Martin's Fantasy Island
Grand Island, NY
September 4, 2011

copyright Jay Ducharme 2011

The final leg of our Western New York Coaster Club trip was the Summer Send-Off at Martin's Fantasy Island in Grand Island, NY.  We had been there before a few years earlier and were really enchanted by it, even though a constant drizzle surrounded us.  After the brutally hot weather of the day before at Waldameer Park, we welcomed the cooler air coming in.  Unfortunately, the cooler air was brought in by a driving rain that pelted our motel all night.  When we awoke in the morning, it was still drizzling.  We had hoped for sunny (but cooler) day.  But seeing as how we had fun in the rain the last time, we figured that we'd enjoy it this time too.

Since we were so close to the park, Karen decided to spend our time before check-in driving around Grand Island.  We followed East River Road along the perimeter of the island.  On either side were spectacular homes overlooking (obviously) the East River.  Quite a few of them were for sale.  There were also quite a few downed trees from the night's storm.  We arrived at Fantasy Island about 11:00 am, and the parking lot was already filling up.  Long lines had formed at the ticket booths.  There were also a lot of cheerleaders lined up.  Within a few minutes, we discovered why.  A park employee went to each ticket booth and posted a sign about a "Cheer-A-Thon."  The drizzle gradually diminished, the entrance gates opened and we filed into the park.

This was the 50th Anniversary of the park, originally a place similar to creator Charlie Wood's other famous New York property, Storytown USA.  There were still echoes of that original incarnation all over the midway, from the giant sleeping at the train station to various storybook characters on the midway.  We walked past the waterfall at the entrance, stocked with goldfish that didn't mind the wet weather.  The park's great-looking faux steam train was awaiting passengers.  It seemed to have been re-painted since our last visit.  It now was black and silver, whereas before it was a christmasy green and red.   We headed down the path on the right toward the kiddieland area, filled with colorful rides.  Karen spotted one we didn't recall seeing the last time we were there.  It was a sort of pony cart ride, except the animals were brightly painted geese with feet that moved.  We discovered later that the ride was original to the park, was then sold and had been recently found, re-purchased and restored by Martin, the park's current owner.  It was a delightful and unique addition to that section of the park.

We strolled past the petting zoo with its assortment animals including ponies and various fowl.  Scattered along the winding paths were colorful trash cans with large lids shaped like all sorts of heads -- clowns, hippos, lions, even a crocodile.  Karen found a momentary diversion riding on a strange amorphous bright pink object that looked vaguely like a Peep.  The path we were on brought us back to the entrance plaza.  We peeked into the gift shop.  There were some nice souvenirs of their coaster, the Silver Comet (no t-shirts, though).  We then passed through the pink archway leading into the western-themed area of the park.  Another historical sign had been posted there explaining the history of the area.  I liked how Fantasy Island always acknowledged its roots, but at the same time kept moving forward.  We followed the path down the hill past the canoe pond and then up to the back end of the park, which resembled a traditional carnival midway.  There in the distance was the twisting steel structure of the Silver Comet.  A test train was making the circuit, so we headed over to the station.  A few kids ran in front of us and through the queue line.  When we reached the steps leading up to the station, there were quite a few people already waiting there.  The train continued to cycle through the station and the up the lift hill.  Eventually, the line began to move.  We entered the station and queued for the front seat, as usual.  Two kids were ahead of us and the train sat with all of its lap bars strapped down.  There was some banging underneath the platform, sounding like metal on metal.  After a few minutes of that, one of the ride attendants announced that the ride wouldn't be running for another 10 to 20 minutes.  Moans of disappointment came from the crowd and they dispersed back down the steps of the entrance.  Karen and I were thankful that other people didn't have patience.  We were then first in line for the front seat.  After about five minutes, the problem was fixed and the attendants lifted the lap bars.  We sat down and a minute or two later we were rolling out of the station.

