So, I figured I may as well give a bit more insight about my views on The Walking Dead - The Ride.
I know plenty of people have pretty much written it off already, and it's almost trendy to hate the idea, but I do think it's worth going into this with an open mind. The overall experience is good, well themed, and does justice to what the ride and building was designed to achieve.
The entrance portal is nice. It is standard run down Thorpe style, but it is still good. The queue is, again, standard Thorpe in that it's "how much queue can we fit in one space", with just little nuggets of theming - in the way of themed signage and Easter Eggs to the show - to go with it. There's no extensions or anything, so on quiet days, you will have to walk through the whole thing, which is a pain.. Audio in the area is nice and creepy, and the watchtower looks alright to be fair.
Bag room is now outside the building, and is clearly unfinished at the moment. Hopefully it can be themed up, especially to the standard of the inside of the ride. After that, groups of 20 (so 2 trains worth) get batched into pre-show. The pre-show is extremely basic - a minute long video featuring a character talking to you, encouraging you to make your way through the building because we're under attack. It's well done, and I don't think it will get tedious during re-riding, but I feel like they could have done more here. Some big special effect, to give you the personal reason to get moving, rather than some guy on a screen telling you...
The walkway to the station is exceptionally well themed. You go through different areas of 'the safe zone', and as you go through them, audio is triggered saying how those zones are under attack, encouraging you to keep moving. The tone is perfect here, and really sets up the experience well.
The ride itself is themed to a 'transit system' in the safe zone, and is being used to transport you to safety. It's clever, and gives you a reason to be on the ride. From there, it is just X, with special effects, and I don't think that can be stressed enough. I really hope that people have ended up being ignorant the OTT "it's the scariest thing ever" marketing approach, or are able to just look past it, else it sets the ride up to fail. In saying that, the special effects that are there are good, and really do enhance the ride experience. There aren't any animatronics, just zombie mannequins (which aren't the greatest, but to a casual rider will more than do the job). There's also screens, smoke, audio and lighting effects, all of which are used very well. The one stop during the ride is a real highlight actually, fitting in with the story perfectly, and just being a lot of fun!
The ride ends with us still being under attack; everywhere in the safe zone is overrun with zombies. The post-ride experience happens, in the form of a loud noise, and is...just a bit naff? There's terrible noise bleed from there to the waiting bit before the station, so if you've been unfortunate with timings, it does spoil it somewhat. There is more to it, but I believe that tweaks were still being made, so I don't know what to say / expect from that for now. There is a lot of potential there, but it needs a bit more direction.
So yeah, to round it all up...
+Fantastically themed experience
+A fun ride experience, with good special effects
+An experience that stays true to what the original X:\No Way Out aimed to do
+A cohesive story which is easy to understand
-Pre-show could do with a bit more oompf
-Post-show needs a bit of clarity / more direction
But before I go - One final thought.
I like this, I won't deny that. I also liked X. I haven't decided whether I like this more than X or not, but that's neither here nor there for now. Personally, I think X is the better thing for Thorpe now; it had potential to be a fun ride which was accessible to all.
I can't help but wonder what Thorpe could have done with X if they had the budget this had. Or even half the budget. They really could have created an attraction where you rode "on a wave of light (and sound)", went through tunnels of light, etc. I imagine that having the trains 'chase' lit up track, with lasers and smoke effects around, along with an extended original soundtrack would have been more than possible, along with some fun lighting effects in the entrance and exit walkways. I reckon I'd have loved that, as would a large majority of people.
So I visited Liseberg back in July, and I just wanted to share a few thoughts on the park... Majority of my photos were like so bad so I'm just stealing photos from the park's website to break things up.
Ultimately, I was left a bit...unfulfilled? by the park. I don't know how to describe it. The quality of some of the attractions at the park is really good, but the park itself just do 'it' for me.
Let's get this out the way. Helix is truly fantastic. It's got everything - a lengthy layout, inversions, speed, airtime, a nice style and good audio...everything. And it all works, which is more important in some ways. I really loved the style of the ride - the slightly futuristic / game feel just works SO WELL. It's a bit of a shame that the queue is a bit worn - it needs a good clean and spruce up really. But aside from that, I have no real flaws. The ride is fantastic wherever you sit. The back is fab. The front gives you the force and speed. And at night is great <3 It's just great!
