Day 3: MarineLand: (gonna do this in two parts, since I type a lot)
We woke up around 8am to another beautiful day, and after confirming how late they were serving breakfast downstairs (in the Keg steakhouse). . .confirmed until 9, I told Nick we need to eat Breakfast, as I really did not want to eat at MarineLand. . .intending to give them as little of our $$ as we could due to what’s mentioned in the below paragraph:
MarineLand is to Ontario what SeaWorld is to the USA (in particular in terms of the controversies. . . tho “Blackfish” is some highly edited B.S.) - although reports of their treatment on some of the animals are strong enough that SeaWorld actually had to sue to get one of their Orcas back that had been on loan to MarineLand a few years ago.
When I was planning on going to Niagara Falls, I noticed that MarineLand has a bunch of rides, in particular Dragon Mountain – an Arrow looper (4 inversions), that’s one of the longest - in terms of layout - on the planet, in a unique setting. So I asked on Theme Park Review if the park was worth visiting, and got plenty of response. The feedback about accusations for the treatment of some of the animals, really gave me pause. . .but Nick would ride this particular coaster (there aren’t many he can / will), and he wanted to give it a shot. So we tentatively planned to go, but decided we simply would pay the admission and try not to spend any further money in the park.
I say “tentatively planned” as we weren’t sure how we’d be feeling after the full day of sightseeing, with all the walking, on Tuesday. MarineLand is a *huge* park..I’m not kidding, it’s *huge* and very spread out, and if Nick wasn’t up for all the walking, we’d blow it off. . which is why we didn’t pre-buy tickets online (a $3 savings per ticket. . so I figured, ok, no big deal if we end up going and just buy at the ticket booths).
I had found a tourist magazine with a $3 off per person coupon anyways, and the tour driver had given me a $2 off coupon as well. . . so when we woke up and I asked Nick how he was doing and got a thumbs up? MarineLand was on for the day.
Back to the 1st paragraph. . LOL. . .I explained to Nick, that downstairs was serving until 9, and the park opened at 10. And since we didn’t want to eat at the park, we simply had to eat before we went. . so let’s do this “Dragon*con” style – meaning toss on a hat, and a T-shirt, we’d go eat, then come back to the room after to shower, change before heading out for the day.
we headed downstairs to the steakhouse, and asked if we could take a look at the buffet (just to see what the offerings were), but then just decided to go ahead and charge it to the room prior to being seated (heh. . I told the hostess, we’re gonna end up doing it anyways, so might as well just sign the slip now before being seated). I believe it was $14.50 each, which is only ~12 American (I think?), so yeah, it wasn’t free.
But two things:
- this is Courtyard Marriott, not Hampton Inn (which we sometimes stay at and includes free breakfast). But Courtyard never includes breakfast, since they almost always have the “bistro” in the lobby selling coffee and breakfast sandwiches in the lobby. This Courtyard didn’t have a Bistro, but that’s because the Steakhouse was attached instead.
- it’s a tourist spot. So yeah, I fully expected to have to pay for breakfast when visiting a Tourist area. .and it was cheaper that I had expected it to be.
Not only that, but it was a very good deal for the price: in addition to the cold cereal, waffle station, eggs, bacon, home-fries, as well as fresh fruit, bagels/toast and juices/coffee. . they also had an Omelets station on the grill to the kitchen, where I had a really good Southwestern omelet made for me. Fit the bill, and the only snag we hit was that Nick ordered Tea, forgetting we weren’t in Texas, and he wasn’t gonna get Sweet Tea. . and when I got back to the table, he was sitting there sadly looking at a pot of hot tea. . . LOL
Crisis was averted tho, as I simply went and found a waitress to bring us a cup of Ice, and he made his own sweet tea.
