WEATHER: Sunny, mid-80s, 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
Park admission involves a $2 gate admission and then $15 for a pay-one-price wristband. The park breaks the day into two ride shifts (11-6 and 4-11), so you must purchase a wristband for the appropriate shift. Visitors planning to spend an entire day at the park should instead purchase the $24 combo pass, which is an all-day admission and includes admission to the waterpark too.
The park has several hotels on the north end of the property. They look somewhat old, dingy and ordinary, but many rooms have phenomenal views of Lake Shafer. We stayed about five miles from the park, but there are plenty of very inexpensive motels and hotels within earshot of Indiana Beach. Since most parking at Indiana Beach is several blocks away from the park itself (and signage directing you to and from the park is basically nonexistent), bring in anything you're going to need and be prepared to carry it with you, as there are no lockers except at the waterpark.
The park offers a wonderful boardwalk-style experience, yet it's in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. There are things going on throughout the park -- the $5, 75-minute Shafer Queen sternwheeler ride that docks next to Galaxi/Water Swings looked like fun (and offered a further 50% discount to P.O.P. wristband holders), and water-skiing shows ran periodically throughout the afternoon. Sometimes you have to wiggle through areas - sometimes due to congestion, sometimes due to a need to avoid getting wet! For instance, the front "entrance" to the park near Boardwalk Shops is a road, but if you take the sidewalks, you run the risk of flume spray on one side and water balloon spray ("Water Wars") on the other. This park has so much to do in such a small area, it's amazing. Everyone was having a really great time. Indiana Beach was clean, well maintained, and had an endless list of unique things -- the rides themselves, certainly, but also their placement, often on piers over the lake. The park's unique light standards along the boardwalk and decorative neon lighting gave the whole place a truly unique feel, and you can sense the history of the place. And, in a classic display of a park's trust level, the scenic train ride crosses pedestrian paths without any crossing gates.
Many of the park's older buildings (case in point, the Boardwalk Shops) have been preserved with their '50s-style facades intact, and the park relies heavily on hand-painted signs for EVERYTHING, reminiscent of late 1800s/early 1900s handbills. There are freestanding sandwich signs alerting you to just about every attraction, restaurant or shop you could possibly want to visit. Hand-painted signs hang from overhead beams and porch roofs directing you to the nearest restroom (Ladies: two lefts, go 400 feet and turn right.) The park's Fascination game room looks straight out of the Depression era, and is meticulously maintained. The burl-cut woodgrain of the Fascination tables (and the amusing oversize built-in amber-glass ashtrays) absolutely glowed. 1930s chrome-and-vinyl benches adorned the walls at either end of the game room. Overhead translite signs straight out of the '60s alternate backlight colors to attract attention. While many other parks with much more heritage are slowly losing or removing their oldest pieces (even Kennywood and Cedar Point), Indiana Beach still feels very much like a very old page out of its 76-year history.
Indiana Beach sits on perhaps 15 acres. However, with its multilayer approach to building attractions, the park continues to come up with plenty of room for whatever they decide to add, which also permits older buildings and attractions to stay long after other parks would have yanked or bulldozed them. You'll always find retail and restaurants on the ground floor, rides and other attractions above that, and usually part of a roller coaster above that! As such, this park is an archaelogical dig in the making. In fact, walking around much of the park feels very much like walking around the Chicago Loop directly under the "El" trains, but the scents wafting by your nose are instead a mixture of great food smells. The level of detail throughout the park -- simply put, all the "stuff" there is to look and marvel at -- is impossible to quantify...there is SO much nostalgia. You could wander for hours and keep picking up on novel items throughout the park -- things that you've never seen before, or as was the case for the baby boomers in our group, things you haven't seen in FIFTY years. Indiana Beach is truly the "trolley park" of the Midwest.
Indiana Beach has perhaps one of the greatest selections of merchandise for a park its size. Two of their shirts, "I Fed The Carp At Indiana Beach" and "Get Flushed" (referring to the park's humorously named enclosed-pipe waterslide 'The Big Flush') were early favorites as I wandered through Boardwalk Shops ("Gifts From Here & There"), the park's main souvenir palace. Indiana Beach also sells copper wind-up creations and needlepoint wall hangings in addition to the usual park-logo merchandise. They, like Conneaut Lake Park, have figured out a successful merchandising scheme where virtually anything you could possibly want with a park logo on it is offered in one or more of the souvenir shops. Clever slogans + offbeat items + a wide variety of offerings = healthy merchandise sales.
Clean. Since when have you ever seen a park with BAR SOAP?! One amusing sign one of our group noted in the Boardwalk Shops bathrooms near the front of the park warned patrons not to change out their swimsuits in the restroom; violators "would be fined $1.50." Also, where else but Indiana Beach will you find restrooms UNDERNEATH the loading station of a roller coaster?
Den of Lost Thieves: This is a dark ride shoot-em-up similar to Ghost Hunt at Lake Compounce, with two types of targets (standard, worth 10 points, and gold bags, worth 30 points). This ride is ENORMOUS! Just when you think it's over, the ride goes out onto a sunny porch area, then reenters the building for more stunts and action! I beat my opponent by 30 points after being down by 10 during the "outdoor intermission."
