Dorney Park
May 24, 2014

copyright Jay Ducharme 2014

The 33rd annual Western New York Coaster Club's Coasterfest™, our traditional amusement park opener for the season, kicked off on an absolutely beautiful Saturday at the equally beautiful Dorney Park in Allentown, PA.  This year it was sponsored in conjunction with the American Coaster Enthusiasts’ Easter Pennsylvania branch.  Karen and I had visited Dorney very briefly two years ago and were really impressed with it.  We vowed to return and spend more time there, but didn't think it would happen so soon.

We stayed in Lebanon, about an hour away, since Coasterfest™ was a two-day affair.  The second day was to be spent at Hersheypark, so I had picked the Holiday Inn in Lebanon since it was between the two parks.  The hotel was fairly new and quite comfortable, a good place to crash after a long day at an amusement park.  We arrived on Friday afternoon after a long drive.  We needed a place to eat and found the Cedar Grill Diner just down the street.  It was a friendly and relaxing family restaurant.  I got the special, their home-cooked macaroni and cheese.  It was one of the best mac-and-cheese dinners I've ever had.  They also served incredible cole slaw.  Karen had their shrimp dinner, which she also enjoyed.

The next day we got up bright and early.  After our complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we headed east for Dorney, traveling through lush Pennsylvania farm country.  We arrived at the park a few minutes before the parking gates opened.  Geff Ford from the WNYCC pulled in behind us.  We paid the $15 parking fee and were the fifth car in the parking lot.  We got a spot right next to the much more expensive "preferred parking" area.  We walked over to the check-in table where Geff was setting up and picked up our Coasterfest™ packets.  We were reunited with many of the enthusiasts we spent time with at last year’s event.

Since we planned to head to Cedar Point a couple of times this season, Karen had gotten season passes.  And, since Dorney is part of the Cedar Fair group, we headed over to Dorney's processing center to pick up our passes.  The center was empty and in a couple of minutes we emerged with our passes.

We then stood in line at the entrance gate as guests began filtering in.  Two teens got in line behind us.  They were pretty outlandishly dressed, in bright Hawaiian print shirts.  The boy carried a lime green pair of binoculars and the girl had a lime green money cylinder hanging around her neck.  They were literally jumping up and down with excitement.

"I can't believe we're at Dorney!" the girl squealed.

"Yeah, this place is so awesome!" the boy concurred.

Their emotions were a bit over-the-top.  They turned to us. "Hi, I'm Carla!" she said to us.  "And this is Carl.  What's your name?"

"I'm Karen," my wife said, "and this is Jay."

"Is this your first time at Dorney Park?” Carla asked.

I was wearing my Steel Force shirt, so I thought it would be obvious.

"No," I answered.  "We've been here before.  How about you?"

"This is our first time!" answered Carl.  "We're so excited!"

It was pretty obvious that they were performers at Dorney, there to pump up the crowd before the gates opened.  Other parks sometimes would have bands or licensed characters out with the crowd.  But this was a novel approach and worked well.  It was amusing and energetic without being annoying.

The gates opened and as we entered, the old menagerie carousel was in front of us.  A real band organ was playing inside.  Talon, the giant looping coaster to our right, and the carousel were the "exclusive ride time" offerings.  Since Talon was far too intense for us, we hopped on the carousel.  Its large inner scenery panels depicted bucolic landscapes.  As we gently went around, Carl and Carla stood outside the ride, jumping up and down and waving to everyone.  To their credit, they remembered our names and called out to us as we passed them.

After that enjoyable ride, we headed down the midway.  The fountain in the center was producing little more than a trickle.  But generally, the area was bright and cheerful, with colorful shops and eateries.  Since the park didn't officially open to the public until 10:00, things were still pretty quiet.  Most of the rides were running through their cycles empty.

Karen and I followed the sloping walkways down toward Steel Force, the big hyper-coaster that was a favorite of mine on our previous trip.  Very little had changed since the last time we were there.  The large building that appeared to be a fun house was still closed.  The landscaping, though, was just as lush.  There were many interesting plantings.  But most of all, there was shade -- lots and lots of shade.

When we reached the bottom of the hill, we were in front of Thunderhawk, Dorney's wooden coaster that we enjoyed last time.  We saw a train go by with two people in it, so we headed for the entrance.  We were the only people in line, and naturally queued up for the front seat.  In short order, the train was rolling out of the station, around to the right and below ground.  Then we engaged the lift and were pulled to the top.  What I like about Thunderhawk is its unconventional layout.  The ride begins like a standard out-and-back coaster, but then the track twists back on itself unpredictably.  The ride seemed a bit rougher compared with the last time, but it was still enjoyable.

