I couldn't begin to fathom how many times I've day tripped to Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom over the years. I've been with family, friends, and summer camps. I've seen rides come and go. I've probably ridden the Comet over a thousand times! Literally. There's a variety of rides, between coasters, thrill rides, water rides, and more. Plus, the high dive show never gets old. Head to Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom this year for a seriously awesome time!
Opened in 1954 by Charles Wood in Queesnbury, NY, just south of Lake George, Great Escape got its start as a small Mother Goose themed park called Storytown USA. Inspired by Knott's Berry Farm, Wood created Storytown on land he had purchased as a gift for his wife for $75,000. The park featured child-sized buildings straight out of our favorite nursery rhymes, such as Peter Pumpkin Eater, Hickory Dickory Dock, and Jack & Jill. The park was designed and built by Wood and Arto Monaco, who opened his own similar park the same year, in Upper Jay, NY, called The Land of Makebelieve - some of the tiny buildings currently in Great Escape were originally located in that park before it closed. Monaco also helped design Santa's Workshop in Northpole, NY, which has been open since 1949. Storytown opened to huge crowds from day one, and original attractions included The Old Shoe with a slide in it, Gingerbread House, Little Red Riding Hood's log cabin, Noah's Ark, Little Red School House, Little Boy Blue fast asleep under his haystacks, Humpty Dumpty upon his wall, and Jack climbing his beanstalk, among other buildings and the ones mentioned above. Several buildings were fenced in, with live animals roaming throughout them, including Three Little Pigs, Ba Ba Black Sheep, swans in The Castle, Thee Billy Goats Gruff, Stinky the Skunk, and a petting zoo area as well. Plus, several characters were in place to meet, including Mary with her lamb, Little Bo Peep, and Little Red Riding Hood. Many of the original buildings and attractions remain in the park today, though quite a few have been removed over the years. The two original rides however, Cinderella's Coach - originally a horse-drawn pumpkin carriage ride with Cinderella herself, and the Swan Boats - motorized swans floating in the pond around the one side of the park, are both still in park today. Cinderella is available for photo ops with her carriage, and the swans still float down the river, with some of the character statues now along the route, plus signs boasting the park's major historical moments. While the Story Town Railroad (opened in 1956) is not the same one today, the current railroad in that area departs from the same station.
WANTED: A PLACE FOR EVERYONE
While Storytown remained a popular destination for children, Wood realized he needed to add more attractions to truly make the park a locale for the entire family to enjoy. In 1957 he opened Ghost Town at the top of the hill overlooking Storytown, with live entertainment for everyone. The Saloon featured dancing can-can girls and live stage shows. Buildings in town included the blacksmith shop, livery stables, the bank, and Dan McGrew's Saloon. The streets were wild with a Medicine Wagon Show, shoot outs, and gunslingin' Marshall Wild Windy Bill McKay who would round up all the kids in town to help him take down the bank robbers. After assisting with saving the town from the bad guys, you would be rewarded with a tin Honorary Marshall star badge of your own (somewhere I have one or two of these still laying around). Fun fact, Marshall McKay was played by Daniel F. Claps for 50 years!
The Ghost Town Railroad ran from 1957-'02, taking riders through and around Ghost Town, and in '67 Tornado was added - an indoor dark ride which looks to have been similar to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, though I cannot for the life of me remember this ride, which is shocking since it operated through 2002 and sounds right up my alley. Desperado Plunge opened in 1979 as a log flume in which riders float past the ghost town on the route of the Ghost Town train, and through a saw mill filled with workers, including the guy just before the plunge who's spinning around on a log above you. The best entrance into Ghost Town is through the cave, which has a waterfall flowing over the front, and 'windows' behind the waterfall. Be sure to make lots of noise as you walk through the dark, winding, chilling tunnel!
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
In 1960 the park was expanded once again with the addition of Jungleland, a walkthrough area set in the jungles of Africa. Adventurers traversed over wooden walkways floating on the water, through trees and swampland surrounded by animatronic animals, tribal figures, thatched houses, and temples. One part of the trek featured a suspended bridge which bounced and swayed with the slightest of moves. That bridge used to scare the heck out of me, but was such a thrill to make it across in one piece! Jungle animals, tribal sounds, and drums could be heard throughout, and from the Storytown train. This area has since closed, though if you walk to the back of Timbertown, the main entrance to Jungleland is still standing.
WE'RE ALL MAD 'ROUND HERE
In 1967 an Alice in Wonderland walkthrough was added, with statues of all the best characters and scenes from the Disney movie. You can still venture to Wonderland, through a tiny door near the Raging River in the Fest area. You'll be transported there to roam past the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and a ginormous Alice popping out of the White Rabbit's house. Beware the Queen of Hearts and her Playing Cards. Don't forget to sing along with the flowers and be on the lookout for the antics of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.
CALLING ALL THRILL SEEKERS
While Storytown USA has had rides since it opened, it truly laid its amusement park roots in the early '80s when the name was changed to The Great Escape Fun Park in 1983 and about a dozen adult rides were added over several years. The Steamin' Demon opened in 1984 as the park's first roller coaster. It came from Pontchartrain Beach in New Orleans where it ran as Ragin' Cajun from 1978-83, and it still stands brightly at the front of Great Escape where it can be seem from the Northway as riders corkscrew around the track at up to 45mph!
