My Family’s Visit to Canada’s (Food) Blunderland

This past Saturday, my wife, two kids and I woke up to a beautiful warm sunny morning and decided to spend the day at Canada’s Wonderland (CW). Before hitting the road, we hastily packed lunch and snacks: Peanut butter on whole-wheat bagel, sliced apples, whole-grain crackers, carrot sticks, and sliced cheese. We also promised the kids that they could pick a treat at the end of the day.  And off we went.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a teenager in uniform with the words ‘Access Control’ written clearly across his chest.  He was checking everyone’s bags … for guns? Knives? I wondered. In fact, his job was to confiscate any and all food brought into the facility by patrons.  As I looked around, I noticed about a dozen of these ‘Access Control’ agents meticulously rummaging through each and every patron’s bags, strollers and wagons, confiscating anything edible. Each item was thrown on one of many tables sagging under the weight of  small mountains of contraband.

Of course we were no exception. Our access control agent proudly discovered our pre-prepared picnic.  He then gave me a look. The last time someone gave me THAT look was 15 years ago when a Canada Customs officer caught me bringing cured meats and raw-milk cheese into Canada from Europe. He promptly confiscated our food and reassured us that there are plenty of eating options in the amusement park.

Scratching my head, I wondered, why the ‘no outside food’ policy?  As I walked through the facility, The answer became quite clear – there is way too much money to lose when allowing patrons to bring their own food.  A pizza costs $25.00. A fountain drink: $4.00. A bottle of water: $3.00.  ‘Criminal’ I thought to myself.

As lunch-time neared, and as I started scouting out our food options, I felt an ever-building sense of frustration and anger.  Not only was our picnic confiscated and my wallet robbed,  but the food options were grotesque!

Some places offered the usual suspects: Hot dogs with fries, Chicken-fingers with fries, Burgers and fries. Or, we could get creative and consider…

The good ol’ foot-long hot dog:

450+ calories
26 grams of fat (almost half of  daily requirement)
9.5 grams of saturated fat
1.5 grams of salt (100% of daily requirement)
1.5 grams of fibre (daily requirement = 26 grams/d)

Or we could go for the comfort option: Pizza

As I checked the menu, I wondered … why were the only vegetables in the vicinity 1 mushroom slice and 2 specks of green pepper on the Pizza-shop’s sign? Pepperoni or Plain were the only options.  No veggies. No whole wheat option either 🙁

We could each get a personal 9-inch pizza – plain or pepperoni – for $9.00 a pop.

I also wondered why a personal-sized pizza needs to be twice the size of the plate?  I guess moderation doesn’t sell so well.

1,000 Calories for the personal pepperoni (Half the daily caloric requirements for an active teen)
35 grams of fat – Also half the daily requirements (15 grams saturated)
2 grams of salt – Above the daily requirements
1 measly gram of fibre – recall that 26 grams/d is the recommendation.

Our other option was to share the Family Pizza for $25.00 (Pepperoni or Plain) –
1 of six servings has:
460 calories
12 grams of fat (3.5 saturated)
1.2 grams of salt
1 gram of fibre

‘Too many refined carbs’, I thought.

Then, I found a gentleman selling the infamous smoked turkey legs made popular by the Disney theme parks in Florida and California.

1,100 Calories
53 grams of fat – that’s all your fat for the day!
A whopping 5.3 grams of salt! Double the upper tolerable limit for sodium!!

We passed on the turkey leg and opted for sharing one personal sized pizza.

As for drinks, lots of options: Bottles of pop, pop from the fountain, fruit drinks, and ice tea – All variations of way too much sugar in water.

All of the bottles and fountain drinks were OVERSIZED. The smallest option was a generous  22 ounces, 6 ounces more than the maximum soon to be allowed in New York!  Incidentally, how is $3.99 good value for 32 ounces of Coke?  Last I checked, that’s a rip-off.  And Coke has just about the poorest ‘health value’ of anything, edible or otherwise, that can be placed in a human GI tract.

So our only healthy option was water…

Water water everywhere, only $3.00 per person to drink!

