Have you ever experienced a theme park trip or vacation getaway that was so perfect, you try for years to recreate those moments? When my family and I attended Six Flags Great Adventure: Holiday in the Park in 2019, we experienced exactly that kind of visit.
Picture: A warm December day, light crowds, two happy tweens, and Platinum memberships delivering 15% off food and merch, plus other special deals, for the family. As one of the deals, Six Flags Great Adventure offered “all you can ride” go-carts for just $5 that day.
Since we have a Platinum membership, which was upgraded to Diamond for 2021 and 2022, I don’t usually purchase any “upsells.” But we couldn’t turn down unlimited go-karts for $20 for the whole family. We rode until we started feeling dizzy from the gas fumes, walked around the park, and came back to ride again.
At the time, my son wasn’t into roller coasters much, so go-carts gave us a Six Flags activity the whole family could enjoy together! We also played games, won prizes and finally, when it got dark, enjoyed the light show and the spectacular 52-foot, singing Christmas tree alit with dancing LEDs.
How did Six Flags: Great Adventure Holiday in the Park 2023 stack up against that memorable fall day in 2019?
Six Flags Great Adventure Holiday in the Park: What to Expect
If you’re visiting Six Flags Great Adventure for Holiday in the Park, you’ll want to be prepared. The park is only open from 12 noon until 8 PM, which is about two hours less than prior years. It’s only open Saturdays and Sundays until Friday, December 22, 2023, when it’s open from 3 PM to 8 PM.
The park closes at 7 PM Christmas Eve, and is closed Christmas Day, but open from 12 PM to 8 PM from December 26 – December 31. There are no extended hours for New Year’s Eve.
Check the app or website before you leave for the park, because times are subject to change and the park may close due to inclement weather.
Also, keep in mind that many rides and half the park is shut down during Holiday in the Park. You won’t be able to ride El Toro, Kingda Ka, Zumanjaro, Superman, Green Lantern, Bizarro or Runaway Mine Train. The entire Boardwalk area is also closed, which means you won’t find many games and food options are limited compared to other times of the year.
But, if you enjoy roller coasters and flat rides, getting to the park early will allow you to ride other favorites, including Batman, Nitro (shown), Skull Mountain, Jersey Devil and Wonder-woman, countless times, probably without a long wait.
Unfortunately, the go-carts were also closed, so we had no chance of re-living our 2019 Holiday in the Park memories.
Even so, what you will find in terms of holiday lights, performances, and overall good vibes can make up for the lack of certain coasters – as long as you show up knowing what to expect. If Holiday in the Park is your only opportunity to visit Great Adventure, you won’t enjoy the full experience or some of the best coasters. But if you’re ready for family fun and dazzling light displays (along with shortened park hours) you’ll have a good time!
Pro Tip: You can’t go back again. With five years and a pandemic between those tweens riding go-carts and begging to play carnival games, this experience was not the same. At 12 and 15, my kids have lost some of the awe surrounding holiday lights. (More on that below).
We looked at the long line for Santa and just scoffed. But they still giggled at the elves and my daughter asked for a picture with the Poinsettia Princess. Set your expectations as a family based on your kids’ ages and temperaments.
Don’t push them farther than they want. At one point my husband left the park to visit the Freeport Mall with my daughter while Alex and I strolled amongst the light displays and relaxed in the Polar Pub with hot chocolate.
Holiday in the Park: The Crowds
So far this season, crowds have been light. When we visited on Saturday, December 9, 2023, the park was virtually empty in the early afternoon.
Walking in, we noticed the electric vehicle chargers that occupy the first space of all rows close to the park, bordering Superman. When we arrived, the EV chargers were virtually empty – and maybe half full when we left at 6 PM. It’s a nice add-on, but I don’t see Great Adventure filling all those charging spots except on their busiest summer days.
The park filled up later in the evening, around 4 PM. At various times, we saw lines building up for Batman, Joker, Nitro, the Skyride, Justice League: Battle for Metropolis and even Houdini. But the lines ebbed and flowed. My husband and daughter got on Joker with only a 20-minute wait. Jersey Devil had shut down later in the evening.
In reality, the park wasn’t that crowded – it just felt more packed since everyone was crammed into a smaller space, with fewer ride options.
A Delightful Mirror Maze
When we entered the park, we agreed to head for Batman: The Ride first. It remains a family favorite coaster and one we still like to ride together.
We got side-tracked on the way, though, when we saw two elves enticing us to visit the Mirror Maze. Normally an up-charge, the Mirror Maze is free for Holiday in the Park. And it would be worth it even if you had to pay!
Elves making toys and other Christmas scenes come to life thanks to animatronics, lasers and projections. Thanks to my daughter’s keen sense of direction we whipped through the maze, but the elf scenery made it so much more fun! There’s a special surprise at the mid-way point, too!
The Mirror Maze did not allow photos inside; I respect those rules, but it would have made for some nice photo ops!
Holiday in the Park Food
As with nearly every special event, Six Flags Great Adventure comes up with a few special meals and beverages to celebrate the occasion. Park signs advertised a turkey dinner with cranberry sauce, but none of the restaurants we encountered served it.
