Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Allure of Theme Parks

There is something alluring about theme parks. I never miss a chance to go to one. I spend most of my summer at Darien Lake. There is something captivating about massive machines in a a natural setting, metal and electricity, the blue skies and voltaic lamps.

The Viper at Dusk


Fountain at dawn

Loops around the sun

Artificial Palms

Arc against the sky

Jade and Steel

Swing in green

Swing in red

empty abandon 

Anyone can snap a photo

Black and white wheel

Imposing


This image series was taken a Darien Lake Amusement Park.

Outside the Envelope

Sometimes my family gets a chance to step out of New York and experience wonders in other places. Our most recent major endeavor was Disney World.

My wife and I had made this journey a couple of times, but the kids have only been twice. Both trips were amazing!
Alice, the Mad Hatter and my kids.

We had a little help for all of our trips. The first time it was AAA, the second was my mother-in-law, who is amazing a trip planning. She travels all the time, but Disney isn't really her favorite. We need a pro this time. 

A good planner can help get all your ducks in a row. Over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing some of the choices we made in the past and a few vacation planners, like Jaime Nowicki. You might find her helpful, too. Expert help is always wonderful, they can point you to new options and things you might not have thought of even if you are good at planning. Jaime has given me a ton of ideas for this upcoming trip. 

Two of three trips to Disney have been in August. The other was in February. Completely different experiences. This next one will be a big one around a major holiday. All of the rules change and I'll need a little help from Jaime to pull this off. 

I have another vacation in the works. This is more of a working vacation as it will be to support a novel called "Pio". It takes place in Bari, Italy. This is likely several years down the line, but the planning started a year ago. Jaime specialized in Disney, but also plans cruises and other all inclusive packages. I'm ready to pick her brain, but bookings and spousal approval are months to years away. 

If you are looking to get away, drop her a message

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC)

For Father's Day last year, my wife took us to Saratoga Performing Arts Center to see Dave Matthews and Tim Reyonds. The SPAC is a wonderful place, and Dave and Tim put on a great show.

The Saratoga Performing Art Center is a sprawling park-like venue, it really is incredible. We had lawn seats for the concert, which really didn't allow us a clear view of the performers. However, Dave always puts on a great show which isn't always centered on the stage. Our seating area was supported by multiple monitors and great sound. 

The place reminded me of Art Park here in Western New York. I do have to say the staff and services were much better than Art Park. The selection of food, drinks and alcohol was incredible. Much of it was supplied at pop up tents and food trucks which was a novel experience for the kids.

The amenities such as bathrooms and wheelchair friendly paths were great. While they did have port-a-potties here and there, real flush toilet facilities were ample and clean. 

The structure of the seated area is unusual and I could not quite capture the full grandeur of it. It is split level with ground level seating and a balcony. Somehow this arrangement does not block the view from the lawn area. The grounds themselves are spectacular, you could spend a lot of time simply looking around.

The sound is pumped up out of the bowl in such a way that allows listeners to stand quiet a distance back from the lawn area and still hear clearly. It was very impressive.

Although my children are teenagers, one thing that stood out was a family friendly listening area. It was set far back from the lawn area and partially fenced in. The area had a low wall which was good for sitting and all of the paths were paved for easy wheelchair and stroller access. It was a fair. Despite being so far back, the music was clearly audible with little distortion and low leveled for tiny ears.

Parking was a pleasure, both coming and going. Of course, it was parking on a lawn due to the size of the event, but it was far less chaotic than most venues of this size. Leaving was so, so very easy.


The SPAC really really lit up at night, the weather was gorgeous and the lighting was perfect to highlight the blues of the sky. The picture on the left was taken in the middle of the lawn area. As you can see, despite being packed my kids were able to crash. It was so much fun taking them to this place for their first Dave Matthews experience.

I can't wait to take in another concert or event here. 
Tim on Stage via the large screen monitors

Darien Lake Meal Plan (Updated)

     We picked up the Darien Lake meal plan this year. At $69.99 per person on top of the season pass, my wife objected strenuously. Normally, I would agree but we've been to the park 3 times in the 4 days they have been open and ate dinner. At park prices, we haven't made back out money yet. If we go 7 times and eat, we will break even.

     Unlike a Disney Dining plan, the menu of items is limited and does not include drinks. Your options are:

Roast Beef Sandwich w Kettle Chips
BBQ Pulled Pork
Spicy Crispy Chicken
Sahlen's Dog & Fries
Sahlen's Italian Sausage & Fries
Chicken Fingers & Fries
Personal Pan Pizza (Pepperoni or Cheese)
***Cheeseburger/Hamburger & Fries*** This option replaced the Bacon Burger mentioned below.
Chicken Caesar Wrap & Fries
Buffalo Chicken Wrap & Fries
2 Tacos (Chicken or Beef) w/ Nachos
Chicken Caesar Salad

     I've had the chicken fingers twice and the bacon burger once. Both were excellent. I am a sucker for chicken fingers, so I can see doing that a lot. The BBQ sauce is ok, but if you ask, they will give a cup of hot sauce, which is very good. I dressed up my bacon burger with the standard mustard, relish and ketchup but next time I will try it with the BBQ sauce.

