Whenever friends and family ask what my favorite amusement park is, I quickly rattle off well known ones like Disneyland, Busch Gardens, and Cedar Point. But in the same breath, I always say Knoebels. For three years, my girlfriend repeatedly asked what made this random park in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania so special. I decided it was time to show her so she could understand the wonder of Knoebels.
To break up the drive, we made a pit stop at Lake Compounce to get some evening rides on Boulder Dash. After some sluggish rides earlier this year, I’m happy to say the coaster was running like its usual bat-out-of-hell self. This is still one of my favorite wooden coasters out there because of the sustained speed and awesome airtime. We then crashed for the night at an Econo Lodge and were greeted by Econo Duck. I guess they took inspiration from the Big Mike Roadshow.
I was a bit worried visiting Knoebels on a weekend. For most parks, it would be for crowds. However, I wasn’t worried about crowds since Knoebels has some of the most efficient operations anywhere. Rather it was the lack of a pay-one-price wristband. I was a bit nervous I’d spend a month’s rent reriding Phoenix, but this is probably the only park I can stay all day at and not feel robbed using tickets. It’s an absolute steal that Phoenix costs $3 when local carnivals charge $6-7 per ride on a spinning contraption.
The weather forecast was bleak (heavy rain and thunderstorms all day), but moved forward anyways. As long as we got one ride on Phoenix, I’d be perfectly content spending the rest of the day stuffing our face with food and playing Fascination. Turns out the weathermen were dead wrong. It rained for a whopping 15 minutes all weekend! I guess the locals knew better since they attended in droves.
After cashing in our discount tickets from Weis, we immediately trekked back to Phoenix. I purposefully didn’t tell my girlfriend about Phoenix’s lack of seatbelts. No less than 15 seconds after sitting down in the front row, we were rolling through the pitch black tunnel. She eventually asked where the seatbelt was shocked to learn there wasn’t one. That’s part of what makes Phoenix so special.
Phoenix’s progression of airtime hills is flawless. Each hill becomes more intense than the last. The first turnaround offers some fun floater. The same can be said about the following two speed hills. Then the second turnaround kicks it up a notch as it's the first hill where you hit the buzz bar. It’s only a love tap, but you hit the buzz bar nonetheless.
Then Phoenix goes absolutely insane. My girlfriend’s shriek of terror was priceless as we both smashed into the buzz bar on the double up, double down. And I assured her there was more to come. The final turnaround also launched us into the buzz bar and then Phoenix’s finale may be my favorite of any coaster. Those four little, unassuming bunny hills violently launch riders straight into the buzz bar. It’s impossible not to come off laughing as you are literally flying a solid foot out of your seat. I just wish they took an on-ride photo at this point so I could see everyone’s reaction.
My girlfriend loved Phoenix. She didn’t quite think it topped Lightning Rod or Boulder Dash, but she said it wasn’t far behind. For me, only Lightning Rod and Steel Vengeance can top this Schmeck masterpiece. It’s truly incredible a 70 year old coaster can still rank among the cutting edge creations from RMC and Intamin, but Phoenix is that good. 10 out of 10
I also want to note that despite the coaster’s queue stretching onto the midway, the line was usually no more than 10-15 minutes. By mid-afternoon, the line reached an astounding 20 minutes in length, which Knoebels deemed unacceptable and added the second train. I love this park.
Despite the temperatures being in the mid 70s, the humidity was off-the-charts and pushing the heat index into the 90s. That made the Giant Flume an absolute must (granted it would be a must even in 40-50 degree weather). This flume is the whole package.
You have a first drop that’s taller than the final drop on many flumes. You have a wonderful setting through the woods. Heck you even pass through a rock cave. But the highlight is the final plunge. It’s pretty darn tall and even gives a tiny pop of air. If you survive the wrath of the geysers, you come off with the perfect wetness. If someone drops mercilessly drops in 25 cents, let’s just say I hope you like water. We were incredibly lucky as one family hogged all the geysers and were targeting their kin. 10 out of 10
After that, we pretty much got into a rhythm. Ride, food, ride, food, ride, food, etc. After visiting Knoebels solo last year, it was refreshing to have a partner in crime. It allowed us to divide and conquer. We were able to sample so much more!
