Canobie Lake Park, July 5, 2010

copyright Jay Ducharme 2010

 After a span of two years, Karen and I paid a visit to one of our favorite spots: Canobie Lake Park.  It was a blisteringly hot day, in the upper 90s.  We arrived just after the 11:00 park opening.  The parking attendants directed our car over to a shady spot near the Yankee Cannonball coaster.  The lot was about 1/3 full and there were already several long lines at the entrance gates.  A family in front of us had discount coupons they didn't need and passed them along to us.  Admission normally cost $30, but we each got $4 off!  Thank you, mystery family!

Inside the entrance was a large statue of Michael Jackson, advertising the new show Canobie had this year.  We walked toward the heavily shaded old west section of the park, past the Canobie 500 car ride.  Along the walk there used to be a small arena with coin-operated miniature cars.  That concession had been removed and was replaced with something I'd never before seen at an amusement park: a paintball arena.  It contained a long narrow high-walled western-themed alleyway.  There was a small pond in the middle.  For $10 you were given a rifle and 100 shots.  You could spatter paint all over the arena.  Unfortunately, this had turned the entire arena a sickly shade of greyish-green.

We continued down toward Canobie's sawmill-themed flume.  It was the perfect ride for a hot day.  Fortunately, the line wasn't very long and the queue was inside the old building, out of the sun.  The meandering ride beneath the pine trees was a perfect way to start our day.  Karen noticed that a lot of work had been done on the surrounding buildings.  The exteriors appeared to have gotten new rustic siding.  Many of the interiors had been completely redesigned as well.  The gift shop for example used to be stocked with toys and trinkets and was very cluttered.  Now it had far fewer gifts and hardly any toys.  It was spacious, but it also felt empty.

We took a walk down past the stage for country and western acts, over to the Mine of the Lost Souls.  Surprisingly, there was hardly anyone in line for it.  Normally it would be crowded.  The ride was enjoyable as always, and all of the stunts were working except for the waterfall at the end, an effect that I assume was abandoned because it never worked properly.  We then made our way back through the shade.  Other buildings in the area appeared to have been spruced up as well.

The water park next to the Canobie Corkscrew was packed with people.  Karen felt like having ice cream.  Although there was a stand nearby with soft ice cream, we opted for the Yankee Whaler, which had hard ice cream.  As we strolled along the paths, the magic of Canobie's gardeners was in evidence everywhere.  Beautiful floral arrangements abounded.  We passed by a display that was set up in front of the park's old pavilion.  It advertised "Screemfest," the park's new Halloween offering.  It seemed like every park was jumping on board with this idea.  Canobie's display had the usual assortment of mannequin corpses and ghouls, plus an Elvis figure crawling out of a casket.

The whole "seaside" stretch of Canobie still delighted me.  It was a very convincing recreation of an old New England fishing village.  The Boston Tea Party shoot-the-chutes was drawing a big crowd, and its massive splash across the midway delighted the guests.  We walked into the Yankee Whaler.  It almost looked deserted.  They had trimmed their offerings considerably.  There were just four ice cream choices -- all with chocolate except for black raspberry.  I was puzzled why they didn't even have vanilla or coffee.  It's not that they were out of stock; those were the only flavors painted on their sign.  Karen got a dish of cookies-and-cream.  I passed.  Next door at the Sons of Liberty Tavern, macaroni and cheese was advertised on the park map.  So we stopped by and discovered that it came only with a kid's meal.  There were no individual dishes offered.  So, disappointed, we continued on our way.

We passed by the Dancehall Theater.  The Michael Jackson show started at 2:00.  We still had a long while, so we stopped into Portofino's Restaurant.  The air conditioning felt great.  The food services at the park were still run by Sodhexo.  It seemed they had done a bit of tweaking to the menu.  The cheese pizza looked great, almost the same as the Lake Compounce pizza.  So I ordered two slices.  Karen got the spaghetti with marinara sauce.  The food was tasty.  The marinara was just spicy enough, and the pizza was a big improvement over their previous offering.

We headed back out into the heat.  The Blue Heron Lake Cruise was far out on the water, filled with passengers.  Instead of waiting for it to return, we walked up past the old fountain and headed for the antique cars.  The line was short, but the cars seemed to have been throttled back and were moving slowly.  There were also only a handful of cars on the track.  It took us about a half-hour before we boarded for our short ride alongside the Yankee Cannonball.  The park said that their coaster is the oldest operating in the U.S.  (Technically, it's Leap the Dips.)  Regardless, it always gave a fun ride.  And it looked like it was running fast and furious.

