Canobie Lake Park
July 20, 2016

copyright Jay Ducharme 2016

Karen and I made our annual pilgrimage north to Salem, New Hampshire's, beautiful Canobie Lake Park.  The weather was perfect.  After a few weeks of enduring temperatures in the 90s with high humidity, the air was tolerable with temperatures in the low 80s and lower humidity.  It felt like spring.  The drive was long, and made longer by slowly crawling traffic.  It seemed as if a lot of other people were taking advantage of the nicer weather.  I had hoped that traffic and attendance would be lighter on a Wednesday.

We arrived at the park about 11:30 to find the parking lot already about 3/4 full.  It was the furthest we've ever had to park from the entrance.  Our long walk ended at the entrance gates, which were similarly packed with people.  Karen was able to get a senior discount.  On the counter at the ticket booth were a small stack of discount coupons, so she took one of those.  For the both of us, our entry cost was $62, not a bad price at all considering there was also free parking.  Just past the ticket booths, the entry gates were blocked by metal detectors staffed by security.  I had gotten in the habit of leaving my fanny pack at home, since it had become more of a pain than it was worth.  To get through security, I would always have to take it off.  But since it functioned also as my belt, that made things a bit awkward.  Plus, more and more parks were no longer allowing you to ride with a fanny pack.  So I began wearing cargo shorts with sealable pockets, making amusement park life a lot simpler.

As we walked onto the midway, nothing much seemed to have changed.  The Xtreme Frisbee ride in front of us wasn't running (and it wouldn't run during the entire time we were there).  Karen wanted to check out the gift shop near the entrance.  This year they had an impressive Yankee Cannonball shirt.  So I made a note to pick one up before we left.

We were both hungry.  There were plenty of choices in the park.  We decided to head over to the International Food Plaza near the center of the park.  Along the way we passed by the park's antique carousel.  Their band organ was playing energetically.  The building's roof was new, appearing to be made of copper shingles.

As we approached one of my favorite attractions at the park, I stopped, confused.  The Tiki Maze, the park's unique hall of mirrors, was gone.  In its place was ... nothing.  Workers were busy building a new foundation for something.  But there were no signs to indicate what was going in its place, just a generic "Pardon our Appearance" notice.

When we arrived at the International Plaza, half of the windows were closed.  There wasn't much "international" flavor about it, just pizza or French fries.  So Karen and I split a personal pizza and an order of fresh-cut fries.  The pizza was delivered immediately, but it took a while for the fries to be served.  But they were worth waiting for -- thick rectangles that tasted more like baked potato strips than standard French fries.  And the pizza was delicious, dripping with cheese and just the right amount of spice.  And even better, the prices were quite reasonable.  We sat at a cafe table on the patio, under the shade of a tree and watched a new ride, the Wave Blaster, go through its paces.  It was sort of like the old Kangaroo ride, but on steroids.  It seemed to be pretty popular.

After that snack, we headed for the park's western-themed south end.  The midway was peppered with its usual lush plantings (this year seeming to favor cannon plants).  We walked past the Canobie Corkscrew, the first looping coaster Karen ever rode.  We followed the path over to the shady south end and queued up for the park's hi-tech dark ride, Mine of Lost Souls.  The line wasn't overly long.  But even so, I found it annoying that groups of people would walk up to us and say, "Excuse me, but my friend is up there," as if that gave them permission to cut to the front of the line.  I would never think of doing that, because then it would delay everyone else who was waiting in line.  But these people seemed to care only about themselves.  None of the employees seemed to be watching for line cutters, so the guests took advantage of the situation.  I guess I could have been just as selfish and not let them pass or maybe start a fist fight in the queue.  But bloody faces would have spoiled the mood of an amusement park.

