Conneaut Lake Park
DATES: 8/31/2001 - 9/1/2001
WEATHER: 8/31 - rainy, overcast and 70s/80s, 9/1 - Mid-70s, sunny, beautiful.
ABOUT ME: Male, age 37. Coaster rider since 1977 and fanatic since 1986. I have more than 330 adult coasters on my "track record". I generally prefer wooden coasters to steel because airtime is one of my big criteria. Also, I don't mind a little headbanging on coasters.
RATING SYSTEM: I subscribe to the ubiquitous Griswold scale, which rates coasters and parks on a scale from -3 to +5. Zero indicates a mildly positive rating.
THE PARK: +4
Admission on Friday, August 31, since the park didn't open until 5pm, involved a $5.95 POP wristband. The park closed due to torrential rain about ten minutes after it opened, and though the rain cleared out by 7pm the entire park operations staff had already been dismissed for the day. Since the park is completely open to the public (regardless of whether or not the front gate is locked, the streets that crisscross the park are easily accessible from the adjacent neighborhoods as well as Hotel Conneaut), we decided to walk around and take photos. No one, including the handful of security staff still around, cared as we walked up the ramp into the Blue Streak station, looked around, took photos, and so forth.
We decided to forego a complete day at Kennywood and instead spend a couple hours the next day at CLP before heading south to Pittsburgh. Guest Relations happily honored our previous day's wristband when approached, even though admission on 9/1 was $13.95 rather than the $5.95 we paid.
CLP opened promptly at noon and we ran through all of the high points at the park in about two hours. Following that, we then spent a half hour looking at the classic cars on the park's main lawn, all of whom were in town for the park's annual (and very well-attended) Doo-Wop weekend. We rounded out the day with a stop at the Idora Park memorabilia display (which is normally just a few pictures in the window of the building next to the Trabant). For special weekends like this, the Idora Park museum's "curator" Kris Nelson comes down from Youngstown to display her extensive collection of Idora items and photography from the Big Fire that landed a death blow to the park in 1984. A local music store (Debentz?) had a restored band organ delivered for the event. They were selling copies of Charles Jacques' Idora book (The Last Ride Of Summer) as well as CDs of the band organ itself, a fundraiser benefiting the Idora museum as well as the restoration of Idora's old Hook & Ladder kiddie ride.
We had an opportunity to talk to Kris, a very sociable, amiable blonde who is probably in her late 30s/early 40s. She knows EVERYTHING there is to know about Idora. She talked about her attempts to purchase the park's 26 acres from the church that now owns the property, the New York couple that purchased the Idora carousel whole and are restoring it; and the suspicious fire that consumed the park's Ballroom earlier this year. It appears that the church may have had a sizeable insurance policy on that building, and the payoff from that fire probably financed the razing of the Jack Rabbit and Wildcat coasters in August. The church has never had enough funds to develop the property and in fact has lost the property to foreclosure once already, so the sudden action to level the SBNO-for-17-years Idora roller coasters really came out of nowhere and is particularly suspect.
Kris also seems to have taken Conneaut Lake Park under her wing. She has a pretty good relationship with park management and has twice assisted the park when their carousel band organ conked out. The first time (last year), she noticed the carousel was blaring taped AC/DC music and inquired what was up with the band organ. On being informed it was nonfunctional and stuck in storage due to lack of funds to fix it up, she arranged for an Ohio handyman with a penchant for ancient mechanical devices to make the necessary repairs. When the quick-fix repairs themselves conked out this year, she arranged for a loaner band organ while the original one went back to the same gentleman for a complete overhaul.
Anyway, during our two-hour ride time, we repeatedly hit the Blue Streak, the new-for-2001 dodgem cars (though only 8 of perhaps a dozen were actually functional), the rethemed-for-2001 Devil's Den pretzel dark ride, and the Flying Skooters. We also made one quick stop at the Skee-Ball lanes, which were having serious problems operating (in my photos, see the panic mode they go into upon conking out).
The park's Flying Skooters are in excellent shape but really aren't conducive to snappage. I worked my hardest and only got one minor snap. They will swing and rotate well, but flying sideways is about the best even my veteran skills could manage. Three-cycle wait.
The new-for-2001 dodgem cars are new to the park, but not completely new. They are in good shape, but bear no obvious manufacturer emblems or badges. It's too bad CLP only had eight operating, since their Dodgem arena could easily handle three times that! You have to really work hard to get people in vulnerable positions when riding since all eight can easily be right up against the center island. Fortunately, the cars are quite powerful, deliver some major slammage and can usually push another car sideways when necessary! Heh heh. Five-cycle wait.
