July 7, 2011
copyright Jay Ducharme 2011

Karen signed up for an evening choral workshop in Nashua, New Hampshire.  We decided to make a day of it by first stopping off for our annual visit to Canobie Lake Park in Salem. For this season, Canobie built a new steel roller coaster. It was one of only four others like it in the world, so I was eager to check it out.  We arrived just before 11:00 and the parking lot was already about a quarter filled.  Although parking was still free, the admission price had now risen to $32.  Compared with many other parks, that was still quite reasonable. Someone in line ahead of us had a discount coupon they weren't using and gave it to Karen; that knocked $4 off our admission.  We walked through the entrance gate, which was adorned with images of the park.

We were a bit disoriented at first. The midway at the entrance area used to be fairly open. But now it seemed more congested. There were two new additions there. One was a new fried dough stand, with Canobie's typically well-designed facade. That was to the right. Directly in front of us was a new Tilt-a-Whirl named Twist & Shout. Its theming was pretty industrial, but it seemed to fit in well next to the giant Frisbee that had a similar bare-metal style.

Karen noticed that the Canobie 500 had an unusually short line, so we queued up for it. We liked that little '50s-styled car ride, but rarely rode it because of the long lines and slow queuing. Within a few minutes we were each seated in our respective cars. It was a pretty tight fit, with my knees sticking up over the dashboard. The gas pedal had a lot of resistance. I wondered how children were able to apply enough force to make the car move.  The long ride was enjoyable, highlighted by Canobie's immaculate landscaping along the route.

We then headed toward the north end of the park. We passed by the rooster-themed flying scooter ride. All of the cabs had been removed and the ride stood silent.  That seemed to be the only "work-in-progress" in the entire park. Every inch of the midway seemed to have been meticulously manicured. As we approached the kiddieland section of the park, Karen noticed a new ride: Wave Blaster from the Italian ride company Zamperla. It looked like a modern version of the old popular Kangaroo ride. There were 12 arms protruding from a central hub. At the end of each arm were two seats. The ride rotated as the arms alternately popped up in the air and then gently floated back toward the ground. Then the ride did the same thing rotating in the opposite direction. And though it was in the kiddieland section, it was designed so that both kids and adults could ride comfortably. There seemed to be a few other new rides in that section, but even the old rides appeared to have been spruced up with colorful paint.

Nearby was another new addition to the midway. The little stage opposite the Yankee Cannonball station used to feature an odd mish-mash of performances. From Britney Spears imitators to Bozo the Clown to '50s music revues. None of the shows seemed to appeal to all ages. This season they had been replaced by a wildlife show.  Canobie had populated the area with dozens of wooden benches, and had shaded them with a huge white tent. It was a much more inviting performance space now.

We continued toward the north end of the park. Karen noticed that the sky ride had no line at all, and just as we approached the queue a large group of kids beat us there. But in a short time we were seated and gliding high above the midway. I expected to get a glimpse of the new coaster. It had supposedly been built in the picnic grove, which I assumed was at the far north end of the park next to the sky ride turnaround. But there was nothing but picnic tables there.  Then I spotted the loop through the trees off to the right. The ride was mostly hidden from the midway and occupied the space that once was home to the old rocket ship ride, next to the antique cars.

After leaving the sky ride, we headed for that new coaster, Untamed. That whole section of the midway had been re-themed. The old Canobie Mall (which began life bas a dark ride) had been completely remodeled into a sort of rustic log cabin named Bear Lodge. The area around Untamed was Big Bear Plaza. The ride was beautifully landscaped with lots of young birch trees and flowering bushes. The queue line was the longest we saw in the entire park but it was moving quickly. The ride had three individual cars that held 8 people each. The cars looked great, with a snarling bear on the front. The layout was a standard Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter coaster, but I had never seen one before. The lift hill was truly unique, rising 90 degrees straight up to 72 feet, then immediately plunging down into a near inversion of 95 degrees. That was followed by a loop and then a series of sharp twists, inversions and helixes. The car hit the brakes less than a minute later.  It looked pretty intense. Kids in line behind us were pretty awed by it, and somewhat scared. It was a bit unnerving to see the loop structure wobble back and forth as the car sped through it.

And speaking of the structure, the vertical supports had all been painted to resemble the trunks of birch trees. With the dark green track, the entire ride sort of resembled a birch forest. Canobie once again showed why the park is such a special (and popular) place. There were wonderful little details everywhere, from the rustic wooden fencing to the carved wooded animals adorning the fence posts to the station that had antlers for chandeliers.  The ride looked great.

