were. By the end of 2002 MGM announced that The Signature would be built on much of what was left of the park. The bulldozers weren't far behind, and the rest is as they say, history.

Above is an aerial view of the property the park sat on. The bottom left is the entrance from the hotel proper, and into the large pool area. Fun fact - the lazy river is named Backlot River - a throwback to the Backlot River Tour, perhaps? The lower right is the large convention center. The upper left is the now completed and opened Signature towers. And the upper right is what's left of the park.

If you remember back to the first piece of this article Mr. Brister supplied this awesome blueprint type layout of the park. The view of the park is the same as the aerial above, so naturally if we combine the two...

You can see how MGM Grand Adventures is now just a ghost of Las Vegas' mid-1990's quest to please families.

I'm not sure of the fate of the children's rides that the park had, and Chance probably took back the flat rides long before the park closed for good. Sky Screamer has been listed for sale for ages now, though I haven't seen it turn up anywhere.

The Haunted Mine, Deep Earth, and Backlot Tour were all scrapped as far as I know. Lightning Bolt, Over The Edge, and Canyon River Rapids were actively listed for sale for several years after the park closed. The coaster, bumper cars, and log flume almost received a second lease on life when a developer tried to build a small theme park at Granite Park in Fresno, CA. While the rides were moved on-site, the planned park failed and they've since disappeared. All three are currently listed for sale again on Rides4U.

Via Flickr

And here's a shot I bumped into on Flickr of what is left of MGM Grand Adventures, taken from what looks like one of the Signature towers. On the left is the Kenny Rogers Roasters building, and the large one in the middle was the show building for the Haunted Mine. The structure on the far right once housed the Parisian Taxis bumper cars.

If you guys are still reading this - well thanks. I know my quest to document the history of MGM Grand Adventures ended up a lot... longer than I expected, but hopefully it was worth it!

Finally if you're reading this, even if it's years later than when I wrote it, and have some photos, video, brochures, or anything else you'd like to share of the park - by all means, please e-mail me! I'd like to update these pieces with new information, photos, and more as I obtain it.


Ryan said...

Bravo! I've long wondered about this park, and never had a chance to visit it, so thanks for documenting it.

Anonymous said...

This series was awesome. Thank you so much for writing these. I only worked at the park for the first 7 months it was open and never had the opportunity to go back. It's interesting and sad to see what happened to it. Plus, you reminded me of so many things I had forgotten or never knew about it even while I was there. This has been a great trip down memory lane.

Unknown said...

Mike, I enjoyed your bittersweet look back at MGM Grand Adventures. My wife and I visited the park in it's early years. I vaguely remember the coaster, but the raft ride was a different story. They had coin-operated sprayers, the first we'd encountered, emerging drenched and laughing. The rest of the day is a blur.

Since that long ago trip, we've stayed in the Signature towers built on the site. We've looked down wistfully on the small piece of the park that remains, trying to remember what was there. Thanks for answering the question, and contributing to the memory of a different sort of Vegas.

NewsPlusNotes said...

Thanks you all for the kind comments! I appreciate them very much.

I'm happy that I was able to give the park's history a home on the internet. Hopefully when others want to look back at the park the series will trigger fun memories like it did for you guys.

novalab said...

Thank you so much Mike for your fantastic report on the MGM Grand Adventures Themepark! For me, it was a wonderful, but sad, trip back in time. I remember this park so well. As a local, I had many opportunities to take pictures, but sadly, never did. At the time, I thought I would have many future photo opportunities during my annual visits to the park as it grew & flourished. It wasn't until my last visit at the park (about a year before it closed) that I realized the park was shrinking & it's future uncertain. It was about that time when past MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian returned to take control over the MGM Hotel. I remember him giving an interview where he stated that the family friendly Las Vegas had to go. It was not keeping the town viable. He said Las Vegas needed to return to its adult roots & get rid of the themeparks. I knew Grand Adventures was doomed for sure then....

Mike, it was with mixed emotions that I read your series. I thank you for it. Another piece of Las Vegas history wiped clean from a town that really doesn't cherish its past.

libraryguy85 said...