One interesting observation about the dodgem building, however, which was backed up by close scrutiny of my 2000 photos of the OLD dodgem -- it appears that the floor in the area of the dodgem where cars undergoing repairs are parked has COLLAPSED. The floor and section of wall just to the right of the double doors (the ones that allow removal of dodgem cars from the arena) sag noticeably.
The park's pretzel (The Devil's Den) is in very good shape externally, though it appears many of the internal stunts are absent. Many of the pretzel turns were simply in the dark. No wait.
When visiting the park for the first time in August 2000, we discovered the old-world charm of Hotel Conneaut when wandering around the park prior to its noon opening, and vowed that any return trip to CLP would have to involve staying at this quaint old 150-room hotel. So, naturally, I booked the night of 8/31 at the hotel well in advance due to the Labor Day weekend - a good thing since they sold out. The hotel was approximately $58 for two people.
Hotel Conneaut's entrance was not easy to find, as there is no road signage whatsoever marking the hotel itself. We tried driving down a residential street that appeared to head toward where it SHOULD be, and though we had to make a few turns we did finally stumble upon the back parking lot (for the restaurant) and from there found our way around to the main drive in front of the hotel. Interestingly enough, we could not use the same route in reverse the next day since a previously-left-open cyclone-fence gate had been secured across the hotel approach. To leave, we had to drive down the the lakeside road that runs the width of the park and head out an access road that runs through a residential area on the opposite side of the park!
The hotel doesn't guarantee lake views, but since we arrived right after the check-in time we did get a room with a view. Not only that, but we got what CLP refers to as their "Honeymoon Suite"! If you're on the boardwalk looking at the lake side of the hotel, it's the left-side 2nd-floor end room with the bay windows.
The room was small (cozy is the proper term) but featured a queen size bed with a white chenille-style bedspread, a three-drawer dresser, an end table, a love seat, a vintage vinyl chair, an oscillating fan, a ceiling fan, and a wonderfully cramped bathroom with vintage sink and toilet fixtures. The room itself is done in oddball blue paneling and blue carpet with white trim molding. The photo page mentioned above features photos of our room and bathroom as well as the rest of the hotel.
Hotel Conneaut is old. Very old. 1892 old. The floors all creak, and the walls (though freshly painted) reveal years of use and abuse. In keeping with the aesthetic and historic nature of the hotel, the place has no telephones, televisions or air conditioning. However, the breezes off the lake are just fine and the fans compensate for the lack of air movement. The rooms have hinged transom vents above the hall doors, operated by a metal bar which opens/closes the transom hinge. Due to the transom vents, however, noise (intended or otherwise) inside and outside the hotel room travels easily throughout the hotel. I could not find a forced air heat vent anywhere in the hotel, and I still don't know how they heat the place...though we could feel the warmth Saturday morning on our way down to breakfast.
The hotel recently installed its first "Unlimited Hot Water System", but due to the nuances of the retrofit many rooms are quite a distance from the water plant. Our room required 10-12 minutes before the hot water tap actually began running hot water. It's a terrible waste of water, but oh well. From what I could gather, all the water comes from spring-fed Conneaut Lake itself.
The hotel room had two (count 'em) TWO electric outlets. One was behind the bed on the wall at floor level; the other was built in to the light fixture above the bathroom. Both were quite obviously retrofits. It sure made charging two cell phones, a PowerBook G3 and my digital camera lithium batteries quite an exercise!
The three windows in the hotel room were probably original to the hotel - the authentic divided-light panes appeared to be original leaded glass due to the visual distortion, and the sashes were somewhat falling apart. While the exterior screens were in less than ideal condition and an occasional moth would enter the room, the turbo-speed ceiling fan would eventually execute the invader.
On Friday night, with the windows open, the sounds of that night's live entertainment down at the park's "nightclub" (The Beach) -- a '50s/'60s cover band -- floated through the air. Saturday night the park was to host one-hit-wonders The Capris, who still play their own music as well as a repertoire of covers, just prior to a fireworks display over the lake.
STEAK ON THE LAKE (the Hotel's restaurant):
I was introduced to SOTL during my first visit in August 2000. On that day, we hadn't yet eaten and the park wasn't set to open until noon, so upon discovering the hotel's ground-floor restaurant offered a $7.95 all-you-can-eat brunch buffet we jumped at the opportunity. That brunch buffet turned out to be the finest buffet of its kind I have ever had in my 28 years on this planet, and I was eager to repeat the experience - the thick-cut premium spiced ham, the 1/8-inch-thick bacon, the fresh pineapple and other fruits, cinnamon French toast, pancakes, spicy sausage links...oh my God, was I in my Happy Place. SOTL's buffet line is something to behold...stainless steel pan after pan of Sterno-heated goodness. So, it was no accident that we stayed at the Hotel Friday night, because that set up the Saturday breakfast buffet.
