For Vancouverites, a flight across Canada hardly sounds like a thrill ride. It’s something we do every time we head back East.
But even if you’re an Air Canada Aeroplan superstar, you still might want to check out FlyOver Canada, the virtual flight attraction that opened in the old IMAX theatre at Canada Place earlier this summer.
I have to confess that I’d written off FlyOver Canada as a “tourist-only” attraction, i.e. something to entertain the cruise ship crowd during the brief window of time they actually get to step foot in Canada. But it turns out that FlyOver has a broader appeal.
On a recent weekend, I took a walk to the far end of the Canada Place pier, picked up my $19.95 ticket and got ready to climb aboard. “Passengers” queue up outside and are funnelled in every 15 minutes in groups of approximately 60.
First stop is a sort of debriefing room where you’re treated (or subjected, depending on your perspective) to a roughly 10-minute “audio-video immersive show” on life in Canada. Basically, you stand in a room and watch clips of Canada cliches projected on the walls for 10 minutes – everything from Canada geese to prairie cowboys, First Nations ceremonial canoes and, of course, plenty of hockey.
But that just makes the real show that much more impressive. Eventually, doors open and guests are shuttled into another waiting area for a safety demonstration before finally being led inside. The ride itself doesn’t look like much at first – just a few rows of seats stacked vertically, one on top of the other. I climbed the steps to the top row, buckled up and waited in the darkness.
Then, suddenly, the front railing falls away, the seats extend out, a breeze whips up and you’re dangling in front of a 20-metre-tall domed screen showing HD video of icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland. You’d have to be pretty jaded not to be impressed by that initial takeoff.
The seats move in concert with the film, zooming left and right and up and down to create the illusion of flying. As we dove in close to the icebergs, a fine blast of mist sprayed my face, the first of a number of sensory effects (including scents) that are part of the attraction.
The sensation of flying is pretty convincing – in fact, if you’re prone to motion sickness, you probably wouldn’t want to ride on an empty stomach. The video footage – captured with special helicopter-mounted cameras – is so crisp and the motions of the ride are so tightly choreographed that it’s not hard to suspend disbelief and pretend you’re flying through river canyons, over prairies where cowboys round up horses (complete with the smell of fresh-cut hay) and high up into the frosty heights of the Rocky Mountains before zooming on into British Columbia.
All told, the ride itself lasts only about 8 minutes. (Still, it’s worth pointing out that it’s the longest virtual flight experience of its kind in the world and one of only two such attractions in North America). As a Vancouverite, I would have liked to see more local footage (as it stands, there’s really just a brief fly-by of Canada Place). And the pre-film is a bit underwhelming. But at around $20 the price is right, the technology is seriously cutting edge and even the most frequent of Canadian fliers should get a decent thrill out of the experience.
Has anyone else ridden FlyOver Canada? What did you think?
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