JACKSON, N.J. - After 38 years of visitors' driving their own cars on a road through Six Flags Great Adventure's "Wild Safari" attraction, the theme park on Friday presented the revamped experience it calls "Safari Off Road Adventure."
In this latest incarnation, park employees leading guests on hour-long guided tours, drive converted five-ton Army trucks that can get closer to the animals.
Eighteen of the trucks, each seating about 35 people, drive through the 350-acre attraction, which is split into habitat-based zones such as "Afrikka" and "Black Bear Ridge." The ride opens Saturday. The safari is included with general admission and accessible from within the park.
The goal was to create a ride to allow "folks to see the animals in a natural setting with a tour guide," park president John Fitzgerald said in an interview. He spoke at a sort of base camp - Great Adventure calls it "Camp Aventura" - about midway along the route.
Wild Safari was a well-liked attraction, Fitzgerald said, but new visitors sometimes found it confusing. With the new, guided-tour format, the trucks follow a predetermined path but can drive off the road for a closer look at the free-roaming herds.
Camp Aventura gives visitors a chance to stretch their legs in an outdoor viewing area that features giraffes, zebras, and red ankole cattle. Indoors at the camp are smaller and exotic animals, including a two-toed sloth, an albino Burmese python, and various squawking birds.
On the second half of the tour, visitors roll through fence-protected zones holding lions, bears, and tigers.
Views of sleeping black bears and bathing African elephants might not seem to satisfy ultimate thrill-seekers, but tour guide Justin Schilling tried Friday to make the off-road safari as much fun as the park's most famous roller coaster, which Great Adventure bills as the tallest in the world and fastest in North America.
"Put your hands in the air like you just don't care," Schilling, 26, said as the five-ton truck went down a hill.
"Take that, Kingda Ka!"