Trip Report: Phoenix Phall Phunphest @ Knoebels Groves
October 6, 2007
Ah, its time for the annual Phoenix Phall Phunfest (PPP) at Knoebels, the traditional season ender for coaster enthusiasts. Accordingly, I got on the road towards Columbus, OH around 9pm on Friday October 5, and met up with fellow coaster enthusiasts Dave and April. We get on the road from Dave's house at 1am, and pull an "all-nighter" to get to Knoebels. Well, Dave pulled an all nighter driving, and as others have noted I can fall asleep in a car or on a bus faster than you can imagine. So there were a few fuel, snack, and relief stops and before we knew it we were looking at our watches and its only like 7 or 8 am and we are just an hour away from the park. We start the day with breakfast at Perkins. We decided to get checked into the hotel, partially because checking in late at night sucks, and also because Dave had a bad experience in the past with a hotel giving away his "guaranteed reservation" room out from under him one year at this event. We check in to a budget motel named after a single digit integer, and the desk clerk was understanding and allowed us to check in at 10AM.
Food and hotel taken care of, we head to the park. We opt to take country roads instead of the interstate from the motel to the park, and wind up getting into a real nasty traffic back up related to another pumpkin festival near Catawissa. I mean, going 5mph traffic backup. We were under the impression that Knoebels was opening at noon, but still no one likes sitting in 5mph traffic. We were happy to get past the festival grounds so we could start making time again. We eventually arrive at the park, and although its only like 11:30 (I told you it was a nasty traffic backup!), and looked in the park and already saw rides running. We also saw a crowded parking lot, and wound up having to use the last entrance before you loop back around to the campground, I mean we were in the back of the lot. We opt to walk from our car to the park, and debate the merits of getting a ride pass versus using ride tickets on the way to the park.
We entered the park, and walked right into the Covered Bridge Festival, which is a big arts and crafts festival located in the park's picnic groves, the midways nearest the parking lot, and a big field next to the park. It is a very popular festival, and walking through it to get to the park is a challenge even to seasoned crowd weavers. They seriously need a bypass path for those that have no interest in the crafts fest. We head under the old Knoebels sign and head towards the Grand Carousel. There are ride ticket boxes all over Knoebels, but you can only get ride passes at the Pay One Price booth at the center of the park,
April had decide to use ride tickets during the day, and eagerly bought a $10 ticket booth from the ticket box nearest the carousel and took off for the Skooters bumper cars. Dave and I had initially decided to get both an event handstamp, and a regular handstamp. Dave and I made our way to the Pay One Price booth, arriving right around noon to long lines. We did price the event, this year PPP is $17 ($2 increase from last year), and includes rides from 5pm-10pm. You can get a second handstamp for $16 more which covers rides from noon-5pm. We start to get in line, but then decide that even if we go through two $10 books each, we would still only be out $4, and we also know what sort of behavior goes on at coaster events. I should also disclose that I brought back 80 cents worth of left over ride tickets from last year.
Dave and I return from the handstamp booth without getting handstamps, and ironically return to the booth nearest the carousel and get our $10 ticket books. We get back to the Skooter bumper cars just in time to get on the same ride cycle as April, so it all worked out in the end.
Let's start the Ticket Meter at $10.80
Knoebels Skooters are genuine vintage Lusse Auto Skooters, big heavy things that bump nice and hard. Ah, to be back in the Lusses, with their big metal and chrome bodies, the large steerng wheels, the simple velcro seatbelts. "One way only, no head on collisions" When riding most bumper car rides, I think "They don't make bumper car rides like they used to", well "These they make like they used to", Fast heavy cars, loud colissions, and more importantly hard collisions, you get a good bump on one of these and you will feel it. The skooters is one of those rides that makes Knoebels. I noted the price had been increased to $1.20, so that leaves me with:
From the Skooter, we head to the Phoenix Junction Steakhouse to meet up with other enthusiasts. The Steakhouse hosts the swap meet where enthusiasts sell coaster related merchandise to other enthusiasts. I don't know but the swap meet seemed smaller this year. That didn't stop us from spending quality time perusing the merchandise and chatting up friends. I decided to walk over to the food service window and get the first Birch Beer of the trip. ($2 for a large). Birch Beer is a soft drink (no alcohol), with a minty taste to it, and they just don't sell it in Ohio.
