Martin's Fantasy Island
June 18, 2009

copyright Jay Ducharme 2009

The second stop on our trip out to Ohio was in Grand Island, New York, next door to Niagara Falls.  There was a small park that I had known about for many years but had never been to: Martin's Fantasy Island.  I first heard about the park when the legendary Charlie Wood owned it.  He bought the famous Comet roller coaster from Crystal Beach when that Ontario park closed, and he stored the entire structure at Fantasy Island before rebuilding the coaster at his other New York park, The Great Escape.  After Wood sold Fantasy Island, the new owners built a new wood coaster, the Silver Comet, as an homage to the much-missed Crystal Beach ride.

We arrived on a cool and drizzly Thursday morning.  The park was easy to get to, but it was set far back from the road and the entrance was easy to miss.  There were very few cars in the parking lot, and a few buses.  We brought our umbrella with us and walked over to the entrance.  The woman at the ticket booth asked if we were with the school group.  Karen told her that we weren't.  The woman responded, "Oh, well let's just pretend that you are."  She had us pay $10.50 each, less than half of the normal admission price.  We were pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps there were plans to close the park early because of the weather.

The entrance gates were simple but attractive, with a huge park logo above them.  Inside the gates, we were greeted by lush landscaping, with trees, flowers and a stone fountain.  To the left were some shops and the Fantasy Island Town Hall.  To the right was the quaint train station.  We decided to start there to get a view of the entire park.  The train, the Iron Horse, was painted a Christmassy red and green and arrived with a few passengers.  Each car had a roof over it, so at least we'd stay somewhat dry.  The poor engineer, on the other hand, had only a raincoat.

It became evident that Charlie Wood's thumbprint was still everywhere in the park.  Karen spotted a large figure on the other side of the train tracks: a sleeping giant on the lawn.  There were charming and colorful figures like that scattered all around the park, much like Storyland.  Children would no doubt find them delightful.  We boarded our train and began our leisurely tour.  The engineer commented that the park's owner told him not to drive too quickly, and he held to that.  But it gave us plenty of time to take in the sights.  We crossed a long wooden trestle that was sandwiched between a pond and a KOA campground that had an entrance directly into the park.  The train then passed beside the imposing steel structure of the Silver Comet.  The track seemed to twist itself into knots, with steep banking.  After circling outside the Silver Comet's turnaround, the train came to rest at the back station.  We chatted with the engineer while he waited for more passengers. Then we made the return trip at the same leisurely pace.

We thanked the engineer when we disembarked at the front station and we walked out onto the entry plaza.  Behind the fountain was a replica of the Liberty Bell.  Just beyond, at the center of the plaza, was a small beautifully landscaped carousel.  There was no band organ, but the recorded music sounded good.  There were many benches placed around the carousel so that people could sit and enjoy the sights and sounds.  There were no takers on this day, however.  We spotted more whimsical structures, from a trash can with a hippo's head to a water bubbler that was an open lion's mouth.  The shops around the plaza were brightly colored and inviting.  But what intregued us was a narrow stucco archway that led to a different area of the park.  It reminded me of Great Escape's Ghost Town entrance.  It turned out to be very similar.

The archway opened up onto an old west boomtown.  There were various shops to our left and the Golden Nugget "saloon" to our right.  A little further along was Miss Kitty's, a gift shop.  We stopped in and the attendant was extremely friendly and chatty.  In fact, all of the park's employees we encountered during our visit were extremely friendly.  They all seemed happy to be there.  I took note of some nice souvenirs and we headed back outside.  In the distance was the small circular lake we had spotted from the train.  It had an island in the middle with a teepee, an indian figure and other native american items.  There were a few people paddling around the lake in aluminum canoes.

By this point it began to rain a little harder.  We went back into Miss Kitty's and asked if they sold any ponchos.  They did, at the bargain price of $1.99.  So Karen and I each got one.  It turned out to be more of a cape than a poncho.  But it was better than carrying an umbrella around with us all day.  So we got our hands stamped and returned to our car to put the umbrella away.  Then we headed back to the boomtown section.  Karen took the opportunity to place her goofy husband in stocks.   We followed the winding shaded path down past the pond and then up toward the back area of the park.  Geese were everywhere.  And so was their excrement.  In fact, I'd never before seen so many goose droppings.  It was as if someone went nuts, throwing gobs of creamed spinach all over the midway.  I guess every park had to have something unique.  Conneaut Lake had skunks.  Martin's Fantasy Island had geese, and everything that went with them.

