|Our amusement park season officially got underway with the fifth annual Wooden Warrior Day at Quassy Amusement Park
in Middlebury, Connecticut. It was a picture-perfect spring day,
with sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. Quassy continued to
build upon the success of Wooden Warrior, their terrific wood
coaster. Each succeeding year has brought an additional ride to their
midway, and the park has continued to grow.
We arrived at about 10:00 and checked in. Surprisingly, this year the parking lot was already about a third full. George Frantzis, one of the owners, was standing at a table next to the coaster's entrance, attaching special VIP wrist bands onto guests' arms. In past years, we were also given a fairly plain t-shirt, usually black, that had text indicating it was a souvenir of that year's Wooden Warrior Day. But this year, dark green t-shirts sported a more elaborate color graphic. The coaster was already running and he encouraged us to hop on board. Karen and I stowed our shirts in our car and headed for the queue line. There were about 100 coaster enthusiasts already in line, one of the largest turnouts I had seen for this event. Many were familiar faces that we had met in past years.
Naturally, we queued up for the front seat of the comfy Timberliner train. Within a few minutes, we were on our way up the lift hill. Even at that early hour, the ride packed a lot of speed and was as fun as we remembered, leaping over the hills and flying around the turns. After riding, I paused to take a few pictures, then we got back in line for a second ride, which was as enjoyable as the first.
The park wouldn't open to the general public for another hour, so we took the opportunity to stroll the quiet midway. We walked down to the lake. In past years it was often shrouded in fog, but this day it was bright and clear. Splash Away Bay, the waterpark area, wouldn't open for another month but had grown considerably since our last visit. Many of the buildings throughout the park had received face-lifts. Quassy no longer appeared to be a struggling small-town park, but a thriving amusement business.
An enthusiast spotted my Mountain Park jacket and spoke of a history he was working on about Massachusetts amusement parks. We chatted for quite a while. Karen stopped off at the nearby Quassy Restaurant (actually, everything at Quassy is nearby), which was filling the midway with the smells of fresh home fries. She got an order of french fries and sat on the patio overlooking the lake.
After that we wandered over to the big arcade. There was one lone pinball machine (South Park) that sat in a darkened corner, non-functioning. The middle of the area was taken up with a laser-tag game. The usual Whac-a-Mole, SkeeBall and crane machines filled the rest of the area. We left the arcade and walked down the narrow stretch of midway next to the Little Dipper kiddie coaster. Another new ride, a kiddie Bumper Car, occupied a former concession area. In front of us was the park's headliner ride for this season: Frantic. It was a small Frisbee ride covered with LED lights and must have looked spectacular at night.
By that time it was nearly noon and the enthusiasts were lining up at the Quassy Fieldside Pavilion for the buffet lunch. I took a few more pictures of Wooden Warrior while we waited. Soon, we could hear the sizzling of the burgers and hot dogs. Quassy always put on a good spread and this year was no exception. Karen ordered veggie burgers for us. There was also delicious pasta, green salad, potato salad, cole slaw, barbecued chicken and drinks. We sat out in the field on a picnic table under the sun and ate our fill. Then we hopped on the Quassy Express, the park's train, and took a relaxing ride around the picnic grove.
We headed back out onto the midway and watched Frantic go through its paces. The ride cycle seemed really long and pretty extreme. I was amazed people were still walking straight when the ride ended. Karen noticed a model of the Wooden Warrior (made by John Hunt) that was under a plexiglass display in the carousel pavilion next door. It exhibited Hunt's usual attention to detail and expert craftsmanship. A magic and comedy act started on the Quassy Stage next door. It was the same act that's been there for years and it was always a hit with kids. We walked toward the lake and I stopped off at the Ice Cream Shoppe and got a French vanilla waffle cone. The cone itself was really good; the ice cream was a bit crystallized. Then we heard an announcement that the annual auction was about to begin in the Fieldside Pavilion, so we headed back there.
Ron Gustafson, the park's publicity director, was once again at the microphone auctioning park items to benefit ACE New England. The auction started with a set of three Quassy coffee mugs. I bid $10 and was quickly outbid. They went for $12. The next item was collection of shotglasses. I passed on that one. They sold for $15. Then Ron held up a porcelain-coated brass bell that was original to the park's Herschell kiddie boat ride from the 1950s. I started the bidding at $10 and was quickly outbid. But I kept raising my bid and eventually won it for $40. That wasn't a bad price for that piece of history. After that they drew a winner for a raffle. The winner received a collection of various park paraphrenalia. Then Ron asked us all to gather in front of Wooden Warrior for the annual group photo.
After that, Karen and I headed back out onto the midway. She noticed a new "Quassy Zoo" area, where the animal statues that used to be stationed around the park were gathered into a single play area for kids. It was cute. There was a kangaroo where kids could pop out of its pouch, and a boa constrictor where kids were surrounded by its coils.
I wanted to take some videos, so Karen headed over to the Quassy Restaurant for some fried dough. I met up with her there a few minutes later. We walked back to Wooden Warrior. Even though the park was open to the public at that point, there were fewer people in line than when there were only enthusiasts in the park. Within a couple minutes we were back in the front seat. The ride was running quite a bit faster and the copious airtime was much more severe. But even so, it was still a lot of fun and not at all punishing.
After that, we decided to head back home. We had done pretty much everything we wanted to do in the park. And that was still the one thing about Quassy for us: outside of Wooden Warrior, the carousel and the train, there still wasn't all that much for us to do. If the park's boat, the Quassy Queen, had been running, we would have taken a ride on that. The paddle boats were open for an extra fee (and they seemed to be quite popular), but that didn't interest us either. But even so, the park was an enjoyable visit. The staff was unfailingly friendly. The grounds were clean. The food was decent. I'm sure as the park continues to increase in popularity, there will be more and more to do. I'm actually glad that we've gotten to know the park while it's still a small and quaint diversion.
As we were leaving, the parking attendants were standing next to the parking booth that sported a sign advertising "$40 per carload". Where else could a family have a day out for such a reasonable price? Quassy knows its place as an affordable family destination, yet is gradually evolving into its new role as one of New England's premier amusement parks. It's future looks bright indeed.
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