Canada's Wonderland (near Vaughan, Ontario) is home to Canada's largest and most diverse collection of rollercoasters and other exciting rides, so it's a natural hotspot for thrillseekers. As a coaster lover myself, I made the trip countless times throughout my older childhood and teenaged years. But how does it measure up for families with very young children? Well, I had the opportunity to find out, thanks to an invitation I received earlier this summer to bring my own family (including hubs, 31-month-old daughter, 7-month-old son and the kiddos' fun-lovin' nana and papa) down for a visit!
We set things up for a weekday in early August. As our scheduled day approached, the forecast looked ominous, and indeed it was pouring as we pulled into the parking lot. But thankfully things cleared by mid morning and we enjoyed beautiful weather for the remainder of the day. And, as a fringe benefit, the rain also thinned the crowds so lines were nice & short!
All in all, the day went very smoothly and our whole group had a blast! Over a month later, our daughter continues to talk excitedly about her favourite parts of the day, and the rides she still needs to grow taller to enjoy. While I can think of a few improvements which would have made our visit even better, overall I feel that Wonderland is, indeed, a worthy experience for familes with very young children. We'll definitely be back many times with our own kiddos!
The Fun Factor
While the whole park is peppered with attractions of interest to younger guests, there's a huge dedicated section called Planet Snoopy. It includes over 20 rides, a colourful maze, a large playground and the Playhouse Theatre featuring kid-oriented entertainment. Naturally, since our visit was centered around S' enjoyment, we spent the majority of the day in this area.
I was super-eager to see how our daughter would react to the rides, hoping she'd inherited my own genetic material - not my motion-sensitive husband's! Nevertheless we started slow, with a relaxing glide around Swan Lake. Next up, an easy spin on Sally's Love Buggies. While S enjoyed both of these, it wasn't until the decidedly more intense Peanuts 500 (a car rides which whips you around corners, wild mouse-style) that her eyes lit up and she broke out into the biggest grin. That's my girl!! Her subsequent excitement was contagious as we chased her from one ride to the next. Most of the rides were walk-ons so we were able to get on every one she was tall enough for (about 15 total), some multiple times.
Her favourites were definitely some of the more "interesting" rides - in addition to Peanuts 500, she also loved Lucy's Tugboat, a rocking boat ride with a fairly disorienting twisting motion, and Boo Blasters on Boo Hill, a ride-on haunted house in which the passengers shoot targets to activate ghoulish scenes and rack up a high score. Despite S' affinity for skeletons (or "Dem Bones" as she calls them), I questioned my parenting skills upon entering the latter, as it quickly proved itself to be quite creepy! But, happily, S didn't get frightened at all, and as we hopped off, she gave me mad props for my shooting skillz. :)
When we realized she wasn't quite tall enough to ride Taxi Jam (the kiddo coaster), I'm not sure who was more disappointed - me or her! On the bright side, it has since provided her with some strong incentive to eat her veggies. ;)
In addition to the rides, we watched Charlie Brown's Jungle Journey, a Peanuts-themed musical playing this summer at the Playhouse Theatre. The performance was fun and energetic, and the theatre is sheltered which gave us a nice break from the sun. When they're not on stage, the Peanuts gang can be found wandering around Planet Snoopy, meeting the kiddos and posing for pics! Upon running into Lucy, S was a little shy at first, but warmed up for a photo once Nana jumped in there with her!
Throughout the day, we did manage to sneak in a few adult rides including the spectacular Leviathan (on which my stepmother kept her eyes sealed shut and face contorted in a grimace the entire time, but then proclaimed afterwards that she enjoyed herself!), and White Water Canyon, which never fails to deliver an impressive soaker. (Though at least this time I wasn't so drenched that I felt inclined to wring out my underwear which, admittedly, I've done in the past! :O ) As a side note, having more than two adults along on a child-oriented visit is a Good Thing if you want to ride any non-kiddo rides. Otherwise mom and/or dad always have to ride solo.
We also checked out a couple other "all ages" performances, including the Kinet-X Dive Show...
and the British Invasion at the International Showplace. This one was particularly fun with its lively dancing and impressive arsenal of old and new hits from the UK. We opted for lawn seating as the lush, well manicured grass was comfy and allowed the boys to get in a quick power nap. :) S had already finished hers so she was right into the music!
