There are great parks. And then there are great experiences. Camden Park is firmly in the latter for me. I spent most of my visit laughing and was in disbelief with some of the things I witnessed. I can firmly say that Camden Park is a unique animal and that I’m probably never going to visit another park quite like it.
The experience begins from the moment you set your sight on that pudgy clown. Camden Park’s sign is a thing of legend. It’s that perfect mix of retro charm and creepy.
I was charged $5 to park on a cracked blacktop that looked like it hadn't been paved since the 1950s. I then made my way to the ticket booth, but something was missing- an employee. So I proceeded to the main entrance, only to have an employee direct me right back to the vacant ticket booth. A security guard relieved the employee at the main entrance and she happily sold me a $9 twilight ticket to experience the wonder known as Camden Park.
I only had 2.5 hours, but from my front row parking space and empty midways, it was clear crowds would not be an issue. The only way crowds would have been an issue is if rides required a minimum amount of riders. But this is Camden Park. They didn't care. That’s actually a theme of the park. On-ride photography? No problem at all! This is the most relaxed park I have ever seen with regards to rules and regulations.
I started with the Hawnted House. And yes that’s actually how they spell it. Autocorrect relentlessly tried to correct it, but I manually applied the West Virginia settings and it was accepted
The Hawnted House is one of those fiercely debated coaster credits out there. It’s 90% a dark ride, but it has a drop and is entirely gravity driven. It’s so gravity driven that the operators manually push the cars out of the station. After a week spent at corporate parks like Cedar Point and Kings Island, this was a real wake-up call.
The drop was abrupt and mostly uneventful, but the hairpin turns were terrifying. They’re taken pretty quickly and you can definitely feel the cars tipping sideways a bit. This added speed and darkness makes it nearly impossible to see the effects, but that’s no real loss since most are on par with your local carnival. The exception is the final effect. I nearly pooped myself.
You think you’ve experienced the final effect. You see light at the end of the tunnel. A bright light flashes and then you see an employee standing mere inches from your face. The employee lunges forward with all his might and brings you to a full and complete stop. I knew it was gravity driven, but I figured it’d have a braking mechanism other than a middle-aged man doing his best Superman impersonation. 6 out of 10
I then walked across the “midway” (if you can call it that) and hopped in line for the Big Dipper. The only reason I know it’s called that is RCDB. There isn’t a single sign for their star attraction- no logo, no ride requirements, nothing, nada, zilch, bagel city. It's clear from old photos that it used to have a sign, but it probably went the way of the dinosaurs judging by the deteriorated signage I saw on other rides.
The classic NAD train crawled into the station and I had my pick of seats. Well all but the very back. Technically I didn’t ask, but something about there not being a seat or lap bar screamed off limits to me. So I grabbed the second to back and just barely had enough time to pull down my lap bar before we were dispatched. The dispatch was on par with the lightning fast operations at Knoebels. But Camden Park sort of cheats since they don't always check the lap bars. And spoiler alert, this will come into play later in this report.
With the misaligned cars and weathered appearance of the structure, I braced myself for a brutal ride. The first drop was uneventful. No air, but smooth. And then the second drop happened. Holy moly! The Big Dipper turned into a priest and instructed all riders to stand. You can fight it all you want, but resistance is futile. You are going to be launched right into that buzz bar. Because of the restraints (or lack thereof), this is one of the most powerful and intense airtime moments out there.
Now I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had one drop on par with Silver Bullet and the other was one of the best drops I had ever experienced. The next turn was another nothing element, but that was followed by the most un-straight straight track out. That sounds really dumb, but that describes it perfectly. This is the bumpiest bit on the whole ride, but since it’s navigated at 5mph, it causes no pain. Instead you can’t help but laugh at the wonky undulations of the cars. It rode much like an RMC pre-lift. Except I'm pretty sure the RMC was designed to do that. I don't necessarily think the bounciness is intentional with the Big Dipper.
My fit of laughter was broken a drop into a tunnel gave a pop of air. That's immediately followed by a fast, flat turn that slams riders to the side of the train. Just when you recuperate yourself, there’s a sharp plunge out of the tunnel that launches riders skyward. The following bunny hill doesn’t offer any air, but the hill into the brake run sure does. The snap is so abrupt that everyone is unmercifully flung forwards. My knees were ever so grateful for the pads haphazardly bolted onto the back of some seatbacks.
