Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Park Review: Canada's Wonderland

Park Review of Canada's Wonderland
The surprise we didn't expect!

  I can't begin to describe the shock and happy surprise we experienced at Canada's Wonderland. We didn't really know what to expect and went into this review rather blind, only knowing basic facts about the park. What we found really was a wonderland of great rides, good food, friendly and knowledgeable employees and a level of cleanliness that I haven't experienced in many years.

Day: Friday
Date: May 24th, 2013
Weather: Arctic Tundra followed by Decently Nice.
Overall Rating: Excellent
Ride Rating: Excellent
Opinion:  GO! GO! GO!

 Let's begin, upon arrival in Canada we found the weather had taken a rather nasty turn on us. The promised 73 degree weather took a nose dive and plummeted to 56 degrees as the high. Now I'm not a huge fan of the cold weather to begin with and when you add in riding high speed coasters in cold weather, I'm the first person to begin whining. However, with the application of caffeine and the promise of fun even my southern fried self bucked up and got down to business. 

  Around 9:45AM we arrived, shivering but ready. Meeting our guide from public relations, Gary, at the gate we where escorted in and given some fun knowledge about the park. One burning question we had was why Canada's Wonderland had a Mountain rather then the fairly standard Eiffel Tower which most of the previous Paramount Parks boast. Apparently it was a fairly random decision, a choice between several options and they chose a mountain as their focal entrance piece.  I have to admit, it makes for a far more striking effect, between the fountains and the waterfalls on the mountain its-self.  Afterward, I read a few comments in regards to the mountain and some have said it needs "cleaned" but when you really stop and examine the overall effect, I personally like it better this way. It looks real, like something the park just left when they where building up their 330 acres, simply because it was pretty.

  We had hoped our first stop of the day would be the newest attraction, Leviathan. A massive B&M coaster that is Millennium Forces very angry younger brother. Sadly due to the weather (tundra-like) this wasn't possible as the Mega-Coasters where not running in the cold. Thankfully, the smaller steel coasters and the woodies were not subject to this issue. So while chatting with Gary (who did his level best to convince me to get on Drop tower, which I declined!) we hopped onto one of the parks original coasters, Dragon Fire.  This ride is an Arrow steel looping coaster, built in 1981 for the parks grand opening.  While surely not the biggest nor fastest coaster it the park, it's hard to not appreciate the fact that unlike some other parks they didn't simply remove it once it became dated, they kept their classic and iconic ride. After all these years it's hard not to love the classics and we found this one to be smooth and very well maintained.  Once again I managed to break my previously established rule of "No Front Seat in Freezing Windchills" and froze my hands off while loving even moment of it!

  About this point we parted with Gary to wander about randomly on our own. With a stop for some much needed hot chocolate, we paused and made our game plan. Having found Leviathan still closed due to the cold, we decided a ride on another original coaster was in order. This time, we headed straight for the Wild Beast. This is a classic wooden coaster also built in 1981 for the parks grand opening. Due to the weather the lines were not bad and it seemed to keep the crowds way down during the morning hours. Wild Beast is just that, Wild. Between the cold weather making it run more wicked then normal and my own frozen hands (which I'm completely unable to keep down while riding a coaster) we had a great, if jarring ride.  I have to admit, it's not the smoothest wooden coaster I've ever ridden but it certainly doesn't rank anyplace on the scale of "broke my spine" that some others do! 

   Now, let me pause to wax eloquent about a weird topic for a moment. 
  This park is clean. Very clean. Never once did I spot a single overfull trashcan nor trash dis-guarded on the ground. Which brings me to the bathrooms. I have NEVER seen bathrooms as clean as the ones in Canada's Wonderland, not even at the Disney Parks! I didn't think amusement park bathrooms could be this pristine and even more shocking, they had HOT WATER to wash your hands with! I only wish more parks took a care for making their washrooms half as hygienic. Through the entire day and many potty breaks, I never once found a bathroom dirty nor odorous. I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about but that is easily one concern I don't have with this park.  I'm sure they can get somewhat messy during the much busier season but it seems to me that Canada's Wonderland really cares about their public appearance and do their best to keep things comfortable for their guests.