     One of the best things about this meal deal plan is my wife and I can send these 3 goofballs out on their own with a little spending money and they can order whatever they want, when they want. They've had the bacon burger, tacos and chicken fingers.


     There are some downsides to the plan. It takes about 7 visits per person to break even. It is not often that a visitor from elsewhere would ever be able to use the plan effectively.

     Also, we encountered a problem ordering our season passes and meal plans online. You end up with 2 sheets of paper per person and when my son got his picture take for the pass, he thought the deal plan was a duplicate and put in his pocket. Oops. No meal plan for him.

     It was easy to correct at the service desk, but somehow they registered that one of us (me, I think) had already had a meal for that day when we hadn't. They would have sent my on my way without correcting the issue if I hadn't thought to ask. If you have this problem make sure they double check everything.

     Right now, the menu choices seem ample. But if we really go 2 times a week, every week I am sure the variety will not be enough. This can also spin to a positive. I hope the salad is really good, because I always like a good salad. My son has also confirmed that he will have hot dogs or tacos every visit, so this plan is a dream for the picky eater.

    Update 05-18-2018 - It seems they have replaced the bacon burger with a choice of cheeseburger or hamburger. I like these options better than the bacon burger, I prefer my bacon burger with cheese which was not an option.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Darien Lake Tips (Updated)

     My son and I are here at Darien Lake Theme Park on opening day.
The weather is gorgeous and we are having a great time. The weather is gorgeous and we are having a great time.

     Visiting the park is a little different than camping here, but if you think about it you can take advantage of some great amenities from each to make your stays and days better.

     For the coffee drinker, most restaurants offer coffee but you can find the best at Tim Hortons located at the main gate and the other Tim's in the Sweet Tooth Candy Shop. If you go to the main gate for coffee, the muffins there are probably the healthiest and cheapest snack in the park.

     Sweet Tooth also has a variety of favored kettle corn. We tried the cinnamon. It was a tad pricey at $5.99 but by the bottom of the bag, we wanted more.   



     For people just spending the day, sometimes the Camp Shop is you best options for many things. Their sub shop is easily the cheapest place in the park for food. Also, they see alcohol, cigarettes and batteries at fairly reasonable prices in addition to fresh food items from local farms.

    My son and I tried the ham sub and meatball sub. Both were excellent and we paid less than $10 each, even with chips and a drink. We had half subs, but a whole wouldn't have cost more than 12 bucks. He really wanted chips.



     Around the corner from the Camp Shop is the camp lounge. It has TVs, sofas, a fireplace, and rocking chairs. They also have electrical plugs and free WiFi. It is fairly spartan, but on a rainy day, it's a great place to wait it out. 

     On really rainy days, it a great place to play games. They have a giant size chess set which is fun and tables so you can bring your own games. I'm tempted to try a pick up game of D&D here, but the weather hasn't been that bad yet.  

     One other handy stop is the coin op laundry. Wonderful if you soaked your clothes and need to dry something quickly.




Sunday, April 22, 2018

Darien Lake 2018

Darien Lake has new rides for 2018. It´s my mission to hit every one of them. Here is my list broken down by area.

Lakefront Boardwalk:
Redhawk
The Giant Wheel
Blast Off!
Grand Carousel

Midway Marina:
Haymaker
Silver Bullet
Rock Climbing Wall
Pirate

Crossroads:
Predator
Ride of Steel
Lasso
Scrambler

Darien Square:
Motocoater
Boomerang

Fun Zone:
Bear Valley Bumper Buggies
Twister
Tin Lizzy’s
Grand Prix Go Carts

Thunder Road:
Sleighride
Mind Eraser
Corn Popper
Thunder Rapids
Shipwreck Falls
Rolling Thunder

Main Gate:

Slingshot

The Tantrum isn´t on the list, it will not open until May 25th. Also missing from the list is kiddie rides. I´m too tall for many of them. :)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Opening Day at Darien Lake

May will be cold and rainy, but that has never stopped us from going to the park opening day. May 5th, 10:30-8 will be the hours. 69 days from today.

The water park opens a few weeks later. We have our season passes and this year we picked the food option. Last year, we spent over 22 days in the park and it seemed to make sense to add in a meal plan. I figured five people dining 22 times a year vs. the $69.99 price tag, that works out be less than 20 bucks a visit. I can't feed a family of five for $20 at McDonalds. We'll see how it goes. 

Today, I am posting some of the nicer images I took over the years. I should create an album for this sort of thing. 

Giant Wheel

The Predator

Tornado

Boomerang