The back area didn't have any real theming.  It was more like a standard carnival midway.  To the right, the Silver Comet blended in with the trees behind a giant slide.  To the left, a new Zamperla Mega Disk'O sat near the Galaxy of Games and seemed to be quite popular, even in the rain.  Behind the Disk'O was an impressive fountain in another pond.  Further back along the midway were some fairly standard flat rides: a Shooting Star named Full Tilt, a Tilt-a-Whirl, a swing ride called Flight  and a Zamperla spinning Crazy Mouse.  The Mouse appeared to be a family-friendly version; the cars didn't start spinning until over halfway through the ride.  Across the midway from the Mouse was an antique car ride, so Karen and I queued up for it.  The course was fairly long but strangely barren.  There was an overpass and an underpass, but nothing else except vast expanses of neatly manicured lawn.  With so much colorful landscaping throughout the park, the antique cars felt somehow unfinished.

We headed past the empty Fairy Tale amphitheater and toward the station for the Silver Comet, which was celebrating its tenth birthday.  The station was simply done with some art deco touches and a seemingly endless exit ramp at the front.  Hardly anyone was there.  Some new workers were being trained on it.  Karen and I lined up for the front seat and boarded as soon as the train returned.  We left our ponchos behind.  The crew, even with trainees, was efficient and unfailingly pleasant.  One of the operators talked with us about Crystal Beach: the fun houses, the Giant Coaster and the Comet.  We pulled out of the station with a steady mist coming down.  The ride was built by Custom Coasters, but going up that lift felt like I was on the PTC Comet from Crystal Beach.  We swiftly crested the lift hill and plunged down the first drop, which was steeper than we expected.  The track appeared to have been recently greased; the rain had beaded up on it.  The train flew across the tracks with impressive speed.  The second hill, a double-down, produced surprisingly strong airtime, as did the turnaround.  After that, all hell broke loose.  The train dove into the twisted center section.  We were violently tossed from one side of the train to the other.  The whole rest of the ride was a festival of outrageous lateral G forces.  We returned to the station wet but laughing hysterically.  When the train stopped, no one was in line for the front.  The ride operators asked us if we wanted to go again, and we couldn't refuse that offer.  So we glided toward the lift hill once again.  The coaster was just as fun the second time, probably more fun since we could prepare ourselves for the extreme forces.

I was surprised I hadn't heard more good things about the Silver Comet over the years.  It certainly held its own again many other wooden coasters I've ridden and became one of my favorites.  It was punchy, though.  And after two successive rides, Karen and I took a break.  We strolled along a quiet path between the pond and the train tracks and emerged in a storybook area that looked very much like the old Storyland.  There was a Jack and the Beanstalk display.  There was Monstro the Whale whose opened mouth was actually a small stage where children could listed to the story of Pinocchio while looking inside at a diorama.  There was a similar display for the story of Aladdin.  Besides the usual assortment of kiddie rides in that area, there was also a petting zoo.  But given the weather,  hobnobbing with wet goats didn't particularly interest us (nor, apparently, anyone else).

Nearby was the humorously named Basgetti's pizza and pasta house.  We entered, mainly to escape the rain.  And after we entered, the sky opened up and it began to pour.  Inside Basgetti's, Father Time's Story Time puppet show was in progress with a character that looked suspiciously like Kermit the Frog.  Humorously, the puppet claimed to be Kermit's distant cousin.  The stage area had seating where kids could watch the show as they ate.  The offerings were pretty standard fare.  I got a large slice of cheese pizza and steamed vegetables.  Karen got a salad and a slice of garlic bread (which was a piece of Texas toast with a slab of cheese on it).  The pizza and salad were tasty.  The steamed vegetables were really good.  The garlic bread, not so much.  We ate at a relaxed pace, waiting for the rain to stop.  Basgetti's was decorated with wall paintings depicting scenes from Disney's Lady and the Tramp.  Overall, it was a nice indoor eatery that kids would enjoy.

