|On a cool and sunny Labor Day weekend, Karen and I made a trip up north to Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire. It had been a few years since we had visited, and there had been quite a few changes. We arrived at about 10:30 and were surprised to find that there was a line of cars waiting to get in and the parking lot was nearly filled. We were directed down toward the Yankee Cannonball's turnaround. There was still free parking, which was refreshing to see. But the park did have a section of the lot near the ticket gates reserved for an industry trend, "Preferred Parking", which was an upcharge.
We walked over to the beautiful rustic entrance. The park now had unobtrusive security checks before entering the midway, another concession to changing times (as was the cost of admission which was nearing $50). Initially, not much had appeared to have changed. We headed north, past the vintage 1903 carousel with its band organ playing away merrily. Nearby was the Ice Jet, a refurbishment of the park's Matterhorn ride. The Dodgems had a wonderful and colorful retro art deco facade. We passed by the giant tent covering the Midway Stage, which features a variety of acts throughout the day. At that time, a kid's show was underway with just a single mother and daughter for an audience. The stage also featured Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift impersonators. The tent also contained refreshments stations which appeared to be unoccupied at that time.
Opposite the tent was the station for one of my favorite wood coasters, the Yankee Cannonball. There was now a tent over its queue line, which certainly made waiting more comfortable on a hot day. The queue line was also packed. Since we couldn't be guaranteed of where we would end up in the train after that long wait, we passed on riding it. Instead we walked over to the Sky Ride. I was suprised to find an enormous amount of construction going on there, including around the park's iconic stone fountain. They were building a new ride there, a Venetian double-decker carousel. That would bring the number of carousels in the park to three. I was surprised they were building it so late in the season. The crew was assembling the upper deck, and it appeared they had a long way to go before it would be completed. The trip on the Sky Ride was relaxing and enjoyable, with a panoramic view of the lake.
After that we headed into the Bear Lodge which this season featured a "virtual reality" laser tag arena. But more enticing than that, it was one of the few parks that featured a large pinball parlor. It sported a wide variety of machines from different eras, including a rare Space Invaders pinball (which I used to play a lot at Mountain Park) and a new Jersey Jack Wizard of Oz table. We played a few of the tables and chatted with the attendant there, who said one of the park's owners was a big pinball enthusiast and had collected the machines, including a beautiful showpiece made out of clear acrylic.
From there we walked over to the water's edge. We passed by Autobahn, an enclosed kiddie ride that had a whimsical set of big colorful chairs out front so parents could relax while their children rode. We wanted to ride the Canobie Express, a delightful steam locomotive that had its circuit shortened by recent renovations. I was curious what the trip was now like. The train's entrance and exit gates next to Portofino's restaurant had their signs removed, which confused Karen. I remembered which gate was which and lined up. I was surprised no one else was in line. Within a few minutes, the train passed by, circling around the Casino arcade at the far north end and then heading back. And it kept going without stopping. I asked a nearby attendant about that, and she replied that the train was now a round trip with the station at the other end of the park.
So we made our way south, pausing in the Ye Olde Boston area to watch the Boston Tea Party shoot-the-chutes plunge down its drop and soak the midway. We passed by the old skating rink that was used for storage. It was converted each year into a haunted house for the park's Screemfest. Just past that we spotted the new Canobie Station, an attractive structure made of stone and wood lattice. We had gotten there just after the train had reached the station and were able to queue right up for it. Since it was a real steam engine heated by natural gas, the park had transferred the water pump over to the new station and also installed a giant propane tank there. In short order we were rolling along the new route. It was indeed truncated. I guess to make up for that the train travelled much more slowly (evident by the fact we were able to walk from one end of the park to the other and meet it at the station). But it was a pleasant trip. I was glad they kept the train, even if the route was shorter.
By then it was past noon and we were hungry. So we stopped at the Trellis restaurant near the entrance. They were serving veggie burgers. Karen and I each got the basket, which included French fries. We sat out on the patio and enjoyed the sunshine and cool breeze as we ate. Afterward, we continued on toward the south end of the park. Along the way, I noticed another curious bench. I first saw them at the Bear lodge: two large reclining fiberglass bears that were actually seats. In the Olde Canobie section of the park, we spotted another one, this time a horse. The seats were pretty low to the ground and didn't look particularly comfortable, and I never saw anyone utilizing them.
