Scottsdale amusement park has been entertaining kids of all ages for almost 20 years
Story and photos by Marjorie Rice
On a sunny fall afternoon—one of those days that remind us why we love to live in the Valley—it was hard to tell the kids from the grownups at CrackerJax, the venerable Scottsdale amusement park.
That was especially true at the Bumperboats Lagoon, where a Calgary, Canada, family revved up their doughnut-shaped craft to shove their shrieking kinfolk toward the waterfall. It may have been a tad cool for Scottsdale residents who think winter is upon us when the temperature dips below 75, but for these northern visitors, it was a perfect day for a dunking.
CrackerJax has been entertaining visitors for nearly 20 years, offering the Bumperboats, go-karts, miniature golf, batting cages, arcade games and volleyball since the gates first opened in January 1993. Over the years, new attractions have been added, including Alien Invasion Laser Tag, which opened this August, the Bungy Dome, driving range and Water Wars—a popular spot for balloon fights. A major renovation of the main clubhouse and arcade area also was completed this year.
The park has been a favorite for so long that some visitors, who first came there as kids, are bringing their own children for a visit, says Manager Michelle Tankersley, who has worked at the park for more than 15 years. “It’s great to see people I’ve known since they were little kids, who are coming back year after year,” she said. “It warms my heart to see how they grow, and how much they love this park.”
Many of the 60-plus full-time and part-time employees first came to the park as visitors, Tankersley says. “Kids who were babies when they first came here are working for me now. We don’t have to recruit.”
On a busy day, as many as 600 visitors come to the park, she adds. “And no matter what your age, you turn into a kid when you come through our doors.”
Fears of Closure
For some visitors, news of possible changes for the CrackerJax property brought fears that their local landmark might close. In 2011, the Scottsdale City Council approved a change to the General Plan that would allow park owner HGJ Investments to build a combination of residences, commercial and entertainment facilities on the 27-acre property, along Scottsdale Road south of Paradise Lane. However, plans for residential development were put on hold during the economic downturn. (Select Situations Entertainment LLC leases the park from HGJ Investments.)
“The park is up and running—and it will be for at least another five years,” Tankersley said. “We continue to add new attractions and make improvements to enhance the experience for our visitors. If changes do occur, we will give the public plenty of notice.”
That’s welcome news for the folks who enjoy attractions like the Bungy Dome—a combination bungy jump/trampoline experience where kids are belted into harnesses attached to elastic bands that allow them to bounce and spin up to 30 feet high.
It also means golfers still continue to have a convenient spot to practice their drives.
And groups of all ages can wage war at Alien Invasion Laser Tag, where take-no-prisoners battles rage in the darkened room as teams square off, hunkering for cover behind rock-shaped obstacles and zapping their opponents with flashes of laser light. The attraction opened in August, and it’s been a hit with kids and families, as well as corporate groups who want to work off a little job-site frustration, Tankersley said.
In fact, groups are an important segment of CrackerJax’s customer base, says Corporate and Group Sales Manager DawnRae Hutchison, herself a 10-year veteran employee of the park.
“We serve a wide range of groups including corporate events, family reunions, birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties and wedding receptions,” she says. “We’ve held events for Phoenix Suns season ticket holders, where the players really get into the action and play with the guests, and fundraisers for groups including Not My Kid and Make-A-Wish.”
At high school graduation time, the park stays open for an all-night party for grads. “They have a great time, and the parents really appreciate their kids having a safe, fun place to celebrate,” Hutchison adds.
16001 N. Scottsdale Road