Erie, PA and Waldameer

erie skyline
Photo: http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

Welcome to a trip report for a quick weekend stay in Erie, PA. We stayed at Sara’s Campground at the entry of Presque Isle from Friday, June 6 through Sunday, June 8.

We have stayed at Sara’s many times over the last 10 or so years and really enjoy the location and the atmosphere. The campground is split into two sections across Peninsula Drive in Erie. One side is on the lake itself, and the other sits near the bay. If you are tent camping or have a small pop-up camper, you can stay on the lake side, populated heavily by seasonal campers. Reservations are not available for this side of the property, but you can set up camp right on the white sand beach if the campground isn’t full. If you have a larger camper or motorhome, or prefer to to be in a more wooded environment away from the water, then you can reserve a space on the bay side.

Beach
Photo: http://www.sarascampground.com

Because we have a 32 foot long travel trailer, we have to stay on the bay side. We were set up on site 66, an all-gravel site that backed up against an area of tall grass with quite a bit of water visible. While it was a partially shaded site, we did run into the issue of bugs from the water. We also prefer a grassy area for the little guy to play, so being on gravel and cement made that difficult (although, he was perfectly content digging up rocks and dirt with his shovel and trucks). Other than that, the area was quiet, with a large number of families as well as plenty of seasonal campers. I would have liked for the sites to be marked a little more clearly so neighbors didn’t end up on each other’s sites, but that may be my pickiness in comparing it to higher end campgrounds. Considering that we got a site with water and electric (no sewer hookup) for just $40 per night, it was a good deal overall.

When we wanted to head to the beach, it was an easy walk across Peninsula Drive to the other side of the property. My parents actually stayed on that side and we met up for dinner and playing in the sand and water each evening.

Also on the property are multiple dining options, Sara’s, Sally’s Diner, and Stevo’s Pizza. There were also two shops, the camp store on the beach side as well as a small souvenir shop called “Beach Zero” on the bay side. Because the campground’s beach is first on the Peninsula, prior to “Beach 1” that is part of Presque Isle State Park, it is lovingly referred to as “Beach Zero”, so you’ll see some references to that.

Nearby, you can head over to Waldameer Park and Water World, a family-friendly amusement park and attached water park. You can also find plenty of place to eat and shop, and can also find rental locations for water craft and bicycles, both very popular activities on the Peninsula.

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Waldameer has a nice selection of rides for the whole family. There are two coasters for adults, one older woodie for families, and one small steel coaster for younger kids to ride alone or with a parent. There is also a log flume ride, Thunder River, that literally soaked everyone in my family who rode it (not me!). A couple of kiddie ride sections, a rather gory dark ride (I’ll touch on that in a moment), and other classic amusement park rides round out the collection.

So back to the gory dark ride…The ride-through “Wacky Shack” is one of the last-remaining rides of its kind in the United States. Like a fun house, it uses optical illusions such as a rotating tunnel and a room of mirrors, to amuse guests. You ride in small carts that fit two people, and experience a small coaster-like hill about halfway through the ride. While I have ridden this many times in the past, I was surprised to find there had been changes made to it while my three-year-old was seated next to me. A large assortment of mannequins in a variety of scary scenes have been added throughout the ride. Gore was a big factor in all the scenes, causing my fearless little boy to bury his head in my lap and cry through most of the ride. I offer this as a warning to parents as I didn’t see a sign of any kind outside the ride to let you know. I didn’t enjoy it as an adult, and my child definitely didn’t either. It’s a shame that a classic attraction that is nearly extinct in this country, has been turned into a very different version of its former self.

The water park, aptly named Water World, has seen some major expansions in recent years. A large assortment of tube and body slides, a long lazy river, a big relaxation pool with hot water, a water tree house themed to the USS Niagara, and a large children’s area with a splash pad and about half a dozen gentle water slides, makes for a fun day in the sun. Life jackets are available, free of charge, but were all in use during our visit. It was a moderately busy day, so I’m not sure if that is a common issue for the park. If your little one isn’t a strong swimmer yet, feel free to bring your own life jacket or puddle jumper style flotation device for them.

Food prices throughout the park were pretty comparable to other amusement parks we visit. The typical fried food, pop, and ice cream offerings were abundant, along with all the snacks you could need during your visit.

A combo pass (both amusement and water park) was $37.50 for those over 48″ and $29.00 for those under 48″, if purchased in advance on the website. Season passes are also available for $99.00 for those over 48″ and $79.95 for those under 48″. The typical offerings of refillable souvenir bottles, popcorn buckets, and cabana rentals, are also available online for a reduced price compared to what you’ll pay at the gate.

If you do head to Erie, I would also recommend checking out the many shopping options, such as the Millcreek Mall, the Field and Stream store, and more. An indoor waterpark, Splash Lagoon, is also nearby, as is the Erie Zoo. Entry to the Presque Isle beaches is free of charge and open to the public. For more information, visit www.visiterie.com.

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