We finished eating around 9:15, and went up to the room where Nick took a shower, and I headed back downstairs with my very confusing Google directions to ask for help, since we had just passed the park the evening before, I knew it wasn’t as complicated as the directions were making it sound.
the front desk pointed me over to the Tour booth in the lobby (we had seen it earlier, but since it wasn’t Grayline but rather a tour company tied to the hotel, we hadn’t stopped there). The lady at the desk told me “oh sure, it’s easy!” and pulled out a map that required two left turns and a right to get there . . yeah, it was THAT easy, dunno what Google was smoking telling me all these turns! The lady was very chatty when she found out I was from Austin, and wanted to talk all about US politics (she was supportive of Pride about to start), and insisted she wanted to meet my “partner” – and I did bring him by and introduce him on the way out. But eventually it was getting close to 10, and she had folks that actually wanted to book a tour from the hotel, so I excused myself and went upstairs to get Nick, and we headed out.
The parking lot for MarineLand is HUGE (and free, which is a nice bonus), but it’s long and thin, without any trees. That wasn’t really an issue for us, as we pulled in around 10:05, and there were very few cars in the lot. In fact the only other folks we saw coming in, was a family of four (parents and two kiddos probably 4-5 years old). We chatted with them while walking up to the gate, and they told us they used to come to this park when they were kids, but didn’t have passes anymore. I had noticed the $3 off coupon was good for up to 6 people, and since Nick and I were only two, told them they certainly could use the coupon with us.
We got to the admission booth – where both attendants were reading books (a recurring theme we saw thruout the day here.. but just commenting not judging - I have no issue with this as the park had JUST opened for the season the prior week, and the Schools were not out yet. So they were expecting very small crowds, as was explained to me by the front gate attendant. Why sit bored if one can read?).
the family let us go first, but the lady in the booth told us that unfortunately we could NOT let they use our coupon, since it all had to be done as 1 transaction. . they were disappointed, but then the lady told them to just go on their phones and buy, and they’d get the same discount. The Husband said “we didn’t buy online because it says you have to have a printed ticket”. . to which Booth Lady said: “oh, just go to that booth there, they will print it out for you!”
But hey, they saved $12. . . I felt pretty dumb for bothing to clip the coupon in the first place, but then she ALSO accepted the coupon from the tourguide, so we ended up getting $3 + $2 off stated gate price (and when I charged it and it came thru on the Credit Card notification, it was only ~$38.50).
So we got a damn good deal, after seeing multiple places how expensive this park is for what they offer.
My thinking is that in Vegas, a ride on the NYNY coaster is $15.
So if we were in Vegas, the admission for just one coaster there was more than the admission was here. . . with several more rides than just a coaster (and if we rode MarineLand’s signature coaster just 3 times, we’d more than get our admission covered anyways).
So I thought it was a damn good deal.
We chatted with the folks at the front gate, as they told us to enjoy our day, reminded us that the “rides open at 11”, and we headed into the park.
As mentioned, this is a HUGE park.. I mean.. . really, really, really big. With giant wide walkways (that we occasionally saw golf carts, or even Pickups, with maintenance guys in them that all waved hello, as they passed us by.
It was super dead in the park, but this place is so big, that even if they were very crowded, I could totally see this place feeling wide open and “empty”. It’s also very overgrown in places, as I learned from multiple discussions thruout the day with employees (who were happy to engage with people, in particular at the back of the park), that the owner really likes vegetation, and he doesn’t mind if it’s from trees, bushes, grass, or even weeds. And there were a lot of weeds in places.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of shade available in spots too. . but interestingly, most of the ride pads are “surrounded” by trees, rather than “shaded” by trees. . the rides themselves out there baking in the sun. (which again, we’re from Texas, we didn’t mind. . but I think almost every ride operator mentioned how hot it was that day).
That the place is so big, and all the overgrowth in some place, really exacerbated the feeling of the park truly being empty. Nick and I teased that areas of the park looked like they could shoot episodes of “the Walking Dead” there.
We studied the park map, which in theory should have helped, but didn’t really. . LOL.. the place is so much bigger than it looks on the map, but luckily there are signs all over the park pointing to the Picnic areas (there are multiple), Ride Areas, and giving general directions. We knew the rides opened at 11, and it was probably 10:15 at this point, so we decided we’ll go to the far North East area of the park, where the signature Coaster: Dragon Mountain is located, and just work our way back from that. After all, we were there mainly for that.
