The Phoenix at Knoebels is One of the World's Best Roller Coasters
Photo courtesy of themeparkreview on Twitter
As a former card carrying member of American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE), I have spent a great deal of time considering the quality of roller coaster rides. I won't claim to having ridden them all, or even making a dent in the list of American coasters. That said, I've ridden quite a few.
As a youth, I cut my teeth on the coasters at Willow Grove Park (WGP), just north of Philadelphia. Where now stands a mall of the same name, there was once an amusement park, one that was built in 1896 by a trolley company to give people a reason to ride to the end of the line. In its early days, it was known for band concerts led by John Philip Sousa. Over time, iconic amusement rides were added such as a ferris wheel, the tunnel of love, a fun house, a classic carousel and the like, and ultimately four roller coasters. One was The Wild Mouse, a factory made early metal coaster that was duplicated in many parks. The other three were classic wooden coasters. The Thunderbolt was their largest, steepest, and fastest coaster (you had to be over 12, I think, to ride it - and for good reason). The park's signature ride was The Alps, complete with an ersatz mountain located right at the corner of Easton and Welsh Roads. The one unusual thing about The Alps was that it had a brakeman at the back of each car, whose liberal use of the brake made this rather imposing looking coaster into a tame ride for the whole family.
The coaster I spent the most time on was The Scenic Railway, a low wooden out and back. None of it was very high but that was the key to the deceptive beauty of the design. We called it The Little Scenic; it was lots of fun to ride especially because it went much faster than you'd think and there were several nice bunny hops on the return, with the requisite air time. I haven't had the time to research it, but I would not be surprised if The Scenic and The Phoenix came from the same design house.
I might not have realized at the time, but I grew with a love for roller coasters, those ones at WGP were always the main attraction that kept pulling me back. It was sad to see the park run down in the 70s, and even a new theme and name, Six Gun Territory, didn't help and the park ultimately closed.
Since resuming amusement park visits in the 1980s, I've been ridden most of the coasters in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I've taken road trips to Williamsburg, VA for Busch Gardens, to Coney Island, NY for the historic Cyclone, and to Sandusky, OH for an ACE CoasterCom at Cedar Point. That park likes to be know as the Roller Coaster Capitol of the World, with 18 at last count. Hershey Park in PA is giving them some competition with 15 coasters. I've also ridden The Matterhorn at Disneyland, the one in California.
Compared to all these coasters, The Phoenix is not the largest, not the tallest, not the steepest, not the fastest; it won't turn you upside down, and it doesn't go backwards. What the Phoenix has is simply the most fun ride of any coaster I've been on. This is the reason that coaster fans hold it so dear. It's just got a great design with lots of air time. Air time on a coaster is defined as the time a coaster causes you to feel weightless (see video below). The Phoenix has a series of bunny hops that very much remind me of The Scenic Railway at Willow Grove Park.
The Phoenix is located at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA, which is around an hour northwest of Reading. If you've been to other modern amusement parks you may find that Knoebels is a delightful throwback to days of yore. For starters, there is free parking and free admission into the park. Knoebels was built on a wooded hillside and you've never seen this much shade at such a place. In addition, many of the other rides are the best of their type, such as the log flume, the haunted house and the bumper cars, just to name a few. You can pay by the ride using tickets (The Phoenix currently costs $3) or you can buy unlimited rides, as you wish. Also, the food there is decent and is priced somewhat lower than you might expect. There are numerous favorites such as pizza or the clear birch beer; the pierogis I've gotten there are the best I've ever had. Know that this is not a commercial; just thought I'd share.
"As the 1980s drew to a close, an emphasis on preservation of classic wooden coasters resulted in the historic relocation of San Antonio’s Rocket to Pennsylvania, where it was reconstructed as The Phoenix at Knoebels Amusement Resort and is now regarded as one of the world’s best coasters." (American Coaster Enthusiasts)
A virtual ride on The Phoenix, courtesy of CoasterForce on YouTube. Buckle your seat belt and watch.
Top Speed: 45 mph
Highest Point: 78 mph
Duration: 2 minutes
A Little History:
"The Rocket was designed and built by Herb Schmeck and the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (of Hatfield, PA). The roller coaster operated from 1947 until the park's [Playland] closure in 1980. Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pennsylvania purchased the ride in 1984 and dismantled it in early 1985. As there were no blueprints to work with, each individual board was numbered and cataloged on site. The restored roller coaster opened at Knoebels on June 15, 1985, as The Phoenix." (Wikipedia)
This picture was taken at Knoebels; the sign may have come from Playland in Texas, along with The Phoenix