Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
We were able to park in the second row next to the entrance which gave me hope that the park would not be too crowded that day. Being a US citizen, I had no idea that I had planned a trip to an amusement park in the middle of the Canada Day holiday weekend. The next day was the actual holiday and I fully expected “4th of July”-type crowds at the park.
As is typical for most amusement parks nowadays, we walked through the metal detectors and bag checkers before handing our passes over to the attendant. Again – no issues here. Our hands were stamped upon entry, which I found out later was because Canada’s Wonderland had two different admission options. From my questioning of park employees, it appeared that “Option 2” was to pay a lower admission rate and receive a certain amount of ride tickets similar to Disney’s old “A through E” system.
After passing through the main entrance we were greeted with what I thought was one of the best entrance plazas I have seen in any amusement park. In front of us lay a beautiful bed of red and white flowers in the shape of the Canadian flag, then a long rectangular pool with several fountains. In the distance was a large arched, stone bridge with several guests strolling across and in the near distance was a huge mountain (called Wonder Mountain) with a very large series of waterfalls. Truly spectacular by amusement park standards. Yes, Disney’s castles combined with Main Streets are a sight to be seen, and the double-decker carrousel at the end of the long fountain found at both Illinois’s and California’s Great Americas is beautiful, but this entrance with the huge mountain really did take my breath away.
Since the park did not officially open until 10:00 a.m., and it was only 9:30, we decided to explore the entrance plaza otherwise known as International Street until the rest of the lands opened. Lining each side of the entrance pool were shops and eating establishments including Starbucks, Dairy Queen, Manchu Wok and Mr. Sub. We made our way over to the bridge for a closer inspection of the mountain and waterfall. We discovered that the waterfall was named “Victoria Falls” and we noticed a few diving platforms near the top of the falls that are used for a high dive show throughout the day.
Since Behemoth was the new attraction, we figured it would be best to go with the crowds and line up to enter Action Zone which is the home of their brand new ride. We discovered that Canadians were very polite and orderly as they had formed a line from the entrance to the land all the way back down International Street. Although there was plenty of space to spread out and crowd toward the entrance to Action Zone, no one did. Everyone was very gracious and mindful of one-anothers place in line.
After waiting a few moments in the long line, we looked over and discovered that the entrances to the other lands were sparsely populated. Looking back up the massive crowd in line in front of us, we started thinking that we had the wrong strategy. Thus, we determined that an “opposite” strategy was best and we sauntered over to wait with just about 100 others to enter Medieval Faire.
The entrance to Medieval Faire was a large castle a la King Arthur. We waited for just about 10 more minutes before the ropes were dropped and the guests were allowed to make their way into the various lands to ride the attractions. No one ran or pushed their way through the entrance. There was a fast pace, but everyone respected each other. Again, I was surprised as I’m used to teenagers racing past me to get to the rides first. I was really liking the Canadian way.
We hit Dragon Fire first which is your standard double-loop, double corkscrew set up. We jumped right into the back and quickly left the station to climb the lift hill. The first drop was of no great height but there was a straight, flat expanse after the drop before the double loops which we found quite interesting. The ride took no more than 30 seconds but we were pleased to discover that it was relatively smooth as this ride design is often a bit of a head-banger with the over the shoulder restraints. All three of us decided that it was a pleasant ride, but certainly not worth waiting in line for more than 10 minutes.
We then walked right onto Riptide which is the new larger carnival attraction ride that has been installed in parks all over the US (exact same design as the Tomb Raider ride at Kings Island or Hammerhead and Knott’s Berry Farm). The ride was not well themed at all (a very wimpy pond with tiny fountains surrounded by cement was all we got) – especially compared to the enclosed Tomb Raider at Kings Island or the fire and water effects used at California’s Great America version. It just wasn’t really that thrilling and we walked off quite a bit disappointed.
Next up was the Drop Tower – a similar installation in many parks. This one was exactly like Six Flags Great America in Chicago’s version. We got right on and quickly rose to the top. We enjoyed the very interesting drop that doesn’t have the “bouncing” effects of the other drop rides. It just slows down quickly and stops which adds to the thrill.
We started noticing the “slowness” of the employees at Canada’s Wonderland and the fact that they did not look at all as if they were enjoying their jobs. We have been so spoiled by the amazing employees at Cedar Point over the last few years that we’ve been hoping that Cedar Fair would take their employee training and incentive programs and have them installed at their newly acquired parks. Alas, as we would find throughout the day, customer service or enhancing the guests experience was just not a priority at Canada’s Wonderland.
