photo credit: Jason North
Nick Paradise is just like one of us. He grew up going to Kennywood every year for Oakmont and Verona Day, the neighborhood where he grew up. Nick loved Kennywood so much, he is now Director of Public Relations and Social Media for the famed amusement park, now in its 119th season. From historical fun facts about the park to brand-new enhancements to rides, we learned everything you’ll ever want to know about every Pittsburgher’s favorite amusement park. Potato patch fries anyone?
PITTSBURGH BEAUTIFUL: What’s in store this summer for Kennywood?
NICK PARADISE: We’re very excited! We’ve got a number of new things this summer, like a 4D theater showing a Lego Movie 4D Experience. It’s like a mini-sequel to the Lego Movie that came out a few years ago. It appeals to children but there are a lot of jokes for adults too. The 4D theater concept includes an immersive theater experience like vibrating seats, getting squirted with water and more. It’s a great thing to take advantage of in excessively hot or bad weather and is fun on its own merit as well. Then the Sky Rocket coaster will offer a virtual reality headset to patrons can experience a ride within a ride and be transported to a virtual world—everything they do and see on the screen matches what the coaster does in real life. It’s one of the newest trends in the amusement industry.
PB: Why do you think there is such a magic about Kennywood for Pittsburghers?
NP: From a guest perspective, it’s a Pittsburgh institution. Everyone always remembers Kennywood day every summer. There’s our ethnic heritage days, school and community picnics and more. Some families have been coming to see us for over 100 years. We’re only one of two national historic landmark amusement parks (the other being Playland in Rye, NY). Here at Kennywood there are rides and roller coasters that not only parents but grandparents and even great grandparents rode. The Jack Rabbit is 97 years old—there’s something about all that that’s hard to duplicate. The relationship between Kennywood and Pittsburghers is very unique. Other regions don’t have a connection with an amusement park like Pittsburghers and Kennywood do. We do everything we can to preserve that.
PB: What are some of your personal favorite Kennywood memories?
NP: I went once a year for Oakmont and Verona day. It was such a cool experience for us kids, there was Christmas and Kennywood day. Kennywood day was like our Christmas of the summer. We always worried about who’d we ride with that day and made sure to have our ride partner. I remember my grandmother going with our family when she was in her 70s and early 80s—she’d ride two rides, the merry-go-round and the turtle. Looking back on it, it was so cool that it was a multigenerational thing. Kennywood is like a rite of passage. Once kids grow up and get to be seniors in high school, they sometimes get tired of it, take some years off and once they get older and have kids of their own they instantly want to bring their families to Kennywood, generation after generation. There’s really no other park in the country that kids get to get out of school to go to an amusement park.
PB: What’s the funniest, craziest or most interesting story you’ve heard about Kennywood?
NP: There are so many, some I can share, some I can’t. I love a lot of the history around it, like Noah’s Ark opening in 1936 when Pittsburgh experienced some of the worst flooding in its history. When the ride was remodeled in 1996, Pittsburgh was hit with flooding again. What are the chances? Everyone has favorite personal stories. There was a connection a family forged at Kennywood, an extremely touching story and a tearjerker. That one was one of my favorites. (More on that story can be found here in a link from Nick).
PB: Are there any new rides or food to watch out for at the park this summer?
NP: We’ve made a lot of changes to our food and beverage lineup. Guests can expect to see a new topping to Potato Patch fries—Potato Patch Poutine, made with fried cheese curds and gravy. We’ve also brought back the Potato Patch burger, made with the iconic fries on top. There’s also a new barbecue vendor in the Swinery and a concerted effort for healthy eaters. There is a completely gluten free stand now in the park as well as an overhauled Kiddieland menu with organic, antibiotic free choices. We’re excited to heed the calls of guests to offer more for those with dietary restrictions. Of course, there are many cheat opportunities at Kennywood too!
PB: Why do you think Kennywood does so well balancing nostalgia while still changing with the times?
NP: It’s always been essential to Kennywood’s success. There’s a sense of community and innovation. The Jack Rabbit was a revolutionary coaster when it was first built with an extra set of wheels underneath its track to make it go faster. Nowadays, that system is on every coaster that’s built. We’ve always been at the forefront of innovation. It’s a fine line, continuing to offer coasters like Phantom’s Revenge while staying true to what makes Kennywood unique with older and rare rides.
PB: What has consistently been Kennywood’s most popular rides and food items?
NP: Potato patch fries! We like to joke they’re our most popular ride in the park. We average over 500,000 orders each year. There’s also our square-dipped ice cream cones, deep fried Oreos, funnel cakes and corn dogs—things you’d never eat unless you were at an amusement park. As far as rides, our roller coasters always grab the most attention, especially our three wooden coasters which are still here and holding up well.
PB: What sort of feedback have you received from Pittsburghers lately?
NP: We get all kinds of feedback, especially now that we’re active on social media. This may be unique to Kennywood, but where most parks ask for new rides, we get a lot of feedback saying to bring back older rides. For a lot of guests, whatever they rode in their childhoods was crystallized as the best era of rides. It has a lot to do with the innocence and happiness of a child, I think. We love input as far as what guests would like to see added.
PB: What do you think tourists should know about Kennywood?
NP: They should know that just because we aren’t in downtown Pittsburgh directly, we have a fantastic amusement park and are just 15 to 20 minutes from downtown. We combine entertainment with history, we’re not about waiting in line forever and offer a traditional experience. You know how when you come through the Ft. Pitt Tunnel, you’re wowed by the Pittsburgh skyline? For Kennywood it’s a bit of the same thing, when you go through that tunnel into the park, you’re instantly transported back to a simpler time, a park with gardens and green space and rides all over the place. People visiting from out of town have recommended us to friends and said things like “they have the Kangaroo and Bayern Curve, you never see those anymore!”
NP: Kennywood is Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh is Kennywood. Things like Noah’s Ark and our wooden coasters are etched in people’s minds. I mean, think about “Kennywood’s open”—what other area has their own catchphrase for a pants fly being down? It really is an institution in the area, and we are proud of that. We have people that have worked here for decades, some since they got their first jobs as 15 or 16 year old teenagers. We are the largest youth employer in the region, offering critical experience before they start their professional lives. A lot of this is what makes Pittsburgh beautiful too, and a beautiful place to live or visit.
What are some of your favorite Kennywood memories? Share with us in the comments below! For more information on Kennywood including park hours, ticket prices, rides, fun and food… visit their website!