Saturday, September 11, 2021

Canobie Lake Park

One of my best trips of the summer was to Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire. Since its start in 1902, Canobie Lake (pronounced can-a-bee) has become one of the best family-owned amusement parks in the country.
Right inside the entrance, you're greeted with a wonderful example of programmatic architecture. The color-coordinated trashcans don't go unnoticed by me. :-)
To get a look at Canobie Lake itself, you can ride the slow-moving miniature train or take a boat cruise.
The Yankee Cannonball was built in 1936 and is a perfect classic coaster. It provides great airtime moments and has a well-paced layout. It was definitely a highlight of the park for me.
The Rowdy Roosters is the most unique Flying Scooter ride I've ever seen. The distinctive shape of the car bodies is because of their former role as WWII "drop tanks," which are airplane fuel tanks that are dropped once they are empty.
The Canobie Corkscrew is a coaster that I have seen but will never ride. After sitting dormant for all of the 2021 season, it has been removed from the park map, pretty much confirming its removal.
Although I'm sure it didn't give an amazing ride experience, I still would've loved to have ridden this coaster because of its history. The ride began life at the failed Old Chicago indoor amusement park as the Chicago Loop and was one of the first four Corkscrew coasters Arrow Development built in 1975. It operated at the Alabama State Fairgrounds before coming to Canobie. If you look closely, you can see fresh welds on the track - likely for inspection purposes - so it's probable that 45 years of use and being relocated twice has caught up to it.
A happier subject is the Turkish Twist, one of two Rotor rides left in America! While this model's ride time was on the shorter side, it's still an absolute thrill sticking to the wall by centripetal force.
I was also excited to try out my first indoor Scrambler. Psycho Drome combines the disorienting ride with music and lights. Indoor Scramblers can surprisingly be found at many east coast parks.
One of my favorite rides was the Mine of Lost Souls, a 1980s darkride. I avoided spoilers and was amazed at its quality. The animatronics are the best you'll find at an independent park, and there's an awesome room where you zig-zag on a bridge over a large lake past multiple animatronics. 
The other disappointment of my visit was seeing the historic carousel closed for refurbishment. They do have one of the "Luminairesfrom the '64-'65 World's Fair, though! I don't know if it still works at night.
I've saved the main reason I wanted to visit Canobie Lake Park for last. The park is the last in America to feature an original Caterpillar ride... with a working canopy that covers riders!
The second-to-last American Caterpillar ride closed in 2012 at Idlewild, one of my local parks. That was the first year I visited Idlewild, and when I saw the ride was operating without its canopy, I decided to "wait until next year." Of course, this extremely rare ride was removed for good from that park the next season. This made making the trek to New Hampshire a must-do for me!
It's not a particularly thrilling ride by any means, but I'm glad to say I checked off something that was high on my bucket list.
Even with a few closed rides, Canobie Lake Park stands out as one of the best amusement parks I've ever visited. No detail goes unnoticed when it comes to guest service, and the mix of classic rides is top-notch.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Alice in Wonderland at The Great Escape

We covered the rest of The Great Escape in the last post, but here's a look at their classic 1967 Alice in Wonderland themed walkthrough. It's amazing that an attraction like this still exists at a Six Flags park, which have all but completely removed their unique darkrides and walkthroughs. 
Of course, you have to descend through the rabbit hole to begin your walk. Adults will have to crouch to fit through the opening.
The "homemade" feel of something like this is lacking at many Six Flags parks.
At the bottom of the rabbit hole, you emerge into the oversized room.
I don't have much to say about these displays, but I really like them!
Note the Storytown Train behind the Cheshire Cat. The creek that cuts through the park is home to a swan boat ride, also one of the original Storytown attractions.
As an aside, the other amusement park in Lake George, Magic Forest, was entirely based around a storybook walkthrough like this before rebranding itself in 2019.
Though this "walkthrough" doesn't amount to much more than a big loop down and back up a wooded hillside, it's a nice diversion that takes you away from the crowds and long lines for a few minutes. 
The Walrus appears to be pretty content sitting down.
Although these figures don't take much to maintain, it's nice that at least one trademark part of the park's Storytown USA era has been kept.
Maybe you can make out the March Hare and Mad Hatter behind this window...
Luckily, the Queen of Hearts is at a safe distance from the path so as to remain peaceful.
Back at the start of the walk, you can see how the rabbit hole leads down to the oversized room.
That's all from an attraction that is an outlier among the Six Flags chain of parks.

 A quick heads-up: after two years of posting every other week, I'm going to reduce my posts to once a month. I still have tons of material from my trips this year, but I want to be sure that I have time to focus on my schoolwork. I hope to post on the second Sunday of every month, so you can look forward to my next post on September 12th!

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Great Escape

The Great Escape in Lake George, New York is a small park with a rich history. Debuting as Storytown USA in 1954, it claims to be one of the first theme parks ever opened in the United States. The brainchild of a prominent local man named Charles Wood, the park was renamed "The Great Escape" in 1983 to reflect its expanding offerings, which by that time included a Ghost Town and Jungleland area as well as major rides. Below is the historic heart of the park.

