Trip Report: AJ's Epic Theme Park Summer-Part 9 (Knoebels)

December 2, 2014, 6:26 PM

Previously on AJ's Epic Theme Park Summer: Hersheypark

Part 9: Knoebels Amusement Park & Resort-August 1st, 2014

I was not originally going to do the Mini East Coast Trip, as the price of both trips combined was close to $3,000. However, two factors convinced me to do it: 1. My family's New York and Boston trip, and 2. A chance to finally visit Knoebels, a locals' park that is legendary in the enthusiast world.

Our hotel was only about an hour from Knoebels, so the departure time wasn't too bad (8:30 A.M.). Upon arrival, we met with a number of other TPR members (this was the Club TPR day for Mini East Coast), then with Rick Knoebel, current manager of the park. After a group photo under the famous Knoebels sign, it was time for ERT to begin.

Knoebels Amusement Park & Resort

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Knoebels pulled out all the stops for us, with over two hours of ERT, two meals, and more. Our morning ERT was originally going to be an hour on Twister, but due to anticipated crowds we were given morning ERT on Flying Turns as well.

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Flying Turns has pretty terrible capacity (even with our small group the wait was still about 15 minutes), so ERT on it was greatly appreciated. Following a single ride on Flying Turns, I headed over to Twister for the remainder of morning ERT.

Once ERT ended, I retrieved my wristband and Haunted Mansion ticket, then met up with my roommate Evan and toured the park with him. I don't remember what specific order we experienced the park's attractions in, but I do know that by dinner we got on all the significant attractions, some more than once. Lunch was two slices of Cesari's Pizza and a soda, and while not the best pizza in the world Cesari's was still very good.

As the day progressed, clouds moved in and the threat of rain increased.

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Then, while making the climb on the Stratosfear drop tower, we heard thunder, leading to the scariest drop tower I've experienced. Following the ride, we made our way to the dinner pavilion just before the rain arrived. Dinner at Knoebels was good, probably the best park meal of the trip, though it's been so long I can't remember what was served. During dinner, Dick Knoebel (the original creator of the park) came and did a Q&A session with our group, and Rick told us some about Impulse, the park's 2015 coaster, and urged everyone to buy glow before night ERT.

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After dinner it was time for the TPR Fascination takeover. Like at Indiana Beach, I spent around $10 on the game here, though unfortunately I didn't win anything.

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After Fascination, there was an unofficial Flyer takeover, then everyone was free until the Skooters takeover at 9:30 P.M.

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If there is any theme park ride I thought I could be injured on (other than a really rough roller coaster), it is Knoebels Skooters bumper cars, but I did three rounds without incident. By the end of the third ride, the park was closed, so I headed to Phoenix for our 90 minutes of Phoenix Glowfest ERT. Since I ran out of time to buy any glow, I was forced to borrow a necklace from someone. The ERT session was one of the best I've experienced, with double rides on one of the world's best wood coasters.

Unfortunately, all things must come to an end and at 11:30 P.M. ERT ended. It was after midnight when we finally got back to the hotel, but I didn't care. I never thought Knoebels would be a full day park, but even after spending 13 hours there I still didn't do everything. I'll give more thoughts on the park below, but for now I'll say Knoebels lived up to the hype and if the trip ended here I wouldn't have complained.

Coaster Reviews:

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Knoebels is not a coaster park, and they only have three proper adult coasters in the park. However, the park's three coasters are all better than many of their type or are at least unique, and with the addition of Impulse next year I'd put the park's collection on par with somewhere like Holiday World. Plus, any park with a top ten wood coaster is worth a visit regardless of what else they have.

Flying Turns:

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No, Flying Turns is not a super amazing ride and it has pretty poor capacity, but this ride is definitely a unique coaster. Unlike most coasters, loading on this one has to be very precise and takes a while as riders are weighed and adjusted before being locked into a loading pen to await their train.

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The ride itself is a fun family coaster and does get a little intimidating when the cars ride high on the wall, but it is very short and seems to take almost as long to return to the station as the actual ride was. Fun and worth a ride, but probably not worth the 60+ minute wait it typically gets more than once. B-

Twister:

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Of Knoebels's two traditional wood coasters, Twister is the less good ride. However, the park's largest coaster is still a top 20 woodie on my list of 60+ and is better than most in the Six Flags and Cedar Fair chains. The ride has an interesting layout with a split lift design, and features quite a bit of airtime and plenty of strong laterals while remaining mostly smooth throughout. It does die out after the mid-ride double helix, but Twister is still a great ride that would improve the collection of almost any park. B+

Black Diamond: Black Diamond may be more dark ride than roller coaster, but I still consider it a credit as the ride is gravity powered, has four lifts, runs on a track, and occupies three stories. As a roller coaster, the ride is about a D+, but as an overall attraction Black Diamond is good (about B- territory). There are better dark rides out there (including another one at Knoebels), but this is still worth a ride.

Phoenix:

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In the coaster enthusiast community, Phoenix has become one of those rides everyone must experience. Doomed to die when Playland Park closed, Knoebels spent carefully disassembled and reassembled the ride without the use of blueprints. Today, the Phoenix continues to thrill riders of all ages, providing more airtime than any coaster not manufactured by Intamin AG and running with buzz bars just as it has since 1948. Is Phoenix a top 5 coaster? In my opinion, it just misses that mark (I rank it 6th), but it is still an amazing ride that pictures and videos don't do justice. A

Kozmo's Kurves:

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While it may be just a kiddie coaster, Kozmo's Kurves is one of the best designs E&F Miler has built. The ride is just right for younger riders and intense enough to give older children and adults a mild thrill. No official grade for this one, but I will say it was better than several full size coasters on the trip.

