Grab your fanny packs, it’s time to follow the yellow arrows toward another edition of Uncle Jerry’s Points of Interest.
The lawn chairs are out of the streets and the jean shorts are out of the crawl space. That can only mean one thing: the weather is warmer in the Burgh. (It’s spelled with an “H,” Chainsmokers... don’t even think about coming ‘closer’ to Pittsburgh ‘til you figure that aht!).
When the mercury is on the rise, we make our annual pilgrimage to West Mifflin to bask in the majesty of… Kennywood.
Since it opened as a trolley park in 1899 for the Mellon family to polish off a tall glass of lemonade and fight-off tuberculosis, it is the original staycation destination for Yinzers.
As a kid, it was a rite of passage to be old enough to ride the Thunderbolt, and it was the first place you ever saw “Dippin Dots -- The Ice Cream of the Future.” As a teenager, it was the place to make out with your crush through the Old Mill during your school trip. As a parent, it was a money pit full of failed carnival games, square ice cream cones and personalized sailor hats.
Technically, it’s only eight miles from The Point, but in Pittsburgh terms, it’s an hour and a half once you hit the Squirrel Hill Tunnel. You’d be in the back of the mini-van, wearing matching shirts with your siblings, counting the Kennywood signs all the way to the park. Once you parked, walked through the gates and through the final tunnel of the trip, you were greeted by… a lady with a camera trying to sell you a keychain picture viewer. But as soon as you got past her, it was time to Go like Cowboy Joe!
So after debating with the neighbor’s kid abaht what was the best ride, I decided to put together a final and definitive ranking (not be confused with the Rankin Bridge) of the rides at Kennywood. Grab some Potato Patch fries, ‘cause here we go:
- Old Kennywood Railroad
Look, you gotta start somewhere. I know it takes you around the park and you see the river n’at, but it ain’t no thrill. I mean, the parking lot ski lift is more exciting!
Used to be called the Skydiver. Everyone just knows it as the Umbrellas that your little sister wanted to ride 35 times.
You can get more stomach-dropping dips on the brick roads of Crafton.
- Paddle Boats
No matter who you rode with, after 15 minutes, they were your mortal enemy.
This ride is basically the equivalent of a whip-it. You get a rush for about five seconds and then you ask “Why did I even do this?”
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Which one is the Volcano?” it’s the one that made you so sick you vomited into the mushroom fountain.
- Wave Swinger
The Swings! It’s now nestled over in Lost Kennywood, but it doesn’t matter how old you are, you still think you’re going to be able to reach the person in front or beside of you.
- Black Widow
You just know the designers were like “Hey, let’s see how much puke we can make the clean-up crew shovel this summer.” It swings and spins and isn’t recommended after a greasy Johnny Rockets burger.
- Swing Shot
Ninety feet up and swinging at 50 miles per hour, it’s the same rush you got when James Harrison intercepted and scored in Super Bowl XLIII. Just like Deebo, when you get off of this ride, you’ll need some oxygen.
- Cosmic Chaos
You think it’s going to be as awesome as Independence Day, but it’s more like Mars Attacks.
A classic ride for people who love the belly drops but hate the roller coaster heights. This is the second-best ride for squashing your riding partner.
- Garfield’s Nightmare
If this was still the Old Mill, it would have made the top 10. How do you stop riders from participating in hanky-panky? Make it a kiddie ride. Is there anything less romantic than a lasagna-loving fat cat?
- Raging Rapids
I’m pretty sure this ride got its name because your mom would be raging at you for riding it without packing spare clothes. As the raft spun you would pray that the huge waterfall wouldn’t dunk you, because you’d spend the rest of the afternoon walking around with wet shoes.
- Grand Prix
The bumper cars! Aside from the old Turnpike, this is how you learned how to drive. Likewise, it’s how you learned what a jagoff driver really can be in this city.
- Pirate Ship
Raise the Jolly Roger! Just like a trip to PNC Park, you go in with so much anticipation, and the only good thing is you might see a pierogi make a comeback. Yes, that’s another puke reference.
