Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The 5 Best Vacationland Destinations of 1972

Last week, I shared my memories of the 5 worst “staycations” of my youth. This week I am going to list the 5 best. To recap, my family did not generally take traditional vacations, instead opting for a half-dozen or so day trips within about a two hour radius of home. These ratings are based on how I perceived these destinations at the time, not how I would perceive them today. A couple of them, in fact, no longer exist.

#5 Enchanted Forest - The best thing about Enchanted Forest was proximity. It was located just a couple of miles from my sister’s house on Catawba Island, so the logistics of a visit were relatively simple; pack everyone into the station wagon with a jug of Kool-Aid and we were off. The park itself was located in a wooded area that surrounded a small lake. In the earliest years, I recall it being a relatively nice place to spend a summer afternoon, the key attractions being a bouncy house, a super slide, pedal boats and a miniature golf course. Though the 70’s, though, I remember it going downhill. One of the employees drowned in a tragic accident around ‘75, and at some point it was re-branded Enchanted Lake Park. By the early 80’s it had become more of an event venue, albeit with miniature golf and paddle boats. We had a Kokinda family reunion there, probably around ‘81 or ‘82. I last visited the park in the summer of 1983 with a couple of my buddies from the CIC. One of them insisted we go miniature golfing, which I thought was kind of curious until we got there and I figured out he had a thing going with the girl working the counter. The park closed sometime in the mid-80’s and is now upscale “lake access” housing. 

#4 The Blue Hole - It’s a bit hard to explain how this attraction makes it so far up the list. The Blue Hole was, in essence, a deep pond. That’s it. No rides. No games. No piano-playing chickens. There was a small gift shop and a trout hatchery — something that would be incredibly interesting to me now, but was at the time... meh. There was also a beautiful wooded picnic area with a babbling brook running through it. My nephews and I would fashion tiny “boats” out of fallen sticks and leaves and race them on it. Although it wasn’t the most exciting place on earth, there was something peaceful and soothing about it that called to me. And there was an ice cream place right across from the entrance that had strawberry soft-serve, an exotic delicacy back in the day. While the Blue Hole itself and the hatchery are still there, it is no longer open to the public.

#3 The Toledo Zoo - You can say a lot of things about Toledo, many of them negative, but it's hard to find fault with the zoo. For a city it's size, the zoo was and still is amazing. It was located about an hour from our house and was the only time we ever got to go the "the city." Crossing the High Level Bridge across the Maumee River was almost as big a thrill for a small town boy as the zoo itself. There were often large freighters tied up along the docks, and the windows of the tall buildings downtown sparkled in the hazy sun. As was the family tradition with any trip in excess of 30 minutes, we packed like Sir Hillary climbing Everest; jugs of Kool-Aid and iced tea, cold fried chicken, potato salad and cantaloupe. Not to mention the various standard accouterments needed for taking a band of heathen youth into a public place; strollers, wagons, blankets, wet-wipes, bug spray. It was quite the production. The zoo was divided into various exhibits; the ape house, the aquarium, the reptile house, etc. My favorite spots were the aquarium and the history museum. There was also a small train that you could ride around the perimeter of the park.

#2 Sea World - I am not certain when Sea World opened, but we visited it for the first time around '74. We got a brochure from one of the roadside rests and I spent hours pouring over it in advance of that first visit. See, I had grown up watching Flipper and had an intense interest in marine creatures. There was a point at which I seriously wanted to be a marine biologist. To me at the time, Sea World was this extraordinary, exotic place. The fact that it was located in Aurora, a full two hours from our house, made it seem even more fantastical. And it lived up to my expectations. Dolphins, seals, otters and whales... freakin' WHALES! There were even pearl divers, water skiers and a highly anachronistic trout pond. That place was da bomb! Yeah, I know; turns out they were kind of torturing the animals. Bad on them, but it takes nothing away from the memories of a 12 year old seeing a freakin' WHALE.

#1 Cedar Point - If you grew up anywhere within 150 miles of Sandusky, Ohio there was only one summertime day trip you looked forward to every year. We typically went twice each year, once in the middle of summer and once in the fall. The summer trip included the whole family — sisters, nephews, nieces — while the fall trip was usually just me and my parents. Dad worked at US Gypsum and the first Sunday after the park closed to the public for the season was always US Gypsum Day. We got in free, and even though the park had only a skeleton crew, and some of the rides and attractions weren't open, in some ways it was more fun. The lines were shorter. The weather was cooler. The crowds were smaller. Neither Mom nor Dad was a big fan of the rides, so we were pretty much limited to the train, the boat, the old fashioned cars and the kiddie rides, which was fine because I was too small to ride the harrowing stuff anyway. Free or not, I wouldn't say that Cedar Point was Dad's favorite place, but there were two things there he liked, the French fries and the crane game. Cedar Point had VERY special fries. They were thick cut and served with ketchup and vinegar. Over the course of the day, we would get 3 or 4 servings of them. You're probably familiar with the crane game; they have them in lots of places now. But back then it was a fairly novel concept. It cost a dime to play, and it was not uncommon for Dad to pump in $5 trying to win a particular item. I recall him spending a couple of dollars in pursuit of a ceramic turtle with a cigarette lighter in the middle of its shell. Dad didn't smoke, so his fascination with this particular item was puzzling, until he told me the rounded ceramic shell made it the most difficult item to pick up. It wasn't the prize itself that motivated him, it was the difficulty in getting it. That apple didn't fall far from the tree.    

John's Weekly FIELD NOTES Column is Now Published in Speckled Paw

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