We passed some train tracks and consulted the park map. .nope, not on the map (heh). Does the park have a train? Nope.
I’m actually a little shocked that it doesn’t, a park this big, really should have a train, not only do they clearly have the land for it, but a stop at the front of the park, and one at the back would seem essential. Guess it’s not high on the priority list of the owner, or maybe they couldn’t get permits needed for something like that? Who knows? But it’s weird there are train tracks in the middle of the park one has to cross over, but no train in the park. (there’s also no water rides, not even a flume, which is strange for a park called “MarineLand”. . but I guess if it’s cool most of the time, there’s no reason to spend the money putting in a flume ride).
So we took our time walking along the giant paths, talking to the maintenance folks as we passed them (we saw literally no one else this early as we headed in), and pausing to take pictures. After a few twists and turns, we came upon what looked like a huge castle & medieval town plopped down in the middle of nothing.
Turned out the castle not only housed restrooms (very well maintained), but also the Fallow Deer exhibit, called “Deer Park”. Since we were walking right by, we went in, and said hello to the handler (who was reading a book), and he put the book down and told us a bit about the deer and started tossing them scoop-fulls of feed over the top of the fence.
If you’ve been to a petting zoo, yep, smelled just like that.. but other than the smell? The deer seemed very well taken care of, the enclosure was gigantic, with lots of shade, and probably 45-60 deer strolling around the enclosure, or hanging out by the gates for the deer feed. Some of them were beautiful with large horns, and they were several different colors represented among them. He started to hand feed them, and asked us if we’d like to (something I’d assume is a standard option, based on the giant barrels of feed, and the hand sanitizer stations), but I didn’t want to touch anything (personal choice that day. .I was afraid of forgetting and touching my face/eyes). .so instead just took pictures of him feeding them, admired them for a few moments, thanks him for the info and offer to feed, and then went on our way.
The area across from the castle “the town” looked like it used to be a gift shop, or a restaurant (especially since grass on the side was filled with picnic tables), but it’s not noted on the park map as being anything other than a structure (not listed as a restaurant or a Gift Shop, and under the marine stadium later that day the clerk told us that under the stadium is the only gift shop in the park). . so I guess it’s just decommissioned, and they are keeping it as “theming” it’s charming regardless, but weird.
we continued our long walk trying to follow the path to match to the park map, and came along the spiral mountain entrance to Skyscreamer – the parks tri-tower drop ride, which supposedly has *Amazing* views of Niagara Falls. The path looked steep, even tho spiraling up the giant 150 foot mountain the ride sits on, and Nick said: “you can ride that alone, I’ll sit on a bench down here”. It was a moot point for now anyways, as under the ride sign, there’s an additional sign noting “Skyscreamer opens at 12pm”, so we continued along the path – passing closed snack & drink kiosks - until we saw the “magic Experience Ride, and straight ahead of us, the Black Bear exhibit, “Bear Country” – which meant we were getting close (finally) to Dragon Mountain.
It was about 10:50, so we still had about 10 minutes before rides were supposed to open (yes, it really did take us over 30 minutes to get from the main entrance back to Dragon Mountain (told you the place was huge).
I asked Nick if he wanted to walk to the end of the pathway, where there were Red Deer, Elk, and Buffalo enclosures. . but as those are all animals we have seen in Texas zoos, it was better just to sit on a bench, rest our (his) feet, and wait for the coaster to open. It was here that we saw two other people, also sitting on a bench across from the coaster. We said hello, and chatted with them. They were from Ohio, and had come to MarineLand just to ride the Coaster (they were dealing with some issues in that they had planned to bike some trails in Ontario, but someone had stolen their bikes from the back of the car the prior evening. So while they were waiting for insurance claim to file, they came to the park).
We looked over at the giant walrus on top of a pole just up the pathway from us, and could not figure out what it was – all of us looking on the map, and not spotting it anywhere. I recalled I had heard on TPR that the Topple Tower had been shut down a while back, and maybe that was it? So I got up and walked down to take a look.
