From the perspective of a mom with three kids under the age of 10, I cannot think of any other amusement park in PA where I can take three kids for the day and spend only $71 there. Here’s why I keep making the drive to Knoebels and returning multiple times a summer:
1.Knoebels, in Elysburg, PA, has no general admission fee. That means the parent who rides no rides but is there to help everyone else isn’t forking over $35 or more just for the privilege of being within the gates!
2. This park allows you to bring in outside food and has more picnic tables and pavilions than my kids can count. (I challenged the boys to guess how many tables were in the park when we were there two days ago, and they gave up counting!) Sometimes groups go for a potluck followed by time on the rides. For my day with my kids, I always pack lunch which we eat soon after arriving. This allows you to set a budget for your trip and not feel like you were defenseless against overspending just to feed your kids for ONE day!
My son on bumper cars–he’s the type to love that ride the most!
3. Ticket option. You can choose between hand stamps good all day for unlimited rides OR tickets you use to pay for rides individually. I got to share with my eldest son why the latter makes better sense for us, comparing the cost of each, and his eyes grew wide in appreciation. There will come a day when my kids are teens and the hand stamp makes the most sense–but we are not there yet. I bought 2 books of stamps valued at $20 worth of rides each, but each cost only $18. So for $36 paid for tickets, my kids and I enjoyed Knoebels from 11:30 AM to nearly 8 PM. (At what other park can a family enjoy amusement park rides for only $36? I know–that amount would cover the cost of one person or less at most places in the state.) Additionally, you can save even more by purchasing tickets from Weis grocery store: $16 for a book of tickets worth $20.
The boys on the Flume for the first time–a big kid ride that costs $2 a person. They loved it so much they went twice.
But making this amount of tickets be sufficient is not a given–my kids have been trained by me and my pace for years, and we’ve developed our traditions. Others could blow through those tickets in an hour or two, even on just kiddie rides. So how is $36 spent on tickets enough?
First, at a certain point, my oldest child outgrew some kiddie rides, just as his youngest sibling could start riding them. Going to Knoebels from then on meant the kids had to take turns. Some people find more wisdom in multi-tasking–making use of time by putting an older child on the froghopper while a younger one rides the nearby pony carts. This is smart when time is crunched, but we employ the opposite tactic. We enjoy the art of slow. First I taught my oldest the joy of watching his tiny sister enjoy her first ever rides. I caught this of my oldest watching his little sister ride her first ride, the fire trucks.
I modeled this by making a big deal of it. I didn’t want my son to consume fun as though the goal were to ride each ride as fast as possible with no breaths in between. I wanted him to be able to enjoy ALL of it. This is a family experience, and if they cannot care about the joy or experience of another family member, then a lot is lost. Now this was not a hard sell, as this child of mine has always adored his baby sister. Now, two years later, he tells me watching his sister on a ride IS one of his favorite parts! (Parenting win!) And this value has been adopted by brother number two by now; he got to watch is older brother’s attitude and mimicks it. This is not only good for family bonding, but it solves the wait time issue while kids take turns on their preferred rides AND allows us a leisurely visit where they cannot consume all their tickets in an hour. This was a choice, something I wanted and worked toward with intention.
Secondly, we do other things besides the rides that require tickets: reasons #4-#9.
4. Free play-acting. The Middle Earth Theatre at Knoebels is set up to run multiple times a day, featuring costumes and props in four corners. Kids (and parents) are invited to join in the play (which is performed with a narrator who gives instructions). This year, the play involves pirates, mermaids, ladies of London and English sailors. My elder son knew he wanted to do it before arrival, and suddenly, my daughter thought it looked like fun once she saw the dresses for costuming! This proved to be the highlight of the whole day–all the kids loved it, it took close to an hour when all was said and done, and was FREE! (You can buy the recorded performance for $15–but it’s not necessary!) My little girl, actually following stage directions!
This is one way the kids had a blast and thought $36 in tickets was enough, as well as:
5. Free puppet shows. The theater stage also promoted a rare marionette puppet performance with 30-year-old marionettes. My tiny daughter saw the one fairy puppet showed as a teaser, and ever after, kept asking for “the puppet performance.” They watched that show with giggles and laughter, then enjoyed the further treat of being invited up to the stage after to see and even touch the puppets and ask the puppeteers how everything works and how it was made. Later, we were just walking toward a ride when the kids saw a puppet in the top of a lighthouse structure, and they scrambled onto the benches to watch the show. In fact, the kids got into so many free shows that I never even bought the 3rd book of tickets I’d planned to, a $10 book that sells for $9. We spent our whole day on less than what I expected.
