News Column

Dino versus Dino: Comparing animatronic dinosaurs at Dorney Park, Dutch Wonderland

July 21, 2014

By Kathy Lauer-Williams, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

July 21--Ever since the film "Jurassic Park" came out in 1993, the idea of a theme park filled with the extinct creatures has tantalized our imaginations.

While no one is bringing back actual dinosaurs, one of the newest trends at amusement parks has been to open parks featuring life-size animatronic dinosaurs that move their heads, swing their tails and emit blood-curdling roars for an experience as close to seeing real dinosaurs as we will ever get.

Two years ago, Dorney Park in South Whitehall Township added a dinosaur park and is taking it one step further by adding a "Dinos After Dark" option at night.

This year, Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster added its own dinosaur park on an under-used island separated from the rest of the park.

Here's a look at both dinosaur parks:

DORNEY PARK'S THRILLING DINOSAURS ALIVE!

-- How big and how many: With 40 dinosaurs -- the tallest 40 feet high and the longest 80 feet long, -- Dorney Park has some of the largest dinosaurs, befitting its reputation as a park that offers thrills.

-- The park: Dorney's 3.3-acre dinosaur exhibit is in a grove with lots of trees behind the Steel Force coaster. A path marked with imprints of ferns and giant footprints begins not far from the entrance of Steel Force and leads back into the dinosaur park, which has a separate entrance. Visitors walk on a path through the scenes and end up near where they entered.

-- Dinosaurs: Dinosaurs featured in "Dinosaurs Alive!" are Albertosaurus, Allosaurus, Amargasaurus, Angustinaripterus, Apatosaurus, Baryonyx, Carnotaurus, Chasmosaurus, Deinonychus, Dyoplosaurus, Eotyrannus, Herrerasaurus, Huayangosaurus, Irritator, Kosmoceratops, Mamenchisaurus, Mojoceratops, Monoclonius, Monolophosaurus, Ouranosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, Pachyrhinosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Ruyangosaurus, Spinosaurus, Stegosaurus, Tenontosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus and Yangchuanosaurus.

-- Interactivity: Visitors can use a push-button console to control three of the prehistoric giants, moving their arms, tails, necks, mouths and even making their sides rise and fall as if breathing. Dinosaurs with interactive consoles are Parasaurolphus, Baryonyx and Huayangosaurus

-- Scenes: The dinosaurs are grouped into scenes based on fossil evidence and include peaceful herds to violent predator-prey interaction. The opening scene, a re-creation of China's Dashanpu area, features the world's largest animatronic dinosaur, the Ruyang Yellow River dinosaur, which is 72 feet long and 30 feet high. The final scene features a 30-foot-tall Triceratops and a 40-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex. A new scene features a group of Albertosaurus, a predator believed to have hunted in packs. A more peaceful scene shows Maiasauras in a large colony, including three nests with hatching babies. Other scenes include a herd of Pachyrhinosaurus in a creek during a flash flood, a Triceratops about to be taken down by a juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex, an attack by a pack of Deinonychus on a grazing Hadrosaur and various dinosaurs caught in mud pits.

-- Archaeological dig: The exhibit has a realistic archaeological excavation dig that is marked off with string, as well as a large sand pit, in which kids can take part in their own paleontological excavation and dig to uncover most of a skeleton of a large predator.

-- Educational: Each dinosaur features story boards and panels posted along the walkway with facts about the dinosaur habits, history and family life. In one, Baryonyx is compared to a modern grizzly bear, using its curved, hook-like claw on each hand to hunt fish. Other interesting facts include that the nostrils of the Irritator were at the rear of its skull so it could breathe when its jaw was under water and that Hadrosaurs were so numerous they are referred to as the "cows of the Cretaceous." Often living in huge herds, these duck-billed dinosaurs had no teeth in the front of their beaks, but as many as 960 cheek teeth.