After the group was assembled we headed to the Handstamp booth and bought our PPP handstamps ($17), and got a booklet of valuable money saving coupons. I know that the "book of valuable coupons" is a joke at most parks, but not here. We also take some time to look at the Flying Turns construction site, and hey they must be close, they are running test cycles. Two comments about the ride, it is faster than I think people were expecting, and it runs very quietly.
After talking for awhile, we decide to go ride the Phoenix. I note the Phoenix is now up to $2. Phoenix is, of course, the famous relocated Herb Shmeck double out and back. It's not an official classic, but it has classic looks, a classic station, and has good airtime. The ride doesn't have a big queue maze. The line is basically a walkway under the track, and a ramp directly up the station. You pay at the bottom of the ramp. We all take assorted seats in the first car, and owing to the size of the group takes a bit to get everybody their ride. I take my first ride of the day in the infamous Schmeck seat (Row 3). The ride still lacks seatbelts, or headrests, and still uses buzzbars. They were only running one train right now, but even at that the train spends very little time in the station. Knoebels can get people through their coasters at a pace most parks could only dream of. The ride starts with the long dark tunnel to the lift, then has the traditional double out and back layout. I must admit I was disappointed in my first ride, I mean it had nice gentle floater air, but for some reason I recall the ride having much stronger air in past seasons. April shared my opinion.
We engage in more Strange Coaster Enthusiast Behavior, which is defined as standing around on a midway within eyesight of a coaster and spend the time TALKING about coasters rather than RIDING coasters. Eventually, Dave and I decide we need to go ride a ride, and decide to try out the Fandango!, a few others follow us down to the Fandango. The others comment that if we don't see them on the midway they will probably be in the Alpine Chalet gift shop. Fandango is Moser Rides version of the popular swinging, spinning pendulum ride. It is setup like the Giant Huss ride, with the seats facing outwards, but is sized more like the traditional Frisbee. It takes a cycle or two to get on the ride. We sit down, and they are very strict about not pulling down or pushing up on the shoulder bars, these are automated. They spend some time balancing and grouping. The bars come down and getting the belt to reach from the center of the shoulder bar to the buckle on the seat horn doesn't even look close. Luckily the loader was willing to give a couple hard shoves, and I was able to ride. The seat mold is akward so t wasn't a very comfy fit. As for the ride itself, I thing the Moser has a lot of power swinging back and forth, but it doesn't seem to spin all that fast. I mean it swings hard enough to get some of that weird inverted airtime. Dave and I decided we like the Giant Frisbee better, but we do like how the floor is only two big panels on Fandango and looks more reliable. We exit Fandango and go through what we think may be the only turnstile at a ride at Knoebels. That seems so random and out of place here. (Fandango is $1.40)
Ticket Meter: $6.20
At this time, we attempt to rejoin the group, but we don't see them by the Phoenix, we don't see them in the Chalet, but we head over to look by Ceasari's Pizza. We had a bad experience last year of waiting over an hour to get our pizza, and they had been talking about going earlier to try to beat the rush. Nope, not there either. We take another look through the Chalet, an eventually meet up. We do decide to beat the rush for pizza, so start heading back to Ceasari's. We take some shortcuts that became long cuts, an we see April and company darting into the Cosmotron building. Hey, I thought April didn't like fast spin rides.
Cosmotron is a Musik ride in the dark. There was a short line for the Cosmotron but we were on the next available ride ($1.40 - this must be the high rent district), and I noted its the same price to ride or watch. The Musik Ride itself is mostly painted black, we paired up, and pulled down on the massive ratcheting overhead lapbars. After everybody was settled in the ride started to spin. Add flashing lights, add strobes, add loud music, and you have the Cosmotron experience. My favorite part of the ride is right when it starts to spin backwards and they activate the strobes. The Cosmotron ride was of a nice length, and I found a new exit on the back side of the ride.
