Destination Fun: Darien Lake - Rediscover Time Together!
by Helena Robin
For many Western and Central New Yorkers, Darien Lake is synonymous with the thrilling rides of the Six Flags label. But about three years ago, Darien Lake was placed under the management of Herschend Family Entertainment (motto: Memories Worth Repeating) and has undergone a magnificent transformation! Rather than catering to people specifically looking for exhilarating adventure with their friends, the new and improved Darien Lake has broadened its appeal to welcome and entertain families as well as thrill seekers.
A bit of background: I am so fair-skinned I practically glow in the dark, and I’m scared of everything. But I also have three kids whose ages range from 6 to 14, and I have a husband who hasn’t met many rollercoasters he would hesitate to ride. Why is this important enough for me to mention? Because if an amusement park can make everybody in my family happy, it’s a safe bet yours will have a blast too!
Recent Changes at Darien Lake
Since adopting Darien Lake, Herschend has made a number of changes to the park. Previous visitors will notice that the park has a softer look and feel:
- Wooden boardwalks and paths have been added.
- Small, grassy, shaded pockets of quiet picnic tables are tucked in here and there for families to collect themselves and rest a bit.
- A family bathroom has been added so dads won’t hesitate to bring young female family members to the park (I say mostly dads, because moms don’t worry too much about bringing their younger sons into the ladies room).
- An artful-looking mister has been centrally located so everybody can cool off when the sun and heat are relentless
- More healthful food options are available
- Concession and games prices have been lowered! In addition, your admission fee (or season pass) includes both the amusement and waterpark, which hasn’t always been the policy.
Rides, rides and more rides!
While there are plenty of (to me) super scary rides throughout the park on which smaller children (usually under 48”) are not allowed to ride, there are many family-friendly rides peppering the park so that your family can stay in proximity to one another.
For example, while my husband and son went on the Boomerang, my daughters and I took a spin on the nearby carrousel. We all stood open-mouthed as three intrepid teenagers braved the Redhawk, where they got strapped in and then flung themselves in freefall toward the lake. (I was so scared for them I forgot to breathe...good thing my kids weren't interested!) Then we turned around to watch the newest ride at Darien Lake, Blast Off, which launches brave souls 185 feet into the air simulating a NASA take off! Here are a few of our family’s favorite Family Rides (that aren’t found in the two designated family/kid ride areas*):
The Giant Wheel
This gentle, windowless but otherwise enclosed ferris wheel is even fun for the timid members of your family. With some gentle coaxing and a turn watching from the ground, even our youngest (who seems to take after me when it comes to a terror of park rides) was delighted by the views.
My 9- and 14-year-olds turned into maniacs, and my 6-year-old was the tyrant of my husband’s car as she gleefully pointed out targets for her chauffer to attack. *There is also a gentler bumper car ride called Raccoon Rally (located in Rowdy’s Ridge) specifically for kids between 36 and 54” tall.
These old-timey colorful metal cars follow a track so, as long as your kids can reach the pedals, they can take their very own car out for a spin. My 14-year-old clearly had visions of his driver’s permit in his head and my 9-year-old loved steering her car while my husband pushed the pedal. The 6-yea-rold was just happy to be able to pick the color of our car!
The Rock Wall
This offers a challenge without the abject terror some family members (me, for example) feel. There is a 36” height and 40 pound weight requirement and an additional $5 per person fee. The cool thing is that people with certain disabilities can enjoy this attraction as well – follow this link for the specifics.
Paddle Boats/ Kayaks
The newly-landscaped Fun Lake has been redeveloped to include the super tempting Midway Marina. For $5 per person, your family can take out the paddle boats or kayaks for a half hour of relaxing physical fitness and the opportunity to feed the resident ducks!
Note*: If you’ll be spending time at Darien Lake specifically with younger kids and/or those who don’t describe themselves as thrill seekers, head for the Beaver Brother’s Bay and Rowdy’s Ridge areas. These have a concentration of fun rather than scary rides (although some of them still might seem scary). FYI, we loved all of them!
