Seabreeze Park
June 17, 2009

copyright Jay Ducharme 2009

For our 2009 summer vacation, Karen and I made a trip out to Cedar Point.  Wearying of the long drives we made in the past, we decided to break this trip up into three parts.  Our first stop was at Seabreeze Park in Rochester, New York.  We were last there in 1996 but on a return trip from Cedar Point and had arrived late in the afternoon, spending only about two hours in the park.  But we fondly remembered its frozen-in-time charm and were eager to return.

We arrived in Rochester late in the afternoon on Tuesday and checked into our nicely-appointed Holiday Inn Express hotel.  The next morning we had our continental breakfast early and then headed north to the shores of Lake Ontario.  It was a much easier drive than we expected, even with the highway construction that seeemd to be everywhere.  When we arrived at Seabreeze, we still had an hour before it opened, so we drove around the perimeter of the park and down to the Irondequoit Bay Small Boat Harbor, a quiet state park with walking paths along the shore.  There was a dense cloud cover in the sky and a light breeze blowing.  The Harbor area was built by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Its main feature was a revolving bridge that connected the mainland to a small marina on an island.  The area offered amazing views of Seabreeze's cliff side, with the Whirlwind coaster perched precariously on the edge.  It appeared that Seabreeze was either expanding their parking lot or adding to the water park; a lot of construction was being done below the cliff.

We walked along the narrow path that traveled westward along the water, ending at a small lighthouse on a thin man-made reef that stretched out into the bay.  Several ducks and geese were lazing about.  We walked back toward the park.  On the park side of the road were two restaurants.  Frozen yogurt seemed to be the popular offering.  On the other side were quaint cottages along the shore, many with For Sale signs in front.  We could see cars entering the Seabreeze parking lot, so we headed back to our car.  We parked alongside the cliff below the Whirlwind and walked up the hill.  We noticed a lighthouse scupture in front of the park; we had seen a few other similar sculptures in Rochester.  The park entrance reminded me of Canobie Lake's former entrance: simple but attractive with flower beds in front of the gates.  It was about 10:30 and the park closed at 5:00.  There was already a fairly large crowd entering, along with some outings.  We were expecting to pay full price but were surprised to find that it cost just $14.95 each.  There was also a rare option to enter the park without going on rides (for $9).  As we passed through the entrance, the park appeared to have remained much as it was on our last visit.  To our right was the Jack Rabbit coaster.  In front of us was the old mil-chute-style log flume.  To our left was the covered arcade row that looked sort of like a boardwalk.  We walked past it toward beautiful carousel with its wonderful band organ.  In front of us loomed the Whirlwind coaster, one of the park's newer rides.  It replaced the peculiar Soquet-built Quantum Loop.  Whirlwind was spinning coaster, similar to the one I had ridden at Waldameer Park.  I enjoyed Waldameer's, so I queued up for this one while Karen waited nearby.  I ended up sitting with next to a father; his two girls sat behind us.  We faced backwards going up the lift hill.  Perhaps it was the way our car was weighted, but this ride was a lot more fun than the one at Waldameer.  We spun unpredicatbly at ever turn, but it wasn't nausea-inducing.  I left the ride slightly dizzy, but laughing.

Next to Whirlwind was the venerable Bobsleds, a hybrid coaster built in-house by George Long in 1968.  He reconfigured their wooden kiddie coaster with tubular steel track and added unique bobsled-style cars, each with its own country name.  The last time we were at the park, the brake and station release were manually controlled with foot pedals.  But the station had been redesigned for electronic control and now required only one operator.  Karen and I both sat in the front of the USA car.  After leaving the station, the car encountered a series of small bunny hops and began gaining an alarming amount of speed.  It whipped around a right-hand turn and engaged the small 35-foot-high lift hill.  From the top of the lift we gllided smoothly over the station and around to the right.  It felt really precarious since there were no catwalks or railings on either side.  Then we plunged down the swift first drop and climbed the second hill.  There was a strong pop of airtime.  The ride began to gain speed as it raced through tighter and tighter turns and quicker drop.  The helix finale was surprisingly powerful for such a short ride.  Karen and I were both laughing as we returned to the station.  Bobsleds remained one of the most unique and enjoyable coasters we've ever ridden.

We walked through the midway, surrounded by color.   We headed toward the sound of the band organ coming from the big carousel pavilion.  Over a decade ago, the original Seabreeze carousel burned down in a freak fire, taking with it many irreplaceable historical items including the original Philadelphia Toboggan Company horse carving machine.  But undeterred, Seabreeze created a new wooden carousel from scratch, replicating the PTC style.  In fact, some of the new horses were based on horses at the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round.  There were even unique rounding boards for the ride. The park also filled the pavilion with a Seabreeze tradition: rows of red rocking chairs, so families could simply relax and listed to the band organ.

