Lake Compounce, August 21, 2005

On a blistering hot and humid Sunday, Karen and I made our first trip to Lake Compounce for this season. At this late stage of the summer, it would probably be our only trip there. The parking lot was surprisingly full when we arrived at about 12:30.

As we made the long walk from the parking lot to the entrance, we noticed some banners advertising the park's newest addition, Anchor Bay, a lazy river ride. This was probably the most appropriate use of Garfield that the park has had. I've never really understood why Kennywood Corporation wanted Garfield as a mascot. The cat is a lazy, thieving, conniving character with very few redeeming qualities. It's certainly not as cuddly as Snoopy and not as heroic or exciting as Superman. It's sort of like having Crankshaft as a park mascot.

We walked through the tunnel under Lake Avenue. The park seemed to have gotten a really good deal on some new plastic trash cans; there were dozens of them lined up haphazardly all over the place. The park entrance was still one of the prettiest I've ever seen, with the large ring of flowers around the carousel horse, the folksy clock tower and the lift hill of the Wildcat dominating the view. Splashes of color were everywhere.

Stop and Shop wasn't as generous as it had been last year; with our coupon, we only received $4 each off of our entry. Even with that, our total still came to $63 (not including the $5 parking fee), which we both found shocking. I know that the days are long gone when entry used to cost $18 and parking was free. But even so, we were surprised to find this small park creeping close to charging Six Flags prices.

Even though the parking lot was filled, the park's Main Street seemed fairly deserted. Karen and I turned right and walked into the Yankee Emporium gift shop. We used to find all sorts of fun gifts there. But over the past few years, the gift shops in the park had grown more generic. That trend continued. There was one new colorful T-shirt, but most everything else in the store could have been bought at a novelty shop. Even though the store had an air conditioner, for some reason the two front doors were kept open so that the store was as hot as the midway.

We strolled up past Circus World (the park's colorful kiddieland), past the Zoomerang coaster and the giant waterfall beneath the Pirate ride, and up the hill to the Saw Mill Plunge. The queue line was about 1/4 full. We didn't mind waiting because it was all shaded from the sun. When we got in line, there seemed to be a bit of confusion. Two lines faced the same direction and sort of collided with each other creating a bottleneck. When we examined the queue, we understood why: the posts and chains were falling apart. One of the guide chains attached to the wall had come off, so guests weren't properly herded into the correct line. Some other guests noticed this as well, and hooked the loose chain around a post so that the line could once again flow properly. I had never seen a queue line in such poor condition, and I was surprised the park hadn't bothered to fix it.

The flume ride up through the hillside was refreshing. This has always been one of my favorite Arrow creations. It makes wonderful use of the hilly terrain. Next we walked toward the Giant Wheel. On the way we noticed the backhoe and concrete footings in the empty area that had been occupied by a storytelling show. It was the construction site for the new S & S swing ride, Thunder and Lightning. It looked like it was going to be a tight fit, shoehorned between the wheel and the flume. I wish there had been a better place to show off the ride. Maybe the park wanted more traffic down that end of the midway.

We queued up for the Giant Wheel. The ride attendant and operator were extremely chatty and friendly, asking why we weren't in the water park. We answered that we didn't bring our bathing suits. "Oh, we sell them here," was the quick and cheerful reply. There was a refreshing breeze when we boarded the ride. Only two other people had boarded. When we got to the top of the wheel, I could see a long line had formed at Boulder Dash. The crew had just put a second train on the tracks. We went around and around for a few minutes and finally came to a rest back at the station. No one was in line, and the attendant asked us if we wanted to go again. We said sure, and off we went. The wheel was nicely located, affording a great panorama of the whole park. We also got a bird's-eye view of the huge Haunted Graveyard, awaiting its re-awakening in the fall.

It was well past lunchtime, and we couldn't wait to taste some of The Lake's delicious pizza. We walked past the Boulder Dash entrance and made a brief stop into the nearby gift shop, hoping to find some new and interesting memorablilia. But again we were disappointed. I used to like the old Coaster Corner near the Wildcat; it always had great souvenirs. But that place was converted into a grill. So we walked by Down Time, the colorful S & S drop tower, which had no line. We passed the recently-relocated carousel, which still looked great. It's organ was loudly and merrily playing the theme to "Welcome Back, Kotter." We turned left and saw where all the people were. Clipper Cove, the children's water play area, and Splash Harbor were packed. But luckily there was no one in line at Harborside Pizza. Karen paused for a photo with a friend. Then we walked over to a weary attendant who told us he had just fullfilled five orders for whole cheese pizzas in five minutes. Karen and I each ordered a slice. We each got our free soft drinks and turned to look for a place to sit. Then it struck us: the entire section of midway we were standing in was completely different. Where before we used to simply walk down to the edge of the lake, now the way was blocked by Anchor Bay. The Karen noticed the old Crok Pot restaurant to our right. It was the oldest structure in the park, the former ballroom. And it had been given a complete makeover and looked stunning. The deck was greatly expanded and a gazebo was added. The flooring was all composite wood, so it wouldn't rot. The amazing thing was how the park kept the 1800s look of the building while modernizing it. We climbed the stairs up to the deck and sat down to eat. It was then we could see the size of the lazy river. It completely occupied the area that used to be the Harborside Stage and the miniature golf course. We didn't mind too much that the stage was gone; the acts there were almost always second rate. But The Lake's mini-golf course was a lot of fun and really funky. There are so few of those home-made courses left at parks. It was sad to see yet another one vanish. At least the park did a nice job landscaping around the river.

