|For this year's Western New York Coaster Club Coasterfest, we headed down to Pennsylvania to two of our favorite parks. Ironically, the first one up was a park we rediscovered just the previous year, Dutch Wonderland. We had a good time there and were looking forward to returning.
I found online a quaint motel within a short distance of the park. Spruce Lane Lodge and Cottages seemed like a nice quiet getaway, even though it abutted a small airport. As Karen and I were making the six hour drive there, we got a call from the lodge. We had run into some heavy traffic and were a bit behind schedule. The woman from Spruce Lane wanted to know when we would be arriving, because she was going off shift at 4:00 and no one would be in the office until 8:00 the next morning. I told her we would probably get there around 5:00. She said she'd leave the key in their mailbox. As it turned out, we arrived slightly after 4:00 and were able to check in without a problem. Our cottage was charming. The only interruption belying the bucolic setting was an occasional helicopter taking off behind us. The interior was spacious and comfortable and outside of the helicopter it was very quiet.
We drove a short distance east to the whimsically named town of Bird-in-Hand. Karen had found the Bird-in-Hand Restaurant online. It was actually a large complex, part of an inn and a theater. It was also a tourist destination, with lots of tour groups coming and going. The restaurant was sized accordingly, with seemingly hundreds of tables plus a large buffet and of course the requisite gift shop. There was a lot to choose from on the menu. Karen and I ordered their veggie burgers. I got mine with cole slaw. The food was good and reasonably priced, and the service was good too. After dinner, we headed back to our cottage and relaxed for the night.
The next morning we got up early and headed toward another place Karen found, the Fulton Steamboat Restaurant, named after the steamboat's creator. Like Bird-in-Hand, this restaurant was attached to a large inn, and the whole complex was designed to look like (as you probably guessed) a steamboat. There wasn't much water, though. This boat was permanently beached, with only a small concrete pond surrounding parts of the structure. The interior was lavishly appointed in a sort of over-the-top way, recreating a sense of being in an idealized Mark Twain era. There was even an ancient-looking brass cash register. Just one other couple was seated in the restaurant when we arrived, but many inn guests were milling about. I ordered pancakes; Karen had scrambled eggs and home fries. The food was very tasty and, again, reasonably priced.
Then we were off to Dutch Wonderland. We were to meet up at 8:30 and be admitted to the park for Exclusive Ride Time at 9:00, before the regular guests arrived. The club normally welcomes a few dozen members at Coasterfest but for some reason only nine people were signed up this year (including us). Because of that, a few things changed in our itinerary. Our second park wasn't going to provide ERT, and neither park was going to cater a buffet. That made sense; why make all that food for just nine people? Instead we got meal tickets to eat wherever we wanted. I actually preferred that over the buffet. Since Karen and I are vegetarians, the buffets in the past rarely offered much we could eat. This way we could go where the veggies were.
We pulled into the parking lot, empty except for one car where Yvonne Wheeler was waiting for her husband Bob to return with information. We parked next to her. Geff Ford, who normally coordinated the events, was unable to attend, so Bob took over his duties. He walked over to us from the entrance and handed us our tickets and nametags.
Gradually, the other members began arriving including Martin Porter who joined us all the way from Great Britain. When everyone had gathered, we walked over to the giant castle that was the main entrance. We were joined by the park's marketing person. She was extremely friendly and enthusiastic. She walked us over to Merlin's Mayhem, the park's unique steel coaster that had opened the previous year. Even though it was a fairly large suspended coaster, it was designed to hold small fry so they could experience big-kid thrills along with the adults. I didn't ride it the last time Karen and I were at the park, so I was looking forward to trying it this time. With so few people in the queue, there wasn't a wait for the front seat. So Karen and I sat down and belted in. The train was designed with a pull-down lap bar rather than typical over-the-shoulder harnesses. That was a good sign that the ride would be a smooth experience.
We engaged the lift hill and started on our journey. When we reached the top, it seemed like we were a lot higher up than we actually were. The first drop (a sort of double-dip) was surprisingly intense, swooping into that delightful fan curve near the entrance. The ride was a series of sharp but smooth curves and spirals. There was a dive into a short misty tunnel then a run toward the back of the right with a sharp right turn back into the station.
