Only one mountain, but it’s a doozy!
When amusement parks go head to head, it’s very hard to pick a clear winner. Any determination will be highly subjective and depend entirely on the taste of the reviewer.
The purpose of this post is to highlight Canada’s Wonderland (CW), as most of my readers are all too familiar with the Disney parks, and don’t need me to point out the attractions and features therein. But as I compare CW to the Disney parks, I will be declaring a winner in each of the categories listed, just to get everyone arguing!
Opened in 1981, this 330-acre amusement park located in Vaughan, Ontario, was the first major ‘theme’ park in Canada, and it remains the country’s largest. Canada’s Wonderland has been the most visited seasonal amusement park in North America for several consecutive years. In 2014, it was the second most visited park in the Cedar Fair chain, behind Knott’s Berry Farm, with approximately 3.5 million visitors.
Disneyland (above) & Walt Disney World
Disneyland was opened in 1955 with Walt Disney World following 16 years later in 1971. Both parks have had amazing success and are the heavy hitters in this comparison! For the sake of this review, I will have the Disney parks compete separately, switching between them as necessary. Now let’s look at our first category:
T H E M I N G
Winner: Disneyland & Walt Disney World
To be fair, it should be mentioned that Disney builds Theme Parks, whereas Canada’s Wonderland and other parks are more like traditional Amusement Parks. So where Disney spends time and money on storytelling, CW simply makes things look good, but focuses more on getting visitors right to the fun and thrills!
Of course, this means that at CW, if you’re not riding, you’re not doing much else. Although the park is pretty, it is basic flowers-and-trees pretty. CW is designed for young thrill seekers and young families (more on them later) leaving the tamer middle-aged set pretty much out of the picture. So no one is standing around admiring the fact that the garbage cans match the Land they are in. Instead, they are usually on the move from one ride to the next.
A D U L T R I D E S
Winner: Canada’s Wonderland
Disney wants almost every ride to be family friendly. So your ten-year-old can ride even the most wild Roller Coaster with his Grandfather at Disney, whereas at CW, both would be well advised to skip most of the thrill rides offered!
We rode The Leviathan:
Visible from anywhere in the park
This coaster swings out over the parking lot and is the first thing you see when entering the park. While riding, we were dropped from 306 feet at an 80 degree angle! We traveled over 5486 feet of track at speeds reaching 148km/hour, or 92 miles an hour!
We also rode the Backlot Stunt Coaster which has non-stop action from start to finish as we twisted and turned through a helix, a series of quick drops and turns including a pitch black 88 degree banked turn. The Linear Induction Motor (LIM) launches this coaster and reaches 64km/hour (40 m/hour) in less than 10 seconds! It felt faster and more intense than Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster and Test Track at Disney.
The park features many thrill rides, including 16 roller coasters, tied with Cedar Point for second-most roller coasters in an amusement park behind Six Flags Magic Mountain.
C H I L D R E N ‘ S R I D E S
Winner: Disneyland/Canada’s Wonderland
Now, if I had called this section Family Rides, WDW would have won hands down. If you include Dark Rides (like Peter Pan’s Flight) and E-ticket attractions (like The Enchanted Tiki Room) than it would be impossible for any other park to match the sheer number of options at Walt Disney World. Even so, WDW gets a very honorable mention here!
CW has two children’s areas: Planet Snoopy and Kidzville. I put CW ahead of WDW because, since the closure of Mickey’s Toontown, WDW has slipped a bit on offerings solely for the little ones. I liked CW’s offerings because the two areas were side-by-side and easy to navigate, with some truly unique offerings. And… they have these:
Swan Boats, anyone?
And keep in mind that Canada’s Wonderland has the rights to use the Peanuts cast of characters. So you’ll see Snoopy and the gang around the park and in some shows. And many of the children’s rides are themed to one of the Peanuts gang.
Hey look, it’s Sally!
And while we’re on the topic of the Peanuts gang, let’s segue into…
M E R C H A N D I S E
Winner: Walt Disney World
No one can beat WDW for merchandise options! So what’s the point even trying to compare? CW adds just enough shopping options to give you a chance to get out of the sun. There is no high-end stuff, as CW focuses more on its Peanuts line of products and the usual Canada’s Wonderland key chains, snow globes, and t-shirts.
But the Peanuts merchandise at the shops is pretty amazing:
W A T E R P A R K S
Winner: Walt Disney World
Again, with two distinct water parks and themed pools at every resort, few come close to WDW for watery fun!