We watched it travel around repeatedly while waiting. When we finally arrived at the station, Karen decided to bow out and just watch me ride. I ended up in the front right seat.  The over-the-shoulder restraints were padded with a hard foam material.  In a minute or so, our car rolled out of the station. It paused in front of the lift (which seemed more like a wall of steel in front of us). The chain dog engaged the car and we were slowly pulled forward. The nose of the car pointed skyward. The sun was blazing down into my eyes and I felt like I was going to slide backward out of the car. The nose abruptly turned downward as we crested the hill -- and it kept turning downward ... and kept turning downward. It was a really weird, uneasy sensation. Then we plummeted, almost doubling back on ourselves.  Then we flew up into the big loop. We slowed down so much near the top that I thought we were going to stop. But we curled around and flew down. At the bottom I felt the blood rush out of my head. We soared up into the next inversion and my head ping-ponged between the restraint. Throughout the rest of the ride I did everything I could to try to keep my head still.  But it was no use; the ride forces were too strong and my head kept colliding side-to-side with the hard foam. We hit the brakes.  I was dizzy and my head hurt. I was glad I experienced the ride for myself, but that would be my one and only time.

I met Karen at the exit. We watched the ride for a while more and then followed the exit queue (which was still under construction). I was sure Untamed would be a big hit for Canobie.  There was a lot of coaster packed into a really small footprint. The kids really seemed to love it. The theming was impeccable. But there was no way I would subject myself to that battering again.

We walked over to the Bear Lodge.  It was now an open-air pavilion. The former gift shop now featured nature-themed items and lots of Untamed merchandise.  There was also a large forest diorama with various wildlife such as deer and raccoons. We walked toward the back of the lodge. There in a corner was the old huge Hercules pinball machine. The Jackpot Casino was still there as well, sort of an anachronism now.

We headed back outside and wandered south along the lakeside midway. We were feeling hungry so we decided to once again try the Sons of Liberty Tavern across from the Boston Tea Party shoot-the-chutes. They claimed to offer tuna sandwiches on the menu, but every time we had gone there in years past we were told they didn't have any.  So we stopped in and sat at a booth. The waitress came over and we asked if they had tuna, and -- lo and behold! -- they did. So we each ordered a tuna wrap. I also got sweet potato fries and Karen got waffle fries. The service was quick and the food was really good and reasonably priced (about $8).  There was also a lot of it.  Afterward we stopped into the gift shop next door. They were having a tempting sale: a Canobie baseball cap and t-shirt for $15. I made a mental note of it.

We then continued south along the midway. We passed by the big old storage building. Last year there was a hearse in front of it advertising their Halloween weekends. This year they added a huge evil clown head and the front of a haunted house. On the other side of the building, near some kiddie rides, was a large cage containing the two peacocks that used to roam the park grounds. And just south of that was the large and busy Castaway Island water park. We strolled through the shady Olde Canobie section. In the gazebo next to the Policy Pond Sawmill flume ride, four elderly gentlemen in red pinstriped shirts were warming up for their Dixieland act. The flume didn't have too long a line, so we queued up and soon were floating along on a peaceful trip under the pines.

Nearby was the Mine of the Lost Souls dark ride. As we were in line, a little boy approached the outside of the ride and began yelling at the animatronic figure that performed in an alcove on the roof.  It was giving it's pre-recorded spiel to the passersby. "Shut up!" the kid kept yelling. "Shut you mowf!" I was going to tell him that it was just a machine, but he probably wouldn't have understood. We soon were seated in the back of one of the mine cars with a mother and daughter in front of us. The ride was fun as always. There were a few improvements that had been made, some automatic doors and clearer sound. All the stunts were working, except for the water at the end (which hasn't worked in years).We headed back to see if we could catch the wildlife show, but we had just missed it. I took a walk through the always enjoyable Tiki Maze.  Then Karen and I strolled through the nearby old arcade. It was great to see so many working pinball machines there.

The Dancehall Theater has presented really good entertainment in the past, mostly impersonators who were eerily convincing. This year the park was bringing back three of their most popular acts and putting them in the same show: Elvis, Michael Jackson and Britney Spears. We had seen the first two acts solo, so we passed on this one. We noticed the Blue Heron Lake Cruise getting ready to board, so we made our way to the little pontoon boat. A large family boarded ahead of us. Even so, we got a nice comfortable seat in the middle of the boat. The skipper took us on a half-hour leisurely trip around the lake past the mansions at the water's edge on the opposite shore. One of the homes even had a large waterfall built on a hillside. The cruise was really relaxing, even though the kids in the family grew increasingly restless.

By the time we disembarked, it was getting near 3:00 so we decided to head out. First I paid another visit to the gift shop near the Boston Tea Party and got myself that shirt and cap. And that brought our brief but enjoyable visit to a close. Once again, the management at Canobie seems to have outdone itself, opening a fairly hi-tech thrill ride but making it blend beautifully into it's surroundings. Untamed might have thematically fit better in the Olde Canobie area. But the location they chose was previously underused land. Re-theming the Canobie Mall helped anchor that section and make it blend in better. The large crowd at the park was testament to the fact that the management is doing something right. It's truly a family park with something for everyone: fun rides, gorgeous landscaping, good food, inspired theming and reasonable prices.

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