“Shirley is in bed and Jem and Walter and the twins are down in their beloved Rainbow Valley,” said Anne. “They just came home this afternoon, you know, and they could hardly wait until supper was over before rushing down to the valley. They love it above every spot on earth. Even the maple grove doesn’t rival it in their affections.” — from Rainbow Valley, L.M. Montgomery
Those who grew up on Prince Edward Island (i.e. not me) in the last couple of decades have the distinct benefit, upon becoming parents, of thorough familiarity with Rainbow Valley, the amusement park in Cavendish.
Rainbow Valley is the closest thing Prince Edward Island has to a bona fide theme park (the theme, in this case, being something like “Anne of Green Gables and lots of animals, with waterslides”). And, at least from the “And because of the rain, the Birchwood Intermediate trip to Rainbow Valley is cancelled” announcements on the CBC every spring, it seems like every school child on the Island goes to Rainbow Valley every spring on a school trip.
Having no personal experience of these trips — we were stuck with the docents at the Art Gallery of Hamilton every spring for our school trips — I can only hope that they are intended to be 100% pure fun, and are not tainted with any sort of academic purpose (“Compare and contrast your feelings on the waterslide to your feelings on the roller coaster”).
And having no personal experience of these trips means that, until today, I was a Rainbow Valley virgin.
At the suggestion of our friend Ann, who knows enough to know these things, Oliver and I spent the afternoon there today while Catherine was slaving away here at the office painting Johnny’s office with blue suede shoes-coloured paint.
For other parents-from-away who find themselves with a planned trip to Rainbow Valley, I present the following pointers, with hopes that your visit will be all that much better.
- First, fear not: Rainbow Valley is actually lots of fun. Even (or perhaps especially) for a 3-1/2 year old like Oliver. It truly is geared for “family fun” and that includes little kids.
- Kids under five get in for free. Adult admission is $14. This is very good value.
- Bring your bathing suit: there are many, many very fun looking water-related activities, including water slides, squirty zones and pools. We had no idea, came without bathing suits, and lost out. Next time! There appear to be plenty of change rooms.
- If you forget towels or swimmy diapers, you can buy both in the space-ship shaped gift shop. It’s also very cool up there if you need a quick time out of the heat.
- If you let your child go up the “House That Jack Built” you may never see them again. Or at least you will be very nervous, because they will disappear for a while, only to return several minutes later at the head of the exciting-looking slide. It is possible (but awkward) to climb back down the stairs, but if your child is prone to “holy shit, that’s a very high slide” freakouts, this attraction is best avoided. Fortunately Oliver, although slide averse, had no problems here.
- You have to oversteer in the swan boats. And it is hard to manage one small child in the swan boats, especially if they want to climb in the back where, because you have to steer, you will not be able to prevent them from jumping out into the pond.
- The man who runs the “for kids under 48 inches tall” airplane ride is perhaps the nicest carnival attraction operator I have ever met. Say hello to him.
- Be sure to read the ride restrictions twice: you may think it says “no kids under 48 inches tall” when it might say “no kids under 48 inches tall can ride alone.” Or it might say “no kids over 48 inches tall.” It’s like on-street parking in Montreal.
- You may think the “fire safety” exhibit is lame. It is not: kids like climbing inside a fire truck. So do adults. At least we did.
- The train goes through the woods. It too is more fun than you think it will be. Although it does not run on tracks, which is confusing.
- The pizza is good. Not great, but good.
- They appear to welcome families who bring in their own food. Indeed there are picnic tables all over the place, and barbeques available for free borrowing.
- The magic show is weird. It reminded me of the movie Blue Velvet.
- Be sure to wander around a lot: one of the neatest aspects of the park is that it is chocked full of neat things in odd corners.
- Riding in the whale monorail requires that you press down on the accelerator with your foot. If you don’t do this, your whale will not move, and you will be snickered at by the lanky overseer.
- There is no parking lot, per se: all parking is on the grass. So just because you see cars on the grass, you need not think “wow, it’s so busy they ran out of parking spaces.”
- Even when the grass cum parking lot is full, as it was today, the park is big enough that it doesn’t feel overly busy or crowded.
Oliver and I arrived at the park about 11:00 a.m. and left around 2:00 p.m. We could have stayed longer — Oliver certainly had energy left in him — but there was rain on the horizon and we decided to get out while the getting was good. I imagine that a properly equipped family could spend the entire day there and not experience any boredom at all.
Oh to be a kid on Prince Edward Island, where the spring field trip meant the fun of cotton candy, water slides and roller coaster rather than the funereal drone of retired art lovers attempting to turn us on to the wonders of the Renaissance painters. Oliver don’t know how good he got it.