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Amusement Parks in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh has three amusement parks.
- Kennywood Park is “America’s Finest Traditional Amusement Park” with an emphasis on “traditional”. Next to record breaking modern roller coasters you will find traditional wooden roller coasters with the oldest being from 1920.
- Sandcastle Waterpark is Pittsburgh’s largest water park. It has 14 water slides and other water attractions like a wave pool and a lazy river.
- Idlewild & SoakZone is a children's amusement park in the Laurel Highlands about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. It the oldest amusement park in Pennsylvania, 3rd oldest in the US, and 12th oldest in the world.
Kennywood Park (map)
The land where the park is located was the site of the 1755 “Battle of the Monongahela” in which British troops under general Edward Braddock sought to capture Fort Duquesne from the French in the French and Indian War. George Washington was a part of this expedition which ended after Braddock was mortally wounded in this battle.
A century later, this area belonged to a farm owned by Anthony Kenny and during the American Civil War in the 1860s, this site became a popular picnic grove called "Kenny's Grove".
Opened in 1899, Kennywood Park advertises itself as “America’s Finest Traditional Amusement Park”. Emphasizing the word "Traditional” is the fact that Kennywood is one of only two amusement parks that are a designated National Historic Landmark (Kennywood since 1987).
Kennywood opened as a trolley park at the end of the former Monongahela Street Railway. In 1906 it was sold to the founders of the Kennywood Entertainment Company and in 2007, it was sold to a Spanish entertainment operator. Today, Kennywood is known for its nostalgic atmosphere and amusement park rides. While some are modern, others date back to the early 1900s.
Kennywood’s three historic wooden roller coasters are:
- Jack Rabbit (1920): One of the oldest still operating roller coasters in the world. Its best known feature is the double dip.
- Racer (1927): Two trains share the same track on opposite sides of the roller coaster.
- Thunderbolt (1968): Originally known as “Pippin” and built in 1924, it was rebuilt and rebranded as Thunderbolt in 1968. In 1974, the New York Times called it "Ultimate Roller Coaster" and "King of Coasters".
Kennywood does, of course have exciting new steel roller coasters. The three newest ones are:
- Steel Curtain (2019): It is named after the famous Pittsburgh Steelers “Steel Curtain” defense. I guess this 2 minute ride, which reaches a maximum speed of 75 mph and has 9 inversions, one of which holds the world record of being the highest inversion (cork screws) at 197 feet, will make you feel as the Steel Curtain just rolled over you. Amusement Today voted Steel Curtain number one in the "Best New Roller Coaster of 2019" category. At 220 ft, it is the tallest roller coaster in Pennsylvania, it has the most inversions in North America and it is the first roller coaster named after a professional football team.
- Sky Rocket (2010): This “launch roller coaster” propels you from 0 to 50 mph in 3 seconds. It uses a special harness system, which locks you in at your waist instead of your shoulders and gives you a sense of mobility during inversions that you don’t have when you are locked in at your shoulders.
- Phantom's Revenge (2001): Originally called Steel Phantom when it opened in 1991, this ride was renovated and reopened in 2001 as Phantom's Revenge. When first built, it was the fastest roller coaster and had the longest drop in the world. The annual “Golden Ticket Awards” consistently rank in the top 50, often the top 10. Also, the “National Amusement Park Historical Association” has ranked it in the top 5 “Favorite Steel Roller Coaster” category almost consistently.
Besides those, the par has many more rides. Here are a few notable ones:
- Merry Go Round (1927): This Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation Historic Landmark has 50 jumping horses, 14 stationary horses, a tiger, and a lion. The music comes from the oldest of its kind in existence 1916 Wurlitzer style #153 Military Band Organ.
- Auto Race (1930): Race an electric car through a trough-like wooden track with twists and turns. It is the last of its kind in the world.
- Gran Prix (1973): Your classic bumper cars experience.
- Musik Express (1987): Yes, I mention it because Musik Express is one of my favorite rides since my early childhood. This circular ride has a rock theme from the 1960s & 1970s and you will find me there when I visit Kennywood.
- Pittsburg Plunge (1995): Ride on the water and get soaked when your boat drops…
- Ghostwood Estate (2008): Get in your "Ghost Buggie", take your "Ghost Blaster" and shoot up some ghosts.
All these attractions and many more are located in these Themed areas:
- Kiddieland: Moved to this location in 1927, it is one of the first designated children's ride areas in the world.
- Lost Kennywood: Added to the park in 1995, it is a tribute to Luna Park, its short-lived rival from 1905 to 1909. The entrance spells Pittsburgh without the “h”, because Pittsburgh was written without the in “h” during this period.
- Steelers Country: Themed around the Pittsburgh Steelers and the new roller coaster Steel Curtain, this area was added in 2019.
- Thomas Town: Added to the park in 2018, this is an extension of Kiddieland and it is themed on Thomas the Tank Engine.
- Volcano Valley: Added to the park in 2003 and named after the volcano theme in this part of the park.
Sandcastle Waterpark (map)
Located along the Monongahela river banks on a former railroad yard from U.S. Steel, Kennywood Entertainment purchased the land in 1988 and developed it to become Pittsburgh’s largest water park.
Opened in 1989, Sandcastle was sold together with its sisters Kennywood Park and “Idlewild & SoakZone” to a Spanish entertainment operator in 2007.
Sandcastle Waterpark has 14 water slides of which 3 are speed slides. Other attractions are "Lazy River", “Mon-Tsunami” which is a wave pool, “Wet Willie’s” an area specifically designed for children and several other pools. There are also a grass beach, restaurants and the Sandbar entertainment complex.