By Karen Carr Keefe
The water park, Kiddy Land and Western Town will reportedly be the main focus when Niagara Amusement Park & Splash World reopens on Memorial Day weekend for the second season under new management, the park has told local media in recent weeks.
The former Fantasy Island returned with a splash – literally – last Aug. 28, when Splash World, the water park portion of the 75-acre amusement park, reopened for a shortened season. At that time, Gene Staples and his company, IB Parks and Entertainment, said that this year there would be a full complement of rides.
The company has also told the media in recent weeks that a phased reopening is planned this season. It will roll out the rides as they are ready, bringing new features and some old favorites to a venue long beloved by Grand Islanders.
A hiring push on their webpage indicates the park means business.
There is an open hiring event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the park administration building, 2400 Grand Island Blvd. Applicants should bring two forms of ID. Job openings listed on the park website include lifeguards, ride operators, admissions and maintenance. The pay is $15 an hour. For more information on jobs, visit https://www.facebook.com/NiagaraAmusementPark.
Also Saturday, auditions will be held for entertainers to act for Kiddy Land and Western Town, starting at 1 p.m. at the park. Successful candidates must be over age 16, be able to work three days a week during the season from May to September, and have some skills in singing and dancing.
Debi Pogue, with husband Darren, started the Facebook group Fans of Niagara Amusement Park & Splash World. Their 10-year-old son, Liam, was the first paying customer to walk through the gates in 2021 on opening day.
Pogue would like to know more about plans for the park’s reopening, but is cautiously optimistic for a good season ahead.
“It’s hard to gauge what to expect,” she said. “I want to see what they can do.”
She is encouraged the park has advertised job openings for positions in Kiddy Land and Western Town. On the Facebook page the Pogues run, they took a poll to see what fans most want to see at the park. The Western show was a winner. “If there’s one thing that people want ... it’s definitely that western show. It’s so nice that the one thing they’re confirming is that kind of ode to the past and we grew up with. That’s absolutely awesome!”
Young and old enjoy the pink slide at Splash World.
The park was closed in February 2020 by former owner Apex Parks Group and picked up by the new management last June under a long-term lease with property owner Store Capital. Staples also operates parks in Indiana and New Jersey.
Restoring the park has been a challenging task for the new operator because, while it was idle, the 60-year-old facility fell prey to vandalism, graffiti and disuse. Many rides were sold off, but IB Parks and Entertainment has worked to acquire rides that will bring crowds under a new family-oriented theme. The company set to cleaning, polishing and providing the sizzle and excitement that Western New Yorkers came to know and love. The restoration of the Splash Park and its popular water slides and Lazy River ride was step one.
What has been posted on the park website so far for the new season:
√ Installation of the popular Scrambler ride began in early March.
√ The Zamperla Samba Balloon Ride is in the process of being fully restored. It is one of the few rides left behind when the park closed in 2020.
√ In February, management announced that a classic shuttle loop coaster with flywheel launch was expected to begin construction “as soon as the weather cooperates.”
Brent and Jennifer Minet of Grand Island are looking forward to taking their young family to Kiddy Land. Allison is 5 and twins Lydian and Michael are 3. “Right up until the last year they were open (as Fantasy Island), we were taking Allie – we had season passes,” Brent said. “It was kind of nice because we live close enough where we would put her in the car and take her for an hour, go on a couple of rides and then go back home.
“I’ll just be happy with the Kiddy Land … and the Old West show, for starters – because my kids are that age. The big stuff can wait a few years, as far as we’re concerned.”
He said he hasn’t heard anything about season tickets yet. “We’re kind of hoping that they might at least have a local rate. And I would just be thrilled if the Kiddy Land was as good or better than it was,” he said, “The only thing we went to the other side of the park for once in a while with Allie was the old-fashioned cars. I wonder if those will be back.”
Growing up on the Island, Minet remembers the park being in its heyday when he was a teenager. “They had just gotten that wooden roller-coaster and were just getting that big Ferris wheel.”
He said his older daughter, Allie, really liked the little houses for kids to check out in open play, such as the Seven Dwarfs houses. “She really wants those houses back. And we’d like the train back – the train was fun. And there was this lion water fountain – she really loved it,” he said.
Minet teaches in the Buffalo school system. He said that, while Grand Islanders mourned the loss when the park closed, they weren’t the only ones. “When that park closed, that didn’t just hurt local. I had students at East High School that lost their summer jobs when that happened. It even hurt people outside the community.”
IB Parks and Entertainment officials were unavailable for comment for this story, despite repeated attempts to contact them for information.
Darren, Debi and Liam Pogue enjoy a break from the rides, under the cool of an umbrella at Splash World Café.