Seabreeze Amusement Park
August 29, 2021

copyright Jay Ducharme 2021

After a good night's rest, Karen and I bid farewell to Erie, PA, and set out eastward toward home. We were breaking up that long trip with one stop in Rochester, at one of our favorite parks, Seabreeze. Like Waldameer, the park we had just visited, Seabreeze was small and still family-owned. The day was predicted to be really hot again, but punctuated by thunderstorms.

We pulled into the nearly empty parking lot at about 10:15. The park was scheduled to open at 11:00. The sky was sunny, with light clouds drifting past. The white lattice arches of the entrance gates hadn't changed. After a few minutes, one of the park employees appeared to unlock the gates. I'm not sure if he was new, but he seemed to struggle with the padlocks and didn't seem to know what to do with them after he unlocked them. A few minutes later, one of the attendants entered the ticket booth and got set up. At about 10:35 he was ready and we were able to purchase our senior tickets. The total cost for both of us was less than a single ticket at most other parks. We then stepped onto the quiet midway. We were the first guests in the park that day. We turned left and walked past the covered row of concessions, which were still shuttered. Karen noticed that the main stage which in the past was home to the Cirque en Vol acrobatic show was completely empty, most likely closed by the pandemic.

We walked back toward the park's great John Miller classic, the Jack Rabbit roller coaster, one of the oldest coasters in the U.S. In fact last year marked the 100th anniversary of the ride. But since the park was closed throughout 2020 because of the pandemic, they deferred the celebration to this season. Out front was a sign for the Rabbit Riders Club, a clever spin on the usual "You must be this tall" sign. Kids could stand behind the sign, and if they were tall enough their faces would show through the opening.

A few people were starting to line up outside the queue, so we joined them. A few rides began testing, but at 10:55 there was still no attendant at the station. Someone walked by asking me when the ride opened. I had my Jack Rabbit t-shirt on, so he might have thought I worked at the park. I just shrugged and said, "Maybe 12:00?" The park had posted a sign saying that not all rides would open at 11:00, so I figured maybe this was one of them. As we waited there, I noticed that there seemed to be some new track on the coaster, which was an encouraging sign that the park was taking good care of the ride. A little past 11:00, I figured I was correct about the ride opening time. So Karen and I started walking away. And just as we did, a ride attendant appeared in the station. So we went back to the queue. He cycled the train through, and when it was back in the station he came over and unhooked the queue line chain. We walked up the long ramp to the station and were able to queue up for the front seat. The coaster still ran using manual brakes, a rarity these days. The station still had old-style skid brakes, but the original wooden ones had been replaced with skids made of steel I-beams. After the first ride returned, we sat down in the comfortable Morgan trains and were soon gliding off toward the lift hill. At the top of the lift hill, the track turned slightly left and dove down below ground level, then rose up into the first camelback hill with floating air time. Each succeeding hill on the way out was similar, diving all the way to the ground and then rising up with gentle air time. After the turnaround, the ride picked up speed and then dove into the powerful tunneled helix before popping back out into the station. After a century, the ride was still a thrill and brought a smile to my face.

By that time it was about 11:30, and we were getting hungry. We walked along past the covered row of concessions. The games were open, but none of the food concessions were. So we continued past them and walked over to the park's beautiful carousel, which they had built themselves when their classic PTC ride tragically burned to the ground. I remember that when I worked as the ride operator at the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round in the 1990s, staff from Seabreeze visited and photographed our ride to use as models for carving their new horses. The park also purchased a brand new band organ, which still sounded great. Karen relaxed on one of the many red rocking chairs in the pavilion while I took a ride. I noticed that the stirrups on the horses looked like a perfect fit for the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round (where we had trouble finding new stirrups that worked properly). The Seabreeze carousel pavilion also housed many historical exhbits including a new one for the Jack Rabbit's anniversary featuring the original giant flywheel from the ride's motor house.

From there we walked across the midway to the Bobsleds, the park's unique coaster that was designed by park owner George Long and built in-house. In another sign of how meticulously maintained the park was, the coaster's cars looked brand new even though they'd been around over a half-century. Karen sat in the shade while I queued up for the ride. The operator was the same guy who earlier was unlocking the entrance gates. He noticed my camera and said, "You take videos? That's cool. I like watching coaster videos on YouTube." He sent me off along the undulating track toward the lift hill. I never before noticed that the cars had upstop plates instead of the upstop wheels that most coasters have. The ride experience was similar to a Wild Mouse, with quick changes of direction. It felt as if they had worked out some kinks in the track. Previously there were a couple of rough spots, as if the car hit a rock in the track. But this time it was really smooth.

