Top 10 Things to Do at Canobie Lake Park

For many parents, the mere words "amusement park" can start the heart racing, and not always in a good way. Many big-name parks are enormous, expensive, and contain the sort of rides that might have seemed exciting when you were a kid, but downright terrifying when you have one. Luckily, New England is home to lots of manageable amusement parks, including a family-run gem that's located just a half hour from Boston. Canobie Lake Park opens for the season this Saturday, May 6, and spring is a terrific time to visit the park before the summer crowds descend. There's a little something for everyone at Canobie, but here are the must-dos in our book.

1. Check the website for discounted days. Under the Events/Calendar tab on Canobie's website, you can find days in which the regular admission fees ($26 to $29 until late May, and $29 to $38 throughout the summer) are discounted. Some examples: Mother's Day, Scouts Day, and Athletics Day (wear your school sports' uniform and get a free ticket with each ticket purchase).

2. Hit the water slides early. Unlike many water features attached to theme parks, Castaway Island is included in the price of admission, and is perfectly sized for an hour or two of fun. There are lockers, changing rooms, and a variety of slides and sprinklers. Because it tends to crowd up after lunch, consider heading straight to the back of the park upon entry and start your day at Castaway. Pack some plastic bags to stash your wet suits afterwards.

3. "Jump Around" in Kiddieland. Canobie has a special area devoted to the under-48-inches set. Your little kid will surely want to try every ride, but the clear winner in our family is the Jump Around, in which kids "drive" cars that bounce up and down spotaneously, leading to giggles galore.

4. Cruise around the Canobie 500. This modified "race course" allows drivers 48-inches and over to ride in electric vehicles modeled after old-fashioned sports cars. The best part for parents: the speed limit is 5 mph.

5. Take a ride on the Yankee Canonball. A great first "real" roller coaster, the Yankee Canonball delivers a special, old-fashioned experience on wooden rails.

6. Kick things up a notch on Untamed. Canobie's newest coaster lifts riders in grizzly-bear-shaped cars 72-feet into the air, and then into a drop that's 97 degrees. Uh, I'll take a pass. But brave big kids will surely think it's the coolest ride in the park.

7. Catch a science or magic show. Performances at Canobie aren't limited to the standard lip-sync park fare. There's an exciting science show in the early part of the summer and a vaudeville magic show in July and August. It's a great way to have a rest between rides.

8. Treat yourselves to some soft serve. A twist cone is good anywhere, but Canobie's are big, creamy, blanketed in sprinkles, and somehow taste even better than the usual. Hit the stand hidden behind the Corkscrew coaster—lines don't tend to be as long there as in other places.

9. Swing into DaVinci's Dream. This majestic swing ride is more chills than thrills, with riders getting a refreshing blast of cool air coming off of the lake as they swing around and around. Little ones who may be nervous about the height and speed of the swings can get similar excitement from the Alpine Swing, a mini version of the ride.

10. Stay for the fireworks. A pass for Canobie is all-inclusive, and covers you for both daytime and nighttime. The fireworks over the lake, which happen on most Saturday nights, are more spectacular than might be expected from a family-run operation.

Top photo courtesy of Canobie Lake Park