Sure enough, it was the Topple Tower, tho the ride sign was gone, and a “temporarily out of service” sign was in the queue. “temporarily”. . hah.
Not only was it not on the park map, but the queue back and forths had been removed, and it was just a wide open station. Meanwhile the weeds had grown up around the ride, actually tangling themselves into the ride passenger car! Yep, it was sitting there rotting. With no fence around it, or anything. . weird.
When I got back to the bench, and told Nick (and our new friends) that yep, it’s the old Topple Tower, and nope, it’s not operating. . . I also noted that it was just at 11am, and we had not yet seen a coaster train cycle on Dragon Mountain. There was an employee sitting by the front gate, ready to open it, but I said I’ve never seen a ride open without testing it first (and we’d been sitting there for almost 15 minutes). After another 5 minutes, a maintenance truck pulled up and a guy hopped out and went up the queue.
So we all got up and went to talk to the MarineLand employee that was at the ride entrance. He said that it’s been operating, and he expects that it will be working, although he wasn’t sure what was going on (but he had heard something about a lose restraint during pre-check).
Since this is way back in the park, and once we left this area, I wasn’t expecting to come back today, the 4 of us just hung out and chatted with the Employee about: Ontario, the crowds the park gets (he also noted the schools weren’t out yet, and the park would be busier starting in about 2 weeks), the weather – it was the first of many times we heard how hot it was today, even tho we weren’t warm (apparently it had been in the low 50’s just the prior week, so it was shocking everyone).
Very enjoyable conversation, that didn’t bring up politics at all – at least not US politics, he had some things to say about the emigrates from India and Syria that were moving into Ontario. It wasn’t offensive, it was interesting to hear his points of view.
we also talked about Topple Tower, and why it was just sitting there rotting (he said it had been down for over 3 years at this point). He said the the owner didn't think it was worth trying to repair, and that due to the counterweights below it meant it was very hard to remove without getting a big crane in there. So they just left it to sit. I was confused as to why they didn't at least fence it off? (at least a Six Flags move) and he admitted they should, but he didn't know why. .then opined they should just make the queue building into restrooms, since the closest ones were all the way back at the Deer Enclosure, or way at the top of Skyscreamer mountain.
And after about 20 minutes, he asked us to please not pass the rope, and walked up to the station to check out what was going on. Literally the moment he got back, we heard the lift hill “click click click” in the woods, and the 1st train cycled thru the pretzel loop near the ride entrance. Two more times the train cycled, then he got an all clear, and dropped the rope, warned us to “watch your head in the cave”, and the 4 of us headed into Dragon Mountain.
Interesting to note: not only did NO ONE come up the path to join us in waiting for the coaster in the ~35 minutes we were there, but other than these two folks from Ohio every other ride we had today (with one exception: the wave swinger), Nick and I were the *only* riders. . in some cases, I was the only rider when Nick waited for me.
It was strange, but exhilarating. Is it considered a “walk on” when we have to question the operator if the ride is open? (the answer was always “yes”).
The queue gives you an idea of how funky this ride is. . . it meanders with no real direction on where to go, until you end up a a giant Demon head. Oh, I suppose it COULD be a Dragon, since the ride is called Dragon Mountain, but it doesn’t really look like a Dragon to me. And it’s only a head, attached to a mountain, there’s no body sculpted, it’s just a head on a big mountain. Weird.
There’s a fairly long indoor queue (almost as long as the outdoor one), but this one was not lit (or at least not well lit).. we were walking completely blind, LOL. . . no wonder he told us to watch his head. Thank goodness there are no steps, but the queue just turns into back and forth ramps when you get into the actual station – but until then we were walking slowly, arms outstretched in front of us.
The station is also dimly lit. . but it works as it’s kind of spooky. This would be the end of the theming tho. Oh, other than the trains are a pretty cool orange color, with flames on the side.
The two folks we had been waiting with hopped in the front row, and as Nick does not like riding in the front (or the back), we hopped in the 3rd car of the train, pulled down on the OTS restraints, got the thumbs up from the operator and station guy, and a note about please do not pull out cellphones for onride videos, and we were off.
