2011-08-11 / Front Page
Roller coaster lovers take a ride at Great Adventure
Jackson theme park hosts special guests
Representatives of Theme Park Review (TPR), a group that counts 35,000 members spanning five continents, received the star treatment from park officials when they got the chance to enter the park at 8:30 a.m.— two hours ahead of the regular opening time.
TPR started in 1996 when video game producer Robb Alvey and his wife, Elissa, started blogging about their roller coaster trips. The couple, who met through their previous jobs in the theme park industry, quickly grew a following and in 2005 the group started going on tours.
Since then, people from all corners of the world have embarked on trips with the Alveys. “This year, between all of our big theme park tours, we’ll probably see about 500 people, and probably another 2,500 members at individual events all over the United States,” said RobbAlvey, of Valencia, Calif.
At Great Adventure, riders from Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom came to Jackson under the TPR banner.
“When we got bored of doing the [parks] in our country, we decided to go and explore the U.S.,” said David Fudge, a high school chemistry teacher from Birmingham, England. “The students in school think I’m slightly nuts, but they also think it’s kinda cool.”
This will be the fifth tour with TPR for Fudge. The trip cost him almost $3,000, plus airfare.
Like other roller coaster enthusiast groups, such as the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) and the European Coaster Club, TPR goes on tours of some of the world’s greatest amusement parks. Previous stops have included Fuji-Q Highland in Japan and Luna Park in Sydney, Australia. “This leg of the trip is a tour of some of the really big parks of the U.S.,” Robb Alvey said. “When we asked everybody in the group what was a big highlight park for them, Great Adventure was always one of the must-see parks.”
For $2,199, members of the group get to visit 10 parks and ride more than 65 roller coasters. Included are hotels, transportation by luxury bus, two meals a day and other amenities like a photo CD and park perks such as exclusive ride times.
“Hundreds of hours go into organizing these trips. Imagine if you had to plan 55 weddings a year,” RobbAlvey said. “We’re dealing with special events, catering, photography … Every park is different.”
During their stop at Great Adventure, the roller coaster riders had a chance to go on the Nitro, Dark Knight, Green Lantern and Kingda Ka coasters before anyone else even got into the park.
“I thought Kingda Ka was intimidating,” said hair salon owner Piers Kent, of Plymouth, England, who rode Kingda Ka for the first time. “Since I’ve been going on the trips, nothing really worries me anymore, but this lives up to the expectation.”
Wanting something the general public does not get a chance to see, the TPR guests had the opportunity to go behind the scenes, getting to stand under the 456-foot peak of Kingda Ka and riding the Dark Knight with the lights on.
“It’s great to see their enthusiasm,” said Kristen Siebeneicher, a spokeswoman for GreatAdventure. “It’s a great reminder why we do this for a living.”
TPR is one of two major roller coaster groups coming to Jackson this year. ACE will have visited the park twice by September.
ForAlvey, it is his lifetime love of roller coasters that he and his wife hope to share with others.
“I may not remember my very first roller coaster experience, it was probably the Matterhorn at Disneyland when I was 5 or 6, but it led to this,” saidAlvey. “It must have been pretty damn awesome.”