You may remember, a while back I visited Six Flags New England (SFNE). I didn’t love it. I wrote about my trip, and as a result, several SFNE fans visited to leave comments on my post. One such comment recommended that, since I don’t like the “rough” SFNE rides, I consider a visit to Knoebels.
A couple of weekends ago, I headed out to the Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pa., and I couldn’t have loved it any more if I’d tried. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not Disney. But it is delightfully clean, well-maintained and quaint. Also: super, super fun.
I spent about six hours in the Park over a single day, and I’m honestly hard pressed to come up with any negative impressions. (Well, I do wish they accepted credit cards everywhere, but that’s a small nit, easily overcome.)
Here are five reasons I will absolutely be visiting again:
Everyone at Knoebels was delightful. Maybe not quite Disney Delightful, but … well, maybe more so in some cases.
Exhibit A: At one point, fairly early on in our day, I pulled out the Resort map. Why? Because I was lost. Within 10 seconds, an employee came over to ask if I needed help. The second time I needed directional help, I just asked. And the Resort employee was more than happy to oblige. He even ribbed me because what I was looking for was basically right in front of my face. Everyone, from the ride operators to the food service workers to the custodial staff, was happy to see me, quick to say hello and totally willing to answer my questions. Good show!
Exhibit B: We visited on Carousel Day, and the park was brimming with carousel organs and grinding organs. It was a pretty magical coincidence that turned into one of the coolest moments in my recent memory. Organ-enthusiast Bob Ebert noticed I was taking his photo, and he invited me to come up and try my hand at his craft. It’s hard!! After letting a couple of us turn the organ’s crank a few times, he opened up the organ and showed us how it works. My face hurt from smiling so much.
[Editor’s Note: for more information on this and other Carousel Organ Association of America Band Organ rallies, visit the Association’s website at http://www.coaa.us.]
Exhibit C: While we were waiting in line for the Tea Cups, a small girl came over and asked if she could ride with us. Her mother made sure it was okay with us, and of course it was! The girl was a delight—she was so excited to be at Knoebels, and she went on to tell me that I look like one of her favorite cartoon characters (Velma from “Scooby Doo”). After our spin in the Cups, we met the rest of her family and their dog.
Everyone we encountered—from employees to fellow guests—was friendly, kind and in a good mood. There’s just something about the Resort that makes everyone feel like friends.
The Warm Fuzzies
Everywhere I turned, Knoebels gave me the warm fuzzies—and it wasn’t just the people. Take, for example, these signs, found all over the Park:
There are also several touch-screen kiosks scattered throughout the property that lead guests through a questionnaire about their experiences that day. Maybe they never look at those texts or analyze that research, but I just love feeling like they care what I think.
You read that right. Knoebels has free wi-fi everywhere in the Resort. Free. Wi-fi. And they don’t even charge admission. What up, Disney World? Can’t a girl get some bandwidth over here??
Honestly, I barely used my phone all day, but it was just such a nice, completely unexpected perk. Especially because Knoebels, the free-entry family resort, has its own app!
Overall, I give Knoebels one iPhone up (because I only have one, but you get the idea).
Knoebels is a wonderland for the eyes!
Disney’s Hollywood Studios has its California Crazy inspiration, but Knoebels kicks that up at least ten notches. One building, aptly named “The Loaf,” is shaped like a loaf of fresh bread. You can order lemonade from a giant lemon. And my favorite example of whimsical architecture: you can have your birthday party under a pavilion shaped like a giant birthday cake. It is even topped with candles that light up and flicker at night! WHAT?! I want my (imaginary, future) children to have all of their parties there!
And, when the sun goes down, it gets even more amazing. It is simply impossible to overstate how beautiful Knoebels is as night. Everything lights up and twinkles. The trees create beautiful florescent mirages. It’s everything I love about Hollywood Studios at night, but instead of shops and Guest Services, everything here is lit up for fun! It is absolutely breathtaking.
Another unexpected pleasure of visiting the Resort was free admission to three on-site museums. We first visited the Carousel Museum, which is full of carved carousel animals, from the more traditional horses to the completely wacky rooster! It’s air conditioned, which is great on a summer day, but it’s also really fascinating.
Taking that history lesson a step farther, we also went for a couple of rides on the Grand Carousel. Ever hear the expression “reaching for the brass ring”? That cliché was inspired by carousels! In the late 1880s, if you grabbed the brass ring on a carousel, you’d win a free ride.
These days, at Knoebels, it’s not quite so competitive (or so lucrative). After a few revolutions of the 1913 Grand Carousel, an arm extends down so that, as they pass, riders can remove a ring from the holder. Grab as many as you can! It’s part of the fun. And part of the amazing history at Knoebels: theirs is one of the only remaining carousels that still has brass rings (although, really, they’re made out of steel).
[ Correction: Knoebels DOES still use a brass ring, and the ‘winner’ gets a free ticket! Thanks to Chrissi and other commenters for pointing out my error!]
We also visited the two other museums: the Mining Museum and the Knoebels History Museum, which are housed in the same building. I’ll admit to knowing very little about mining, but the exhibits were fun and extremely informative. We spent at least ten minutes in front of the Mining Museum’s interactive kiosk, which allows you to dig deep and explore the history of mining accidents in the local area. I definitely have a new respect for coal miners, that’s for sure!
The Grand Carousel isn’t the only rare attraction at Knoebels. The Looper is believed to be the only of its kind still operating in the United States, and I can see why: as I watched the guests go round and round and round … I was really worried someone was going to get scalped by the machinery! It looked like a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll even muster up the courage to ride it on my next trip!
Among these awesome and rare attractions are the classic carnival rides that we all know and love: the spinning rockets, the Ferris wheel, the haunted house. The difference: these classic rides are exceptional! Knoebels has done an incredible job of gathering the best of the carnival rides into one place. Their Haunted Mansion is pants-wettingly good. The Phoenix looks like a standard wooden coaster, but not only is it the smoothest wooden coaster I’ve ever been on, it offers exceptional airtime.
Extraordinary classics, extraordinary caring and extraordinary commitment to history set Knoebels far apart from other “local” amusement parks. It’s no Disney World, to be sure, but it is a great, low-cost alternative to a trip to Orlando.
Have you visited Knoebels? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!