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A wonder north of the border for theme park fans

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Published: August 6, 2014 at 8:54 PM

Toronto, Ontario is currently the fourth most populous city in North America (behind Mexico City, New York City, and Los Angeles), and like most major cities on the continent, it has a major theme park featuring some pretty big attractions. In the case of Toronto, that park is Canada’s Wonderland, a part of the Cedar Fair chain of parks. Opened in 1981, this park sports quite a collection of rides and attractions. In fact, the park is actually the most-widely-visited seasonal theme park in North America, and the second-most-visited park in the Cedar Fair chain, behind only Knott’s Berry Farm (yes, even more than mighty Cedar Point). What drew my family and me to the park a couple of weeks ago was the addition of Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, billed as a one-of-a-kind dark ride meets roller coaster attraction.

Canada’s Wonderland

We had initially planned just a single day at the park, but a quicker-than-expected stop in Niagara Falls and Cedar Fair Platinum Season Passes meant that we were able to spend an additional half-day in the park. If you have been to either Kings Island or Kings Dominion, the layout of Canada’s Wonderland will be pretty familiar, with an entry plaza complete with shops and restaurants along a long rectangular-shaped fountain. The main difference that will be immediately apparent to guests is the presence of Wonder Mountain in the distance. The dominating crag is far more than a hunk of plaster and stucco, and is actually the location of two roller coasters, a diving show, the first drop on a third roller coaster, and the backdrop for projections during the Starlight Spectacular nighttime light and fountain show. Wonder Mountain’s Guardian was our first priority when entering the park. Unfortunately, we discovered that no one in guest services knew what a “parent/child swap” was, meaning that to avoid dealing with a bored and cranky four-year old, we would need to take a divide and conquer approach to the park’s biggest rides. That meant my wife waited in the slightly under an hour line to ride the new hybrid attraction first while I entertained our son with smaller rides. After she rode, we traded places with me waiting in line to ride and her entertaining our son. A quick note to Americans traveling to Canada, unless you have a phone that has international roaming built in or simply don’t mind paying outrageous international roaming charges, cell phones are pretty useless, so instead of texting each other when we were finished riding various rides, we needed to time our meet-ups well. Since there were no signs indicating the length of the Guardian’s line (much of it is inside the mountain), we were fortunate to find an experienced rider who noted that the length of the line was about 50 minutes when it was near the exit area, which was pretty much on target both days we were in the park.

Wonder Mountain’s Guardian

I don’t want to give away all of the secrets of Guardian, but it is a cross between a roller coaster and Toy Story Mania. Guests board roller coaster trains that have two cars with four seats each (two facing front and two facing rear). Each guest has a laser gun at their seat (attached to the lap bar) that allows them to shoot at characters during the dark ride portion of the attraction. The ride starts with a lift hill and relatively innocuous drop followed by a turn into the mountain, where the shooting gallery begins. Once inside, the coaster cars rotate to allow riders to face large projection screens that are on either side of the track. The story, which is set up via video screens while guests wait in line, follows our hero, Stansien, as he is tasked to retrieve a crown from Ormaar, the guardian of the mountain. Swap out Stansien for Bilbo and Ormaar for Smaug, and the Tolkien family might be calling their copyright attorneys. Guests have plenty of targets to aim for, and during the two rides I took on Guardian, the story took a back seat behind the desire to shoot at anything that moves — of course, until you reach Ormaar at the end. The projections are relatively crisp, but I did not feel there was much of an advantage of the 3-D glasses until the train reaches the final scene. The transition between scenes is relatively seamless, but I would have liked it to be a little longer. A longer dark ride portion would probably translate into a higher capacity as well, since the attraction currently maxes out at five right-person trains dispatching approximately every 30-45 seconds (listed at 650 people per hour). The other major flaw with the attraction, compared to other shooting gallery-style rides, is that guests have no idea what their score is until after the ride is over. Guests do get some feedback on whether they are scoring points with sounds emitted from the two speakers mounted behind each seat along with visual recognition that a hit was recorded. However, there’s no way for guests to know what objects or villains are worth more points than others. Most people probably don’t care what their score is, but I’m pretty competitive (I regularly strive to score 999,999 on Men in Black), and the attraction plays into the competitive nature of riders by posting daily and overall high scorers on screens near the exit of the ride. However, if Wonder Mountain’s Guardian is a prototype for the type of ride that Matt Ouimet has vowed to bring to Cedar Point, then the Sandusky park is in for an incredible attraction. With a longer, more exciting coaster section combined with a more intricate dark ride section, a hybrid attraction like Guardian could be a real hit in virtually any regional theme park.