This is a great blog. I stumbled upon it doing a search for aerial photos of the park after a recent trip to Vegas. I went to this park around that same time (1997) and I really thought it was neat. I was sad to see it had been torn down over the years, along with the hotel getting a big makeover that I think made it less unique. The old Wizard of Oz/MGM theme was way cooler than the standard MGM/Mirage look the hotel has today. I have that same book that you got the scans out of with the original hotel info and photos, maps, etc. and I still flip through it from time to time. This is a very cool blog and I'm glad I'm not the only one with a major interest in the history of this resort.

Robyn said...

Mike, this piece of nostalgia was just delightful!

My family and I were probably one of the first guests to the park, as we went in April 1994. And we fell in love with it! We went back twice more and it never once disappointed!

We loved the Backlot River Tour, and I have both photos and videos galore of it, and the Dueling Pirates show would make our cheeks hurt, as we would be smiling and laughing so much. We have video of the show from all 3 visits, even though the show never changed much from the original. And I have to say, the pre-show was the best! It was a great show, maybe even better than some stunt shows done by the Disneys and Universals out there.

We did the Haunted Mine while it was around, and the Parisian Taxis, and I even had a role in one of the "You're in the Movies" shows! They cast me as Supergirl, and they pulled me across the stage in an office chair and I had to look like I was flying! At the end of the show, we all got "Looeys" which was their form of the Oscars.

The other thing we loved was Grandmosphere. I think we caught just about every show those talented singers and dancers did, and again, I think at times they were better than some of the street characters at Universal and Disney.

When we came back for our third and ultimately last time to the park in 1996, we did see Skyscreamer, which was cool, but there was no way we were going to go on it. I sadly never got up the courage to ride Lightning Bolt, and we were never big on water rides (especially since we always went in the spring or fall), so we never did Over the Edge or Grand Canyon Rapids, but we enjoyed walking around the park and just taking in the awesome themeing. I think my grandfather did Deep Earth Exploration in 1995, but I do remember now that it wasn't open even when we went in April, because our brochure even has a coming soon tag across the picture!

I could tell though, that the park was definitely not as grand as it was when it first opened, and I was quite sad in 1998 when we came back to Vegas and they had changed all the themeing of the interior and exterior of the MGM Grand Hotel. If I had known they were going to close the park, I think I would have insisted that we go back, but there were so many new hotels that year that we decided to pass. In fact, I don't even know if they were promoting it all that much, and it wasn't until evening when we gave it a thought (it was before we saw EFX) and we asked one of the ushers about it, and he told us that much of it had closed already (he may have even said all of it was closed). I remember that we walked all the way to the end of the hotel where we knew the entrance was and we attempted to look out at it in the night, but it was so dark and I think by that point, all you could see was the pool, since what was left was more to the left of where the entrance had originally been.

I've since visited Vegas 4 more times since then, and I've visited the MGM Grand twice. I've gone out and seen their lavish, expansive pool, but it just makes me sad that they didn't give the theme park a chance, because I think it could have been a great little diversion nowadays, especially as Vegas tries desperately to maintain the glitz and glamour, while all the while becoming more and more generic and lifeless (good-bye lion habitat).

Anyway, if I can figure out how to get my pictures on my computer, I can try to send you a few, but thanks again so much for bringing back such wonderful memories!

-Robyn from Chicago

Rosie said...

I would love to see some of the brochures and such! I went there at 17 and when I came back at 20 it was gone!

Karissa said...

Thank you for posting this! I was raised in Vegas and still live here so this represents a good part of my childhood. I remember somethings about it but not everything but I now know where the picture of me in a bumper boat came from most likely the log ride and the rapids ride were my favorites. If I ever find the rest of my pictures I'll send you some. Oh and that swamp creature used to scare me!

mikeNgary said...

I know you wrote this 8 years ago but I wanted to thank you. I am staying in the MGM Signature condo this August and in researching the MGM Grand history I found info about the park. About the only photos online are from your site and I'm amazed how little has survived over the years. You've really made my day. Now I can point out to my partner where each ride was and what a big nerd I am.