The Silver Comet was built as an homage to the old Crystal Beach Comet (another wood coaster with a steel structure which was purchased by Charlie Wood and was stored for a time at Fantasy Island).  Instead of the double-out-and-back layout of the original Comet, the Silver Comet was a convoluted twister with lots of sudden violent changes of direction.  We crested the lift.  For a relatively small coaster, the steepness of the first drop was really impressive.  We flew over two airtime-filled bunny hops and then up into the first turnaround.  After that, it was difficult to tell where we were.  For the rest of the ride we were diving into the structure and taking one turn after another, getting thrown back and forth like rag dolls.  It was forceful but not painful, a good old-fashioned coaster ride.  We returned to the station laughing.  The Silver Comet definitely wasn't a kiddie ride, but it wasn't rough or too terrifying.  It was a great family ride.

After that enjoyable exhilaration, we headed toward the far end of the midway to ride something milder: the antique cars.  The park management seemed to have put a lot of thought into their landscaping.  So I couldn't understand why their antique car ride was so barren, with a small amount of track on a huge open lawn.  The ride did have an amusing sign on the station, caricatures of Laurel & Hardy.  Karen drove and I sat in the back of the Model-T-styled car.  I was thankful that there was another family ride in the park; I just wished they had used the land more creatively.  They could have put Burma Shave signs along the route.  Or tunnels.  There was even enough room to have put another ride in the middle of the layout.  As it was, there was just nothing to look at.

No sooner had we stepped out of the cars than we heard a greeting and were face-to-face with the WNYCC event organizer, Geff Ford.  Across the midway was a huge colorful tent filled with cheerleaders shouting out their routines.  We chatted for a while over the din and he decided to join us for a ride on the Ferris wheel.  The operator seemed thrilled to see us.  We chatted for a while with him.  He mentioned another coaster club that had been to the park and acted very rudely toward him.  We assured him we were nice folk.  He asked us if we'd like to stop at the top of the ride,  and we took him up on the offer.  The view must have been a delight on a sunny day.  But this day we were enveloped by thick grey skies above us and the highway next to us.  The Crazy Mouse was below us, and from next to it the sound of the cheerleaders drifted up.  The ride was nice and long.  Afterwards, Geff parted ways and we walked to the nearby train station beside the structure of the Silver Comet.  The engineer was very friendly and talkative.  About half-way through the ride to the other station, the train stopped at an entrance to the adjoining KOA campground.  There were several quaint log cabins there, along with a large RV park.

The menu for the dinner (which was dependent on the number of attendees and wasn't a certainty) consisted mainly of meat dishes.  So after Karen and I left the train, we headed over for Basgetti's, the park's indoor Italian-themed eatery.  We got a slice of pizza, some macaroni-and-cheese and steamed vegetables.  The food was pretty good and reasonably priced.  We had pumpkin cheesecake for dessert, and that was delicious.

The sun finally began to peek through the clouds.  We took advantage of the change in weather to play a little minature golf.  As was always the case at this park, the attendant was very pleasant and chatted amiably.  The greens were sculpted concrete.  There were very few stunts (windmills, etc.).  The course resembled real golf greens, only tiny.  After that diversion, we took a stroll through the petting zoo.  The attendants were two teens who sat in a corner throwing animal food at each other.  There were the usual goats and lambs.  Some seemed lethargic; others seemed desperate for food.

We walked back through the old west section and over to Eagles Landing,  the canoe dock.  Unlike the last time we were at the park when this ride was deserted, there were quite a few people lined up for it.  Most were families with young childen who seemed delighted to get a chance to pilot themselves around the wide pond.  After ten minutes or so we donned our life vests and climbed into an aluminum canoe.  We gently paddled along the quiet waterway, next to the island with the teepee display.  As we rounded the other side of the island, we glided by a set of concrete pillars that looked as if they once supported a bridge onto the island.  Within a few minutes we were back at the dock.