Mountain Ride: File this one under the "Is it a coaster?" heading. This ride, built into and around a large fake mountain on the south end of the Indiana Beach peninsula, starts out with a reasonably large lift hill and a long, straight drop into a 180-degree turnaround and another lift. That much is like a roller coaster. After that, you begin a long series of twists and turns through scenes and stunts like a dark ride. Even if it were a coaster, it would be a tick ride, but it was a fun experience nonetheless. The wood cars on this ride look positively ancient, but are well padded (quite comfy actually) and require a hex key to release the bench seat belt on return to the station (!!).
Sky Ride: This feet-dangling, ski-lift style ride has to be the most patron-trusting Sky Ride I've ever seen! The individual restraints consist of a metal bar, single-hinged on the bench's vertical supports, which drops in front of the rider, and is held above the rider's legs by a six-link chain. There is one for each side of the bench. It provides a phenomenal view of the park and one of the best photo ops I could find besides the Ferris Wheel.
Frankenstein's Castle: This extra-price ($3) attraction is a THREE-STORY walk-through funhouse of sorts, though it relies more on old-fashioned gimmicks like dangling strings, cold air drafts and fuzzy things on the floor to entertain than gore or horror. There are some amusing animatronic scenes, including a headless singer fronting a horror-movie-character band. The singer is holding his head by the hair in one hand, and holding the microphone to the head with the other. Pretty amusing. There is a room with the floor at an angle, another that rotates around you (well, rocks back and forth), a room of doors, lots of extremely dark passageways that require you to feel your way along the corrugated walls, and some horror scenes tripped by hidden triggers. This was a lot of fun.
Bumper Cars: These were probably the peppiest bumper cars I've ridden since Rye Playland last August (though the El Dorado skooters at Coney Island looked pretty intense, too). We had originally planned to get back and ride these several more times, but we kept finding more and more new things to do at Indiana Beach, so we only rode them once. Unlike every other dodgem I've ever been on, Indiana Beach requires you put one arm through each loop instead of one loop "over the shoulder/under the opposite arm".
Waterpark: Looks like fun, and given a full day I would have insisted on visiting it. There is the aforementioned enclosed-tube two-person raft ride, "The Big Flush", six waterslides including a speed slide and five tube slides, a lazy river ("Action River"), a sand beach, and a filtered well-water pool.
Indiana Beach has two 9-hole mini golf courses. We had a chance to try out the one underneath the Hoosier Hurricane's far turnaround, where the suspension bridge from the picnic grounds (the "south entrance") meets the Indiana Beach peninsula. The $2 course was simple yet elegant, with a huge multilevel fountain in its center. The park's scenic train ride goes around the perimeter of the course, right at water's edge. Instead of brick or wood edging on the greens, this course has curved metal rails that make otherwise difficult "down-the-rail" shots possible. The course has several holes where balls break in funny directions unless you're really cognizant of the playing surface's subtle contours and imperfections. The South course is recognizable for its rounded edging, while the North course is recognizable for its sharp, geometric edging.
We had plenty of chances to sample Indiana Beach cuisine. Everything was reasonably priced and very tasty, including the $6 BBQ pork sandwich platter (the Pork Patio does not skimp on the BBQ pork, believe me!) and the $3.25 frisbee-sized pork tenderloin sandwich at the Tigrr's Den. Pop was cheap too, at $1.45 for a medium drink. Compared to other parks its size, Indiana Beach has about ten times the variety of food offerings -- pizza, Italian sausage or bratwurst sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, real Pronto Pups, tacos, smoothies, ice cream, sno-cones, pork, BBQ, chicken strips, chili dogs, deli sandwiches, and about thirty other things that all sounded equally good. The park also has a "nice" sit-down restaurant called the Sky Room at the waterpark end of the beach.
Galaxi (1972 wildcat-style) 0
This was the first Galaxi ride I've yet come across. Its strange two-car, two-bench trains and its ancient-looking control panel full of rheostats and big hydraulic lever controls are something of an oddity. The ride ops said the Galaxi came to the park in 1972, but it is in fact much older than that. The ride was entertaining but not particularly thrilling, though it featured a couple pops of air time. It looks like something lifted straight out of the 1950s, especially its turquoise and orange paint scheme! Since its introduction Galaxi has been "built over" (not a particularly unusual thing at Indiana Beach); a bunch of waterslides act as a canopy over the coaster now. In fact, the support structure for these slides virtually obliterates any way of cleanly seeing Galaxi's neon signage now.
Tig'rr Coaster (Schwarzkopf Jet Star) 0
Ahhh, coasters with absolutely no restraints (HOLD ON!)...gotta love 'em. This Jet Star, full of right turns, isn't particularly exciting but the bobsled-style cars make the ride seem faster and more thrilling than it would otherwise. A great warmup coaster, and also great for the younger set. Tig'rr Coaster is built on TOP of the Tigrr's Den sit-down restaurant.
