Friday, June 13, 2003 7:02 PM
The biggest ride you take at Indiana Beach is the one back in time. The whole park is a time warp. The amusement park industry began on the piers and boardwalks of the Atlantic coast. Coney Island was the most famous, but there were 20 others, most notably Atlantic City, Ocean Beach, Rehobeth Beach and Virginia Beach. These "parks" evolved a unique style : a linear layout, clever use of tight space, public access to the throughway with pay-as-you-go concessions, games and rides along the way, and a heavy beach flavor. The others are all gone now, but Indiana Beach preserves that 1930s atmosphere despite its modern engineering and management.
ACCESS : Not every park has the interstate location of PKI or CW. IB is about half an hour off I-65, about 90 minutes north of Indianapolis or south of Chicago.
LODGING : Some unique choices here. We stayed at the 1930 IB Motel, even more inside the park than Breakers at CP. The Hoosier Hurricane was right above us. Rates reasonable, rooms tiny but clean, tv three channels. You could camp and take the free water taxi downshore to the park. You could stay across the pedestrian suspension bridge at 1930 Spear's Lodge. Or you could stay at 1887 Black Dog Inn, probably the only amusement park bed and breakfast. All these places have pools, jacuzzis, etc.
FOOD. The Sky Room is the finest restaurant at any amusement park in America, without exception. This is a restaurant so good people drive in on Sunday afternoons from Chicago and Indianapolis just to eat here. You can enjoy everything from shish-ke-bab to Polynesian Luau, a complete wine selection, and a breakfast buffet, all at 1950s prices. Turkey Dinner for $7? Full breakfast for two for $10? The walls are full glass, so you eat looking straight up the midway, with the Giant Wheel rotating at the other end and the lake out to your left. IB has the usual junk food counters up and down the midway, but we ate all our meals at the Sky Room.
ADMISSION. if you stay at IB Lodging, you're already in the park, so you can walk around 24 hours a day. To ride anything, you buy individual tickets or a ride all day wrist band. IB posts a sign on the ticket windows telling you which rides are closed temporarily or for the day, a nice touch other parks should emulate.
OVERVIEW. Where else does the 89 year old founder spend each day strolling the midway and sitting on park benches talking to customers? HW gets more credit for its hospitality, but the folk at IB are just as friendly and attentive.
This is the greatest park in America for its Spatial Use. Rides are built out over the water, over and under and through each other, sharing walls and supports, towering up and up in a bewildering maze of steel. Architectural students should bring cameras.
IB offers longer ride cycles, repeat rides, and superb maintenance for extremely smooth operation. The irony is that IB sees itself as a smaller park, so it tries harder to please the customer, but by actual count it has more rides than most.
COASTERS. Like HW, IB is the classic example of the Field of Dreams adage, "If You Build Them They Will Come." It has five outstanding coasters and people come from everywhere to ride them.
GALAXI. This 1972 interpretation of the Wild Mouse style tubular steel rail single car coaster packs a real punch. We rank this the second best Wild Mouse in the country.
TIGRR. But what's amazing is that this 1980 Schwarzkopf Wild Mouse is the best in the country. No other park we've seen has two rodent coasters. Don't let the cartoon name fool you --- this is no kiddie ride. The first drop and hard right turn inflict some powerful Gs and laterals. There's no fake braking here; the banking is 90 degrees in places and even veteran coaster riders find their knuckles white from gripping those hand rails.
LoCoSuMo --- What words do I use? Unique? Clever ? Creative? Brilliant? This is America's number one Mine Train Ride. To overcome the lack of space, they use an elevator rather than a lift hill to pull cars to the top. It is a nonstop breathtaking spin through hairpin turns, drops and helices, with tunnels and special effects thrown in for good measure. Turns are so tight you're almost spinning in place.
HOOSIER HURRICANE (1994). Wow. We rank this the number one out and back woodie in the country. It offers no helices or laterals, since it's straight along the lakeshore, around one bend, and straight back. But it gives continual puffs of airtime, and it rivals Thunder Run in its relentless speed. The drop under the suspension bridge and numerous drops to the water look innocent enough seen from a distance, but when you're riding and everything is just a blur, they create amazing visual impressions. How they maintain this much speed for this long from a single beginning drop is a real engineering issue, especially after that turnaround.
CORNBALL EXPRESS (2001). The big joke is they claim this is less intense than Hurricane. Right. What Cornball specializes in is laterals. The whole ride is a series of big and small helices. You weave above, beneath, through and around Hurricane and Tigrr, often sharing supports, and there's even a log flume to your right. if you hit it just right you have so many plunging coasters in your field of vision it's disorienting. Cornball doesn't have the vertical Gs, but the constant speed and turns produces intense laterals. This is definitely among our top 10 woodies.
