It’s too high for me; look at it! It hurts my neck,” says Vaughan resident Jimmy Leone as he sizes up Canada’s Wonderland’s towering new ride from a coffee shop at the corner of Jane Street and Major Mackenzie Drive. A young man a few seats away has a different point of view. “I’ll go this summer. Why not? It’s fun, it’s exciting.” Suddenly, all that’s heard is a group of people echoing the back-and-forth dialogue that began when news broke last August that a 306-foot roller coaster was coming to town. Stretching far beyond the city, thrill-seekers and evaders are dogmatic about whether or not they will strap themselves into the prodigious seafoam green Leviathan, set to debut this May.
While Canada’s Wonderland (owned by the U.S. company Cedar Fair Entertainment Company) is considered a regional park with the majority of attendance coming from within 80 kilometres, news of its new ride has travelled from Vaughan to as far as North Carolina, where at least one amusement park enthusiast is making plans to visit Canada this summer to test it out. Joel Bullock, founder of the blog CoasterCritic.com, has experienced 217 roller coasters in North America, including the world record-holder for height and speed, Kingda Ka (456 feet) at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey. He is confident that the Leviathan will entice other long-distance adrenaline junkies to follow suit. “It’s easily one of the most highly anticipated roller coasters of 2012. I have to go. I would say that attendance should shoot up quite a bit when you add something this big,” says Bullock. In addition to its height, part of Leviathan’s fascination comes from the fact that it drops to an 80-degree angle at 148 kilometres per hour. “The view is going to be pretty amazing. And while you’re riding it, the speed should be just mind-blowing. A ride that tall – going as fast as it’s going to go – it’s going to be really cool,” he adds.
Bullock is especially impressed with its designers, Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), a Swiss firm that’s created over 70 roller coasters internationally, including Canada’s Wonderland’s Behemoth, which debuted in 2008. “They’re pretty much the most-applauded roller coaster designers. They’ve designed roller coasters that are just revolutionary,” he says, adding that their rides are typically smooth and comfortable, unlike some others that can be punishing on the body. By signing on to design Leviathan, B&M actually broke its own height record, which came as a surprise since the firm previously hesitated to create any coasters over 250 feet. Canada’s Wonderland’s vice-president of marketing, Dave Phillips, compares B&M to the Mercedes-Benz of roller coasters, admitting that the $28 million price tag is a premium worth paying for, even if it comes just four years after investing $26 million into the Behemoth. “Cedar Fair allocates anywhere between $60 – 85 million back into their parks every year in capital investments, so we’re the big benefactor of the big capital investment for 2012,” says Phillips, adding that attendance over the last five years has been one of the top three in North America. “That’s why you build rides like this that have the superlatives … it’s just ways to basically get people’s attention and say, ‘Hey look, this is big, come ride it,’” says Bullock.
Phillips hopes that having two oversized coasters will finally put an end to any lingering rumours surrounding the relocation of Canada’s Wonderland. “It’s become an urban myth that we’re selling; it’s always interesting to me because you know we put in a substantial Behemoth coaster, then we put in the Leviathan, and these aren’t things you just pick up and move,” he says. Testing of the ride will commence in a few weeks, and will consist of filling the 96-seat coaster with water dummies to simulate real people. Once that process is complete, Phillips will be one of the first to jump on-board prior to the official launch on April 27th, which will feature online bidders of the First-To-Ride Auction supporting the SickKids Foundation. “It’ll be that, ‘Here I go!’ The heart races and when it’s all over, your eyes have water in them because of the speed and you come to the station at the end and you’re like, ‘What just happened?’”