After that the food concessions opened. We walked over to the Seabreeze Grill. On previous visits, we usually had the park's pizza, which is really good. But this time we decided to try the veggie burgers. We got the meal, which included fries and a drink for less than $30 for both of us. We sat at a picnic table in the shade to eat. The burgers were my favorite kind, spicy black bean, and were really good. We got some ice cream for dessert, and that was really good too. Karen spotted some park employees setting up tables and putting large water coolers on them. We thought at first they were for an outing or private party. But the park was doing it for their guests because it was so oppressively hot. That was a nice gesture (and we did take advantage of it several times).

Next we took a leisurely ride on the whimsical train that circles the log flume pond. After that we decided to take a ride on the flume. We had ridden only once before. It had one of the steepest drops of any flume ride. And it was a perfect day to get soaked. So we queued up for it and in a couple of minutes were seated. Karen wanted the front and I took the back. I knew the ride was built in-house and had thought it was really old, but it was built in 1984 and replaced an Old Mill ride. Our log swiftly navigated the boxy concrete trough, through the tunnel and then around the back of the pond where there was a nice view of the Jack Rabbit's helix. The lift ran beside the trestle for the train. From the top, we got a brief view of Lake Erie before plunging down what seemed like a vertical drop. I floated out of my seat, clinging to the grab bar in the log. We hit the water with a colossal splash that completely drenched Karen. It was more like a big shoot-the-chutes ride, but it did feel refreshing.

We strolled around the park, which was by that point filling up with guests. We took another fun ride on the Jack Rabbit. We looked into their gift shop which was well-stocked, unlike some other parks we had been to. I went over to Guest Services to ask about those stirrups on their carousel, to find out where they had acquired them. The woman behind the window was very helpful and said the person who would know wasn't in that day. But she gave me his email address and told me to contact him. (I did, and he promptly referred me to their head of maintenance, who contacted me. I chatted with him for quite a while. The park had purchased the stirrups from Carousels & Carvings back in 1996.) At that point clouds quickly rolled in and the skies opened up. It was about 1:00 and we had done pretty much all we wanted to do in the park, so we called it a day.

Seabreeze was still a gem of a park. It was my favorite type, one that kept evolving with the times yet managed to proudly hang on to their heritage. It also had a beautiful location on a hill overlooking the lake. It was heartening to see that even on a day that threatened severe thunderstorms, crowds were still coming out to enjoy what the park had to offer.

Just one last digression: we probably could have driven directly home after our visit to the park, but I had reserved a hotel for that night. It was a Hampton Inn in Rochester (that, it turned out, was run by Hilton) and wasn't cheap by any means. I wanted us to stay at someplace a bit more upscale before returning home. When we arrived to check in, the clerk behind the counter didn't seem to have a clue what to do. She puttered around on the computer for a while and repeatedly misspelled our name before finally finding our reservation, mumbling unintelligibly the whole time. She struggled for several minutes to program our key cards and then handed them to us, unsure whether they were even going to work. She told us we could bring in our bags by the side door, but it sometimes doesn't function. When we got to our room, it wasn't exactly upscale. The shower had loose grab bars. The tissue holder was empty. The complimentary bar of soap was about the size of my thumb. Shortly before we had gone to bed and while I was in the shower, Karen was alarmed by an insistent knocking on our door. When Karen asked who it was and what they wanted, the response was nearly inaudible. Karen cracked open the door (with the stop in place) to find one of the hotel workers standing there asking if everything was okay. We've never had that happen at any other hotel. It was really peculiar. Why couldn't they have just called on the hotel's phone in our room? And it made me think: what were we paying for? We'd stayed at hotels that cost very little and had a wonderful time. But the hotels that cost between $100 and $200 a night all seem to offer the same lackluster experience with the same disappointing level of service. I no longer could see any reason to spend that amount of money when a motel costing $50 was just as good. It was as if the only way to get a decent experience was to shell out over $500 a night. (And even then, I'd bet there'd be no guarantee.) I could understand that the pandemic made things difficult for the hospitality industry. But Seabreeze had far fewer resources than a massive hotel chain, yet it offered a delightful experience during difficult times. So it's possible to meet or exceed guest expectations under duress. I wondered if any of the huge multinational companies cared about anything other than reducing their costs and increasing their profits. Thankfully there were still some places, like Seabreeze, where guests were truly valued.

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