FLATS. IB offers fairly standard versions of Chaos, Falling Star, Musik Express, Pirate Ship, Flying Bobs, Double Shot and Scrambler. As mentioned, they are smoother than most and give longer cycles. Other IB rides are worth a mention.
TILT A WHIRL. IB engineers have angled the pitch on the underlying girders about 10 degrees, which of course causes the cars to spin more easily, faster and in longer duration.
DEN OF LOST THIEVES. Interactive Dark Ride. Cool. Parks need more of these.
PARATROOPER. Hanging out over the water as it does, the ride is smoother and faster than most, giving it a stomach fluttering upswing. The seats crest the top at an 80 degree angle. We like Paratroopers, and this is the most intense we've ridden. Just a great experience.
BUMPER CARS. Mixed review. We love these cars. They are the fastest and quickest we've seen. But the seat backs are too low, causing real pain with the frequent impacts. And the floor is too small. Yes, the space is limited, but this ride needs ample room. Move it out by the Double Shot.
GIANT WHEEL. A Chase masterpiece, this is the second biggest Ferris Wheel ever built in the U.S. It sits at the far end of the peninsula, with the Hurricane turning below it, and water on three sides. The gondolas are the best we've seen this side of the London Eye. Magnificent photo ops. Great place to watch the water show.
ANTIQUE CARS. Bizarre. These are great cars, much more comfortable and heavily padded than their brethren at other parks. They steer and accelerate very smoothly. But the course is surreal. You're on wooden ramps over the water. Rather than the flower beds, covered bridges, trips down through the forest, and other scenic wanderings found elsewhere, this track meanders through an industrial forest of steel girders and concrete tunnels. LoCoSuMo, Hurricane and the Train curl over, under and around you as you negotiate hills and turns. Photogenic in a high tech sort of way.
SWINGS. Great. Unlike other models, these are all in a single line. They are built on a pedestal out on the lake, and swing out over the water. These are faster than the others and lift out to a higher angle. Unfortunately, the seats are, as on all these models, too small. So anyone taller than 6-0 or of ample butt will find themselves very uncomfortable and in danger of tipping backward. Parks really need to install seats with higher backs and broader seats.
TRAIN. Disappointing. Inexpensive, small, a toy. Not in the same class as CP, PKI, BGW or Disney. Industrial scenery. Back lots, storage piles, discard dumps, maintenance areas. The "tunnel" is really a lumber storage shed. This is a ride IB should significantly upgrade.
SHAFER QUEEN. Classic paddlewheel steamer takes short and long cruises up and down the lake. Take the longer cruise as a break. Great photo ops.
LOG FLUME. Another gritty post industrial experience. A very short loop to the lift hill, one drop and back to the station. The loop includes two concrete tunnels under the girders of Hurricane. No long cruises through the trees or multiple lifts here. However, the one drop is a classic, equal to Kennywood's final one.
SKYRIDE. Classic chairlift, running from one end of park to the other. All parks should have these for convenience and photo ops. This offers your best coaster photos and takes you straight down the midway over every flat in the park.
GUNBOAT. This is the only one of these we've seen. Two people get in small submarines with gun turrets, steer out on the water and fire at a moving train on shore. People are firing back from the train and from stations on shore. People on shore can disable the boats for 60 second intervals with direct hits. The boat gunners can disable the train or the shore batteries with direct hits.
DOUBLE SHOT. Medium size drop tower. A Frog Hopper is next door.
MINIATURE GOLF. Two courses in park are both weak. if you're into putt-putt, wait until evening and walk up to the campground course, which is much better.
KIDDIELAND. One of the country's better Kiddielands, if you can tolerate all 12 rides being down under the steel girders of the three coasters and the log flume.
PADDLECRAFT. Standard paddleboats and watercycles can be rented by the half hour for trips out on the lake. Better than the undersized ponds most parks offer.
WATERPARK. Nothing innovative here, but the usual assortment of open and closed slides twisting down. The Lazy River is shorter than most.
BEACH. Surrounded by rides, with restaurant patrons looking down and coasters echoing in the background. A rather unique swimming experience.
CONCLUSION. Still run by the family that founded it, Indiana Beach is quirky, creative and definitely worth one visit a year. We spent three days there for $210, rode every ride, ate very well, and had a wonderful time.