After dropping $12.00 for the family to drink some water, I walked around the back of a building looking for a quiet spot to check my email.  Just then I notice…

CW must have forgotten about water-fountain signage when they crunched out their budget.  Or maybe there’s no money to make selling tap water in Toronto.  Trying to save face, I tried to convince myself that bottled water was probably healthier than tap water.  WRONG!

Over-filled with way too much white flour, fatty cheese and cardiac-arrest quantities of salt/nitrites, my daughter and I filled our now-empty water bottles with Toronto tap water from the fountain and decided to go on a hunt for vegetables. As we embarked on our search, I walked past a mother breastfeeding her baby under the shade of a tree.  ‘That little bugger,’ I said to myself. ‘He’s the only one eating healthily in this entire amusement park!’

Well, our search for vegetables wasn’t entirely fruitless.

We found home-made freshly sliced potatoes deep-fried in oil and then smothered in salt.  Potatoes are vegetables, right?

We also discovered that potatoes can be cut into narrow slices and also deep-fried in oil followed by an endless shower of salt.  Great for those folks already salt-toxic from the turkey leg. And, who knew that you can dip these vegetables in another vegetable … ketchup!

In all fairness, there are some vegetables for sale at CW.  It’s just that I would not have been able to find them had I not asked a nearby employee where my family and I can find something healthy to eat…
Though I originally thought that this was the hut where we could exchange dirty towels for clean ones, it turns out this is where the vegetable options were located – a not-quite-so-visible Subway Stand.  I still can’t figure out why Subway would choose to go so under-noticed.

Towards the end of the day, as we walked towards the main entrance, we passed by the children’s play park which, by the way…

is named after SUGAR!

And as we passed by, my kids dutifully reminded us about the treats we promised them.  So off to the treat shop we went…

Unhealthy options were plentiful, but when it came right down to it, most of us faced the choice between…

100% pure sugar lolipops…

100% pure sugar lolipops…

And 100% pure sugar  which you are expected to pour into an over-sized straw-like countainer that you can then pour directly into your mouth!

An utterly disgusting end to a horrendously unhealthy but otherwise enjoyable day at the amusement park.

When we got home, I hopped on the CW website and confirmed that they do, indeed, have a ‘no outside food’ policy. From their website: ‘No outside food, beverages or coolers are allowed to be brought into CW. However, baby food and formula are permitted as is plastic bottled water.’  Grrrr, I could have saved $12.00.

Digging a little deeper, I found this National Post article from which I learned that this food policy was implemented when new corporate owners took over in 2007.  Their rationale: ‘guests purchasing meals at the park’s food service outlets often found that tables and chairs were being commandeered by patrons bringing their own food into the park.’ Yeah, sure.  It had nothing to do with squeezing out better profits by giving patrons no choice but to buy crappy high-margin foods for astronomically high prices.

Just as troubling, from the same article, CW’s spokesperson reassuringly promised that “We will have vendors on the streets selling carrot sticks and vegetable packs and we are introducing a brand-new restaurant in the next couple of weeks called Marketplace that will have every single health food imaginable.” I guess that didn’t work out so well for them.

So why this rant?

In my view, this is a case of three strikes you’re out.  To confiscate outside food but prominently offer healthy food choices – even at inflated prices – would be justifiable.  Alternatively, offering crap at outrageous prices could be justified if, as an alternative, families were allowed to bring food from home.  But to combine ‘no outside food’ with ‘outrageously unhealthy options’, at ‘criminally high prices’ is a triple-foul that, in my opinion, crosses a threshold of acceptability. CW can always say that they’re not in the health food business.  Fair enough.  But I suspect they don’t consider themselves to be in the ‘Slowly Killing Children‘ business either.  I have many patients who spend every one of their summer vacation days at CW.  I watch their weights charge up unabated despite my best efforts to curb their obesity, the miserable effect that easy access to crappy food has on way too many children.