The Big Dipper is a complete WTF from start to finish. It looks like it should be rough. And parts are rough. But those are the slowest sections of the ride, so in a weird way, it actually improves the experience and makes an otherwise mundane moment memorable. Then you have that airtime moment that can hold its own with any coaster plus a few other strong moments as well. The Big Dipper is certainly rough around the edges, but there’s just something about it that makes it an absolute joy to ride and I rank this coaster far higher than I should. I simply had a blast with each ride and the experience is so uneven that it works to its advantage. 9 out of 10
With the untamed nature of the park, I had to make the Flying Scooters my next stop. I had a hunch these could be some of the best flying scooters out there. Judging by the age of the rest of the park, I figured this could be an older model (aka not the Larson ones that are almost impossible to snap). I also figured the park's operators wouldn't have a care in the world if my tub were bouncing around like a reckless marionette.
I boarded and the operator informed he wanted at least two riders to balance the ride out, so I patiently waited in my tub and noticed two things. First, half the ride's tubs were themed to birds. Meanwhile, the other half were naked. I expected nothing less from Camden Park at this point. Second, I noticed an odd hill adjacent to the attraction. Turns out, it was a Native American burial mound.
I can't say I've ever been to another park with one of those.
Eventually the operator realized the other 10 guests in the park weren't coming over, so he just shrugged his shoulders and granted me a solo ride. The fins had a great deal of movement in them, but I was only able to get one modest snap. The max speed is impressive, but as soon as the ride hits that speed, it immediately starts slowing down. What a tease! Still it’s technically more snapping than other flyers I guess. 6 out of 10
The Whip also had a painfully short cycle, but it was still enough time to leave a lasting impression. Usually whips are fun-filled classics suitable for the entire family. However, I’d go as far to say that Camden’s Whip is a thrill ride. This thing is aggressive. You are flung around the far turns so violently that your car never stops bobbing side to side even on the straight sections. The only other whip like it is the one at Rye Playland. 8 out of 10
It’s time to talk about the bathrooms. Bathrooms are one of those things you don’t write about unless they wow you like the Tangled bathrooms or are worse than a abandoned gas station. Care to guess which boat Camden Park falls in?
The men’s room existed independently of the women’s room. I honestly have no clue where the women’s room is located, but I can only hope it was better than the men’s room. Half the toilets were broken. Half those operating toilets had broken doors. My math majors out there probably realize that getting a functional toilet and privacy is a luxury at this park.
I moved onto the Lil’ Dipper and my jaw dropped when I saw the restraints. These cars had the legroom of first class. The lap bar rested on the tip of my knee. Now the part that baffles me is this; I’m probably taller than the ride’s target audience. Just a hunch. So if it just barely extended far enough to glance my knee, there is absolutely no way that lap bar is anywhere near a child's lap.
The ride itself was a cut above your average junior wooden coaster. In fact, it was so good that I rode it twice. The first drop and drop off the turnaround offered small pops of air. Plus it was perfectly smooth as well. And like the Big Dipper, it’s entirely possible to walk right up next to the track. The only thing blocking you is a comically short fence. Based on the descriptions I've heard about Mount Olympus, maybe they took inspiration from Camden Park. 4 out of 10
I encountered my longest wait of the day at the Log Flume. I had to wait all of 2 minutes. But it gave me enough time to appreciate the little details around the attraction. If you thought there was little security around the coasters, the Log Flume says "hold my beer." On the flume, there is no fencing whatsoever. So the only thing stopping you from climbing into the trough like a public fountain is common sense. And that's something you cannot take for granted nowadays. I also chuckled at the fact that the park used caution tape instead of chains in the queue line. Utter perfection.
The course was pretty uneventful. For the most part, it took place in a wide open field and traveled at a snail’s pace. The second drop was pretty good. But let’s talk about that first drop. It was short, but that splash had malintent. I was counting my lucky stars I was riding in the back and only got a few drops. Had I been in the front, I would have been dripping wet. Now I have no qualms getting drenched on a water ride; I just have two requests. One, don’t wreck my shoes. And two, don’t use smelly, brown water.
