If you are from Upstate New York like myself then there is a good chance that you have been to Darien Lake at some point in your life. I remember going as a kid, for school trips in high school, camping with friends as a teenager, camping with family as an adult, my husband and I even stopped on our way home from our honeymoon. This was my first trip with both of my kids, my last trip having been with my daughter who was maybe 4 at the time and is now 11. I also have a 4 year old son so I’m hoping that this review will help anyone who has kids of various ages.
Darien Lake has changed hands a few times over the years, I remember on our Honeymoon it was Six Flags and my husband and both noticed that it had gone down hill since we were kids. It seems that the current owners are putting forth a genuine effort to get it up to the standards of years past. I will admit that my family and I are Disney addicts and we have been to Disney World a few times now so we have high standards when it comes to amusement parks so I apologize in advance if any criticisms I might have (there aren’t a ton) seem harsh but to I am unable to not compare it to Disney.
We had decided earlier in the year to take a weekend camping trip to Darien Lake with my sister and her family and my brother and his family would meet us and stay in the nearby Hotel (not the one on site as it was out of their budget and out of a lot of people’s budget I would imagine). This was the first time we camped in our own travel trailer. My first experiences camping at Darien Lake were in tents and my last experience before this one was in one of the rented campers which was roughly 7 years ago and they might be the same campers but I can’t say for sure. There are cabins you can rent as well so there are lots of options for staying on site.
When you arrive as a camper you go past the main entrance into what is essentially the onsite accommodations entrance for both camping and the hotel. I will admit that it does take a little while to get through this line despite the fact that almost every entrance was open. A rest room in this area, even if it were just a port-a-potty would be very nice, just a suggestion. It does help if you are camping to fill out the online pre-registration form, this got us through a little quicker. The campsite roads are well labeled and we quickly found our spot, since my sister beat us there she was already set up right next door. We got full hook-up spots which when you’re camping makes things easier. If you don’t get a full hookup site you may want to know that the dump station is easy to get to and on your way out and there are (I believe) 4 dump station in that area.
There was not much shade in the camping area where we were; since we usually camp at state parks we are use to more trees but otherwise it had everything you need from a camping site. Since we booked fairly early in the season we were able to get spots that weren’t that far from the camping entrance so after a very quick set up (the kids were getting restless) we were off to the park.
As per my son’s multiple requests on our 3 hour drive there we went on the bumper cars first. There’s just something about ramming a car multiple times into your loved ones and strangers that brings a smile to your face. The weekend was such a blur I can not tell you which rides we went on when but I do know the first day my thrill seeking daughter went with my sister and her family to immediately ride the viper while my husband and I took our son onto the little rides.
At this point I should mention that I have scoliosis and sciatica so rollercoasters are not my friend with the exception of the Motocoaster, it is my favorite ride at Darien Lake because of the way the supports go right against my back so I don’t hurt myself. If you’re not familiar with this ride you basically sit on motorcycles and the supports come up against your back and the back of your knees and that’s it, just hold on and enjoy the ride, I absolutely love it!
Because of my inability to ride rollercoaster I spent a lot of time in the little kid’s areas with my son. We rode the submarine ride together and he rode the mini ferris wheel and the trucks and train and all the fun little kid rides in the Beaver Brother’s Bay. We then proceeded to the other kid’s area so that Anakin (my 4 year old son) could ride what was one of my favorite rides as a kid (or at least something similar), the Hoot ’N’ Hollar mini rollercoaster. He has said over and over again that this was his favorite ride. He basically hit every kid ride in the park and I joined him on some as well including some rides that I believe are newer; Rowdy’s Heave Ho, Hornets Nest and quite possible my favorite just because of the cute factor, Moose on the Loose. We all rode the pirate ship together and I’m so glad I had to sit in the middle with my little guy because I can’t handle that ride the way I use to. After that we went back to the camper for dinner before heading back into the park to play some games on the midway and watch the laser show, Ignite The Night which was awesome and so much fun.
If you are not familiar with Ignite The Night it starts at 10:10, right after the park closes for the night and everyone sits on a grassy hill, you can bring chairs or a blanket to hang out on but since we decided to do it last minute we just sat on the grass. There are lasers, animation, fireworks, water illusions, fireballs and lots of popular music. We were all dancing and singing and clapping our hands, whistling, cheering and basically going nuts, it was super entertaining and so much fun and I highly recommend staying and watching it.
After the laser show we took the walk back to our camper to hang out for a bit. There was a concert going on that night. Be warned if you are camping while there is a concert playing you will hear it fairly well so hopefully you like the band and hopefully if your kids go to bed early they are not light sleepers because I think the concert lasted until a little after 11. It didn’t bother me or any of my family but I thought I would mention it.
Day 2 we were back at it first thing in the morning. We actually did a full day from open to close in the park this day with only a 1 hour break for lunch and a change of clothes in the middle of the day. We decided to spend our morning in the waterpark. We geared up our fold up wagon we brought along (this was a good idea for waterpark day because towels get heavy and towels for 8 people get really heavy. We rented a locker (I think a small one was $10 for the day) and we saw where you could rent tubes for the lazy river and the wave pool but honestly I don’t think they are worth it, save your money. If you really want one they are $8 to rent plus a $2 refunded deposit (I believe). After that we were off to shipwreck falls, we were the first people on the ride for the day (which opens at 11, the park opens at 10:30). Most of our extended family went on it and loved it, since there was no one in line when our ride was done we got to go again, you will get wet, especially if you’re in the front or watching from the bridge.
Next, Grizzly Run. In all my years of going to Darien Lake I have never been on Grizzly Run so this was my first experience, so much fun! We were SOAKED when we finished and sure enough we got off and got right back in line to go on again. My final ride before spending the day in the lazy river was Thunder Rapids, I remember this one as a teenager and I will still never get over the fact that there are no straps on this ride, you just hold on. My husband and I rode with our son and my daughter rode with my nephew and it is so much fun but we only did that one once, my son didn’t dig that one as much.