The Great Escape's most notable attraction was added in 1994. The Comet has a long history and was seen at the time of its opening as a victory in preservation, as it began its life at Crystal Beach Park in Ontario, Canada in 1948. However, its origins stretch back even further than that. 
The Comet used much of the structural steel from the former Cyclone at Crystal Beach, which was known as one of the most intense coasters of all time, so much so that a nurse was often stationed at its exit. From its opening in 1927, the brutal Cyclone grew increasingly less popular and more difficult to maintain. The redesigned Comet was an economical way to add a new ride and became a local favorite.
Crystal Beach closed in 1989, and everyone hoped that the Comet would find a new home. When Charlie Wood purchased it at auction, many breathed a sigh of relief. It would take several years, but the Comet finally opened at its new home in 1994.
In 1996, the park was absorbed into the rapidly expanding Premier Parks, which purchased the massive chain of Six Flags parks two years later. Today, the Great Escape is one of three parks owned by Six Flags that does not use the Six Flags name.
One of Premier's first additions to the park was the Alpine Bobsled, which has operated at two other Six Flags parks. It was one of two Intamin-designed bobsled coasters purchased by Six Flags in 1984.
Of course, Bobsled coasters are always fun because the train is "free-wheeling" through a trough - I found this one to be a little bumpy, though. 
Ghost Town was added in 1957. You originally had to walk through a cave behind a waterfall to enter, though you can see that that was blocked off the day I visited due to construction near the other end. When it first opened, Ghost Town contained many small buildings and exhibits, but the area's charm has fallen victim to Six Flags, who replaced the classic Tornado darkride with the Canyon Blaster mine train coaster in 2003. 
Also replaced by Canyon Blaster was the Ghost Town Railroad, which was reused as "theming." The park still has their other, original train ride, however.
The Desperado Plunge flume uses the old boats from the Busch Gardens park in Van Nuys, CA, while the Steamin' Demon coaster was relocated from a park in Louisiana.
Although Six Flags erased some of the park's charm, Great Escape still has a much more pleasant, "country" atmosphere compared to other Six Flags parks, as it retains lots of trees.
You can still find remnants of the park's Storytown beginnings in its center. The pumpkin coach around the castle used to be a unique attraction where children could ride with Cinderella, but now it's only used as a display piece.
To the park's credit, they moved Moby Dick - one of the original Storytown displays - to a different area (though it was in storage for a time) after it was replaced by a Looney Tunes land in the early 2000s.
The Old Woman's Shoe House sits all by itself on a quiet hilltop. The Sky Ride in the background is a slow, round-trip.
Arto Monaco was a famous local artist who built child-sized play buildings for Storytown USA and other parks in the Adirondacks, including his own, the Land of Make-Believe.
Charles Wood was known not only for his work in making Lake George a well-known tourist destination but also as a friend to the community with his prolific charitable work. A colorful character, Wood was inducted into the International Association of Amusement Parks' Hall of Fame in 1992. 

I hope you enjoyed your tour of the Great Escape. Next post, we'll take a tour of the park's outdoor Alice in Wonderland walkthrough.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Laffland at Sylvan Beach Amusement Park

Here's a closer look at what's perhaps the best time-capsule of a darkride in America, Laffland at Sylvan Beach Amusement Park in Central New York.
Opened in 1954, Laffland is one of only a handful of darkrides left that was built by the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company, who invented the powered darkride in 1928.
What makes Laffland unique of the Pretzel rides remaining is that it's the last (of 100s built) to operate the company's trademark ride vehicles with a "pretzel" worked into their design. 
Classic Pretzel rides like this also make a VERY distinctive "clicking" sound as they turn corners.
You have to love this artwork and the old-school operator's chair. Ready to ride?
In flash pictures, the grittiness of a darkride is always revealed, and old Pretzel rides relied on keeping the riders in complete darkness with the only things visible being the "stunts," or devices meant to startle riders.
For example, when you're riding, you have no idea that two extra cars are stored inches away from the track. 
With the sound of a buzzer, this skeleton begins to move, and a "brick wall" to the left is lit in red lights, which turn off before you crash through the wall.
In the picture below, you can see how simple the track layout is as the car works its way towards the back of the building. In just this image, you can see the car switching back on itself three separate times! There was no need to install extra walls as long as the stunts were hidden well enough.
Many of the stunts are as low-tech as possible; the paper-mache "devil" on the left has somehow survived after 65 years in use - it pops up with a mechanism that uses the car as its motive of power.
"Al E. Gator" was another trademark Pretzel stunt that is still sliding out of its barrel after all these years.
At the center of the below image, you can see one of the Pretzel "noisemakers" that are now only found in Laffland. They're simple as dirt but effective; here, the car simply rolls over a switch that drops a lever on a cymbal. There is also a startling box of ball bearings and tinkling bells (creating a "broken glass" effect) elsewhere in the ride.
I find this stunt humorous, as it's triggered at the same time as the cymbal.
The inflating devil - terrifying!
Laffland is absolutely one of my favorite rides because it's a true survivor. I'm glad that at least one old ride like this has hung on long enough for me to get to experience it.