Next we decided to get our adrenaline pumping again with another ride on the Silver Comet.  The ride wasn't a walk-on that time, but the line moved quickly.  We watched the train climb the lift and whip through its knotted circuit.  Within a few minutes we were back in the front seat and flying across the convoluted layout.  We then thought of riding the Crazy Mouse, but the long line was barely moving.  We waited for a while but then passed on that coaster.  It was the same model that we had ridden at Mount Olympus and Kennywood, so I wasn't too desperate to ride this one.  Instead we walked next door to the Old Mill Scream, the park's flume ride.  Like the antique car ride, the flume appeared to have been dropped onto a huge lawn with no landscaping.  It was a small ride, so its little splashes weren't going to bother us.  Or so we thought.  On the first short drop, water cascaded over the side of the boat and soaked us.  We meandered through the trough then rose up the big hill.  We plunged down and the wall of water that rose up made us think we were on a shoot-the-chutes ride.  We got drenched.

We slogged out back onto the midway, which was getting more crowded.  We ran into Geff again, who was contemplating riding the park's newest spin-and-barf machine, Mind Warp.  It was a mult-axis rotation device looked like it could make even the heartiest teen green with nausea.  But the park seemed to be running a really mild program, with gentle swinging followed by slow rotation.  Even so, I passed on that.

We took another ride on the train.  I really liked the long wooden bridge we traversed.  We next wandered through the kiddieland area.  Beside it was a large picnic grove with a red slide shaped like a lady's shoe.  I assumed it was supposed to represent the old woman who lived in a shoe (like the one at Great Escape).  Nearby was an old log-cabin-styled stage that appeared to have been abandoned long ago.  We headed up toward the entrance and took a ride on the nicely-landscaped carousel.  Then we walked back through the kiddieland section and followed the rustic path alongside the train tracks to the Silver Comet station for one more thrilling ride.

It was then dinner time, so we made our way to the BBQ Barn.  The interior seemed deserted, and we were unsure what we were supposed to do.  Other WNYCC members showed up, and they seemed confused as well.  There used to be a counter inside the building for placing your order.  But it had been removed.  We were told that ordering was now done off to the side of the building.  Karen and I presented our food coupons and asked what our choices were, since we didn't eat meat.  The people behind the counter were very helpful and accomodating, saying they could make us cheese sandwiches with lettuce and tomato, and also give us some french fries.  Since we had eaten at Basgetti's earlier, that was plenty for us.  We sat inside the barn with other WNYCC members and chatted about the park.  Gradually, more members drifted in.  All of them agreed that the day had been fun, and everyone was delighted that the threatening weather had lifted.  As we talked, a ruckus started outside.  Amplified voices and gunshots rang out.  The wild west show had begun.  The performers seemed enthusiastic but were simply mouthing a pre-recorded soundtrack.  They put on four different shows a day, and each one involved a "Black Bart" type of villain.  Kids in the crowd were deputized to help apprehend him.  The kids really seemed to like the show, and especially liked getting the shiny star badges.

There were going to be nighttime rides on the Silver Comet for the WNYCC members, but Karen and I were exhausted and bid farewell to the rest of the gang.  Before leaving we stopped off at the Golden Nugget for some ice cream.  The interior was a kid's version of an old west saloon, filled with bright colors and a honky-tonk player piano in the corner that cheerily tinkled old tunes filling the hall.  A big stage was next to it.  Karen ordered a small dish of ice cream and I got a delicious caramel sundae.  Afterwards, we walked next door to the gift shop and bought some souvenirs.  And then we said good-bye to the park.

Martin's Fantasy Island was a place we could return to again and again.  The pace was unhurried.  There was a lot for us to do.  The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful.  It was a charming throw-back to a simpler time.  I would have liked a little more landscaping here and there, but outside of that there was little with which I could find fault.  The I-90 corridor along the Lake Erie peninsula was home to some of the finest family parks in the country and Fantasy Island was fittingly at the center, a perfect relaxing getaway for the child in everyone.

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