MONTICELLO — As a first-time visitor to Indiana Beach, Julian Hall admits that he may have undersold the Monticello amusement park on his way down from his hometown of Portage.
In his opinion, a “true” amusement park needs to have a sprawling parking lot, a long line at every ride and a high admission price.
Much to his surprise, the laid-back atmosphere Hall found in White County provided the perfect backdrop for a memorable first trip to the park.
“It was really fun,” Hall said as he left with his girlfriend and his younger brother.
“This is the first time here for all of us, but it won't be the last,” he said. “I like that it's a little smaller. .. It's got like an old-school vibe to it. It's pretty cool.”
That “old-school” charm is something that Indiana Beach officials hope guests pick up on this summer. Much of their off-season involved a delicate balancing act of bringing in fresh ideas while still preserving the nostalgic feeling that longtime visitors have as they stroll along the boardwalk.
“Just keeping it how it was is hard, and that's what people want. The nostalgia and the charm,” said Sherry Vogel, marketing director for Indiana Beach. “But you have to have some change. You just can't keep it the same forever.”
Giving the park an end-to-end sprucing up was a top priority this year. It included everything from painting and sandblasting rides to full-scale renovations of the Skyroom Restaurant and the Roof Garden Lounge.
Vogel said the Skyroom and the Roof were modernized, with the restaurant getting new carpet and a fresh, sleek color scheme. The eatery also has a new menu and head chef.
“It was very early '80s,” Vogel said of the former Skyroom. “It was the blue and mauve and had the pink walls. And the carpet was flora. Not anymore.”
For the thrill seekers, Indiana Beach didn't roll out any new rides this season. Instead, officials focused on returning longtime favorites to their former glory.
For example, the Water Swings — placed curiously away from the water since 2011 — are back in their original location near the Shafer Queen dock.
And the Falling Star, a ride that has been absent from the park since 2010, is making a comeback this year, complete with a re-dedication event.
Park officials also spent time re-tracking all three of the park’s wooden roller coasters. Vogel said the job, which is something that typically is done every five to eight years in addition to usual maintenance, keeps the wooden coasters rolling smoothly.
As self-professed “coaster-junkie,” Dylan Ambrose of Monticello was happy to hear that the roller coasters in his own backyard are in top condition.
Ambrose says he hits about a dozen amusement parks each summer, and Indiana Beach was his first stop this season.
“The coasters here are actually pretty sweet, and today we were able to get to all of them pretty quickly. I think it took us like an hour because we had to stop and recover,” he said. “We shouldn’t have eaten first.
“The Steel Hawg (roller coaster) is the main event here for me. We save that for last.”
Gerald and Martha Campbell said their first trip to IndianaBeach was more than 20 years ago.
The pair from Chalmers wasn’t at the park for thrills. They were there to satiate their craving for fair food — namely tacos and funnel cakes.
“I have been waiting all year for this stuff to come back,” Gerald Campbell said, laughing after polishing off his second funnel cake. “I’m not into rides or anything. We like just coming out here when the weather is nice and walking out here near the water.”
Indiana Beach opened for its 86th season on May 11, Vogel said. Things are expected to kick into high gear on Father’s Day as the park celebrates its anniversary. To accommodate the anticipated rush, the park will staff 800 to 1,000 employees.
For the Indiana Beach regulars, Vogel hopes the focus taken in the off-season helps the park stay true to its original roots while taking a few chances.
“If you haven’t been here, it’s just an experience — it really is,” she said. “It gets in your heart, and it’s just somewhere you want to come back to again and again.”