Next up was Wild Beast, a relatively small woodie with two out and backs. I rode in the back while the rest of my party rode in the middle to avoid the wild ride. I have found that as I grow older, I enjoy woodies less and less. This one was quite a fast, jerky and hop-filled ride that I was glad to extract myself from once the car re-entered the station.
As we wandered into the next land, International Festival, the scenery really did not change much. We took a ride on “The Bat” which is your standard, track on the bottom, boomerang coaster with a loop where the train gets pulled backwards out of the station, drops through the entire ride, climbs the other side and then does it all again backwards. Enjoyable, but nothing I hadn’t done before. The backwards part still gives me butterflies.
I did notice a new ride near the Bat called “Shockwave” (yes, every amusement park must have a ride named Shockwave). It was of the permanent, carnival-type variety. Five seats each on six arms. The mechanism took you up and seemed to spin you in three different directions. You had some control over your own cars movement, but regardless, you laughed as you went round and round on the ride. Different. Fun.
By then it was 11:30 a.m. and we were hungry. We chose to eat at the nearby Roadside Café where “chicken” was the order of the day. Once more we encountered a surly employee who asked us “What do you want?” in a somewhat angry voice with no greetings or a thank you to go along with it. We each ate either fried chicken and fries or chicken nuggets and fries. Nothing out of the ordinary and the price was your typical $27 for two meals. Ouch!
I noticed what appeared to be a miniature golf course near our eating establishment and was amazed to find out later that, indeed, Canada’s Wonderland had Putt Putt for an extra charge. Although we didn’t have time to play, I admired the idea of placing a miniature golf course inside a park.
The crowds were now getting a bit thicker and we chose to stroll through Kidsville, Nickelodeon Central and Hanna-Barbara Land to let our lunch settle. I have been very impressed with the kids’ areas in Cedar Fair parks. Lots of ride choices for the wee-ones and lots of great theming. We saw Patrick from Sponge Bob and Dora the Explorer taking pictures with the kids – although those were the only characters we saw that day. We waited in line for Scooby Doo’s Haunted Mansion which is a common installation at many parks nowadays, but the ride broke and we wandered elsewhere.
Wonder Mountain did feature a roller coaster “inside” its peaks. We waited 35 minutes to ride Thunder Run which we found quite enjoyable, although very tame by coaster standards. It was a self propelled coaster that did two turns along its track, mostly inside the mountain running round and round in circles. It’s the kind of ride that doesn’t necessarily “thrill” you, but makes you smile nonetheless. The drive mechanism seemed very similar to Blazing Fury at Dollywood. We laughed as we noticed that employees were required to wave to the passengers on their second time through the station. They were very unenthusiastic about this duty.
We really started noticing the crowds when we chose to ride The Fly, which is your standard mouse coaster variation installed at every park in North America. After waiting 50 minutes – and discovering that this was partly due to the employees lack of urgency when loading and unloading the cars – we got a quick hairpin turned ride on The Fly. Nothing out of the ordinary, but fun nonetheless.
By this time we decided to make the trek cross the park to Behemoth. On the way we got what appeared to be park-made cookie ice cream sandwiches. Delicious, but very difficult to eat due to the crispness of the cookies. We passed the “60’s singing and dancing” show as well. Nothing new here. Average singers making their way through the hits of the 1960’s.
We arrived in Action Zone, home of Behemoth, and we started to notice the extremely long lines at all the food vendor locations. Did Canada’s Wonderland just not have enough food options? Or was the lacksidaisical attitude of the employees cause for the long lines?
We passed Psyclone, a common installation now with the ring of seats being swung on a large pendulum (aka Delirium, MaxAir, etc.). My partner has nicknamed it “the dinner plate” and that has caught on with our friends. We also passed Sledge Hammer, which was a giant, carnival-style installation with six arms having eight seats each facing each other. The arms swung around in circles hurtling riders into the air, then back down again. Here, we heard the operator getting into the “show” by making funny comments as the ride would swoop up and down. Due to the crowds, we chose not to wait for either attraction.
Finally, we arrived at Behemoth and joined the line slightly beyond the entry point. The line moved extremely quickly and we were boarding the ride within 45 minutes. As is typical at any non-Disney or non-Univeral park, lining up to get on the ride was such a jumble that many seats were left open and each car ran without a full load. If these parks would just assign a ride operator to the head of the line prior to entering the station and direct people by the number in their party, this would not happen. Their single rider line did not seem very effective at all.
