Take a Spin on National Roller Coaster Day

August 16, 2019
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In 1976, we opened a pair of amusement parks called Great America, in Santa Clara, California, and Gurnee, Illinois.

In our quest to be the world’s favorite travel company, Marriott International has dabbled in a variety of businesses over the years, from airline catering to cruise ships to a number of restaurant chains.

On National Roller Coaster Day, I’m reminded of the year we opened two amusement parks called Great America, in Santa Clara, California, and Gurnee, Illinois.

We opened the parks in 1976, during the nation’s bicentennial celebration. The theme was patriotic Americana with a nostalgic nod to the past. We had rides like the rollercoaster The Turn of the Century and entertainment including a barbershop quartet and classic Warner Bros. characters like Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam.

A day at the park was always a good time.

Great America made me proud because we were able to hire so many young people and offer them jobs as singers, dancers, food preparers and so much more.

In 1976, almost 30,000 people showed up in Santa Clara to apply for 2,300 jobs. Back then, wages were about $2.30 an hour. But the kids we hired had fun and made lifelong friends. To this day, I still get letters from those former associates with their fond memories.

Our most iconic ride was probably the double-decker Columbia Carousel which greeted guests at the park entrance. At the time, we called it the largest merry-go-round in the world.

I remember bringing home the blue prints for the carousel and laying them on the kitchen table. My four kids were so excited.

We also duplicated the original A&W Root Beer stand my parents, J.Willard and Alice Marriott,  opened in 1927. That little stand started it all.

We didn’t stay in the amusement park business for long.

We sold the parks in 1984 in order to focus on our hotel business.

You can still visit Great America, though. The Santa Clara park is now called California’s Great America and the Illinois location is called Six Flags Great America.

On National Roller Coaster Day, take a spin around the loop for me.

I’m Bill Marriott. Thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the Move.

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