|On a gorgeous sunny fourth-of-July weekend, Karen and I made the short drive south to Lake Compounce
in Bristol, Connecticut. I had gotten discount tickets online and
also had some "Midway Moolah" that I had purchased (but not used) a few
months earlier at the WNYCC's Coasterfest™. I was eager to see how the park's massive amount of construction had progressed since our last visit.
We arrived about 11:00 to a parking lot containing just four rows of
cars. But from the number of parking attendants, it appeared that
they were ready for a big day.
Once we were in the park, our first order of business (naturally) was to stop at the Potato Patch and get some fresh-cut French fries. We sat in our usual spot, next to the Wave Swinger. Karen and I both noticed that the man who was riding it the last time we were at the park -- in fact, every time we were at the park -- was once again on board. So I asked an attendant about him. She claimed he held the world's record for the most rides on a Wave Swinger. Every day during each season, as long as it wasn't raining, he'd come to the park and ride the entire day.
After our tasty treat, we headed for the north end of the park. Along the way, just after the north entrance to the Circus World kiddie land, Karen noticed something new: Dino Expedition. It was located in a small area where there used to be an outdoor stage, usually featuring acrobats. It displayed the usual assortment of animatronic dinosaurs similar to many other parks across the country. The park's timing was right, coinciding with the release of the movie Jurassic World. There were lots of children wandering along the short loop, seemingly fascinated by the figures. The park had also constructed a sandbox area where kids could hunt for fossils. Even though the animatronics were roped off, the fence was extremely close to them. I wondered how long it would take before the the dinos' fragile latex "skin" was damaged.
After that brief diversion, we headed over to Zoomer's Gas & Go, the short but enjoyable car ride. Along the way, we passed the spectacular massive waterfall of the Pirate Ship, one of the most impressive sights in the park. Like the car ride at New York's Great Escape, Zoomer's cars had on-board audio that played exerpts from 1950's rock-and-roll songs. As always, it was a fun diversion.
We walked up the slight hill to Saw Mill Plunge, one of my favorite flume rides. Last season, the ride was down for repairs. It seemed largely unchanged for this season. The station seemed to have been repainted, but that was the only difference I noticed. The line wasn't that long, and within a few minutes we were waiting for our log to drift by. Interestingly, we were held back. A group loaded at the exit plaform. I didn't realize that the park offered Fast Passes. It wasn't a big deal, but I still thought that type of extortion was wrong, where people willing to shell out an additional pile of money got to cut in front of others who didn't pay extra. I thought it was strange that the park had a sign posted in the queue line that you would definitely get soaked on the ride. The spray at the bottom of the drop had been removed. When Karen and I splashed down, we only got a few drops on us. Maybe the park was waiting for a warmer day to make the ride wetter. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the ride. At the flume's exit, the park had instituted digital photo purchases. Rather than buy a physical piece of paper, I could pay $10 for a code that I could enter on my computer or mobile device which would give me access to the photo of us on the ride. I'm glad more parks are offering that option. It makes more sense than having to carry around physical copies. So I bought our digital selves.
We passed Thunder and Lighting, the park's Screaming Swing ride. I think the only time they've ever run both swings was during the ride's first two seasons. Since then, they've seemed to run only the right half. The left half looked as if it was getting a bit rusty. They certainly had enough people waiting in line to justify running both. Instead, we climbed aboard the Giant Wheel next door.
It seemed like on nearly every ride we boarded, the attendants would comment on how much they liked my old Boulder Dash t-shirt. Perhaps that was because in recent years the park had offered few ride-specific t-shirts for sale. The Wheel was pleasant, and afterward we walked across the midway to Ghost Hunt, the park's interactive dark ride. There was hardly any line there, which was unusual, and within a few minutes we were seated in the eerie cars that drove themselves around without any track. For some reason, the attendant told us that one person had to sit in front and one in back. We had always sat together in the front. The rule seemed arbitrary. But we did as we were told. Karen wanted to sit in the back, so I took the front. The "Boo Blasters" didn't seem particularly responsive and we both had trouble hitting the targets (many of which weren't even lit). I ended up with 700 points and Karen had 60. In the past, I would usually score well over 1000 points without even trying hard.
Once we left Ghost Hunt, we headed over to one of the greatest wooden coasters ever built, Boulder Dash. The queue line was stretched across the bridge, but that usually meant no more than a twenty-minute wait. We progressed quickly toward the station. The queue split there into separate "Front of the train" and "Back of the train" lines. Most of the guests seemed to be heading toward the back; we lined up for the front. The park was running just a single train, but the line moved quickly. Within a couple of minutes we were standing behind four people who were waiting for the front seat. But the floor in front of both gates for the front car was blocked by two bright green traffic cones with "Reserved" stamped on them. A family at the exit climbed into the empty seats as the people in the queue quietly stood there. I assumed this must have been caused by the Fast Pass. But normally, guests with a Fast Past had to take whatever seats were available.