On Wonder Mountain

Aside from Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, I was really interested in riding the park’s two B&M hyper-coasters, Leviathan and Behemoth. As we noticed throughout our trip in Ontario, people joke a bit about Canada’s Wonderland and how it has to add a new ride every year. That would be a pretty simple explanation as to why a park needs to have two B&M hyper-coasters (Carowinds is reportedly set to announce the addition of a second B&M hyper-coaster in 2015 to pair with Intimidator), but after riding both, the two steel machines could not be more different. We first rode Leviathan our first night in the park. The teal steel machine is the tallest and fastest B&M in the world, and at 302-feet tall with a 92 MPH top speed, the smooth-as-silk beast inundates riders with intensity and pure ecstasy. Before riding Leviathan, I had seen POVs of the coaster, and ridden just about every other B&M hypercoaster in North America (save for Raging Bull and Behemoth). I expected a similar experience, but found it to be dramatically different. Leviathan is actually more like Cedar Point’s Millennium Force, only with a significantly smoother ride and even more airtime and feeling of speed. The highlight for me was not the first drop through the serpent-shaped tunnel, not the hammerhead turn, but instead the speed run and low-slung bunny hill after the first 90-degree turn. As I expected from the POVs of the coaster, the ending is a bit abrupt, and at a point in the ride where you feel that the coaster still has some more to give, but that’s a minor gripe against a design that is about as awe-inspiring as roller coasters get.

Leviathan

Behemoth, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment. The slightly older B&M hypercoaster is very much like Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure featuring a number of airtime hills, a hammerhead turnaround, and a tight spiraling helix (in this case, a downward helix instead of the upward helix featured on Nitro). The disappointing part of Behemoth is that it felt unusually rough for a B&M hyper (or any B&M for that matter). I’m not sure if it was riding the 230-foot tall monster first thing in the morning, or just some really old wheels (I rode on 2 of the three trains), but it just didn’t have the smoothness expected from the Swiss masters. Behemoth features the new-style staggered seating arrangement featured on newer B&M hypers like Intimidator and Diamondback, while Leviathan has straight-across rows of seats like Apollo’s Chariot and Nitro. The coaster is still great, and a good contrast to Leviathan, featuring far more airtime and some good positive G’s in the hammerhead and helix, but overall, the roughness of the ride places it a notch below Nitro in my book, despite their similarities.

Behemoth

Canada’s Wonderland is not just about their new rides. They have some older coasters that are notable, as well as a few that we didn’t even waste time riding. The park has one of the most unique and unusual flying roller coasters I have ever ridden (Time Warp), that I talked about last weekend. They also have one of the best Arrow suspended roller coasters I have ever ridden. Vortex integrates its lift hill onto the backside of Wonder Mountain, and is a non-stop swinging joy.

Vortex

Mighty Canadian Minebuster is a pretty decent old woodie, while Dragon Fire (not to be confused with Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s former Drachen Fire) is an old Arrow looper that is aging gracefully. However, Wild Beast is just that, and will make you question your sanity for considering re-riding the rickety, spine pounding wooden contraption. We chose to skip Flight Deck (Vekoma SLC), Bat (Vekoma sit down boomerang), Fly (Mack wild mouse), Backlot Stunt Coaster (Premier launcher), and SkyRider (Togo stand-up) because they are identical or very close, in the case of Fly, to coasters we have ridden elsewhere. The one surprise of the lesser coasters was Thunder Run. The third coaster to integrate part of Wonder Mountain into its course, it is an old (1981) Mack powered coaster that isn’t anywhere close to the tallest, fastest, or longest coaster in the park, but is still pretty neat. The train slowly accelerates out of the station using electricity (like a subway train or model train set, not using LIMs), and gains speed as it enters the mountain until riders spiral around a dragon. Because of the relatively short length of the track, the train makes two circuits along the track, including zooming through the station, before making its final stop. The best thing about Thunder Run is that it is accessible to most guests with a height restriction of just 40”, meaning our 41” tall son could ride, and he could not get enough of it. If we didn’t need to come home, he’d probably still be riding, that’s how much he enjoyed it — me, I’d probably still be on Leviathan.

Canada’s Wonderland is also home to a large collection of flat rides with a Windseeker, Intamin drop tower, a bunch of interesting Huss flats including a really strange looking one called Sledgehammer, along with some classic carnival-style flat rides. The park also has a wide array of shows. Wonder Mountain plays a role in the Starlight Spectacular, which is a well-done night show that features lights, projections, and fountains, and the Victoria Falls High Divers, which is a quick (don’t blink you might miss it) show with some pretty impressive athletes plunging over 50 feet from the top of the front façade of the mountain.

Victoria Falls High Divers

The park also has another outdoor show, Kinet-X, featuring divers, parkour, and other interesting athletes. This outdoor show was pretty entertaining, but probably could use a better viewing area with actual seats instead of steps.