Finally, a day at Wonderland isn't complete without playing some games - fun for big and little folks alike! S loves Angry Birds so when we caught site of the fiercely familiar fowl at one of the booths, we knew we had to take a shot! Dads tried first and came up empty-handed, but our preschooler turned out to be a sharp shooter, knocking down all six cups on her first try! She adored the Angry Birds mini-basketball she selected as her prize.
Yet another attraction we didn't hit up was Dinosaurs Alive!, an interactive animatronic dinosaur park which opened in 2012. It sounds pretty cool, but probably something best enjoyed by older children and adults. Since it's an extra-cost attraction ($5/person) we want to ensure that everyone in our family gets the most out of it if/when we do check it out!
Good (and Not So Good) Eats
Canada's Wonderland is rife with places to chow down, and traditional "kid friendly" options such as hot dogs, chicken fingers, ice cream, etc. are abundant, particularly within Planet Snoopy. Unfortunately, more nutritious options are not so easy to find.
One option does stand out, and that's the Marketplace International Buffet (located in the Medieval Faire section of the park). As part of our admission, we received lunch tickets to eat here, and while I wouldn't call the dining experience "upscale" (as per its description), the food options here were varied, quite tasty and decently healthy. The most nutritious choices included bean salads, steamed veggies, fresh fruit and roasted chicken. There was also pizza, pasta, a taco station and a dessert buffet (including soft serve ice cream), among other offerings.
I wasn't thrilled by the beverage choices, however, which appeared to be limited to soft drinks and water. The salad bar was also lacking in variety and flavour. But overall, the meal wasn't bad as buffets go. It's also worth mentioning that the staff members were very attentive and friendly, the items were regularly replenished and the establishment was clean. All in all, I'd definitely bring our family to eat there again - especially when considering the lack of alternative "real food" options available at the park which, as health-conscious eaters, we found disappointing.
I have to say I was particularly bummed by the lack of nutritious options within Planet Snoopy. This, to me, sends the message to young kids that junk food = "fun" food, but this doesn't have to be the case. How about a burrito station (with fresh toppings) or a real fruit smoothie hut? Or perhaps a place to get fruit, veggie and cheese snack packs? I realize the logistics of offering fresh, real food at an amusement park must be tough, but I feel it's gotta be doable and would certainly be appreciated by families like ourselves. Here's hoping we see some improvements in this area! In the meantime, packing a cooler is always an option (if you drive, that is), but this means making the trek out to your car and back, which can shave considerable time off an already jam-packed day.
Finally, Wonderland does deserve credit for maintaining a Special Dietary Needs webpage which would certainly be helpful to those individuals with allergies, intolerances or particular diets due to personal or religious reasons.
Getting Around, Amenities, etc.
Wonderland definitely makes it easy on young families in this department! Everywhere we went was stroller-accessible (for example, there were ramps leading into the International Marketplace), and all bathrooms we came across (mens and womens) were equipped with changing tables. We were able to bring CJ's purees into the park without hassle, and I found quiet places to nurse him pretty readily including a dedicated, private area within the KidZville section of Planet Snoopy.
(Speaking of CJ, here's proof that he actually came along on our trip. ;)
While we brought our own stroller, we noticed many other folks carting around single and double rentals which cost $15 and $20 for a single day, respectively (plus a $5 refundable deposit). A nice option for families who don't own a heavy-duty stroller, prefer not to lug it along or are visiting the park via an alternative method of transportation.
Want to plan a trip with your own family?
Hop over to the Plan a Visit section of Wonderland's website to view the operating calendar, purchase tickets, browse places to stay (for multi-day trips) and check out other helpful info. The park is still open this year on weekends until the end of October. Note that evenings from October 4th onward will feature the super-creepy Halloween Haunt which isn't for the youngest guests (as much as my daughter might insist she wouldn't be scared, given her affinity for the Boo Blasters!). The suggested age for this experience is 13 & older.
Or if you'd rather make the trip in 2014, the older members of your troupe will get to experience Wonder Mountain's Guardian, a super-cool sounding 4-D interactive attraction which will be unveiled at the beginning of the season!
How about you? Have you been to Canada's Wonderland with your own children? If not, which attractions do you think your kids would enjoy the most?
Disclosure: My family received general admission to Canada's Wonderland and lunch tickets at no charge, however I received no financial compensation for this post and was under no obligation to write it. The opinions expressed are my own and may be different from yours.