(preamble:We planned to do things differently. And usually, my planning is bullet proof. This time, not so much. Last year my wife and I ditched Sprint and went to prepaid Tracfones, reducing our reliance on the evil of electronic devices a bit. In the words of the great Raven Mack, "I haven't died or anything from not having a ***bot in my hand at all times." In theory, they would get us phone calls when we had minutes, and only when we spent money on minutes. It was genius on paper. The problem is using them outside America, where I felt hopelessly stupid for not having considered that they wouldn't. Because of that, we never ended up meeting with our friend Sandy or contacting another friend of mine (Greg Legowski) once we were in Canada. Missed out on them. Lesson learned; next time I cross the border, buy a burner from a Wal-Mart Supercentre for $10. I also planned to enjoy a Beavertail and watch the ice skating show. We did neither.)
The Canadian National Exhibition is the biggest fair in all of Canada and ranked #8 last year in the Carnivalwarehouse.com list of US/Canada fair. Even including La Feria in Aguascalientes, it probably ranks in the top 10 in North America. Its actually the biggest fair west of Minneapolis, and is the marquee event for North American Midway Entertainment, who have had the contract for a couple decades, going all the way back to the days of Conklin Shows. This year, the major new attractions were a new roller coaster (Nitro) and a skyride that would traverse the midway.
The first thing about the CNE that grabs visitors attention is the grandiose main entrance, should they use the Prince's Gates to walk in. It's a bit like walking up to the Arc de Triomphe and finding a carnival behind it. The scope is absolutely massive. Once you enter inside, you're greeted with a long, mostly empty path ahead. Something should be out here aside from the skyride, it would seem, but that might impede the parades that occasionally float through.
I thought it would be wise to immediately jump on the skyride and take it over the fairgrounds to get the lay of the land. From above, you see what looks to be a massive grounds. Referring to the map, it becomes clear that you're only seeing about half of the place in doing so. The Direct Energy Centre is to the right, and it is a massive, massive convention hall, combined with the Horse Palace and Ricoh Coliseum. Further along the skyride, you pass by the midway, BMO Field (where Toronto FC plays in the MLS), and then terminate at the entrance to the *** section of the Better Living centre. Beyond that is the bandshell, the Liberty Grand, Medieval Times (who got a location on the CNE grounds year ago) and the area where Ribfest was taking place. We basically never got that far. North and out of sight were the Food Buildings, Kids World/Kiddie Midway, and Arts, Crafts and Hobbies Pavilion. Meredith remarked that while some large fairs have a decent amount of space, Exhibition Place seems to be as large as Cedar Point and just as full of stuff.
Our first order of business, given that the crowds weren't hectic, was to enjoy some rides.
Crazy Mouse (A#635/M#324): A full size Zamperla mouse. Nothing really spectacular about this particular ride, but it was very clean and seemed to be in good working order.
(Just in case anyone wants to argue this, and I've said it before many times, NAME has two mice. The 316-meter one was in Indiana at their state fair running the same day. Steve Vandervorste's was in Iowa. Reithoffer's was going up in Yankee Stadium. Ray Cammack's is in California. AoA's is a Reverchon. Unless someone else has one and is booking it on their own, this is a second NAME owned ride.)
Nitro (A#636/M#325): New, very clean Zyklon style roller coaster. Felt a little more aggressive than some of the others I've been on and the ending was actually pretty intense and severe. I kinda liked it for what it was. Not sure of the manufacturer or anything like that.
We skipped the kiddie coasters, but there was an Orient Express from Wisdom and a Wacky Worm of non-discernible-by-briefly-seeing-it origin.
Lots of interesting rides at this fair. NAME brought a dark ride (Haunted Mansion), a log flume, Fabbri Mega Drop, KMG Fireball, Larson Ring of Fire, Alpine Bobs, a very large Chance wheel, ARM Quasar, KMG Spinout (that was consistently broken), Orbiter, the huge Euro Slide, an Air Jumper style ride called Bonzai, and many more. We rode almost none of them. The fair was expensive to enter at $16, and wristbands were $36, far more than I was willing to pay. Per ticket wasn't significantly better. Tickets were a $1.25 apiece. Didn't matter if you bought one or five. The discount was to drop them to a dollar apiece, which is what you'd get them for either with purchases of 22 or 55. This wouldn't have been as problematic if rides were priced reasonably. The Euroslide was priced at 5 tickets. The Polar Express? 6. We were going to pick and choose what we rode. I thought it best to ride the rarest thing there.
