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Toronto Summer: Canada's Wonderland, Toronto Zoo & more offer world-class fun

The park features dozens of rides and is one of the largest amusement parks in North America. CEDAR FAIR PARKS

Toronto has no shortage of theme parks and attractions to spend summer days with the kids or take a day trip with friends.

From the Canada’s Wonderland to the new Ripley’s Aquarium, the city’s attractions are plentiful.

And, you might learn something along the way.

Canada’s Wonderland

Mythical creatures are at the centre of some very real fun at Canada’s Wonderland this season.

The park’s new 4D ride, Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, casts guests as dragon hunters venturing deep into Wonder Mountain — the 33-year-old structure at the centre of the park.

“There’s a lot going on with this ride,” says Dineen Beaeven, spokesperson for Canada’s Wonderland.

“It combines the experience of a coaster with 3D gaming.”

The ride goes inside the core of the mountain and uses 3D technology to send riders on a laser-filled quest hunting down dragons.

Wearing 3D glasses and laser guns to interact with the story and keep score, in what Beaven describes as a 4D experience thanks to blowing wind and sounds that immerse riders in the story.

With a slightly lower height restriction than other rides at the park, Beaven says the ride is good for the whole family.

“It’s a great transition ride from our children’s rides to the bigger thrill rides.”

What’s more: it boasts the longest interactive wall in the world.

Now, if 4D isn’t quite your thing, thrill rides at Wonderland are the biggest in the country. The park offers the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Canada, Leviathan, opened in 2012. At just over 97 metres high, the coaster takes riders down an 80 degree initial drop and launches them at top speeds of 148 km/h along a 1,672 metre long track.

But if the thought of hurtling towards the ground at high speeds does not appeal, the park offers many other amusements.

After vanquishing the dragons, families can head to the park’s seven acre Dinosaurs Alive attraction for some pre-historic fun.

The exhibit, featuring 40 life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, offers a tour through the Mesozoic era when Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the earth.

Or take in one of the eight shows being staged this season, including a British Invasion musical revue and the cirque style acrobatics of Dimensions.

Click here for more information on Wonderland’s hours and ticket prices.

Toronto Zoo

Home to almost 6,000 animals from 484 different species, the Toronto Zoo offers a glimpse into the natural world — but just seeing the animals isn’t what makes a trip to the zoo unique.

“You can walk into the Africa pavilion and you can smell the gorillas as soon as you walk in,” said Maria Franke, curator of mammals at the Toronto Zoo.

“It’s really, really difficult via photos or TV shows to get the true size, or smell, or look, or behaviour of an individual animal. But when you’re at the zoo you’re able to be in awe.”

Franke says the zoo hopes that sense of awe can inspire visitors to make changes in their lives that can lead to a better world for animals and their habitats.

“People don’t necessarily equate that if they recycle or turn the lights off, all those little things add up and help with pollution and global warming,” Franke said.

Gorillas are critically endangered in the wild due in part to their habitat being destroyed by coltan mining, a mineral used in cell phones, Franke said.

Thinking about that while looking into the eyes of the zoo’s baby gorilla Nneka is enough to tug on the heart strings, Franke explained.

“These babies are ambassadors for the species, allowing us to generate that awe and inspiration of people coming to see them.”

For those inspired by the plight of baby Nneka’s wild relatives, the zoo has offered a cell phone recycling program since 2006 to encourage the preservation of gorilla habitats.

Click here for more information on the program.

There is also another baby ambassador at the zoo right now: Humphrey the polar bear cub.

Born last November, Humphrey is the lone surviving cub from his litter of three. The city has watched him grow, from his first purr at six days old, to his first solid steps at about three months old.

Zoo goers can visit the cub from 9 a.m to 7 p.m. every day in the Tundra Trek.

And zoo keepers are still waiting to see if there will be another baby ambassador arriving soon in the panda pen.

In April Franke and her team had to resort to artificial insemination for their visiting giant pandas when the male, Da Mao, didn’t express interest despite female Er Shun’s indications she was ready to have a baby.

For the first time ever, a special shipment of panda semen was sent from China to North America. And now, Franke waits.

“We’re twiddling our thumbs,” she said. And there’s not much else zoo staff can do. Because of the way pandas procreate, it’s difficult to tell if the female is pregnant until just two weeks before the birth.

The egg may be fertilized, but the mother’s body waits until it decides the factors, such as weather and food availability, are right for giving birth before the egg will attach and begin the embryonic phase.

If everything aligns, a baby the size of a stick of butter is born.

For now, Franke says, staff are training for ultrasounds and staying on top of the situation.

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada

Lake Ontario isn’t the only watery attraction downtown this summer. On a hot summer day being among 5.7 million litres of water that fill the aquarium’s 10 exhibits is sure to feel cool.

It’s the first sunny season for the new Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, which opened last fall.

The aquarium — located beside the CN Tower on Bremner Boulevard — houses over 16,000 marine animals, including sting rays, sawfish, and sea dragons.

Click here for more information on tickets and operating hours.

Wild Water Kingdom

Another option to stay cool can be found at Brampton’s Wild Water Kingdom.

The water park is the country’s largest, with 17 water slides and two pools. The 100-acre park includes a wave pool and a lazy river.

And for those who don’t want to dip their toes in, there are dry rides, including a climbing wall.

Click here for more information on tickets and operating hours.

Centreville

Before Centreville theme park opened in 1967, the Toronto Islands were used mostly by cottagers and others in-the-know. But the privately-run park helped make the islands a haven for summer day-trippers.

Located on Centre Island, the park offers some classic amusement park rides including an antique 1907 carousel and a miniature railway alongside some more thrilling rides like The Scrambler, as featured in the 2012 indie movie Take This Waltz.

There is no entrance fee for the park, but each ride requires tickets. Individual and family all day ride passes and seasons passes are available.

Click here for more information on hours and tickets.