Summertime thrills, prepare to be amused
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With a visit to one of southwestern Pennsylvania's summertime fun parks, even regal Queen Victoria would be hard-pressed to utter the infamous line often attributed to her: "We are not amused."
We are amused when it comes to Idlewild, Kennywood and Sandcastle, three iconic spots that are on families' must-do list every summer.
Dave Hahner of Ross has been going to all three parks since he was 2 years old. Mr. Hahner, now 50, along with his wife, Theresa, and son, David, 14, continue the tradition each summer.
"I like the wooden roller coasters best, like Kennywood's Thunderbolt and Hershey Park's Lightning Racer," said Mr. Hahner, historian for the American Coaster Enthusiasts and author of the book, "Kennywood -- Images of America."
"My son, David, rode the Lil' Phantom at Kennywood at the age of 18 months," he said, adding that his son has ridden 200 different coasters.
Another member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts, 82-year-old Vic Kleman of Pittsburgh, rode Kennywood's Jack Rabbit 90 times sequentially without getting off -- all to celebrate the coaster's 90th birthday in 2011. During that run, he surpassed his 3,000 mark for riding the legendary coaster.
Idlewild Park and SoakZone in Ligonier -- Pennsylvania's oldest amusement park and the third oldest in the nation -- opened in late May. Selected as Best Kids Park in America by Amusement Today magazine and Best Park for Families by a National Amusement Park Historical Association survey, Idlewild dates back to 1878 when it began as picnic grounds for the Ligonier Valley Rail Road.
The park has several theme areas -- including SoakZone water park, Story Book Forest and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe -- along with 19 major rides that include two coasters.
New this year is Oktoberfest, set for Sept. 8, 9, 15 and 16, and HallowBoo! on weekends in October.
Ticket prices for the 2012 season are $34.99 or $26.99 for seniors. Children 2 and younger get in free. Information: 724-238-3666 or ww.idlewild.com.
One of the oldest and most beloved amusement parks in the nation, Kennywood rides have been up and running since May.
Located in West Mifflin, the park got its start in 1898 as Kenny's Groves, a trolley park for the Monongahela Street Railway Co. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, the park's Lost Kennywood section replicates turn-of-the-century architecture that houses some of the park's most popular rides.
"The park offers six roller coasters and 10 classic rides, 14 rides in Kiddieland and much more to guarantee a unique and memorable experience for any age," said Jeff Filicko, the park's public relations manager.
New for 2012, the Black Widow ride begins with up to 40 riders sitting in outward-facing, suspended seats that form a giant circle.
With legs dangling freely, each rider is secured with a shoulder restraint, and the giant circle begins to swing in a pendulum motion while rotating counterclockwise. At the peak of the swing, riders reach a height of 146 feet above the ground at an angle of 120 degrees from the center. The pendulum motion propels riders back and forth at 68 mph.
Ticket prices went up $2 this season, but the increase for senior citizens is $1. Admission prices start at $10.99 for a senior rider at night to $37.99 for a regular day pass. Children age 2 and younger are admitted free. Details: 412-461-0500 or www.kennywood.com.
For those who'd like to cool off on a hot summer day, Sandcastle, a water park on the banks of the Monongahela River in West Homestead, has been making a big splash since it opened in July 1989 on what had once been the rail yard of U.S. Steel's Homestead Works. Sandcastle is open daily through Aug. 19.
"The idea for the park began with the premise that Pittsburgh needed a beach," said Melissa Kelly, Sandcastle spokeswoman. "To make way for the water park, seven miles of tracks were removed. The low land immediately along the Monongahela -- where the water slides dump their riders into sparkling ponds -- was virtually jungle. The vegetation was so dense on this area 'below the tracks' that it was almost impassable.
"Today, when guests arrive on the boardwalk and look toward the river, the scene is one of unusual beauty and tranquillity -- a pristine setting along a calm, wide waterway backed up by a densely wooded green hillside. The last thing they think about is an abandoned steel mill, but that's where Sandcastle began."
New this year, Dragon's Den is the biggest addition to Sandcastle in nearly 10 years. Riders catapult through a dark 45-foot-long tunnel slide, which plummets into a 35-foot bowl, where they encounter a 9-foot-tall dragon that spits mist at its riders. After completing two to four revolutions in the mist-shrouded abyss, guests suddenly disappear, splashing down in a landing pool.
"We want to try to keep things fun and exciting for our guests," said Sandcastle general manager Damian Dondero. "This has been a few years in the making, and we are excited to add a water slide that is completely different than any other experience we currently have at the park."
Admission increased by $1 from last year, except for group rates, which remain unchanged. The 2012 admission price to Sandcastle is $31.99. The price is $21.99 for those age 55 and older or 4 feet tall and under. Details: 412-462-6666 or sandcastlewaterpark.com.
First Published July 6, 2012 12:00 am