A day at the PNE is wonderful and exhausting for many reasons, but one of them is that there is so much to do, with so many lines, that it can be difficult to separate what is actually fun from what is something that you just do to fill the time.
That’s one of the reasons me and a small group of people, all Millennials who grew up in and around Vancouver, and still attend the fair most years as adults, decided to rank every single regular ride and attraction at the PNE.
Last time we ranked everything outside the Top 10, which were as follows:
#28: Glass House
#27: Ambling Through The Prize Home
#26: Trying To Get Lunch At Normal Hours On A Weekend
#25: RCMP Musical Ride
#23: Haunted House
#22: Mini Golf
#21: The Farm Animals In The Middle
#19: West Coast Wheel
#17: The Weird Market In The Gym
#16: Hell’s Gate
#15: Seeing An Ancient Classic Rock Group At The Night Concert
#13: Playing The Carnival Games
Now, we reveal what our ranking team (myself and Trevor Record, Samantha Bruin, Blake Frederick, Gian-Paolo Mendoza and Jack Hauen, all of whom contributed one-liners to these writeups) decided was in the Top 10.
Scores are out of 25 points, using the following metrics and taking the average of our scores:
- Joy In The Moment (10 points): are you thrilled or scared or delighted when doing or seeing the thing in question? Does it meet or exceed the expectations you have for it?
- Joy In Repeating The Experience (5 points): if you’re the type of person that goes to the PNE year after year, how often do you want to try it again?
- Time It Takes (5 points): are there large lines that suck up an hour of your day? Does the experience take up more effort and minutes than it’s ultimately worth?
- Nostalgia (5 points): how fondly do you look back at it?
Alright, enough chit chat. Here’s the best of the PNE.
#10: Enterprise (15.88 points)
Generic and rudimentary, but a ride that will perennially exceed your expectations? Yes, and that’s the reason that Enterprise persists, a 33-year-old retread that delights in spite of its simple presentation.
And there are good reasons for that! For one, the intentional: you don’t wear a seatbelt! You’re trapped in a cage riding through a space vortex! It slowly ramps up from mundane to OH GOD WE’RE UPSIDE DOWN WHY I AM HURLING THROUGH SPACE AND TIME WITH A STRANGER in 45 seconds of bliss. Will you die?! Maybe! Frankly, it only loses out on elite status for lacking any real visual flourishes, and for being a ride that can make you too sick to repeat.
And there are the unintentional delights, mainly that you can be trapped with someone else in the cage. And look, one of our rankers described this experience as “weird”. But a PNE without weird detours, or without great midway rides like the Enterprise, is no PNE at all.
#9: Corkscrew (16.1 points)
This ride came out two decades ago, and yet, will always be the “new” roller coaster to so many people, because the PNE never really changes, and that is part of its charm and its burden.
But strip away the nostalgia: after the novelty wears off, Corkscrew becomes less worth the lineup, but still a great ride to fit in once or twice. The pure bliss is short-lived due to the very short ride time, and the two loop-de-loops are great as a introductory “extreme” roller coaster, but a bit underwhelming if you’ve been to a giant theme park.
In some ways, the Corkscrew is the most essential ride at the PNE — it’s the only roller coaster that makes you go upside down! — and the least essential: it will always make you compare it to the Coaster, and in that regard, will always be the poor bridesmaid.
And yet, it’s a modern coaster. Like roller coasters at real amusement parks. And that counts for something.
#8: The Beast (16.5 points)
Few new rides are particularly unique, and the same could be said for The Beast: It’s basically what would happen if Crazy Beach Party and Pirate Ship had a baby that grew up to be a bodybuilder: it swings in the air higher and higher, twisting all the way, going faster and faster, until you’re near the top and it’s been 90 seconds and OKAY THIS IS FUN BUT IT CAN STOP NOW terror steps in.
And that was before that whole “similar ride in the United States malfunctioned and resulted in a death” thingy.
Where were we? Oh right! The Beast is pretty darn good, with the right amount of terrifying tinge you want from a ride, one that, in spite of its clear inspirations, is pretty unique within the realm of PNE rides.
Truth be told, it only suffers because the lines can be a bit lengthy in the middle of the day, it’s a little bit too heartstopping to enjoy more than once in a PNE excursion, and being only two years old, it lacks the hazy, feelgood memories of childhood that make us love the fair.
But that’s mostly nitpicking. The Beast is the best ride created for the PNE in the last decade, no questions asked.
#7: Crazy Beach Party (16.9 points)
So, it’s early in the day. You’re looking for something that gets you in the spirit of the PNE, something to get your blood rushing, but leaving you with anticipation for rides to come. Then you see this spinny ride with a weird, pan-80s aesthetic to the artwork. It doesn’t go up too high in the air, it doesn’t seem to go any faster than the rest of the rides, so why not?
