Seabreeze Park
July 12, 2017

copyright Jay Ducharme 2017

We left Darien early the next morning and headed one town over to Batavia, NY, to have breakfast at one of my favorite restaurants, Bob Evans.  This particular franchise was one I had always heard of but had never been to.  The Western New York Coaster Club always held its Planning Committee meetings there, and I had never been able to attend them.  So Karen and I had our own private meeting with other members in absentia.  I ordered my usual cinnamon hotcakes and (of course) biscuits.  It was a carb kind of morning.  Karen had French toast and scrambled eggs.  I don't know what it is about how Bob Evans prepares its food, but it's always delicious.

After breakfast, we drove about an hour north to one of our favorite small getaways, Seabreeze Park in Rochester.   The park sat on a hill overlooking Irondequoit Bay and Lake Ontario and for over a century has carried on the tradition of small-town family-owned amusement parks.  In fact, it currently ranked as the fourth oldest park in the U.S.   As with other successful parks of its kind like Waldameer and Knoebels, Seabreeze evolved with the times and continued to offer a mix of classic and modern rides, moving forward while paying homage to its past.

We arrived about 9:30 and there was only one other car in the parking lot.  The gates wouldn't open for another hour, so we parked in front and then took a walk down the hill toward the bayside.  Thick grey clouds hung heavily overhead.  The forecast again was for severe thunderstorms.  The parking lot for fishermen next to the bay was crowded with geese.  We walked out toward the breakwater.  The sidewalk was thick with sand from the beach.  A lone boat entered the the bay area from the lake, fishermen coming back to shore to escape the impending storms. 

We walked back up the hill to the park, which was just opening.  We presented our online tickets and entered through the gates onto a colorfully-landscaped midway.  Seabreeze had continued their practice of placing historical signs along the midway, photos depicting what was on that spot a century ago.  To the right of the entrance was a brand new thrill ride, Time Machine, that fit well in that area and was nicely themed  Opposite it was the fun Jack Rabbit coaster, the fourth oldest roller coaster in the U.S., designed by the legendary coaster pioneer John Miller.  So the first order of business was to queue up for it while the crowds were light.

There was only one operator on the coaster, but he had a very orderly system.  There was locked turnstile before entering the station.  He would unlock it when people began filling up the queue and let the guests then line up behind whatever seat they wanted.  When the station began to fill, he would lock the turnstile and dispatch the people he had just let in.  Since the coaster still operated with the original hand brakes, it was a smart system and made his job easier.

We queued up for the front (of course) and sat right down in the comfortable Morgan trains, which still looked brand new.  In short order, we rolled out of the station, around a right-hand turn and up the lift.  We crested the top and the track curved slightly to the left as we rolled smoothly down the first drop (which, in Miller fashion, dipped below grade) and then up into the first camelback hill where we floated out of our seats.  We dove down again and then up into the next camelback, and then sped into the unusually low turnaround followed by a double-dip.  We crossed under the second camelback hill and negotiated two more camelbacks before turning sharply right and plunging into a tunneled helix with a surprise dip.  Then we popped out of darkness and glided into the brake run.  What a fun ride, one of those coasters that never failed to put a smile on my face.  It was amazing to think that the ride was nearly 100 years old; it felt as if it could have been built last year.  I guess good designs never age.

Outside of the station near the brake run was a small sign pointing up to the rafters above.  In the old days when you paid per ride, "Pay as you leave" had been painted onto one of the roof beams.  The park preserved it, another sign of how much the owners care about their heritage.  There was also a plaque from the American Coaster Enthusiasts commemorating the park for their historic ride.

