I am going to whine a bit today. My father would refer to what I am writing about as first world problems. The company where I am now working hosted a family day at the local amusement park this weekend. This amusement park is a wonderland for children, with every kind of ride and flavour of junk food imaginable. I knew my children would love to go and a day at this place is dreamy for them. I also knew that a day at this place was my idea of a terrible nightmare. What to do? Do I tell them? Do I hide it and spend a lazy day at home? Or do I sign up and just do it.
I did it. I signed up and we went. In theory, a visit to this amusement park, Canada’s Wonderland, on a September weekend should be a bit quieter. Children are back at school and the weather is often not great. But summer just goes on and on for us this year, and my luck, it was sunny and over 30 degrees. The whole city showed up.
You know that sinking feeling when you finally rev yourself up and get excited to go somewhere and arrive to a chaotic scene? That was me when our car drove into the massive parking lot. Cars were parked from end to end, what seemed like thousands of them. We circled for a while and grabbed a great spot. I am sure that just having my son Matthew in the car guarantees me a good parking spot, but that story is for another day.
We got out of the car and immediately felt the beating hot sun on us. It was so hot outside that I could feel the sweat starting to bead on my neck and my shorts stick to my thighs in seconds. I threw hats on the kids’ heads, organized my backpack of supplies and dumped the baby in the stroller. Off we went into the park for a day at a child’s wonderland and an adult’s bad dream come alive.
The moment I walked through the park’s gate I wanted to turn around and leave. My throat was already parched. The beads of sweat had turned into a steady stream of water dripping down my neck and back. I was tired just from the walk from my car to the main entrance. My children and niece, who joined us for the day, even my husband, looked perky and excited. What did I get myself into?
Organizing the logistics for six people, all different ages and sizes, at Canada’s Wonderland, is a challenge. Matthew’s dream finally came true this year and he hit the magic number: 54. That is 54 inches tall, so that he qualifies to go on ANY ride. Julia, with shoes and puffy hair, hit another magic number: 48. That means she can go on almost any ride. Nessa, at 32 inches, is a bit more limited. I am 62 inches so it means I can go on any ride, but catch me going upside down and loop-de-loop. No way.
Every time we go to this wonderland it takes us a while to get in the groove, find our way around and do no more than stand at the entrance and yell at each other. Some want to go on a roller coaster and others want to start with a gentle ride. The baby would be happy to just run around in circles and maybe play with a cardboard box. I personally voted to run fast to the exit and head home.
We finally agreed on a simple ride that most could go on, and of course, it had broken down. So the older two headed for a roller coaster while we took the younger two girls to a gentle kiddie ride: the swans. The line didn’t seem too long on first glance, but it doesn’t move. We stood there, in the blaring hot sun with no shade in sight for about 5 minutes then had enough. Why does it take so long to strap a child into a giant swan-shaped boat?
We finally found another gentle ride for the girls with a reasonably short line and they were happy. Then we zoomed across the park to partake in a free buffet lunch. I didn’t care what the lunch was – all I cared was that it was free. A slice of pizza at this place is almost $8! And the line-ups for food? Oh my gosh. I would rather go hungry than stand in line for 30 minutes for low quality food.
After we filled ourselves with our free low-quality food, at least in a relatively cool covered area, it was back to the masses. We ate lunch in the corner of an area called Medieval Times, with castle architecture and all. But to get to the next ride we had to walk through the Oktoberfest celebrations. Imagine a huge area filled with picnic tables and hundreds of people drinking beer. At the centre of it all was a stage with a pair of middle aged men dressed in lederhosen on it, singing their version of popular music. And they were totally tone deaf. I tried my best to push through the crowds of drunk people who clearly didn’t notice the loud off-key music.
Back to the long lines for rides we went on. Have you ever noticed the very strong odor that people emit when they are crowded together in a long line on a hot day? The smell permeates everywhere and gets worse as the day goes on. I will say that at least, for the most part, the people standing in line for kiddie rides are pleasant and provide good entertainment during the long wait. They all smell bad but we smile through it all together.
Winner of the oddest moment of the day came when I stood in line with my two-year-old for the toddler train ride. You stand in line for at least 20 minutes (this line is at least in the shade) so you can cram your adult behind into a kiddie-sized seat on a mini train and travel for 6 minutes along a slow track at 15 kilometers per hour. We all stood patiently in line with our small children until we made our way to the front. I chatted in a friendly manner with the woman ahead of me, who was in line by herself. I figured she was a smart one and was waiting in line alone while her child (or children) went on another ride. But no one had arrived when we arrived at the front of the line.
The operator of the ride opened the gate for the woman to enter and stopped her when she clearly didn’t have a child with her. He explained that adults HAD to have a child with them in order to ride the mini train. Had to? Of course they do. Who would want to go on this ride unless they had a child with them? This woman laughed sheepishly and I was faced with a decision: do I look the other way and have him send her on her way or do I smile and invite her to join us? I invited her to join us. Yes, very strange, but she was pleasant and friendly and sang along with Nessa during our six-minute ride. We all yelled “choo choo” together.
Since I only dare to step foot in this wonderland up to once per year, we always stay the whole day, until it’s dark and closed. The day wore on and eventually the heat subsided and the crowds thinned just a little. My eleven-year-old went on his first “adult-only” ride. The eight-year-old went on her first real roller coaster. And the baby experienced her first ever amusement park rides, long lines, sweaty people and all.
Once it was dark outside and the park lights were on we finally lumbered our way, with the thundering hordes, to the exit. On cue, my son announced he was hungry. A random stranger stopped us and handed us his unused food vouchers, worth $20. The park was about to close and our food selection was limited. But the Starbucks, of course, was still open and with $20 in free snacks everyone chose a treat.
After a long, hot, sweaty and hectic day at my children’s wonderland, when every muscle in my body hurt and I smelled like week-old bread, we ended on a high. There’s nothing like caffeine and sugar to perk you up, especially when it’s free. Thanks again to that friendly stranger who handed over your vouchers. You made my day.