The water was most certainly brown and the stench brought me back to the park’s restroom. It smelled like a waste water treatment facility. If you can tune out two of your five senses (smell and most definitely taste), it’s an ok flume. 4 out of 10
I decided it was time to admire Camden Park from above, so I made my way over to the Skyliner. The lap bars are very minimalistic. They’re very thin metal bars that fold inwards and have no locking mechanism whatsoever. I had a hard time choosing what to look at. Below me was a deserted mini golf course. To my left was the brown lake. And to my right was the pavilion (empty of course) and that beauty of a parking lot. I should also note the sky ride was a complete circuit. While it would have made zero sense to drop riders off at the abandoned back corner of the park with the turnaround, it's so absurd that it's something I could see Camden Park doing. 5 out of 10
My stomach was rumbling. But after investigating the food options, I decided to power through the rest of the afternoon and find food elsewhere. Reading some other reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor suggest that I chose wisely.
The Paratrooper, or should I call it Paratroop, is evidence to what may have happened to the Big Dipper's sign. No clue where the “er” went. Maybe the hospital? As for the ride, it had the longest cycle of any of the park’s flats and it was cool swinging above the adjacent roadway. 6 out of 10
Camden Park has three distinctly themed areas. The largest area is the 1960s section. Instead of theming rides to classic hot rods and burger bars like Dollywood, Camden has perfectly preserved the park just as it was 60 years ago. The second area is the Zamperla kiddie area with a Kite Flyer and Rockin’ Tug. This area actually looked pretty nice, but it was in the far corner of the park had nothing of interest. The third area is what I call the “This Decade” area. Here you have two rides that stick out like sore thumbs in the Rattler and Slingshot. They actually have bright paint and restrictive restraints.
The final coaster credit at the park was Slingshot, one of those SBF spinners that seem to be popping up at every single FEC and independently owned theme park across the country. The coaster itself was no different than the others ride-wise. It gave 4 laps and had some decent spinning. What was noteworthy was the operator’s sitting position. How many times have you been at a park where the operator has yelled at guests for sitting on railings? Well at Camden Park, the operator sits on the railing. 3 out of 10
While the Whip is the park’s most unique flat, I must admit that the Rattler is the park’s best flat. It felt weird having such a secure restraint, but it was absolutely necessary considering the airtime this thing delivered. This was yet another flat with a painfully short cycle, but the few max swings had some nice air. I also love the outward facing seats over the inward facing ones. It’s much more exciting staring at the sky or straight at the ground. I don’t care as much to see a random person across from me screaming. 8 out of 10
I concluded the night with a marathon on the Big Dipper. From my dozen or so rides, I can firmly state that this is a back row ride. Or in the case of Camden, as far back as they let you sit. For most of my visit, that was the second to back. But then an “only at Camden Park” moment occurred taking out the entire back car.
On one of my rides, the operator dispatched the train before anyone had pulled down their restraints. He simply motioned for everyone to pull down their own lap bars as the train rolled out of the station. Everyone in the front two cars was able to do so, but something was wrong. My lap bar wouldn’t lower. Neither would the lap bar in the row behind me. We looked back at the operator and he kept telling us to lower our lap bars, but that was futile.
So the operator E-stopped the ride. He walked over to the lift hill and tried to lower the lap bars with all his might, but they wouldn’t budge. So I was evacuated. Same with the two behind me. As for the rest of the riders, the operator sent them on their merry way. None of the other riders looked particularly concerned, so maybe this is a common occurrence at Camden Park.
Now I feel like this experience would deter most people from riding again, but both myself and the pair behind me got right back in line. I was curious to see if the back car would reopen. After fiddling around for a bit, the operator found a much faster and simpler solution. He removed the last two benches in the back car and continued operating the coaster like nothing had happened.
I was skeptical if the middle car could still deliver the crazy airtime of the back car, but it absolutely did. And even in a wheel seat, it wasn’t rough at all. This really is one of the most underrated coasters out there.
Ultimately I had an enjoyable time at Camden Park. Once you set foot through the gate, you feel like you’ve traveled back in time (well until you reach the SBF spinner). And having such a raw and powerful coaster like Big Dipper certainly helps. It's also not really near any other parks. I think it's at least 3-3.5 hours from the closest park. Since I was in no rush to get back to the Pittsburgh Airport for an early morning flight, I took the scenic route from Cincinnati through West Virginia.
Now Camden Park isn’t for everyone. If this review is any indication, it’s far from perfect. In fact, it's very flawed in many areas. It's sort of like when you watch a movie that's so bad that you can't help but like it. Take Tommy Wiseau's Room infamous cult classic, The Room. I found humor in many of things I witnessed at Camden Park, but I could see those irking others. Hopefully my report helps you decide whether or not you want the Camden Park experience.