The nearby Village Stage, which used to host a country-western music revue, was now playing host to Hagerman's Vaudeville Magic Show and a performance was about to start.  So we sat on one of the log benches (literally, a log sawed in half) under the trees.  It wasn't very comfortable but at least it was cool.  Hagerman proudly advertised himself as never appearing on television, because he didn't want anyone to be able to review the footage and figure out how he did his tricks.  I found that odd, since most of his tricks were fairly standard (card tricks, making doves pop out of handkerchiefs, etc...).  He was clearly aiming his routines at the many children in the audience, and got several of them up onto the stage to participate.  He also called a few adults up.  One of the routines was odd, where he had a man repeatedly laying eggs.  Although the man was supposedly randomly chosen from the audience, he seemed to take his cues really well.  Hagerman also had an assistant who participated in a couple of tricks similar to the sawing-a-woman-in-half bit.  He said he had a new washer and dryer.  She got inside the "washer" with only her head and toes visible at the top andbottom.  He turned a crank that squeezed her head and toes close together.  Then he put her in the "dryer" where her head was visible through a small box at the top.  Hagerman proceeded to spin the box around, which made it look like her head was turning.  He opened the box to show her body apparently twisted up like a wrung-out rag.  It was a cute bit and the kids seemed to like it.  He closed with an illusion that had his assistant getting in a box at the back of the stage.  The box floated in the air and then collapsed, opening to reveal it was empty.  He motioned to the back of the audience, and there was his assistant standing on a rock and appearing to be completely out of breath.

We were thinking about going on the Policy Pond log flume ride, but the line was really long.  So instead I went next door to get a milkshake from the Lumberjack Ice Cream shop.  The attendants there apologized profusely because their milkshake machine wasn't working.  So I figured I'd try the ice cream shop in the old New England themed area instead.  We headed back toward the north end of the park.  Along the way we passed by the huge advertisement for the park's Screeemfest.  The giant threatening clown head was still there, but they added a convincing Canobie Lake Hotel facade next to it.

We walked in to the Yankee Whaler ice cream shop only to discover they didn't serve milkshakes, just ice cream cones.  So I got a small coffee ice cream on a waffle cone and Karen got a dish of vanilla and cookies-and-cream.  My "small" cone was huge, much bigger than I expected.  We sat on a stone bench outside of the nearby gift shop and watched the great Boston Tea Party shoot-the-chutes go through its circuit as we ate our snacks.  Every time a boat hit the water, it was followed by the screams of the passengers and a massive wall of water that drenched the surrounding midway.  We were sitting at a point where the wind would carry a fine mist over to us, cooling us but not soaking us, as we struggled to eat our ice cream fast enough before it turned into soup.  A woman stood nearby and started talking with Karen.  It was her seven-year-old son's first time on the ride and he was in the front seat.  She waited anxiously for his boat to come down the chute and captured his surprised face with her camera's phone.  Afterward, he came running over to her, drenched, and excitedly told her how much water came down upon him.

We took a peek into the gift shop.  They had most of the same stock at the shop at the front of the park.  But they also had a t-shirt with Equinox on it, a spin-and-barf ride the park had removed a few years earlier.

Next we took a relaxing trip on the park's Sky Ride.  From on high, we could see the Blue Heron Lake Cruise boat coming back from one of its trips.  We definitely wanted to take a ride on that later.  We could also see quite a long line waiting for the park's rare classic Caterpillar ride.  The expansive picnic grove at the far north end featured hundreds of picnic tables all covered with tablecloths but only a single group sitting at one of the tables.  As we returned to the Sky Ride station, we passed over the park's giant fountain which wasn't operating, even though it was filled with water.

After that we were thinking of taking a ride on the nearby antique cars, but the line was again really long.  So instead we walked over to Untamed, the park's newer steel coaster.  We watched the cars fly through their circuit.  We could see the heads of the riders bouncing back and forth between the shoulder restraints.  That was my experience the one time I rode it, and I had no desire to repeat it.  Karen noticed something new to the right side of Untamed's station.    We followed the path around and came upon the new Extreme Sports Park.  It was set up on a concrete pad off to the right.  The only thing that seemed to be on the pad was a spherical motorcycle cage (and a really small one at that).  According to the park schedule, that was supposed to be happening but I didn't see anyone around.  There was also an "extreme" juggler (chainsaws, etc...) who was supposed to be performing.  It was similar to a stunt show, with a lot of similar activities scheduled throughout the rest of the season.

