Saturday Morning Karen and I set out for Lake Compounce, our first visit of the season. Karen got a coupon from Stop & Shop (a northeast grocery chain) for $10 off on a season pass. We arrived at the park at 11am, and the parking lot was already filling up fast. It was easy to see Down Time, the new S&S tower, from the road. That and the Skycoaster peered above the dense tree line. The weather was perfect, with clear skies and mild temperatures. There was a short line for season pass processing, so it took us only a few minutes to get our passes. We then headed for Boulder Dash.

The park was still beautifully landscaped with colorful flowers everywhere. We stopped into the Main Street gift shop to check out what was new. The Lake always had wonderful unique gifts. But we were surprised to discover that the gift shop seemed much emptier. There were the usual postcards, but almost all the other gifts in there were fairly generic. Several display racks had been removed. The shop was certainly roomier. But it didn't look nearly as inviting as it used to.

As we walked passed Circus World (the kiddie section) we immediately noticed a brand new mini-S&S tower for kids, themed to the park mascot Garfield. It was really colorful and sported a lighted spinning globe topped by the cartoon cat. There were five seats on each sides of the tower, and it gave a really long ride. We headed up past Ghost Hunt, the Sally interactive dark ride, and got in line since there were very few people there. We knew that later on in the day it would have a long wait. Unlike so many other dark rides after years of use, on Ghost Hunt all of the preshow monitors were working, the music was playing. It looked about as good as the day it opened. Some of the gargoyles aren't moving anymore. I love the railing at the ride's entrance, with the iron improbably bent into knots. It also seems that on this ride, unlike others, the stunts are constantly changing. New things are added and old gimmicks disappear every season. I really like Ghost Hunt. The shooting gallery gimmick doesn't get old. The colors inside remind me of the movie Tron. Everything glows ultraviolet. The misters on the overhang were working really well and created a dense cool fog. I finished with 1380 points, a new record for me. Woohoo!

We walked across the midway to the Boulder Dash entrance. The line stretch about halfway across the elevated walkway leading to the station. A couple of guests grumbled about only one train running. But even so, we waited only about 20 minutes for the front seat. The ride operator seemed a bit full of himself. He kept referring to a cheat sheet any time he mentioned the ride's height or speed to the guests. He was fooling around quite a bit, not correctly reading the spiel to the guests, randomly leaving out things like, "Please fasten your seat belts." He once read the spiel (so fast it was almost unintelligible) as: "Welcome to Boulder Dash. There are numbers in front of you...blah blah blah." Then he bragged about how that was the quickest announcement he'd ever made.

The wooden structure of the ride had weathered to a cracked gray. The track, for the first time I can remember, looked as if it hadn't been oiled. We climbed into the red train. Karen noticed that the upholstery looked new. The seat belts, unlike Intamin rides, had plenty of strap. We were cleared for take-off and climbed up that perilously steep lift hill. The more I ride this coaster, the more I appreciate how unique it is. I don't know any other lift that's so deceptively serene. Maybe Marineland's Dragon Mountain.

We rounded the turn at the top of the lift and plunged down the curving first drop. I could feel the train bucking as it barreled through the turn and crested the second hill. For this early in the season, the speed was astounding. Maybe that's why they didn't oil the tracks. We blasted through the tree-shrouded course. The transitions at the bottom of the hills felt more rough, with the train seeming to jerk up too fast. The pronounced bucking, sort of a rapid surging forward then pulling back, kept up through the whole ride. In spots on the return run, it felt oddly more like Mean Streak. For the first time, I left Boulder Dash with a slight headache.

As we exited Boulder Dash, we got a great view of Down Time. It took the place of the old Musik Express, which itself was moved next to the Bumper Car building (and it looked great there). The tower wasn't fancy, painted plain white. But the queue line theming was wonderful. There were giant colorful clock parts (gears, hands, springs) strewn around the grounds as if they fell off of the tower. The control room was a colorful house with a giant Looney-Tunes-styled clock on one side. The minute hand would slowly advance from six to twelve o'clock, and then drop back down to six. There was a long line the whole day. so I passed on it. Although the ride looked good where it was, I wonder if it might have fit better where the old Enterprise sat, up on the hill next to Ghost Hunt. That would have made the tower seem an extra twenty or so feet higher. But sitting where it was, it did make a good anchor for that section of the park (which previously had only the Bumper Cars and the Musik Express).

Across from Down Time was a brand new beautifully designed gift shop with two attached game booths. It looked as if it was moved from Cape Cod. I'm glad this area was utilized; previously it was just an empty grassy zone behind the Wildcat. Karen and I walked inside. There were lots of T-shirts and glasses, basically similar to what was in our favorite shop, Coaster Corner. But there was much less of a selection. The park used to have several different designs, all of them delightful. There were sweatshirts with the entire Main Street midway embroidered into them, many different Boulder Dash and Wildcat designs ... but in the new shop ("Good Times") there was just one design for each coaster, and little else.

So we walked out of there and headed down for Coaster Corner -- which was now the Carousel Cafe. Our favorite shop was replaced by a cafeteria. One consolation was that this cafeteria served veggie burgers. That was the first time I'd ever seen veggie burgers offered as food at a park, and it was a welcome addition.

We stood in front of the band organ at the carousel. The organ was just refurbished and sounded great. It's still playing unusual music for a band organ (1970s hits). We wandered down to Clipper Cove and watched the kids splash around in the colorful play area. The park really did a nice job with this. We headed over to the train station. We waited there for quite a while, along with other people, but no train showed up. It wasn't on the list of rides not running, but we never saw it the whole day.

