June 15-18, 2015

copyright Jay Ducharme 2015

To get a break from the hectic year, Karen and I traveled up to Ogunquit, Maine.  I had gotten a good pre-season deal on rooms at the Admiral's Inn, where we had previously stayed.  It was located at the center of town, a short walking distance to the beach.  The trip didn't start off very promising, driving up in the middle of a thunderstorm.  There was an accident on I-90 that brought traffic to a standstill for nearly an hour.  We finally reached Wells, Maine, at about 1 pm and stopped off at Congdon's Donuts for lunch.  As luck would have it, their special for the day was a veggie burger (and it was delicious).

We arrived at the Admiral's Inn at about 2:30 and checked in.  There were new owners this year and they had begun some much needed renovations to the facilities.  All of the staff was really friendly and helpful.  We asked if we could stay at the inn an extra day, since our first two days were going to be mostly washed out.  The clerk was very accomodating.

The rain had finally let up, so we took a walk down to the beach to stretch our legs after the long ride.  As could be expected, there weren't many people out and about.  It felt like we were some of the only people in town.  It was also unexpectedly chilly, with the temperature hovering in the low fifties.  I stopped at a gift shop at the beach and got a zippered sweatshirt, which helped a lot.  I would end up wearing it for pretty much the entire trip.  After that, we returned to the hotel to rest up for the next day.  The skies once again opened up and it poured heavily for the entire night.

By the time we awoke on Tuesday morning, the rain had turned into a fine mist.  There was thick fog hanging in the air.  We had our complimentary breakfast at the hotel.  The food was sourced from local vendors and was quite good.  After that we decided to take a chance and walk the Marginal Way, a long pathway that followed the ocean cliffs.  As we approached it, I ran into the switchboard operator at HCC who was on a bus trip.  After chatting a while about the coincidence, we continued on our way.  Karen stopped often to look out at the rolling sea.  There was a suprising amount of construction along the route, with signs posted that stated the work was being done to control the growth of invasive species.

After over an hour of walking, we arrived in the quaint area known as Perkin's Cove.  The sleepy little shops weren't doing a lot of business on that cloudy morning.  We spotted a sign advertising ocean tours to Nubble Lighthouse for $28, not too bad a price for an hour-and-a-half ride.  So we signed up.  But unfortunately, we were two of just four people that morning.  The woman selling tickets wasn't sure if the boat would sail with so few people.  So we waited around, looking at the shops and scoping out the restaurants.  At 10:00 (when the boat was supposed to leave), we were told that they were going to hold for a few minutes to see if they could attract any more passengers.  So we sat by the dock, waiting patiently.  At 10:30, the woman told us they were going to set sail even though there were just four of us.  So we climbed aboard.  Karen and I sat at the bow on the left.  Two women sat on the right.

A girl aboard the boat provided an interesting narration of the area's history.  I was suprised that most of the mansions on the ocean cliffs were privately-owned single residence homes occupied only during the summer.  As we left the cove for the open waters, the incoming high tide was producing large waves -- and we were heading straight into them.  The bow would crash into the wave and rise up, then come splashing down as we rocked from side to side.  It was like being on a short and non-stop drop tower ride.  I just prayed I wasn't going to get sick.

Along the way, we saw a seal splashing among the rocks.  There were dozens of multicolor buoys that had been placed by lobster fisherman marking their traps.   They formed a sort of obstacle course that the skipper skillfully navigated.

Just as I thought I would reach my nausea breaking point, we arrived at the famous Nubble Lighthouse.  We circled around its island as the girl continued with her litany of facts.  The water there was calm, which allowed us to catch our breath (and stomachs).  Then we began the trip back.  Since we were then traveling in the same direction as the waves, the ride was much calmer.  We reached the dock in Perkin's Cove shortly after noon.  Outside of the rough seas, it was a really enjoyable trip.

Next, Karen was after a lobster roll.  There were a few choices nearby, and we opted for the Lobster Shack, a small restaurant at the east end of the cove.  Karen ordered a lobster roll (naturally) and shrimp.  I was delighted to discover that they had a spinach veggie burger, which is what I got (naturally).  The food was great and re-energized us.