   We took a few minutes and attempted to figure out where we should head next. We stopped for a few minutes to watch their Vekoma Boomerang coaster, The Bat, which was down at the moment. I fully admit, I'll avoid these style coasters when possible as I've found they really don't age well nor do I enjoy having what is left of the stuffing shaken from my head. So I can't tell you if this one aged as ungracefully as the others I've experienced. By this point, having barely had much of a breakfast, I was hungry. Unsure of where exactly we wanted to eat, we check out several options. Since it was still overcast and rather cold, I wanted something indoors for lunch. Considering I'm not the biggest eater on the best of days we opted to skip the all-you-can-eat buffet and headed across the park towards a promising looking restaurant, Backlot Cafe. 

  Now, about the food. In Canada in general I found the prices of food to be higher then those in the States. While this was a little off-putting, I found their portions to be larger and made with a higher quality ingredients.  Canada's Wonderland is no exception to this either. Like all parks, the food prices are higher then what you'd normally find outside the gates but I didn't find them overly high. Now normally my husband and I tend to share our meals at parks simply because I hate to waste food and we found that a single plate is often enough to share for lunch. We paid $11 for 4 large chicken fingers and more fries then we could eat and around $3 for a soda which was refillable while in the restaurant. This was MORE than enough between the two of us, the portions where large and well worth the price. As we munched away we proceeded to check out what other people had ordered, we found that while the price may be a little higher then expected, the portions are massive. The Burrito was thicker then my fist and easily 8" long and the burgers seemed to be in the 1/2 pound range. The food was good, served hot and very fresh. They had other offerings such as gourmet flavors of Mac'N'Cheese as well as artisan favored pizzas. The selection was surprisingly wide and all the choices looked very appetizing, which isn't at all what I expected from quick service! 

  After a surprisingly good lunch we headed outside, happy to see the cloud cover was finally burning off and the sun was making an effort to put in an appearance. This caused the temperatures to rise slightly, enough that we spotted one of the big coasters, Behemoth, doing test runs. Watching for a few moments, we made our way over and inquired as to when the ride would open. The employee was friendly and said she wasn't entirely sure, if the testing went well they'd open as soon as possible. So we opted to hang around for about 10 minutes and were very glad we did, within that time the line opened up and we rushed in to get one of the first rides of the day.  Behemoth is a B&M Mega Coaster and was built in 2008. It's got the "V" spaced seats (such as what you have on Diamondback at Kings Island). The ride was smooth because you expect nothing less from a B&M and it had enough air-time to make even the hardcore rider have fun even while freezing your hands off. 

  Looking back at the suddenly massive line Behemoth had gained while we where riding, we looked around and decided we'd hit one of the clone coasters all the Paramount parks boasted.  The Backlot Stunt Coaster, now normally I don't bother to report on these but I found this one surprising. It was the standard 3 launch sequences but this one just didn't seem to be as rough as the others I've ridden in the past.  The padding was still soft enough not to crack your shins and the brake run didn't try to snap your neck, I was pleasantly surprised as this is also normally a ride I'd skip over. 

  Up next was Time Warp. Now this thing was simply nutty, I've never seen one built like this in my experience so it was something new! This used to be the Tomb Raider attraction, which I'd heard about but never expected it to look like this. To say it was a surprise would really be an understatement, this thing was fascinating!  It's a single car, four across flying zamperla. You step up onto the train and the back closes over you, then your lifted into the "flying" position for your crazy fast spiral ride up the lift hill. Not many of these got built and this is the first one I've ever had the chance to ride myself.  Now I can't say it was the most comfortable ride and those heartline rolls make you think your going to fall out but it's surely one unique ride that gets your adrenaline flowing well.

  Oh Flight Deck. Your Next. Why did I ride you? I know better but you were there, you had no line and I knew before I even stepped a toe in your line you'd hurt. Yet I rode it anyway. I know, it's just a Vekoma inverted and they get mean over time but we figured "why not?!".  Then we remembered, these things are rough and they will beat you up if your not experienced with riding them. Heck, they beat you up even if you know exactly how to ride them. Of all the older rides at Canada's Wonderland, I have to say Flight Deck is one I wouldn't mind waving goodbye to simply for the pain factor. You can't really blame the park for this one, I've never met an inverted Vekoma that's been nice after more than 5 years. However, even I can admit it's nice they've kept it up as best as possible after all these years. Like many of it's cousins, it was once upon a time "Top Gun" and I admit, they have kept their theming up very well over the years. 

