The nosy giraffes, fearless llamas and nonchalant rhinos that motorists have had to maneuver around at a popular New Jersey theme park will be back again next year, but park staff will be doing the driving.
Six Flags Great Adventure said Thursday it is combining its animal safari with its amusement park into a single attraction that it claims will be the world's largest theme park next year, about 10 acres larger than Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando.
"Never before have guests been able to experience a journey so close to that of a true African safari here in the U.S.," said John Fitzgerald, the park's president. "By combining the world's most exotic animals with Six Flags' signature entertainment, the Safari Off Road Adventure will be the most incredible animal adventure anywhere. Where else can you ride a wave, go on safari, and soar on world-record breaking coasters?"
The popular drive-thru safari in Jackson Township, about 50 miles southwest of New York City, is ending Sept. 30. Next year, guests will be driven through a revamped safari area on park-provided open-air vehicles. They'll even be able to pet or hand-feed some of the animals, and can ride a zip line above them for an extra fee.
When the current Wild Safari attraction closes its gates for the 2012 season this fall, it will undergo a massive renovation including a redesign of various simulated natural habitats and the creation of Camp Aventura.
Camp Aventura will be the main stop along the off-road excursion. Guests will be able to hand-feed or pet some of the animals, including exotic birds, snakes and other reptiles, rabbits, sheep and potbellied pigs. Guests also will be able to board a zip line in this area.
One of the main differences between the current drive-thru safari and next year's attraction will be the ability to see some of the more popular animals more closely, said park spokeswoman Kristin Siebeneicher. While in their cars, motorists had to stay on the drive-thru safari's paved roads, and often were at a distance from some of the larger or more exotic animals.
Next year, the large open-air trucks, capable of carrying about 30 passengers each, will be able drive closer to where the animals are, she added.
Siebeneicher said the largest theme park in the world currently is Disney's Animal Kingdom, one of four theme parks in Disney World, at 500 acres. Six Flags Great Adventure will be 510, she said.
Six Flags currently provides tours of the safari for an additional price, but the most popular has proven to be its off-road VIP tour for 5 or 6 people. But the $150 price of that trip kept it out of reach for many guests. The 2013 off-road tours are designed to make that level of access more affordable to visitors.
The park's Hurricane Harbor, which will remain as a stand-alone park with a separate admission price, will also add Big Wave Racer, a massive new water slide ride. Some combination plans include tickets for the water park.
Six Flags Entertainment Corp. currently charges $63 for a single-day admission, but is selling season passes for 2013 for the same price through Oct. 28. Ticket prices at the main gate will remain at $63 for a single day next year.
Siebeneicher would not say how much the publicly traded company is spending on the changes.
Wayne Parry can be reached at https://twitter.com/WayneParryAC