*Photo taken from the cable cars above Waldemeer Park
Good day to you, darlings. I do hope you’re all finding fun, doing beautiful things, and being your most wonderful selves today. It’s summer, and so much of the year in the North is taken up by dreary weather days, we absolutely must celebrate any day of sunshine. Ever since I was a child, I have associated summer with fairs, amusement parks, and festivals. For those of us in the North, it’s the only time we can get outside for such activities because any other time of year the weather might be too cold. Last week, Michael and I (along with a bunch of family) hit one of my favorite places to enjoy such delights: Waldemeer of Erie, PA. When my children were still in grade school we discovered this gem of a park, and we made a point of getting there at least once every summer, all the way through their high school years. It’s a gorgeous little spot on Lake Erie, and the owner has made excellent choices in laying out the park to enjoy the view. Aside from the lovely view of the Lake, if you were to make a weekend of visiting Erie, PA, you have plenty of other fun in which to indulge. Come with me on a little summer trip, and I’ll show you around Erie, Pennsylvania.
First, let me start with the amusement park. I love roller coasters, so anytime I find a good roller coaster, I’m in. Seriously, you can’t keep me off the rides when I go to parks, and I love going to new places where there might be new fun coasters to ride. A decade ago, Waldemeer completed its signature wooden coaster, the Ravine Flyer II, which (according to Wikipedia) was rated the “best new ride of 2008 by Amusement Today Magazine.” As soon as I found out about the new coaster, I was ecstatic about riding it, and let me tell you—it’s super-fast and exciting. I’ve ridden it dozens of times, and I continue to love it. The ride itself has several lovely drops and side-winding twists, but I love that it flies out over the lake via two tunnels over the road. Honestly, you can’t really tell when you’re over the water because the ride is so fast you can’t see it, but it’s still amazing. Michael and I were doubly pleased to talk our niece and nephew into taking their first rides on roller coasters, and we managed it by first getting them on the smaller Ravine Flyer, which is a kiddie coaster. Though it’s a smaller coaster, it’s also wooden, and is still a lot of fun. I always rode with my kids when they went on it in their younger years, and loved it. After the kiddie coaster, the niece and nephew loved the ride enough to head over to the intermediate coaster: the Steel Dragon. I rode this coaster for the first time on this trip, finally giving in and taking the plunge after years of avoiding it because it twirls as it rides the track. Generally I avoid rides that spin because they tend to make me sick to my stomach, but I took the chance and loved it. What a shame I missed out on all those years of fun!
Once we gently encouraged the young ones onto the ride, they got on with trepidation, and leapt off with glee, immediately insisting we take them on the “big coaster.” Well, alright! That’s exactly what we did, and they loved that, too. Anytime I can get newbies on a coaster, I consider it a good day. Do note that if you tend to be sensitive to the bumpiness of wooden coasters, I advise caution, as the Ravine Flyer II might give you a neck ache or headache. It’s fast and can be hard on your noggin, but I still think it’s worth it. We had a blast on the rides, but we also had a good time at the water park before the coasters. Waldemeer really has a wonderful water park, no matter what ages you have in your family. Recently the park installed a gorgeous new section to the water park, which includes a wave pool and slides appropriate for toddlers and young grade-schoolers. Lots of silliness can be had with all the extra water play gadgets on the slides, too. For the older kids and adults there are a big variety of slides, fast and slow, rafts for singles or doubles, slides without rafts, and even freefall slides. From the tops of a lot of the slides you have a great view of the lake, which is an added bonus. What I love most about this park is their attention to cleanliness, safety, and obvious maintenance of the rides. I never worry about my safety at this park, and love that its friendly atmosphere allows for families to bring in coolers and picnic food of their own to enjoy at the pavilions and picnic tables. If you prefer to eat park food, they have plenty of that, too, and as prices go, it’s not too shabby.
Ever since my kids were little I’ve enjoyed the ambience of Waldemeer for it’s family-oriented sensibilities. The water park and rides are both geared toward fun for all ages, as many of the rides are perfect for the littlest in the family, right up through those who want big thrills. One of my favorites of the park, though, has to be the cable cars, which soar above the grounds for a nice, long ride for two (or maybe three if you have a little one and parents). It’s tradition for me to take a few minutes to ride the cable cars and take in the rides to decide where to go first. They also have a lovely train that takes a tour of the park grounds, which was often our last ride of the day. This time, rain interfered with our fun when a thunderstorm rolled across the lake in the early evening, but we were still satisfied with our time well-spent. If you make the trip to Erie to enjoy Waldemeer, you might want to try camping on the beach at Sara’s Campground on the shores of the lake. It’s a bit odd to get used to the first come, first serve snagging of real estate for a tent, but it’s actually a nice spot to camp if you like the beach.
While in Erie, take the time to visit Presque Isle State Park, and either bring your bike for a ride along the peninsula, or rent a really creative bike from the rental spot in the park. They have surrey bikes which seat up to eight (I think, but they are tough to peddle!), low-riding trikes, and a host of many other choices. The best part is if the weather is hot, you can bring your suit and enjoy a dip in the lake, and the park is free to the public. There’s even a handicap-accessible beach, which we once used for someone we wheeled in a chair right across the beach and down to the water via a raised walkway—a thoughtful and considerate feature of the park we really appreciated at the time. A lighthouse on the peninsula is also a cool spot to visit, and you can find places to eat along the waterfront if you don’t want to cook. The beaches in this park are generally clean and well-kept, and so are the changing facilities.
If you prefer indoor water fun, Splash Lagoon is another family-friendly spot in Erie, with plenty of water features, slides, and indoor water fun to be had. If you stay at the attached hotel, you get a discount to the water park, which is nice. If amusement parks aren’t your bag, check out the Erie Zoo. It’s a thoughtfully designed zoo with a lot of stunning exhibits. This zoo has all the usual lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!), but also has exhibits arranged around the locales where the animals originated, and seems to have a keen sense of giving the animals a good life, despite their captivity. In general, I am not fond of zoos because I usually feel sorry for the animals, but this zoo actually does a fairly good job of giving the animals clean environments which suit the animals’ needs. There are a lot of beautiful gardens on the grounds, including a botanical garden, and also a lot of great kid’s activities. Again, you have the chance to ride a train, and now they also have an ice-skating rink. I’ve visited this zoo several times over the years, and found it to be a very pleasant day to walk around, learn, observe the animals, and enjoy the hands-on activities.
For anyone planning a trip to Lake Erie this summer, take the time to consider stopping in Erie for a portion of your time. The city is a nice spot for family time, and Presque Isle is a fabulous park to visit. Though I didn’t give up the goods on everything in the area, you can conduct a brief internet search to discover plenty more to do and see. It’s a nice little city on the waterfront, and you can find plenty to do with the family for a get-away. An added plus is that Pennsylvania doesn’t charge tax when you shop, so hit the mall while you’re there! Wherever you go for fun this summer, make it an adventure, say yes to things you might normally be afraid to try, and stretch yourself by getting physically active. You’ll feel better for it. Heck, my hubby dared me to go on the free-fall ride at Waldemeer, a ride which I have avoided my entire life out of fear of heights, and this time I did it. I dropped over 300 feet on that darn ride, screamed my brains out as I fell (at the time I thought I was going to die), but got off the ride feeling quite proud of myself for being bold. If you’ve never ridden a roller coaster and health isn’t stopping you, I challenge you to challenge yourself. Get out there and try new things, and see what wonder the world holds for you. Catch you on the other side, friends. I’ll be there smiling.