ELYSBURG, Pa. — Here is a park that has survived a Great Depression, a World War and a half-dozen floods. And rather than looking old and tired, Knoebels—85 and counting—is as spry as amusement parks half her age, but with ten times the class.
I decided years ago that I’d had my fill of amusement parks. I’ve done La Ronde to death, and I’ve spent countless hours of my life standing in lines at other Six Flags, the CNE, and county fairs all over North America. I get plenty of thrills driving back country roads and the freeways around New York City, so I don’t need to pay for the feeling of my stomach falling out every time I turn a corner.
But our friend Ginger suggested we go to Knoebels, and Ginger understands the kind of travellers we are.
This gorgeous chunk of Pennsylvania mountain was purchased by the Knoebel family for $931 back in 1828 and while the third generation to live here did farm it, Henry “Old Hen” Knoebel was forward-thinking enough to see the property’s recreational potential. More importantly, the Knoebels built their park while respecting the land. There are trees everywhere here, spaced just far enough apart to safely plant rides that are shaded and cool. The terrible brightness of the July sun is filtered through lush leaves and chill breezes come off the creek each time one strolls over a pedestrian bridge.
The Grand Carousel is one of the world’s largest, but what makes this 1913 merry-go-round fun and unique is that it has a working brass-ring dispenser. Riders on the outer ring stretch with their arms out, collecting metal rings with each pass—the rider who’s lucky enough to catch the brass ring gets bragging rights and the cost of the ride back.
Oh, and the prices! Admission is free, so people like me who are long finished with roller coasters and bumper cars don’t feel like we’re wasting our money, yet tickets are inexpensive enough that it doesn’t take long to get your money’s worth if rides are your thing, or if you’re escorting a child or two to the many, many activities for them. The food stands are plentiful, the food delicious and remarkably well-priced.
I am finished with amusement parks with the exception of Knoebels. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again and again to this magical little place.
We visited two other amusement parks during the week we went to Knoebels.
Waldameer Water World is more than a hundred years old, a beloved picnic-spot-turned-tourist-attraction beside Lake Erie. I loved its 1960s feel and Jilly loved its lax height limits—she enjoyed her first roller coaster ride and spent far too much time (if you ask me, which I guess you didn’t) on grownup rides. The water park seemed lovely, but the water was frigid, making even the lazy river uncomfortable. We were visiting Erie during a cool week, though, so it’s not like it’s their fault.
Adventureland in Long Island was twelve kinds of terrible. We were there for a birthday party that was so disorganized the host took things into her own hands and fired our animator. I suspect the poor girl was suffering from a serious lack of training, and the faces of nearly all staff we encountered suggest the park isn’t the happiest place to work. Communication with ride operators was next to nil, and it was hot and expensive. I tweeted a complaint, which the company favourited, so I guess making children miserable is just a job well done.