We started off modestly with a burrito from the International Food Court. In all honesty, I was sort of disappointed how it tasted. It was ok, but it wasn’t wow like the rest of the park’s food offerings. It was dirt cheap though.
At this point we still thought it might rain, so we prioritized Flying Turns. I am completely willing to give the park a pass on this ride’s low capacity considering just how unique this attraction is. I’m just grateful they finally got this thing open. We probably ended up waiting 30-40 minutes, which wasn’t bad considering how busy the park was. Since we were grouped with several small kids, we were guaranteed the front row.
It feels like you’re being swallowed alive by the trough since you’re completely enveloped in the all-wooden structure during the ride. The section after the first lift doesn’t do much of anything, but the bit after the second lift is pretty wild. Like Phoenix, the ride gets progressively more intense. Those final turns are wild. It feels as if you’re horizontal with the trough and that you could flip over at any moment. It may not be on the same level as Phoenix or Twister, but it’s truly one-of-a-kind. 7 out of 10
Wanting a superior food option, we backtracked to get bacon-on-a-stick. I’ve always been intrigued to try one at local carnivals, but I’ve always been put off by the price. I figured if I were ever going to try it, Knoebels would be the place. It was gloriously greasy and everything I dreamed of.
For the Flyer, I was completely transparent with my girlfriend. My sister rode the Flyer with me a few years ago and thought we were going to die as the tub snapped and buckled with each rotation. For that reason, she will never ride any set of flying scooters with me, even the unsnappable Larson ones. I warned my girlfriend there was a chance she’d see Jesus by the end of the ride and she figured it couldn’t be any worse than Phoenix. I made her eat those words.
Once she realized the cables weren’t going to shear in half, she thoroughly enjoyed careening around like a drunken insect. The operator had no qualms with my constant snapping, so I got one of wildest rides yet. The Knoebels Flyer is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, this is one of the most intense and thrilling rides out there. On the other hand, it has ruined almost all other sets of flying scooters. 10 out of 10
Twister is a coaster that has grown on me over the years. I discovered this is absolutely a front seat ride; no other seats give a comparable ride for me. Once you crest the first drop, Twister absolutely hauls. The first turnaround offers some sustained floater more akin to what you’d find on Phoenix. Then Twister forgoes airtime in favor of laterals. The double helix is absolute eye candy and equally as thrilling to ride.
Where Twister shines for me though is the finale. Twister is absolutely flying and returns to airtime. There are two little hills with some small air. That’s followed by a pitch black tunnel and two powerful pops of airtime. I’ll take the airtime buffet of Phoenix, but Twister is no slouch. 9 out of 10
Since it was nearby, I took a whirl on StratosFear. These Larson towers are more terrifying than towers twice their size. The view reminds you just how beautiful a backdrop Knoebels has nestled in the valley, but that tranquility rapidly transitions to crazy floater air as you descend back down to earth. 10 out of 10
My girlfriend witnessed the unmistakably pull of string cheese, so she excitedly asked where she could get one herself. That made our next stop Totem Treats. She went with the legendary cheese-on-a-stick. I had a few bites as there is absolutely no way I could eat one of these by myself. The inside tasted like the best mozzarella stick I’ve ever had, but the breading was a pleasant surprise. It was reminiscent of a corn fritter.
After a frustratingly slow drive through Connecticut, the Skooters offered us a chance to unleash our caged up road rage. I thought the cycle was shorter than year’s past, but everything else was as good as I remembered. With how fast and heavy those cars are, there’s nothing more satisfying than t-boning an unsuspecting victim as they round the corner. Similar to the Flyer, the Skooters have ruined the bumper cars at most other parks. 10 out of 10
As a dog person, one of the most underrated things about a visit to Knoebels is seeing all the dogs along the midway. However, as we were queuing for the Pioneer Train, I was astounded to see one of my four legged friends boarding as well. I can’t believe Knoebels allows dogs to ride the train! Actually yes I can because Knoebels is just awesome.