This is the gigantic swing over the pond. This would be in the top 10 as well for its daring drop and getting so close to putting one of those paddle boaters out of their misery, but you have to pay extra for it. That’s just not going to fly with a family that already packed a cooler full of chipped-chopped ham sammiches.
- Pittsburgh Plunge
Sure, riding it is fun. You get wet, you create this gigantic wave, and you further send your mother into a rage. But, isn’t it more fun to stand on the bridge and let the wave blast you?
11. Noah’s Ark
The blue whale is back! Once you step on that squishy pink tongue, you’re either leading the pack, or clutching tightly to the leader’s back. The updated version has a few more black lights than you might remember, but it still has that same fun-house feel with the shaky and spinning bridges at the end.
- Aero 360
With the smell of fried Oreos in the air, this ride will mess with your equilibrium the same way your Papa’s whiskey did when you were 15. He told you not touch it, but you were tasked with bringing the booze to the party.
- Log Jammer
If you don’t think the Log Jammer belongs in the top 10, you can take your Philly-lovin’ behind back to the bridge at the Plunge. On a hot summer Pittsburgh day, you have two options: Either ride the log jammer or catch a plane to Canada.
- Musik Express
How do I combine the musical stylings of Donnie Iris with the ferociousness of Levon Kirkland? This ride will have you screaming “Ahhhhhhhhhhh Leah” as your riding partner sacks your ass into the side of the cart.
With it being the only indoor roller coaster, it’s the perfect place to ride out a quick thunderstorm. The only bad thing about this ride is the wait. How many times do I have to watch this Stacy Smith wannabe tell me about this rat licking nuclear waste? Geesh, I thought Pizza Rat was annoying…
When it comes to classic carousels, Kennywood has one of the best in the country. It’s simply timeless. You can see those same Mellon employees riding this over 90 years ago. (Happy 90th this year!) The detail on the horses, the lights and the music make for a complete Kennywood experience. I don’t have a snarky comment about the Merry-Go-Round, because you need to respect your elders.
Loser buys a funnel cake? Deal. Red vs. Blue and you always wondered what jagoff stood up at the top of the first hill that made them put the sign there. Just when you thought you had the lead locked up, here comes the other color sneaking up and taking the win. Just like the renaissance happening in the city after the steel industry died, Pittsburgh loves a good comeback.
- Sky Rocket
Sky rockets in flight… afternoon delight! Sure, it stinks that the Turnpike had to go, but look at this awesome coaster we now have! By far, this is the smoothest ride in the park. Once it’s done, you look at your riding partner and say “Again?” If their response isn’t “Yeah,” dump them right there. You don’t need that negativity in your life.
- Phantom’s Revenge
Remember when it was the Steel Phantom and you had that younger brother that wouldn’t even look at it? Phantom’s Revenge is the best steel coaster at Kennywood. It weaves through the park, gives you the best aerial shot of the valley and never disappoints with G-forces.
- Jack Rabbit
Sure, the other coasters have some great drops, but the Jack Rabbit has something you won’t get on any other ride: A Near-Death Experience. When you hit that double drop, you literally feel like you’re going to fly out of your seat. Your life starts flashing before your eyes and you regret that you’ll never get to see the Stillers raise their seventh Lombardi.
The Thunderbolt isn’t just the best ride at Kennywood… it’s quite possibly the best ride in Pennsylvania. It has a sudden plunge right at the get-go, two passes by the Potato Patch and the biggest drop at the end. On the Mount Rushmore of Pittsburgh Rides, you would have the Monongahela Incline, The Gateway Clipper, Mr. Roger’s Trolley and the Thunderbolt. The Thunderbolt is Kennywood. Kennywood is Pittsburgh.
Was there something I missed? Was there a ride that belonged higher up on the list? Look, I appreciate the feedback, but be ready to defend your stance. Don’t just bring the D and not the Fence.
Alright, it’s time to go. Don’t forget to pick-up your keychain picture viewer on the way out.