Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Kingdom For Everyone

The other day I ran a search on this blog for local amusement park Dutch Wonderland and was surprised to find only a brief mention of a 2006 visit. That's hard to imagine because the little park really is one of my favorites. So today, Dutch Wonderland gets it's very own post! Opened in 1963, the park is one of the crown jewels in Lancaster County, PA's tourism industry. Situated among the beautiful Amish farms and outlet malls of Lancaster, Dutch Wonderland has grown into a full service amusement park which caters to families and little children. The park does have it's share of simple carnival kiddie rides that go around and around in a circle, but they also have a nice assortment of family rides that everyone can enjoy together. A good number of the rides are unique to Dutch Wonderland, either homemade experiences or old fashioned amusement park fare that has managed to withstand the test of time protected behind DW's castle walls.

In the earlier part of the last decade, Dutch Wonderland was purchased from it's original owners by Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company, the same fine folks who run Hersheypark as well as most of the town of Hershey, PA. (They are actually not the same company that makes all the candy.) When Hershey took over Dutch Wonderland they did a marvelous thing. Instead of jacking the place up to a totally modern theme park, they invested alot of time and money to bring the park into the 21st century without deleting the park's history and charm. (A fate Kings Dominion was not allowed!) The result is a park full of attractions high tech and low tech.

Some of the park's attractions date back to the first few years of the park, like the log boat ride in the front of the park - visible from the highway. The ride is now called Dragon's Lair and features a huge audio animatronic of the park's mascot Duke the Dragon, but the lagoon and the track the boats travel on were there when the park opened almost 50 years ago. Another nifty old attraction is called the Wonder House. In the house, guests sit on a bench in the middle of a little house that spins completely upside down again and again. Tables and chairs glide above your head and yet...riders remain perfectly still. It's a big thrill for kids who are brave enough to enter the spinning house.

For my money, you ain't got an amusement park if you don't have a train, and Dutch Wonderland has one of the neatest little train rides around. The Wonderland Special takes guest on a winding tour around the park. The train travels right through the Turnpike ride which is one of the nicest antique car rides you'll find at an amusement park.

DW is also home to two roller coasters, both small but both fun! Joust is the smaller of the two coasters, with a top height of only 16 feet. It's a steel coaster with a small drop and a few bumps and twists. It doesn't seem to intimidate to many kids. The park's other coaster is Kingdom Coaster and although there are no big drops on the other side of the 55 foot chain lift, this classic style wooden roller coaster does reach speeds of up to 40 MPH and does have some serious curves, jolts and even a decent amount of air-time. It was the first project for Custom Coasters back in 1992 and they are now the world's largest builder of wooden roller coasters. Our trip last week marked my son Elias' first ride on a real, honest to goodness roller coaster. He loved it so much we ended up riding 5 times throughout the day. Younger brother Tanner wasn't quite ready for Kingdom Coaster, but he did enjoy multiple rides on Joust including a trip in the very front car!

Now, everything worth seeing and doing at Dutch Wonderland doesn't have to move. There are some really neat old fashioned attractions here as well. One of the most popular is Bessie the Cow, who is available for milking all day long. It's not a real cow, and it's not real's water. But it's exciting for kids anywho to get a chance to almost milk a real cow. Kids also love buttons and there's plenty of chances throughout the park for kids to activate animated puppet scenes at the push of a button. Some of the scenes depict Amish life and others show elves making toys and candy. Dutch Wonderland's got it all!

Did I mention Thomas the Tank Engine is there too? Oh, and they have a kid sized water park...and a high diving show. And they have pin trading...and a really great gift shop. I'm telling ya...DW is where it's at! Here's Elias and Mommy with the Princess of Dutch Wonderland. How exciting is that!?

Dutch Wonderland is located on Rt. 30 East in Lancaster, PA. They are open daily through Labor Day.

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