From there we walked back to the inn.  Karen wanted to explore some of the area's numerous antique shops.  So we got in the car and drove south toward York.  Karen spotted Woods to Goods, a model railroad shop, so we stopped there.  The proprietor, Mike, was very friendly and chatty.  The store had a large stock of all sorts of items.  I bought a small Amtrak locomotive and some scenery.  We then visited several antique stores, some spread out across lawns and others tightly packed into small old homes.  Karen was looking for decorative items for our yard.  At one shop I picked up a collection of Railroad Enthusiast magazines from 1942.  Then we headed back for the inn.  We decided to stroll around downtown Ogunquit.  Thankfully, we took our umbrellas because it began to rain again.  We stopped into a Ben & Jerry's there and I got a delicious waffle cone filled with salted caramel blondie ice cream.  One of the young workers there noticed the Big Y umbrella I was carrying and asked if we were from Massachusetts.  It turned out he grew up just down the street from us.  We chatted for a while and then headed back to the inn to rest up.

The next day couldn't have been a bigger contrast.  The sky was bright blue with a dusting of clouds.  The sun was warm and inviting.  After another continental breakfast, we took our fold-up chairs and headed to the beach.  At eight in the morning, we were the only couple there.  We set up on the deep sand in front of the Norsemen Hotel.  The hotel had a rental shop below it, but it wouldn't open for another hour.  So instead we strolled along the expanse of sand, listening to the waves roll in, watching the little piping plovers darting about searching for food.

At nine, we rented the umbrella, pitched it in front of our chairs and relaxed, staring out at the calm sea as high tide slowly rolled in.  I brought my newly acquired sweatshirt, and I was glad I did; even though the sun was bright, the breeze from the ocean was cold.  (The water was still downright frigid!)  Gradually, more and more people arrived.  By 11:00, high tide was nearing its peak which kept forcing sunbathers further back.  Eventually, we were completely surrounded by a sea of people.

We took that opportunity to visit the Norsemen's restaurant for lunch.  Karen ordered a shrimp salad and I got a salmon burger.  The prices were fairly reasonable considering the restaurant's location.  We sat on the restaurant deck which was just above our beach chairs and had a panoramic view of the beach.

After lunch, we walked around the beach some more and then relaxed in our chairs.  Just as the tide once again began to ebb, the crowds began to dissipate and give us a little more breathing room.  We spent a few more hours relaxing, since that was really the reason we came to Ogunquit.  Then, refreshed, we packed up and headed back to the inn.

Karen wanted to check out Old Orchard Beach to the north.  So we hopped in the car and drove along Route 1 through Kennebunk and Biddeford, and into Saco past Funtown Splashtown.  We took a right and headed toward the shore.  The Playland Ferris wheel came into view.  We parked in a lot a few blocks from the famous pier.  Then we headed into the thick of it.  The Playland amusment park hadn't opened.  Even so, it was a completely different atmosphere than Ogunquit, which had more of a quaintness to it.  If Ogunquit was a playground for the middle class, then Old Orchard Beach was a playground for the working class.  It was more like Coney Island, whereas Ogunquit was more like Knoebels.   We stopped into the Playland Arcade.  It had four pinball machines in various states of functionality.   The classic machine Funhouse crashed in the middle of our game with a computer error.  The Addams Family table had a dead side flipper.  The noise and crowds were too much for Karen, so we got back in the car and headed south.

Karen was curious about Kennebunkport, so we took a drive to that hamlet.  It wasn't that quaint however.  It was a playground for the very wealthy, with mansion after mansion and parking lots stocked with BMWs and Mercedes.  We drove past the sprawling compound of former president George Bush (the first).  Karen had seen enough, and we headed back to the inn.

The following morning we packed up and headed off to Congdon's Donuts for breakfast.  Then, since it was nearby, we made a trip up to Saco to visit Funtown.  Along the way, Karen spotted a curious shop with numerous flags, spinners and pirate paraphrenalia out front.   The store was packed with all sorts of stuff.  What caught my eye was an attractively-priced hand-made wooden cardinal spinner.  So we left with our purchase and continued to Funtown.

The polar bear on top of the cliff at the park's entrance was holding a water tube, signifying how important the waterpark area had become for them.   There were numerous school buses driving into the park as we arrived.  It must have been a big school outing day.  Outside of the buses, the parking lot was mostly empty.  Many of the buses apparently dropped off the kids and left, because the park itself was crowded.  Admission was still reasonable, under $30, and parking was free.  The waterpark area hadn't opened yet.  Although it was a bright sunny day, the air was still chilly. 

We headed toward the back of the park to ride Funtown's intense wooden roller coasters, Excalibur.  As we headed there, Karen noticed that there appeared to have been more big tents erected for outings in the grove area off to the right.  We made our way down to the end of the main midway and turned right toward Excalibur.  No one was in line for the Antique Cars there, so we hopped aboard.  Apparently, the course was altered to accomodate the new outing areas; the ride seemed much shorter than on our last visit to the park.