We head to Ceasaris' pizza. We fared somewhat better than last year, it only took 20-30 minutes to get our pizza. The PPP coupon book has a coupon for 2 slices of cheese pizza, and its an 18" pie, so they are two nice large slices, a 1/4 pie in fact. Looking at the menu, that means the coupon has a face value of $4.80. They will let you add toppings at your own expense. It is worth the time to explain how Ceasari's works, they operate in the traditional Italian tradition. You purchase a cheese pizza that is already cooked, then you specify what toppings you want, they add the toppings to your pizza, toss it back in the oven to heat the toppings and melt the cheese around them, and then serve it to you. Toppings run 40 cents each per slice. The bit about the toppings and reheating the pizza is what makes this a long drawn out affair. We spend part of the time debating if Voyage or Phoenix is the better coaster, and chuckle about how we are debating it like it is actually vitally important.
We all opt for different sets of toppings, with me selecting Pepperoni and Sausage on both slices ($1.60 upcharge). We then headed out and scored a table on the patio next to the restaurant. They had a bar set up between the tables and the serving lines serving soft drinks, and look the coupon book has a voucher for a free soft drink. I was pleased to see they went ahead and used large soft drink cups instead of the picnic size cups they have used in the past. Thats another $2 value. We sit and eat our overcooked pizza, well Dave's must have been extra crispy as they seemed to have forgotten they put it in for reheating. After dinner, we sat around talking some more until we deicded to break it up. Well, lunch is over and I have recouped $6.80 value out of the $17 PPP fee. Just $10.20 more value to get out of this event.
PPP Value Meter: -$10.20
Dave and I headed to the Flyers. The Flyers, as you might expect had an overflowing queue. It went fast when we realized it was a lot of the former PKI Flying eagles pilots in line, this feels like old times. We board our aircraft, and remember here the door is on the other side, and the ride spins in the opposite direction. I had noticed a distinct quiet around the ride while we were waiting for it, and riding it, the ride just isn't as extreme as it used to be. It used to scare me while I am riding it, now it feels like a more common Flyer ride, where it feels right, but I couldn't get the loud SNAP noises. Man, they felt like snaps though. Flyers ride = $1.
We take a pit stop, then take a self guided tour of the Flying Turns construction site. Then just start wandering the park. We spend some time looking at the Merry Mixer. It looks like a Scrambler but it has 4 arms instead of 3, and thus more cars and the same ride motion. With parks and carnivals wanting higher capacity rides, I'm surprised this ride isn't more common. Dave hinted there are reasons why it isn't very popular. We wound up not riding the Merry Mixer, but we did ride 1001 Nachts, which is I think a Weber Flying Carpet, complete with a theme package heavy on arab looking characters, and crecent moons. I like the Flying Carpet rides, and I like this style better than the ones where you sit facing out. 1001 Nachts = $1.20.
Next we cut back across the font of the park and I take a spin on the Roll-O-Plane, named Satellite here. Dave isn't a big fan of it, and Knoebels does allow single riders There particular ride is most unusual in that it still helicopters, or tilts so that the two cars are spinning around in a horizontal plane rather than the usual vertical plane. Most may not like it, but I kinda like the Roll-O-Plane. Roll-O = $1.20
Dave and I take the opportunity to enjoy a soft frozen iced tea, and while drinking it, we spot the rest of the group on the Skooters. After we all join up, we go take a ride on the High Speed Thrill Coaster. The HSTC might easily be confused for a kiddie coaster, but don't let looks fool you. Several cycles later I am climbing into the third car and lowering the big lap bar. The ride starts, and it starts out as a kiddie coaster, but wait till you get to the bunny hops along the course, and is that airtime. But wait, they then crank the lift hill up to high speed where is seems like they are launching the train. With each circuit the bunny hops seem to be taken faster and the airtime gets that much more extreme. If you want to cram maximum airtime into minimum space, this is the ride for you. There aren't that many full size coasters that outperform this one.
All that fun and its only 80 cents.
Ticket-Meter: 60 cents.
We come to a pivotal moment in the day. I decide I want to try the Sky Slide, but nobody else does. I also note the Sky Slide is 70 cents. I get spotted a 10 cent ticket, so I take my 70 cents over to the Sky Slide. Sky Slide is located in the very back of the kiddieland section. Its an interesting ride because it is made out of an old Wisdom Astroliner ride, they gutted it, set it up on end like a rocket. Added spiral stairs in the center of the rocket, and a spiral slide wrapped around exterior. I get to the ride and the queue maze for it is full, and after waiting for it about 10 minutes or so I realize how long and slow the wait is going to be, and to be honest with you I look at the slide and I look at me, and I wonder if the slide could even accommodate my girth. I bail on the Sky Slide, and return to the the HSTC. I decide to ride the Whipper instead, but it is 80 cents, so to the ticket booth I go to buy 1 10 cent ticket, yes they do sell single tickets. I then take a nice relaxing nostalgic ride on the Mangels Whip.
