“I’m not sure I really like roller coasters.”
We had just pulled into the parking lot of Canada’s Wonderland and caught a glimpse of the towering roller coasters doing their dry run before the gates opened. I raised an eyebrow at my oldest, the one who was having second thoughts, as our day’s plan was to hit every roller coaster we could until we shut down the park that evening.
“Might be a long day for you,” I told her, although it was hard to take her seriously. None of our kids had ever met a theme park ride they didn’t like.
Canada’s Wonderland, located in Vaughan, Ontario, just north of Toronto, is Canada’s largest theme park and filled with roller coasters and thrill rides. With over 330 acres, you’ll find more than thrill rides, of course, as they also boast a large kids’ area, shows, and a 20-acre waterpark.
We had taken our 3 kids to Wonderland a few times when they were small, and they loved the excitement of the day. They would have a full day enjoying the kids’ rides in what is now Kidzville and Planet Snoopy. My son was only seven the last time we went (and, more applicably in a theme park, only 46 inches tall). He stood with his grandmother at the bottom of the Leviathan, a roller coaster over 300 feet tall that reaches a top speed of 148 km/h, and watched us enjoy the ride of his young dreams. Ever since that day, his goal has been to come back to Wonderland and ride the roller coasters – the higher and faster, the better.
Years later, our initial plan to visit Canada’s Wonderland was derailed by COVID, but the summer of 2021 brought us to the park on a scorching hot and humid Ontario day. Without much discussion, it was understood that this was a day for the thrill-seeking, adrenaline-junkie, COVID-weary teens to let loose and enjoy.
Thankfully, the middle-aged parents in the family also enjoy roller coasters. I might have almost blacked out on a few intense rides, but I’m totally blaming it on the heat and mask-wearing, not the fact that I’m mid-forties and might be getting too old for such nonsense.
Canada’s Wonderland has numerous thrill rides, including 17 roller coasters, from Taxi Jam for the younger crowd to classic wooden roller coasters to the Yukon Striker, the newest ride that is considered to be the tallest, fastest, and longest dive coaster in the world. It has a 245 feet drop, reaches speeds up to 130 km/h, and is 3,625 feet long. Oh, and by the way, the drop is 90 degrees. You pause at the top, peering over the edge, for half of eternity (or about 3 seconds, but whatever), before plunging toward the ground and through an underwater tunnel. I’ll race you there!
We started our day with Flight Deck, a roller coaster designed to simulate riding an F-14 fighter jet, to ease the kids into roller coasters. It rolls and loops, while your feet dangle, but it ‘only’ goes 80 km/h and doesn’t have the height of some other roller coasters.
“What was that?!” my son yelled, as we screeched to stop at the end. Start off, easy, right?
Soon we were on the Behemoth, the coaster we eventually decided was our favourite. It’s not the tallest or the fastest classic roller coaster in the park (the Leviathan has that honour), although it sure feels like it while you’re riding! I sat at the very front with my 14-year old son. As you begin your ascent up 230 feet, you have lots of time to wonder if you were really in your right mind when you planned this.
“Scream inside your heart!” my daughter called from behind me.
Then you crest the hill and the perspective from the top feels like you’re freefalling straight to the ground, spiking your adrenaline and taking your breath away before you swoop up again.
Pretty awesome, as the kids say.
A full day of rides at Wonderland, especially in the heat, is not for the faint-hearted. We took a couple of breaks throughout the day, ate some food, dealt with a teenage outburst, and told our youngest to buck up because we were not leaving early so she could go home and read her book. (Don’t feel too bad for her. This same kid shouted, “I love this!” as we hung over the precipice on Yukon Striker and by 8 pm had a second wind and was bemoaning the fact that the park was closing “already.”) Overall, the day got a ten out of ten recommendation from the kids. The parents were pretty fond of it, too.
Canada’s Wonderland Tips for Teens and Their Parents
Carry as little as you can, with as few valuables as possible. You will need to leave your bags and any loose items in a bin on the side when you ride, and while people are (probably) generally honest, why risk losing something valuable?
Feed those hungry children. And hope they don’t get queasy on the rides. In our family, most meltdowns can be solved with food or a big drink. There is an “All-Day Dining” plan, but we didn’t try it out because only certain locations are eligible and we were committed to eating funnel cakes for supper. You can’t bring food into the park, but you can leave it in your vehicle and come out for lunch at the picnic pavilion to save some money. You can, thankfully, bring bottled water into the park and there are water refill stations.
If you’re not sure what thrills your kids will embrace, take note of the ride rating system. There are five levels, ranging from low thrill to aggressive thrill. You can go online or grab a map at the park’s entrance for all this information.
At the time of writing, masks are required indoors, in line, on rides, and anywhere you can’t distance more than 2 metres. But we noticed that this rule was only loosely enforced, so if families are quite nervous about COVID, it might be less stressful to visit at a later date.
If you’re a middle-aged mother on a hot day trying to wear a mask, be sure to drink a lot of water so you don’t actually blackout on the roller coasters. Your kids will never let you live it down.
Masks and minor meltdowns, notwithstanding, our day at Canada’s Wonderland was the perfect escape from the stresses of the last year. Plus, it was worth every penny to sit beside my cocky teenage son in the front row of the Behemoth and watch him rendered temporarily speechless and terrified. Where else can you laugh with your family, indulge in decadent funnel cakes, and have so much fun scaring the pants off your teenagers?
Canada’s Wonderland is open daily from May until Labour Day and open weekends until the end of October.