August 22nd, 2001 - I've decided to give these old pages a new home. The content is old, but perhaps it is still useful.
Great America opened in 1976 and was originally a sister park of the G.A. outside of Chicago, IL. Ownership has changed over the years, with the most recent owner being the Paramount company. However, unlike Universal or Disney "movie" theme parks, PGA is just your basic "Six Flags" style theme park with a bit of movie magic thrown in.
Two really nice thrill rides are present: The Top Gun suspended roller coaster (one of the best I have ever ridden) and Drop Zone, the world's tallest free fall attraction. DZ is 240 feet and gives a true 4.5 seconds of free fall before the breaking system kicks in right near the bottom. For thrill seekers, these two are amazing. Other mentionables include the Vortex, a decent stand-up coaster with some nice loops, the Demon, a regular looping coaster that goes through some tunnels, and Grizzly, a rather bumpy and boring wooden coaster.
The themed areas are laid out fairly nice with distinct "crossover" lines from section to section. An array of typical rides is present: two log flumes, a looping ship, river rapids (small, 6 seaters), and various carnival style rides.
There is an IMAX theater (free with park admission), a Nicolodeon childrens area with a bizarre array of water works for kids to climb through and a kiddy coaster, and several shows. During my most recent visit I saw the Hollywood on Ice presentation with figure skaters reinacting movie scenes from Indianna Jones, Wizard of Oz, Grease, Cats, James Bond, etc. Very well done with live vocalist as well as very talented skaters. There is also a Flinstones puppet show in the children's area.
A very large gaming area is also present with constant chatter to get people to play games. A train travels the circumference of the park and gives a nice view of some rather nasty behind the scenes areas. Cable cars and a rotating skytower also give good views of the park.
My first visit to this park was in April of 1996, just after the opening of Drop Zone. While it, and Top Gun, did impress me, I hated the rest of the park. Everyone entering the park is scanned by metal detectors and all purses are examined. No pocket knives of any size are allowed inside. Visible security was all over the place. This really damaged the fun for me, since I was in Disney mode at the time. (ie, an escape from reality, which PGA does not even begin to offer.) The crowd was mainly rough looking teens, many looking just like the stereotypes for hispanic gangs as seen on television all the time. Not quite a family feeling here, but I wasn't a family so I was able to overlook most of this.
I vowed to never return again to this dreadful place since I had seen everything I considered worth seeing. I did, however, have a season's pass which I bought anticipating the park to be very nice. Thus, I decided to return again. Security was still there, but the park seemed in better shape during July of 1996. Several problems still bothered me. No lids for sodas, for instance. I'm not terribly spill prone, but just how cheap does a company have to be to not offer lids apparently anywhere in the park?
As to security, all week they never once checked my camera bag allowing a rather easy way to smuggle items into the park they are so obviously trying to protect. What kind of warfare happened to make them this cautious? Most food stops also didn't have the ability to print receipts, which are a must when you need them for accounting, yet they could process credit cards (something the food carts at Six Flags generally cannot do). Still, overall things seemed alot nicer than they were earlier in the year. I even noticed more trash patrols and even saw a few employees sweeping cobwebs from a bridge structure.
The things that impressed me more than anything at the park were the Star Trek characters I saw roaming the area. During my three visits this trip, I encountered three Klingons (including one female), several big eared Ferringie, a Vulcan commander, and two Romulans. The makeup jobs were very nice and most stayed in character incredibly well. I'd say the male Klingons, the Vulcan, and Ferringie were the best. One stands out above the rest. His name was Shrek, and his banter with the crowds was amazing to watch. Even when he approached me to talk, he kept 100% in character playing along so well with his mannerisms and voice that he really could have been right off a Trek sound stage. Some of the humor was also great. When showing my digital camera to the Vulcan, he responded "you're still using digital?". Shrek's response was more like "oh! you have technology..." when comparing my camera with the other crude 20th century cameras he saw on this planet contstantly.
Even hecklers and kids who don't seem to know how to have fun were no problem for PGA's galactic crew. Some taunting kids, calling Shrek a "butt head" didn't seem to understand his constant reply that it wasn't a butt. Really. The final closing comment he had to them, with full smile, was, "well, then, kiss my head". That put the little guys in their place with smiles all around. (Even those trying to point out the "mask" kept getting replies such as "oh, you mean Jim Carrie, and I'm not him".) Total fun, right along with watching the menacing Klingon stand motionless until enough curious bypassers stopped to see if he was real and received a nice "hey!", much to their suprise. Though a bit out of character, watching two Romulans try to learn how to operate a flash camera was almost worth the price of admission right there.
I'm not a major Trek fan, but I will say that some of PGA's characters are truly amazing. I've only seen better crowd response to theme park characters at Disney. Bugs Bunny, eat your heart out. When I return again, I hope that Shrek and crew are still there.
In conclusion, thrill seekers should visit for Drop Zone, and Trek fans who also like theme parks will most certainly feel right at home. However, everyone else might be better off making a journey somewhere else if PGA is not nearby.