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Wild for Idlewild
August 21, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
I have been gunning to take Emma to Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pa., all summer because everyone says she is the perfect age (2) to enjoy the park's Story Book Forest attraction. My husband and I finally coordinated a day off Tuesday and made the 100-mile journey to the park.
It was a beautiful day to spend outdoors, and Emma had a blast. Here are six reasons why I think Idlewild Park deserves its rating as the No. 2 Children's Park in the Country*.
1. You can bring your own food! Being able to bring a cooler of food and drinks to the park is a huge benefit to families. There are picnic tables scattered in tree groves in the parking lots, as well as shelters between the lots and the park attractions. We packed some PB&Js, fruit and drinks and left the cooler in the car. Halfway through the day, we picnicked at a table 10 feet from our car; then returned to the park re-fueled and with money to spend on dessert.
2. Family-friendly restrooms. The huge water park, SoakZone, which is Idlewild's most popular attraction, has several individual family restrooms -- this is great for convenience and safety. Also, many of the curtained cubicles in the main changing area are family-sized. And there is no lack throughout the park of those indispensable koala-bear changing tables.
3. Story Book Forest. Emma was delighted by all the right-sized houses of her fairy tale friends such as the Three Bears and Little Red Riding Hood. Her eyes grew wide as she spied the giant coming down the beanstalk, Jack nimbly jumping over the candlestick, Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall, Peter Pumpkin Eater's pumpkin shell house and Sir Knight fighting the dragon. Some of the rhymes were unfamiliar to us, but that didn't faze Emma. Bonuses: Live animals -- billy goats Gruff, Mary's lambs, Peter Rabbit and his sisters -- and a free lollipop at the Good Ship Lollipop.
4. Easy to navigate. I was impressed and grateful that as we prepared to leave Story Book Forest and hike toward kiddie-ride heaven (also known as Raccoon Lagoon), lo and behold there was a train preparing to chug-chug away. We boarded, and cut right through the woods and over the creek, making quick and easy work of a 10-minute hike on foot. Woo hoo! After riding the kiddie rides ("I'm so exciting, Mommy!"), it was an easy jaunt to Olde Idlewild, featuring a gorgeous carousel and gigantic Ferris wheel, along with other popular carnival games and rides for the older kids like the Scrambler, the Spider and the Tilt-A-Whirl.
5. A separate water play area just for the littlest park-goers at SoakZone. No lines, no water guns manned by older kids blasting unwitting toddlers, no deep water and a patrolling life guard (I would NOT want his job).
6. Cheap food prices. So, you can bring your own food; but if you don't, some of the food is cheaper here than at a fast-food restaurant -- a boatload of fries for about $2.50, a hot dog for about $2, a cheeseburger for less than $3. A medium and small ice cream cone (both of which were huge) and an alpine strawberry sundae set us back less than $10. Palm-sized chocolate covered pretzels from the Sweet Shop were three for a buck.
-- We went on a Tuesday, and the crowd level was acceptable. Our longest wait was for the Ferris wheel, about 20 minutes. I know the water slide waits were about 30 minutes that day. I can't imagine what it's like on a weekend.
-- Story Book Forest opens at 10 a.m., an hour before the rest of the park. Start there, then make your way through the rest of the park, ending with the Soak Zone. Lockers are half-price after 3 p.m.
-- Time's running out to visit Idlewild this summer. It is closed Mondays. It also is closed Aug. 26-29, but will reopen for Labor Day weekend.
(An aside: Idlewild is the site of the Ligonier Highland Games, which take place every year on the Saturday following Labor Day. This will be my ninth year in a row attending the games, which feature Scottish athletic events (caber tossing, hammer throwing, e.g.), dance and fiddle competition, pipe band competitions, Scottish food (oh yes, there will be haggis), vendors and the unforgettable massed bands performances that take place at opening and closing ceremonies (imagine 300 pipes and drums playing and marching in unison). This year marks the 50th anniversary of the games, which were founded by Clan Donald and C.K. Macdonald, founder of Idlewild and benefactor of the pipe band in which I play, the Macdonald Pipe Band of Pittsburgh. Check out the link.)
* According to Amusement Today magazine
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Peeking out of Peter Pumpkin Eater's house.