Splashy Water Fun!
Darien Lake is a water lover’s Paradise! There are rides that incorporate water into their thrill factor like Shipwreck Falls and Thunder Rapids or the more family-friendly Grizzly Run.
Of course, the fun isn’t limited to these three! Splash Town is filled with water slides for every level of adventure: The Tornado sends thrill seekers down a tunnel which shoots them into a giant funnel while the Big Kahuna is an extreme tubing adventure.
When your family needs to relax and cool off, there’s no better place than Flotation Station where you can float or stroll down the Lazy River. New in 2013, visitors can stroll or swim down the river. In years past, it was only possible to float down the Lazy River in tubes. Why is this awesome? During busy times it keeps the lines moving a bit more quickly and parents can help their nervous kids become more confident and independent by putting them in a tube but staying within arm’s reach. It also helps families save money on the tube rental.
If you and your family can’t decide between a relaxing or adventurous water attraction, you’ll be delighted by Crocodile Isle – Darien Lake’s gigantic wave pool Hang out by the edges for more calm fun or delve deeper and battle 4 foot high waves!
But for unfettered fun that could last ALL DAY, your best bet is Hook’s Lagoon! Featuring a Giant Pirate Ship, this watery playground is the perfect way to cool off and have a blast with everybody in your family! There’s waterslides, splash features, wading pools, showers, climbing, a Tree House filled with sea themed surprises and so much more! Seriously, we all could have spent the entire day in this one place!
Note: *If you have a little one still in diapers, you’ll need to use the plastic swim versions.Note:
*No photography of any kind is allowed while on the various water rides or areas.
Fun, Fun Fun on Darien Lake’s Boardwalk!
When you are ready to take a break from the adventure of the rides, your family can enjoy thrills of a different kind playing all the different carnival games on Darien Lake’s Boardwalk! We spent at least an hour going from game to game and everybody ended up winning a little something. The games, as you might expect, are super-fun. But for me, the absolute highlight of our time on the Boardwalk were the park employees! Each and every one of them was enthusiastic, kind, generous and super friendly. The employees gave the kids extra chances, tips for success and celebrated with them if they eventually won a prize.
Our experience with the workers was fantastic on its own merits, but I think it had an effect on all the visitors which made our time on the Boardwalk so memorable. I watched several people playing a fire hose game which involved racing to accomplish a task with streams of water. The game ended when an adult completed the task first. As soon as he won the game, the employee congratulated him and reached for a giant stuffed creature. The man quickly pointed to a little boy who had also played the game – a stranger to him – and motioned for the employee to give the toy to him instead. The employee high-fived the man, the parents were completely overwhelmed and offered the man money as a thank you, and the man graciously blushed and disappeared into the crowd with his family. Are the employees responsible for this man’s wonderful actions? No, but the atmosphere their amazingly awesome attitudes create was certainly a factor!
Ignite the Night Laser Show
Updated in 2013, if you kids can last until dark falls, you should absolutely not miss this! Words can’t do it justice, but it is a spectacular extravaganza of amazing laser and water effects, fireworks, video, music and more! There are moments when the crowd jumps up and dances, when everybody claps along and there is tons of cheering. My youngest was so overcome at one point during the show that she jumped up, threw her arms in the air and screamed, “Woohoo! GO AMERICA!”
Make it a Family Vacation!
Whether you live up the road in Buffalo or Rochester or further afield, I highly recommend you turn your visit to Darien Lake into a family vacation!
There are several lodging options for you to consider at the park and all of them include admission and parking the day you arrive and the day you leave! You and your family can bring your own tent or campers, experience Glamping in one of Darien Lake’s weatherproof platform tents (complete with electricity and bed, thank you very much), stay in a cabin or cottage or relax in the Lodge at the Lake.
We opted to take our Staycation in the Lodge, and can’t wait to go again! It has a comfortable, homey feel and, like everything else about the Herschend managed property, encourages family time. The Lodge has an Adirondack feel without being themey and has plenty of amenities to please everyone. Inside, there is a game room, fitness center, gift shop and Woody’s Café which is a charming alternative to an on-site restaurant.