Balder was a wonderful surprise. So much airtime, a really decent layout, that's nicely concealed, and just really good fun. It's glass smooth which makes it feel weird, but a good weird I s'pose. It's easy to see why it's so highly rated, and it's high up on my list too - my favourite woodie for certain!
This classic Schwarzkopf is perhaps a bit of a hidden gem in the park now. Which sounds weird to say given it's not hidden at all. But in a park with Helix, Balder and soon Valkyria screaming in your face, it's perhaps something which will slide out of view. Lisebergbanan was the only coaster where staff didn't bother stapling me in on every go (the staff on Helix and Balder seemed determined to split me in half...), which resulted in some awesome airtime and being flung about in every direction. We also had a couple of rides in the rain which really added to the experience. Just a shame about that final brake...
Rebalder & Stampbanan
A couple of small creds finishes up the coaster line up. Nothing special, but Rebalder ended up being my 100th cred - woohoo!
I'd always wanted to try a Gerstlauer Sky Roller since I first saw them, so I was excited for this. I rode is 3 times over the course of 2 days - I struggled on my first go to get any spins, but managed a solid 27 on my second go, which made me very queasy... Goodness knows how people cope with 50+ spins...
So this is basically Rush on a hill. It has loads of potential, but it just didn't deliver. The ride cycle was disappointing, and the location just didn't work - instead of making it more intimidating, it makes it less. It meant the ride experience was rather lacking all in all.
A really tall drop tower with Stealth-style restraints. It was alright, gave nice views of Gothenburg, but that's about it. I think after Detonator's forcefulness and brilliance, other drop towers feel lacking for me..
FlumeRide & Kallerado
The park's log flume is a nice scenic tour really. It's also gives a good pop as it starts down the drops. Nothing special, but good fun!
The rapids were great - they start quite slow, but gradually builds up and up and it just works really well!
Oh god. This was blooming awful. It's a ferris wheel, but the loading procedures were bad. It got every pod emptied / filled (which naturally takes ages), and then cycles round 3 times, and then starts the unload/load process again. It's just so boring. It didn't help the views were poor because of rainy weather, but even with clear weather, there's not that much you'd see again a second. third or fourth time round...
Loke & Mechanica
The two newest rides at the park; unfortunately they didn't appeal to me. Loke, an Intamin gyroswing, is a ride that makes me feel awful after riding these days, so I didn't fancy it. And I didn't want to waste time with Mechanica when there was other stuff I could do..
Majority of their other attractions are all standard stuff, and they weren't that great really. A bit of a shame. Their dark ride (which is closing soon / might already be closed?) was truly awful though. However, one final noteworthy attraction...
Gasten Ghost Hotel
An upcharge scare attraction (priced £5/£7 depending on what ticket you have). Themed around a spooky abandoned hotel which is over-run by spiders. I hate spiders, which naturally put me on edge. The maze was very good; a good length, VERY well themed, and some fantastic use of special effects (smell and feel were particular scents that were attacked!). The only downside was that it lacked in actor numbers, which is a bit of a shame. Nonetheless, a good scare attraction which did leave me cowering at some points...
On a more general note, operations at the park were generally very good and quick. I'm not a fan of their shutdown policy (Helix shutdown when we were near the station, and it resulted in a full queue evac. It opened about 10 minutes later and must surely have only been a small problem), but I guess that's a small grumble. I love all of the sideshows and games they have - so many of them were themed which was fantastic, and they just had such a good atmosphere about them (it was also good that staff weren't pressuring people to play).
So yeah, Liseberg was a weird one. I enjoyed their 3 major coasters, and they have a couple of other good attractions. But the park feels lacking in...something to me. But I don't really know what. Despite wanting to go back and ride Helix, Balder and Lisebergbanan, I don't really feel compelled to visit Liseberg as a park any time soon (even their new coaster isn't that tempting). It's disappointing in some ways, as I want to like the park, but I just don't as much. I think it's at least partially down to the fact it's more or less an amusement park, rather than a theme park, and I'm more of a theme park guy.
Only taken me 3 and a half months to finish this TR...
We spent 2 and a half days at Efteling this year, and there was bucketloads of stuff going on during that time. We stayed at the newly opened Loonsche Land Hotel, experienced Symbolica on it's opening day (along with all the pomp and faff to accompany it), and had a 14 hour day on park thanks to their summer festival event starting. So I could probably pad this part of the trip into 2 or 3 blogs itself (and I kind of have already with my Symbolica review, but heyho...), but I'll just do photos and quick explanations so I can get it done...