The park continued to grow and strive through the '90s and early '00s with several new rides including five more roller coasters. The first was The Comet, a wooden coaster which thrilled guests of Crystal Beach in Ontario, CAN as Crystal Beach Comet from 1948-89. Some of the metal and wood structure dates back further as Crystal Beach Cyclone, which ran from 1927-46 until it was torn down and half of it reused for the newly designed Comet. Wood bought the coaster after Crystal Beach closed in 1989 and kept it in storage until rebuilding it at the Great Escape in 1993, with its debut in '94. My dad rode it as a kid at Crystal Beach, and my brothers and I have been riding it for years now too. In 2009 The Comet was dedicated by the Amusement Park Enthusiasts as a Roller Coaster Landmark, and a sign on the front of the ride today declares 'over 20,000,000 thrills since 1927,' and what a thrill it is. Hands down in my top 10 favorite coasters!
The next coaster added was Boomerang: Coast to Coaster in 1997, know known as Flashback, which pulls riders backwards up a tall inclined track and then shoots them forward through several twists and turns before pulling the cars up an identical incline and then boomeranging them through again but backwards. The Alpine Bobsled opened in 1998, built in honor of the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games which took place not far north of Lake George in 1932 and 1980. Hop into a bobsled and glide down the trackless course just the Olympians do. Indoor coaster Nightmare at Crack Axle Canyon spooked riders in Ghost Town from 1999-06, as it sped through the pitch black warehouse in the center of Desperado Plunge's flume. The coaster was located at three previous parks, including Darien Lake near Buffalo where it was called Nightmare at Phantom Cave. The building is still in tact, Nightmare name and all, and has reportedly been used for a haunted house during Fright Fest. Great Escape's newest coaster is Canyon Blaster, also located in Ghost Town, which opened in 2003. The runaway mine train loops around an old gold mining town, and was formerly located at Opryland USA from 1972-97 when the Nashville park closed. With the exception of the Nightmare, the other four coasters are still operating today for major thrills!
SPLISH SPLASH I WAS TAKIN' A TUBE RIDE
Splashwater Kingdom opened in 1995 with a lazy river, a Noah's Ark splash pool, and four tube rides, including Black Cobra which for years has been rumored to house deadly cobras inside the dark enclosed tubes (don't worry, they won't bite!). The water park was expanded just across the way in 1997 with a giant wave pool and Paul Bunyan's Bucket Brigade treehouse sprouting water everywhere, several body slides, and a ginormous 500 gallon bucket which dumps over every 8 minutes or so. Hold onto your suits when you stand under it though - a friend once got pantsed by the force of all that water. The lazy river was also revamped to become Capt'n Hooks Adventure River with a mini wave pool section and lots of fun spraying and shooting water features to drench you along the way.
Five more attractions have been added over the last decade or so, with Tornado in 2007 and Mega Wedgie in '08. I first rode these style of huge tube/funnel rides at at Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester and was quite excited when I found out they're now at Great Escape too. Mega Wedgie sends riders on two-person floats through a tube into a giant bowl, which you speed around until making your way into the final tube. Tornado starts down a 132 foot tunnel as you descend into a 60 foot tall funnel on a four-person raft where you'll shoot up one side of the enormous funnel, then down and back up to the other side. You'll continue gliding back and forth up the funnel walls until you splash through the end tunnel. This one is off the hook! Alpine Freefalls were added in 2012, with Cliffhanger releasing riders through a trap door, and Twisted Racer where you'll race your friends down this mat-slide in and out of twisting tubes at 25 feet per second. Bonzai Pipelines opened last season in 2017 as crazy fast racing body slide tubes. Since the water park is part of the amusement park itself, be sure to bring your bathing suit for an extra thrilling day!
EVEN MORE THRILLS
The Great Escape is already open for the 2018 season, with many exciting events planned through mid-fall. Every September they host Oktoberfest, and then spook guests throughout October for Fright Fest with haunted houses and frightening decorations. Be sure to check out the new thrill ride Pandemonium on which riders sit on the outside of a wheel which spins 360 degrees around while also spinning on topsy-turvy on a tilt. It opens Memorial Day weekend, but I was able to catch a glimpse of some test runs, and it reminds me of the Trabant which used to stand where this is now, only this is even wilder. I can't wait to experience this! Pandemonium joins several other thrill rides added over the last few years, including the drop and launch towers of Sasquatch, Extreme Supernova which feels like a giant tire swing, and Greezed Lightnin', a 7-story tall coaster loop which starts out by slowly sending riders back and forth up the sides of the track before looping all the way around several times at full speed. It ends with a few more times up each side, just missing going all the way around, but now suspending riders almost upside down for a moment or two each time. It's freaky, but so much fun, and also I may have cried the first time I rode it. The 10 year old across from me did not seem all that amused, but my brother and sister-in-law were laughing hysterically when they realized my deathly shrieks were not a joke.
I can’t wait to go a ton of times this season, and check out a few of their other parks w/ my season pass! Great Escape is small enough that even on the busiest days you’ll be able to ride everything at least once, but has more than enough thrills to keep you coming back again and again.
Be sure to check Great Escape's website for tickets, hours of operation, and more information about the park and the rides. And click here for a list of some of my favorite rides no longer found in the park, and one I'm not too sad is gone.