A Charming Weekend at Idlewild 6/21-22/08 (very long)

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Monday, June 23, 2008 1:22 PM
My wife and I decided on the spur of the moment to take our daughter on a trip this weekend. The weather was predicted to be favorable -- some rain, perhaps, but also without the sweltering temperatures that inevitably dominate July and August.

Since my wife has a neurological condition that makes it quite painful to stand or walk for prolonged periods, we chose Idlewild. We hadn't been there in a couple years, and our memories from the few trips we had taken were fond. It was my hope the smaller park would have short (or no) lines. To make the trip even friendlier to my wife, we decided to head up on Saturday for a part day, then spend a part day on Sunday before heading back to Akron.

The route from the PA Turnpike is schizophrenic: first Route 30 is an endless series of start/stop traffic lights. It's not until getting well past Greensburg that the commercial corridor drops away and the road turns into a gorgeous forested road following the Loyalhanna River.

The old Idlewild sign pops up on the right, and we're there. It's 5:15 in the evening -- a bit later than I had intended, but as it turned out it worked out well. At the parking booth, we paid for our tickets and opted for the cut rate for next day admission. Regular price for Idlewild and Soak Zone is $24.95; if returning the next day, it drops to $14.95. I like that you pay for your tickets right in the parking lot, eliminating the hassle of a second line later on. The provided wristbands are quite convenient. And, of course, parking is free.

We passed a couple gravel and grass lots that had "Full" signs posted, finally finding an empty one and using my wife's handicapped placard to park as close as possible to the park. Already it looks like the park is busier than I had predicted.

Idlewild is a charming (there's that word!) place, dominated by mature trees that tower overhead and provide a great deal of shade. Even though it's a former Kenny park, aesthetically it's most akin to Knoebels.

To get from the parking lot to the park itself, we must pass through a series of picnic shelters. These are quite interesting. The posts that support the shelter roofs are actual tree trunks -- and massive ones at that. The roofs are timber, topped with a rose colored metal sheathing. They look like they could survive an atomic blast.

We find ourselves in the Hootin' Holler area of the park. The Appalachian theming is some of the best I have ever seen. Dusty paths wind through old trees and cross a burbling stream numerous times. I don't know when this area was built, but I'm guessing it must date at least to the wave of frontier theming that came after Disneyland opened. More than anything else, it reminds me of Dollywood, and makes me wonder if it were used as a template for that park later. Anyone know the history involved?

First off, my daughter and I hit Howler (my wife has an issue with spin and pukes, and it looked like too much to her). Your standard Tornado-type ride, Howler is a good opening act for the park.

Next, after picking up maps at the nearby Guest Services, we wend our way to Old Idlewild. This area features the largest collection of rides in the park. To me, it always looks as if a classic carnival had plunked down in this spot and sprouted roots. The compactness of the area gives it that busy energy of a traditional amusement park. It helped that that day was the busiest I had seen Idlewild. Most flats featured multiple ride waits, and the paths were pleasantly, but not overwhelmingly, teeming.

My wife, in a fit of bravery, decided at this point to tackle Paratrooper with us -- her first ever ride on it. A nice breeze-maker, the ride helped cool us down from the slight muggy warmth of the evening. I don't know why, but every Paratrooper I have ever ridden has an obligatory tree placed (apparently) perilously close to the downward swing of the gondolas.

Afterward, my wife realized the mistake of her bravery, so she sat out while my daughter and I tackled the Roundup. A nice long ride cycle on another classic. Following this, my wife had recovered enough to ride the Whip. I had to sit this one out, since they don't allow single riders. Instead, I sat on a huge, sawn off tree stump and watched them ride.

By this point, clouds were getting thicker. We decided to try to get in the rides my daughter most wanted to do. She opted for the Mister Rogers' trolley ride, so we took the hike across the bridge over the Loyalhanna River to Raccoon Lagoon and got in line. I love the way the queues are set up for this attraction. Since there is a seven minute wait between each trolley, the queue weaves around a series of wooden benches for sitting. A pleasant way to wait, and I wish more parks would make use of the system.

The ride itself, for those that have never been, is a gentle tour through the woods, stopping at the homes of each of King Friday's neighbors -- taken directly from the show. Obviously this is meant for the little ones, and my daughter enjoyed it much more than three years ago, when she cried through the whole thing. There is a lot of clapping and preschool-ish interaction like group call and response on the ride. The animatronics are subdued and not at all overwhelming.