The train was dispatched and disappeared up the lift hill. More people appeared at the exit gate. When the train arrived back at the station, the people in the front seat remained there as new guests filled the rest of the seats. The people at the exit gate stood there waiting. A rather large man with his equally large wife and daughter got off the train while it was still loading. They seemed unhappy about something and were arguing with the attendants. They left by the exit. The train was dispatched again. When it returned to the station, the people in the front seat left the ride. But instead of allowing the guests who were in the queue to board, the attendants allowed the new people at the exit gate to get into the front car. Then once that train dispatched, more people walked up to the exit gate. When the train returned, once again the people at the exit trumped the people waiting in line. It looked like this was never going to end.
So I approached one of the attendants and asked about it. She told me that these were people with "special needs". The park didn't have a Fast Pass after all. But I was curious what constituted a "special need" and how people declared it. The park's website said that, "The S.A.M wristband program is for any guest that has a physical or mental impairment that limits their ability to wait long periods of time in lines." The site did say that the person needed to have a doctor's note. None of the people we saw at the exit appeared physically or mentally impaired in any way. At least there were none of the obvious signs like wheelchairs, crutches or braces. Naturally, it's possible that such a disability could manifest in more subtle ways. But in my cynicism, I wondered if these were "normal" people simply gaming the system so they didn't have to wait in line. In fact, the large gentleman who left the ride earlier returned to the exit ramp with a yellow ticket in his hand and was showing it to the attendants. He would be the next one in the front seat. My patience was running low. By that point, we had been standing in line for over an hour. I wasn't frustrated about "special needs" access; I was frustrated with how poorly the queuing was being run. The people at the exit gate should have alternated with the people in the regular queue. Karen struck up a conversation with some guests standing next to us. She noticed they all wore Bear Creek Campground t-shirts. She asked them if they were staying at the park's new campground, and they were. They were from New York, and the father said that they were generally happy with their accomodations. He just wished the cabins were a bit further apart. There seemed to be too many cabins for the size of the campground.
Finally the attendant picked up the cones. The people at the exit gate (a seemingly never-ending stream) were told to wait a moment while the rest of the guests were allowed to ride and didn't seem happy about that. The two people in front of us boarded. Right when Karen and I stepped up to the gate, the attendant pulled out the cones again. I looked directly at her, and I probably didn't look too happy. She said to Karen, "Could you put this cone behind you?" There was a lone guest waiting for the second seat, and she had him do the same. That guest noticed my t-shirt and apparently thought I was a coaster enthusiast. He immediately asked me if I had heard about the new coaster the park was getting next season. "Steel?" I asked almost rhetorically. "Well," he responded as if I were a dolt, "they already have two wooden coasters. They don't need another one." He began talking rapidly about his theories as we took our seats and belted ourselves in. I noticed that the track was bone dry and possibly hadn't been greased all season.
We started up the lift hill with a slow tug, and the chain picked up speed until we rapidly crested the top, turned the corner and then dove down the first curving drop. It felt like the train's wheels were hexagons. The car rattled and shook violently, and I knew we were in for a pretty painful ride. Boulder Dash never let up speed. The brief airtime moments were nice, but we would continually slam back down onto the track where our seats would vibrate as if we were speeding over rocks, giving new meaning to the ride's name. It couldn't end fast enough. By the time we returned to the station, I had a headache and Karen's legs hurt. It was a pretty poor reward for over an hour of patience.
We staggered off the coaster and walked down toward the south end of the park. I noticed that the whimsical entrance to Down Time, the park's drop tower, was becoming overgrown. The now non-functioning clock hands were gradually disappearing behind rapidly-growing pine trees. At least the park still offered free drinks, so we each filled up at a nearby drink station. It was then about 2:00 and the French fries had worn off. Karen was curious about the show in the dance hall, but it had just finished a performance and wouldn't be performed again for a few hours. So we headed for Harborside Pizza. Next to it was the newly-named Crocodile Cove, the continually expanding waterpark. It was mobbed. We first looked around for someplace to sit. Every single table in the entire area was taken. So we ordered our pizza slices and sat on a garden wall next to the Crok Pot. The pizza was good as usual, one of our favorite treats in the park.
Karen then wanted to take the train. So we went to the station. It sounded like the train was coming around the corner, but it turned out to be a recording coming from stereo speakers in the ceiling, giving the illusion that the ride was near. A sign at the entrance gate said that the train would be returning at 1:15. The problem: it was nearly 2:30 at that point. So Karen and I strolled along the path between the trolley and Boulder Dash, heading to the far south end. I had hoped that the construction of the previous season would remove the park's dead end and tie both sides of the lake together. But my hope was evidently premature. The only work on the east side of the lake seemed to be piles and piles of sand, mountains of it. It looked like a quarry. The hillside of trees was long gone. The train ran through a barren wasteland.