The rarest thing on the midway was the KT Enterprises Twister. To be honest, I didn't even know what this was - I thought it was some weird Huss Flipper hybrid. Its a british knockoff of the Flipper, and we barely got spinning. Maybe we were loaded badly or something, I'm not sure. One thing we saw was an employee on the ride platform as it started to move, Waltzer style, spinning cars. I wasn't about to complain to management. Our remaining tickets afforded us a 4 ticket attraction. That wouldn't have even been enough for the Wacky Worm. Instead, we went with a one trailer funhouse (Video Funhouse) that didn't even end up having a working barrel. Oh well.
After going through the midways, we started to visit the various buildings on site. The Direct Energy Centre is absolutely massive, selling not only the kind of cheap infomercial shit you see at county fairs, but also international hand made goods of pretty much any imaginable origin. And there was a guy stacking rocks. And a sandcastle contest. And the ice show and dog trick show we didn't see. To have really explored it in depth would have required an amount of time that we just didn't have, and a willingness to spend money on things we didn't know we needed.
We started to get hungry and visited the grab joints out by the midway, purchasing an order of deep fried butter (tastes like fried dough) along with some water. Nearby was the GM Test Drive Experience, which seemed to involve actual test drives in Toronto, as well as the Canadian Forces Display, where people got photo ops in tanks, planes, APCs, and children ran an obstacle course intended to be like basic training. Quite the thing there. Once we were back on the main midway, the crowds continued to roll in. Where it once looked like a ghost town at 10AM was now starting to build in volume. Citing a need for real food, we delved into the Food Pavilion.
I'll be the first to admit that I didn't know anything about the Food Pavilion. That's even with it being advertised on the site and so on. It is a very big building with a great number of choices that makes the Ohio State Fair's food court look diminutive. I had no idea what to eat. Asking Meredith, she was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of choices. If you wanted ethnic food, they had it. Everything from haggis to fried ramen was available for purchase and consumption. Among the wilder items was a sandwich consisting of pork BBQ and red velvet pancakes. We went a more conventional route and bought food from Mac & Cheesery, who offered a hyper cheesy mac and cheese for Meredith as well as a cheesy brisket sandwich. We enjoyed ourselves with that. Our only caveat was a lack of seating. Once we did find a table, we were ready to sit and enjoy it awhile, only to have someone ask to have it almost immediately after we agreed that it was a very fine table to sit at and that we didn't want to leave.
There was a brief wandering back into the kiddie section for a time to look at stuff before our failed attempt to meet our friend Sandy. After that ended miserably and unfortunately, we went back to roughly the same area to enter the Arts, Crafts, and Hobbies building. Less a giant Canadian 4H exhibit, it was more along the lines of sales tables and ***to buy. Not entirely what I was hoping for. Making the hasty exit from there, we went through the CNE's Farm exhibit. I don't feel any better about my place in the world seeing an exhibit of dairy cows chained to their feeding zone, I must admit. The fishing pools set up for people to*** around in were nice, but I felt a total outsider and a rush of bad emotions about my place on the food chain otherwise.
Having missed Sandy and being that we had been on our feet most of the 5 hours of fair going that we had, we skipped on further exploration in Exhibition Place's green zones to start driving home. The GPS said we'd be looking at about 4 hours 45 minutes worth of driving from there, and I'll be damned, it was about right. I probably could have beaten that given the fast pace I kept too if it weren't for stops for dinner (Little Beaver Restaurant in Komoka, home to some tasty Butterscotch Pie) and gas once we crossed the border. I'd rather take this drive than go from Kings Island back home or something like that. As empty as long stretches are, it is a different empty than we're used to.
Meredith seemed to agree that it was her favorite fair to date, which is to say that it was tolerable to a great degree, but doesn't necessarily mean she was overwhelmingly entertained by it. If there was something significant there that changed, we might go again. Otherwise, its difficult to say that I'm going to rush back. Parking in the area is supremely expensive, entrance is expensive, rides are expensive, and so on. We probably blew $140 on the fair all told, not to mention ...
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