-- Extras: A special experience, "Dinos After Dark," has been introduced this year. Through July, visitors can tour the dinosaur park by flashlight from 9 p.m. to park close Friday, Saturday and Sundays. The experience includes complimentary s'mores.

DUTCH WONDERLAND'S NOT TOO SCARY EXPLORATION ISLAND!

How big and how many: Dutch Wonderland has 20 animatronic dinosaurs in Exploration Island!; the largest is 15 feet high. The displays, which all move and make sounds, are smaller so they are not too intimidating for the park's target audience of children age 10 and younger.

The surroundings: Exploration Island! is on an 5-acre island separated from the rest of the park and with access only by a foot bridge over the canal. The park features tall trees lining a center path and other paths along the sides of the island so visitors can explore at their own pace. The entire area is well-shaded and both the dinosaurs and the canal is separated from the path by fences, although you can get very close to the displays.

Dinosaurs: Dinosaurs featured in Exploration Island! are Ankylosaurus, Maiasaura, Parasaurolophus, Psittacosaurus, Pterosaurs, Shunosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Interactivity: Visitors can use a push-button console to control a Parasaurolophus moving its arms, tail, necks and mouth.

Scenes: Many of the dinosaurs are grouped in benign family scenes and there are no violent scenes that might scare little ones. Most impressive is the scene of three Pterosaurs that soar high above visitors along the main path. The flying reptiles -- they are technically not dinosaurs -- are attached high in the trees so visitors must look up at them. There is a photo opportunity with a scene of a moving baby Tyrannosaurus Rex emerging from an egg. Kids can climb in and peekout of two empty eggs that flank the hatching dinosaur for a humorous picture. Other scenes include a Parasaurolophus with three juveniles and a horned Triceratops with two baby Triceratops.

Archaeological dig: The "Dino Dig" has three sand-filled pits where kids can use a brush to discover fossilized T-Rex footprints, as well as Triceratops and Stegosaurus skeletons buried in the sand. There also are mechanical diggers for playing. The area is shaded.

Educational: Each dinosaur features story boards and panels posted along the walkway with facts about the dinosaurs' habits, history and family life. Interesting facts include that Stegosaurus' spiked tail may have had spikes that pointed to the side making it a more effective weapon, and Maisaura's name means "mother lizard" because remains have been found close to nests and it is believe the mother stayed close to her young long after hatching.

Extras: The island has three rides that have been incorporated into Exploration Island. The Gondola Cruise, a track-boat ride, takes visitors on a canal cruise around the inner rim of the island. You can see many of the dinosaur scenes from a different perspective as you float by. The Turnpike, a self-propelled tracked car ride, has been relocated and lengthened to travel around the island on the outside of the canal. The cars, which can seat two, can go as fast as 5 mph around the island, providing views of the Gondola boats as well as the dinosaurs scenes. The River Boat, a boat piloted by a captain, also takes a circular trip on the river around the entire island, allowing you to see the Turnpike, Gondola boats and dinosaurs, as well as rolling farmlands beyond the park. The River Boat loads in the main park, at the bottom of the foot bridge leading to Exploration Island.

DINOSAURS ALIVE!

-- What: South Whitehall'sDorney Park opened its exhibit of 40 animatronic dinosaurs in 2012. The dino park requires a separate admission.

-- When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m daily through Labor Day

-- How much: Dinosaurs cost $6 in addition to park admission: $52.99, $32.99 at gate for children under 48 inches tall, $39.99 in advance online. Parking: $15.

-- Info: dorneypark.com, 610-395-3724

EXPLORATION ISLAND!

What: Lancaster County's Dutch Wonderland has 20 animatronic dinosaurs on an island.

When: 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily through Labor Day

How much: Dinosaurs included with park admission: $37.75, age 3-59; $32.75, seniors; $33.75 to $35.75 in advance online.

Info: http://www.dutchwonderland.com

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(c)2014 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

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