Kennywood Park
August 5, 2018

copyright Jay Ducharme 2018

After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we headed back for the western end of the state to the National Historic Landmark, Kennywood Park. This would be the first visit for the kids, and I was eager for them to see some of the fun attractions there. We arrived at about 10:30, shortly before the park was set to open. We headed for the free parking lot high on the hillside opposite the park that offered panoramic views. The Sky Ride from the far parking lot wasn't running, which made sense because at that point there were very few cars in the lot.

We headed for the escalator at the corner of the lot. It wasn't running, so it was a long steep and narrow set of stairs down toward the lower lot. That taste of "not running" would unfortunately be a recurring theme throughout our visit. Fortunately, though, the day was bright and sunny (if once again brutally hot). We made the long trek over to the main concourse. Against the back end as a memorial (but also sort of rubbing it in) was one of the boats from Log Jammer, the delightful flume ride that Kennywood had removed for this season. Next to it was one of the cars from another delightful family ride, the Turnpike, that the park had long ago removed and replaced with Sky Rocket, a launched steel coaster that was down for the entire day.

Once again, Karen had purchased our tickets online and we were able to bypass the long lines at the ticket booths and walk through the admission gates where they were handing out souvenir 120th anniversary Kennywood calendars. We followed the path down to the long tunnel under the highway and emerged onto the southern end of the midway. The big carousel-like sweet shop had a large topiary reminding us of the anniversary.

The first attraction we queued up for was in front of us to our right, Garfield's Nightmare. The oldest ride in the park, the classic tunnel-of-love style boat ride was rethemed in 2004 when Kennywood struck a deal with Jim Davis, Garfield's creator. For the park, it was supposed to be like Cedar Fair's deal with Peanuts, bringing a kid-friendly mascot to all their properties. But Garfield was an odd choice. The cat was basically lazy and selfish, and his owner equally self-centered, not exactly the kind of wholesome image that would befit a family park. And even worse, the comic strip was now an anachronism and I doubted that kids now even knew who Garfield was. But on such a hot day, the ride had a really long (and slowly moving) queue line. And there was no shade. The giant water wheel couldn't splash far enough to cool us off. It took over a half hour to board the ride for our slow journey past dayglow cutouts depicting Garfield being hunted by the food he likes to eat. The sound was extremely loud and the kids kept their ears covered. I doubt they understood much (if any) of the thin storyline and they were glad when it was over.

We walked north past the classic Jack Rabbit coaster and then over the bridge to the north side of the park. The north central area had been completely redesigned and rethemed for this season as a Thomas the Tank Engine land. I was shocked by what I saw. Where once was a shaded park-line area, a giant fountain and the park's signature flower clock was now a baking expanse of asphalt with a large ugly brick building in the middle. And even more bizarre, the park had placed a large black metal locked gate between the building and the nearby Auto Cars, so there was no longer an egress eastward. It made absolutely no sense to me. We had planned to take a ride on the new Thomas railroad (formerly the Olde Kennywood Railroad) but it too was closed and maintenance crews were out welding the track.

So instead we lined up for the classic Traver Auto Race. At least that ride was still in good shape. I noticed that the little booth that held the Laughin' Sal animatronic nearby had been removed, yet another casualty of the remodel. The cars still looked great and I was happy that the park retained the last remaining example of this ride. Andrew rode with Ben, Karen rode with Isabelle and I rode by myself. I guess people were physically smaller in the 1930s because I found myself having trouble squeezing into the back seat (which was larger than the front). The ride still ran great, though the speed had been throttled down a few years earlier. Actually, I appreciated that because it gave me more time to enjoy the ride.

We walked around the big brick building. I had wanted to take the kids on the fun Ghostwood Estates hi-tech dark ride, but it was closed. Andrew marveled how much the area around it had changed. Instead of shady trees there was now asphalt and several awkwardly placed Thomas-themed kiddie rides. One of them I had never seen before, an odd contraption where kids and parents stood together in cages on top of small fire trucks and went in circles shooting water at cartoon flames. We went inside the air-conditioned brick building, the Thomas Town Gift Shop, which also housed a giant play area for kids. The building felt sort of sterile, as if it were a half-finished department store. Isabelle and Ben romped in the play area for a while, then we went back outside.

A benefit of all the clearing was that for the first time you had a good view of the Raging Rapids raft ride. That was a small concession for the complete lack of shade, though. Andrew took the kids on a Thomas-themed helicopter ride. Nearby, the large engine for the Thomas ride sat quietly with its typical smiling face. Andrew next took them on another train ride, Diesel Drivers, one of the slowest rides I've ever see and one of the ugliest. Another Thomas-themed ride, it was a large oval that circled around a pile of green rusting metal that used to be track section of the old Steel Phantom roller coaster. I was astounded that Kennywood had actually held on to pieces of that ride. The entire Thomas area felt like it was hastily slapped together and unfinished, a rush job. There was also a small drop tower overlooking the other small drop tower in Kiddieland. Maybe they got a good deal on it. But I was really disappointed in that whole section. It wasn't up to the standards I expected of Kennywood.

By that point it was 1:00 and we were getting hungry. So we walked over to Johnny Rockets. The large carousel-pavilion-like structure was mobbed. I took the kids to an open table while the others stood in line to order. I didn't care how long it took; the air conditioning was refreshing. The kids were fascinated by the free juke box nearby. I liked how the restaurant was decorated with large photos of the park from many different eras. After about 20 minutes, I was having a tasty veggie burger and a milkshake. We stayed in there for about an hour, and then headed back out into the heat.

