Outdoor rides in Canada...in December? Yup.
I know I recently wrote about this, but it bears repeating. It wasn’t all that long ago that most regional, seasonal parks, at least ones in colder climes, would call it a season on or about Labor Day. If you wanted to ride a roller coaster after that, you had to wait until the following Memorial Day.
Many years ago I wrote an article questioning the then-conventional wisdom about operating seasons at amusement parks. I wanted to know why parks and their fans were beholden to such a narrow, warm-weather window. Given the opportunity, people racked with cabin fever might want to escape winter’s doldrums and seek communal fun and midway thrills at a park, I reasoned. Most “experts” I interviewed back then thought I was nuts for even suggesting the possibility. Then Halloween events caught on and extended the shoulder season well into the fall. More recently, a surprising number of parks have added holiday events that keep rides spinning straight through to the end of the year. (A few regional parks, including Kings Dominion in Virginia, have done away with operating seasons altogether and remain open year round.)
How far might parks take this open-it-and-they-will-come attitude? Would you believe all the way to Canada? Believe it.
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Canada’s Wonderland, located outside of Toronto, is getting ready to launch its annual WinterFest later this month. Scheduled to run on select evenings from November 18 through December 31, the holiday event will include twinkling lights, seasonal food, Christmas-themed shows, and, yes, rides.
Global warming notwithstanding, it can get cold in Canada. They don’t call it the Great White North for nothing. I visited the park in May a few years back. Thank goodness I brought my heavy jacket, hat, and gloves. I thought my face was going to ice over while riding the 306-foot-tall, 92-mph Leviathan (which, by the way, is an incredible coaster). Talk about wind chill factor! I can’t imagine what it’s like in late December there. And yet, people come in droves to experience WinterFest.
“You have to consider how hearty our guests are up here,” says Grace Peacock, the park’s director of communications. “People love doing outdoor activities in the winter. We know what to expect and bundle up in our parkas and toques.”
It’s not like Canada’s Wonderland won’t try to help guests cope with the bone-chilling temperatures. There will be fire pits, warming centers with propane heaters, cozy indoor restaurants, and plenty of hot chocolate and mulled cider. For an additional fee, the park will even offer “igloos,” cozy, enclosed domes to which folks will be able to retreat between wind-whipped rides.
But most of the event will be outdoors, including ice skating on a makeshift lake in front of the park’s Wonder Mountain and open-air shows filled with holiday tunes. None of the major coasters will be running for WinterFest, but hearty ride warriors will be able to board Thunder Run, which snakes in and out of the park’s iconic Wonder Mountain. There will be 23 attractions available in all, including the freaky pendulum ride, Psyclone, and the 80-foot-tall thrilling spinner, Sledge Hammer.
Visitors will be able to refuel at the park’s new 500-seat indoor restaurant, Lazy Bear Lodge. Among the seasonal fare available during the event will be fried turkey and stuffing balls served on mashed potatoes, sausage and candied bacon on sticks, warm puddings, and deep-fried butter tarts served with strawberry sauce and ice cream. There will be festive cocktails available as well.
This will be the third holiday event at Canada’s Wonderland. As would be expected, Peacock says that there has been snow, freezing rain, and other inclement weather during past presentations. “We find ways to enjoy the outdoors, even in snow,” she says. “Really, WinterFest is a natural fit for us.”
Canada’s Wonderland is part of the Cedar Fair chain of parks. Some of the company’s other locations offer WinterFest as well, including Carowinds in North Carolina, Kings Dominion in Virginia, California’s Great America, and Kings Island in Ohio. Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California foregoes the WinterFest branding and instead transforms into Knott’s Merry Farm. Among its highlights is “Home for the Holidays,” a gala ice show and musical revue featuring Snoopy and the Peanuts gang.
Do you live in a part of the world where it can get crazy cold in the winter? Would you want to visit a park, despite freezing temperatures? What do you think about the trend of parks remaining open for the holidays? Have you been to any holiday events at parks in colder locations?