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The Mature Traveler

On a Trip to Canada's Wondrous Mall of Fame

August 28, 1988|BILL HUGHES | Hughes is a 30-year veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks

EDMONTON, Canada — The "Eighth Wonder of the World" is a shopping mall?

Many of us, having reached the special status of mature traveler, feel that we are the real "Eighth Wonder" . . . not a tourist attraction in Canada.

It was with this in mind that I came into this striking provincial capital. According to Bill Siefke of Great Western Travel, Edmonton is one of the top attractions on the many senior tours that he and others operate to Alberta and the Rockies.

But almost as big a lure as Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise is the "Eighth Wonder of the World" . . . the West Edmonton Mall.

After a prolonged visit I must state that while the Pyramids of Giza and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are still secure in their fame, the West Edmonton Mall is, in fact, a wonder.

With more than 5 million square feet under one roof, it is the world's largest. It has more than 800 stores and shops, including 11 major department stores, plus banks and about a dozen beauty salons.

106 Places to Eat

And can you name any mall--all under one roof, mind you, that can boast three McDonald's, plus 103 other restaurants and snack shops?

It is the entertainment and recreational facilities that really set the West Edmonton Mall apart. There are 19 movie and stage theaters, miniature golf, a bingo palace, saltwater aquarium and dolphin show, exotic bird aviary (I never did find that; the place is that big) and a huge ice skating rink that the National Hockey League's Edmonton Oilers use for practice sessions.

There's the world's largest (what else?) indoor water park, with a massive wave/surf pool and 20 water slides and rides that range in size and daring from "take the tots" to "oh my God!" Also in the complex is Fantasyland, a huge indoor amusement park that, surprisingly, isn't claimed as the world's largest, although it has 28 midway-type amusement rides.

In the mall's sizable saltwater "lake" there's a full-size English galleon around which is a Disneyland-type submarine ride.

Finally there's the adjoining Fantasyland Hotel complete with 360 suites, many of which, like the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, are theme suites: Polynesian, Roman, Hollywood, Arabian and other fanciful styles, some complete with whirlpools and saunas. Rates start at $95 Canadian a night, single or double, and go to $150 for the exotic digs.

Hotel rates, what with Canada's exchange rate, represent nearly a 20% discount off the U.S. dollar. Plus, oil-rich Alberta tenders no sales tax.

Discounts Offered

Another plus for senior visitors (ages 65 and older) at the West Edmonton Mall are sizable discounts on attractions such as the Waterpark, Fantasyland amusement park, mini-golf, skating and submarine ride. Except for the Waterpark, which gives $2.50 off the regular admission price of $12.50, all the others give a 50% discount in prices.

Even conceding that the West Edmonton Mall is some sort of world wonder and a popular attraction for most senior tour groups, there's far more to Edmonton than just one shopping center.

Like its rival, Calgary to the south, Edmonton's skyline above the meandering Saskatchewan River is dominated by soaring modernistic new buildings and extravagant hotels, most built within the last decade.

Sightseeing attractions are many and varied, though for most senior motor-coach tours, many are viewed as a drive-by experience. But well worth the time, if you have it, are such places as Ft. Edmonton Park, an outdoor/indoor museum complete with an old-time railroad and train ride, the Space Sciences Center and Muttart Botanical Gardens, splendidly presented in four glass pyramids.

The provincial accommodations guidebook lists only a handful of the more than 75 hotels and motels in the immediate area with senior rates, but I'm told that many more provide senior discounts. You must ask before registering; better yet, when making reservations.

Mild Fall Weather

Edmonton lays claim to being one of Canada's "sunniest" major cities, with September and October particularly pleasant, complementing the fall foliage in the nearby Rockies.

As noted before, Air Canada offers senior rates from Sept. 9 to Dec. 16. The rates represent a roughly 50% discount off the basic economy fare for those age 65 or older. Still lower fares are available, but these have some strict limitations and are non-refundable in case of cancellation.

Pasadena-based Great Western Travel Pasadena, (800) 344-7090, is just one of several tour operators with an October tour to the Canadian Rockies and Edmonton with only a few openings left. For more information, call toll-free (800) 344-7090 or (818) 578-1161.

Meanwhile, Ted Cutter of Burbank, who runs golfing tours for mature travelers, has a golf and sightseeing "Rockies to Remember" tour set for Sept. 17-27.

Cutter's tour not only includes regular sightseeing in Banff, Jasper and Kananaskies but golf there as well. Plus visits to Lake Louise, the Columbia Icefields, Calgary and Edmonton. The latter stop features accommodations at the West Edmonton Mall's Fantasyland Hotel.

Per-person rates, sharing a double, are $1,385 for non-golfers, $1,565 for golfers. The price includes top hotels and some meals but not air fare. For more information, call (818) 846-1454.

For information on travel to Alberta, contact Travel Alberta, 333 S. Grand Ave., Suite 3535, Los Angeles, Calif. 90071, (213) 625-1256 or toll-free (800) 424-3687.

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