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Heading Back to Gurnee

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Heading Back to Gurnee

Postby RandyV » Tue Sep 03, 2013 8:39 pm

This weekend I'll be making a return trip to Great America in Gurnee for the first time in about 18 years. I've watched the park evolve through pictures and the Internet during that time and it'll be interesting to actually set foot there after such a long away period. The last time I was at the park, Shockwave still dominated the skyline and the American Eagle still had nice paint.

I'm taking my daughter, who is thrilled to be going there after hearing dad talk incessantly about the part for so many years. I'm not sure what to expect. I know a lot has changed -- but I also know a lot of it is still there -- especially when compared to Santa Clara (no offense left coasters!).

The only bummer is that the American Eagle is running backwards -- which I think it a total gimmick.
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Gurnee will always be my home park...
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Re: Heading Back to Gurnee

Postby impala101 » Tue Sep 03, 2013 10:49 pm

Very cool! :D

Until last year, I hadn't been there since 1999...Like you, I had done my research and kept up on what was there and what wasn't.
Even still, I hardly recognized so much of the place that it felt like a whole new experience. Not better, not worse, just different.
One thing that really stood out to me is the growth of the trees, shrubs, etc around the park.

I yearn for the days of Tidal Wave, Shockwave, Hay Baler, Sky Whirl, etc...Maybe it's just the nostalgia factor of my formative years. I was never able to ride the skyrides, but I remember the white towers that still stood, repurposed as light towers. Those no longer are there. The lighthouse between the flume rides is gone. I'm thankful for this site and all of the picture contributors that I can "re-live" some of those times.

The tent where the Eagle queue was is now a kids area. The Eagle entrance is to the right of that, by Dare Devil Dive (Big Top was probably there if the last time you went was 1995). Obviously, Southwest Territory will be new to you as well. There's an entrance to it where Rolling Thunder's queue line was, and also one over by where the train goes underneath Demon's corkscrew. A lot of the classic flat rides are still there though. Triple Play, Fiddler's Fling, Lobster (now renamed East River Crawler), Big Top (called Ricochet in SW Territory), etc.
Advertising/product placement is everywhere, a testament to the commercial times we live in.

It'd be great to hear your thoughts after your trip!

Oh, by the way...Only Eagle Blue is running backwards. The red side (better ride anyway IMO) is still going forward :)
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Re: Heading Back to Gurnee

Postby RandyV » Sat Sep 14, 2013 10:16 pm

My trip back to Gurnee was awesome. Really awesome. I wasn't sure what to expect, but after all was said and done - I was pretty happy. As you said impala101, things were different, but overall I thought the park has "aged" gracefully and has kept up nicely with the times while not completely losing its identity. The weather was good and the crowds were really pretty light all day.

We rode Demon first. My daughter knows I have a love for Arrow's so she made that call. I was surprised to see the inside queue area by the tunnel had been turned into grass, but I guess that makes sense. Demon doesn't pull crowds like it used to. The ride itself was much smoother than I would have expected. Most Arrows get pretty bumpy with age but the only jolt was the usual one you expect on the first right hand kick entering the first corkscrew. Demon was pretty much exactly how I remember it.

We went into Southwest Territory via the entrance under the Demon corkscrew and tunnel. It was weird seeing that part of the Demon up close and from the wrong side. The only time you ever saw the east side of the Demon from was way across the parking lot. Funny to see it up close from the east.

Eagle was next. The new entrance is so insignificant compared to the old, tent entrance but again -- I'm sure the Eagle isn't pulling numbers like it used to. I was happy to see the American Eagle logo and font has survived in tact all these years. Blue was running backwards and was the only side open in the morning, so we did that. Backwards was much more fun than I thought it would be and the coaster itself was just as fun as I remember. After 20 years I expected it to be a really rough ride but it wasn't -- it was exactly as I remember it. A lot of good old shaking fun. The ride and station need a full paint job. I know this has been the case for many years but it was awful seeing the peeling paint, boards with no paint, etc. The ride deserves better. As I was standing in line I was noticing some of the wood work on the post caps holding up the station and it reminded me how much care and detail Marriott put in to everything. To see warped boards and peeling paint was sort of sad. Thankfully, the ride itself has held up and still is one of my all time favorites. Even my daughter, who is not a wood coaster fan, loved the Eagle.

