Last week, Six Flags Wild Safari in Jackson, N.J., hinted that big changes were ahead for the theme park. Today, those plans became public. Beginning with next year's season, the Wild Safari drive-through nature park will become the Six Flags Safari Off Road Adventure and it will be incorporated into the broader Six Flags Great Adventure theme park. (What will not be incorporated, it appears, is the grammatically correct hyphen in "off-road.")


Until this year, visitors who wanted to go to both Great Adventure and Wild Safari needed to pay separate tickets. Next summer, patrons will be able to pay one price and gain access to both the roller coaster part of the park and the animal safari.


Wild Safari's long-standing option of driving your own vehicles through the park's 4.5-mile auto trail will end on Sept. 30 of this year. Next year, all visitors taking the safari portion of the park will be driven in large, off-road vehicles by "skilled, informed drivers" who will "drive guests off-road and up close to the animals as they splash through ponds, climb hills, cross bridges and venture over rugged terrain," according to a company press release.


Park president John Fitzgerald called this new version of the park as close to a "true African safari" as guests will be able to experience in the United States. "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," he said.


Construction on the new elements of the safari begins this winter. They include a "rustic loading station" depicting the "fictional world of the Wilds Family," who will be depicted as the people who gathered in the park's animals and brought them to Jackson. The new version of the park will still feature 1,200 animals from six continents, so at first glance it appears that Six Flags will maintain its current stock of wildlife. Some of the animals will be in pens where visitors can see, hand-feed or pet them before boarding the off-road vehicles.


Six Flags will also build a new zip line that will cross the park above the animals, which patrons will be able to ride for an additional fee.


Park spokesperson Kristin Siebeneicher told Bloomberg Businessweek that the open-air vehicles driven by park staff will each carry about 30 passengers and will be able to get much closer to the animals than drivers in their own vehicles, who have been restricted to the park's paved roads.


The two-for-one Great Adventure and Safari Off Road Adventure parks will now total 510 acres, 10 acres larger than Disney's Animal Kingdom. Not included in the combined park is the park's third destination, Hurricane Harbor, a water park which will gain a new water slide called the Big Wave Racer.


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Six Flags turns Wild Safari into off-road adventure
Six Flags turns Wild Safari into off-road adventure. Next year, the New Jersey theme park will include both roller coasters and wildlife.