MIFFLIN, Pa. - America's favorite traditional amusement park happens to be located just a short drive away on the east side of Pittsburgh, and now in its 114th season, Kennywood is challenging visitors - both longtime veterans and newcomers alike - to come "make a new memory."
Founded in 1898 as a small trolley park near the city of Pittsburgh, Kennywood has grown and changed in many ways, paving a storied history over the decades. While scores of attractions have come and gone, something about Kennywood that's close to the hearts of its fans has remained the same. Its rich history has touched many generations of visitors, and today that sense of nostalgia and tradition has become a big part of the park's appeal.
Kennywood offers an affordable family getaway - a place where the young and the young at heart can spend a full day and have a great time, regardless of your threshold for thrills. Kennywood was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987 and has been ranked no. 1 by the National Amusement Park Historical Association in the category of Favorite Traditional Amusement Park.
Kennywood’s newest coaster - the Sky Rocket - is running for its first full season this year. The Sky Rocket’s magnetic launcher catapults riders on their fast and furious journey at a speed that goes from zero to 50 mph in three seconds.
The park truly offers something for everyone - from little tykes who would enjoy the rides in Kiddieland to the thrill seekers who would dare to tackle the mammoth steel coaster Phantom's Revenge or the park's newest roller coaster - the Sky Rocket, running for its first full season this year. This new steel coaster - voted best new attraction in its category by the NAPHA - features a 95-foot vertical climb followed by a 90-degree drop and multiple inversions, including a corkscrew, barrel roll and series of wave turns. The Sky Rocket's magnetic launcher catapults riders on their fast and furious journey at a speed that goes from zero to 50 mph in three seconds.
In many ways, Kennywood has the feel of a fair that has stayed in a permanent location and has grown over the past century. There are plenty of midway-style attractions, games, vendors and smaller rides like those you may find at a county fair.
Mixed in between, however, are roller coasters, water rides, dark rides and attractions you can find nowhere else.
Some rides have been part of the park for many decades, like The Whip, which has been at Kennywood for around 90 years. Noah's Ark, a walk-through attraction, debuted in 1936, and has been tweaked over the years. Originally built in 1901, the former Old Mill ride, a lazy-river dark ride, is the oldest attraction still operating in the park. It is now called Garfield's Revenge.
Once dubbed "The Roller Coaster Capital of the World," Kennywood's wooden coasters include some true classics like the Thunderbolt (1968), the Jack Rabbit (1920) and the Racer (originally built in the 1910s and rebuilt in 1927).
For veteran Kennywood fanatics wishing to take a trip down memory lane, take a ride on the Olde Kennywood Railroad. This mellow ride takes you to the edge of the park in view of the Monongahela River, and along the ride is a history lesson about the park, complete with several blown-up, black-and-white photos from the park's early years.
Along with the classic attractions are some instant classics for the park, like Raging Rapids, the Pittsburgh Plunge and the Exterminator, and indoor, dark coaster that is a must for thrill seekers.
Newer rides include the gravity-defying Aero 360, Cosmic Chaos and the Sky Coaster - a sling-shot bungie over a pool of water that you will probably never catch me trying. The newest attraction is Ghostwood Estate, a combination between a dark ride, a haunted house and a shooting gallery.
Kennywood also sticks with its tradition of allowing visitors to bring a picnic lunch. There are sprawling picnic groves tucked away from all the action of the rides, and large groups can even arrange catered picnic meals prepared for them.
There is also entertainment, including Cirque Rocks! - daily show featuring acrobats and even an aerial drummer performing stunts set to your favorite classic rock hits; Kennywood Laser Spectactular - a nightly visual show over the lagoon featuring an array of eye-popping lasers and fire set to music; and Win It! - daily contests in which guests are challenged to perform tasks in one minute using household objects to win great prizes (does the game sound reminiscent to a popular TV show?)
From the rides and attractions to the taste of the popular Potato Patch Fries, sights and sounds of the Pittsburgh Plunge splashing down into the Lagoon and feeling of enjoying a great getaway while still close to home, Kennywood is a great escape for everyone. At least one visit per season - if not more - is highly recommended for anyone looking to "Make a Memory."
For those planning a visit to Kennywood Park, here are a few tips for those who don't already know:
To find out more about Kennywood, visit www.kennywood.com.
Ayres can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.