You think Crazy Beach Party would be a safe entry to the day. And then you’re locked inside, with centrifugal forces unlike any other ride at the PNE, and it keeps spinning and keeps rising and it goes from pleasant to terrifying in less than 60 seconds.
And that’s why we delight in Crazy Beach Party. It’s probably the most underrated ride in the park, a solid substitute for the sadly departed Rainbow Ride, and while the lines can be long, it gets people in and out in a hurry, and the kitschy artwork is amusing to examine.
If you’re a person who usually doesn’t care for thrill rides, it gives just enough thrills without being overwhelming. If you’re a person who snubs your nose at anything that doesn’t feel like a roller coaster, it gives just enough of a surprise.
Just don’t drink beforehand, or do anything that would encouraging throwing up, and you’re set.
#6: Pirate Ship (17.25 points)
Up, down. Further up, further down. Fuuuurther up, further down.
Such elementary joys shouldn’t make us happy, and yet, the Pirate Ship, the 33-year-old Pirate Ship, the Seen In Amusement Parks Across North America Pirate Ship, makes us happy.
It’s a nice change of pace from the stomach-churning rides, but has just enough pace. It’s both iconic and nostalgic, and the lineups were always pretty reasonable. It puts a mildly enjoyable weird feeling in your stomach.
And best of all, the motion of the pirate ship is directed by a gnarly rubber tire.
By itself, this might not be enough to put the Pirate Ship in elite status.
But there’s one other factor that lifts our estimation of this ride: the mini-game that takes place before hand, where one figures out how exactly to score the back or front row seats.
For you see, the Pirate Ship experience depends on where you sit — the ride is only awesome if you are in the end rows. As such, part of the fun is the strategic lineup estimation involved in figuring out how to snag those coveted seats.
If you fail? It’s still a pleasant time that goes quickly, which is really what you want anyways.
If you manage to score an end seat? You get the immediate joy of the victory, the jolt of adrenaline that follows from experience Pirate Ship at such a sharp angle, and five minutes of pure midway bliss.
#5: Flume (17.4 points)
Two completely uncontroversial facts:
- Flume is a poor man’s Splash Mountain.
- A poor man’s Splash Mountain is still pretty great.
Yes, it’s a generic water ride. Yes, the lines are long. Really long. And yes, there’s not a whole lot to the atmosphere other than “get wet.”
And yet, Flume is awesome. Flume feels rickety and terrifying and authentic, even if you can clearly see the guiding rail you’re on the entire time. Flume goes long enough to make you feel you’re getting your money’s worth, but with enough high points to deliver on the exhilaration you want in a ride. Flume even makes you feel connected to the province’s lumber history, even if none of that backstory comes through in the actual ride.
Plus — and this is essential — Flume gets you wet. Wetter than you expect. And unless you’re a lame adult (in which case, why are you on Flume?) that’s pretty cool.
And yet, there are the lines. Oh man, are there lines.
They are long, they are windy, and unlike a lineup at the Coaster, you’re facing towards the ride, and only the ride, so you can’t really enjoy the PNE atmosphere, or allow someone to pass you a blessed mini donut. You just have to suck it up while you wait to get on the 30-year-old log.
So yes, Flume may be the funnest ride in the park. You may think it an essential part of your West Coast heritage and your childhood.
But you’d be stupid to try and ride it more than once in a day.
BONUS ENTRY: Wild Mouse (17.7 points)
After a 30-year run, Wild Mouse was removed as a PNE Ride in 2009, which means that technically, it shouldn’t be on this list.
On the other hand: screw it.
After all, for 30 years, Wild Mouse was a critical part of the PNE, both from an architectural and emotional standpoint, which is why all of us still have strong feelings about it.
Like the mega whiplash it gave you. Or the crippling fear of plummeting to your death after a sharp corner. Or the repercussions of getting stuck in the top corner of the ride to its continual mechanical issues and having a fear of heights as a result. Or the stupid-long lines for a 60-second ride that ensured you probably would go on it just once in a day.
Yeah, Wild Mouse was awesome.
It was awesome because it was unique and gave unique heart palpitations, in that it did not involve spinning or giant drops or going upside down. But it still scared the bejesus out of you, but scared it in a way that was equal for kids and teens and adults alike, and that is a rare quality.
All things considered, it’s probably better that Wild Mouse shut down before the smartphone age, because someone inevitably would have died while taking a selfie, but it’s presence is still deeply missed.
#4: Music Express (18 points)
Alternately titled “Learning About Centrifugal Force With Your 300 Pound Cousin”, Music Express is the ride where you get violently squished against the side of the car and learn to love it.