However, Canada’s Wonderland also features a 20-acre water park called Splash Works. With Whitewater Bay – Canada’s Largest Outdoor Wave pool, a ¼ mile Lazy River, and water slides galore; there’s something for everyone at Splash Works. And here’s a fun fact for you: It would take 154,567,128 bottles of water to fill Splash Works!
New for 2015, Splash Works is home to Typhoon, a thrilling new water slide featuring oscillating funnels and hairpin turns and Splash Station, a wet and wild interactive children’s play area!
D I N I N G
Winner: Walt Disney World
Again, it’s like sending a sheep to slaughter to expect a park like CW to compete with the vast amount of dining options at WDW, or DL for that matter. But they do a fair job of giving visitors good options at fairly reasonable (theme park) prices. The one thing I did like at CW was the iPhone App which listed every menu item for all allergy requirements.
And as a bonus at CW this past weekend, they had a Food Truck Festival. Close to a dozen food trucks from the Toronto area showed up and it was diversity heaven!
CW offers a refillable cup for soft drinks. It was $14.99 (or $12.99 if ordered online in advance) and can be refilled as many times as you like, all day, during your visit. They use a bar code to determine this. But if you bring the same cup back on another day, it’s just 99 cents per refill, instead of the usual $3.49 per. Take that Disney!
S H O W S
Winner: Just Disney!
At CW there were about half a dozen shows which cycled with multiple times throughout the day. They had a diving show with 3 men who jumped off the mountain into the moat which only lasted about 5 minutes. A bit anti-climatic. A 3-D dinosaur show was available for an additional fee. A BMX stunt show was popular. We took in Dimensions: A Cirque Experience (think Cirque du Soleil knock-off) which was very good!
And we also stopped by the children’s Playhouse Theatre to see Charlie Brown’s Jungle Journey. This was about 15 minutes long and not very well thought out. The jungle theme did not come across but the kiddies seemed to like it well enough.
It was unfortunate that the Peanuts characters weren’t available for pictures with guests. I had to settle for this shot with ‘Snoopy’:
But you could also sit with Snoopy’s little yellow friend
S P E C I A L E V E N T S
Winner: Three-way Tie?
Again, the Disney parks dominate, but not because CW doesn’t try to mix it up a bit! But being only a seasonal park, the number of special events is obviously going to be lessened. CW does have a Halloween-themed event called Halloween Haunt in the fall season.
This year CW hosted a traveling exhibit called Dinosaurs Alive:
This was a premium paid attraction requiring an additional $5.00 charge to enter. But it was worth it. The animatronics weren’t quite up to Disney standards (for range of movement only), but seeing full-sized dinosaurs up close was amazing!
The scale was truly awe-inspiring!
There were dozens of dinosaurs and each was tripped by a sensor to move and roar as you walked by.
S U M M A T I O N
Canada’s Wonderland holds its own against the heavy hitters!
Being as Canada’s Wonderland is just about the only option in my Province, it does stand out in a class of its own. It doesn’t have to apologize to anyone for thrills, as it delivers these in spades! So young thrill-seekers rejoice! Also, CW has many options for parents with very young children.
Where CW falls short is for the middle-aged group who may go with the rest of the family, but may not be interested in going 90 miles an hour in a sled or sitting through a lame character show. The Disney parks definitely cater to the whole family in a better way.
Canada’s Wonderland has one major flaw, and that’s the layout. Karen and I got lost so often, and this was even while holding and ‘following’ the park map! Unlike Disney, who lay out their parks on Walt’s original spoke and wheel design with a central hub, CW has tried to do that, but fails.
There are just too many twisting walkways to attractions, many of which lead to dead-end areas. Backtracking becomes the only way to get around, which wastes time, and sucks when the temperature get high! Also, being a seasonal park, the staff aren’t quite up on all of the features of the park they work in. Most vendor employees had no idea where rides were. While employees walking around were better, some supplementary signage would have been an ideal way to make up for this problem.
Of course, we need to keep in mind that most employees were probably new, as the park must have to rehire every season, so training is likely an ongoing nightmare.
CW has a form of Disney’s PhotoPass and ride photo opportunities, season passes with perks and discounts, a V.I.P. tour package, and Cabanas to rent in the water park. And obviously more rides and attractions than I have time to cover here. So be sure to click the links added to this post for more information.
So the main reason to go to Canada’s Wonderland is to hit the coasters! They are amazing and well worth the admission fee. An adult ticket is just under $70 for the day (10 am to 10 pm) with reduced prices available for those who come later in the day.
I’ll be doing some follow-up posts focusing on pictures to show the basic layout and look of Canada’s Wonderland soon.
OVERALL RATING: 3 out of 5 STARS