  After surviving the anger of a Vekoma, I decided I was going to reward myself with funnel cake. It's funnel cake and one of those delicious treats I'm utterly unable to walk past without either buying one or drooling.  Now, apparently in Canada funnel cakes are served with both a fruit topping and ice cream. This was new! Here in the states you can normally find fruit topping with your powdered sugar overload but the ice cream was a new factor.  HOLY FUNNEL CAKE! This was no exception the "slightly higher price, more food" rule I learned.  For the massive funnel cake, the ice cream and a drink it was around $14.  It was delicious and it made the perfect reward! 

  Now sated on sugary fried-dough goodness, we headed straight for another coaster. Up next on our cycle was "Mighty Canadian Minebuster". A classic wooden coaster which was also built with the park in 1981. It's no secret I absolutely LOVE wooden coasters and this one was no exception to my lumber adoration.  It's fast, it's rickety, it screams when angry and even goes under water slides! A good old Philadelphia Toboggan Company coaster, it doesn't disappoint. The trains are so very well padded in all the right spots, more so then others I've ridden, that even a lunatic like me can ride with her arms in the arm and not wonder what will be bruised later. I wish more parks would keep their padding in such top shape and treat their woodies with such love and care!

  Next up we headed deep into the trenches of Kid Zone and Planet Snoopy, because I heard one rumor of a baby wooden coaster that I was simply told "shut up and ride it, don't ask questions". Now considering this advice is normally only told to me when it's something I'm just not going to believe, we headed in. On the way we were rather surprised to find a baby suspended Vekoma lurking inside. This couldn't be right, subjecting kids to a Vekoma? They had to be crazy which meant we just had to ride it and find out how this thing could exist here!  This would be "Silver Streak" a family suspended coaster, it didn't have the normal "lowering platform" for it's load/unload. Nor did it feature the tight fitting restraints which your normally bash your ears against, finding this odd we decided it had to be investigated.  WOW! Why can't all the Vekoma's be this smooth and comfortable a ride? Yes, I know it's a "family" coaster but I've never met a single Vekoma over 5 years old that wasn't out to hurt you. This one didn't so I guess I can no longer say "All Vekomas are evil in their old age" as Silver Streak has existed since 2001 and is still smooth and gentle with the kiddies (and weary adults).

  Still deep into the children's area we come across Planet Snoopy and it's highly upbeat music. We push deeper into uncharted 'married couple without kids' territory in search of this mysterious "Baby Woodie" I was told to ride.  Twisting our way through the brightly colored area we finally stumble across it, Ghoster Coaster. It may not be huge, it may not tower over you but it packs a surprising punch. Another original ride, Ghoster Coaster was built in 1981 and is a Philadelphia Toboggan Company ride. The themeing in this little area is both well done and adorable, done up like a haunted house and graveyard for the queue line. The seats are small to the point my husband and I decided both our butts would not be fitting comfortably into a single seat, so we each picked a row.  Both of us were happily surprised by the speed and airtime this little thing packs into a small area. 41 feet high and a speed of only 35MPH, you spend more time out of your seat then you do in it. Another surprising coaster under the label of "kids". So before you look down your coaster enthusiast nose at it, just shut up and RIDE it! 

 Now, being the ham-ball that I really am, as we where heading out of Planet Snoopy we stumbled upon both Snoopy and Woodstock. Never one to pass up getting my picture taken with characters, we stopped since it wasn't busy and got our photo taken also! Naturally with the help of yet another very friendly park employee.

  That's another thing I'd like to talk about for a moment. Everyone, as in every single employee I spoke to and saw at Canada's Wonderland, was friendly. Not a single one of them looked hassled or like they where having a bad day, concentrating perhaps but not unapproachable. I found each that I spoke to knowledgeable about their park when asked about the closest washrooms, where smoking areas where located and quickest way to other rides. I can easily tell you, this is the happiest and friendliest park I've ever had the pleasure to experience. I don't know if it was just a good day for everyone (and I've worked enough parks in my life to know sometimes you just have to smile through the crap) but I suspect they take great pride in having both friendly and knowledgeable folks working for them. The only minor complaint I found with any of the employees is that some of them have a tendency to staple you into your ride harness. While this is annoying and sometimes a rather uncomfortable way to begin you ride, it wasn't everyone. Just a few minor incidents which can easily be overlooked. Just employ the old tricks of pushing your shoulders or belly forward if you suspect it may happen. 

