Lifelong Friendships Forged at Marriott’s Great America

July 11, 2018


This may come as news to some, but for many years, Marriott International owned and operated two amusement parks, one in California and one in Illinois.

We named the parks Marriott's Great America and they were proud tributes to all that is great about this country. They were also, I learned recently, a place where many people formed lifelong friendships.

One of the parks was in Santa Clara, California, in the heart of today's Silicon Valley. The other was in Gurnee, Illinois, a town about 30 miles north of Chicago. Both opened in 1976 and represented the state-of-the-art in theme park design and attractions at that time.

I remember so many things about the parks. The Hometown Square, the Yukon Territory, the Orleans Place, and the many other Americana-themed areas. There were classic wooden roller coasters — my favorite was the Whizzer — and other thrill rides for everyone. There was the beautifully-ornate, double-decker carousel. And, of course, the great food and wonderful entertainment, all representing the best of America.

We ended up selling both parks in the early 1980s to concentrate on our hotel business. But I'm glad to say they are still in operation. The one in Santa Clara is now called California's Great America, and the one in Illinois is now called Six Flags Great America.

I was reminded of all this recently when I received a heartfelt letter from a former associate who worked at the Illinois park in their Show Operations Department.

It turns out, four decades after the park first opened, he and many of his coworkers still get together, and he was writing to tell me about their 40th reunion, which they held at the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort in Illinois.

"Most of us were just kids back then," he wrote, "kids who could sing, dance, play instruments, operate lights, and mend costumes."

It was, as he said, a dream job for a kid growing up in the Midwest, "and we were all living the dream."

He expressed his sincere gratitude for the unique opportunities Marriott had provided for him and his friends, and for "creating an environment where we would develop and nurture relationships that have lasted a lifetime."

How truly wonderful it is that, decades later, this group still gathers to share their lives' adventures beyond the Great America theme park, and to express their gratitude for the opportunity they had to learn, grow, and make lifelong friends.

This, to me, is one of the many things that is great about America!

I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott On the Move!

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I, too, remember with great warmth the two parks for Marriott's Great America. They were a huge part of my formative years as I lived in California in my elementary grades and in Illinois in High School. My dad took every transfer as he moved up with his company and the family was along for the ride. Being taken to the park after making this move provided the connection I desperately needed in moving from the Pacific Ocean to the Midwest.
When in California, my friends and I would go to the park and have a great time. We considered ourselves family and so names like Little Sister, Big Brother, and Grandpa (for me) ended up on our coffee cup souvenirs from the shop. I still have mine proudly displayed on my desk as I have been working the last twelve years for Marriott Owner Services.
In Illinois, I had a different set of friends to go to the park with. This often was through our marching band...which was extended free tickets for playing in your parades. We had a blast going in a horde and taking over the Tidal Wave and shooting it out in the shooting gallery. When I was in elementary school I was afraid of heights, but overcame that in high school being dared to ride a horse on the top deck of the fabulous double-decker carousel. The BEST of memories.
Now, I am part of an even greater family, here at the call center in Salt Lake City, helping owners with their unforgettable vacation experiences. The parks are a great memory; however, the enjoyment I derive from my day to day in my job is built on that foundation that permeates Marriott and makes it, in any of its manifestations, great!
Sometimes, in life, it is not just Marriott on the Move that make it special...sometimes it is the move to Marriott!!!

I too have very wonderful memories of attending Marriott's Great America in Santa Clara. I grew up about 30 miles away in San Ramon and my friends and I loved to spend the day at the park riding the rides, seeing the shows and drinking 5 cent root beer at the Hot Shoppe. Who could have known then that I would end up a 30 year associate of Marriott!

Mr. Marriott what a great trip down memory lane!

My career with the company started in 1982 at Marriott's Great America in Santa Clara CA! It was the BEST place in the world to work for a 19yo. From my experience with Marriott core values and work ethic, I vowed to be a part of the company as long as I can.

Now, 36 years later, I am thankful everyday for the foundation which was laid down so many years ago. I keep in touch with a few people from the "cash control" department and we fondly recall the wild days before cell phones and today's technology. The Whizzer was a great ride! But my favorite was The Demon! I also loved getting root beer in the Hot Shoppe stand.

Mr. Morrow was our GM of the park...I will never forget his great leadership.

Take care,