Music Express is not particularly fast, scary, modern or innovative, but it is particularly popular because there are a lot of reasons one can enjoy it. There’s the overplayed commercial hits of today and yesteryear, and the tension over whether it will be one you secretly like or one you actually just hate. Combined with the schtick of the announcer, and it’s the type of ride where each time can feel a little different, which is no small feat.
But the big thing is how the thrill of the ride sneaks up on you — from the outside it looks like a slightly-faster-than-normal children’s circular ride, but then the subtle and down and side to side motions create unexpected chaos, which then gets ratcheted up when the announcer asks “DO YOU WANT TO GO FASTER?!?”, and the patrons respond in the affirmative.
(Sidenote: what would happen if people didn’t scream when the announcer demanded vocal fealty? Would the announcer just shut the ride down early out of spite?)
Add in the kitschy design and faded colours, and the surprisingly long runtime for the ride (about three minutes), and you’ve got a contraption that gets good bang for its buck.
There’s no doubt Music Express is rewarded by our metric (fewer lines+nostalgia+fun for all ages=top marks in our books), but there’s also no doubt it’s a must on any PNE trip.
#3: Wave Swinger (19 points)
Wave Swinger goes all of 30 miles an hour and only gets a few dozen feet off the ground, but the ride is so darn charming you won’t care.
It’s the spirit of the PNE, all worn-down and tinged with summer day memories and anticipation of rides ahead. It’s old, rickety, and there’s the lovely feeling of hair whipping around in the breeze and trying to keep shoes on.
The lines are never too long, and fact it’s right near one of the main entrances and exits is helpful: a good day at the PNE includes a swing ride at the beginning and end.
If you’re the type of person who finds the joy in carnivals of yore, and finds the benefit of an oasis of calm in an hot, overcrowded pavement-dominated labyrinth, then we can go on the Wave Swinger together and smile. You’re cool.
And if you’re the type of person who snubs the Wave Swinger for being slow and not the Atmosfear or a roller coaster, then what the heck are you doing at the PNE anyway? Get back on to playing your video game and leave the rest of us in peace.
After all, something about being gently flung in a circle never gets old.
#2: Getting Mini Donuts (19.08 points)
What does it say that one of most beloved elements of the PNE is a simple concoction of dough and sugar that can be found at carnivals around the world?
I suppose it says that the food and ride options at the PNE are not that amazing, if a bag of starchy energy can occupy such an esteemed place in our rankings.
Or it could just mean that Mini Donuts are awesome.
It’s the perfect portion of snacking to get you through the late afternoon. They taste great with a soft drink or without a soft drink. They’re easy to carry around or munch on when you’re in line. They’re cheap, which was very important when you went with your family growing up, and this day was already expensive enough, and it was 4:30pm and mom is starting to get stressed and little brother is starting to get tired and the donuts are a magical solution that literally solves every problem.
And crucially, they’re weird and a little unique, in the sense that you would never really get mini donuts in your day to life as a snack, but at the PNE, it’s an essential part of the experience, which combined with the insane sugar endorphins, causes the perpetual feedback loop: PNE day is a special day, and part of the reason it’s a special day is that we get to eat these mini donuts, and these mini donuts are really doing it for me in this moment, ergo the PNE is mini donuts.
Yes, technically there are three different mini donut stands at the fair, and you can indulge in gimmicks like red velvet mini donuts or (shudder) a Jalapeño mini donut poutine or the Mini Donut ice pop, or whatever monstrosity is being foisted upon the public this year.
But none of that really matters. What matters is the only thing that tastes better than your first bag of mini donuts than your second bag of mini donuts.
#1: The Wooden Roller Coaster (20 points)
Like there was any other choice.
Look, we can rehash facts from all the profiles that have been written of the coaster over the years, like how its tracks of Douglas Fir were built by 300 Norwegian shipbuilders, or how it’s been given multiple honours by the American Coaster Enthusiasts group, or how it only cost 40 cents to ride when first built in 1958.
That’s all cool and catnip to history geeks, but these articles wouldn’t get written every year if not for the fact that the coaster is insanely good. It’s an engineering marvel that terrifies riders of all ages the exact right amount, with the aged lap bar letting you get right to the edge of flinging out of the seat in that first iconic drop.
And since it doesn’t go upside down, it seems more accessible to children, which means they’re more likely to get their first real carnival ride thrill here.
The lines are long, but it’s in an open enough area that it’s not as aggravating as it could be. The lap bar is shoddy and noises are rickety, but that only serves to increase the thrill. If you actively dislike the coaster, then you are the worst type of contrarian, and we can’t be friends.
Finally, there’s something perfect in the name of the ride: it’s just the Wooden Roller Coaster. No gimmicks, no branding, no loops. Just a old-fashioned attraction that happens to a great time to this day.
It encapsulates everything you look forward to in the PNE.
That’s not why it’s the best thing to do *at* the PNE, of course. But it’s why our love for it is so strong.