Symbolica's opening day (which was also the park's first Summer Festival day of the year) wasn't as busy as we expected. The park opened at 9am, Symbolica opened at 10am. During that time void, the park's mascot Pardoes was out and about, press were interviewing staff and guests - one Dutch news company tried to interview us, but funnily enough they wanted Dutch speakers. There was a fun countdown when the ride opened, and we a mad rush occurred, put fortunately we were in first group of the day in. Good thing too as I wouldn't have wanted to queue this...
The park's summer festival they ran was incredible. For no extra cost, the park opened till late (11pm), and held tonnes of extra side-shows, events, extra food stalls, and general fun stuff. This was all from 6pm, which started off with a parade of all the acts:
OJ Punctuel from Symbolica
A living statue from Flying Dutchman
In the 5 hours from when the parade started, we did a few rides (I can't remember what exactly off the top of my head, but fairly certain we did Joris a couple of times, Baron, Bob and maybe Flying Dutchman?), we saw a ton of the acts, including...
Raveijlin fayre - the whole area was transformed into a mini Warwick Castle. They had sword fights, random actors spinning yarn and goodness knows what else to create an atmosphere.
Random singers / marching band. They were a massive laugh - a lot of their sets can be found here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDSnv09tVMQ
South American dancers
1001 Nights area, include magic performances, 'snake charmers', sword swallowers, a guy giving away free ice cream if you can get it from him, and someone trying to sell rugs...
3 different versions of Aquanura
And much much more, including live music performances from plenty of other acts, randoms pianists, some kids radio station, loads more dancers and plenty of other things I've probably forgotten now and didn't get a chance to take a photo of it. It was truly a fantastic atmosphere, and it was a wonderful day. 14 hours on park flew by, and though it felt long enough, a couple more hours would no doubt have helped us see even more the acts, and sneak in a couple more night rides. Speaking of which, some Efteling at night photos...
Dragon wasn't blowing fire during our trip unfortunately
I got a photo with the wonderful OJ Punctuel. I think I insulted him with my commonness and unshaven face. Though serious note - I love how copious the costume characters are in numbers and appearances - always created such a good, fun atmosphere.
In terms of rides...
Baron 1898 left me disappointed this visit. After riding it 2015, I truly adored it - it was fun, floaty and just really enjoyable from start to finish. Unfortunately, it has aged liked B&Ms seem to do, becoming slightly more forceful and punchy. This is normally a good thing, but in Baron's case, it means it loses the floatiness which made me love it so much, making it less enjoyable. It really slid down my Top 10 as a result - if it wasn't for the amazing theme and surrounding, it certainly would have fallen out.
Joris en de Draak stood the test of time however, and I still really love it. I still prefer Fire slightly over Water, but it definitely cemented itself as my favourite Efteling coaster. Flying Dutchman remained fantastic, Python remained slightly painful and generally disappointing, whilst I enjoyed Bob significantly more this time! My opinions on many of the park's other rides remained the same - I still don't quite get Dreamflight, I enjoy the park's other dark rides and their filler selection is nice. I also got the chance to try the park's 3D cinema, Pandadroom, after it was down for technical difficulties in 2015. I actually quite enjoyed the premise and the real effects it has, but the 3D itself was terrible, and the awkward wait before the show needs some serious attention. I also enjoyed my time in the Fairytale Forest, with this new addition since my last visit being the highlight...
All in all, I enjoyed Efteling again this year, for what was my second visit to the park. After my original visit, I did class it as my favourite park. However, since then, Phantasialand has grown on me all the more, and Efteling just misses the mark for me a bit now. It's still a fantastic park and I really enjoyed my time there (even though 2 and a half days is a bit too much for the park), but it's not really a park for me I guess..
And so that concluded FreBelGerAnd. We left the park slightly earlier than planned so we could get allow plenty of time to drive back to Dunkirk for our evening ferry, and as per, travelling home posed no issues at all...
Next up - my Liseberg review; it's only 2 months late fortunately!
Following the recent-ish announcement of The Walking Dead coming to Thorpe, I thought I'd share a review of TWD: Breakout, Movie Park Germany's 5 Euro upcharge scare attraction. And also share some expectations I have for Living Nightmare and Sanctum as a result..
