America vs. Canada Part 1: Canobie Lake Park vs. La Ronde

Background

My friend Ryan, upon learning that we would be vacationing in Montreal, suggested that I compare and contrast the American amusement park experience with the French-Canadian amusement park experience. This is obviously a brilliant idea, reflecting what famous French guy Baudelaire wrote in his treatise “L’existence N’a Pas de Condition de Hauteur”: “A nation’s soul is revealed in its amusements.”

Introduction

Entering this challenge I naively assumed that La Ronde would be just like Canobie Lake because the amusement park experience is such a specific and consistent experience that it wouldn’t seem to matter where you are physically located. I’ve been to lots of amusement parks in my day and it’s always the same: long lines, trashy patrons, crap food and mild sunstroke. And in most ways La Ronde delivered. But the differences were obvious – and in some cases – deeply unsettling.

Cuisine

The first noticeable difference was the food. There were multiple signs promoting fresh fruit AS A SNACK, as if fruit was something that normal people willingly ate as a snack. Worse still, the Dole people were selling grilled bananas. Not deep-fried banana candy, not plantain chips, but regular bananas grilled in the peel. Now I know that the Dole Corporation has quarterly earnings expectations to meet and there aren’t any more Hawaiis to invade, but BBQ bananas? Someone better be taking the fall for that one at HQ.

There was no delicious Kayem hot dog kiosk, but they did have a Slush Puppy stand – which was comforting. Sadly, the Puppys tasted terrible. And guess what the worst flavor was? That’s right – banana.

Advantage: Canobie Lake

Clientele

Heretofore, I always thought that Canobie Lake was the whitest place on Earth.

That was, of course, until I went to Montreal. There are 2 types of people in Montreal: white people that speak French and white people that speak English. I thought I saw a black person at one point, but it turned out just to be a shadow.

And what’s with all of the French? Waiting in line is infinitely worse when everyone is yammering away in a weird language that isn’t as pretty sounding as people claim it to be. To me, a true romance language involves a mouthy girl from Revere loudly plotting to kick some bitch’s ass for talking to her boyfriend.

Advantage: Canobie Lake

Couture

The patrons of the park definitely looked different in other ways, too: jorts were extremely popular for both genders. Someone might want to tell Canada that America has decided that girls are allowed to wear Daisy Dukes but boys aren’t allowed to wear jean shorts anymore. They’re really not up to speed on jean short etiquette up North.

Tattoos, such a common sight at Canobie Lake, were in short supply in Montreal. There were a few inked up people at the park, but by and large most people were tattoo-free. Surprisingly, I missed all of the tattoos. I mean, sure, I usually remember to look at your cleavage spilling out of your too-tight wife-beater, but that giant boob butterfly is always a welcome reminder.

On a related note, ALL of the men were wearing their shirts at La Ronde. I’d estimate male shirtlessness at Canobie at approximately 40% so it was weird to see so many men dressed up all fancy-like. I suspect that the lack of tattoos is related to the lack of shirtless men, but more research will be required. (Ed. note: submit thesis topic: “Tattoos and their Relationships to Male Shirtlessness” to phD advisory board.)

Even with all of the shirt wearing, I did not see any Ed Hardy shirts, which is obviously terrible news for Ed Hardy and Christian Audigier if they can’t crack the Canadian amusement park demographic. On the other hand, Sarah Palin will be happy to know that rectangular glasses are still very popular in Montreal.

Also in short supply were band tee shirts. I was expecting to see a few Blink-182 shirts (they were in town) but saw none. I got one Beatles shirt, one Wu Tang shirt, one baby in an AC/DC shirt (ironically cute) and an Alice Cooper shirt. Not represented were Canadian legends Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, Neil Young, or Bryan Adams.

I saw two Red Sox tee shirts, but no Blue Jays or throwback Expos shirts.

Facial piercing were pretty popular, with random lip stud and painful eyebrow thing seeming to be the most popular. I noticed a few grommet ears but no gold teeth or grills.

And only one rat tail.

Advantage: La Ronde

Behavior

Another big difference is that Canadian children seem to be worse behaved than American children, but Canadian teenagers seem to be better behaved than American teenagers. I’m not sure what this actually means, but it gives Canada more of a “Lord of the Flies” vibe while America has more of an “Outsiders” vibe.

I also learned a lot by conducting a simple experiment: wearing a Bruins hats. Now, if some Frenchy got off a plane at Logan wearing a Habs chapeau they would be pleasantly harassed early and often. At La Ronde my hat went unnoticed. No one yelled anything. No one pointed or mumbled insults in French. No one dumped a beer on me. One guy actually said “nice Cup” and talked about being a Montreal-native Bruins fan.

This obviously confirms our long-held suspicion that Canadians are pussies. (Just kidding – it confirms that Canadians are super-nice people absent of any massholic tendencies – and they just get nicer as they get older.)

Advantage: La Ronde

Rides and Other Stuff

The good point for La Ronde is that they have many more roller coasters than Canobie and far fewer barfy spinny rides. That suits me well now that I’m an old man who hates spinny rides but still loves coasters.

Instead of the traditional 48” height requirement kids needed to be 52” tall to ride the good coasters, which sounds like bullshit until your 48” tall son almost falls out of the Yankee Cannonball (don’t ask), so I guess they take their safety seriously at La Ronde.

Also for your safety they restrict smoking to designated smoking zones. These zones are conveniently located every 10 feet (smoking is very popular in Montreal) so everybody is happy.

Unfortunately, the lines at La Ronde were outrageously long. Even second tier rides had waits of over 45 minutes. That’s a lot of line time with a bunch of unruly kids (and surprisingly well behaved teens.)

La Ronde also cost $190 for a family of four, which is a lot more than Canobie Lake (not even counting the coupons available at your local McDonald’s, Market Basket, or Tedeschi.)

Canobie Lake is a quick and pleasant 45 minute drive from Boston, but La Ronde is actually located in Montreal, so good for them for having an amusement park in the city.

Advantage: Tie

Conclusion

Isn’t the true measure of an amusement park the happiness it brings to children? The joy it creates and the love it spreads in the community? Isn’t it enough to appreciate the magic and the merriment? Doesn’t it cheapen the experience by judging one park against another?

Nah, Canobie Lake is better.

But La Ronde is certainly worth the visit if you’re in Montreal.

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