A trip to Dutch Wonderland with friends is as much a summer tradition as we’ve got. Third year in a row, of the five summers we’ve spent together as a family. This year was the first time we went camping there too. So of course, Roxanne was the star of that show.
It is 48 acres of Pennsylvania throwback to a time when amusement parks were uncomplicated by movie tie-ins and the drive to be biggest, scariest, fastest. It was built 53 years ago by a potato farmer, but sold more recently to a company that owns multiple parks. It’s the place you go to let your kids just be… kids.
All but a handful of rides let the kids on by themselves. There’s a carousel, a train, two roller coasters and a giant slide. Bumper cars. Skee Ball. You can watch the entire park from the sky as you travel by cable car, more slowly than walking. Local kids with summer jobs come back year after year. They insist that you have a “Dutch wonderful” day.
One of the highlights for us is a diving show. It features daring high dives and plenty of splashing the audience, wrapped in a medieval fairy tale story. Yes, it’s 2016. And yes, we’ve got a young and beautiful princess waiting to be rescued from an evil spell by a dashing prince. At least the princess was herself a talented diver, and we saw her play one of the diving frogs in a later version of the show.
You’ll find cars, boats and even a monorail. I don’t know how else to describe it, but going to Dutch Wonderland is me enjoying myself as a parent at its most elemental level. The kids decide what they want to do, and how often. True, there are concession stands and gift shops, but it’s not ruthlessly commercial. You can easily make it out just for the price of admission. And the pace is slow enough that you can just… be there. My days are filled with mass transit and information moving at hyper speed. There’s a calmness at Dutch Wonderland that I can find even among the throngs.
Yesterday, it was hot out. Not as crazy hot as last weekend’s trip to Jellystone, but hot. Dutch Wonderland doesn’t have a pool, but it does have a water park area called Duke’s Lagoon. We went there to cool off and found ourselves jostling for a spot in the changing rooms, at the lockers, in the drink line and at the water park itself. I think the place could have been twice as big and still would’ve been somewhat crowded. Everyone was friendly, and a more diverse group than I was expecting in Southeastern Pennsylvania. The water slide was really impressive. XY and I shared a raft, which came up from the bottom on a conveyor belt, and a motor sent us hurtling down the tube. The expression of unmistakable joy on your 7-year-old’s face as she gets soaked from above for the 87th time? Totally worth all the hassle. Still, we were glad we didn’t have to go back to the changing rooms. Because we brought an RV!
So, what about that campground?
The Old Mill Stream Campground shares land and an entrance with Dutch Wonderland. We’d walked past it on previous trips but opted for the Country Inn and Suites across the street instead. It’s a pretty, shaded spot with just a few dozen sites — not at all huge. Cabins and tipis are available for rent, along with sites for tents on up to large RVs with full hookups. We opted for a partial hookup site (no sewer) and paid $45 for a single night. That saved us at least $100 over the hotel across the street. It also saved us $10 in parking fees at Dutch Wonderland for the two days we went.
It was cool enough in the shade, and with the awning, that we never turned on the air this trip. We served lunch to our friends at the picnic table, earning ourselves a break from the park and the crowds. We also had a homemade meal and saved at least $20 per family over going out. Having the RV also made it easier to avoid buying expensive concession stand snacks. We brought bottles of cold water that we’d refrigerated, and simply filled them up a few times in the park.
After a long day at Dutch Wonderland, we came back to the campground and had refreshing showers in the immaculate bath facility. We pulled in the awning and drove a few miles down the road to Pasquale’s for a vegan-friendly Italian dinner. Then we came back to camp, carefully backed into our now darkened site, and trundled off to bed.
The next morning, we awoke to the sight of horses splashing around in the creek behind our van. We had breakfast, cleaned up and walked over to Dutch Wonderland for a couple more hours of merriment before we hit the road. It was a cooler day, and we got caught in the rain too. But we hit the log flume, the roller coaster and the diving show one more time. We also went on a gondola ride, drove an antique car around a track, did two rounds in the bumper cars and sprang for a little kettle corn.
After so many rides in a day and a half, we had one more to go. I took the wheel, and we made it home in just a couple hours. I was the only one who stayed awake the whole time.
Next up: Lake Fairfax Park rounds out our summer adventures…