September 6th, 2015

krazy koati

July and August cannot be too hot

We got up after not really enough sleep --- blame the flight crew arriving late; another hour and a half would have really set us up right --- and made our twisty, turning, occasionally lost despite the satellite navigator to the Saco, Maine, tourism office. The free local weekly, unafraid of giving in to stereotype, had a front page article about mischievous beavers building too many dams for what humans wanted out of the local rivers. The tourism office was selling discount tickets to the local Funtown Splashtown USA park. There was a small party ahead of us buying tickets too, although somehow they were complicated about it.

Funtown Splashtown USA park was one of the parks bunny_hugger discovered while planning the trip. We figured since we were passing within miles of it, it would be silly to skip the park altogether. It had, the Roller Coaster Database said, just the two roller coasters; surely we could drop in for a couple hours and get a good sense of the park, especially if it wasn't a crowded day.

It was a crowded day. We got to the park --- bigger and more lush than I had imagined --- a little after opening and there were long lines to the entry gates. We saw people buying tickets at the gates and asked, well, we have tickets, can't we just get our wristbands without waiting for mobs of ten people to figure out they need to buy ten wristbands? (Yes, some of them are seniors, and some kids, but how is ``the number of tickets you need'' always a hard thing for groups of people to work out?) No; buy your tickets at the gate or ahead of time, you still have to wait through the same line. So our first impression of Funtown Splashtown USA was that it needed some real operations work. C'mon, guys, one booth for people who've already bought tickets during the morning rush, that's all it takes.

That said, the park was a much better one than we had expected. A bigger one, too. I had imagined something the size of an amusement pier, probably because of the namespace collision with FunTown Pier. This was a nicely sprawling place, building into the woods, with rides laid out in that wonderful haphazard style you got before the rise of 1970s style major theme parks.

Our first ride was the Wild Mouse, a yellow-support, purple-tracked roller coaster that reminded me strongly of the one that used to be at Casino Pier. It's a different model; the superficial resemblances caught me is all. It also has a nice mock-palm-tree light system that made it sad we wouldn't see what it looks like at night. There was also a crushingly long line, not a good sign for the idea of getting a full sense of the park in a couple hours.

We got lunch there. We'd trusted there would be something we could eat at the park, and there were many things we could. In this case it was paninis. Somehow my attempt to order a grilled-vegetable panini was more complicated than bunny_hugger's grilled-cheese panini, even though the difference was ... well, I had vegetables on top of my cheese. They wanted to know exactly what vegetables which I guess is useful for people who care. There's like four things I won't eat and most of them are squid.

We'd meant to get food and go over to the queue for the other roller coaster, but the paninis and their plates were bigger and more cumbersome than we expected. We should've got wraps. So we sat instead. The real point, though, is that amusement park food is really improving dramatically in quality and in its friendliness to people eating vegetarian.

The other roller coaster is Excalibur, a late-90s wooden roller coaster that keeps bubbling around the top of wooden roller coaster polls. It was designed by Custom Coasters International, which made every wooden coaster for every park in the world from 1992 to 2002, then went bankrupt. Its employees went on to Gravity Group, which has been making wooden roller coasters for every park in the world from 2005 since.

Excalibur is a King Arthur-themed roller coaster, and it's visible from the parking lot, and it looks great. They went a little crazy with the fairy-tale-castle look and the result is well worth it. You even enter the ride area by going through a wooden bridge in the forest, with an overhanging sign and flags and all. It struck me as quite d'Efteling-like in putting such effort into making the ride look good. We'd be seeing a lot of the ride area since the queue was fearsomely long.

We probably spent about forty minutes in line. I forget just how long at this point. It was really long and only one train was running. For the crowd size that was a mistake. But we were jumped ahead something like four or five ride cycles when the operators called out looking for a lone pair of riders for the next train. For some reason packs of people will insist they all ride a roller coaster together, even though it's not like they can talk to each other during the ride. It benefits folks like us who can fit through the cracks, anyway.

The disappointing thing about Excalibur is that we were only going to have time to ride it once. The ride itself was fantastic, with great views, some wonderful air-time moments, magnificent twists and hills throughout the ride. If we had all day at Funtown Splashtown we would have surely kept going on it until we were motion sick. If we had the time. We didn't even have time for a second go-round of this.

Nor did we have time for the Flying Trapeze ride. This is a flying swings ride, but it's got a particular vintage-Americana theme. The only one we'd ever seen like it was at Michigan's Adventure. A fellow who claimed to have designed this particular theme for the ride, back in the 70s, had said that only the one of the Flying Trapeze model had sold. So obviously at some point something mistaken got introduced along the way. But, no time, no time. Also we didn't have time for the Tempest In The Tea Cups ride, a spinning-teacups ride that reminded us of the one at Morey's Piers in Wildwood. These were less elaborately decorated than Morey's Piers's, but still, they looked like real teacups.

We'd also have to skip the Astrosphere, an indoor Scrambler ride. I'd ridden one at Casino Pier; the ride being done in the dark with a strobe light show made the already fun Scrambler ride all the more so. If we had another half hour we'd have gone for that. (The park's web site says the accompany this ride with Electric Light Orchestra's Fire On High which probably goes pretty well.) They also had a casino-themed Trabant ride, as at DelGrosso's amusement park, and too bad we'll miss that. The Thunderbolt, cars going around a rising and falling track while the DJ plays music, we almost got on. It was loading as we were walking past and we figured if we could get it this cycle good, if not, not. We were about five people past that ride cycle. Alas. The Thunderbolt there offers people who have the park's app the chance to request songs to play during their ride. The logistics of this fascinate us.

What we did ride was the carousel. It's a modern, Chance-built carousel, not by itself remarkable. However, it also has a modern band organ, built by ... that company that builds modern band organs. It always sounds good to have a real band organ playing, and this also included a figure that waves a baton. We really have no serious bad things to say about Funtown Splashtown.

Well, they had the Family Guy pinball machine in the arcade, but on the bright side, they had a pinball machine in the arcade. And it was loud enough, in a quiet enough environment, that I realized for the first time that the game uses some sound licks from 1980s pinball games such as Space Shuttle. I must admit: pulling out sound clips from 1980s pinball games means the Family Guy theming was done by someone paying attention to the license.

So, should we ever do a second New England Parks Tour, then a full day at Funtown Splashtown will be on the schedule. We could have spent all day there as it was, but we couldn't spend any more time there.

Trivia: St Louis bridge-builder James B Eads proposed (in 1880) a ship-railway across Tehuantepec, a rival to Ferdinand de Lesseps' Panama Canal scheme. 6,000-ton ships would be loaded into a cradle, riding on twelve rails each five feet apart, and on 12,000 wheels (100 on each rail) drive the 134 miles from sea to sea at a speed of ten to twelve miles per hour. Eads estimated it to cost about $50 million, a third the cost of a Panama Canal. Source: The Path Between The Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870 - 1914, David McCullough.

Currently Reading: Moscow, 1937, Karl Schlögel, Translated by Rodney Livingstone. In case you weren't sure what kind of a book this is, it mentions Kant twice in the first ten pages.