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Mary Ruoff

Freelance writer Mary Ruoff of Belfast wrote the "Way Down East" chapter of Fodor's "Maine Coast" travel guide and has contributed Maine content to other Fodor's guides.

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Posted: June 28, 2016

At these 5 water parks, you get kitsch, coasters and a place to cool off

This is not one of those dry lists … it’s our top picks for parks in Maine and New Hampshire where fun in the sun is supremely refreshing.

Written by: Mary Ruoff
Nightfall at seaside Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach. This view from the Cascade Falls water flume ride flows across the kiddie rides section to the Galaxi rollercoaster. Photo courtesy of Palace Playland

Nightfall at seaside Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach. This view from the Cascade Falls water flume ride flows across the kiddie rides section to the Galaxi rollercoaster. Photo courtesy of Palace Playland

Swoop and swoosh, tilt and turn, splish and splash – it’s the season for water and amusement parks.

Following are our five picks for parks in Maine and nearby New Hampshire. Most have been in business for many decades – one is more than 100 years old. Nostalgia is a big part of the appeal at many parks, along with well-kept attractions and grounds and updates that enhance the atmosphere.

Check park websites for discounts and special events. All of the places spotlighted here sell season passes. For 2016, some have introduced or expanded “Appreciation Days” that reduce admission prices for active and retired military personnel and police, fire and rescue workers, along with their families.

SACO

FUNTOWN SPLASHTOWN U.S.A.

Mount Olympus waterslides at Funtown Splashtown U.S.A. in Saco. Towering at right is the Dragon's Descent drop tower ride. Photo courtesy of Funtown Splashtown U.S.A.

Mount Olympus waterslides at Funtown Splashtown U.S.A. in Saco. Towering at right is the Dragon’s Descent drop tower ride. Photo courtesy of Funtown Splashtown U.S.A.

Funtown, the older of side-by-side, co-owned-and-operated ride and water parks, ushered in its 50th season this year. It’s celebrating all season long with anniversary discounts and specials and the return of the park’s original merry-go-round. The ride was removed in 2012 for a major expansion that added Mount Olympus’ three waterslides (two are fully enclosed translucent fiberglass slides) to Splashtown, which has 20 waterslides in all and two pools. Funtown has 28 rides (kiddie, family and thrill), including a 220-foot-tall drop tower, New England’s tallest and longest log flume, and the largest wooden roller coaster in Northern New England. Retro-cool, one-of-a-kind Astrosphere – a scrambler ride inside an air dome that moves to a laser light show and “Fire On High” by Electric Light Orchestra – has remained hugely popular since it opened in 1976.

GOOD TO KNOW: Guests with a Splashtown-only ticket can enter Funtown but not go on rides. Splashtown requires its own ticket or one for both parks. Most folks opt for the latter ($37, $28 for guests 38 inches to under 48 inches tall and for seniors, guests under 38 inches tall free).

MORE INFO: funtownusa.com, 284-5139


OLD ORCHARD BEACH

PALACE PLAYLAND

Opened in 1902, New England’s only remaining beachside amusement park stretches along the sand just south of the town’s main drag and a pier filled with restaurants, bars and shops. Befitting the locale, the four-acre park is compact and carnival-like. The arcade, one of New England’s largest, has traditional games like Skee-Ball as well as coin-operated video games. Operating hours for the park are in keeping with the beach town’s kick-it-up summer vibe. Notes the website, “There is no set closing time … our closing time depends strictly on weather and attendance.” During peak season, it’s almost always open until at least 10 p.m.

GOOD TO KNOW: No admission fee! Buy ride tickets individually or in booklets, or get unlimited riding passes ($32.50 per day, $24.50 for kiddie pass; there are also two-day and season passes). Or stroll in at night for ice cream and to enjoy the colorfully lit rides (kiddie, family and thrill). Fireworks brighten the night sky on Thursdays.

MORE INFO: palaceplayland.com, 934-2001


PORTSMOUTH, N.H.

WATER COUNTRY

One of New England’s largest water parks, this 26-acre destination on U.S. 1, south of downtown Portsmouth, has pools, slides and attractions for all ages. Opened in 1984, there are 15 slides and rides for older children and adults. Thrill-seekers will love free-falling into the water upon exiting the enclosed Shoot & Scream slide. Double Dive Boggan is the park’s only head-first ride. For some rides and attractions, guests are seated on inflated tubes or rafts. Tahiti Tree House, one of four kiddie attractions, dumps water out of a massive bucket. For relaxed family fun there are several choices: wave pool, whirlpool, swimming pool and the quarter-mile-long Adventure River, with fountains, waterfalls and caves. Private picnic areas and classy canvas “premium” cabanas with lounges, tables and chairs are new this year; reserve online for a discount.

GOOD TO KNOW: If you plan to visit more than once this season, it’s cheaper to buy a season pass. General admission is $39.99, $27.99 for guests under 4 feet tall (age 2 and under free) and seniors.

MORE INFO: watercountry.com, 603-427-1111 (information line) or 603-427-1112


GLEN, N.H.

STORY LAND

True to its name, this nicely landscaped park in Mount Washington Valley near North Conway is designed for children, generally ages 2 to 12. From the pirate ship, swan boats and seated rafts that travel park waterways, to the spinning teacups, log flume and Crazy Barn (it rises and spins), the 23 rides are for families to enjoy together (some height restrictions). The wooden Roar-O-Saurus, the larger of two roller coasters and new in 2014, provides a 37-second ride with one big drop and plenty of airtime but no flips. One of two indoor theaters hosts a magic show, and storybook characters perform indoors and out. Admission includes shows, but there is a charge for Character Dinners and Tea Time with Cinderella.

GOOD TO KNOW: Purchase tickets ($32.99, age 2 and under free) during the last three hours of the day to get a free pass to use another day this season.

MORE INFO: storylandnh.com, 603-383-4186


JEFFERSON, N.H.

SANTA’S VILLAGE

Poogee Penguin's Spin Out coaster debuted this year at Santa's Village in Jefferson, N.H. Photo courtesy of Santa's Village

Poogee Penguin’s Spin Out coaster debuted this year at Santa’s Village in Jefferson, N.H. Photo courtesy of Santa’s Village

Owned and operated by the same family since it opened in 1953, this White Mountains park is on TripAdvisor’s list of the nation’s top 25 amusement parks. New this year, Poogee Penguin’s Spin Out has spinning cars like a Tilt-A-Whirl that move along a figure-eight-and-a-half track. The Skyway Sleigh monorail winding among the picturesque park’s many evergreens is one of only two like it in the country. Geared for children ages 2 to 12, the park’s 20 rides are for both children and adults (some height restrictions). Admission includes shows and a small water park added in recent years. Older and younger kids love the Joy Ride waterslides – yes, everything at Santa’s Village is delightfully Christmas-themed. Kids can visit Santa in his summer home and pet his reindeer.

GOOD TO KNOW: Purchase tickets ($31, age 3 and under free) during the last three hours of the day to get a free pass to use another day this season. Rides are decorated with lights when the park reopens on weekends for Christmastime.

MORE INFO: santasvillage.com, 603-586-4445

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