Hoosier Hurricane (1994 C.C.I. single out-and-back) +2
This early CCI out-and-back is one of the prettiest coasters to photograph (just about any shot is photogenic), all gleaming white and its hills undulating off into the distance. Many things about this coaster are unusual: its loading station, which is some thirty feet off the ground and normally only accessible via stairs; its lift hill, which jogs quite a way to the right after the train drops off the chain; its dive underneath the suspension bridge from the park's southern picnic groves; its far turnaround, built on top of a mini golf course; and the fact that most of its outbound run is built on stilts anchored in the bottom of Lake Shafer. The entire coaster is built on top of one if not two layers of shops and attractions.
The coaster is a fairly tame one, with gentle (but thoroughly enjoyable) airtime on the outbound run and slightly stronger airtime on the return run. The coaster gave significantly different rides in the front than it did in the back; ultimately, I decided I liked the front better (an unusual thing for me). This ride was fun a few times, but the aggressiveness of its younger brother Cornball Express was far more fun! An interesting riding requirement on this coaster is that you have to remove any hats before riding. No exceptions. The ride ops hold on to your stuff with a smile, however.
Hoosier Hurricane is breathtaking at night; the park lights up the structure with floodlights and it absolutely glows. The coaster was running one 6-car, two-bench PTC train, though another was in storage on the station's transfer track under a tarp. The operating train featured single-position buzz bars, seat dividers, and a single seat belt that goes across both riders' laps. The station has no air gates.
Cornball Express (2001 C.C.I. double out-and-back) +3
Due to the bizarre space restrictions Indiana Beach is forced to cope with, Cornball Express is not a particularly big roller coaster. It also follows a particularly bizarre layout that, like a terrain coaster, could never be duplicated anywhere else (no one would ever built a ride in this configuration unless they absolutely had to) -- it winds repeatedly through the structure of the Hoosier Hurricane, extends in part over Lake Shafer (yet more stilts were anchored in the bottom of the lake) and most of its supports go through or are on top of other buildings around the Kiddieland/Tigrr's Den section of the park. In fact, the helix section of Cornball Express and its radial steel supports have become a virtual canopy for the entire Kiddieland area. One other unique feature of Cornball Express is its "wet" first drop. At the bottom of the first drop, it parallels the adjacent log flume ride. The splash caused by loaded flumes inundates the very bottom of the drop, and if your coaster train is timed just right, you can get wet, too.
Like Hoosier Hurricane, you have to climb a bazillion stairs to get to the loading platform. And, like Hoosier Hurricane, the egress side of the platform requires you to climb a "bridge" that goes back over the track in order to reach the exit stairs. Unlike Hoosier Hurricane, however, this ride funnels all of its energy into air time and laterals. Its raw, untamed spirit recalls the best that the Raven can dish up, especially when you consider the last elements (two ejector drops just after the helix) serve up the best air time on the entire ride and come just two seconds before the final brake run! Cornball's layout follows this sequence: drop out of the station to the left (180-degree turnaround), lift hill, dramatic first left swoop drop; overbanked left-turning hill and second drop; rise into a slightly swooping left turn, then slightly up again before diving down to nearly ground level on its third drop and then shooting upward into the structure of the Hoosier Hurricane and making a left turn; a dramatic ejector fourth drop while still within the Hurricane's supports, which then doglegs slightly left and out of the supports, rising quickly to the pre-helix peak; the coaster then begins its only right turns, entering the 360-degree helix full blast; immediately upon exiting the helix, Cornball races through two quick slightly-right-turning ejector drops (its fifth and sixth overall) before making its final airtime-filled ascent into the brake run. The coaster then rolls through an S-curve to get back into the station.
Our experience on Cornball Express, regardless of seat, was always a thrill. I have to give the edge to the back car, however. The ejector seat lacked a certain something, plus the wildness of the back car was awesome. Nighttime rides (the park was open until 11PM) were phenomenal. The only bad experience we had at Cornball was with some antagonizing procedures enforced by the teenage ride ops. Despite the incredibly sparse crowd (rarely more than 1 or 2 train wait, and usually a walk-on), they did not allow re-rides if your seat queue was empty. OK, I can accept that. So, people would walk around, over the exit bridge to the stairs, duck under the railing, and get back in line. (I mean, who wants to traverse approximately 128 stairs (64 down/64 up) to get back on the ride?) The ride ops began to deny rides to people who didn't make the trek all the way back to ground level, which I felt was an overzealous approach to the situation. Most people would go less than halfway down the stairs (to the point underneath the loading station) and then duck under the railing, just because of how ridiculous the expectation was.
Cornball Express runs a single 6-car, two-bench PTC train featuring single-position buzz bars, seat dividers, and individual seat belts that are different colors to make identification of whose seat belt is whose easy as you sit down. I thought PTC wasn't building trains with buzz bars any more. How is it that Cornball Express has a shiny new train with them, then? Like its older brother, hats are not permitted while riding. The ride ops willingly hang on to them for you, though, as well as anything else you want them to keep an eye on. The station is equipped with air gates.