Non-Coaster Summary:

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I've been to over fifty parks and it is difficult to think of any with a better non-coaster collection than Knoebels. To start with, Knoebels has the best flat ride collection of any park I've visited, and many of their rides are run at the most intense or thrilling settings possible.

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In my opinion, the best of Knoebels's flat rides is the Skooters, an old Lusse skooters bumper car attraction run at full speed. Collisions on this ride are more jarring than a low speed car crash, and if cars collide in the right direction they will tip a bit.

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The park's other absolute must ride flat is the Flyer, an old flying scooters attraction powered by a diesel engine and run fast enough to make snapping easy.

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In addition to these, the park has a number of unique flats including Cosmotron (an indoor Himalaya), Downdraft (a unique Darton Downdraft), Looper (the last Herschell Looper in operation), and the Grand Carousel (which still features a working ring dispenser and grabbing the brass ring), in addition to more standard flats such as a drop tower, swings, and a tilt-a-whirl. The only hole in Knoebels's flat line-up is in the kiddie ride department as the park lacks much other than the basic rotary rides, but this is made up for by low height requirements (a 42" child can ride all but the most extreme flats if accompanied).

Knoebels non-coasters in the other departments are not quite as spectacular, but are still better than many parks. The park has two dark rides, the coaster/dark ride hybrid Black Diamond (reviewed previously) and the Haunted Mansion, the best old-school dark ride I've ever been on. The ride is two stories tall, close to four minutes long, and cages are minimal. It is an upcharge, but is absolutely worth the price (only $2 if I remember correctly). For water rides, Knoebels has a good log flume and a decent splash boat (with the creative name Skloosh).

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In addition, the park has a vintage car ride, two train rides (the Pioneer Train is especially good), and the best Skyride I've seen at any amusement park (fun fact: the Knoebels Scenic Skyway was originally the Spring Fling Triple at Sugarbrush Ski Area in Vermont).

Overall Thoughts:

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I've always heard Knoebels was an enthusiast favorite, and while I was a bit skeptical of those statements they were proven true. I absolutely loved Knoebels and the park exceeded all my expectations.

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In the ride department, Knoebels has it all: great coasters, great flats, decent water rides, a good dark ride...the only thing I thought was missing was a good steel coaster, but Impulse will fix that. Knoebels has some of the best food I've ever had at an amusement park, rivaled only by Dollywood and Holiday World.

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I love the park's setting, as it doesn't really feel like a park and feels more like a bunch of rides set up in the forest.

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Sure, there is no theme and it isn't the easiest park to navigate, but part of the fun is wandering around and discovering for yourself what is over the next bridge or behind a nearby building. Lastly, all of the staff members were great, and operations at every ride were as fast as reasonably possible.

So, how does Knoebels rank compared to other parks. Well, it's not a major park so it's difficult to compare it to them, but I will say that I had more fun here than I've had at any other park I visited this year (except possibly Holiday World due to waterpark ERT) and while it's probably not my favorite park, Knoebels is definitely in the top five. Put it this way...if I lived outside of California and was offered the choice to take a trip to Disneyland or Knoebels, it would be a difficult choice. The park really is that much fun. Every enthusiast does need to visit Knoebels at least once, and unless you're only into parks for theming or high intensity coasters you'll probably want to go back ASAP.

Ride Totals:

Note: Since I didn't record my rides at Knoebels until a few days later, it is likely I missed a few, but I am certain I did the following...

Black Diamond: 1
Flying Turns: 1
Kozmo's Kurves: 1
Phoenix: 8
Twister: 6
Cosmotron: 1
Downdraft: 2
Flyer: 3
Flume: 1
Grand Carousel: 1
Haunted Mansion: 1
Looper: 1
Pioneer Train: 1
Scenic Skyway: 1
Skloosh: 1
Skooters: 3
Stratosfear: 1
Whipper: 1

Total: At least 35 rides in 13 hours (2.69 rides per hour)

Next Week: A visit to Dorney Park, the second largest coaster park in Pennsylvania.

Replies (4)

December 3, 2014, 6:10 AM

we live a little less than 2 hours from Knoebels. even the baby, 8 months old, was able to ride a number of kiddie rides with older brother. there are a number of kiddie rides but they are not in one kiddie area. the 5 year old loves the u drive go karts that you have to be so small to drive

December 4, 2014, 8:24 AM

Another excellent report, AJ. I have never made it to Knoebels but it is on the bucket list. One day....

Sure wish you could remember what you had for dinner, though.....

December 4, 2014, 2:03 PM

Betty, I'm sure I missed some areas and I didn't really go searching for kiddie rides. I was glad to see that Knoebels is extremely accommodating for all members of the family and that an average 6 year old could probably ride 90% of the park's attractions.

James, based on your comment on my last report I recommend a Hersheypark & Knoebels trip for your next non-Disney family adventure (you could add other parks as well if desired...Pennslyvania's got more than any state except California, though they're mostly mid-sized or smaller parks). I found another report from the same trip that said the dinner was mac and cheese, ham, scalloped potatoes, and ice cream. I'm assuming that's right, as all I remember is that it wasn't standard amusement park food and was really good.

December 4, 2014, 6:40 PM

Thanks, AJ, for the additional update. I have definitely considered the four Pennsylvania parks for a Rao Family Adventure. However as much as I would like to visit all these fantastic parks, the mind may be willing but the pocket book is not. My oldest (just turned 17) is already taking college courses in high school and real life isn't going to get any cheaper! Gotta watch the spending for the next few years... contrary to what our government teaches us, deficient spending does not make us rich!

I am even considering, seriously, pushing back my 2015 Orlando trip to 2016... so Pennsylvania will have to wait. Sadly.

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