Kinet-X

The other show we were able to catch was Dimensions: A Cirque Experience, which is exactly what you would predict. The indoor acrobatic show is on par with other theme park cirque-style shows with some pretty amazing feats of strength and agility.

Dimensions: A Cirque Experience

We also explored a number of the kids' rides in the park, which are divided across two neighboring lands (Planet Snoopy and Kidzville), but much like many other Cedar Fair parks, most rides accessible to kids are far from many of the adult rides. There’s a scattering of smaller flat rides around the rest of the park, but they are few and far between, meaning that parents either need to split up or drag the kids through the queues for the big rides. As mentioned earlier, the park doesn’t have an official parent/child swap policy, so most ride attendants were recommending that we stand in the line together as a family and swap on the load platform. It’s certainly not ideal for a family like ours, but it wasn’t horrendous on the days that we visited when the longest line in the park was for Guardian at 50 minutes. However, more parks, particularly Cedar Fair parks, should strongly consider spreading some smaller rides that are more widely accessible around the park and closer to the most popular rides.

We did have an opportunity to sample some of the food around the park. We purchase the All-Day Dining Deal, which allows guests to get an entrée from select restaurants every 90 minutes while in the park for a low price ($29.99 CAD). For a family like ours, this is a perfect deal, because we don’t have a problem sharing food, and the way Cedar Fair’s All-Day Dining Deal is structured, sharing is perfectly acceptable, unlike Universal and SeaWorld’s All-You-Can-Eat plans that are truly unlimited, but explicitly discourage sharing. We tried a number of offerings around the park, including two different dishes from the Manchu Wok (Chinese takeout), two orders of Pizza Pizza chicken bites and fries, and two different cheeseburgers. When you’re planning to spend an entire day at the park, and don’t want to waste time to leave and re-enter, this particular dining deal can be really valuable. We supplemented our meals with a refillable cup, which has unlimited refills on the day of purchase and enhanced by the numerous Coca-Cola Freestyle self-serve machines located around the park. For a total of a little over $40 CAD including tax, we were never hungry or thirsty for the full day that we visited the park. The Cedar Fair All-Day-Dining deal is definitely something worth considering when planning to be at a park for an entire day, and we’ll likely be purchasing it again for our upcoming trip to Kings Island.

Overall, Canada’s Wonderland is very similar to many other Cedar Fair Parks. However, the extremely popular seasonal park does have quite a collection of unique rides, including the new Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, that makes this park worth a trip north of the border. While the park lacks the quantity of adrenaline producing thrill machines that guests can find at Cedar Point, my overall impression of this park puts it on level with the more widely known Cedar Fair sister. In a year where Cedar Point didn’t make a notable addition, guests may want to take a slight detour to our neighbors to the north. Just remember that Americans traveling to Canada must have passports, and that your Hamiltons, Jacksons, and Benjamins won’t buy anything in the great white north.

Readers' Opinions

From Rob Pastor on August 6, 2014 at 9:06 PM
We went there a couple of times in the early 90's. Beautiful park. At that time it reminded me of King's Island. I think they had the same owner back then(before Cedar Fair).
From James Rao on August 7, 2014 at 3:29 AM
Good stuff, Russell. Thanks for sharing. I was interested in how Cedar Fair would pull off Wonder Mountain, and from your review it sounds like they did a lot of things right with their first attempt at a dark ride in years. I look forward to CF adding more Wonder Mt type attractions at other Cedar Fair parks in the coming years (looking at you, poor, forgotten Worlds of Fun).
From Bobbie Butterfield on August 7, 2014 at 11:10 AM
Dragon Fire aging gracefully? I got such an ear-boxing on that coaster that nothing would tempt me to ride it again; the best thing I can say about this ride is that it's mercifully short. Alas, I never did get to ride Wonder Mountain's Guardian b/c there is no Fast Lane entrance as far as I could see and the queue was prohibitively long.

Loved Leviathan, on which I got 8 rides, but had to purchase Fast Lane Plus, as the regular ride queue was easily 2 hrs. long. Probably picked a bad day to go to the park (June 21, which was a Saturday, and with 5 weeks paid vacation I could easily have taken the time off work to go during the week) as the crowds were far larger than anything I've ever seen at my home park of Six Flags Great Adventure and even with Fast Lane Plus had to wait close to half an hour to get on Behemoth.