I have to say, I was really looking forward to this. Movie Park are well known for this Halloween event, and they continually bring in big name IPs as well as original concepts (this year, they've got an 18+ maze themed to the Hostel series which looks to be at least partially an alone experience for example), so that sets a certain bar. The maze itself was really pushed hard, on the website, on leaflets, on the park map and on park too - it was almost like it was a crowning success for the park; their gem along with their big new ride. They advertised "the latest technologies" which helped achieve special effects, along with the standard 'intense, scary' jargon that most mazes get. And even though I haven't watched the TV show (and still haven't yet), I knew how much scope the franchise has.
Warning - spoilers
After doing some queueing in some shipping containers, you reach the entrance of the maze, which is themed around the Harrison Memorial Hospital (apparently from the first series). You could hear lots of banging to the right of the wall, which I thought was a bit of a spoiler, since an actor was bound to appear.
You get batched in in groups of about 8, and encouraged to stay together, but it's not a conga line maze. The first scene just ends up being a standard safety scene (delivered on TVs in multiple languages), and then an actor appears from a hidden route to your left (despite the loud noises you hear outside coming from what should be your right). It was a clever bit of misdirection, and though not scary, showed some promise. The actor then chases away to go down the corridor on your right, banging the walls to encourage you to leave..
Unfortunately from here, things go downhill. You walk past the famous 'Don't Open, Dead Inside' doors, with no sort of effects or actor or special lighting or anything; a particularly disappointing thing since that was so widely pushed in advertised. An actor appeared, shouting 'Boo', and doing some general arm waving to try and invade our personal space. No context to the scenes, and I realised that it was actually the same actor as from the first scene, which begun to ring alarm bells as to the number of actors.
You continue through more scenes, which are very well themed, but had little sound effects and no special effects. Occasionally an actor appeared, but they all did the same thing - shout 'boo' and walk like a zombie who'd an accident in their underwear... Though the theming was nice, you weren't given any chance to really interact with it - you were always well away from anything of note, and given tonnes of space with nothing filling it. It was the worst thing a scare maze can be - boring.
The ending was cliche to say the least... Large open space, couple of barrels and a door at the end of the room. Oh, except a big burly man with a chainsaw appears out of nowhere by the door. Been there, done that. However, a tiny ray in the ending was the fact that the actor kicked down a barrel onto the floor, creating a huge, echoing thud - easily the biggest scare in the maze, and shows that there was at least a glimmer of thought put into 'how can we actually scare people' when designing the maze.
So yeah, TWD: Breakout was a very poor maze. Few actors, little-to-no use of standard scare tactics introduced and nothing exciting or interesting to go with it. Maybe having done a few good mazes over the years has hardened me up a bit too much, but there was just nothing of note.
Something which still sticks in my mind about Breakout is how well themed the maze was, and how well designed the sets were. Looking at photos of the maze and looking at images from the show, they are very similar down to the small details. So I expect that AMC / Fox have quite high expectations and demands about the theming of the maze that have to be met. Given the Paragon Creative have been spotted on park (the company who also did a great job when making Saw Alive!), I expect that those expectations will be met, especially with Living Nightmare.
From the brief description that Thorpe have released, it sounds like Living Nightmare will be in a similar vain to Breakout in that there are a variety of scenes from the show in the maze that you go through, except that they are including Season 7 in there. Also, as we're told that we can "choose your path and decide your fate", there might be the possibility of multiple routes akin to Cabin - a nice touch which works nicely with the 'assorted scene' vibe.
I must admit I'm concerned about what sort of scares we're in for. Thorpe have gotten a reputation that their style of scare is 'growl in people's face, brush against their arm and slam against a wall' and move on. Though I don't strictly agree with this (and we've seen them move away from that with the likes of Big Top, Blair Witch and Platform 15 in my opinion), I certainly see where people are coming from. And it feels almost inevitable that we could be in for that treatment here. I'd really love to see some effects that play on the senses more here - smells are something which are particularly under-used by Thorpe. And I feel like having a hospital scene, for example, which is literally 'cold' would work well. Couple in some other effects here and there, and it would work really well. But I'm just not sure we're in for that.