The seating arrangements were great. In each car section, the front two seats were together while the back two seats were on the outside, allowing unobstructed views for all riders. These seats were the “high chair” kind with the triangle lap bars that secure you snuggly in place – exactly like Raging Bull at Six Flags Great America. Before we left the station, two girls in front of us asked to be let off and unfortunately, our friend Ken took that as a cue to get off as well due to his terror at the thought of riding. We were disappointed and tried to get him to stay on, but to no avail.
The car left the station and climbed the 230 foot lift hill. The first drop was amazing and we kept our arms up enjoying the air time. The ride took us out on several hills, then back again on several more. Although it never appeared as if we were going that fast due to the amazing smoothness of the ride, the amount of air time we received was incredible. Once the train was back near the station, we went through the brake station, into the spiral where our picture was snapped (note, if you’re on the outside seats, lean in, not out, or you’ll remove yourself from the frame) and then into a few more bunny hops before returning to the station.
All in all, an incredible ride, and really the only “major” ride at Canada’s Wonderland. We found that we did enjoy Raging Bull a bit more at Six Flags Great America due to the tunnel and a bit more side moves that left you perpendicular to the ground. However, Behemoth is certainly a fantastic coaster and worth several repeat rides.
As we left Behemoth, we glanced at the Backlot Stunt Coaster (formerly known as the Italian Job and changed, along with many other rides, due to Paramount no longer owning the park). We had ridden this same coaster at Kings Island in Cincinnati and we were underwhelmed after a long wait. We noticed what looked to be an over an hour wait for a ride with relatively bad throughput and decided, “been there, done that” and moved on.
We walked over to Time Warp, which we discovered to be a small “flying coaster” – probably the first of its kind. We were fascinated by the 4 rider cars that were enclosed in a cage-like structure. Imagine the “hang glider” carnival rides and you almost exactly have the same car structure. The lift hill was fascinating as it was comprised of a spiral upward track where the cars were propelled by a spinning piston in the center. Genius!
The loading platform was fascinating as the cars never stopped. A group of riders would come in, the car would drop riders into a standing position, the cage would lift and they’d climb down off the ride (you had to put your feet on rungs of a ladder at the bottom of each seat to climb up or down). The next group would just climb up the ladder, put their hands on the handles, wait for the cage to close, then the car would be pulled into “flying position” before entering the spiral lift.
When we boarded the ride ourselves, they almost let us go without closing our cage due to the ride operators chatting and not paying attention to their duties. Once we were secure and in flying position, the large piston pushed us up the spiral lift hill. Unfortunately, that was the extent of the enjoyment. From there, due to the coaster design and the tiny space it occupied, we ended up with a “headbanger” ride shouting “ouch!” at every corkscrew and turn. Although fascinating to watch, it was too painful for a re-ride.
It was time for a quick break back to the car and a change of clothes. We passed Flight Deck on the way which was a two-seater, inverted floorless very similar to Kong at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. We chose not to ride due to time constraints and the fact that we found the small inverted, floorless coasters to be quite an ear-knocker and we didn’t need another banging so soon.
Once we re-entered the park, we headed straight to the Mighty Canadian Minebuster…or what we nicknamed the “Spinebuster.” An out-and back woodie with a 90 degree turn right through Splash Works (the in-park water park), the Minebuster had a reputation for being a great ride. Unfortunately, we felt as if we had been rattled beyond recognition for the entire ride – even worse than Wild Beast – and deemed it “not fun.” My partner noticed me rubbing my back upon exiting and noted that this was highly unusual as I am quite used to the rattles and shakes of most coasters.
We did get to see most of the Splash Works water park as the coaster went through it. Lots of standard slides, a large wave pool and a lazy river. It was too cold and too crowded that day for us to experience the park ourselves.
After a 20 minute wait to purchase a soda (yes, the food lines were horrible), we got in line for the Sky Rider which was a two-across, original design stand-up coaster similar to the one at Kings Dominion in Virginia. It was short, and I fully expected to get another head banging. Instead, we got a reasonably smooth ride with an exciting short drop, a loop and an entertaining spiral. A definite re-ride if we hadn’t had to wait 40 minutes, again, due to the employees severely non-urgent attitude in loading the cars.
Finally, it was time to ride Vortex back in the International Festival. I had been anxious to ride this coaster as the “inverted, swinging” coaster had only been installed in a few parks. Although I’ve experienced Iron Dragon at Cedar Point, Top Gun at Kings Island, Ninja at Magic Mountain and Big Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, this one just seemed like it would be a bit more exciting to me (although, I must admit, Big Bad Wolf is an awesome ride).
