Wilkum Kinder, to Dutch Wonderland, A Kingdom for Kids!

I grew up German in Pennsylvania, a state where the Department of Transportation still issues licenses to horse & buggy drivers, and it is not uncommon to see street signs like this on the side of the road:

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In high school, I was taught polkas in my gym class, and well into the 1990s, PA Dutch was spoken in my home, especially by my older relatives. My grandmother would instruct us to “redd up the room” when company was coming. My family still practices some of the old German traditions today. Every December 6th Belsnickle put candy in my shoes, and he continues to visit my nephews.  Everyone I knew made sure to eat at least a small spoonful of sauerkraut on New Year’s Day even if they hated the taste (for it will bring wealth and good luck for the rest of the year!)

Due to the large number of German settlers in the state, many people living in the northwestern part of Central and Northern PA would identify as “PA Dutch.”  Contrary to popular belief, in this case “Dutch” does not refer to Dutch people (from the Netherlands), but from the German word”Deutch.” Coming from a deeply Christian culture; many of the farmers were practicing Amish and Mennonites. Though both traditionalist Christian religions rooted in Anabaptism; they hold distinctly different sets of beliefs with the Amish being the more strict of the two sects.

Pennsylvania, with its mountainous rolling pastures, is also home to a countless number of dairy farms. (I didn’t realize ice cream-and I mean REAL ICE CREAM was regional until I moved to New Jersey years later!) As we’ve already seen, Pennsylvania is blessed with an abundance of land, and other than farms, it is also home to dozens of amusement parks. With the collision of the PA Dutch farming culture and the growing amusement industry in the state something truly unique magical took place 53 years ago. In 1963, Dutch Wonderland was erected outside of Lancaster, PA, and although it features many typical attractions for kids including a train, roller coasters, princesses, dragons, and a massive castle (Surrounded by a monorail!); we’re going to take a look at the very distinct PA Dutch touches that make it a one of a kind family attraction.

Upon entering the park you’ll immediately begin noticing their solemn hard working faces. A lifesize Amish couple sits on a bench on the porch of their home. Inside the windows the children are working on chores. Their faces are somber and appear tired from a long day of hard work.

Nearby, a giant pretzel greets visitors entering the park. To the uninitiated, this may look like a simple oversized snack food, but pretzels are an apropos representation of the hard working Christian people of PA, with their roots in both Bavarian culinary history and their ties to the church. It is said that the twist of the pretzel is a reminder to children to say their prayers, and was once considered a small reward or “pretiola” for those who do! Whatever you do, just remember…Please Do NOT Crawl on the Pretzel.

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We have already told you about the strange phenomenon of kiddie park chapels, so its no surprise that a park so closely tied to Christianity houses a simple un-ornamental chapel on its land. Visitors are reminded to treat it respectfully, as it is a house of the Lord.

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One of the most interesting exhibits I encountered are these two dioramas of animated miniatures. In the elaborate animatronic displays, groups of women and men toil over the daily chores while discussing their daily activities. At the push of a button, the women work on a quilt and gossip with one another.

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The men work on crafting furniture, sanding  a bench and planing a table. They discuss their work. If you stay long enough to listen, you will hear PA Dutch dialect and language spoken by both the women and men. They are a true slice of life, and are often overlooked  by the park’s visitors (who are predominantly small children.)
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In keeping with the PA Dutch theme, you can climb aboard a horse and buggy for a family photo op. It’s no surprise that farming made its way into the park’s attractions, but I have to say that this is probably the one and only time that I’ve seen a fiberglass cow with SIMULATED RUBBER UDDER for guests to milk! Next to a tin pail, a small sign reminds children to be gentle: “Bossie says Please Squeeze Do Not Pull”

True to its roots as a Dairy farming state, this attraction is absolutely a Pennsylvania one-of-a-kind! If you’ve seen another one, we’d love to hear about it!

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We hope you enjoyed this look at the PA Dutch touches of the Dutch Wonderland. If you visit, there’s plenty more to see including the Kingdom Coaster, some great shows, and the newly opened Dinosaurs Alive area with moving, roaring  dinosaurs that will surely amaze younger kids and parents alike!

