The Magic of Dutch Wonderland
There's always something magical about taking my kids to a place that I enjoyed as a kid. One of my clearest memories of the late 1970s, when I was about 5, is of my mom, sister, and me piling into our neighbor's wood paneled station wagon with her two kids, and heading off to Lancaster, PA. We'd take the hour-and-a-half trek from our suburban Philadelphia home to Dutch Wonderland, an amusement park geared for young kids. We'd spend the day sliding down the Fun Slide on potato sacks, getting dizzy in the Wonder House (a house that turns upside down around you as you sit on a porch swing inside), and posing next to the kitschy plaster figures of the Flintstones, Amish farmers, and storybook characters.
Fast forward about 35 years, and it was time to introduce my own kids to the magic of Dutch Wonderland. My son was just two-and-a-half, and my fellow Dutch Wonderland loving sister was visiting from her home in England. (My infant daughter stayed home with the grandparents during this first visit.) Though this time we arrived in my mini van instead of a wood paneled station wagon, we still felt the same excitement as we had during our visits when we were young. The potato sack slide and upside-down house still remained, and the number of kitschy plaster figures increased, including a giant pretzel. (Who can resist taking a picture in a giant pretzel?!?) (As an aside, during this year's trip, we also discovered that the pretzel is a PokemonGo PokeStop! Such joy for my now-ten-year-old son!) His favorite "ride" during our first visit was Choo Choo Charlie, mini trains he could sit on and hand-crank to make move (though I stood behind him with a shuffleboard stick to scoot him along if he got tired).
Since that first trip back, we've returned about ever other summer. My kids are now 8 and 10, and too big for the hand-crank trains, but they have happily moved onto the bigger "family" rides--Turtle Whirl (tilt-a-whirl--their grandmother's favorite ride, which caused uncontrollable laughter from all of them!), Sunoco Turnpike (drivable cars on a track--this year the kids were tall enough to go together, without an adult in the car!), Frog Hopper, Double Splash Flume, and the Kingdom Coaster, the largest roller coaster my kids have attempted, though quite small by coaster standards. Admittedly, my kids are not huge "ride" fans, so I was very shocked when they attempted the coaster. I was even more shocked when they rode it eight times in a row at the end of our day there, just before the parked closed at 8:30pm. (FYI-park hours depend on the season, so be sure to check the calendar on the Web site)
A few other highlights of our day were the dive show, small water park, and games. There are two small theaters in the park that have shows throughout the day (most of which were too young for my kids), in addition to a dive tank theater. About every hour or so, there is a fairy tale themed diving show, and once a day, on days when the park closes at 8:30pm, there is an Open Dive show. In this show, the divers do acrobatic dives and "dillies"--silly dives--that completely drench anyone seated in the front five rows. Of course, my kids moved themselves up to these front rows in order to get doused! The small water park, Duke's Lagoon, has two water play areas and two tube raft slides in the Pipeline Plunge--one in compete darkness and the other where you can see. (My kids prefer the dark one!) On most of our visits, we have saved the water park until close to the end of the day, when the crowds there have lessened.
The highlight of almost any amusement park for both my kids is the games. Most games at the park are $2 each, but you can also buy a pack of 12 game tickets for $15 at the Guest Services counter. We bought three ticket packs during our most recent visit (I know--a little overboard on the games!), and came home with several stuffed animals of various sizes.
During our summer trip to Dutch Wonderland two years ago, my kids insisted on playing one specific game over and over again. They then secretly combined their smaller prizes and traded up for the "large" prize--a two-foot-tall version of one of my favorite childhood stuffed animals, Papa Smurf. They then proudly presented it to me. Now, if siblings working together to win their mom a stuffed animal isn't magical, I don't know what is!
Dutch Wonderland is located at 2249 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, PA. It is open every day June through August, and weekends in May, September, and early October. Royalty Admission (ages 3-59) is $40.99; Senior (ages 60-69) is $35.99; Senior Plus (ages 70+) is $27.99. Children ages 2 and under are free. General parking is $5 per car.
Learn more about additional ticketing options, hours, rides, local camping, and other sites in the area, at www.dutchwonderland.com.