TPH: Hello and welcome to Theme Park History, the channel for everything to do with theme parks: old and new, big and small! In today’s episode we will be taking a look at Six Flags Great Adventure’s Skyway, a dual gondola lift that opened at the park in 1974 and as of May 2018, is still in operation. This attraction was suggested by New Jersey Coasters, so thank you for the suggestion!
NJC:Thanks for having me!
TPH: Ah! How did you get here?
NJC: You invited me, remember?
TPH: I did?, when?
NJC: [Insert Something Funny]
TPH: Oh, well in that case, why don’t you come along with me as I take a look at your suggestion?
NJC: Sounds like a plan!
TPH: Alright, let’s get to it!
TPH: As one of the last few remaining dual gondola lifts in the world, the Skyway has been a staple of Great Adventure since the park opened in 1974. The Skyway doubles as both a means of transportation within the park, as well as offering thrills and spectacular views of the park from above. While sky rides were common in theme parks in the 1960’s and 1970’s, many were parks have since removed them, making the Skyway a standing piece of Theme Park History.
TPH: Being one of the opening day attractions when Six Flags Great Adventure opened in 1974, the Skyway was immediate hit with guests, as it offered guests not only amazing views of the park but…
NJC: Hey, don’t mean to cut you off but the Skyway’s history actually begins earlier than when it opened at Great Adventure in 1974. It actually started 10 years before that.
TPH: Wait, what do you mean?
NJC: Well, if you don’t mind, I might be able to help you with this part.
TPH: Yeah, no problem. So the Skyway started in 1964?
NJC: Yeah, at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, the Van Roll company of Switzerland introduced the Swiss Sky Ride, a sky ride that ran above the international area of the fair, giving guests a bird eye’s view of not only all the attractions below but also a great view of Manhattan as well. As one of the tallest skyrides to be built in North America, the fleet of colorful cars would silently glide across the sky and after dark they would light up with a pair of small lights that were mounted on each roof. The one way, 75 cent trip would cover 1,875 feet and take four minutes to complete.
TPH: Wow, I didn’t know any this when I was doing my research. To be honest, the Skyway was most likely overshadowed due to the presence Disney had at that World’s Fair, with It’s A Small World, Carousel of Progress, and Ford’s Magic Skyway. Actually, have a question for you: is the Van Roll company responsible for the Skyway that were built at Disneyland in Anaheim, California?
NJC: Actually, Van Roll was responsible for most of the Skyway attractions that were built in theme parks during the 60’s and 70’s, including the ones at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland.
TPH: So after the World’s Fair closed, Van Roll was hired by Six Flags to build their own version of the Skyway?
NJC: Close. The original plans for Great Adventure was to feature multiple sky rides that were suppose to connect the different areas of planned park. One of the sky rides would have been twice as long as the current Skyway. However, when plans for Great Adventure were scaled back, the sky ride was scaled back as well. Warner Leroy, the original owner and creator of Great Adventure, purchased the Swiss Sky Ride and had it installed in the park. So that means this Skyway was the exact one used at the worlds fair. The towers were spread apart shorter in the worlds fair but were longer to fit the parks length. That also was not the only ride that opened with the park from 1964 worlds fair. There’re tram and Himalaya also came from the fair. But thats getting off topic..
TPH: Ohh okay, now I understand what you meant the Skyway’s history dates back all the way to 1964.
NJ: Exactly! Many people don’t know about that, but I find it to be an important part of the attraction’s backstory, as it’s been around for over 50 years. Even farther back it could date if you think about it being built but anyways.
TPH: I have to say, that’s some pretty interesting stuff. Thanks for the history lesson, do you mind if I take over for a bit?
NJC: Go right ahead!
TPH: Construction of the Skyway took place in 1974, only taking workers a few months to complete it. The towers of the attraction were erected quickly while the two stations took longer to come together. Once the towers and and the drive and tension bases at each end were in place, the job of stringing the cable began. With the challenge of the ride’s length and height being further complicated by its needing to traverse buildings, trees and waterways, a helicopter was used to pull ropes from end to end which would then be used to run the steel cables. The Skyway would be completed and ready for operation when Great Adventure would open on July 1st, 1974.
TPH: Guests can enter the Skyway from either of the two stations in the park. The Skyway carries passengers on a 1/3 mile, four minute trip from the Fantasy Forest section of the park to the Frontier Adventures section, or vice versa. The ride consists of two continuous cable loops, held up by six evenly dispersed support towers. The cars hang from this moving cable, each one carrying up to four passengers. These are open cars with four seats, two rows of two, facing each other. At each station, a large bullwheel with a pulley like groove rotates the direction in which the cable is moving. Incoming cars are transferred from the moving cable to a stationary steel track, along which the wheels of each car glide. As each car enters the station, it is caught and brought to a stop by a park employee, who then holds the car in place and opens the door for the passengers to exit. The car is then pushed around to the other side of the wheel, where another employee steadies the car for new passengers to enter. The door is closed and locked and the car is moved into the launcher. This holds the car in place until the proper launch interval has passed. The rides computer dispatches the cars at an appropriate interval which allows the car to roll down a ramp, accelerating the car to the same speed as the cable and automatically clamp onto the cable sending it back out.