I had never ridden the train, but gave it a shot after multiple trip reports praised it. The long layout through the woods would be noteworthy on its own, but my favorite part was the squirrel feeding exhibit. At the far end of the ride, Knoebels set up a few stations with grub for our acorn loving creatures. Again this is something Knoebels has absolutely no obligation to do, but they do it just because they’re awesome. 8 out of 10
The rain had started, but Impulse was still running so we hopped in line only to find a 15-20 minute wait. By the time we boarded, the skies were clear. Impulse is a fine little steel coaster, but it’s simply overshadowed by the park’s far more unique attractions. That being said, I do try and ride it at least once per visit.
The drop delivers some fantastic airtime and is probably the best drop in the park aside from AtmosFear. The ride does rattle pretty consistently, but the lap bar only trains prevent any pain so it’s just a nuisance. If anything, I find it funny that a 70 year old wooden coaster and an aggressive twister are smoother than a 3-4 year old steel coaster. The helices don’t do too much for me, but I do enjoy the hangtime in the loop and barrel roll. 7 out of 10
I also made sure to take a spin on Power Surge. These rides seem to be maligned, but I actually really like them. They’re incredibly disorienting. 9 out of 10
Power Surge also was a key landmark for me. You see, in past visits I had neglected to try the pierogis. I finally corrected that last year; however, I made a critical mistake. I went to the Round Stand. Granted those pierogis were good, but an angelic choir didn’t sing out as I ate them. I found out after the fact that there was a Pierogi map and I should have been going to the Roast Beef Stand all this time.
I now see the error in my ways. Those pierogis are to die for! They’re so buttery, gooey, and delicious. They may be my new favorite food item at Knoebels. Just to be sure, I marched next door to grab some French fries as well. The verdict? It’s a toss-up. The pierogis are probably the best entree, but the fries are perfection in their own way as they’re perfectly salty and crispy.
I followed it up with a ride on 1001 Nachts. The ride has often been down in past visits. Probably too many wild nights with Amy Wolfe (if you don’t know who that is, please do yourself a favor and look her up). Since it was open, I couldn’t pass the opportunity to ride it.
The super tight metal lap bars are a stark contrast to the non-restrictive restraints found elsewhere in the park. I could have sworn the ride provided some airtime, but I got nothing this visit. The best part was when the ride would randomly stop at the top for a few seconds so I could take in the spectacular view. 5 out of 10
My girlfriend loves carousels, so she was excited to go for the brass ring on the Grand Carousel. She had a little trouble at first since she’s 5’2”, but by the end of the ride she was snatching ringy dingy ding-a-ling dings like a pro. I a 100% ring catch rate and a 0% success rate throwing it into the lion’s mouth. It’s rides like this that make Knoebels a mecca for classic amusement park fans. 10 out of 10
We decided to take a break from rides and partake in some games. We started with their Mini Golf course. If you read my Lake George report, you know I have an affinity for classic, obstacle based mini golf courses. And that’s exactly what Knoebels has. Their course plays incredibly fast. The greens are the slickest I’ve seen and the stone barriers around the course cause your ball to ricochet like no other.
I lost spectacularly as I went off the course a few times, including once into the creek. I particularly liked all the multi-level holes and the fact that the entire course was shaded.
We then went to the Knoebels staple, Fascination. We arrived just in time for Cover All and I created a Fascination addict in my girlfriend. The fast paced and chaotic nature of the game gets your heart racing like the biggest and baddest coasters out there. While we never won, we kept coming close. We could never seem to get that last ball to go where we needed it to. Sounds like mini golf for me.
After all that exercise (rolling a 1 ounce ball and putting definitely burns some calories), we rewarded ourselves with some Cesari’s Pizza. I’ve always liked Cesari’s, but I’ve never loved it since I’ve always seemed to get an overcooked slice. Not this time. I got a fresh slice that was every bit as good as the acclaimed slices you’ll find in New York City. I think this pizza’s strength is the sauce.