The band organ was built by Verbeeck to replicate the sound of the park's original Wurlitzer.  And Seabreeze took pride in it.  It was kept outside the ride, as at Knoebel's.  A large cabinet containing dozens of organ rolls stood against the wall.  The boxes for the two rolls currently playing were kept on a nearby shelf, under which were LED readouts indicating which track was playing.

Karen and I took a ride.  The operator had a big highly-polished brass bell to ring before the ride started.  It's amazing how much more fun a carousel ride is when there's a real band organ playing.  Afterward, we walked around the pavilion.  There were many large photographs and various paraphrenalia from the park's history.  We then strolled over to the kiddieland area.  It reminded me a lot of Mountain Park, with many of the same rides in operation including a colorful and nicely-landscaped car ride.  Another thing we noticed while walking around were the many signs describing what had been on that particular spot throughout the park's history.  It was about noon, so we stopped to get a snack.  There was a stand selling fresh-cut french fries, so we got an order.  Unfortunately, our order must have been sitting around for a while because the fries were cold.  But the cheese sauce that came with them was nice and hot.

Next we headed for the log flume, one of the older rides in the park.  A sign proclaimed it to have one of the steepest drops on any flume in the country.  The course was a meandering elevated concrete trough alongside the park's train.  The slow and pleasant trip didn't prepare us for the amazing drop, which had me floating in my seat the whole time.  The splash was surprisingly large and we got quite wet.  It was a lot of fun.

We then walked over to the train.  The station was beautifully landscaped, with lots of flowers and colored lights.  The engine itself was beautiful,  with a sort of Jules Verne quality.  Trailing it was a set of whimsically-carved wooden cars.  The tracks crossed the small pond and generally followed the path of the flume, concluding with a long dark tunnel next to the park's roller coaster.  As with most everything at Seabreeze, it was a perfect family ride.

We passed the midway stage where, for the entire time we were in the park, acrobats were practicing their routines, bouncing on trampolines and juggling.  But it didn't appear they were getting ready for a show; there was no urgency in their rehearsal.  It was almost as if they just had some time to kill.  The sign on the stage read Cirque en Vol.  Karen and I watched them for a bit, then moved down the midway toward Seabreeze's roller coaster.

The Jack Rabbit, the second-oldest coaster in the country behind Lakemont Park's Leap the Dips, was one of the fond memories we had from our first visit to the park.  The vintage design was pure John Miller, with ground-hugging dips and sinuous hills.  It was also one of the few coasters left that was controlled with manual brake levers.  And it was also one of the few wood coasters to use a Morgan California-style train.  We queued up for the front seat and in a short time were seated.  Despite its thinly padded seats, the train gave a smooth ride.  From the top of the lift, the layout appeared to be that of a mild out-and-back.  The first drop was swift and the top of the second hill produced a prolonged pop of airtime.  The same for the second hill.  On the third hill, the airtime was more severe and the train seemed to pick up speed.  We headed on a diagonal, veering off to the right on track that had been hidden from view.  Then we dove into a curving dark tunnel, navigated some more bunny hops and then popped up into the light of the station.  Jack Rabbit had one of the best finales of any wood coaster.  John Miller really knew how to use the park's topography.

Across from the Jack Rabbit was a new (to us) kiddie coaster, Bear Trax. It was -- as so many other rides at Seabreeze -- nicely landscaped. We stopped into the nearby gift shop.  We were surprised to discover that there really wasn't much we wanted to buy.  I was hoping to take home a magnet or pin or a Jack Rabbit tee-shirt.  There were some fairly generic tee-shirts and non-descript toys.  But there weren't many souvenirs that were unique to Seabreeze.  So instead we headed toward the north end where the waterpark was.  Even though the day was overcast, there were a lot of people using the water slides, including the Pro Bowl slide.  The strange metal and concrete Soak Zone was completely dry, though.

It was at that point it dawned on me how small the midway was.  We could walk from one end to the other in less than five minutes.  On our last visit, I kept thinking there was a lot more to see, maybe because we had so little time.  But Seabreeze was about the same size as Quassy.  With so few attractions, perhaps the park should consider offering individual ride tickets as an alternative to their regular entry fee.  But even on a cloudy weekday, the midway and waterpark were busy.  The management must know its patrons.

Karen and I took another fun ride on the Jack Rabbit and after three hours at the park, we were satisfied.  We found Seabreeze to be a charming family place with gorgeous views of Lake Ontario and fun attractions for all member of the family.  Perhaps there were so few souvenirs because Seabreeze wasn't trying to be a tourist destination.  It was the perfect local attraction, a place that residents of the Rochester area could return to again and again for a few hours of relaxation each week, much like parks from the early 1900s.  It was refreshing to find a park true to its roots, providing a reliable fun escape for the generations who grew up with it.

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