6. Free main-stage entertainment. Everything from magic shows to music groups, pet shows to a family circus. We didn’t have time to watch anything theer this mot recent visit, but we have in the past at the kids’ request. (There’s also an indoor magic show as well.)
7. Revival of simple and old-fashioned. The idea that today’s kids hooked on video games need everything to be flashy is a lie we parents should not accept. In fact, we should try everytihng we can to let kids experience and be convinced themselves that this is not true. My kids play on a tablet and love Wii games as much as typical kids, but they do not NEED such things to find entertainment. Knoebels’ entertainment may be what many consider hokey–but I love that it teaches my kids that watching simple, old-fashioned puppets can be fun and funny. That two-bit family circus acts can be fun. Glitz and glitter and the level of tchnology does not measure the value of talent nor time well-spent.
8. Neat (and free) museums. On this trip, we didn’t even have time for any of them, but my favorite is the small museum about carousels, featuring a variety of old carousel animals and the history of the park’s carousels. But on this trip, I did introduce my kids to the big “adult” carousel for the first time; they’d only ever ridden the small one in the kiddie area. For people who value the history of craftsmanship or art, it’s a spectacular specimen, and it wowed the kids, as well as the tradition of catching the rings from a seat on a horse on the edge and throwing them into the lion’s mouth at the end. Additionally, the park has a mining museum and a park museum–neither of which I’ve visited recently–but I always say, someday we’ll get to them!
9. Free playground area. I grew up going to Knoebles–my parents took me at least every summer, and I never knew there was a playground behind the water-wheel of the ice cream stand. (Just as I never knew there was play-acting at the theatre stage). This is a favorite, must-do activity my kids say they’d skip rides in order to do. They love the overhead suspended bridge and the series of steps and towers to ascend and descend it, and the maze of life-size cut-out structures to hide in an explore. They can easily spend half anhour or an hour there each time we visit. Oh, additionally, there is an old black locomotive engine car by the mining museum that is used as a jungle gym. We ran out of time for that this most recent visit too, and one child did not let me forget it was a favorite attraction!
10. Water fountains. Seems simple, right? But seriously, being able to refill the water bottle we bring to the park saves us at least $30! I had my one son do the math. We figured we each drank three bottles of water on last visit, and at most places, each would have cost $3 if we bought bottled water. My son multiplied that $9 a person times our number of four and realized we saved $36. And I can’t speak highly enough of feeling hydrated on a hot day rather than trying to conserve water to avoid forking over another $3 for more water.
11. Shade. It’s an old park with old-growth trees. When you spend a hot summer day somewhere, this becomes a really big perk.
12. Reasonably-priced food. I bought all of us supper as well as a snack and spent a total of $35 on food. For the entire day. (If you’ve been to any other amusement parks, you realize this is cheap.) The kids all wanted perogies, which come in a box of three for $3 ($9 total). For supper’s main course, I bought a chimichanga for me ($5.75) and a Mexican sampler for the kids to share, including a taco, burrito and quesadilla, for $7. It was so much food, I had to eat a lot when the kids got too full. As for snacks, because Knoebels allows outside food, I did bring a box of granola bars for the kids ot eat in the afternoon as a snack. But then in the evening I bought a funnel cake ($5) and a huge custom-made banana split with each kid’s favorite flavor ice cream and topping ($7.75). (The price has gone up on the ice cream. It used to be $2 cheaper when we started the tradition.) Again, this was too much food for us–we even threw some funnel cake out. And my kids are eaters. It’s just a lot of ice cream.
So even if Knoebels is a bit of a drive, it’s still probably cheaper and better than closer parks, even considering gas to get there. We live nearer a certain chocolate-scented theme park and still make the drive to Knoebels. Because it is so much more affordable, we usually go more than once a year, once with just me, once with my husband too.
I know I’m preaching to the chior with many of my friends, so did I miss anything that you really love about Knoebels?
PS I later remembered another perk: FREE parking!