The Ride starts with exiting the station, into a really long lift hill up the side of the mountain. It’s so long, it’s got a double-chain lift, which was kind of neat to see when riding in the front car. At the top of the lift, a quick turn-around goes into the drop that immediately does back to back loops (it seemed to go thru them a bit slowly, giving some hangtime, but that could have been because the ride wasn’t warmed up yet). . after the 2nd loop, the track shoots into a . . . volcano?. . I dunno what the heck it was supposed to be, but it does a huge helix within the open top crater, going around twice, then diving into a pitch black (and cold) tunnel, that’s fairly lengthy, then shoots you out into a large turn-around over a pasture (which based on the smell is a cow pasture. . or maybe it goes over the Buffalo enclosure is a more likely bet), and after that the track goes back into another tunnel, this one again diving down in pitch black, to shoot you out into the light on the other side directly into a corkscrew, followed immediately by a pretzel twist.. before coasting back around the base of the “mountain” and pulling back into the station.
It was so bizzarro weird, that I loved the hell out of it. For the most part, it was smooth, although there is a small amount of head-bang when coming out of the 2nd tunnel and into the corkscrew. Nick, being shorter than I am, actually did bang the heck our if his arms (and had the bruises show up pretty quickly).. but I survived with no issues.
Since there was no one waiting, we were able to ride again without leaving the train, but I asked if I could move to the back seat, leaving Nick in car 3.
wow. . this is absolutely a back seat coaster, yeah, as a typical Arrow it was a little bit rougher in the back, but all was well worth it for the way the coaster just WHIPS thru the back to back 1st loops. Sooooo much more intense in the back.
When we returned from the 2nd ride, the ops told us that if we wanted to ride again, we’d have to exit the station and come back thru the line, due to “health regulations”. . . we got off, and laughed our way thru the exit and back around into the main queue . . .about how they want enthusiasts to walk a little between rides (the exit is only right around the corner from the mountain entrance, so at least we didn’t have to do the whole outdoor queue again). Nick decided two rides was enough for him, so he sat and waited, and while going thru the ramps, I told my new friends how much more intense the ride was in the back. They decided to sit in the front one more time, and I went to the back row (for another incredible ride), and then when we came back in – tho I was starting to feel the back-to-back rides, I figured, we’re here, I want to ride it – we swapped for the final ride, me going to front row, and them going to back row.
as noted, way better in the back, but front – where you can see where you are going, and brace for the transitions – was fun too, and at least I did it.
The ops told us we’d have to go around if we wanted to ride again, but all 3 of us said 4 times is enough for now, and headed out to meet Nick, whereupon our Ohio friends headed towards the Other rides, and we did not see them again for the rest of our visit.Mid-train: 6 out of 10
Front Row: 8 out of 10
Back Row: 10 out of 10
It was still about 15 minutes before noon (and Skyscreamer opening), so we decided to head over to Magic Experience, a Huss spinning ride, that is apparently rare in North America.
We were the only folks there, but the operator waved us on, and we each sat on our own side of the conjoined cars. I’ve never been on one of these, so wasn’t sure what it would be like, but the operator said “you are going to have fun! Hang on!”, and started up a really long cycle on it. I guess the best way to describe it would be if someone put Tilt-a-Whirl cars on the end of a Troika chassis, and they tossed in a bit of Octopus for the up and down tilts while spinning.
Luckily, we hadn’t eaten in hours by this point, because after 4 laps on the coaster, and then this (at least) 4 minute ride, I would be puking. . . but it was great fun. It was just a wee bit too long for me, but really did enjoy it, and glad we rode it. (he asked us if we wanted to go again, but at risk of turning green, we said no thanks. . LOL. . other than the coaster, most rides were just 1 and done for us today).7 out of 10
– pretty good, since I’m not a huge fan of spinners, but I liked this one.
We had to check in for our flight at 12:50 (Southwest has you check in 24 hours in advance), and had planned to do that on Nick’s phone, since his has international and mine does not.