Ticket-Meter : OUT
I look at my watch and its 4:50 so I made the right call to just buy a $10 ticket book instead of getting the $16 hand stamp. I knew a lot of that Strange Coaster Nut Behavior was going to happen. I knew the rest of the group was going to ride the Sky Ride, so I headed there. I knew the Sky Ride takes 15 minutes once you are on the ride, so I figured I would see them on the way to the ride, or I could wave to them as I passed them on the ride. I had thought we would meet up at the ride exit, since there isn't much else to do between 5-6pm. The Sky Ride is $3, and is NOT included in any handstamp. Luckily, I noticed the coupon book has a free Sky Ride coupon in it. Thats a $3 value.
Last year, I rode Skyride at twilight on the way up, and it was dark on the way down. We had all wanted to ride it during the day so we could actually enjoy to the overhead view of the park. You board the car, and it goes out over the access road to the park, then up a steep hillside accross the street from the park. Not much to look at on the way out, then you turn around, and you get a spectacular aerial view of the park as you come down the hillside, and then glide over the access road and back into the park.
I did not run into the rest of the group, so I headed to the only two open attractions during the 5-6 hour. Recall this is when they expect you to get your pizza. At this time, only the Haunted Mansion and Lazer Runner.
The line for Haunted Mansion was through the queue, out the front yard and down the midway. I join the line for Haunted Mansion, and that line may look long but it moves very fast. The park is renowned for having one of the nations best haunted house rides, and it is normally not included in the POP plans, but PhunPhest is an exception. The house looks perfectly nice from the outside, a wide 2 story victorian, with a big wrought iron fence around it, and is that a raven on the sign. The sign claims the ride is a terrifying adventure in darkness. I walk through the front yard, and bypass the gazebo out front where you normally purchase ride tickets. With the ultra efficient Knoebels ride crew the line was moving really fast. It seemed as if no time had passed when we walked pased the coffin shaped control booth right past the "No handstamps or armbands" sign and boarded a red car. I boarded the car on the porch of the house, made a turnaround by the control booth and proceeded to the center of the front porch where I turned and went in the front doors. Ah, crash doors, two sets of them to ensure the tour through the living room is nice and dark. The first room doesn't seem too bad, it looks like a living room, and then there is the mysterious pipe organ, oh and watch out for that granfather clock, be sure to take a good look to find out what time it is. This haunted house has really well done tableuax and a variety of pop up stunts But is more than that, the house has several crash doors to add their distincitve unsettling noise and to make sure each room is kept nice and dark. I like the skull and mirror room, its a cool visual. At the end of that room they flash some bright lights right before the nexte crash door and the lift. The lift has a very simple effect, just hang some bits of string from the ceiling that are low enough to brush the riders hair. Upstairs you go through the haunted attic with a lot of cool classic stunts. Also upstairs the rolling barrel wasn't turning, but the room with the stange black and white patterns on the wall and weird music was working and I still don't get it. The truck lights always scare me on the ramp back down to the lower level. Then its through the jungle room and under the water curtain that shuts off just in time. We exited the Haunted Mansion where a crew was sending the car back to load the second after I got out. The Haunted Mansion is a $1.40 value, and so we are down to $5.60 to break even. It was particularly cool as it was the first time I rode this solo, so I got the full effect all by myself.
PPP Value Meter: -$5.60
Next I decided to do something I normally would not do, I tried the Lazer Runner. Laer Runner had a long single file line back to Ceasariss. It didn't look that long, but Lazer Runner takes about 15 people per cycle, and it takes about 7-10 minutes per cycle. Unusually low capacity attraction for Knoebels, and not many get to experience it. Odd, that it is free during PPP. I figure the building used to be a theater of some kind. The ticket booth has a space station look. After wating a long time, I am finally admitted to the briefing room.