Our first visit to SOTL ended up being earlier than anticipated with the Friday night rainout at the park. It turned out that in addition to their usual full menu, this particular Friday night featured their $16.95 All-You-Can-Eat Seafood Buffet. Chriss went for the buffet, while I dined on their $9.95 St. Louis-style half-rack of BBQ ribs, baked potato, $3.75 mozzarella sticks, and complimentary bread basket. My meal was filling and quite satisfying, though the BBQ sauce was a little too sweet and not enough spice and the ribs themselves were a tiny bit too dry (though that may have been because they were beef ribs and not pork ribs). A stiff strawberry daiquiri from SOTL's full bar washed it all down nicely.
Chriss feasted on the fresh King Crab legs and other seafood delicacies which I can't stand. She felt the buffet value was insane, given the per-pound cost of King Crab she's used to paying when it's flown in daily to the upscale Byerly's grocery chain in the Twin Cities.
The meal was enhanced by the ambience the "sun porch" dining area offers. Never mind it was raining cats and dogs; the view of the fountain garden and Conneaut Lake was spectacular, and the Christmas lights and greenery strung throughout the restaurant really is attractive. One interesting thing of note, though: the sill of the window next to our table was leaking. As the rain continued, a four-inch-diameter puddle accumulated on the wide sill from water seeping under the glass from the outside part of the sill. Oops!
The next morning, we made the pilgrimage down to SOTL for the only meal we actually planned on eating - that wonderful breakfast buffet. While it was ever so slightly a step down from the spread I enjoyed during my August 2000 visit (mostly because it was the breakfast and not the brunch buffet, which omits the ham...damn), the meal was incredibly filling and professionally prepared. Hotel Conneaut's chef really is something else - you have to experience Steak On The Lake to get the total CLP experience.
It's funny that CLP's 2001 slogan is "take a step back in time" since that is exactly how you feel as you walk though the park. You enter the park, and suddenly you've timewarped back fifty years. The old Skee-Ball lanes. The vintage (and increasingly rare) Fascination tables. The old, old flat rides, including a classic Tumble Bug, Roll-O-Plane, bench-style Ferris Wheel, Twister, Yo-Yo, Trabant, Musik Express, an indoor Scrambler ("The Ultimate Trip") and Tilt-A-Whirl, among others. The park offers a wonderful lakeside park experience, right up there with Arnolds Park and Indiana Beach (and the old Geauga Lake, RIP), though with larger and more numerous trees than any of them. Everyone you meet is your friend - having a good time, well-mannered, all smiles. Ride ops - invariably all locals - genuinely seem to be enjoying their jobs and make small talk with folks in line while their ride operates. Conneaut Lake Park has become a community focal point with all the events and whatnot held on the grounds, and the crowds range from the very young to the very old. In fact, the entire dodgem cycle prior to our ride consisted of the over-60 crowd. The ride op, tongue firmly in cheek, made to sure to remind them "Now kids, don't run down the exit!" At night after the park closes, the lakeside area is a peaceful, quiet place with couples taking moonlit walks along the beach and boardwalk. It really is quite serene.
Aside from the dodgem collapse and several carousel horses with broken legs (signs warn "Please don't ride on me...my leg is broken"), the park looks significantly better than it did last year. Colorful strings of pennants hang across the main game midway. Park staff drive around on a riding, rear-bagging leaf/refuse vacuum...nothing gets missed. New signage is in evidence virtually everywhere, even though some signage didn't need to be replaced, case in point the beautiful old backlit (translite) Flying Skooters sign and the backlit/translite Funnel Cakes and Sweets Shop signs which have sadly disappeared. Every sign in the park except the ubiquitous Connie Otter height-restriction signs has been replaced by colorful, mounted hard plastic signs made by a local firm (Signs By Renee). The park's karaoke stage has been moved toward the Operations building, and two rock climbing towers have been erected on the previous stage location.
The park's gift shop was notably devoid of cool merchandise this year, sad because I spent $100 there last year buying a colorful throw ($60), a copy of the hardcover Conneaut Lake book signed by both authors ($24.95), and several postcards. This year, the place seemed practically empty. No shot glasses, though the CLP glass tumbler looked nice. All the shirts seemed a little too cheesy for my tastes, too. Blue Streak Challenge shirts were still available, incidentally.