I was not disappointed. We waited about 40 minutes to board and were able to sit in the back car (I like to be cracked like a whip). We climbed the lift hill which was placed on top of Wonder Mountain. As we climbed, we noticed that Wonder Mountain used to be a series of paths with a park on top. Probably an attraction unto itself when the park first opened. Now, it was an empty area used for storage. After releasing from the chain, the train when over the top of the mountain and then dove through the first hill. It was an excellent drop and the back gave us an extra whip of speed along with a bit of a jolt. The train then went through a series of twists and turns over a lake before returning to the station. It seemed like we were going extremely fast the entire time and the swinging added to the excitement. Vortex immediately became my second favorite at the park (next to Behemoth) and challenged Big Bad Wolf for best inverted, swinging coaster.
By then, the evening hours were upon us. We stopped for diner at Teriyaki Experience on International Street and were surprised that the meat was grilled right in front of us and we ate a very decent meal by amusement park standards.
Being a Scooby fan, I made the group trek back to Scooby Doo’s Haunted Mansion. Unfortunately, due the ride’s design (very unlike the other Scooby installations), the cars moved at a snails pace making our wait more than 45 minutes. However, as is typical of the Scooby rides, it was an enjoyable experience on the inside shooting the ghosts and having the various effects happen when we hit our target. Ken and I did terrible, but my partner came very close to that day’s high score.
We purchased blizzards at the nearby Dairy Queen and gulped them down on the way back to the front of the park (I love the fact that this park had Dairy Queens throughout!). We visited the Studio Store and found some of the only pleasant employees that day. We purchased a few shirts (we were surprised that they had “pot-themed” Scooby Doo shirts for sale) and post cards then left through the front entrance at 9:30 p.m., just 30 minutes before the park closed.
Although the rides were small potatoes (with the exception of Behemoth), the employees were a bit lazy and unmotivated, and the food lines (and prices) were horrendous, the park itself was gorgeous. Lots of trees, grass and ponds surrounded us at every turn. And the park was certainly very clean in its outside areas (the bathrooms were a bit of a different story). We very much enjoyed our day at Canada’s Wonderland and found it to be a “neat” park. It’s also an “only” option for most Canadians not wishing to hop across the border thus its high attendance records.
To the theme park fans I would say, if you’re in the area, drop by for a visit and be sure not to miss Behemoth, Vortex or Shockwave. However, it is not a “destination” park like Cedar Point, Universal Orlando or any of the Disney properties. It is a park with lots of potential and if they start removing the old rides and replacing them with Behemoth-size and quality rides, Canada’s Wonderland will place itself on the map!
Sorry about the lousy customer service on your visit. Bad service is one thing that can really hamper your day at a theme park, especially when it is as pervasive as you described. And nothing makes me madder than seeing empty seats on rides with long lines. It just makes no sense! Ugh! Nobody manages load times like Disney.
I noticed from your profile that you are from Seattle, Washington. Just out of curiosity, how is your local park, Wild Waves? It looks like a smaller park (mostly a water park, in fact), but I may be in Seattle with the family in the near future and was wondering if the park was worth a stop for a few hours? Sometimes the small parks surprise you (like Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana), sometimes they don't (like Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, MO). Any info would be helpful.
Anyway, thanks for the great trip report, and keep 'em coming!
The rides consist of mostly the carnival ride variety. There's one mouse coaster, one loop then double corkscrew coaster (it's so short they let you ride twice) and then the woodie called Timberhawk. The TV commercials for this one made me crack up as they kept advertising the "terrifying" 84 foot drop. I think they just installed one of those spinning disc rides (like Survivor at California's Great America), they have a large flume ride (you go up, you go down, you get soaked) and a "spinning axe" ride. None of it is very exciting.
So...if you're bored and you don't mind the entrance fee (sometimes you can get in for $25) then drop in for a few hours (it is not an all day destination), but there is nothing at Wild Waves that makes it an "I must go!" park.
Misery loves company!
The two things that always disappointed me most about my home park (Wonderland) were the apathetic employees and the lack of mega coasters. For being a country stereotyped as polite, Toronto sure has a lot of asses. And because we have so few parks to choose from in Canada, "Spinebuster" and "Vortex" get reputations as the best coasters around (and they were, for me, until I headed south).
Still, I love the scenery, and the park has enough rides to keep you going.
Walt Disney World
Tokyo Disney Resort