We pretty much split up after that, my family spent some time in Hook’s Lagoon, perfect for kids who love the water and for adults as well, I saw a lot of adults going down the water slides here. I went to the lazy river. My husband and kids did the Ripcurl together and loved it. I was still on the lazy river. My family came and met me on the lazy river for loop around and then attempted to do another slide but the lines proved too long in the sun so they went back to Hook’s Lagoon, which is where I found them after finally leaving the lazy river (it wasn’t easy to leave). My daughter talked me into waiting for her while she rode the Brain Drain which was a requirement for her. If you don’t know about this water slide you stand in a tube with your arms crossed over your chest and the floor drops out from under you and sends you barreling down a tube with rushing water surrounding you, not my idea of a good time but she loved it. Things to note as someone who listened to the lifeguard yell it a million times, you can not wear shoes or shirts on this ride so make sure to take them off before heading up the stairs.
Tip: You can not ride most of the regular rides without shorts or a shirt so if you are spending the day doing both the water park and the regular rides make sure to dress accordingly.
Tip #2: Before we left we went to Darien Lake’s online store and purchased a couple of deals. One of those was the adventure pass which gave us a turn in the batting cages, a paddle boat ride which my son did with his cousin and loved, 3 chances at the rock climbing wall (my daughter made it to the top twice), go carts which I loved because I got to do them with my daughter and the slingshot all for less than $40, it also included $12 in game buck, this was well worth the price but I would recommend it only if you are going more than 1 day because since you paid extra for them you want to make sure you do them but it will take a few hours to do them all.
The rest of our trip was a lot of the same, rides, games, repeat. It ended with my children riding the slingshot. I personally was against our 4 year old going onto this ride but husband assured me he would like it and since he is tall enough to pretty much ride everything he wanted to do it. In case you were wondering this ride it is basically a giant ball that you get strapped into (very well I might add) and it shoots you 300 feet into the air at 80 mph! Seriously. We have video of the kids in it because there is a monitor you can watch from the ground. Turns out it was not my son’s favorite ride but my daughter loved it, this also made her top 5 list.
After doing 12 hours in the park I was spent, I limped my way into bed and cuddled with my son while the rest of the family had a fire at the campsite. I knew that the next day was a our last day and we were going to be right back at it. The nice thing about camping at Darien Lake is that check out isn’t until 1pm. This meant that we could go back into the park one last time and do all of our favorite rides before the lines got long. We packed up the camper to the point where all we had to do was hook it up to the truck, grabbed a quick bite to eat and got in line for the Motocoaster.
This was the first ride that we all wanted to ride that my son could not so we asked if there was a rider swap option and it turns out there was. I got to ride with my daughter while my husband stayed behind with our son and then we got off the ride and waited while my husband got to ride, this makes it nice for families with little ones. Typically my daughter would have been able to ride twice (once with me and once with my husband) but they said there was a good chance she would get sick if she rode it twice in a row so she couldn’t.
We did family bumper cars again before splitting up so that my husband and daughter could ride the Mind Eraser, which I think my husband later regretted, and I took my son on his favorite little roller coaster again which he had all to himself. A few more quick games and that was it, we were done.
It was exhausting and eventful and oh so much fun to spend the weekend at Darien Lake. My thrill seeking daughter got to ride roller coasters like crazy, my soon to be thrill seeking son got to ride mini versions of the best rides all while developing a sense of independence and pride since he could ride them by himself. Good times were had by all and we can’t wait to go again.
So that was the story of the overall highlights, here is my bulleted list of pro and cons and dos and don’ts
* Do get the refillable mug, we got the one with free refills and we were able to fill it with soda and icees; my kids drank so many icees
* Don’t buy the cup online, wait until you get into the park. It seems cheaper online but there is a fee so it ends up being less when you get there
* Do get the adventure pass and buy game bucks instead of paying for each game, it will save you money
*Don’t forget feminine hygiene products unless you want to walk forever to get one. They are not in the rest rooms, you have to walk to one of 2 medical buildings and then ask 3 different people for one, not an ideal situation.
* Do bring a wagon on water park day, it just makes things so much easier
* Don’t rent a tube at the locker area, not worth it
There is something for everyone at the park, young and old, it is almost impossible not to have fun here
There are plenty of places to eat and drink if you’re willing to pay for it. You can bring a cooler but they can only be a certain size. If you’re camping or staying on site you can leave and eat and then come back
The laser show is awesome and definitely a must see
There are plenty of winnable games on the midway, we have the stuffed animals to prove it
Whatever they used for the ground in the water park area does not hurt your feet and magically doesn’t seem to get hot
Cleanliness could be upped around the park. The bathroom near the ferris wheel is high traffic and you can tell, middle of the day in there is not pretty.
We did encounter a few ride closures for maintenance, they were generally fixed quickly but still not fun when you wait in line forever
Most lines are outside without shade and some can get quite long
There’s no way to know how long wait times are going to be, this might only be a Disney thing but it i is always nice to know whether the line is a fast moving one or not
The ferris wheel no longer lights up, I know that this happened years ago but it is still a disappointment to see one of the biggest things in the park dark at night. Also people have drawn inappropriate things on the supports that should probably be cleaned off.
I can not begin to imagine how much work goes into running a theme park on a daily basis and I believe that the owners of Darien Lake are working their way into making the park into the awesome place that it was in the past and it is going to take time. No matter what my family and I would like to thank them for all of their effort, we had a great and memorable time!
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*Music Credit for Ignite the Night Section:
Eighties Action by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)