The line for the ride was long -- nearly a half hour wait. During the interim I spoke to one of the employees, quizzing her about Parques Reunidos. As far as she knew, they hadn't changed a single thing in park operations or management. I got the impression she had never even talked to anyone from the company. She was impressed that a guest had heard of the company, so I had to explain that everything I learned I learned from Lord Gonchar (joke -- it's really only about a third). She pumped me for information about PR, but I had little to tell her.

The employee actually started talking about Geauga Lake closing -- I didn't know the park's story had gotten so far afield -- and here she told me an interesting thing. She said that it was after Anheuser-Busch sold Sea World that Idlewild started seeing a lot of visitors from Ohio. Don't really know how that enters into the whole GL debate, just figured I'd mention it.

After the ride, we checked out the nearby gift shop, picking up a few Mister Rogers souvenirs (I don't know anywhere else, except maybe in Pittsburgh, where you can find them). I loved that show when I was a kid, and I've always appreciated the gentle style he always used with children.

Next, the wife and daughter took a tour on the Loyalhanna Limited, the relatively small gauge train that runs through the forest, crossing the river to Old Idlewild before returning. I sat that one out.

Raccoon Lagoon is one of the great kid's areas, in the park, featuring handcarts, a miniature Ferris wheel, kids' cars and pony rides. My daughter has never had one of those (pony rides, that is), and this wasn't to be her inaugural ride either. Even at six, she's still intimidated by the animals. The way she's growing, she may be sized out of the pony market completely in a couple more years.

When my wife and daughter returned, we went over to the nearby food stand that mostly featured kids' fare. Though there was a substantial line, we got to the counter in five minutes. Two chicken tender meals, a jumbo hot dog, three fries, three drinks and a pack of potato chips ran us only nineteen dollars. Maybe not Holiday World-great prices, but certainly not Cedar Fair- or Six Flags-horrible, either. The attendant brought the food out to us at the picnic tables. The quality was...give it a semi-meh.

Here I have to mention that most of the employees were friendly, even talkative. I nominate Idlewild for best employees.

Next, we headed back across the bridge to old Idlewild. My daughter and I took on the Caterpillar. What a great ride! How many of those are even left in the world? It occurred to me that it must have been the second best ride for making out at parks (after the tunnel of love/dark rides, obviously). I could just imagine some hot little WAC, thrust into the arms of her GI by the centrifugal force, doing who knows what under that green tarp . . .

From the Caterpillar, we noticed that Wild Mouse was no longer running. By this point, ominous clouds were rolling in and it was beginning to sprinkle. We took this as our cue to high tail it before the deluge set in. We made it to the car just in time to avoid a heavy rain.

We drove back to our hotel in Greensburg, about twenty minutes away. The next morning, we decided to get my wife a wheelchair for the day. The previous night had been too much on her leg. Back to the park, we picked one up at Guest Services for only ten dollars, with the only deposit being your driver's license. (This concerned me, since I rely heavily on my credit and debit cards and I wouldn't have I.D., but it never became an issue.)

First up on this pleasant Sunday morning was the log ride. A very brief ride, with one minor hill, but a fun one nevertheless.

In contrast with Saturday, crowds were very light this day. Apparently forecasts called for it to rain all day, and I'm sure this kept the visitors down. Everything we did this day was virtually a walk-on. (It never did rain until in the evening, after we had already left.)

We headed over to Jumpin' Jungle next. My wife was able to watch while I shepherded our daughter around the various climbing and playing attractions. Idlewild posts proudly that it has the number one (or maybe it was two?) kid's area in the world. Don't know how recent that ranking is, but it is still phenomenal for the youngsters. There are nets, slides, a huge ball pit, boat races, and numerous other cool things to keep the wee ones occupied. It is all very old school, and it requires exercise on the part of the kids. It's very charming (there's that word again!)