It was still a bit of time, but he was a little concerned that if he waited for me at the bottom of the Skyscramer tower, I might not be back in time to check in, so we decided we’ll stick around in the NE corner of the park (since the Skyscreamer entrance is over there), check in, I’ll ride it, and then we can continue our way around the park in a big loop.
Since we needed to get our “legs” back, we went over to the Bear Country enclosure, where there were 20 or so black bears spread out among a really large area, including caves, water, and large rocks. Many bears were laying back along the enclosure walls in the shade, but some were playing in the water, and a couple were sprawled out on the rocks sunning themselves in the warm day. When we got to the edge of the enclosure, looking down, one of the bears in the water immediately came over and stood right under us looking up. We took some pics, and talked to her (him?), and then realized she was hoping for food.
several of the closed drink/snack kiosks that had been closed earlier were now open (I guess they all opened ~11 when the rides officially do), as well as the little covered kiosk in the front of the bear enclosure where they sell ice cream cones full of corn pops to feed the bears.
The lady in the kiosk was very friendly (something we found with *every* employee at MarineLand.. I dunno if that’s a Canada thing, or just this particular park. . but every single employee was pleasant, interested in engaging in converstation, and loved talking about the animals, or the ride they were operating). I asked about the apparent “begging bears” and she told us that the majority of them had been born at MarineLand, and they are not only omnivores that will eat anything, but are very smart and quickly learned to approach folks who came up to the enclosure to get more food. She said the park used to hand out Marshmallows, but they had found those weren’t good for digestion – so instead they switched to corn pops, in sugar cones, as the bears prefer the sweet, and they are easier to digest for them. They would rather people feed the bears what they are offering, instead of any stuff from their purses/pockets. I guess that explains why the cost was so inexpensive (it was under $2.50 to get a cone to feed the bears).
I felt bad since there were very few people there – no one while we were at the enclosure (the Kiosk lady, as the gentleman in front of Dragon Mountain told us, that it was early in the season and lots of folks would be coming once school was out), and the poor bears were expecting treats. So I went ahead and bought us cones, that we shared not only with the bears, but also the ducks that were in the water playing with them.
Yeah, it’s a bit cringe-worthy to see them appear to be “begging”. . but I felt better that they were raised there and that’s all they know, so if they were released back into the wild they wouldn’t know how to hunt. So at least we got to give them a treat.
At this point, I guess it was around 12:20, and we had gotten back to normal after spinning, so we headed over to the park’s TeaCup ride, called Kandu’s Twister, which is themed to Orca’s (strangely the park only has one Orca these days, and her name isn’t Kandu, but I guess at one point in the 70’s or 80’s their version of “Shamu” was “Kandu”.
Anyways, it’s literally the only flat in the park that’s covered, sitting under a giant wooden structure that looks like it used to house a carousel (also a ride the park doesn’t have).
It is right at the back of the park, overlooking a giant area that is currently under construction (lots of bulldozers) for the new Aviary Safari they are building for 2018. As a result of that, there is a fantastic breeze that comes across this ride, queue.
As with the prior ride, there was no one in queue, and the operator was reading a book (ha), when we walked up and asked if the ride was operating. She welcomed us, and told us the “rules” that the cars would spin, but if we wanted to spin them more, we could use the wheel in the middle to get it going really fast. She also told us that she was going to give us a “double-ride” and that if we started to get nauseous, just wave to her, and she’ll stop the ride. And with that, she said “all clear”, and started the ride.
A typical tea-cups ride, but it actually did spin quite a bit on it’s own – Nick “helping” it in places to get it going a little faster. We giggled like children (and were pleased to see a school group (of about 10 girls) come up to look at us spinning, tho they didn’t get in line to ride). The breeze and shaded ride, cooled us down and made for a fun experience, tho again, just a typical tea-cups. Once the Aviary Safari is open, I could see the view from the ride vastly improving tho.6 out of 10
We had about 15 minutes until it was time to check in, so we went over to a shaded bench across the giant concrete area by Magic Experience to watch the school girls ride (they had gone here after walking by Kandu’s Twister), and after sitting down we checked Nick’s phone for bars.
No Internet Service.
End of part 1.. . on to pics!