After that we wandered north under the roof of the row of concession booths.  I noticed that the Seabreeze Grill at the end of the row was now serving veggie burgers.  But it was well before lunch time, so we walked on past and over to the Carousel.  This ride more than any other demonstrated the resilience of the park.  In 1994, a fire burned their original carousel to the ground, including the only horse carving machine in existence that once belonged to the Philadelphia Toboggan Company.  The park was able to rescue just four of their horses.  Undeterred, they set about rebuilding the ride and that pavilion, creating their own unique hand-carved horses.  Park employees visited the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round during that time and took photos of our ride to use as models for their recreations.  Seabreeze did an amazing job, and the new carousel opened in 1996, complete with the red rocking chairs that had been a tradition at the park.  They also turned the pavilion into a mini museum, with a history of the park in photos along the walls plus some artifacts from rides that no longer existed.

There was also that spectacular band organ.  Seabreeze had Belgium's Verbeek Organ Company build them a new instrument that would work with the dozens of organ rolls they already had.  When we were last at the park in 2009, the organ was a simple unadorned box.  But the park now had affixed an ornate facade to the front, and the organ looked and sounded fantastic.

Across the midway from the carousel was one of my favorite rides in the park, the Bobsleds.  This ride was build in-house by the park.  The structure was salvaged from a wooden kiddie coaster and the park added its own steel track and its own unique bobsled-style cars.  Karen passed on it, but as usual I had a good time.  The course was fast and punchy, with lots of turns and bunny hops.

Next we strolled through Kiddie City, the park's kiddieland area (though kiddie rides were interspersed throughout the park).  Even thought many of the rides there were vintage from the 1950s and '60s, they looked brand new.  The park kept its rides in great shape.  The T-Birds, the kiddie auto car ride, was amusing because of the miniature gas station the cars drove through.  There was a hose across the pavement, just like at an old gas station, that rang a bell each time a car passed over it.

Across from the T-Birds was the Wave Swinger with its unusual artistic design; it looked like a cylindrical house with windows and a porch railing painted onto it.  Just down the hill from there was the park's unique Log Flume ride, with its boxy concrete trough.  Unfortunately, that ride wouldn't open for another half-hour. Across from that was the Chicken 'n Fries concession.  Karen and I were both thirsty so we stopped by.  They advertised fresh-squeezed lemonade, but one of the workers was just making it.  They didn't make it cup-by-cup and many other parks did; they made it in bulk at the beginning of the day and kept it in a chilled dispenser.  It wouldn't be ready for a few more minutes.

So instead we took a walk down toward the Soak Zone, the waterpark area.  The first section we encountered was a kid's play area with the requisite big tipping bucket.  It also had an array of water cannons that the kids could control.  There were quite a few people there having fun.  Next to that was a large parking lot which had been under construction the last time we were there, along with a set of ticket booths.  To the west of that was a path that led through more of the waterpark area and back up the hill toward the Log Flume.  At that point, the lemonade was ready, so I got a cup and Karen got her Diet Coke.  We sat at one of the cafe tables and relaxed a bit.

When we were done, the Log Flume had opened, so we queued up for it.  For some reason, I couldn't remember ever having ridden it before.  We plopped ourselves down into one of the logs and drifted off.  The layout was basically a giant rectangle around a pond, passing under the bridge of the Scenic Train and alongside the lift hill of the Jack Rabbit.  What surprised me was the big drop down into the water.  That was the steepest flume drop I'd ever experienced.  I actually came out of my seat!  We hit the water with a surprisingly colossal splash that got us both soaked.  But seeing as how hot an humid the afternoon was getting, it felt good.

Karen noticed that the Scenic Train was running, so we queued up for that.  The entrance was all the way back around by the main entrance.  The cars on the train were unusual (like many things at Seabreeze); they looked like they had been transplanted out of a cartoon, with whimsical shapes and bright colors.  We sat in a car near the front that sported a turkey.  Soon we were gliding across the bridge and alongside the flume trough.  The tracks passed by the back end of the Jack Rabbit, giving us a view of the normally-hidden tunnel section.  Then we entered a really dark tunnel.  Interestingly, the engine seemed to not have a horn.  It never once honked, even in the tunnel.  Instead just the bell rang.  We circled around back to the station, bringing the peaceful ride to an end.