As for Sanctum, given it's said to be an outdoor maze, and from the little we've seen of it, I get a feeling like it will be a bigger, better, more-coherently themed version of Dead End. The general story seems to be 'death and destruction wasteland, you enter a safe bit, but oh wait, it's not safe' - something that Thorpe can do well. The containers could act as means to create a long route to walk around, and be used for impact scares. Chuck in a couple of set pieces and bits and bobs and it'll be a fun little maze. I'm not expecting anything groundbreaking, but it has the potential to be a perfect filler maze, as well as helping spread the crowds around.
tl;dr - Germany's Walking Dead maze is on the whole, naff, but the theming is good. I expect good theming at Thorpe and hope they can produce something different in terms of scares.
So I'm skipping Phantasialand because everyone knows I think it's the best and I'm behind on writing TRs and stuff. So yeah, do excuse the delay and what will be rushed TRs, which will largely just be reviews of rides in no particular order of riding them...
Movie Park was a park I had reasonably low expectations about. There wasn't many raved about, and any reviews of the park I had read always mentioned long queues, that their Fastrack was a saviour and people always having a sour taste in their mouth at the end of the day. In fact the only real positives I had heard about the park was about its Halloween event. These fears weren't helped when park close was extended from 5pm to 6pm, suggesting the park would be quite busy. But for late June, it wasn't that busy, everything was manageable and it was a decent day.
Star Trek: Operation Enterprise
The new-for-2017, triple Mack launch coaster was the big draw for finally deciding to pay MPG a visit. Figuring it would have long queues, we headed their first - annoyingly the ride is basically the first thing you see at the entrance, but the ride entrance is in the middle of the park. Fortunately we were first in the queue. There was a few minute delay as we waited for a couple more test runs, but no issue.
The indoor queue line is nice, but a bit too clinical. I get that this is the theme, but it just feels a bit uninteresting, even after a short while. What follows are 2 pre-shows, with screens which give a back story from characters from the show (spoken in Germany, but with English subtitles), as well as a staff member guiding you through. They are nice, and the rooms are nicely themed, but they do go on too long for my liking.
We got to the station and were on the second train (being first in the pre shows doesn't guarantee first in the station). The ride itself is fun. The traverser taking you to the launch track is in another very white room, which again feels quite boring. The launches are nice and smooth; they're certainly not fast but that's not really the point I feel. The inversions are taken quite slowly, giving a brilliant amount of hang time. Towards the end of the course there's an amazing bit of airtime which really got me. It's over quite quickly, but doesn't leave you feeling short changed fortunately. You do seem to spend an age waiting on the break run though, which feels even longer as there's not much to look at.
After our ride, we noticed there was no one in the station (people were being held up by pre show!), so we were able to get a re-ride immediately. Though this didn't happen later in the day when we rode again, it makes me wonder how sustainable the pre shows are in their current format. Staff seemed to have iPads showing where groups should be, radios to communicate to each other and god knows what else. Seemed like a very faffy system for not a lot of pay off!
Van Helsing's Factory
This was perhaps the only ride I'd heard good things about before visiting. And I can see why. The theming is fantastic, the layout is fun and works well with the theming. The general mood and atmosphere is brilliant. Just everything about this ride works well together. Even the queue line, exit and shop just feels so right and complete. It's a fantastic example showing that a ride as a whole starts the moment you enter the queue (and even when you just see building!), and finishes the moment you leave the shop. This was a true gem and possibly the biggest surprise of the trip. The fact that our first ride we queued about 40-45 minutes (basically the longest queue of the trip) and I loved it right away shows its quality. Plus things quietened as the day went on, meaning several re-rides.
We did the park's wooden coaster in the afternoon, and the queue time was displayed as an hour. Fortunately it was no where near that (15mins); seems Movie Park just update their queue times to the longest they get all day and leave them like that.. The ride looked like it had potential, but unfortunately fails to deliver. Every time it looks like it can pick up speed, or produce a decent moment of airtime, it just...doesn't? And that's the worst thing about this - excitement builds and builds, and it never delivers.
It was so uninteresting, I didn't get any photos..
This was a Vekoma SLC. It was like any other Vekoma SLC - naff. The first half of the ride was actually not awfully and shows why SLCs can get decent rides. The second half was extremely painful, and right down there with the god awful El Condor at Walibi Holland.
The Lost Temple
Tucked away near the front of the park, Lost Temple is an immersive tunnel themed around finding a lost temple - shock horror - and uncovering dinosaurs and stuff. It features several burdenous pre shows (one of which was a real lift which we thought was fake!), and lots of faffing around between pre shows. The 'experience' as a whole took about 30 minutes, so thank goodness the park wasn't too busy otherwise that would have been a huge chunk of the day gone. The tunnel itself was meh; the Bobbejaanland one was a bit better really. The exit pathway and queue to the ride is decent though.