After being out in the heat, we headed for the fresh-squeezed lemonade stand.  Karen got a strawberry lemonade and I got a regular.  The cups seemed smaller than usual, especially for the price ($3.25).  But it was tart and tasty.  The nearby Dodgem building, with its neon coloring, was brilliant in the sun.  We wandered down past Hang Time, the ocean-themed Chance Wipeout.  There were nice touches everywhere, an indication that the owners really cared about the park and how it looked.  From the artificial palm trees around the Tiki Maze to the beach sand near the Boston Tea Party, the landscaping was filled with delightful details.

After the refreshing drink, I decided to get an ice cream cone.  We passed the rooster-themed flying scooter ride and made our way back toward the Corkscrew to the funnel cake stand.  I got a cone of soft vanilla with butterscotch, which tasted good in the heat.  We relaxed on a shaded bench and watched the Canobie 500 cars roll by.  Nearby, next to the Xtreme Frisbee ride, was a basketball game that was luring in customers with an interesting tease: you could win an iPad.

We headed back toward the theater.  The line for the Sky Ride was short, so we took a peaceful trip high above the midway. It was just about show time, so we went back to the theater.  A short line had formed outside, and right after we queued up they let people in.  The ushers were dressed in uniforms that looked like a cross between a bellhop and a '50s sock hop, complete with white gloves.  The interior was dark except for two narrow shafts of light that illuminated some of the audience. We sat near the center, in the dark.  The stage was mostly unchanged from the last time we saw it: a multi-stepped platform rimmed with amber rope lights.  The backdrop was a grid of small holes through which purple light was shining.  On either side of the stage area were projection screens.  The screens suddenly came to life.  I was a bit confused at first, but it became apparent that there was a remotely controlled camera somewhere above the stage, and it was panning back and forth across the lighted portions of the audience.  It was a novel way to entertain the audience while they waited for the show to start.  People would see their own face on the screen and laugh and wave.  The theater began filling up rapidly.  More people became aware of the camera.  Many were mugging.  Some couples kissed, eliciting cheers from the audience.

Eventually, the lights began to dim.  A fog machine backstage was started.  An announcer's voice welcomed the audience and gave the usual warnings about not videotaping the performance.  Ominous music started.  The background lit up with lights.  Laser beams flashed out over our heads.  And then he appeared.  It looked just like the "final version" of Michael Jackson.  He wore a fedora pulled down over his face, long black tresses hanging over his shoulder.  When he looked up, I could have sworn it was the real Michael Jackson in front of me.   He moved like the real thing.  He sounded like the real thing.  With an occasional troupe of dancers around him, he ran through a rapid-fire review of Jackson's career, accompanied by psychdelic visuals on the screens.  Every so often a rapper would appear on the screens, taking over for Jackson.  He had several quick costume changes.  The crowd went wild for his rendition of Thriller, complete with the dancers dressed as ghouls.  He moonwalked across the stage.  Someone in the audience screamed, "I love you, Michael!"  Without missing a beat he replied, "I love you more!"  It was a really impressive high-energy performance, marred only at one point when everything went dead.  The videos went black.  The music cut out.  His microphone died.  At first I thought it was staged.  Then the screens turned blue and a re-boot bar appeared.  Apparently everything was controlled by the DVD player, which crashed.  The crowd kept cheering him on.  Dripping with sweat, he disappeared backstage briefly and returned with a hand-held microphone and resumed the show, ending with Billy Jean.  The crowd gave him a standing ovation.  It was one of the best embodiments I've ever seen.

We walked over to the Blue Heron queue and waited a few minutes for the boat to return.  Although we missed the old Canobie Queen paddlewheeler, this catamaran was an adequate substitute.  We had a pleasant and relaxing 20 minute ride around the lake.  The continual breeze felt good.  Afterward, we resumed our leisurely stroll around the midway. We stopped by the Canobie Mall, which still featured their Vegas-style Casino at one end.  The gift shop there had been completely re-done, with shelves painted in Day-Glo multi-colors.  There was nothing interesting to buy.  So we continued our drifting, admiring the plantings.  Even the lightposts were whimsical.  We also spotted another historical relic, one of the cairns that marked the original entrance to the park when it was alongside the trolley line.

Karen was really feeling the heat but didn't want to get completely drenched, so she stood on the midway next to the Boston Tea Party and basked in the thick mist that soaked the midway.  Then we stopped in next door at the gift shop.  They were having a sale on some nice Canobie t-shirts, 3 for $30, so we picked out some different styles.  On the way back toward the entrance, Karen saw a hanging seashell decoration at the tiki gift shop, so we got that too.  Then we headed back to the car for the long trip home.

Once again, we had a wonderful time at this charming park.  Although it keeps changing with the times, it does so gracefully so as not to lose its character.  The entertainment was top-notch and the food was enjoyable.  But mostly what brings us back over and over is the shade and the beautiful landscaping.  It's a great place to relax and forget our cares.

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