12 Reasons Why Marineland is Equally Awesome and Disappointing
Marineland of Niagara Falls, Canada is one of the most unique, bizarre, and polarizing amusement parks in North America. Opened in 1961 by John Holer with just three sea lions, Marineland now boasts sixteen rides, including two roller coasters, and several unique animal encounters with opportunities to feed beluga whales, fish, deer, and bears. Unfortunately, the park has been involved in many controversies, investigations, and lawsuits over the care of its animals. According to their website, Marineland is the most thoroughly investigated marine mammal facility in the world.
I recently had the chance to scope out the park for myself and thought I’d share my observations – good and bad – from my visit on Friday, July 8th.
1. Feeding beluga whales is a highlight
Probably the biggest highlight of a visit to Marineland is feeding the beluga whales (which you have to pay extra for). Marineland has the largest collection of belugas in the world with over forty whales in multiple pools.
They’re clearly very intelligent creatures. When viewing them underwater, you can tell they are looking at you too!
2. You may leave feeling a bit guilty
It’s hard to tell how well the animals of Marineland are taken care of, not to mention the whole question of whether these large, intelligent mammals should be kept in captivity at all. As the day went on I began feeling guilty for spending my money inside the park on an organization I don’t know anything about – are they here to help the conservation of animals or do they exist solely to make money? I’m not really sure.
I do know one thing for a fact: these animals are not wild animals anymore. They don’t act like or exhibit behavior of the creatures you would encounter in the wild. And who knew corn pops were part of a bear’s diet?
The lone orca slowly swimming around by itself with no guests even observing it is quite depressing as it’s been proven wild killer whales live in complex social groups. I don’t know if animals have “feelings” but this one sure did look sad.
Many habitats are not natural looking and a few were downright unsafe in regards to preventing young children from falling in, like this seal lion pool:
I could go on but that’s all I’m going to say about the animal experiences of Marineland. The rest of my Marineland review will be focused on the rides and layout.
3. Dragon Mountain is a unique roller coaster
Ever since I read White Knuckle Ride by Mark Wyatt back in 1996 I’ve had a fascination with this coaster and always wanted to ride it. Twenty years later, I finally did. Walking into the dragon’s mouth, I found myself in complete darkness. I had to get out my phone and turn the flashlight on to find my way through the queue.
Dragon Mountain is the 12th longest operating steel roller coaster today, at 5,500 feet. The coaster’s highest to lower point is 186 feet but you would never know it as it stays close to the ground for the duration of the long ride that covers thirty acres, contains four inversions, and a couple of dark tunnels. It’s like an Arrow Huss looper and mine train combined into one ride.
Watch the Dragon Mountain POV below:
4. When your biggest and best roller coaster was built in 1983…
While Dragon Mountain was a unique experience, I can’t say that it is actually fun. Designed during the Ron Toomer “coat hanger” pre-computer days, the transitions between elements are horrendous. When you’re in the middle of a loop, straightaway or helix it’s fine, but going from one to the other is not. I advise you to brace yourself. The unfinished theming is disappointing too. Overall I’d say it’s a mid-range Arrow coaster – better than Vortex but worse than Tennessee Tornado.
5. Sky Screamer is one of the best tower rides anywhere
Sky Screamer is one of the best launch/drop tower rides anywhere. It’s a combo of shot and drop tower – you get launched from the ground, bounch once, then get raised to the top where you get plenty of time to soak in the view before being plummeted back to Earth. You can pick your seats so get the side of Marineland’s front entrance where you can see the top of the Horsehoe Falls. By far the most thrilling ride at Marineland.
6. Your marquee ride is located on top of a giant hill
Sky Screamer is located on top of a 150 foot tall hill. My heart was beating faster more from the climb up the hill than the ride itself. It felt like I was scaling up the Clingman’s Dome trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
And there is nothing else to do at the top of the hill besides use the washroom. Why not make the ride itself 150 feet taller? Can we at least get a slide going down the side of the hill? The view is nice though…
7. Low crowds and wait times
Every ride at Marineland was a walk on. Often times we were the only guests on the rides. I got to sit front row on Dragon Mountain and picked my seat on Sky Screamer. Paths were utterly devoid of people, especially in the morning.
8. One of the worst park layouts ever
Marineland is a two hour park that takes five to six hours due to the massive and sprawling layout. I honestly believe there could be over 100,000 people in the park and you wouldn’t even notice. There are stretches where you will walk for ten or fifteen minutes and not pass a single attraction. Paths are wide with very little shade, which is made worse when you are pushing a stroller with a bored toddler in it.
Additionally, operations were very slow. Dragon Mountain was probably cycling one train every ten minutes. At least parking was free and you could bring your own food into the park – which you should probably do because half the food stalls might be closed.
9. Realizing Marineland has a Topple Tower!
Marineland is just one of five parks in the world to have a Topple Tower ride from Huss. Passengers are gently lifted to the top of the tower in order to ‘topple’ in the rotating gondola from one side to the other in a smooth arcing swing. It looks like fun!
10. Oh, wait…
The Topple Tower is closed. The sign says “temporarily closed” but I think it’s safe to say it will never reopen. It’s not listed on the park map or website. Besides replacement parts being hard to obtain there are rumors that the foundation has issues as well.
11. A coaster ride to remember forever
Oddly enough, Marineland will always hold a special place in my heart because it is the park where I rode a roller coaster for the first time with my son. At a little over two-and-a-half years old and only around 34 inches tall, it is amazing there is a roller coaster out there that he is able to ride. I’ll never forget how he gripped the lap bar we shared as we climbed the short hill and spun around the track. A proud moment for any coaster enthusiast turned father.
12. Needs an update and a refresh, badly
After I looked it up, I was quite shocked to learn their newest ride was added in 2010. That soon ago? When your newest ride is six years old and your last coaster was in 1983, that’s not good. Marineland looks like it was built in the 70s or 80s and hasn’t been updated since. Everything just looks old and tired, like no improvements have been made in 20 years. The Property Brothers are Canadian, right? Can they come do a renovation on the entire park?
The Rides of Marineland Video
Recommendations for improvement
Time to play desk chair theme park designer. If I were in-charge, two changes I would make right off the bat;
- Relocate the orca to another park, a sea pen, anywhere else. I really don’t think the animal is adding any value to the park and would maybe get some of the haters off your back.
- Add a transportation system. Seriously, it could be as simple as a parking lot tram. Most paths are already wide enough to accommodate one. Quick, easy win.
Other ideas that would take more time and expense:
- Move the family rides to condense the layout. Eliminate the long stretches where there are no attraction.
- Replace the Topple Tower with a new thrill ride.
- Add something (anything!) to the top of Sky Screamer’s hill and add a path down on the other side of the hill to connect the park through the middle.
In the end, it’s disappointing how little marine life there is at Marineland. While there were several highlights including Dragon Mountain, Sky Screamer, Ladybug Coaster, and feeding belugas whales, the high price does not warrant a return visit unless some major improvements are made.
For more pictures, check out our Marineland photo album on Facebook.
Have you been to Marineland? Would you go back?