I wandered though Kiddieland for the first time this trip, and was amazed at how NICE it was. It is probably the nicest area of the park, with its planters, benches and well maintained concrete (as opposed to the tree-root-cracked asphalt throughout the balance of the park). I showed photos of Kiddieland to my 54-year-old father and he just about fell over, likening it to the rides he remembers from the now-defunct Walbridge Park in Toledo, Ohio where he and his younger brother grew up. The Little Dipper, CLP's Allan Herschell kiddie coaster, is in immaculate condition, as are the dozen or so childrens' rides. The park even disguised one of their electric substations/breaker panels (within Kiddieland) as a gigantic box of Crayola Crayons. It is really something to see.
My girlfriend/coastering newbie Chriss had a blast at Conneaut Lake Park. She said it was unlike anything she's ever seen before, and though our visit was much too quick the atmosphere of the place really is contagious. Like me, she couldn't help but smile while visiting the park and the Hotel. "You can tell it's an old park, but it's a well kept park. It clearly is a community place that everyone seems to take pride in. It's a perfect family place," she said.
The park appears to have redone its main bathroom building (next to the Dodgem, across from the Yo-Yo). The fixtures all appear to be new, even if the building itself is ancient. The bathrooms were spotless when we were there, though that was immediately after the park opened. Two stalls were roped off with yellow police-line-style tape that read, "Oops! I'm closed."
CLP has a waterpark which consists of two body slides, a kiddie pool, and a large lazy river with plenty of "water hazards". It was closed both days we were there due to cool weather. The water in the landing pool at the bottom of the slides was CRYSTAL clear.
There was some kind of animal/jungle attraction behind Kiddieland and the Blue Streak, with entrances though the fake "cave" opening on the midway next to the carousel building as well as directly from Kiddieland. It appears to be an upcharge attraction and wasn't open at any point during our visit. It claims to have been there since 1998, but I sure don't remember it being there last year?!
CLP has an 18-hole mini golf course immediately off the midway, to the right of the Blue Streak station in front of the its 1st and 2nd hills. It is a complex course with a gigantic overhead wooden sluice structure which carries water around the course. Some holes have water hazards as part and parcel of the strategy, including one hole I call the Ball Washer since there is a huge grating on part of the green, and a sluice empties vast amounts of clean water into that grating. You can end up with some difficult shots from a very wet place if you're not careful!
Due to repeated opportunities to pig out at Steak On The Lake, we only sampled a few items from the CLP stable of food stands. The park's fresh squeezed lemonade was inexpensive and tart, and made before our eyes. No sugar-water "lemonade" at this park! The pizza stand at the end of the midway (across from the rock climbing walls) was still pretty good, though the crust was thicker this year than last (not really my thing) and the sauce had onions in it. Still, it was pretty good.
Probably the best food item I had was a "Gourmet" shake from the ice cream stand. For only $3 you can have any of the dozens of available ice cream flavors used to make a shake. I opted for the strawberry cheescake shake, which proved to be pretty darned tasty.
Blue Streak (1937 Ed Vettel Sr. single out-and-back) +2
The Blue Streak has significant amounts of new wood on it this year (pretty obvious since the rest of the coaster is a faded pale blue compared to the bare wood of the new construction). It appeared to be well greased and the lone NAD Century Flyer train was in wonderful shape. The 2nd train is still in inoperable condition on the storage track next to the tunnel.
Blue Streak is an odd coaster. I guarantee you'll never find another one like it. Its out-run consists of several fast-drop, slow-crest hills which are best experienced in the back seat (the yank over the top and down the hill is exquisite). The ride is quite good in the front of the train too, but I tend to prefer the back. The turnaround is bizarre, consisting of a wide right turn taken at medium speed leading into a right, downward swoop and a quick left, upward turn, followed by a series of relatively uneventful bunny hills on the return run. Most of the power is in those first three hills. On each circuit, I felt some fairly substantial drag on the train as it entered the turnaround. Anyone know what is causing that? There is a rapid clicking when it happens, almost an antirollback sound. One-train wait at most all morning.
CLP Blue Streak is one of those coasters that will never be a Top 20 ride but always delivers an entertaining, enjoyable ride that belies its length and height. Its woodsy setting is perfect, and offers some great night rides. Sadly, though, we had to bail at 3pm. But that's OK since one thing is for sure: I'll be back here again. It's easily one of the finest partial-day parks around, and with Waldameer (which I still haven't visited, sigh) less than two hours away to the north you can easily plan out a full day's worth of park fun between the two.