We had a row of dark rides to hit, so we began with the Haunted Mansion. The real show for me would be seeing how my girlfriend would react. She was doing pretty well with all the jump scares until that horn sounded. If you’ve ridden it, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
It’s a treat to see a haunted house that’s actually scary and not one of those steaming dumpster fires at a local carnival. Knoebels really maintains this house well and even adds new effects every once and a while. I did notice the Tiki Man on vacation though. I heard his familiar scream at the end, but he never rose from the bushes to greet riders with his presence. 10 out of 10
Black Diamond is either one of the most forgettable coasters out there or one of the better dark rides out there. The heavily braked drops offer no thrills, but the ride is fully decked out in mine theming. I do wish the inside was a bit brighter as it’s hard to see everything, but what I have seen looks fantastic. But my favorite effect is the classic vortex tunnel. I’m a sucker for those. 7 out of 10
Last but not least, we hopped aboard the Cosmotron. Maybe it’s because of all the indoor scramblers in New England, but I find Cosmotron a bit overrated. The sum of all the parts is better than most himalayas, but I found the laterals to be decent at best and the lightshow was just ok. 6 out of 10
With dusk approaching, we took the opportunity to ride the Scenic Skyway. This was another attraction I’ve missed on past visits and I’m glad I corrected that. The ride up the mountain was peaceful, but the ride down was breathtaking. So many of the rides at Knoebels have amazing lighting packages. 9 out of 10
We were both intrigued by the Motor Boats, so we decided to give them a try. Due to painstakingly slow dispatches and a few boats getting stuck, we probably had to wait 20 minutes. I let my girlfriend steer and had a hoot watching her crash into the walls. At first I thought she was doing it intentionally, but then she asked me to steer.
For anyone else who has been on these, how the heck do you steer these things? It’s impossible to go straight and the only way to correct yourself is to perform an exaggerated spin of the steering wheel which sends you right towards a wall. I ended up zig zagging the whole way to the station. On the bright side, the ride had some awesome views of the kiddie coaster and I’m pretty sure this ride gives a whole new definition to what a headchopper is. 8 out of 10
Since it had no line, I couldn’t pass up a chance to ride the Satellite. One look at the ride and my girlfriend knew it wasn’t for her. The laterals on this thing are insane. I slid throughout the entire cabin. I really feel sorry for an adult who rides with a child because I’m pretty sure the kid would get pancaked when the ride travels horizontally. 9 out of 10
Before getting our last rides of the night on the wooden coasters, I also decided to ride the Sky Slide on a whim. It looks pretty unassuming, but it’s a really fast slide since it’s constructed of rollers. My girlfriend and I tried to fit on one mat much to the operator’s delight, but we couldn’t quite fit. 7 out of 10
We also made our last food stops of the night. My girlfriend went with an Old Mill oreo sundae. I went with a fried chicken sandwich from the Phoenix Junction. I don’t often hear about this restaurant, but I thought my sandwich was a bigger and better version of Chick-fil-a. Trust me, that’s a big compliment from me considering how much I love that place.
Twister at night is an amazing experience. People often mention Beast, Voyage, and Lightning Run as some of the best night rides, but I think Twister is a pretty underrated one. Outside of the double helix, you cannot see anything. That drop is like plunging into a black hole and the finale becomes extra disorienting after the flash from the camera.
But the one and only way to end a visit at Knoebels is by marathoning Phoenix. We depleted our stash of tickets riding this thing an extra 4-5 times. All but one of our rides were in the front row and each ride seemed faster and wilder than the last.
I did also want to ride Over the Top, but unfortunately that ride was yet again closed. How often does this thing even operate?
I can proudly say that my girlfriend now sees the light and also loves Knoebels. The park truly is the entire package. You have the standout coasters in Phoenix and Twister. And then the supporting cast of dark rides, water rides, and flat rides is second to none. Plus you have the amazing and reasonably priced food and all the fun games. Really I could keep going on and on, but I’ve rambled enough. Knoebels is awesome. Plain and simple.