For some people, summertime means baseball season, cottaging or gardening. But for thrill-seekers like me it means one thing: roller coasters. Massive hills, wicked turns, breakneck speeds and a 30-second adrenaline rush six different ways. Darien Lake offers this, four other "thrill rides," one of the closest things to flying a human can experience and the Slingshot (it is as it sounds). But for the more faint of heart (and not yet tall enough to indulge their inner daredevil), there is also a waterpark, kiddie area and two dozen other less heart pounding rides.
One of the worst things about going to a theme park is knowing before you even step through the turnstile that there probably isn't enough time to do everything. Darien Lake offers a solution: Lodge on the Lake. Just a scenic five-minute walk from the park is Darien's 160-room hotel with free parking. And just behind that is a campground and RV area. My partner and I checked into a comfortable room with two double beds, a pull-out couch, mini-fridge and flat screen TV that carried a variety of channels, which is standard in every room. The bathroom was a little tight but we managed. Facilities include outdoor swimming and wading pools, a fitness room with a treadmill and elliptical machine, and an arcade.
Most of the roller coasters are standard fair at any major theme park, including across the border at Canada's Wonderland where you can find equivalents for the majority of them (such as the Boomerang pictured above). But the Ride of Steel (formerly known as the Superman and featured in the main photo) is in a special class of coaster. The first 208-foot drop at 70 mph is breath-taking - literally. Holding your hands in the air for three more hills and several twists is an experience that must be repeated. Immediately. The other unique, high-speed ride is the Motocoaster, on which you are secured to a replica motorcycle that launches riders from 0 to 40 mph in just three seconds for pure fun that lasts as long as a short TV commercial.
The SplashTown water park is a full day of fun in itself. An assortment of slides that are enjoyed via inflatable tubes saves your back from bruises and doesn't take much longer to ride. Unfortunately there are too few double tubes, so couples and friends opting to ride together may have a longer wait. This is a more significant issue on the Tornado as the majority of the tubes fit three or four, while pairs have to stand aside waiting for a double to be returned. That said, it's worth the wait. This should be listed with the thrill rides as the tunnel drops into a giant half-pipe that sends the tube flying up its sides like a practiced skateboarder before hitting a waterfall at the bottom.
The Moose on the Loose is a new attraction at Darien Lake allowing visitors to ride a talking moose through a campground, with which it also interacts. The ride is suitable for all ages, but the younger (or very young at heart) will probably enjoy it more than older riders. Though the Blueberry Moose is an amusing character "and there's nothing more fun than being a moose on the loose." In addition, classics such as Tin Lizzy's gas-powered cars, Bear Valley Bumper Cars and the Giant Wheel (pictured right) will entertain everyone with or without a license.
If looking for a break, or some air conditioning, the Mutts Gone Nuts dog show is an enjoyable 30 minutes of canine hijinks. The husband and wife show features six dogs of various breeds that jump through hoops, flip for Frisbees, speak and steal their owner's hat. The remarkable part is all the performers are rescue dogs. At the end of the day after all the rides are shutdown, stick around for Laserblast. The 30-minute show features a combination of laser images, fireworks and popular music. The use of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" felt a little contrived, but the tributes to both Canada and the U.S. was a nice touch.
The food is pretty standard fare for a theme park, including the always coveted funnel cake made three different ways and fairly plain Italian sit-down restaurant. On the other hand, each floor of the hotel is equipped with a microwave, soda machine and ice cream dispenser in case you want to put together your own meal. The park is licensed so beer can be purchased throughout, including a specially priced collectable stein that has the benefit of discounted refills. Similarly, for non-alcoholic beverages, there is a tall collectable cup that boasts $0.99 refills.
The only real blemish to the weekend happened at the end of our stay. Even though local skies were clear and sunny, dark clouds in the distance resulted in every ride in the park being shut down. One employee's explanation for the closure - inclement weather - provided little satisfaction: if a storm is within 10 miles of Darien Lake, everything is turned off as a precautionary measure. This seems overly cautious, resulting in a lot of unnecessarily unhappy guests and a lot of people leaving after 30 minutes of no activity. Rides resumed in under an hour, but it really soured the day's experiences.
Nonetheless, Darien Lake offers a great option for a staycation that will keep you so busy having fun you won't have time to think about that meeting on Monday.
And lastly, some words of wisdom:
- Coffee and other essentials are much cheaper at the Tim Hortons near the park entrance versus the snack shack in the hotel lobby.
- Friday evenings are less busy with very short waits for all rides.
- Don't ride the front of the roller coasters after sunset unless being pelted with insects at 50 mph is a good time in your books, in which case just keep your mouth closed and enjoy.
For more information about Darien Lake, visit www.godarienlake.com