austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Time to remember the kingdoms you wanted to see

A friend of bunny_hugger's had warned her the park was cheesey. I knew of friends who'd gone there, mostly as kids, but didn't have much impression of it, past that it's usually riding along the discount coupons for Hersheypark that you can't avoid from Wawa or fast food places around here when the Great Adventure discount coupon waves recede a little.

It is a kid-oriented park. It's small for an amusement park and they don't go for the high-octane rides that appeal to teenagers trying to prove their coolness. But it is charming, utterly and wholly, in all its respects. Part of it is from how it's a half-century old and hasn't relentlessly replaced stuff so there's older rides and old-fashioned rides overgrown with trees. Part of it is simple old-fashioned stuff like overflow parking being on the actual certified grass. It's an amusement park which, according to Wikipedia, was opened by a potato farmer. How can you not like that?

The theme is Fairy Tale Medieval Castle, with Duke the Dragon as interesting and a Knight and a Princess as less-interesting mascots. Duke offers the most interesting decorations and a few rides, such as the ``Dragon's Lair'' boat ride around a pond visible from the street (and passing by an egg, which implies ``Duke'' may have a secret). He also wanders around the park, accompanied by the Knight and Princess who I assume ward off any excessive children, and wears a loose-fitting pair of shorts which initially seems to be there just to show how loose-fitting shorts don't work on dragon costumes, although it's probably to catch any dirt that packs of roving kids give off in hugging activities.

There's some seriously old-school rides in the park, such as the Wonder Whip, which is that ride you see in grainy amusement park footage from the 1920s of cars that get pulled about thirty feet in one direction and then get spun 180 degrees to go back the other way, although this is a kid's size ride. I was still amused to see a Whip in person, looking strange for not being in black-and-white. And they have the ``Astroliner'', a 1978 motion simulator with the outside styling of a Saturn I-inspired vehicle and a baffling interior movie about ... I guess we're flying and ... stuff goes blowing up and ... isn't that Battlestar Galactica footage? A sign outside explains it was the first motion simulator ride.

Good for them for keeping an historic artifact around like that, and for explaining it, although we had to suppose all kids were more entertained by the circa-2000 ``VR Voyager''. This looks less like anything particular, but it's got a wider range of movement, including fast movements, and a video show that's more clear about going out and blowing stuff up.

The most remarkable old-style ride had to be the Dutch Wonder House, a ``haunted swing'' ride that isn't seen so much, strangely. The gimmick is simple: everyone sits on a pair of facing benches that can swing loosely on their axle. The ride attendant warns if you start to get nauseated, close your eyes. This is because the house around you will start rocking, up and down, up and down, wider arcs until it starts rolling over and over and over. The effect is uncanny: within seconds my brain had locked onto the far side of the bench as my fixed reference point and the illusion of going tumbling over and over was still irresistible. My mother felt nauseated just hearing about this ride. And yet you don't move, not more than a few inches if that. Considering how effective it is, and how relatively simple and compact it is, it feels unjust that it's not a more popular kind of ride.

bunny_hugger felt good enough to try the sky lift ride, good for going from end to end of the park, despite her fear of heights. And the ride was a grand one for giving us a view of the park, as well as some of the ``Adventures Of The Frog Prince'' show whose point we couldn't grasp apart from it involved people dressed as frogs and a villainous villain of villainwry falling into the water a lot. We also spotted a rabbit, from above, who must get such a weird understanding of human culture from living in an amusement park.

Dutch Wonderland has some more traditional rides as well, including a monorail which sure seems like it should have a stop in the parking lot outside, but which instead of opening the doors just pauses a while; and a double-dip log flume that didn't splash too much for a day just a bit cool for a water ride. It also has roller coasters.

One, Joust, is a small steel coaster of the ``Big Dipper'' type, none too intimidating (I don't think it goes up more than twenty feet) and giving two circuits of the ride to make up for it not being too intense. The other, ``Kingdom Coaster'', is a proper classical-style wooden roller coaster visible from the parking lot and painted cyan-and-purple. This one is great fun: not just good drops but also these playful surprises in its paths. I don't really have the vocabulary to describe it, but it twists and turns imaginatively, and in paths partly obscured by the wooden supports so the rider gets surprised. And, better, attendance was light enough we were able to just about walk on, so we rode it several times and didn't tire at all. Also, one time, there was a squirrel walking his way up the second hill (on the wooden support, not the tracks), so it was even more charming than before.

In short, bunny_hugger's friend was nuts, or maybe went to the park too much while he was a teenager and not young or old enough to appreciate the park's charms.

Back to the hotel we checked in properly, and found a perfectly delightful dinner at the Red Robin across the highway. We got to bed resolved to wake up early enough to drive the long way to Hersheypark and enjoy a full day there.

Trivia: By 1927 over three-quarters of American households which were electrified had an electric iron. Source: Home: A Short History Of An Idea, Witold Rybczynski.

Currently Reading: The Men Inside, Barry N Malzberg.


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