People in the Great Adventure Connoisseurs Facebook group mentioned that the meatloaf at Granny’s with the bourbon sauce was amazing. Granny’s may also have a full menu of holiday foods, including turkey legs.
We opted for Yum-Yum Café for lunch since we ate at Granny’s Kitchen last time. My daughter had chicken fingers. My husband had fries. Alex and I both had cheeseburgers. I ordered chicken and dumpling soup, one of the special holiday dishes.
The chicken and dumpling soup tasted just like the chicken and dumplings I love at Cracker Barrel, except with even more creamy broth. I tasted actual chunks of vegetables – celery and carrots. If I made chicken dumpling soup at home, this is probably what it would have tasted like.
However, the presentation was poor. The soup was sloshed into a cardboard to-go container and dripping over the sides. (I didn’t even bother to take a photo!)
Yum-Yum Café also had a seasonal meat loaf dish; I was almost compelled to buy it for research but I really just wanted to keep it simple with a burger and I didn’t have high hopes for the mashed potatoes.
My son said the burger was in the top 5 he’s ever tasted.
Side note: Alex (my son) did not like burgers until he ate one of the flame-grilled burgers at Metro Grill. Yes, he had the best burger of his life at a Six Flags park. Those of you who know park food well might be skeptical. But they made good burgers!
He’s been trying for roughly five years (2019 was a good year at Great Adventure for our family!) to recreate that burger experience. I think we’ll be seeing Yum-Yum Café quite often in 2024.
That’s the funny thing about Great Adventure. For the most part, the food is overpriced and lackluster. But every so often, you come across a meal and you say, “Wow, that was really good!”
Six Flags food prices, 2023, haven’t gone up since last year that I noticed. (I could be wrong!) But each menu board now advertises a 99-cent surcharge on all menu items. It’s a way of raising prices without paying for the printing costs of new menu boards and I suspect they figure most people won’t notice.
Roast Marshmallows Over an Open Fire Pit
The open fire pits where you can roast marshmallows and build s’mores have been a standard for years at Six Flags Holiday in the Park. It’s fun to stand in front of them and just soak in the ambiance of the season, warm your hands after a chilly coaster ride, or, of course, roast marshmallows.
At $5 per s’more, plus buy 3, get one free, the s’mores are affordable for families and the perfect tasty treat on a chilly night.
If s’mores aren’t your favorite sweet, consider a gingerbread or peppermint funnel cake. I admit, I was tempted!
A few booths also had fresh-baked cookies for $6.99. My son said, “For that price I hope they are huge!” They were easily the size of my hand, which is less than impressive for the price.
Cozy Up with Your Loved Ones in the Polar Pub
A new addition this year, the Polar Pub makes use of the building right next to The Dark Knight ride. It was a gaming area in the summer, with computers set up for Fortnight and Minecraft. My son and I ducked in for some hot chocolate. Two cups for $8 beats Starbucks prices.
The pub also had an array of other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to enjoy. For an extra $4, I spiked my hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps. It came in a cute plastic cup and was just the right temperature. It was delicious and just what I needed.
On the other hand, my son’s hot chocolate was too hot to enjoy and when it finally cooled down, he realized it was watered down. If you have kids and plan to buy the hot chocolate – especially in the collectible mug, which is a great value – smuggle in some milk!
I still have our collector’s mugs from 2019. (The design has changed so, no, you won’t be able to use your older cup.) I use it often for coffee on-the-go, since it has a solid and secure lid. We purchased two mugs for our family of four and took turns. Refills are free on the day of your visit, but will cost $1.99 on future visits.
In all, our stop-off in the Polar Pub with the scenery, cozy seating, and the heat was one of the highlights of this short trip for Holiday In the Park.
Special Performances and Shows
Many Great Adventure passholders and regular members complained about the lack of shows at HITP this year. However, there were a few shows, including Prancer’s Dancers, a dancersize show perfect for keeping little kids active and to take their mind of the cold.
Rudolph’s Regiment was a fun parade, which we happened to miss because we didn’t spend a full day in the park.
The Candy Cane Singers and Yuletide Vibes were both live shows that added an extra something special to the event.
I do have to point out – and several park regulars in the Facebook forums agreed – that the holiday music could have been a lot better. We listened to “The Candy Man” on replay it seemed. We went into Justice League and it was playing. Came out – there it was again! Of course, some of the standard holiday classics filled the park with Christmas cheer, but the HITP soundtrack needs more variety.
To end this segment on a high note, though, I absolutely love the LED light and music performance at the tree in the center fountain. Holiday Magic: A Celebration of the Season always brings tears to my eyes as I watch it with my children and think about how many Christmas seasons we’ve celebrated in this park.
Is Six Flags: Holiday in the Park Worth a Trip?
Although it may not be as good as many people remember, you can still make memories for a lifetime at Holiday in the Park, whether your kids are toddlers or teens. For one-time visitors, right now, Six Flags is offering a deal on tickets when you buy 4 or more tickets online.