Dutch Wonderland is open seasonally and has some dates in the fall and winter months for Halloween and Christmas celebrations. Check schedules online at their website.

A Whale of a Tale to Tell!

WhalesForget Shamu, because whether it’s a retelling of Jonah and the Whale, Pinocchio’s Monstro or Moby Dick, many kiddie parks consider a big ol’ whale a centerpiece of their park’s landscape. We’re going to take a look at a few of these whales and try not to tell any fish tales in the process!

One of the best known (or at least most visited) whales is Disneyland’s Monstro from Pinocchio. Monstro is the finale to the  Storybook Land Canal Boats, and original 1955 attraction built based on Walt’s concepts. Riders board  a boat #2 and travel through miniaturized versions  of fairy tale settings made famous by Walt Disney Studios. This is still one of the most relaxing rides in the park, and its simplicity is its strongest point. There are  no special effects, no 3D glasses, and no loud noises. Just you, the calm water, and ultimately the whale! Monstro has had a few different paint jobs over the year as seen in image #1, 3, 5, and 8. It looks like once upon a time, Monstro actually bore the black and white markings of a Killer Whale #1. He’s since been softened and now has more of an appearance of a sperm whale #5.  In actuality the story tells of a killer dogfish, but I’d say the blue/grey color today is more accurate to the film version of our villain.

Whale #4 is Willie the Whale a sweet little friend from Children’s Fairyland in Oakland, California. This postcard from the 1950s shows what a draw it was for children. It seems like the entire group can’t wait to be swallowed whole! Willie still stands today, and he still blows water out of his blowhole and invites brave children to step into his mouth. In all honesty,  he doesn’t look very different than he did 60 years ago! Lookin’ good, Willie!   Willy the WhaleHowever, you can see what a difference a paint job can make, as #10 appears to be a very similar same mold, but with the addition of some terrifying eyebrows. Our #10 Whale hails from New Jersey’s Storybook Land, and he is somehow just not as friendly as his California Cousin Willie! I’m a big fan of this creepier paint job, but then again-I’m an adult who doesn’t have nightmares about being eaten alive by whales.

Whale #7 comes to us from Storyland in New Hampshire, and is probably our most adorable widdle whale. He is much smaller than most whales, and is actually in an itty bitty bath tub. Awww! Don’t you just want to take him home with you? ahem, moving on.

Photos #12 and #13 are two shots  the same whale at Conneaut Lake Park’s now defunct “Fairyland Forest” I don’t know about you, but I am sure that as a kid, I would have run up to that mouth and immediately yelled something stupid to hear my own echo inside. This guy is impressive and though its a little tough to see from these images, his tail pokes out on the other side of the lake, indicating his large body is submerged across the entire distance. A great use of perspective, making him seem simply massive!

Not to be forgotten is another “Willie the Whale”  at Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, PA.  This Willie (What’s with whales named Willie?) sailed from 1963-1967 and has since been out of commission. One  can still be seen at Dutch Wonderland near the Fun Slide.  Once a leisurely boat ride around the moat, Willie was later replaced by Swan boats in 1967. The swans sailed from 1967-1975, and the area is now home to “Dragon’s Lair” boat ride which uses log boats installed in 1975. Dragon’s Lair features an animatronic Duke the Dragon mascot poking his head out of a giant rock. WallytheWaleDutchWonderland

I saved my favorite whale for last, and that is simply because of the absurdity of the image where I initially saw him. Whale #6 is at Santa’s Village in Jefferson, NH. He once had some underwater friends like an octopus, a clam, and a few fish. He is enjoying a snack of one of Santa’s Helpers, while Santa and the kids stand by. Another helper can be seen surfing the whale’s tail! I loved this image so much, but when I went to see the whale, it just somehow wasn’t the same. See a bad side angle of our whale friend in #9. He seems to be recoiling in shame, now relegated to a spot behind a building, he has lost all of his friends, and now he just wants to be left alone! However, if you walk around the building a little bit, and you are patient with him, he will still give you a show.

And if you still can’t get enough whales, I dare you to get this tune out of your head, since its been swimming around my brain since I titled this post.

Happy Whale Watching until next time, and do try not to get swallowed up!