Great Adventure’s Safari Tours are a common snapshot in the family vacation albums of many families in the tri-state area. From 1974 – 2012, visitors to the safari park had the freedom to drive their family vehicles through the wilds and have up close and personal (at times very personal) experiences with the animals. Chances are you or someone you know has a story about the time the giraffe stuck its head through their sunroof, or the time the chimps climbed up on top of the car and stole their windshield wiper. These stories are a part of Starr’s history, too!
Starr ran a regular daily shuttle through Great Adventure’s safari for at least 5 years, providing up to 15 buses per day. Starr owner, Alan Glickman, dispatched the buses on the weekend when the demand was the greatest and even drove the route through the park from time to time! He often joked that the buses were going to the “Monkey Farm.”
The shuttle service began as a solution to the problem some Great Adventure customers encountered when the chimps in the safari started tearing up and eating the vinyl roofs and other parts from personal cars that drove through the park. For a small fee, customers who did not want to take the “Baboon Bypass” to spare their own fragile cars, could ride on safari shuttle buses through the park and avoid possible damage to their vehicles. We typically sent our older buses to run the Great Adventure Safari Shuttle because of the threat of damage by the animals and the off-road route they had to travel through the safari. The monkeys often tore off the bus’ wipers and ate the marker lights so we had to replace the plastic lenses with glass ones in order to stop the damage. Alan says there was other monkey business that occurred, too, but it’s “too dirty” to talk about in this post. On personal vehicles, over 100 vinyl tops were torn off daily and Alan recounts watching cars finish the safari trip with only bare grey metal left on the cars’ roofs.
Thunderstorms were another challenge as the safari tours ran rain or shine and the storms would often get the animals excited. Alan recounts that there were several lion and tiger attacks on the bus’ front tires and adds that breakdowns in the middle of the safari were an “adventure” for mechanics and drivers! Alan’s wife, Renee, recalls many a summer weekend when he would be away from home tending to his dispatch duties at the park.
When Great Adventure, now Six Flags Great Adventure, ceased allowing personal cars to ride through the safari in September of 2012, the decision was met with nostalgic regret and hopeful relief. It was the end of an era for many who fondly recalled the “great adventure” of driving through the park and making memories with their family and the animals. While for others, it was a shift in the right direction for the welfare of the animals.
Today, Six Flags still operates a safari park with the Safari Off-Road Adventure included in the price of general admission and visitors get to ride in rugged off-road vehicles specially designed for splashing through ponds, climbing hills, and over rugged terrain as they traverse the 350-acre preserve.
What’s your favorite memory of Great Adventure’s Safari? Share it in the comments section!