Return to Wonder(land)

Though I’ve posted about it a bunch, including reminiscing about my earliest visits when the park was still young, I hadn’t actually visited Canada’s Wonderland since 1995 or so.  But a few weeks ago I got a chance to do just that!  Visiting home during the more summerly months there was no way I wasn’t going to go and see what was new… and, of course, ride every coaster I could as often as I could.  DO NOT STAND UP!

Given it’s been over two and a half decades since my last visit, I was very much expecting some big changes at the park.  And, indeed, there are plenty, including many new rides and coasters.  But what struck me was how many original bits remained, seemingly untouched for all time.  Well, admittedly the mountain was looking a little worse for wear… and the upper falls were off – not sure if that’s just because it was early in the season or if that’s permanent, which if so, that’s a for shame.  But many nice touches still remain, like the rugged steel sculptures for the Dragon Fyre and the Wilde Beast, and it was cool to see them still lending their flair after so many years.

Unfortunately, those same old touches made the new additions stand out due their lack of themeing, fully tracing the park’s trajectory towards becoming a more stripped down and plain amusement park.  A great example of this is the diving/bouncing/swinging show in the middle of the faire lagoon – it’s still there, but the nifty and detailed pirate ship has been replaced with a completely utilitarian set of boxes, posts and planks.  The show might still be well performed (there were no shows yet this early in the season), but the loss of a fun backdrop likely makes for an equally less fun and less engaging show overall.

But I’d long known (and posted about) this loss of themeing, so I didn’t dawdle and bemoan.  It was the coasters I was keen on, and that’s where I kept my attention.  All the original coasters from opening day are still in operation, which was great to see (and experience).  And while, sadly, Skyrider was no more, all the other coasters from my last visits were still there.  Of course, there were also the gaggle of new ones (though technically most were not really that “new” anymore…).  Wonderland might not have many of the “top of the line” coasters, but it has a wide variety of them and has the 3rd most number of coasters at a park worldwide.  So plenty of good riding to be had!

Of the old woodies, Wilde Beast remains a fav of mine.  I won’t say I’m unbiased in that love, for I know I’m not and hauling much of my youth forward with me when I ride it.  But it’s my kind of rough goodness and makes me cackle with glee to ride it.

The Minebuster, unfortunately, has lost all its luster.  Maybe it never really had much, I dunno, but it had a surprising dearth of airtime or much of anything going over the bumps.  And while the mine shed helix is still kinda neat, I think this one is ready for a revamp.  Call in RMC to work their magic!  There might not be all that much to ‘save’ insofar as the layout or etc, so let them run wild to heighten and expand and lengthen.  Just keep that mine shed somewhere, and we’re golden.

Speaking of Behemoth, it, and Leviathan, were pretty darn good.  Behemoth is just oodles upon oodles of sweet floater airtime!  Leviathan has height and speed to spare, and a bit of ejector airtime plus more floater.  I would have liked more ejector, given how much floaty there already was on Behemoth, but it’s still a good ride (and still ranks high on the Golden Ticket Awards).

Thunder Run is still very fun, powering its way around and through the mountain.  That said, the inside of said mountain REALLY could use some upkeep and updating.  The dragon looks stale and even barren. (Is it a false memory/did I imagine that it used to be on a pile of treasure?)  Really speaks to how cheap the park management is.  This is a gem, it should be fixed up!

On the other hand, the newer ride to go through the mountain, Wonder Mountain Guardian, is a ho-hum shooter with a single drop element.  Criminally, as you enter the mountain to queue you are treated to a pure set of concrete block walls that totally belie and deny any theme or excitement building.  Cheap!  And boring to me.

I’ve read the (sometimes intense) dislike of off-the-shelf SLC coasters, but after riding Flight Deck I’m not entirely sure why?  I didn’t find it all that rough or a head masher, and the tight and twisty layout was still fun.  It’s no Flight Deck from California’s Great America, but it wasn’t bad.  I enjoyed it just fine.

The Bat is a bog-standard boomerang; the Backlot Stunt Coaster was fun enough though none of the pyrotechincs/etc were in operation (again, not sure if it was because it was early in the season or if because the park is being cheap/never did maintenance so it broke); Ghoster Coaster was classic; and The Fly was my first wild mouse-type coaster and woah, those corners indeed!

Of the original coasters I didn’t ride the Dragon Fyre.  Probably should have, just to complete the set, but even in my youth it had started to get rote, so I skipped.

Yukon Striker, the new dive coaster, turned out to be pretty good!  The dive into the lake (and the middle of Vortex’s helix) is cool, and the drop angle is perfect to give plenty of free-fall hang-time.  The rest is a delightful soaring experience, with huge inversions and twists.  Good stuff!  And the loose article storage system in the queue is both inspired and theme appropriate!

But the awesome is reserved for Vortex.  (NB:  from here on out this is going to be almost nothing but a Vortex appreciation post!)

I love suspended coasters.  Different from inverted coasters, the cars hang and swing (mostly) freely from the track above, such that entering a turn is accompanied by a whipping to the side that unsurprisingly feels free and uncontrolled.  And you really do feel it, you feel the unpredictability of that detached ride as you carve a line through pure physics-induced naturalness.  No other type of coaster feels like this.  And Vortex uses that uniqueness very well.

It begins immediately as you ascend the mountain as the lift hill.  An experience that is, admittedly, kinda ruined as you reach the top to discover an industrial looking black roof and chain link fence hemming you in – ok, once again, the park really doesn’t care about themeing anymore.  But all that fades as you hurtle off the side of the mountain into a sweet and twisty layout that takes full advantage of the coaster’s suspended nature.  The cars hurtle and swing left and right, often reaching their apex on one side before hurtling the other way.  And while it’s nowhere near as cool as the Big Bad Wolf’s sailing through a village, there are terrain coaster-like elements with the cars seeming to brush the track supports.  (Though if we’re talking about themeing, how about ensconcing those supports in rockwork?  That would turn this into a true terrain coaster!)  Perhaps the ultimate element is the helix that skims the lake’s surface (sit on the right side to get the best effect).  After, a few more twists culminate in a final sharp turn into the break run that’ll have you completely sideways as you come to a halt, left to swing back and forth down to neutral.

Unfortunately the ride is super short (though that’s a common theme for many of the rides at Wonderland), but perhaps because of it the ride never lets up and you speed all the way through.  It’s exhilarating, and I love it.  Rode it 4 times that day.  (Plus, given how few there are and with the original manufacturer now gone there’s no telling how long these remaining suspended coasters will last.  So just in case, this was as many ‘final’ rides I could get in.)

While we sprinkled a few flat rides to round out the day (Quixote’s Kettles will always be the true name, I refuse to acknowledge the Spinnovator), primarily it remained being about multiple rides on multiple coasters.  It was a delight to revisit the coasters from my past and to ride the “new” ones.  I’d rank Vortex, Yukon Striker, Behemoth/Leviathan, Thunder Run, and Wilde Beast as “world class” (whether for thrills, fun, and/or personal reasons) coasters, and with fingers crossed for another visit in the future, may the Minebuster be given the RMC treatment and the Dragon Fyre be reborn as a Dragon Fyre 2 multi-launch looping and twisty coaster!

It was, pun intended, a wonderful day.  Though I have lived far away for quite some time, I still very much consider Wonderland my “home park.”

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