The host seemed surprised that we all entered the briefing room and immediately lined up on the marked line. Briefing is simple, first they have you put on your vest, then line back up. Its every man for himself, the game is 5 minutes long, and if you are hit there is a 5 second penalty during which you can neither fire or be fired upon. He pointed out the targets on the vest, and how to use the gun. He also pointed out there is a wall right inside the front door, so be sure to turn either left or right upon entering the arena becuase that wall is very real and it will hurt. He inserts some kind of key that looks like a phono plug to activate the gun and start the timer.
We enter the arena, and it was a fun diversion. I'm not good at it. Its worth noting that when you fire the gun it sounds a loud sound effect and a light flashes. In other words, once you fire, your position is given and you better keep moving. The walls are painted black with trim in neon colors, the arena is lit solely with black lighting, Very eerie futuristic feel in there, and with the black walls, you may not notice the holes in the walls at first. A skillfull player can make use of those. We exit the arena at the end of the game and I scored 1900, which sounded pretty good amongst my peers. I turned in my vest and didn't stick around for the post game debriefing.
It was just after 6pm, and the midway had reopened, but first, I need to account for the $3 value of the lazer tag game.
PPP Value Meter: -$2.60 (almost even already)
I start hitting rides by myself, figuring that worst case scenario, we will all meet back up at the Pheonix at the end of the night anyway. I stop off at the Paratrooper, a classic ride, and this one seems to run faster than the average Paratrooper. ($1 value)
PPP Value Meter: -$1.60
I then headed for the Flyers, but decided to hold off on the Flyers and instead headed for Twister. Twister is $2.20 per ride. For my first ride, there was not much line so I tried the back seat. No seatbelts or headrests, and the lap bars still have a LOT of play in them. I don't know, Twister just doesn't do it for me. Not much airtime, but it does have one evil moment if you ride alone, where you get the rides best airtime pop and a lateral at the same time. I notice they dispatch one train when the other clears the helix the second time. I do like the split lift gimmick. When I finished my ride, I decided to try the front seat. The line was a bit longer, but one of our group was near the front of the front seat line and was going to ride solo, so I joined up with him. I do like the ride better up front.
Thats two rides on Twister which I am now $2.80 to the GOOD,
PPP Meter: $2.80
After a pit stop, I decide to sample Knoebels flat rides. I start with a ride on the Giant Wheel ($1.40 value), which was much longer than it needed to be. It also feels akward riding a wheel alone, but I did notice it is only lit up on one side. The view from the wheel is good, and I noticed it is obviously a portable model wheel.
PPP Meter: $4.20
Next up, I took a solo ride on Downdraft, solo as in I was the only rider on the entire ride, Downdraft is a direct decendent of the Hurricane, and looking at the ride you can clearly see the resemblance. The ride contains the same center tower, a multitude of cars hanging down from seeeps, and the same shape platform with the same type stairs and railings. Even the bumper ring to prevent the sweeps from banging into the tower is the same. The Downdraft like the Hurricane features a center tower from which six sweeps are hung, each sweep ending in a ride tub. The ride starts up the ride tubs swing out, then the gimmick of this ride is under operator control the tubs dive down from cruising altitude then soar back out again. Its an interesting feeling and the ride is notorius for strong lateral g's. Where Downdraft differs is that the tradititional 4 seat cars have been replaced by 5 seat floorless legs dangling cars. Curious arrangement of 3 in the front seat and 2 in the back. The lapbar dropped down from overhead similar to a chairlift, except that the bar was much more than a lapbar, the lapbar had curious dividers that dropped down between the riders compartmentalizing them. You heard that right, seat dividers, no more crushing into your ride partner. Oh well the seats are slightly staggered from each other anyway. Another protusion of the lapbar is a rounded bar that goes between your legs and meets up with the front of the seat, forming an anti-submarine device. It still exhibits very strong laterals and I don't quite care for it, maybe a bit too strong for my tastes. At the end of the ride the operator jogs the ride around so I stop right by the exit stairs, and I noticed that they have the same exit path as at the fair so that you have to walk around the perimeter of the ride back around to near the operators booth. ($1.20 value)
PPP Value: $5.40
