Monday, August 6, 2001 11:26 AM
Haven't you ever asked yourself - as you fork over $8- (or $9 or $10-) for parking, then pay 40 bucks to enter, walking endless concrete paths to nowhere, waiting in long (slow-moving) lines for cookie-cutter rides run by indifferent employees, exiting through souvenir shops filled with over-priced, cheesy merchandise, eating mediocre, costly food - there's got to be a better way?
There is - Knoebels.
Beautiful setting (in the woods, nestled in the hills of central Pennsylvania, with shaded paths crossing over a gentle brook running through the heart of the park). FREE parking. NO admission charge (that's right - bring your grandma, your uncle, all your non-riding friends - everyone gets in free. Only pay for the rides). Wonderful, inexpensive food - of course, if you want to save even a few more bucks, just bring in your own lunch - they don't care. When I asked an employee about this policy last year, they replied, "If they can't afford it, why should we force our customers to eat our food?"
And, last but certainly not least - an amazing collection of new and classic rides impeccably maintained and run by enthusiastic, efficient employees. I guess you could say I like this place.
The wife and I decided on a hit-and-run visit to Knoebels for our (Canadian) long weekend, as with our contrasting work schedules and her television show in production we rarely have time for a leisurely trip. We headed out of Toronto on Friday evening (August 3), crossed the border into New York, and drove until about 11, when we crashed for the night. Up early the next day, we made good enough time that we decided to scope out our hotel for Saturday night first - our criteria basically consisting of air-conditioning and an on-site bar :) - and settled for a place just off I-80 with its own sports bar - "The End Zone" - which we ear-marked for the end-of-the-day celebration.
With that out of the way, we hit the twisty, scenic road to the park. We expected a big crowd for a hot August Saturday, so we were not shocked to see their parking lot filling up quickly by noon. No matter - many would be non-riders, there for a picnic or family reunion. After not paying for parking, we walk right in for a quick look around. The place is as beautiful as ever - we were so happy to be back.
Knoebels does offer a pay-one-price option during the week, but not on weekends, so we both bought a couple books of tickets and, not wanting to save the best for last, or even second, we headed straight for the Phoenix. This 1947 Herb Schmeck wooden masterpiece is, in itself, worth all the driving. For airtime whores like us, it is coaster nirvana.
For those who haven't had the pleasure, allow me a brief description. The layout itself is fairly simple, kind of a double figure-eight out-and-back. You start off with a cool pre-lift tunnel; the first hill is no more than 70 feet, with a good, fast drop, and a couple of hills that provide decent air up to the first turnaround. The train is still moving, not losing any speed, as you head back towards the second turn, hitting some bunny hops with nice pops of air; you fly around that turn, speed down the hill and then … it starts. You are now being flung from your seat with every hill, and when you scream up into the third turn you are nearly thrown from the train. You can't believe how fast you're moving as the train drops out from beneath your feet again and again on the breathtaking run back to the station. I've been on many of the world-renowned "Airtime Machines" - Shivering Timbers, Magnum, Rampage, GE's Comet, Georgia Cyclone, Swamp Fox, Superman:ROS, etc., and none of them come close to this baby. The only coaster I've seen even in its league is the Screechin' Eagle, but the Phoenix is a much longer ride, and is easily my favorite woodie. And it's great from every seat, with the air probably best in either the front, or 1-3 (the ejector seat).
And the trains! You can enjoy the air to its fullest, as all they have is a single-position lap bar. The seats are (thankfully, as you are slammed into them over and over) quite comfy, with thick, soft padding. The basic restraint system aids immeasurably (along with hard-working ride ops) in dispatch times. On average the time it took the train to come to a stop in the station, unload its passengers, re-load, and start moving again was less than thirty seconds (that's right - 30 SECONDS); one train I was on took closer to twenty seconds, which I would have thought impossible had I not seen it myself. This translated into no more than a five-minute wait for a seat (maybe 10 for the front) with two-train operation on what was surely one of the busiest days of the year.
After that we took a turn on the Twister, a gorgeous 1999 in-house design modeled after the legendary Elitch Gardens classic. It's a good ride (love that split lift), pretty intense with excellent laterals, and a couple of moments of air. For those of you who have complained about "lap bar Nazis" (a term I find offensive, actually), here I found the opposite (lap bar "freedom fighter", perhaps?). As we settled into the front seat, the op on my side leaned over and asked, "So, would you like the best ride?" "Of course" I replied. "Then just hold your lap bar up with your leg as you go down the first hill, so you get a little more air." Now, this is something I try to do with these individually ratcheting restraints anyway, as we all now they will staple you on their own at the bottom of a hill, but still - you gotta love that.
The rest of the day was spent strolling around, soaking in the idyllic setting, gorging ourselves on the tasty food, and enjoying the best collection of flat rides anywhere (along with multiple visits to the Phoenix, of course). Highlights include two trips to the wonderful Haunted Mansion (an old-fashioned, superbly-maintained dark ride); a dizzying spin on the Flyers (flying skooters, best of their kind); a relaxing tour of the woods on their great small-gauge train; a try at the brass ring on the carousel (no luck); and a few dollars lost at Fascination.
And no trip here would be complete without a few rides on the Skooters, their racing bumper cars. This may be my favorite non-coaster ride in any park, and that includes Spiderman at IOA. The cars themselves are works of art, original Art Deco Lusse skooters that really fly (and hit hard). The wife and I raced twice - I won the first and she took the re-match (the stakes were high, as we play for beer), although I would have won that as well had she not got some kid to cut me off just as I was going to pass her :)
Two more night rides on the Phoenix (which was picking up speed all day - the last ride was insane), and we called it a day. We were at the park nearly ten hours, and would have stayed ten more if we could. But soon we were ensconced at the End Zone, drinking a few beers, and going over yet another perfect day at Knoebels.
If you haven't been there yet, you truly don't know what you're missing.
*** This post was edited by spewey on 8/7/2001. ***
Saturday, August 11, 2001 2:41 PM
It's funny - elsewhere on this site there are long, acrimonious debates over extra charges for "queue-jumping" at parks with long, slow-moving lines. I even hear tell of a lawsuit. Well, I don't know what the solution to those problems are, but I do have an idea of what may help - spend more time at places like Knoebels (or Holiday World, or Indiana Beach ...).