I actually thought that Behemoth was better than Nitro and didn't perceive it as rough. It struck me as being in pristine condition compared with Nitro (of course, Nitro is older but could be much better maintained) and the hang time over the first drop from the front seat was mind-blowing. I found both Wild Beast and Mighty Canadian Minebuster too rough to be enjoyable and should have skipped Flight Deck, as it's essentially the same ride as Mind Eraser (possibly the worst coaster on earth). I'd never ridden anything like Backlot Stunt Coaster so this was a small treat. Vortex was good but I found it a bit rough in spots. But then I'm 62 years old and not as physically resilient as youngsters like Russell and his wife.

Canada's Wonderland is a beautiful park and the cast members were unusually friendly. Also, park security actually enforced the no line jumping policy, something I've never seen any security at my home park do. Plus it was a huge advantage to be able to pay with US dollars and not have to exchange currency.

From Ed Newman on August 7, 2014 at 8:08 PM
Great report Russell. Appreciate all of your opinions and recollection of details. Especially your positive review of Leviathon (sp). I hope the new Carowinds 300 footer planned for next year will be similar. Also glad your son had such a great time on the "big" coaster.

I actually visited this park many, many years ago (82 or 83) when a high school friend and I journeyed up to Toronto. I really need to make a return visit. I probably wouldn't recognize the place. My wife has family near Toronto and has been hinting at a possible visit...

From Russell Meyer on August 8, 2014 at 6:59 AM
@Bobbie - I didn't mean to make Dragon Fire sound like an amazing experience, but compared to other old Arrow Loopers, it's not too bad. It's smoother than Viper (SFMM), Vortex (KI), and Anaconda (KD), and is on par with Corkscrew at Cedar Point. I don't recommend anyone riding Dragon Fire before riding any of the other bigger coasters, but if the line is less than 15 minutes, and you're looking for something different, it's worth checking out.

Perhaps it was riding Behemoth first thing in the morning, but it just wasn't as good as Nitro for me. I'm not a huge fan of the new staggered seating arrangement, and the coaster has added seat belts (like Diamondback) that aren't necessarily confining, but psychologically make you fell like you don't have the freedom you do with just the lap bar. I did ride on 2 of the 3 trains, and one was a bit smoother than the other, but not dramatically. My wife noted that she thought that it felt a little rough as well. I rode Nitro a little over a week later after our trip to Canada, and just rode Diamondback last week, and I have to stand by my assessment that Behemoth is an unusually rough B&M hyper with a surprising amount of chatter on the trains.

Also, I wasn't aware that the park accepted American currency. Our research indicated that some places in Ontario would take American currency, but there was typically no way to know without asking in advance. We chose to use CAD as soon as we left Niagra Falls to avoid any issues, and found that most places in Toronto, aside from the big tourist draws, were only accepting CAD.

From 174.113.24.144 on August 8, 2014 at 7:47 PM
Nice to hear some good things about my home park. It was just announced that Skyrider, the stand up coaster will be closed down at the end of the season to make way for other great adventures. I am a Disney and Universal fan and love the fact that child swap and fast passes are available. At Wonderland you have to pay a steep price (mom to three here so it adds up) to bypass lines. You didn't mention if you had funnel cakes...yum. I find that the rides at Wonderland are short and was hoping that Guardian would be a nice long one but everyone I know has been disappointed with the length. Great article, keep up the great work.
From Bobbie Butterfield on August 11, 2014 at 11:11 AM
Russell - I see your point about Dragon Fire. I've ridden only one of the others that you mention - Anaconda at KD - and agree that it's pretty brutal, but mainly for the 1st part of the ride. I thought it got better towards the end.

On the currency issue, I was in a quandary as to whether to buy CAD. My flight from Philly left from a terminal with no currency exchange and when I told an airport employee that I was flying to Toronto, she told me that she had been able to use USD anywhere in the Toronto area so I took her word for it and was delighted to find out that she was right on the money.

From Russell Meyer on August 13, 2014 at 10:26 AM
We did not have a chance to sample the funnel cakes because we were so full from the All-Day Dining Plan. However, we did notice the extremely long lines for the funnel cake stand on International Street in the evenings (at least 20-30 people deep), so they must be pretty good.

The lack of child swap was pretty annoying, which was exacerbated by the fact that we couldn't use our phones due to the ridiculous international roaming charges. We don't mind splitting up in a park to keep our son happy and entertained, but we probably lost about an hour of time total waiting for each other at our meet up spots because we couldn't communicate with each other.

I actually find the second half of Anaconda the rougher part with the tight twists and turns before looping around to the double corkscrew.

We just didn't want to deal with any currency issues, so we stopped at an ATM as we were leaving Niagra Falls, and loaded up on CADs. Our bank credits our account for foreign ATM fees, and we double-checked with them that the policy extended into Canada. The currency exchange is pretty even, but I did notice that most places that did take both USD and CAD were charging the same price in both currencies, meaning you were paying slightly more for the item if you paid with USD (@1.09 CAD to 1 USD).

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