Weekend Trip: Hang with the Dinosaurs at Dutch Wonderland Amusement Park's Brand-new Exploration Island
My husband and I are big fans of Lancaster County's family amusement park Dutch Wonderland, and dread the day our nine-year-old outgrows this sweet Kingdom for Kids. We take at least one road trip here every summer but this year we were invited to visit on opening weekend to check out the park's brand-new dinosaur attraction, Exploration Island.
With so many other animatronic dinosaur spots around, like the Bronx Zoo's Dinosaur Safari and New Jersey's Field Station: Dinosaurs, plus the show Walking with Dinosaurs set to stomp into Brooklyn's Barclays Center this July, you might think my son would have soured on the saurs. But he's as fascinated by the prehistoric creatures as ever. And since the rest of Dutch Wonderland's 43 bucolic acres features a nice variety of safe and clean family rides, live shows and strolling performers, it makes for a great weekend getaway.
Appropriately subtitled A Kingdom for Kids, Dutch Wonderland is a medieval-themed amusement park presided over by Princess Brooke, the Knight of Safety, the magical Merlin and a friendly purple dragon named Duke. You'll usually meet the whole gang at the castle gates as they invite young guests to leave their everyday lives behind and step into a magical world.
Once inside, Dutch Wonderland features 30 fun and not-so-scary rides appropriate for kids through age 10 or so. It's usually a huge hit with preschoolers and young kids, though image-conscious tweens might complain that some of the attractions are babyish. It's no surprise that the most "extreme" ride, the Kingdom Coaster, is my nine-year-old's favorite. It has a pretty steep drop and moves at high speeds but is relatively small, making it a great first roller-coaster experience for kids who aren't ready to zoom all around and hang upside down. There's also a carousel, big swings, a real locomotive that chugs around the grounds, a log flume, a relaxing one-way chairlift-style sky ride, bumper cars and lots more. Memorial Day through Labor Day, kids can romp in Duke's Lagoon, a separate water play area with the twisty Pipeline Plunge water tunnel slide.
If the kids tire of rides (yeah, right), there's also plenty of family entertainment, including live shows, storytime and kooky strolling performers. And yes, there are those dreaded carnival games, too. Good luck convincing the kids they're a waste of money.
New this year is Exploration Island located in a previously underutilized section of the park. As you stroll across the small footbridge that connects the Kingdom to this prehistoric outpost, you'll see the past come to life. The wooded isle is home to 20 state-of-the-art animatronic dinosaurs that move and roar, but max out at 15-feet in length so as not to be too intimidating to tots.
There are three ways to check out the dinos. You can hop in a self-propelling gondola and cruise your way around the isle or "drive" a classic car along the Turnpike (formerly part of the kingdom but now situated on the isle). But the best way to experience Exploration Island is on foot. As you walk the Prehistoric Path, you'll be able to see the triceratops, pterosaurs, stegosaurus, the mighty T.rex and others up close. Exploration Island also has digs where little paleontologists can unearth "fossils" with brushes, shovels and other equipment.
After you've had your fill of Dutch Wonderland, there are plenty of other things to do in the region with kids, making it a wonderful weekend getaway. If you can't get there this summer, Dutch Wonderland remains open in the fall on weekends and even hosts special seasonal events like October's Happy Hauntings and the holiday-themed Winter Wonderland featuring thousands of twinkling lights.
My husband says Dutch Wonderland is "good old-fashioned clean fun" and he's right. It's run by Palace Entertainment, which also owns another favorite of mine, Long Island's Splish Splash water park. In addition to the rides and attractions, these parks have those little extras that are so important to families, like lots of bathrooms (with changing tables to boot!), lockers to store your gear, friendly workers and stroller-friendly paths (though they're both small enough that kids should be able to walk around without getting tired). And in my experience, Dutch Wonderland is rarely overcrowded (too bad I can't say the same thing about Splish Splash).
Dutch Wonderland is located at 2249 Lincoln Highway East in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It's open daily through Labor Day and on select weekends in October, November and December. Admission is $39.99 for ages 3 and up but season passes and other ticket packages are available. All rides and attractions are included with admission. Also a quick google search often turns up coupon codes.