Since we were over at this end, I voted to go see Story Book Forest, which I had never gotten to on any previous trip. If you have small ones, it's worth the walk. A meandering forest path takes you from vignette to vignette, each one taken from Mother Goose and other assorted tales. Very often live actors in costume will talk to the children, providing treats or fun handstamps. I thought Little Miss Riding Hood was particularly cute. ;)

Next, we decided no to try our luck any more. We headed over to the coasters. First up was Wild Mouse. My daughter and I tackled it while my wife sat out. Have to say, I love this coaster more with every visit. It's beautiful the way the black track weaves in and out of the mature evergreens, hiding its course. And the view from the top is fantastic, with the river on the right.

I've never understood why this particular mouse has an angled lift hill. Purpose, anyone? It's also one of the loudest chain lifts of any coaster, anywhere. But I love the pops of air it provides, including one really forceful negative gee moment and a good but brief floater moment. I would have to say it's my second favorite mouse, after the Bobsleds at Seabreeze.

My wife was feeling brave again, so she rode Wild Mouse next with my daughter while I guarded the wheel chair. Her vote: thumbs down -- too jerky. "But Wild Mouse coasters are *supposed* to be jerky", I tried to explain.

Just across the way, we (me and the daughter) hit Rollo Coaster. I love, love this coaster. It was my daughter's first woodie when she was three. We rode in the back seat to get the most air time. If you've never been on, this coaster offers more bang than it would appear. It is built along a hillside, under and around trees. The course is a curving out-and-back with lots of great bunny hills. And no restraints in the cars -- no lap bars, no belts, only a metal handlebar to hold on to.

After hitting it a second time, my daughter and I rode Flying Aces. There are NO SNAPPING signs posted everywhere, and the attendant looked like he was looking for it. So I only attempted a very mild snap, otherwise letting my daughter guide the sail. My wife rode it with my daughter afterward, and again it was too much for her. (Dang, but I need to get her some flat ride gene therapy.)

As did Hootin' Holler, something about Old Idlewild reminded me of Dollywood. If I squinted my eyes, I could swear I was in County Fair. Wonder if there's anything to it.

After re-rides on a number of flats and Wild Mouse again, we went over to the Mine Shaft Kitchen (or something like that), a pretty sheltered food court with pioneer theming. My daughter, being a chicken nut, opted for the tenders again from the Potato Patch, while my wife and I went for the BBQ pork sandwiches and corn on the cob. Mmmmm. Fantastic food. With drinks and fries, it came to $22, and it was worth every penny of it. Absolutely mouth-watering, and portions simply too big to eat. Believe me, I tried. The fries from the Potato Patch, along with those from Kennywood, are simply the best in the amusement park universe that I've tasted.

The evening was wearing on. Clouds threatened, but didn't deliver. We re-rode Mister Rogers' trolley (I felt safe enough to leave the wheelchair with the row of strollers outside the queue), and the train again. Returning toward Guest Services, I checked out Confusion Hill and Dizzy Lizzies. These are both walk-throughs, apparently, though I had never experienced them and wouldn't today, either. At the entrances to both, they were waiting for groups to build up so they could usher them in. I didn't feel like waiting the indeterminate amount of time necessary to see this happen, so I passed on both. Oh well, next year.

A few more re-rides, and it was time to return the wheelchair, pick up some extra maps and a tee-shirt, and head for Dodge. A fantastic weekend, one of the most charming (knew that word was gonna come up one more time!) parks out there, and great family time. Highly recommend it.

Sorry for the very long TR -- this is why I don't usually write them! :)

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Monday, June 23, 2008 11:49 PM
I think this was an excellent trip report, actually. I've been debating heading out to Idlewild because I remember my little cousin talking about the Rollocoaster and how much she loved it and the whole park in general. Sounds like it is more family oriented and thus probably not the best park for a thrill seeker, but I might head out there some day when I am bored just based on the strength of your trip report. :) Glad to see you had a lovely time.
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Tuesday, June 24, 2008 8:12 AM
The lift of Wild Mouse tilts because when it was at Alton Towers, it had some sort of roof (or maybe rotating barrel?) over the lift to give the illusion that you were falling out of your car...at least that's what I heard.

And it's recent for Idlewild to be named second best kids' park in the world.

Glad you had fun!

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008 9:43 AM
Thanks, bunky. Idlewild certainly is light on the thrill rides, but it makes up for it in other ways. Definitely a great place to take kids.

^That would have been cool to experience. Sounds a little bit like the lift for Space Mountain.

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