Another ride tucked at the entrance to the park (and easily missed!). This dark boat ride was literally walk on. I really don't know how to describe this. The ride starts off outside, before taking you into a volcano. There were times inside when I didn't know if I was dropping, going up or what. The theming inside is good, but obviously quite dated - along with the theme itself. The finale is being taken up a lift in a very misty, very warm part of the volcano, before dropping outside and splashing down. There's usually a huge amount of mist before a boat drops down, and there were occasional fire effects from the top of the volcano. It's a really good, yet really bizarre, ride. I'm gutted I didn't actually take any pictures of it.
We tried to get a reride at about 5:20, but when we got to the entrance the entrance board said it closed at 5:15 (even though it definitely said 5:30 when we went there earlier). There was no queue, and I'm pretty certain the ride has stopped running shortly afterwards. A frustrating situation.
Nick land featured some randoms kiddie rides, some family rides and some coasters. One coaster, the Jimmy Neutron themed Vekoma SFC, was closed all day. Annoying spite. One coaster was a Vekoma rollerskater "themed" to the Backyardians. We more or less got straight on. It was meh. There was also a Spongebob "themed" Wild Mouse, which was alright. We also did the Dora the Explorer "themed" log flume, which got me drenched to the bone.
I don't really have much else to say. Nick Land looked quite out of place compared to large proportions of the park. It felt very run down, the theming was minimal to non-existent, and I really feel like the park could do a lot better.
This Neverending Story esque rapids ride is tucked tight at the back of Nick Land, and turned out to be a neat little surprise. I'd say it's in my top 3 rapids rides; it has a good length, decent amount of theming and an acceptable level of wetness. It's also helped by the fact that you basically can't see the ride at all from anywhere on park, so you really have no idea what is coming. The biggest disappoint is that you have to survive walking through Nick Land to get to it.
Crazy Cops Stunt Show
I love a good stunt show, and we wandered into this show not really knowing what to expect, aside from screeching tires and loud noises. This ended up being really good, featuring a decent level of stunts featuring cars, bikes and falls, as well as some decent effects, slapstick comedy and an easy-to-follow 'story' of sorts. It was just great fun to watch, and a great way to break up the day. It's a shame things like this aren't as common in the UK any more..
The High Fall
A tall drop tower with nice views of the park, a bit of suspense and tilting seats. Pretty good fun all in all.
Tip - if anyone ever visits and sees a long queue for this, just do a double check. The indoor queue is a cattlepen where one wall is a mirror and makes the queue look double in length. Caught us out first time..
There was some other stuff around the park, including a simulator featuring massive sets and John Cleese, which was meh, a few nicely themed or styled flats that we didn't bother with (Top Spin, Disk'o, Rockin' Tug, etc). But the final thing of note I want to mention...
The Walking Dead - Breakout
A year-round horror maze with a 5 euro upcharge, Walking Dead - Breakout felt like it had a lot to live up to, since the park was apparently good at Halloween and with its scare mazes. Plus the fact Walking Dead is a huge brand and has mazes at several locations, it felt like it had to be good for Movie Park to be a deserving park to have it.
The maze is open 1-4pm, and we bought out tickets online and booked for 1pm. Unfortunately the time slot system is non existent and you turn up whenever you want.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that the maze is terrible. It's themed nicely, but there's no real scares, no opportunity for scares, not enough actors, no real scary atmosphere. It's just terrible. It terms of actual frights, I'd say it's comparable to Platform 15 (a maze notoriously known not to be able to offer many scares last year). This really was a crying shame, a huge disappointment - possible my personal biggest disappoint at any park across Europe.
And so that's that. Movie Park Germany is perhaps a little underrated, though Star Trek definitely improves the line up. They've got a couple of solid coasters, a decent dark and water ride collection and the odd sparkle across flats and live entertainment. Certainly not a park I'd call a must-do, but definitely worth looking into at the very least.
Next up (and hopefully before Christmas...) - Efteling!
After another refreshing night at our hotel, we trekked on over to Plopsaland de Panne for Day 2. I'll keep this brief as I've babbled on about this loads before...