It was time for one of our favorite snacks. We walked over to the Potato Patch. I got some fine fries with garlic salt, and Karen got them with cheese. Then we took a leisurely stroll toward the lakeside. The Mark Twain paddlewheel boat was running. Then Karen spotted another new park addition: giant swan paddle boats. Ever since I can remember, Lake Compounce has had paddle boats. But they really were getting old and would often take on lots of water. I think this was a really smart move. The new boats were stunning: large swans with high wings, bright white with orange beaks reflecting in the lake. It really helped cement the idea that this was a turn-of-the-century park. The boats appeared to be popular; there were always several out on the lake. It reminded me of Rollercoaster Tycoon.

At the edge of the lake, there were three fish food vending machines that were new. There was a rather large school of small lethargic fish gathered there. So Karen and I got some food (small hard pellets) and started tossing them toward the fish. They didn't seem to care one bit. I noticed then that there were a *lot* of food pellets floating in the water, untouched. Occasionally a fish would swallow one, but then promptly spit it out. Either they were overfed, or they wanted different food.

We continued our walk around the lakeside, watching the old electric trolley zip past us on one side, and Boulder Dash rumbling by on the other. It was hot enough out that we headed for Thunder Rapids, one of my favorite rapids rides. There was a short line for it and we boarded very quickly. Our raft was filled, which made for a really exciting ride. Karen and I got moderately wet. There was a really young boy with his dad. The boy was maybe five or six. He had the time of his life, laughing with glee as he got doused.

We followed that with our usual ritual, drying off on the Sky Ride. It was a perfect day for it, with the sun beating down but a cool breeze blowing. The air was clear so the view was spectacular. A group of either hawks or turkey buzzards (I can't tell the difference) soared silently and majestically overhead. The half-hour trip was over too quickly.

A new show was opening in the ballroom, The Tanzanian Flyers. So we headed for the huge ballroom to watch. Tom Wages (the general manager) was behind the sound console with another man. The show began with a contortionist who twisted her body into all sorts of unsettling positions. Then the rest of the troupe appeared in bright orange jumpsuits, climbing, flipping and spinning all over the stage. They were good family entertainment. It was interesting to watch the audience try to adjust to their performance style. For example, an acrobat would climb a high pole and hang off it, spinning around. The audience would begin clapping. Then the acrobat would dismount from the pole and come down center and bow. So the audience would clap again. Then the whole troupe would step forward with arms raised to introduce the next soloist. So the audience would applaud. The next acrobat would step forward, and the audience would applaud. Eventually the audience was just clapped out. It seemed like the applause should have come only at the start and end of each bit, but there was no guide for interacting with the performers. So what happened was a nearly constant din of applause during the entire show, which got weaker and weaker until the end.

After all that applause, we were ready for some of the Lake's great pizza (and free soda). We next walked along Main Street and saw a performer on a tiny stage next to the Wildcat's motor house. There were only two guests watching him, so we joined them. He was a young kid, and seemed to be a bit nervous and inexperienced. He held a microphone that was plugged into a small amp. The volume was so low we had trouble hearing him, even standing just a few feet away. A little sign read, "Flea Circus." His "stage" was maybe five feet square and about two feet off the ground. On the stage was a little table with a tiny high-dive board and pool, and round circus-style platform about a foot in diameter with a little ball on it. The kid chatted about his flea named Birney. He produced a tiny replica of a 7-11 store and said that was his flea market (yuk yuk). He took a giant pair of tweezers from his coat pocket a pulled "Birney" from the store and placed him on the little ball. He encouraged us to cheer Birney on, and as we did the little ball began rolling itself around the miniature platform. Then he pulled Birney off the ball with the tweezers and placed him on the high-dive platform. Again we cheered him on, and a little splash of water shot out of the pool. The kid then told us that Birney couldn't swim and had drowned. Birney was dead. He was going to have to get another flea. That was the end of the show. (I'm not kidding!) What a downer....

After that we followed Main Street past Circus World and the Boomerang around. We went past the spectacular waterfall under the Pirate Ship, which was closed. We headed to the Saw Mill Plunge, a venerable Arrow flume (one of the company's best) that always seems to have a long line. The splash on the drop wasn't as forceful as usual, so we stayed pretty dry. We then went next door to the Giant Wheel, one of the speediest ferris wheels I've been on. We got a good view of the massive dormant Haunted Graveyard hiding at the far end of the park.

Then we headed to the Carousel Cafe for an early dinner. We each got a veggie burger. I thought it was interesting and unusual that the cafe charged 25 cents for a little plate of lettuce and tomato to add to your burger. Fortunately condiments were still free. The burgers were good. I also got some crispy and tasty onion rings. Another thing that the Lake added this year: more tables and chairs. They were desperately needed. For years there were lots of food stands, but nowhere to sit down and eat. Gradually, more and more "picnic" areas have been added. There's the Crok Pot and the tiny Rock and Roll Diner for indoor dining. But everything else is "al fresco." I wonder if there would be a place for a nice sit-down restaurant there.

As usual, we had a wonderful day at Lake Compounce. I remember sitting on a bench at the train station; Karen and I felt like we could just sit there all day and have a good time. The park has such a wonderful atmosphere. There were some great additions to the park this season: the nicely-themed Down Time, the Swan Boats, the Good Times gift shop. There were also some things that bothered me: the sparse selection of gifts, the rough ride on Boulder Dash, the inattentive ride operator, the fish food that the fish wouldn't eat, the mysteriously non-existent train. There was certainly a good crowd there, and that's encouraging. Perhaps after a few seasons of solid success, the park is having growing pains. But even with them, it says a lot about the park that Karen and I can still have a great time there. Now if they'd just get a cheese-on-a-stick stand....

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