We then crossed the long series of wooden bridges over to the far west end of the park, passing by the popular Thunder Falls flume ride.  We walked across the shady bridge to the Camelot section, in which there was just one ride: Excalibur.  The school kids had all headed there as well, so it was about a twenty minute wait for the front seat.  The crew ran their train pretty efficiently, using a butterfly net to pass guest items to each other over the track for storage in the bins.  Soon enough we were seated in the PTC trains and were heading up the lift hill.  At the crest of the tall hill, we turned to the left and then flew down the steep first drop.  The second hill produced strong airtime and we were thrown to the left as the train barreled around the high turn.  With the dense woods surrounding the ride, it was difficult to tell where we were going next.  Unlike most modern wooden coasters, the turns have very little banking to them.  So each time we were tossed to one side or another.  We blasted into the brake run, the side friction wheels still spinning rapidly underneath us.

Excalibur truly is one of the most intense wood coasters ever built, nearly equal with Knoebels Twister.  I had a slight headache when we left the ride, so one trip would be enough for me.  But what a trip it was!  As we exited the area, we looked into the darkened Excalibur gift shop.  All of the unique gifts the shop used to carry had been replaced by generic merchandise.  That was a shame; Funtown used to have some amazing Camelot-themed items (like swords and helmets) and well-designed Excalibur souvenirs.

From there we walked back over to the main midway area.  We took a peek into the Fun Factory Arcade.  They still had that one lone pinball machine -- South Park -- but it was unplugged.  We headed down toward the south section of the park, past the Wild Mouse coaster.  There was a tiny food concession there serving subs, paninis and (in a strange contrast to the other healthy offerings) fried dough.  We then walked past the busy Astrosphere spin-and-barf ride.  Just past that was the Alleyway of Forgotten Games.  I always thought it strange that the park took one of its most lucrative assets (games) and sequestered it away from the main midway.  None of the games were open.  And even stranger, the park had erected a tall green fence that cut off half of the games and created a cul-de-sac.

We stopped by Heritage Gifts.  They always had interesting trinkets that had little to do with the park but were attractive.  It looked like this season they were focusing on mirror balls -- big ones, little ones.  They were everywhere.  We went next door to the Sweet Tooth candy shop.  I used to really like their old candy shop that was on the second floor of one of the park's original buildings.  This one was fairly generic.  Next to that, the Hungry Bear eatery was doing a good business.

There was still one area of the park left, under the neon rainbow arch next to the Grand Prix go-carts.  We climbed the steep stairs that led over the antique car ride there.  The carousel in that area had a Stinson band organ.  On our last visit to the park, it was in really bad (almost comical) shape.  This season it sounded fantastic.  It was hard to believe it was the same organ. We listened to it for a while.  Next to that was the Barney Oldfield Roadsters, the other antique car ride.  We took a ride on that.  It used to be the shorter of the two rides, but now they were about the same length.  The other antique car ride was still more picturesque though.  There were bumper boats and a Ferris wheel in that section too, but we walked back up the stairs and back onto the main midway near the entrance.

I was thirsty, and nearby was the largest Dippin' Dots stand I've ever seen, the size of a full trailer.  It not only had those frozen ice cream beads, but it also offered Dippin' Dots coffee and Dippin' Dots shakes and Dippin' Dots sundaes.  I decided to take a chance on their caramel shake.  The small cup cost a whopping $8 and came with two straws, a tiny one and one with a scoop on the end.  I have no idea why.  The shake was watery and not very flavorful.  So much for Dippin' Dots.  It's "ice cream of the future", so maybe that's why they haven't gotten it right yet.

Karen was getting hungry.  So while she went back over to the park's Mexican eatery, Poncho's Villa, I went about making yet another of my park walk-thrus.   After that, I met back up with Karen and we called it a day.  I was glad to see the park was busy.  The waterpark section has obviously become a big business for them; it had grown to about half the size of the entire park.  There was still a lot of beautiful landscaping and shade throughout the midway.  And there were some milder rides that we enjoyed.  I could have gone on the Wild Mouse; it wasn't too severe.  Excalibur, as good as it was, was a pretty serious coaster that I couldn't ride more than once, at least not without a long break.  We usually will ride Thunder Falls, but it was a bit too chilly to get wet.  Beyond that, there wasn't a lot for us to do.  I was glad to see that Funtown was growing and changing, as all parks must.  With Canobie Lake about an hour to the west, Funtown is wise to focus on its Splashtown area to differentiate it.  I do miss the old miniature golf course, but the waterpark that took its place certainly makes more sense.  It will be interesting to see how the park continues to evolve over the next several years.

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