We had vacations at the beginning and the end of summer but that middle part yawned hot and humid with little for the kids to look forward to other than going to the pool or not doing more math homework. Last week we decided on a midsummer surprise trip and headed up to New Hampshire and check out Canobie Lake Park, a regional amusement and water park about an hour north of Boston.
Despite being very sunny and very hot, the whole family had a great time. The park was small enough to be easily covered in a day. It was also clean, very family friendly, and the staff were polite and accommodating. This is a great choice for a family that doesn’t want the expense and big thrill rides of someplace like Six Flags but might have outgrown toddler-centric places like Storyland or Edaville.
Here are my 12 survival tips for a summer visit to Canobie Lake Park:
1. Go early & hit the waterpark first
The waterpark (expanded to include 3 slides and a lazy river in 2019) opens at 10, a half hour before the rides. Get to the park early, get a prime parking spot (more on this in a second) and get through security by 9:45.When the park gates open, head for the water park and get a table with an umbrella or secure some lounge chairs. This will be your home base for the day. If you have valuables, there are lots of lockers available to rent near the splash pad or the slides.Now go get a tube and get some water slide time in before it gets crowded. And it will get crowded in the summer on nice days. Take advantage of getting up early and getting to the park to get some line-free (or almost line-free) water slides or lazy river laps before the sea of humanity overtakes this section of the park later in the day.
If you don’t plan on riding the flume or Tea Party water rides later, there are changing rooms (including dedicated family one) to get out of your damp bathing suits.
2. Don’t pay for special parking
If you go early, there is no need to pay for the preferred parking that’s available when you buy tickets. We arrived a little after 9:30 and were two rows from the park entrance. Save the cash and put it towards an afternoon treat of Dippin’ Dots.
3. Ride the Cannonball before lunch
Canobie offers several roller coasters from big thrills (vertical on Untamed) to the more sedate, kid-friendly Dragon. Our favorite, and the longest of the bunch, is the old-fashioned wooden coaster Yankee Cannonball. After you’re done with the water slides, get a few coaster rides in early before the lines lengthen after lunch. Untamed and the Corkscrew are great too and the lines move quickly but the rides are also short. The Cannonball offers the most bang for your buck.
4. Parent Ride Swap
Like some larger parks, if you have kids that fall between the rides intended audience and one parent has to hang out, Canobie does offer a parent ride swap. Note, they also sometimes offer a single rider line, too, which an help speed up some of the longer coaster lines if you don’t mind being terrified alone.
5. Be aware of height restrictions
After some bad national publicity the last few years (not at Canobie, just amusement parks in general) over ride safety, Canobie doesn’t fool around. Pay attention to the height restrictions and prep your kids beforehand on what rides the can and can’t go. The park staff holds to them. We saw one young girl wait in the line for a coaster but come up just short and couldn’t ride. Often their are park staff near line queue entrances to check but it’s on you, too.
6. Don’t miss the mystery ride
Don’t miss the Psychodrome. And it’s easy to miss. Nondescript and opaque from the outside, it’s inside a yellow dome behind the swings, it’s the traditional midway Scrambler ride in the dark with strobe lights, fog and music.
7. Exit the park
After you’ve gotten your fill or water slides and a taste of the rides, go outside the park to eat. It’s easy to go in and out of the park, so bring a cooler and some chairs and have a tailgate in the parking lot for lunch.
8. Or, eat inside
If you’re not the brown bagging type, the pizza at Portofino is pretty good, plus it’s fully air-conditioned, has waiter service, plus beer and wine. The prices are reasonable and you get a nice view over the lake.
9. Save your quarters
If you need a break from the water or waiting in line, find the Wooden Nickel Arcade and play some skeeball. There’s a whole row of antique Skeeball machines that are only 25 cents for 6 balls.
Toward the back of the park, right on the edge of Lake Canobie, is Da Vinci’s Dream—a rotating set of old-school swings. This line moves quickly given all the swings and it was a favorite for the whole family. Sometimes you can’t beat old-school.
11. Try the lemonade
We mostly try to avoid spending wads of cash on sugary concessions but if you are going to splurge, try the lemonade. It’s a thing here. Fresh squeezed and tart. It’s pretty refreshing on a hot day of ride hopping.
12. Join the Canobie Club
Canobie Lake Park has several “Free” days throughout the season, when certain individuals get in for free with a paid admission (Buy One Get One). For instance, moms and grandmothers get in for free on Mothers Day with a paid child admission; and dads and granddads get in for free (and get a free lunch!) on Fathers’ Day with a paid child admission. There are also Buy One Get One Scout days and Athletics days. Be sure to sign up for the Canobie Club to be notified about these days.
Looking for a family friendly park that’s not too over-the-top in thrills or cost? About an hour north of Boston, Canobie Lake Park is good, clean fun and perfect for a day trip. Hopefully these 12 tips will make your visit even better. Still have questions? The park’s website is chock full of detailed FAQs.