  Alright, moving out of kids area I spot one of my all time favorite style of coasters. A swinging suspended coaster! I LOVE these things with a passion, they are some of the most unique and fun coasters out there. Vortex was no exception and I found it to be faster than even I expected, giving the swinging trains even more power. Built by Arrow and added to the park in 1991. I'm always so happy when I see these types of coasters still running strong as not many are left. Vortex has to be one of the best of those left, simply for the speed and power this ride provides. The lift hill is disguised with the very mountain that is the focal point of the park. Dropping down it weaves through the trees and over the water of a large pond, tossing you around as gravity dictates. Smooth and wicked at the same time, I hope they never make the choice to remove this gem! 

  Since we are in the area, we head over to the second ride which utilizes the mountain. This would be the surprisingly fast Thunder Run. Thunder Run is a Mack Mine Train and is the 5th and final original coaster which opened in 1981. However, Thunder Run didn't open until May of 1981 rather then with the opening of the park. It was moved from it's original location in 1986 and was placed in the mountain, taking over a walk-thru attraction.  You'll find this mine train a tight squeeze but it's oddly quick and is happily well themed, both inside and outside. Now, I can't find any information online but I suspect the themeing that is located inside the mountain as part of Thunder Run is probably from the Walk-thru attraction who's place it took. You'll find lights, a large beasty and other "mine" type themes as you blast around. This ride also has a second surprise, it does a station fly-by and you can feel it coming! Not the longest nor most thrilling ride but we found it fun and pleasant.

  By this point in the late afternoon, we looked over and spotted Leviathan running. It had been running for some time but we had been busy riding our way back in that general direction. Having finished everything else on our list, it was time. We'd been saving the biggest and the best for last.  It was no shock to find this truly monstrous ride had a decent line but we surely where not stepping foot outside this park until we rode it. Leviathan is a B&M Mega Coaster and their answer to Millennium Force. It's exactly 4 feet shorter and 1MPH slower then it's older brother at Cedar Point but it's also newer and smoother in my opinion.  If Behemoth is built for air-time then Leviathan is built for pure speed and it delivers without fail. The last turn is at such an angle that you feel nearly upside down, which is unheard of on rides of this speed but B&M made it happen. I'm a devoted lover of Millennium Force but I have to say this, I'd take Leviathan over it simply for that last banked turn! This is the party piece of the park, you have to ride it. You'll love it, we surely did!

  At this point it was getting late and we'd had a rather long drive up the night before, having accomplished everything we wanted and more we decided it was time for some well deserved shopping! Where I found the food prices higher then expected (but worth it) at Canada's Wonderland I found the souvenir prices lower then expected.  The only thing we found to be higher then normal where the on-ride photos, which seemed to run around $18 each for a single photo. Otherwise the T-shirt prices were lower than what the Cedar Fair sister parks charge. The same can be said for other goodies like shot glasses, bags and other items. We picked up several good deals and then kept hunting around. Another surprise was when we found several discount racks which had previous overstock designs, these ranged in price from $20-$5. Naturally we picked up a few of these also since they where such good deals. Finally, exhausted and delightfully pleased with every element of our day (minus the cold start) we headed back to our hotel.  

  I do not say the following lightly and I had to take great care to word this properly because I've never once written a review where I simply had nothing go wrong. 

  Overall I found Canada's Wonderland a lot more then I ever dreamed I'd experience when we planned this trip. They surprised and delighted me at every turn from the world class rides and to the simple cleanliness of the park. This is one Cedar Fair park that cares and it shows in every aspect of what they do. Lately I've been very disappointed with Cedar Fair's performance in general but if a park like Canada's Wonderland can exist within their brand, then I have hope for all their parks once again. Canada's Wonderland has given me an even higher standard to hold other parks to, they surpassed my expectations and left them lying broken in the dust.  Now finding my expectations in need of heavy re-evaluation because if this park can do it all right then there is simply no reason others can't give just as good a show.

  I've been telling everyone since the moment I got back in the states that they MUST plan a trip to Canada's Wonderland. This park is something to behold and it's not be missed, you need to see things done right and experience something that was nearly magical in the process. Don't think twice, get your passport out and make the trip. It's worth every nickle you'll spend to have that kind of experience!

  I've also posted up a complete photo gallery from the best pictures we got at Canada's Wonderland so you can see some more of the park for yourselves.
Canada's Wonderland Photo Review

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