It was hot enough that Karen and I were in the mood to cool off. So we queued up for Thunder Rapids, the park's terrific raft ride. There wasn't much of a line and we were seated with another family, making for a full raft. As usual, the bobbing and weaving in the water was enough to get us wet, with no need for watefall gimmicks. (Even the decorative waterfall near the ride's station had been turned off.) Karen got through with only a few splashes. I was drenched. So to dry off, we walked next door to the amazing Sky Ride. We queued up as Boulder Dash rattled through its turnaround. Soon we were floating 700 feet above the midway, gliding across the mountain range. From up high, it was easy to see the other side of the lake. And it seemed like very little work had been done there, except for moving piles of dirt around. Perhaps that was going to be the location for the rumored new steel coaster.
As we arrived back on terra firma, the ride attendant noticed my shirt and asked me if I had seen the clues about the new ride. I told him I hadn't. He said there was a large crate next to the Enterprise ride. I had seen it, but hadn't payed much attention to it, thinking it was just an advertisement for the park's Haunted Graveyard. I told him I'd check it out on the way back.
We stopped at the Watering Hole, a small concession stand that mostly served alcohol. But they also advertised fresh lemonade. So I ordered a cup of that and Karen got some popcorn, which was being made fresh as well. I watched the guy make my lemonade. He used three whole lemons, water and a half-cup of sugar, stirred it all up and poured it into a huge cup. As we waited for Karen's popcorn, the popcorn machine began to malfunction, shaking and making generally unpleasant sounds. The cashier yelled to the guy, who was making another lemonade. He rush over, opened the machine and emptied the hopper. But the machine continued to shake and vibrate as if it were going to blow up. So the guy shut it down. Karen got the last batch of popcorn for the day.
We decided to catch the train back to the main midway. We walked over to the station at the far south end of the lake and just as we arrived, the train was leaving the station. The sign said it would return at 3:15. It was already 4:00. There was no one else around except for chirping birds, so we sat peacefully on one of the benches there. Karen munched on her popcorn and I sipped my drink, the best lemonade I've ever had. From where we were, the massive scale of the excavation across the lake was clear. That was a lot of sand. I had no idea what the park intended to do with it all.
After about a half-hour, we had finished our food and the train arrived. It was mobbed with people and very few of them got off. We found an open seat near the back and started on our way. Although looking at the lake to our left was still a pretty sight, looking to the right gave the impression of either a desert or an apocalypse. There had been channels bulldozed through the mountains of dirt forming artificial ravines. The park's expansion had so far stopped at the wave pool, which we had seen the previous season. And there had been no additional landscaping done in that area, outside of some new cabanas next to the wave pool that could be rented for $125 a day. That seemed a bit pricey for fake grass huts in such a wasteland.
I wanted to see that crate, so we left the train and headed back up towards Ghost Hunt. As we passed the park entrance, a large crowd had gathered there. A juggler was performing a street show for the crowd. That, the show in the kiddie area and the one in the dance hall were now apparently the only entertainment in the park. Maybe there wasn't much need for it; there was certainly enough in the park to keep people occupied.
The crate was odd. It was definitely a crate, and it had signs affixed to it. Two were hashtags (#lakecompounce and #whatsintheboxlc). The others were asking what we fear: clowns? spiders? It seemed less like the park was going to build a ride and more like it was bringing in the TV show Fear Factor. It could have been an ad for the Haunted Graveyard as well. Neither Karen nor I could associate the clues with any particular type of ride besides a dark ride (which the park already had). A steel coaster? Given the clues, that didn't make much sense.
As we walked back toward the entrance, we passed by the empty spot behind the Rev-O-Lution that used to be home to the Rotor. There remained a sunken circular foundation filled with stones. But curiously, some of the stones were colored to form the upside-down letters LC. There were also two black plastic garden ponds filled with water. It was curious, because that area couldn't be seen from the midway (maybe if you were riding the Rev-O-Lution). The only place it was really visible was on the path next to Ghost Hunt.
We left through the gift shop, as usual. There was a sale on last year's Boulder Dash t-shirts for just $5. So I bought another one, seeing as how most of the Boulder Dash shirts I already owned were wearing out. Then we headed home after spending six hours in the park, the longest we'd stayed there in many years. Nearly two hours of that time were spent waiting -- for Boulder Dash and the train in particular. Another half-hour was on the Sky Ride. Even so, it was a full day and we enjoyed it. By the time we left, the parking lot was filled. So Lake Compounce must have been doing something right.
I was a concerned with how Boulder Dash was running. It's never been that rough, especially considering it was completely re-tracked just a few years ago. And this was still early in the season. I hoped it wasn't a scaling back on maintenance. And the decimation on the east end of the lake was worrisome. If they had just put up some sort of sign that told the guests what the park was doing, it would make us want to come back next season. Instead it looked like a dump with no explanation.
But The Lake still had good food, beautiful landscaping (for the most part) and lots of shade. I hoped, as they continued building up the park, that Parque Reunidos would retain the unique charm that's been a hallmark of the country's oldest amusement park.
Return to Karen and Jay's Excursions