It was an amazing ride, exhilarating but comfortable, and a great fit for the park. I took another ride in the front, this time with Martin next to me. It was rare that I would reride a steel coaster like that. The others took a couple more rides and then our hostess asked if we wanted to head over to the Kingdom Coaster, the park's venerable wooden ride. So we obliged. Once again, Karen and I hopped into the front and were soon gliding over to the lift hill. The coaster began life as Sky Princess and was the first roller coaster built by the then new Custom Coasters International. It still ran great, with nice air time and surprising changes of direction, plus a powerful helix finale. We rode that three times in a row and then I took a break to snap some photos.
After that enjoyable time, we walked over to the nearby Sky Ride station for a slow and relaxing trip back to the front of the park. When we arrived there, we were next to the Dragon's Lair, the park's unique boat ride. It reminded me of Riverside Park's old Lost River ride, a slow trip through nothing. There were small signs scattered about encouraging children to look for statues hidden in various places. But mainly it seemed like a way to give adults some down time. One thing I noticed on the funky fiberglass boats was an on-off switch. I figured the boats were electrically powered, but since it was such a long ride I wondered how the boats could keep running all day. It turned out that they did get a slight respite. When a boat returned to the station, an attendant at that end would flip the switch and shut off the motor. Then water jets under the trough would gently propel the boats to the loading area. When a boat was loaded and ready to go, the attendant at the entrance would turn the switch back on. But I wondered what happened if a boat died out on the course. That was a pretty big pond.
After that we split up for a bit. Karen and I headed over to the Wonderland Express, the park's train ride, and took a relaxing journey. Then we strolled along the midway for a while, enjoying taking in the park atmosphere and viewing the whimsical rides. I knew the others had planned to take a ride on the Dutch Wonder House, a sort of illusion room. I planned to go there as well, but somehow never did.
By that point it was about noon, so Karen and I headed over to the Mill Stream Eatery for lunch. The other club members had the same idea apparently, so we ordered our veggie burgers and sat with them. Our meal was tasty and quite filling. We made it in at the right time; shortly after we sat down, the hall was mobbed with people. Luckily we all finished our meals and were able to escape back onto the midway as the rest of the Eatery filled up.
We were near the Monorail station, so we queued up for that. While waiting for the train to return, we were entertained by Merlin's Mayhem whipping past us at the curve into the station. The Monorail train was blue and white, not the red version we rode in last time. We were all able to squeeze into the back car, with Yvonne riding shotgun against the slanted back window. John Reaume mentioned that he rarely saw monorails in parks anymore. I mentioned that technically this wasn't a monorail, since it ran on two sets of wheels, one on each side of the rail. It was more akin to a tram, just up in the air. In any case, it offered some picturesque views of the park (including the wonderful fan curve on the Kingdom Coaster and surrounding countryside.
From there we walked along the path by Mill Creek until we came to the bridge for Exploration Island. One ride Karen and I didn't do on our last visit was the Gondola Cruise. So we all queued up for that and were able to get into the same boat. The trip was similar to Dragon's Lair, but more scenic with the antique cars on one side of us and animatronic dinosaurs on the other. We were also greeted several times by curious dragonflies.
Back on dry land, Karen and I said our good-byes for the day. We planned to take a ride on the flume, but after that were going to head back to the cottage and rest up for the long day to come. So we walked over to the entrance for the Double Splash Flume, tucked away next to the Aqua Theater (which seemed appropriate). It was a short wait and soon we were once again floating along a waterway. The ride wasn't particularly wet, which was good since it wasn't that hot outside. The misters weren't yet working in the long tunnel. But it was a fun way to end our stay at this charming amusement park.
Although we were just here the previous year, we still had a great time. Dutch Wonderland was the type of experience we love: a relaxed pace, family-friendly rides, good food and beautiful landscaping. It was a perfect escape and a great way to start off Coasterfest!
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