Published May 09, 2011
With the warm weather arriving and people emerging from a snow-induced hibernation, it's time again to start enjoying outdoor activities. And, not much screams summer more than a trip to the amusement park. While there are the obvious options, not all parks are sprawling complexes laid end to end with steel monster coasters.
The U.S. has a long history of amusement parks; unfortunately many have shut down. But in the northeast in particular, some have managed to hold on – and even grow. To get a taste of classic, old-fashioned family parks while still satisfying a thrill craving, here are a few historic amusement parks to try.
Coney Island, New York
Back in the day, New York's Coney Island had three competing amusement parks: Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase Park. Though the parks have long since closed, Coney Island has witnessed a resurgence. In 2010, a new Luna Park opened with new thrill rides like the Brooklyn Flyer, Electro Spin and the Tickler. Of course, the iconic Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster is still there to make guests regret their Nathan's Hot Dogs. And, at the nearby Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, another Coney Island icon, the original Wonder Wheel Ferris wheel still turns amid other old-school rides.
Wonder Wheel: On the Boardwalk at 12th St; 718-372-2592
One of the country's oldest amusement parks, Kennywood opened in 1898 as a trolley park. These parks of yore were small recreation and amusement outside big cities at the end of their trolley lines. Kennywood, outside Pittsburgh, was a product of Andrew Mellon's Monongahela Street Railway Company. Its first coaster, Figure 8, was built by Fred Ingersoll and opened in 1902. Now, visitors can ride coasters like Steel Phantom, Exterminator and Phantom's Revenge. Or, for a more classic experience, there's the Whip, Paddle Boats, Auto Race and Olde Kennywood Railroad.
4800 Kennywood Blvd., West Mifflin, PA; 412.461.0500
Open: Late May-August plus weekends in September and October
Admission: Child: $23.99; Adult: $26.99; Senior: $17.99
Steel Pier, New Jersey
Steel Pier opened in Atlantic City in 1898 and was known for showcasing the coolest in entertainment of the day: W. C. Fields, Benny Goodman, Mae West, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, and of course the Human Cannonball and the High Diving Hawaiians. However, popularity waned and the pier closed in 1976 and was further devastated in a 1982 fire. Enter the Donald, whose Taj Mahal hotel rebuilt the icon in 1993. Of course there are classic rides for visitors of all stripes like the Ferris wheel, Tilt a Whirl and Bumper Cars. But, daredevils will be more interested in The Rocket, voted New Jersey's most extreme ride from 2001-2006.
1000 Boardwalk Atlantic City, NJ; 609-345-4893
Open: Weekends beginning April 16; Daily beginning June 17
Admission: Single ride tickets from $1
Another Mellon family production, Idlewild sprang up outside Pittsburgh in 1878 along the Ligonier Valley Railroad. However, the park wasn't really developed until 1931 when rides like the 1920s Philadelphia Toboggan Co. merry-go-round. Major improvements and additions were again made in the 1980s when the Kennywood corporation took over. A number of the parks old-fashioned rides can be found in Olde Idlewild, like the Whip, Skooters, Rollo Coaster and Merry-go-Round from the 1930s. [Overgrown] children will particularly enjoy a ride on the trolley through the more recent Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood of Make Believe.
2582 U.S. 30, Ligonier, PA; 724-238-3666
Open: June-August plus weekends in October
Admission: Regular: $31.99; Senior: $23.99
Playland, New York
On this location once stood "bawdy hotels and rowdy amusement areas, attracting unsavory crowds," or at least that's what the locals had to say in the late 19th /early 20th century. In response, they moved to demolish two theme parks on Long Island Sound and Playland opened in their place in 1928. More recently, its art deco theme landed it on the National Register of Historic Places. Seven of the original rides still in operation at Playland date to before the 1930s: the Whip, Dragon Coaster, Old Mill, Carousel, Derby Racer, Kiddy Coaster and Kiddy Carousel. Meanwhile, the Log Flume, Super Flight, Double Shot and Playland Plunge cater to the 21st century crowd.
Playland Parkway, Rye, NY; 914-813-7010
Open: June-August plus weekends in May and September
Admission: All Rides: $30; Kiddyland: $20; Spectator: $10
Lake Compounce, Connecticut
Connecticut's Lake Compounce is the oldest continually-operating amusement park in North America. In the mid 19th century, the park had humble beginnings as a waterside picnic park, featuring at first a revolving swing, pool tables and bowling alleys. The first electric roller coaster was added in 1914. The park prospered until the 1990s when it was almost forced to close. But, the Kennywood company saved the park in 1996 and over the next few years almost $50 million was invested and 20 major new rides like Zoomerang and Thunder N' Lightning were added. These accompany classics like the 1927 Wildcat coaster, or Trolley and Carousel circa 1911.
271 Enterprise Dr., Bristol, CT; 860-583-3300
Open: June-August plus weekends in May, September and October
Admission: Child: $25.99; Adult: $35.99; Senior: $17.99