The next stop was the only Noah's Ark fun house left in the world, and one of my all-time favorite attractions. Isabelle was put off by the noise and stayed behind with Karen while the rest of us took a walk through the vintage ride. About halfway through, Ben got scared so Andrew carried him the rest of the way. I still loved the section in the rocking ark, one of the most disorienting yet giddiest experiences I've had. And I hadn't before noticed the farting horse, which was a bizarre and silly touch. When we finally emerged into daylight, Ben immediately wanted to go back in. So he, Andrew and I got back in line. This time Ben made it about 3/4 of the way through before needing to be carried. When we exited, he wanted to go back on again. "Three times", he kept calling out. "I want to go three time!" So I told him I'd go back in with him -- but he'd have to walk the entire way; I wouldn't carry him. He agreed. The others sat down with some Potato Patch French fries. So back we got back in line. And sure enough, he did it. I held his hand on the stairs and the moving platforms, but he made it all the way through. And he wanted to go back a fourth time!

But we moved on to the northwest to the Lost Kennywood section. Most of the rides there were for adults, but one of the rides the kids could go on was pittsburg Plunge, the big shoot-the-chutes ride, which provided some relief on such a hot day. Andrew and I weren't in a mood to get soaked, so the others got in line. As they were about to get on the boat, Isabelle changed her mind. Andrew went to get her and she watched from the sidelines. The boat went up the lift hill, turned the corner and plunged down with a colossal splash. All of them were completely drenched. Karen said Ben exclaimed, "I'm soaked!" But in the heat of the day, it wouldn't take long to dry off again. We checked out the large gift shop in that section. There were no longer the unique items Kennywood once had, like the original artwork and signs. They did have one wooden Kennywood arrow remaining. But all the other merchandise was fairly generic.

From there we headed back toward the main midway. The Thunderbolt roared past. But the line was really long and the kids were still to small to ride. So we walked back toward the southeast end of the park. Isabelle was just tall enough to ride the Jack Rabbit, so she went with Andrew to queue up for that. Ben wasn't happy that he couldn't ride, so Heather took him into the nearby arcade to pass the time. And there Karen noticed Laughin' Sal tucked away in a corner. Eventually we met back up with Andrew and Isabelle, who both really enjoyed the coaster.

By then it was late afternoon. We walked over to the Kiddieland area. Ben and Isabelle to a ride on the Elephant Parade (basically, Disney's Dumbo ride). Then they went on the kiddie whip, which was a miniature version of an actual whip. (Some of the kiddie versions are just like auto cars going around in a circle.). While they were riding, I went to get something to drink at the nearby food stand. They had a sign in the window that was identical to one we had just seen at Dutch Wonderland, with the "Imaginibbles" sandwiches.

While the kids continued riding kiddie rides, Andrew asked if I'd like to go on Phantom's Revenge. We both had wanted to ride Thunderbolt, but the line was too long. So we headed back toward the Lost Kennywood section. There was hardly any line for this once record-breaking ride. There really wasn't much to it except an enormous amount of speed and one heck of a drop off the cliff toward the Monongahela River. But it was as if the park simply didn't have enough room to burn off all that speed. After that huge drop and a turn, the track curved up around the Tumble Bug next to the Thunderbolt and then negotiated some killer bunny hops back to the station. In reality, those bunny hops should have been full blown camelback hills as on Dorney Park's wonderful Steel Force.

Rather than wait for the front seat, we took the first seat of the second car and in a few minutes were rolling up the lift hill. The curving first drop from the original incarnation of the ride (Steel Phantom) was still intact and fun. Then we flew up the tall second hill and then dropped off the cliff. That was followed by a wide sweeping left-hand turn, the curve up by the Tumble Bug and then a rapid series of gut-busting bunny hops taken at top speed back to the station, like riding a bucking bronco.

With our stomachs barely intact, we met back up with the others. The kids were still riding. By then it was after 5:00 and we had to head back to the hotel. For one last ride, Heather and Andrew took the kids on the Kangaroo, a once-ubiquitous Norman Bartlett invention and one of my favorite rides when I was a kid. Also known as a Flying Coaster, passengers sat in wide Scrambler-type cars and rolled around a circular track. The track suddenly rose up sharply about ten feet and then dropped off sharply. A piston caught the car and caused it to bounce, then set it gently back down onto the track where the process was repeated. The kids really liked that ride. Ben of course wanted to ride again.

Ben paused for a picture with the Cowboy Joe statue. Then we said good night to Kennywood.

We had a good time at the park. The kids were thrilled to be able to go on many of the adult rides. It was a bit disappointing that so many rides were down, especially the big new addition for the season. And I was disappointed by the slapdash landscaping in the new area. I wondered if Kennywood was biting off more than they could chew. The area formerly occupied by the flume had been fenced off and was all dug up. Andrew noticed new footers already being placed for the new thrill coaster for next season. It was being placed in a new area of the park themed to ... football. Maybe I'd have to go back there and take a knee. In the past, Kennywood proved it could advance with the times and yet somehow hang on to its charm and heritage. I was hoping that was still the case. I was sure we'd return, so I guess I would find out then.

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