Like many hotels, the literature describes the lobby as a community gathering place. Unlike every other hotel I’ve ever stayed in, the Lodge’s lobby really is an awesome place to hang out! Woody’s stays open until shortly after the Ignite the Night laser show so guests can hang out, play checkers, enjoy a snack or even a beer throughout the day. It’s near the game room and overlooks the pool, so parents can relax in a central spot while their kids get to enjoy a bit of freedom.
Speaking of the (heated) pool, it’s in a fenced in area right outside the lobby and is surrounded by several outdoor shaded tables. It’s a great spot to hang out, swim or play a game of chess with pieces as big as a 3 year old! Our family spent a couple of hours here on our last day of the trip and it was lovely.
We had a Standard Room, which was bigger than I expected and sleeps a whopping six people! Everyone out there with more than 2 kids knows what a huge factor this is. The bathroom was small, but who cares? Our room was spacious enough for all of us to spread out, fool around, and still avoid tripping over one another.
The Lodge also offers cool Forts O’ Fun suites which have a small woodsy bunk room separated from the main room. These rooms only have room for 4, though. Suites are also available and can be combined so that large families or two families vacationing together can be accommodated.
The Lodge also has free Wi-Fi in the rooms and lobby!
Like the park, the different lodging areas are being updated and upgraded one bit at a time. Rooms on the first floor of the lodge are getting makeovers and will be followed by the rest of the rooms as well. Larger, spiffier cabins and cottages are being added in the camping areas and the super popular Glamping sites (new for 2013) will most likely multiply going forward. In addition, the dated RV’s are also in the process of being replaced by new models. Amenities are also being upgraded in the camping area and include beautiful bathrooms and a recreational soccer field!
The Bottom Line
Don’t make the mistake of avoiding Darien Lake with your family because of an outdated conception ofhow it USED to be! Herschend Family Entertainment has made many significant changes to the park in order to make it a Family Destination and has big plans for continuing the transformation in the near future.
This pale scaredy cat and her family had a spectacular time at Darien Lake and you will to!
If you live in Buffalo or Rochester, guess what?? Darien Lake is only about an hour away which makes it the perfect place for a day trip or Staycation!
Tips to make the most of your trip to Darien Lake
- Plan to arrive when the park opens and the crowds/heat of the day haven’t hit yet.
- Bring sunscreen and reapply it periodically.
- If the waterpark is on your itinerary, wear your swim suits under your clothes.
- Ask employees about how lost child situations are handled.
- Show your kids the Darien Lake employee uniforms and instruct them to find an employee if they get separated from you.
- Familiarize yourself with the park map available on line.
- Talk to your kids ahead of time about your family’s games and concessions policy.
- Spending the whole day? Consider renting a cabana (located in the water park) which will give your family a “home base”, a little shade and your own locker.
- Check the concert schedule. You might not want to bring your little ones to the park after dinner if Kid Rock, for example, will be performing.
- To save money, you can pack a cooler and picnic in the parking lot.
- Babies aren’t allowed on most of the rides, but they can splash in the water park (as long as they are wearing plastic swim diapers).
- If it’s possible, stay for Ignite the Night!
- Stay hydrated.
- Cameras and cell phones should not be taken on rides.
- There’s a no photography policy on the water attractions.
- Your older kids might be old enough to enjoy the park independently, but keep an eye on them periodically so they don’t get into any mischief. Yes, even good kids do stupid stuff from time to time!
- Strollers and wagons are permitted on the property.
- Wagons can be rented at the Main Gate or Backwoods Gift Shop. You can even reserve one ahead of time!
Darien Center, NY, 14040
Helena Robin is President and CEO of the Robin family. She coordinates and executes all family operations including (but not limited to) communications, transportation, management, catering, maintenance, troubleshooting, and cultural development. Her Executive Team comprises a Husband/Creator of Chaos and three unpaid interns. AND, she's also an Editor at KidsOutAndAbout.Com!