The rain let up so we ventured back outside.  Next to Basgetti's was the Fantasy Island Birthday House, a small building with picnic tables inside.  That was a great way to make children feel special, having a birthday at an amusement park in their very own house.  Karen wanted to try the canoes, so we headed around to the pond.  As we approached, we could hear music from the western town area.  The Wild West Shoot-out was about to start.  So we stood near Miss Kitty's to watch.  A small crowd had gathered, kept contained by a roped-off area around the midway.  The story unfolded over a recorded soundtrack: an inexperienced deputy was left alone to defend a town from a band of hooligans who of course were like the three stooges, comical and completely non-threatening.  Oddly, only one hooligan appeared (though the soundtrack repeatedly referred to three).  He rode into town in bizarre fashion on a horse's head, whipping a tail behind him.  To prove how ruthless he was, he threw the head into the air, pulled out a gun and shot it as it fell to the pavement.  It was truly bizarre, but the kids seemed to enjoy it.  The deputy then had to recruit an audience member in restraining the bad guy(s).  It was very much like the old Windy Bill shows at the Great Escape.

No one was at the canoe ride, so Karen and I walked down the hill to the station.  The canoes were equipped with pontoons to steady them.  We were each given a life jacket and an oar.  We climbed into the canoe and began paddling around the lake.  It was really peaceful and relaxing.  I hadn't been canoeing in years and it took me a while to get the hang of it.  But it was fun just the same and a nice change from paddle boats.  We drifted around the island.  There appeared to have once been a bridge going out to it from the mainland, but all that was left were the pylons.  Next to the pylons was an old blacksmith cabin, but it seemed abandoned.   We returned to the station and Karen asked if we could go around again.  The attendants cheerily waved us on.  So we made two more laps around the island and then returned to the station.

The rain had finally let up, so we headed back for the Silver Comet and took another great ride in the front seat.  That time the ride seemed to have gained even more speed and the lateral forces seemed even stronger.  After that ride, since we were fairly wet anyway, we decided to try out the park's log flume, Old Mill Scream.  It was located at the extreme back, hidden from view down a long path.  On the way there we passed by the Ferris wheel, which didn't seem to be operating.  The attendants at the flume seemed happy to see us.  If it weren't for the small sign and path (and the map), no one would know the ride existed -- though I'm sure on a hot sunny day, people would find it.  We boarded and were carried up the first small lift hill.  We splashed down and got mildly wet.  We then began a short winding course toward the big lift hill.  Like the antique cars, the log flume seemed unfinished.  It was set in the middle of a giant lawn next to a road with no trees or theming of any kind.  I guess that was better than setting it on asphalt....  We climbed the big lift, which was no more than thirty feet, and splashed down again, getting a bit more wet.  It was a fun, if short, ride.  It was ironic that we ended up so wet after the rain had stopped.

We walked back toward the entrance and stopped into a few gift shops along the way.  The General Store had a nice selection of Silver Comet memorabilia, including commenorative pieces of track.  There were pins and magnets and tee shirts.  So Karen and I stocked up.  We walked back onto the plaza and took a path we hadn't noticed before.  It brought us to another colorful kiddieland and the park's miniature golf course, which appeared to have no one on duty.  But by that point we were cold and wet and decided to call it a day.

In spite of the drizzly weather, Karen and I had a great time at Martin's Fantasy Island.  There was a large waterpark area as well, and we look forward to returning on a more sunny day.  Even so, our spirits weren't dampened.  And that says a lot about the park.  The Silver Comet was a fantastic coaster.  But I think what mattered most to us was the park's innocent charm.  It made us feel like little kids again.  And after all, that's really why we go to amusement parks.

We spent Thursday evening at the Holiday Inn Express in Grand Island, NY.  Our room was on the top floor with a stunning view of the Niagara River.  We went for a relaxing walk along the dock area.  We were surrounded by barn swallows, flitting about, bat-like, grabbing insects.  The barn swallows had created nests in the corners of the hotel's balconies.  There were notices in the hotel rooms not to disturb the nests because the birds were a protected species.  From our window, we watched as a barn swallow repeatedly went out for food and then returned to feed its young.  It was a perfect ending to our stay at Fantasy Island.

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