Next to that were two old-west-style building facades.  One was labeled The Porch and the other The Magic Seed.  I have no idea what they were for.  Behind them was the garden area I had heard about when I was at the park last year.  There appeared to be a lot of vegetables planted, and some tomatoes were ripening.  To the left of that was a large bust of a vegetable person.  It looked like the front of a Mardi Gras float.  Also in the background were cages for the park's peacocks, which used to roam about the midway.

Karen paused to check out the Untamed gift shop.  Then we circled around over to the Bear Lodge, which once housed a gift shop and a Las Vegas styled casino.  Now it just had the Gables Grill.  But down at the end of the building, something caught my eye.  The casino was gone and replaced by the Pinball Parlor.  It was still the same semi-circular room, but now it was lined wall-to-wall with pinball machines.  The sign at the entrance was huge, 3-dimensional and brightly lit.  On the left of the entrance was a wall of large photos depicting various pinball scenes, including one with Michael Jackson.  On the right was a giant blackboard with names of the machines, their high scores and who achieved them.  The room's collection skewed to the modern.  There was a coveted Jersey Jack Wizard of Oz machine, so Karen and I played that one first.  Some of the lights didn't appear to function and the flippers were pretty weak.  But we both scored extra balls and replays, and eventually left the table with two games remaining on it.  There was a classic High Speed machine, but again the flippers were really weak, making many of the essential shots nearly impossible.  Also, the room's bill changer was non-functional.  But there was a friendly attendant who was doling out change.   On my last trip, the main arcade had Pinball Alley.  Many of the machines from that room migrated to here.  I was glad they kept a decent collection of machines.  Even the park's venerable Hercules machine still sat in a corner, though it was non-functional.

From there we walked over to the lakeside.  We were going to take a ride on the Blue Heron, but although the boat was docked there was a sign saying the next trip wasn't until 7:30.  So much for that.  So we went over to the Pizza Ria concession and got something to drink, then went back to the lakeside to rehydrate and wait for the train.  After about ten minutes, the Canobie Express lumbered in, puffing steam from its stack.  We boarded and took a relaxing trip over to the south station.

When we disembarked it was about 4:30 and we were next to the BeBop Diner, which served veggie burgers.  So we stopped there for dinner.  They had only two veggie burgers remaining, so our timing was good.  They came with standard French fries, not the thick style we had earlier.  There was a condiment station with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and the usual dressings.  I wondered if the veggies were from the park's garden.  We sat on the shaded patio.  The food was tasty and filling.  From there we headed over to the Giant Skywheel.  There was a long line, but it was under cover.  There were also a series of plaques throughout the queue depicting the history of Ferris Wheels.  The line moved fairly quickly and soon we were rising high above the midway.  There was a gentle breeze that refreshed us.  After that ride, it was 5:30 and we decided to head back home.  I stopped into the gift shop at the entrance and picked up a t-shirt and a Canobie sign.  Then we headed out to our car.  About halfway there, I realized I had grabbed the wrong shirt.  So I went back into the park without incident and the clerk happily exchange the shirt for the right one.

As always, we had an enjoyable time at Canobie, one of those parks were I don't feel pressured to ride everything in sight in order to get value out of my day.  I enjoy just being there, absorbing the atmosphere.  It did seem strange that in the middle of a very busy summer season, there were some major attractions that weren't operating and one that was being completely rebuilt.  But the dense crowds attested to the park's continuing popularity.

The ride home was even slower than the ride up, with traffic on I-495 at a crawl for an hour.  We didn't arrive home until after 8:00.  So I was glad we left when did, and I was glad we were able to make our annual visit to the jewel of New England.

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