The park had converted its gift shop at the south end into a "puzzle room". We didn't try it. Evidently, you're given a puzzle and time limit in which to solve it. There were a few people lined up for it, so I guess it was popular. Opposite that in the gazebo was the Dixie Hot Four, a Dixieland band. Next to that was the great Policy Pond Sawmill, the park's rustic flume ride, and one of my favorites. We noticed that the big water wheel next to the station was missing. Hopefully it was just out for repair. We queued up and within a few minutes were drifting along the concrete troughs. As always, it was a peaceful and enjoyable ride, and we got only midly wet.
We rounded the far south end of the park and queued up for the Mine of Lost Souls, Canobie's impressive hi-tech dark ride. The line wasn't too long and in short order we were seated and cruising through the mine. The animatronics were still in remarkable shape and the ride was a fun diversion. From there we headed back north along the west end of the park.
Karen noticed a large new structure next to the Pirate ship ride: an actual pirate ship that appeared to have been broken apart by the walkway. That was the sign that we were entering the newest area of the park, Castaway Island. Built in the large grassy field adjacent to the Canobie Corkscrew roller coaster that the train used to circle, it was a surprisingly large addition. To the left as we entered, a mermaid was seated on a throne, greeting children. Ahead in the distance was a tall waterslide complex and an expansive lazy river ride. As was the tradition at Canobie, everything was perfectly themed and tied in with the Polynesian look of their original waterpark next door. Previously, you could access the older waterpark from the walkway to the west of the Corkscrew. But that had been blocked off, and now the only entrance was to the east. Next to that entrance was a little spray park for small fry. There was also a sign informing people that due to heavy demand, the park might need to restrict access to the waterpark until enough guests cleared out. There was even a queue line at the entrance. So evidently, the park management knew what their guests wanted; the waterpark (even on this relatively mild day) was mobbed.
We walked back toward the entrance and stopped to take a ride on the Giant Wheel. That had special signficance for us. Karen and I went on our first date to Canobie. When we rode the Giant Wheel, by some miracle the post in our cab had etched into it, "I ♥ Jay".
There were many families in line with young children who were using the queue line rails as a jungle gym. But it showed how the park truly was a family destination where all ages could ride together. Karen and I eventually boarded and had a nice long circuit high above the midway. It was impressive to me how much Canobie had grown in the decades we had been visiting, but how at the same time it managed to retain its traditional feel and focus on families. Nothing in the park felt out of place; all the rides and themed areas seemed to belong there.
We went next door to the gift shop to check out the new offerings. They did have a really nice coaster-themed t-shirt, but there weren't any in my size. I did find another nice one, plus an attractive magnet. I was trying to remember where the park served hard ice cream, and Karen recalled it was near the Boston Tea Party. So we headed over to the ice cream shop there. Karen got a small dish of mint chocolate chip and I got a small dish of coffee. We walked over to the old train station, which was still standing next to the BeBop Diner, and sat on a bench in the shade to eat our tasty treats. The station seemed so lonely now. A gravel path circled around the large grassy area behind it, the path the train used to follow. I could imagine Canobie repurposing that area for another ride and using the train station as the queuing area. For now, the station held just benches and several working mutascopes, the antique precursor to movie theaters. After we finished our ice cream, I created a new walk-thru of the park and then we called it a day.
I was happy to see that the owners of the park still knew what made Canobie so special. Their aesthetic sense and attention to detail were evident everywhere. They should be proud of how well they were able to balanced the old with the new, keeping a sense of nostalgia while updating the park for a new generation. That care and pride were what made Canobie one of my favorite spots in New England and what has kept us returning to the park year after year. And I guess the general public was in agreement; as we drove out of the park, not a single empty space could be seen. In fact, cars were parked on grassy areas to the sides of the lots. Unlike what some pundits have said, the age of the small family-owned amusement park was not over. In fact, it was alive and well at Canobie Lake Park.
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