My theme park journey: The ride
Updated: Jun 28
As theme parks will open in Ontario's Stage 2 of reopening, HFA Today's editor, Cory Morrison, shares his experiences with theme parks growing up.
Loving rides as a young child
If there was one thing that was more fun for me than swimming in a pool, going to McDonald's Playplace, going on field trips, or getting ice cream for dessert, it was going to amusement parks.
I loved rides and roller coasters. In the early years, if there were a fair in my town, my family and I would usually go to it. If a ride had a long lineup, I would make a scene. My parents would warn me to stop the behaviour.
Here are some examples of early theme park memories I have:
I went to London's Western Fair with my family and maternal relatives when I was two or three years old, but I don't remember going to it because my memory did not fully develop yet.
My earliest memory of going to a theme park was when I went to Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, at four years old in 1997. I had such a fun time at Sesame Place, especially riding the small white waterslides. When we had to go home, I couldn't stop crying. I was so upset.
Lake Ontario Park in Kingston, near where my paternal grandparents lived, is another park I went to a few times with my family in 1997 and 1998. The park used to have rides. I didn't even learn the park took the rides out until we drove past it one day in 2008 before we visited my grandfather in the hospital. I especially remember enjoying the burlap sack slide, mini car ride, kiddy coaster, mirror maze, merry-go-round and bingo tents.
This gallery shows me on the rollercoaster, my father and I on the burlap slide and me on the car ride at Lake Ontario Park in the summer of 1997 (Photo credits: John Morrison and Nancy Fincher-Morrison).
I, my family and one of my ABA therapists went to Busch Gardens in Florida in April 1999. I went on The Scorpion, which is a small looping coaster at the park, seven times. My parents and therapist had to take turns going on the ride with me. They didn't want to get sick.
Finally, more than a month after the Florida trip, I went to Canada's Wonderland for the first time. The first ride I ever went on at Canada's Wonderland was Thunder Run. I have always enjoyed this ride and still do when the lineup isn't too long. I also went on The Fly. It was such a fun ride for me the first time that we decided to go on it a second time. However, the second time I tried to go on The Fly, the employee checked my height and said I was too small to go on it, despite me being completely safe the first time. I had a near-meltdown over the situation.
Relating some of these enjoyments, repetitive routines and behavioural issues to autism and intense, restricted interests, I was probably a little more into rides than the average child to the point that I would misbehave if things didn't go my way.
A turning point
Until 2001 and around my eighth birthday, I would continue to enjoy going on as many rides as I could go on based on my height. I was never sensitive to dizziness and speed, although I was anxious about going upside down, except for on The Scorpion.
However, in August 2001, during a rocky camping trip, I kept getting awful vertigo because of an ear infection. The vertigo was so bad; I kept dropping to the ground. Around a week before school started, I had to go to the emergency room one night because it almost completely stopped me from doing normal activities.
This experience alone made me more cautious and nervous about theme park rides to the point where I would avoid most of them because of the dizziness factor. Even for a few years after the vertigo problem peaked, I would still get occasional episodes, which made me unsure about rides. For instance, a year later, I went to Six Flags Darien Lake on one occasion and only went on kiddy rides and the Ferris wheel despite being tall enough for all of the rides. This type of ride avoidance behaviour would have so not been me just a couple of years earlier.
In 2003, my dad and I went grocery shopping one day, and he said to me on the way home, "If you won't go on Ghoster Coaster (A smaller wooden coaster at Canada's Wonderland), we won't go to Canada's Wonderland." He wanted to motivate me to get into rides again. Of course, I refused, and we didn't go that year.
Overall, the vertigo situation triggered my sensory sensitivities that are common in people with autism.
Ride interest slowly rebuilds
In 2005, when I was almost 12, I would overhear my peers talk about Canada's Wonderland during lunch breaks, bus rides and recess to the point that I realized how much I missed going on amusement park rides. Another trigger event was when we had a family celebration with paternal relatives in Mont-Tremblant; a few relatives tried to convince me that chairlifts aren't scary.
I talked my parents into having my 12th birthday party at Canada's Wonderland. They were proud that I was willing to enjoy amusement park rides again. The first time we went, it was unsuccessful because of a severe thunderstorm that arrived as soon as we got to the entrance.
We tried to go again a week later. Once in the park, my fear of vertigo and nausea hit me like a ton of bricks again in a way that I didn't think it would. It was to the point that I even refused to go on Timberwolf Falls, a family water ride. Nevertheless, my mother made me go on it because she figured it was the only way to face my anxiety. All it took was that one ride for me to recharge back to my ride-loving self. However, I would still get nervous about super intense rides, such as the Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida. I preferred moderate rides well into my teens, even though I didn't go to parks as often during those years.
Becoming a rider enthusiast
Shortly after Canada's Wonderland built Leviathan, a Giga coaster, I would witness many people talking about it to the point that after not going for several years, I asked my father if we could go to Wonderland again in 2013.
For the past eight years, I have loved at least 80 to 90 per cent of all moderate and intense flat rides and rollercoasters at Canada's Wonderland. I am still hesitant to go on a few rides at the park, but I wouldn't say there is anything unusual about my ride preferences.
With COVID-19 restrictions, I have never been more anxious to go back to an amusement park. However, the day will come again this year.
This collage shows photos from my most recent Canada's Wonderland trip in August 2018 (Photo credits: Cory Morrison and Canada's Wonderland).