Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Once upon a time in 2004, Anne and I got married and had a honeymoon! A week later, we (and my son) embarked on our fifth annual road trip: a drive northeast from Indianapolis up to see the watery wonders of Niagara Falls and its adjacent tourist traps.
Before our return to America and the long drive home, we just had to hit one more large-scale attraction in Canada. Sure, we could’ve hiked a beautiful Canadian forest, found another river as inspiring as the Niagara, learned some Canadian history in a vintage mansion tour, or gone shopping at an authentic furrier. Instead we took my son’s preferences into consideration and came up with…a zoo.
But not just any old zoo, mind you.
I wish I meant that as more of a compliment.
* * * * *
After wearing ourselves down from so much walking up and down the Niagara River and around the shameless tourist district, we returned to the car and drove to our ultimate Canadian destination: MarineLand. The brochures imply that MarineLand is one part Sea World, one part Six Flags but, y’know, different. We had originally planned a get-together with another Canadian message-board friend, but she had to cancel at the eleventh hour due to her children’s unplanned sicknesses. Undaunted by plans gone awry, we trouped on to MarineLand anyway.
We noted to our discomfort that MarineLand seemed a work in progress. If we included all its large blank spaces, it was comparable to Kings Island in both acreage and admission price, and had some exhibits situated in each corner of the park. To us it looked technically unfinished, seeing as how each exhibit was separated by blocks’ worth of featureless walking and more walking. They had only three gift shops (compared to, say, 50 to 3000 in your average American theme park), no shady shelters, not too many benches, maybe five or six drink stands, and two genuine restaurants. Someday this park may truly rock — one sign promised a shark-infested area someday soon! — but it wasn’t quite ready for prime time yet.
(Momentary digression here: 12½ years after I wrote the previous draft of that preceding paragraph, I’m looking it up and finding MarineLand has been around in one form or another since 1961. Perhaps theirs is a deliberate development process, fraught with ponderous roadblocks or recurring distractions. Those may or may not be included in the feature-length “Controversies” section of its Wikipedia page, up to and including reports from two months ago that the Ontario SCPA has not been happy with them in 2017. Food for thought as we press onward with happy fuzzy animal photos.)
To their credit, MarineLand had a good half-dozen or so amusement park rides, including a small-looped roller coaster, a Drop Zone-style free-fall in the park’s center, and several other vertigo-inducing delights. Unfortunately, I forgot my Dramamine, Anne hates any ride more adventurous than the Scrambler, and my son was in no mood to ride rides alone this time. Our lack of ride enjoyment was therefore our own fault, albeit not encouraged by their limited selection.
Thankfully the boy loved the animals. As promised, MarineLand did indeed have its share of aquatic wildlife, including a few kinds our own Indianapolis Zoo has never boasted.
Not to be outdone by any local zoos, there were other animals, too. We saw a herd of deer, a pond dominated by brown bears, a field of bison and elk…and, um, what any of these had to do with the word “marine” escaped us altogether. Perhaps all of these furry land animals were captured and domesticated by actual Canadian Marines. To my credit, no one’s disproved my theory yet.
The beluga and killer whales were indisputably the highlight of our visit, but the most memorable interactive experience was to be had at the deer pen. The deer (all small, all with minimal antlers) were kept inside a few thousand fenced-in square feet, in which guests were free to roam around and touch the deer to their heart’s content. Also inside the area was a booth selling ice cream cones filled with deer feed for two Canadian dollars (like, 25¢ US at the time, we think) that kids could use to lure deer into their petting clutches. My son got such a cone, leaned over to offer feed to the cutest deer face nearby, and was promptly swarmed and engulfed like a Walmart clerk on Black Friday carrying a stack of $100 gaming consoles.
His cone lasted all of fifteen seconds before some greedy, obnoxious fawn snatched the cone right out of his hand and swallowed it whole. With that, the remaining unfed herd dispersed and shunned any further attempts from him to establish rapport.
He did find one deer lying far away in the shade, apparently alone and unloved, and spent some time petting it. It didn’t buck and bolt like the others, a rather complimentary move in our estimation.
Hours later the three of us were all exhausted and bitter with each other for a variety of petty, fatigue-fueled reasons. Long week, long day. The teenage helpers at the café made the mistake of aiming their poor customer service skills in my general direction. My son didn’t have enough candy. I was getting sunburned. My son was burning hot and thirsty again. Anne was sick and tired of whatever. And so on. Typical family stuff, par for the course on any average vacation, but unpleasant in aggregate.
For our grand finale we attended one of the assorted free animal-filled arena shows. The warm-up act was a mime, which we endured only because we ached too much to put up a fight and we lacked components to jury-rig an escape pod. You’ll note a lack of photos for that guy. Posterity is not meant for all.
Then they brought out the cute, pudgy water animals — seals and walrus and whatnot.
The main event involved a trained walrus who did the expected aquatic-life tricks under the pretense that he was a henchman to an evil burglar, who was trying to steal assorted items from The King. The King, of course, was ably assisted by a trained seal who happened to be on the side of good. The seal took on the burglar and won (I insist the fight was fixed), but no title match between the walrus and the seal was forthcoming.
The show concluded with a non sequitur series of dolphins doing keen dolphin jumping stunts. What they had to do with the King and all he surveyed, I had no clue. For what it’s worth, the Indianapolis Zoo does have its own set of jumping dolphins, but no walruses to call its own. Advantage: MarineLand.
With the show at an end, we made the long, draining trek back to the car. A new, mysterious light was now glaring back at me from the dashboard. I’m no car expert and had never seen it before. It bore a faint resemblance to what the state of Montana might look like if it were assimilated by the Borg. The ignition worked just fine, the engine ran no differently, and the tires all seemed intact, so I threw the car into reverse without hesitation and backed right into a utility-pole support wire staked into the ground.
A quick check confirmed the bumper was unfazed and the wire appeared sturdy and unscuffed. We continued our retreat without further obstruction. The odd, confusing dashboard light was disregarded for the time being. Everything seemed fine. Maybe my car just felt like lying to me.
To be concluded!
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