Like most kids, I loved amusement parks. I went to a few, but the one we went to most regularly was Adventureland in Altoona, Iowa. It was about a three hour drive from the home where I grew up. We would usually meet my cousins from South Dakota, adding to the fun. It was like kid heaven. Once inside, you could ride all the rides you wanted . . . I remember having trouble sleeping the night before out of excitement
We would usually meet my cousins at the McDonald’s across the road. My parents figured they would fill us up on less expensive food before we were tempted by all of the overpriced treats in the park. That was just fine with me. We didn’t go out to eat all that often, and almost never to McDonald’s because there wasn’t one near our house. So, the stop at McDonald’s was a treat. I could see the roller coasters through the McDonald’s windows, adding to the excitement.
I had returned once as an adult, before I had kids. I took my nephew when he was about the age my son is now, because my brother’s family and I all lived fairly close to the park for a couple of years. I remember thinking it hadn’t really changed much since I was a kid.
My husband grew up north of Altoona, actually quite a bit closer. He, too had gone to the park fairly frequently as a kid. The first time we went together, with our kids, was 2014. When we entered, we both agreed, it was like stepping into a time warp. The entrance seemed exactly the same.
1. A 20-month-old cannot handle a hot amusement park after a three hour drive.
I live about 30 minutes from where I grew up, so it’s still nearly a three hour ride to the park. The first time we went, my son was four and my daughter was under two. My husband’s parents met us there. We decided to drive up that morning. Big mistake. The kids were already crabby from the car ride when we arrived (as were we). It was very hot that day, and the lines were long. We didn’t get many rides in before my daughter started having tantrums while waiting in line.
We returned to the park in 2015 and 2016. Both years, we stayed over the night before so we could be fresh when we arrived at the park.
2. Sometimes it’s better to take a break.
Because we drove up that morning, we had booked a room for that night. We knew being in the car for a total of six hours round trip would be too much for one day. We left the park in the early afternoon and checked into our room to get cooled off physically and emotionally.
Admission to the park was not cheap, so we hated to waste the time away from the park. However, the much needed break made the return in the late afternoon/early evening much more pleasant.
3. There’s good and bad to camping at Adventureland’s campground.
We bought a pop up camper in June of 2015. We wanted to use it as much as possible that summer, and thought it would be fun to take it to Adventureland.
It is less expensive than staying at a hotel, so that is an obvious plus. After working all day, driving three hours, and then setting up the pop-up, we were just a wee-bit cranky.
A plus – eating was less expensive. My husband had planned ahead. The camper has a small stove-top and we brought along a microwave, so we were able to bring our own food for the first night.
The campground is huge, with over 300 sites. Many retired folks come to work at the park for the summer, and they stay in their campers. The negative . . . the sites are very close together.
A huge benefit – our campsite was very near the entrance of the park. It was a very easy walk, so we didn’t have to fight traffic. We just walked right up to the entrance when they opened. That was pretty awesome. They also have a decent bathroom with a shower. I took two showers while there, and there was no one else showering at those times, so that was great. The downside – the bathroom did not have air conditioning and there was virtually no ventilation, it seemed. It’s tough to feel refreshed, even after a shower, when the air is thick with steam and it’s 90 degrees.
You can have your hand stamped and leave the park and return as many times as you want during the day. With our camper being so close, we could go back and take a rest whenever we wanted. The campground also has a pool, so we took a break in the afternoon and took a dip. The kids really enjoyed that, and it cooled us all off.
4. While you may be able to get away with not following through after saying “Maybe later” to a 2-year-old in some settings, an amusement park is not one of them.
My daughter’s favorite ride is the hot air balloons. She is the adventurous one. Her older brother is more cautious – and he especially was when we went in 2015. The hot air balloon ride looks harmless, but it actually goes pretty high, and as you’re going around, your seat swings out. He tried it once, and didn’t care for it, but my daughter, who is three years younger, wanted to ride it over and over.
We decided that my husband would pick up a pizza for dinner, we would eat it in the camper, and then see how it went as far as heading back to the amusement park. I had in my mind that my son and I would ride the log ride, as they were removing it from the park at the end of the summer and it was one of my favorite rides. My daughter was too short for it. As we were leaving the park to go eat, we passed the hot air balloon ride, and my daughter wanted to ride it again. I replied “Maybe later. We need to go eat dinner now.”
It had already been a long day, and my husband said he was done with the park. I was trying to persuade my daughter to stay with Daddy in the camper and rest while my son and I went to ride the log rides. To say this didn’t go over well would be an understatement. She became hysterical, screaming “Maybe later! Maybe later!” We joke about it now, but at the time, I knew I was not going to get out of the hot air balloon ride.
So, I told my son, I would return and we would ride the log ride.
5. Sometimes you have to rely on bribery and threats.
My daughter and I ended up taking three or four more rides. Even so, when I told her it was time to go, she started having a fit. I had told her I would buy her a toy, but when she started having a fit, I told her, no toy if she didn’t straighten up. It worked like a charm and we bought this pink giraffe on the way out, as well as a toy for my son.
Sadly, when I returned to the camper, my son was sound asleep. We didn’t ride the log ride, and when we returned in 2016, it was indeed gone. Mom was the most heartbroken of all over that one. Boo!
6. I’m still a kid at heart, but I’m not looking forward to my kids wanting to ride the big roller coasters!
One of my favorite rides is the bumper cars. My son has been tall enough to ride them the last two years, but my daughter has not. That can be pretty tough for a 3-year-old to deal with She handled it like a trooper, but a few months later, she still sometimes mentions that next year she will be tall enough to ride. I sure hope so!
While I look forward to her being able to ride what she wants, I enjoy my kids riding the kiddie rides. Like all things with kids though, I know that this will end and they will want to ride the big roller coasters eventually. Even in my 20’s, that would have been just fine. There’s a new roller coaster at Adventureland now, and it looks seriously daunting. Frankly, at this stage in my life, I have no interest in it. But, I know, my husband or I will have to ride it at some point. Ugh. I hope he will be the one up for it.
7. Going on a weekday makes more sense.
Why did it take three visits for me to figure this out? I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes. This year, we got a hotel room the night before and the night after. Definitely the way to go. The kids enjoyed the hotel pool, and there is plenty to do in the Des Moines area on the second day before heading back. So far, we have gone to the Iowa Children’s Museum, Blank Park Zoo, and the State Capitol.
Unfortunately, everything is very crowded on the weekend, and the State Capitol building was closed on Sunday, so we just took photos of the outside and walked around the grounds (there are some pretty bizarre statues there).
It didn’t occur to me until the next week, when I was talking about it at work, that we really should go on a week day. Duh. I have quite a bit of flexibility in my job, so I could work a weekend leaving me with my days off during the week. We’ll definitely have to give that a try next year.
8. With all of the heat, tantrums, and trouble, I still hope we return every year.
This park brings back such great memories for me, and I love that the buildings haven’t changed in 40 years. My kids love it so much, they talk about it all year long. While we like to go new places every year, this is a nice constant to look forward to again and again.