Anchor Bay turned around near the Trolley station. At that location, the park had added a sizeable waterslide and a waterfall that dumped into the lazy river. It was a pretty impressive sight. One thing we thought strange was that the floatation tubes were all clear vinyl. It created an interesting effect, as if people were just floating without anything under them.

The pizza was quite delicious. We took a walk down the prehistoric path alongside Boulder Dash's return track. The wood was looking grey and dry. The trains made a loud rattling as they sped by, as if they were running over bumps in the track. Swan boats were floating gracefully on the lake. At that point in the day, the temperature was in the mid-90s with high humidity. We were ready for some serious cooling off. So we walked over to Thunder Rapids. There were quite a few people lined up for it. There were also an unusually large number of line jumpers. But eventually we were seated in a full raft. By the end of it, someone might as well have thrown me into Anchor Bay. I was completely drenched from head to toe. Karen didn't get quite as wet. But it was a great way to lower our body temperature.

We slogged out of that queue line and headed over for our usual spot to dry off, the Sky Ride. I had never seen this ride so busy. Every other seat was filled. Given the enormous length of the ride, that was astounding. We were quickly seated and were pulled up the steep incline. When this ride was new, there was an obvious path that had been made down the mountain. It had crushed stone for a path and wooden steps in places. On this ride we noticed that everything was becoming overgrown. The steps had rotted out and most of the path had washed away. There was a warning at the ride's entrance, that if the ride malfunctioned you had to be in good enough shape to walk down the mountainside. But where would you walk now? There appeared to be no easy way to navigate through the dense growth.

We enjoyed the relaxing trip. As always, the view from the top was stunning. But baking in the sun for a half-hour, even if it did help us dry off a bit, wore us out. We got off the ride and walked back toward the Crok Pot. The old Trolley was keeping busy carrying multitudes of passengers who didn't want to walk down the crowded path. Across the other side of the lake, Splash Harbor was still doing a booming business. We walked underneath the ballroom and over to the Bavarian Nut stand. I got some cashews and Karen got some fresh pecans. Then we walked up into the Starlight Theatre (the ballroom) to see the musical revue Jump, Jive and Swing. It had already started when we walked in. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the park installed air conditioning in the theater. Heavy red curtains blocked out light from the windows along the sides of the building. Five peppy kids were on the small stage, surrounded by an arch of white stars and flashing lights. They were running through a set of standard swing numbers (such as "Jump, Jive and Wail"), and I do mean running. The choreography looked like it had been done by an aerobics teacher who had a failed ambition to be a cheerleader. Some of the performers (who all sang along with a recording) were woefully off-pitch. Other performers weren't even singing; they were lip-synching. It was obvious because their mouths didn't match up with what was being sung. The performance lasted just 15 minutes. Unfortunately, though, that meant we had to go back out into the heat.

The one slice of pizza and the nuts hadn't filled us up. We headed for the ol' Potato Patch. Karen got some cheese fries, and I got fries with garlic and herb seasoning. We sat down at a table over by the Wave Swinger. The fries were okay, but tasted as if they'd been sitting around a while. After that, Karen looked really tired so we called it a day. We headed back out under the tunnel at about 4:30. I glanced over at the employee parking lot as we left. There were the two dozen trailers containing the old Busch Gardens monorail, still sitting there. It was a shame that it would never be rebuilt. The parking lot was such a long walk from the entrance; it would have been a great way to transport guests.

Overall we enjoyed our visit, though not as much as in the past. For season passholders, The Lake was still a bargain. But for those without a season pass, the gate price was getting a bit expensive for what the park offers. I couldn't imagine how much further the park could expand. The waterpark attractions seemed extremely popular, but that end of the park was completely filled. Unless they knocked down the Crok Pot and Starlight Theatre (the most historically significant buildings in the park), there would be no room for additional attractions. But if the management wants to keep raising prices, there had better be a lot there to entice guests to return.

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