If you feel so inclined, please consider contacting Canada’s Wonderland and asking them to consider one or all of the following requests:

1) Please allow outside food to be brought back into their facility

2) Please make healthier food choices more readily available to patrons

3) Please charge more reasonable prices for the foods on offer

With any luck, we’ll help to make Canada’s Wonderland not only a fun place to visit, but a healthy one too.






  • LOVE this post. It’s absolutely horrifying though. And the thought of all that confiscated (most of it likely healthy) food going to waste is heartbreaking. Wow.

  • This is why my family packs and eats a lunch at our van. Sort of like tailgating without the booze. We like to go to amusement parks and many have the no outside food policy so we just go around their rules. I also pack a 3 litre water backpack from MEC so we can stay well hydrated without excessive pop. And no, I’m not a food policewoman. My children are allowed treats but as treats and not as entire meals all day on every visit.

    I would be more than happy to spend more money on good, tasty, healthful food choices at an amusement park but know that I am in such a minority that businesses simply cannot make a go of it. There are too few of me and many, many more of those who want the fat, salt, cheese and fried meats and don’t care about the lack of vegetables.

  • Steve

    This makes the case for environment over individual choice.
    I’m so tired of industry and others preaching moderation and food choice/intake being an individual decision verses the environment us and our kids are forced to live in. Here’s an idea…..lets have whole healthy foods as the easy choice everywhere, and the junk food kiosk hidden way in the back….oh right…only the farmers/producers would make out on that deal…and big business shares would plummet….

  • It’s obvious you’re anti-fat, anti-meat and anti-sugar. I saw plenty of grass in the site. Why not wonder over and graze those healthy greens? Or you can stuff yourself on those hearthealthywholegrains.

  • Hi Ed. I’m actually not anti-fat, anti-meat, or anti-sugar. More like anti-extreme. Or Pro-moderation/common sense. If you are willing to take note, your comment is a good example of trying to push a position way further down the spectrum than is actually the case. What purpose does this serve? Unfortunately we live in a time where everyone and everything polarizes way too far and for whatever reason, balanced, moderate, tolerant positions don’t get much cred. It’s a shame really.

  • Steve: You make a strong point. It is, indeed, incredibly frustrating. I think Mayor Bloomberg is on the right track in New York. But It take incredibly strong leadership, confidence, and willingness to fight against the various industry groups that stand to loose $$. We’re a bit short on that these days in Toronto/Ontario/Canada.

  • Thanks for your comments, Lisa. That is exactly what was going through my head as I lay eyes on all the confiscated food. Here’s hoping things change…

  • Thanks Michelle,
    I got a lot of feedback about how families have to work around the rules to save money, or eat healthy. I suppose that is one solution, but paying patrons shouldn’t have to go so far out of their way simply to get something reasonable to eat for a reasonable price. I do respect the argument that it is a private establishment and that they can impose whatever rules they wish (within limits of the law), but in my eyes, that’s not good enough. Oh well…

  • Tibie Flanders

    Love your message and your style.
    Why would a reader take offence at your rant?
    Does he/she profit, in some way, from this costly food?
    I hope someone with lots of clout picks this up.
    Maybe the Globe. Can you facilitate this?
    Or the CMA?

  • I hate when these parks do this. Our 5 kids are mostly grown now but dragging that kind of group to an amusement park was always hideously expensive. I love that the Disney Parks not only now sell healthy choices but have lockers available and a picnic area so you can pack your own and come out as a family to eat. The slight inconvenience of this option is well worth both the nutrition and money saved. Sad thing is, WONDERLAND doesn’t realize if they had an option like that they would actually attract a large group that would not only visit but make more frequent visits. They would probably spend more on souveniers when their pocket money isn’t competing for food.

  • I am also not necessarily fanatic about healthy food, but it would be nice to have choices. I also think as a society we need to make it a health and safety issue that there should always be free drinking water available (not just bottles for purchase), and there should be more flexibility on allowing food from home. What about people with severe allergies or other restrictions? You are meant to stay at parks like these for hours at a time so then not being able to eat any food is a huge problem.
    Incidently one kid’s party place i went to recently didn’t allow outside food b/c of allergies and cross-contamination. Ha! There was really nothing for my 11 month babies to eat so I had to take them outside to feed them.