On the stage next to the train, Cirque en Vol was about to begin.  Cirque du Soleil ("Circus of the Stars") was famous across the globe for their acrobatic dance performances featuring lavish sets, costumes and lighting, set to modern music.  This version ("Circus in Flight") was more of a gymnastics exhibition.  There were four performers from Quebec dressed in outfits that looked somewhat like Halloween skeletons who climbed poles, swung from ropes and bounced around doing backflips on trampolines.  My favorite bit was when they climbed to the top of the two-level set and jumped off the top onto the lower portion, which had a hidden trampoline.  They were catapulted back up to the top level almost in slow motion, landing there gracefully.

After the show, Karen wanted to ride the Jack Rabbit again.  So we queued up, again with almost no line, and went for another enjoyable trip.  By then it was past our lunch time.  We had thought about getting veggie burgers, but we were in the mood for something lighter.  So we walked over to the Pizzeria next to the carousel.  We had eaten there on our last trip and the pizza was really good.  So Karen and I each ordered a slice of cheese pizza and a side salad, then sat nearby on one of the cafe tables to eat.  This time, the pizza wasn't so spectacular; the slices were lukewarm and dry, tasting more like old bread with cheese powder.  Tomato sauce was barely detectable.  The salads were okay but also seemed to be past their prime.

I then took a few minutes to make a walk-thru video.  We took one more walk around the park.  The clouds were starting to look mean by that point.  We stopped into the gift shop near the entrance.  There was a nice Jack Rabbit t-shirt that I bought.  And then we called it a day, wanting to beat the oncoming storms.

Seabreeze wasn't a huge theme park that required a multi-day visit, but it was certainly worth a stop as we passed through that area.  The park still had a lot of charm.  The rides were enjoyable.  There was that one problem with the pizza, but other than that we had a good time without burning ourselves out.  These are the type of parks I loved patronizing, rich with history and filled with fun.

Karen had read about the Mall at Greece Ridge and wanted to check it out.  So we drove through downtown Rochester, a city that for nearly a century had been the home of Kodak film.  That company's bankruptcy had an obvious impact on the city.  We drove by their sprawling headquarters that now looked all but abandoned.  The awning over the entrance was rusted through.  Next to it was the Eastman Business Park fronted by a building that looked like a stack of dominoes.

When we arrived at the mall, we weren't sure whether it was a strip mall or an enclosed mall.  It seemed to have elements of both.  We parked at what appeared to be the main entrance and walked inside.  The hallway abruptly ended and turned left onto a vast corridor that appeared completely devoid of life.  To the right was a Marshall's store.  We entered it to find perhaps three other people in it.  We idly browsed and then went back out into the corridor.  The upper walls of the corridor had giant murals depicting local scenes.  Among them was a photograph of the Jack Rabbit in the snow

The mall seemed eerie with so much expanse and yet so little life.  We finally could hear voices in the distance and eventually the corridor opened up into a four-way intersection where there was a busy kids' play area.  We took the corridor and the right which had a very different architectural style, looking more like an old European train depot made of iron and glass.  That corridor eventually ended at a food court unexpectedly featuring a double-decker carousel.  It was a stock fiberglass model, but it looked stunning with bright white lights, colorful rounding boards and a spinning carousel horse on top of the centerpost.

We walked back to the junction and followed another corridor.  When we did, the sounds of people's voices faded and we were back to a deserted retail section.  Clearly, the most popular part of that mall was the food court area.

Karen had scene enough so we headed for our Rochester hotel.  Ironically, there was another sprawling mall next door to the hotel, abutting what looked like a new Target store.  So we drove over to it, but the pavement was broken up and there were "Keep Out" signs posted everywhere.  I peeked in through one of the glass doors.  There, at the end of the corridor, was another double-decker carousel, left abandoned, that appeared identical to the one at Greece Ridge.  We had seen enough for one day.

We headed to our hotel room and turned in for the night.  We had a long drive in the morning, and one more park on our upstate New York trip.

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