So, I live in Buffalo, New York. For those unaware, that is absolutely nowhere near New York City; it is literally on the other side of the state. I am often asked, once I say I live in NYS, what the city is like. I can tell you, as I have visited before, but I have never lived there. I have always lived in Western New York, and Buffalo in particular is my home.
Here’s a landmark Buffalo is near that you will know: Niagara Falls. It’s only about a 30-40 minute drive from here. On your way there, you pass over a bridge onto Grand Island, which once claimed to be the largest freshwater island in the world, even though it isn’t (fun fact.) As you drive across the island to the next bridge, you don’t see much but trees and car dealerships. Until you pass the Ferris Wheel.
The Ferris Wheel is the gondola sort, and towers over a little amusement park going by the name of Fantasy Island. You can also see the rollercoaster and Log Flume from the road. As a youngster, I loved going to Fantasy Island. It walked a fine line between old-timey amusements and brand spanking new fun. I was thrilled when they put in a water park, complete with a lazy river, something that even the big local(ish) amusement park, Darien Lake, did not have at theirs. They had a Wild West town, where they would have skits reenacting shootouts, and had can-can dancers. There was even a town Sheriff. The kid’s area was lovely, a little small but what four-year-old would complain? One Father’s Day I went there with my sister, Bernie, and dad, and she was maybe five at the time. I thought it would be boring watching her go on kiddie rides, but in the end, we had a blast.
The last time I went Bernie was performing with her dance class. I took Mark, and we rode the rides and ate chicken fingers and watched Bernie and her friends tear up the stage. He went on a very scary ride that gave me the heebie-jeebies just watching. Then we went on the big swings, and I thought I was going to die. I screamed bloody murder the whole time, certain that I was about to fly off the ride into space. After that we went on some rides that were more my speed, and met up with Bern at my very favorite of all amusements, the Tilt-a-Whirl.
It was a good day. It was always a good day at Fantasy Island.
But alas, the good times couldn’t last forever, so when I heard reports that they had begun selling off rides, I was heartbroken. When the news came two days later that they were closed for good, I felt a part of my childhood slip away. This is not the first time, either.
There was another park in my youth, this one across the border in Canada. It was called Crystal Beach, and I looked forward to it every summer until I was five and it closed down. (I know that seems weird that I would remember it so vividly given my young age, but I literally remember my Baptism at 6 months. However, I don’t know what I had for lunch yesterday. My memory is crazy.) Sometimes around town you can still find the famous Crystal Beach suckers (lollipops, for you out-of-towners) and I will occasionally buy one if I see it; I like the butterscotch and peanut best. The beach remains, but the park is long gone, and I miss it.
But not as much as I will miss Fantasy Island.
The only alternative for amusement parks now is Darien Lake, which is once again owned by Six Flags, even after they sold them in 2006. Now, this is a big place, and it’s only getting bigger. Which is a problem. It doesn’t have the family feel Fantasy Island had. It feels corporate and intimidating, and can take over a day to enjoy the whole park. I suppose that’s what they’re going for, so people buy more tickets and stay longer, but at 60 bucks a pop, that’s not happening. Hell, I can get tickets to FOUR Disney World parks for only about 30 dollars more. And there’s no Mickey Mouse at Six Flags, just a bald guy in a bowtie (check out this insane commercial we used to be subjected to on a daily basis.) Another issue I have with Darien Lake is its concert venue. It’s just too far away from the city, yet everybody performs there. And the parking is garbage. I’ve been to concerts where the wait to get out of the lot is longer than the opening act.
In a nutshell, I don’t care for Darien Lake.
But now, it’s my only solution when I crave an amusement park.
No, that’s a lie.
I will find suitable substitutes. Lawn fetes, church picnics, Fourth of July carnivals. I will hunt down Tilt-a-Whirls and Scramblers and even the big swings. I will travel south to my other favorite amusement park, Midway, which is still styled in its original fashion. It’s like stepping back in time, and I love that. I think I like that feeling more than the rides, as that is how I felt at both Fantasy Island and Crystal Beach. Darien Lake is simply too crowded, and full, and new. It has no charm, no whimsy. And so, I shall pine for long-gone western shootouts and dismantled rollercoasters, and I will miss my little playland that gave me so many great memories.
Fantasy Island. So sad to see you go.