  • This is a great post. The economic incentive for them to act in this manner far outweighs any negative publicity it may attract. It’s the same thing at the movie theatres. Salty, fatty, high-carb foods and beverages are insanely cheap to create (think pennies, maybe quarters), people enjoy eating/drinking them and you can sell them at astronomical margins when there are no other options. I would hazard to guess that more than half of the parks proceeds come from the sale of food-stuffs (or rental fees for operators on their private land).

    What else do you do there but wait in line, eat, drink, rinse, repeat?

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  • Your Comments

    Canadas Wonderland does have a picnic area just outside the gates for families to eat there own packed lunches……. there is also alot of space and grass to sit on and eat it. The only pain is having to leave the park to do it…but if you are that concerned with the food nutrition in the park then it is the option to go!

  • My son and I are vegan, so before we visited CW a few years ago we checked if there would be adequate food on their website. Of course there wasn’t (and still isn’t) so we packed our own. We told the bag inspectors that this food was medically necessary (which I think would be true for anyone since it is not possible to get a day’s worth of nutritious meals at the park) and were allowed to keep our food.

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  • shepd

    There are signs as you drive in informing you you cannot bring food into the park (and they also inform you that you may picnic on the front lawn). There are signs telling you that you may not bring food into the park at the gates. It’s clearly stated on their website in multiple places. I’m not sure how much more effort CW can put into informing you that no, you may not bring outside food into the park. As an adult, I expect that you’d be smart enough to take advantage of the place you were asked to eat at multiple times. But, instead, you chose to sneak food into a place you were told you can’t. You were caught. Sucks to be you. Take advantage of their picnic court next time. The food there is terribly overpriced anyways, so I completely understand why people don’t want to eat there, and they clearly get a lot of people wanting to bring their own food, which would explain the 10 signs posted as you drive into the place telling you where you’ll need to eat.

    Obviously it’s run a lot like a theatre where they’d rather you buy expensive food inside (so they ban you bringing your own). However, unlike a theatre, Canada’s Wonderland will let you leave, eat your picnic, and come back in at no extra charge. It seems like a fair policy to me, and it’s pretty much standard at all theme parks that aren’t in Orlando or Anaheim.

    Also, having known an employee from the park who worked prior to 2007 (and having been there myself 15 years ago) the no outside food policy is long standing. The National Post would do well to dig a little deeper as Canada’s Wonderland was actually more strict back then—that employee found out that picnics weren’t allowed at that time on the front lawn, they required patrons to vacate the premises (including the parking lot) entirely to eat outside food.

  • I’ve been to Canada’s Wonderland about a dozen times this season, and I always bring food to keep in the car (in chilled coolers). I bring my own water bottles for me and the kids, and stop at the car for snacks once or twice during a visit.

    Regardless of the fact that the food options are unhealthy (I do not eat junk food), there’s no way I could afford spending $30+ per visit for drinks and a snack.

    Perhaps tourists are forced to buy something to eat during their visit, but I refuse to be, and plan for it ahead of time.

  • Leticia Prospero

    I love this article. True reflection of my thoughts. The food is gross and non healthy at all, let alone the line you usually have to stand before taking your order. Not many parks these days still have ” no outside food policy”, I guess due to allergies and special diets. I am surprised that CW still going strong about this and not following the bigger parks trend. It is horrible that we are limited to their choice of foods, and also their prices. I didnt know about the water, so I’ll be bringing bottles myself. What I cannot believe is how some people actually got offended or made rude comments about you, it is more upsetting than CW food policy, to see there is still some very rude people in this world that hide behind a screen to throw an insult at you with no reason at all, just for the pleasure of being rude. It is obvious this policy is WRONG in all ways, no matter how many signs they have, no matter if they let me go out to eat, what if I come with TTC?. I dont understand this people defending this policy…. whats their gain? Thank you for your wonderful article. We are heading tomorrow with my nine year old and pizza will be for lunch…