TPH: The Sky Ride was an immediate hit at Great Adventure when the park opened in 1974, offering spectacular views and a thrilling ride as well as an opportunity for weary guests to rest their tired feet. With the original layout of Great Adventure, the Rootin’ Tootin’ Rip Roarin’ section of the park was set off as kind of a dead end. The Sky Ride helped move guests out of the area and down to the far end of Dream Street without having to backtrack. It also was one of the three transportation methods back then. One of them was the shuttle used to go from the parking lot to the entrance which also came from the 1964 Worlds Fair. But the Skyway was a huge hit for guests and really helped with transportation.
NJC: It’s also only one of the four attractions in the park along with the Carousel, Big Wheel, and Safari Off Road Adventure that allows cameras to be taken and used on the ride.
TPH: Wait, so how do you record your footage when you’re on those roller coasters?
NJC: A magician never reveals their secrets.
TPH: Okay then, moving on.
TPH: For the first few seasons, the Sky Ride was truly one of Great Adventure’s biggest thrills as the second tallest ride in the park, just a little shorter than the Giant Wheel. The Sky Ride offered not only a way to save some steps and magnificent views, but also a great way to catch a cooling breeze on a hot summer day.
TPH: Okay so this is awkward. This is usually the part in the video where I talk about when and why the attraction closed. Guess it’s time to end the video.
NJC: I have a idea! What about the changes that have taken place of the Skyway over its lifetime?
TPH: I don’t know, I’m the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” type of guy.
NJC: Well, let me give it a try and we can see how it goes.
TPH: Alright, let’s see what you got, kid.
NJC: Over the years, the Skyway has had some changes take place. The original look of the Skyway featured forest green towers to blend in with the surrounding trees in the area. By contrast, the cars were all painted bright colors to stand out against the sky. The cars would stay this way until the late 1970’s when Delta Airlines became the sponsor of the ride. The cars were repainted in white with some getting blue roofs and some getting red roofs to match the airline’s logo color scheme. The doors of the cars were fitted with decals of the Delta logo, and the bottoms of some of the cars were fitted with plates which advertised the destinations that the airline served.
TPH: Okay, as much as I hate blatant advertising and product placement, that one was pretty clever.
NJC: Yeah! The sponsorship was a good and natural fit, and the advertising on the undersides of the cars was a clever way of getting a message out in a subtle yet effective way. While the cars weren’t quite as colorful as they had been originally, they were still quite attractive. The sponsorship would end in the early 80’s and the cars were repainted in orange or blue with white roofs and upper halves. This updated look would be short lived though, as Great Adventure would receive new cars from the Skyride that closed at Six Flags Great America located in Gurnee, Illinois in 1984.
The new cars were lighter and their more squared off shape allowed easier modification with additional safety bars creating a cage to prevent guests from doing anything stupid. This came after high profile incidents on other park’s skyrides where guests had climbed out of the cars. Besides the additional safety bars, the new gondolas went largely unchanged when they went into service, even retaining their original red and blue colors from Great America. While not as colorful or stylish as the original fleet of New York World’s Fair gondolas, the new updated cars allowed the Skyride to stay in operation after most parks had removed theirs giving the rising costs of maintenance and insurance, also with the decline in ridership instead for bigger, more thrilling attractions.
The latest change to the attraction took place in 2011, when the Skyway received a new sponsorship with M&M’s. The cars were painted in bright M&M’s colors and decals of the iconic candies were placed on the doors of the gondolas. The freshly painted cars in bright colors harkened back to the original look of the Sky Ride, with the vibrant gondolas standing out against the blue sky. Just like with Delta, the sponsorship was a good fit for the attraction, with the sponsor receiving a visually interesting means of advertising as well as a sharp and fresh look for the ride.
TPH: Okay, wow. That was really good. I would have never thought the Skyway went through all those changes.
NJC: Thanks! Again, I don’t think people realize all of the history the Skyway has because most people now only now a park like Great Adventure for it’s roller coasters. This wasn’t always the case, as the Skyway was one of the premier attractions when the park first opened.
TPH: For over 50 years, the Skyway has been a staple of Great Adventure. Being a favorite for all ages, this relaxing journey high in the air offers one of kind vantage points of the entire park and its lush surroundings and lakeside setting. As one of the last of its kind, fans of the Skyway hope they will be able journey through the sky for decades to come.
TPH: So that is the Theme Park History of the Skyway! Special thanks to New Jersey Coasters for doing this crossover episode, go check out their channel with the link in the description down below!
NJC: Thanks for having me, it was a pleasure!
TPH: No problem! Who knows, maybe our paths will cross again someday, there’s always Batman and Robin: The Chiller! As always, thank you for watching the video and supporting the channel! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and if there’s any attraction you want us to cover in future videos, don’t forget to leave a comment down below. Once again, thank you for watching. Jason’s channel link will be in description below and until next time, don’t look down!