We then walked over to the far end of the park where coaster enthusiasts were queuing up for Steel Force, which hadn't yet opened.  Empty trains were being cycled through.  Over to the left was the entrance to the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit that we experienced on our last trip.  We chatted with some of the enthusiasts, and within a few minutes the queue was opened.  Once again we got in line for the front (as did many).  The park was running two trains, so it only took a couple of minutes before we were seated.  The coaster trains, built by Morgan Manufacturing, had a unique design that made me feel like a little kid; the seat was low, with high sides and a high front making the seats feel much larger than they were.

We left the station and rolled up to the 200-foot-high lift.  As we crested the top, the chain slowed way down, making it feel as if we weren't going to make it over and forcing us to stare down at the steep drop.  Then we rolled forward and flew down the first drop, into a short tunnel and then up to the first hill that catapulted us off our seats and into the lap bar.  Every hill was like that, with sustained ejector air time.  It was delightful.  We dove into the giant helix and then began the return run over one rabbit hop after another until we hit the brakes.  What a ride!

The exit led to the photo booth where we could buy a picture of ourselves on the ride.  I liked how ours came out. One of the advertised purchases was getting the image e-mailed, an option I liked since I wouldn't have to carry anything around with me.  So I told the clerk that's what I wanted.  His reply was all too familiar:  "I'm sorry, sir.  Our Internet is down."  I can't understand why parks have that option when so often they can't deliver on it.  He did offer to print the picture and have it held for us to pick up later.  But I passed on it.  Instead, I got back in line and went for another ride while Karen took pictures.

After that we took a ride on the nearby Road Rally, the park’s Cadillac car ride with lots of nice landscaping touches.  It was short but enjoyable.  Then we boarded the nearby Zephyr, the art deco miniature railroad that traveled alongside a babbling brook populated with ducks.

Compared to our last visit, the air was much cooler.  That made for much more pleasant strolling along the park’s hilly paths.  Karen stopped to get herself a Diet Coke (in a souvenir cup for free refills), and I got a fresh-squeezed lemonade from a nearby stand.  We walked through the Planet Snoopy area, a Peanuts-themed kiddie section.  Charlie Brown was on the stage for photo-ops; one of the shows must have just ended.  There was a small rocket-style monorail ride that looked like fun, but adults had to be accompanied by a child to ride. 

We walked past Whitewater Landing, the shoot-the-chutes ride, which wasn’t doing much business on such a cool day.  Next to it was the Cedar Creek Cannonball, another miniature railroad that encircled Thunder Canyon, a river raft ride.  The ride wasn’t very long, nor was it very picturesque.  But it was relaxing.  From there, we followed a path we hadn’t seen before.  It was between Hydra, another intense looping coaster, and Demon Drop, an early Intamin drop tower that had been recycled from Cedar Point.  Along the path was a small fish pond with a pyramidal stone fountain in the center.  A plaque mentioned that it this was one of the oldest remaining structures in the park.  Looking out past the fence, I could see the pond far below where the park's record-breaking wooden coaster, Hercules, used to stand.  The concrete footers where the track used to arc out over the water were still in place.

We next wandered over to the Ferris wheel, perched high on a hill, and were treated to panoramic views of the park.  Then we stopped by Coasters diner where I got a milkshake.  I was glad to see that the eatery still offered veggie burgers.  We checked out Wildwater Kingdom, the waterpark area.  I was surprised how many people were braving the cool weather.  The waterpark area was huge, nearly half the size of the entire park.  It had the usual assortment of attractions: a wave pool, water slides, a lazy river.  The best thing about waterparks is that they siphon off guests from the midway on hot days.  (But when the water attractions close in the late afternoon, those guests pile back into the park.)

By then it was time for our picnic lunch.  So we headed down to the Food Fest Grove by the Ferris wheel.  The offerings were the usual meat dishes.  Karen and I were able to have pasta salad, baked beans and corn-on-the-cob.  We sat with John, one of WNYCC’s members, and chatted as we ate.  There were about 30 in attendance, so food was plentiful.

After the meal, we went back out onto the midway.  We passed by a Dippin Dots stand which, strangely, had all sorts of flavors except for vanilla.  I was going to pass, but out of curiosity I decided to try their Kettle Corn flavor.  It tasted like I was eating frozen salted butter.  To cleanse my palate, I stopped at the Pretzel Factory and got a delicious hot soft cinnamon pretzel.  And with that, we decided to head back to our hotel.

Once again, Dorney proved to be a wonderful place to spend a day.  I wish we had more stamina, but it seemed common among all of us aging enthusiasts that six to eight hours in a park was just about all we could take.  I remember the good old days where I would stay in a park from open to close.  But those days were over.

Even so, we felt we had done everything we wanted to do and once again had a good time at this beautiful Pennsylvania park.

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