We back-tracked to Whizzer after that. Again -- nothing new there. The ride was running really, really well and was precisely as I remembered it. Even the climb up the second hill after the big right-hander where it feels like train won't have enough momentum and will do a roll back still felt the same. :)

The homemade candy shop (can't remember the name) next to the Grand Music Hall is now the Flash Pass processing center. That bummed me out. My days at the park always ended by picking up a peanut butter cupcake from there. Not this time.

Obviously, a lot of restaurants and stands had changed, but that's to be expected. None of it felt out of place to me. Most of the souvenir shops I remember were right where they should have been. The one HUGE surprise was Carousel Gifts. They had park-specific shirts for just about every coaster -- not just generic Six Flags stuff. They even had Whizzer merchandise which Marriott didn't even have back in the day. It was awesome to see actual "Great America" branded items all over the shop. They even had the original park model from 1978 in there for public viewing.

Sky Trek Tower had been running in the morning but was closed in the afternoon when I went to ride it. I really wanted some new panoramas but it wasn't to be. Demon also got stuck in the afternoon and was closed all night. My daughter wanted to see the lights in the tunnel at night but didn't have the chance.

The ride ops were truly fantastic. Later in the day, the red side of the Eagle opened and the crew was dispatching in tandem -- racing red vs blue as the ride was built to do. Despite perfectly timed dispatches, the red side lift motor was faster, so the red train always beat the blue side over the top. Still -- seeing both train run the track together was a huge highlight for me. We had two weather stops during the day totalling about 90 minutes and the Ops were doing Great America trivia over the PA, which was a great way to keep people somewhat occupied while the storm clouds moved out.

We didn't do any flat rides. Orbit has been down all year from what I've read and it was down last weekend. Hometown Fun Machine was also down. Triple Play was running, but we didn't ride it. Other rides were in different places but again, at least they were there.

Another odd moment for me was riding Superman. While not Marriott era, I was a huge Shockwave fan and being in that area looking at Superman instead of Shockwave felt really, really strange to me. I was standing there in the middle of the land where the Shockwave stood and was looking around remembering the lift, the first loop over towering over everything, etc. The layout for Superman is completely different and it just felt all wrong to me.

We rode Columbia at night. I've now been on both Columbia's with my daughter which was a bucket list item for me. Not much more to say about that. Riding Columbia with your kids is about as good as it ever gets.

At closing, they played the Carousel Song over the PA everywhere in the park. It was magic. That was an incredibly cool and a huge nod to the past. While the song had a lot of sentimental value to me before the trip, hearing it this past weekend has built a new memory for me.

That's really about it. We mostly rode the coasters all day. I was extremely happy that the park has been maintained so well. The best word I can come up with is "evolution." The park has evolved -- but not so much that it has become a completely foreign experience. Even Disney has had to evolve to keep pace with the times and public tastes. I think the management team at Great America Gurnee has done a great job keeping pace while still trying to hold on to the character of the park as best they can. What we all remember from the Marriott days will never happen again, but I give a lot of credit to Hank Salemi and his team. The park is well run, clean, the staff was great everywhere we went and it was just a heck of a lot of fun.

I didn't notice advertising and product placement as much as I thought I would. I remember when all of that started back in '84 or '85 and I hated it. I thought it completely wrecked the "experience" of getting away from everyday life. So either I've just gotten used to it maybe they've toned it down. There were certainly no wrapped coaster trains. Advertising visibility was a question on the survey I took when I got home so they must be conscious of it.

In closing -- the trip was everything I thought it would be. The park is still great and I will definitely make sure not to let another 18 years go by before I get back.
Randy V.
Gurnee will always be my home park...
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Re: Heading Back to Gurnee

Postby Road Rash » Sun Sep 15, 2013 3:01 am

Nice write up. I was at the park twice this year after a 15 year absence,and my family loved it. I think we might have been there the same day as you last weekend which would have been September 7th.

The Orbit I heard is back up and running now after being down for a while. The Sky Trek Tower had an electrical fire of some sort and is closed for the season.
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Re: Heading Back to Gurnee

Postby RandyV » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:42 pm

Yep - we were there on Saturday the 7th. Small world!

Orbit was definitely down that day and Sky Trek was running in the morning, but not in the late afternoon. I should have gotten in a ride earlier but my daughter was anxious to get on all of the coasters at least once.

Given the light crowds, going to the park the weekend after Labor Day may become the new tradition. :)
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