Next up was the Merry Mixer. Its the ride I talked about earlier, the Scrambler-like ride with 4 sweeps instead of 3 sweeps. I found the lap bar to be tight, but the ride action is very similar. I do think the ride action is not as solid as a Scrambler, like its not as well built. ($1 value)
PPP Value: $6.40
Next up is the Power Surge. I call it the Power Surge, Rideman remembered that the same spot used to house the Zamperla Mixer. Which is right next to the Merry Mixer. (So you had the Merry Mixer, and the Not-So-Merry Mixer). Power Surge is the kind of demented ride I like, and I forgot how evil it can be as a single rider. It twists you every which way but loose. ($1.40 value)
PPP Value: $7.80
Next up was the Zamperla Flying Tigers. Its a modern version of the Whip, and ironically is placed right next to the Whipper. Flying Tigers differs in that the cars are suspended, and when you don't weigh what I weigh, they swing out on the turnarounds. I did feel kind of silly riding it in retrospect, and most places do class it as a kiddie ride. ($1 value)
PPP Value: $8.80
Next up, I take another ride on the High Speed Thrill Coaster, in the next to back seat. Much stronger airtime in that seat. Its small but it packs a wallop. (80 cent value)
PPP Value: $9.60
I next try another Knoebels ride I had never ridden, the Italian Trapeeze. Its a circle swing ride, and I do see the family resemblance to the HaloSwings at Holiday World. They have added a lot of rubber tubing that maked it hard to lift up the safety bar. But all in all, just your basic circle swing ride. ($1.20 value)
PPP Value: $10.80
I look at my PPP program, and I just need the Carousel and Super Round Up to finsh up all the flat rides available during PPP. I decide to ride the Skooters, and was rewarded with one of the best bumper car rides ever. ($1.20 value) Even more importantly, as I was exiting the ride, the rest of the crew was boarding, so I waited around so we could all regroup.
PPP Value: $12.00
We all headed back to the Phoenix Junction Steakhouse for drinks, thats another Birch Beer for me. We then took a ride on Phoenix all together, again towards the front. And wow, not only do they have the lift tunnel filled with dark ride stunts and day glo paint, the fog from the haunted car ride blankets the whole ride. What's more the ride has really kicked up and the good airtime is back! ($2 value)
PPP Value: $14.00
We then had started to head back to the Carousel. The group split up and knowing it was getting near 9pm, so I would have to choose one ride, even though I was looking forward to grabbing rings, a ride in the Skooters with the gang, and the GCI crew won out. Now THAT was a Bumper Car Caged Deathmatch! Best Bumper Car Ride Ever, even if I did think my car was overheating. ($1.20 value)
PPP Value: $15.20
We then regrouped with the Carousel group, and all headed to the Flyers. We all decided the Flyer line was a bit long, and split back up. Dave and I headed to Twister, and took a back seat ride. Dave wanted to see what the back seat was like, so I took one for the team and rode in the back though I prefer the front. ($2.20 value)
PPP Value: $16.40
I then grab a snack of a Birch Beer and some popcorn chicken. One of the nice things about Knoebels is they keep some of the snack bars open for the event. Dave and I then head to the Phoenix, where else? Time to power ride the Pheonix till they lock the gate, literally they have a big chain link gate that closes over the entrance, The line admitedly looked scary almost all the way bak to the Chalet, but with two trains and the parks super effficiant operation, it takes like 10 minutes. I think we got 4 or 5 more rides, all but one towards the front, We tried the back seat once, and it was riding rough in our opinion. Remember each ride has a $2 value, so that means for $17, I got somewhere between $41-$43 worth of value, or a net of $24.40-$26.40.
So after finishing our ride session, we met up with the gang back at Phoenix Junction for dinner, For myself, I had a Cheeseburger platter with fries and cole slaw, a Birch Beer, and a slice of Pumpkin Pie. It was a very nice amusement park meal, and all for $9.60. We had a nice long talk during and after dinner, then listened to the awards from the parade and the announcements, and then wound up talking to some Knoebels crew members and wound up talking to tell after everybody else had gone. Now most parks would be chasing you out, or having security escort you out, not Knoebels, they let us talk for a LONG time, then they let us head from the Phoenix at the back of the park to the parking lot totally unescorted, after the park closed, and didn't mind that we didn't take the most direct route. Its just that special atmosphere that makes Knoebels special. When we did finally exit the park, we appreicated that Dave took one for the team and went out and moved the car to the front of the lot earlier in the night.
We headed back to the motel, and I think that most of us were asleep within 5 minutes of getting into the room.
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