We arrived at the park to be greeted by loads of school kids swarming about, so we headed straight for Heidi - The Ride, the park's coaster which was meant to be open last year but had loads of noise issues. It's a lot of fun. It holds its speed for most of the ride, features nice pops of airtime and the odd intense. It's practically a clone of White Lightning at Fun Spot America, so anyone who's ridden that will no doubt know what to expect. It's a bit on the short side, and it's a shame they didn't do more sound tunnels during the ride given all the extra fencing required. but it's still a very, very good family coaster and just what the park needed.
We rode it 3 times during the course of day, including front and back, and it remained equally fun at all points - woohoo!
One sad thing was how the ride opened on one train (fortunately we arrived just before all the school kids arrived to the coaster), and I imagine any sort of queue would then be painfully slow. Not to mention the queue is just a wooden, indoor cattlepen. It was also a 1-man op job at the time (like most of Plopsaland's rides!). However, it did go up to 2 trains later on, and at one point had 3 staff working on, easily the most I've ever seen working on 1 ride at Plopsa.
Area looks nice
They play the Heidi TV show in the queue, which has hilarious screenshots.
We also finally got to do Vleermuis, the park's twin suspended batflyer coasters, which had been SBNO on our previous 2 visits. These had become a bit infamous for me, as they always looked 'fun' and odd, but their life at the park had come under question several times over the past few years. They're fun enough little coasters, even if they do kill you legs thanks to to tight restraints - worth a try if you ever visit I'd say. (I didn't get any good pictures, so check out RCDB for photos - https://rcdb.com/932.htm )
With the new stuff ticked off before 11, we then had 7 hours on park to just go around and enjoy the park, which has a solid selection of rides. Their Gerstlauer launch coaster Anubis proved great fun again, though I've noticed it can give uncomfortable rides on the back row which is a shame. Their Vekoma rollerskater, Rollerskater, had received some new theming which was nice to see. And despite all the school trips, and warm weather, we never really had to queue that long for anything, which is always a Plopsa plus!
We then left and made our way to Leige, where we stayed in another hotel which looked like a prison on the outside, but was nice enough on the inside. We went to McDonald's for dinner, which served macarons as a dessert - good ol' Europeans!
Day 3 then arrived, and it was time for another new park - Plopsa Coo!
Plopsa Coo is situated in a very hilly (and picturesque!) part of Leige, and getting to it felt like going to a more complicated version of Alton Towers. The entrance to the car park appears out of nowhere, so the park is very well hidden amongst the countryside.
Since we arrived super early, we had a wander around the car park and surrounding area, and accidentally stumbled upon the park's bobsleigh - literally the 'ride area' could be easily accessed from outside the park...
Deciding not to venture any further to make sure we weren't kicked out before we even got in, we headed to the entrance, where the park promptly opened at 10am. Unsurprisingly, lots of school kids were about, and most headed straight to the park's headline spinning coaster, Vicky - The Ride (more on that later). The bobsleigh hadn't opened due to the rainy weather, and it didn't look like it would open any time soon (with rain and thunderstorms predicted for the whole day!). So we headed to the park's charlift...
The chairlift was built long before a theme park existed on the site, and takes you 220m (~722ft) high (and the park itself is 240m above sea level!). At the top of the chairlift is a tower, which allows for some fantastic views of the surrounding area...
You can vaguely see the park here. To the left is their measly 60m tall star flyer. The small hill on the right is where the bobsleigh is located.
All in all, our time on the chairlift and tower took us about 45 minutes, which was a great way to start the day. Unfortunately the weather was still drizzly, so the bobsleigh still hadn't opened, and the front part of the park was swarming for kids, so we trekked to the back of the very small park. We ticked off a water slide and log flume, which were nice but nothing to write home about, before moving onto Halvar, the park's oldest coaster. It's a bog standard Vekoma coaster, but basically completely hidden behind loads of trees and such, which made the ride a bit more fun than it otherwise would have been. I didn't take any photos unfortunately, so check out RCDB - https://rcdb.com/931.htm
We then moved onto the nearby Labyrinth, which was a big surprise of the whole trip really. It's an outdoor maze, made out of really tall wooden fences...with a twist. Throughout the maze are a series of locked doors, which you need a code to open. The code to each door is found by answering a question at a dead end of the maze. We had no idea what was going on until half way through the maze (thanks to us just following school kids through unlocked doors). Once we knew what was going on, it made the maze very interesting, and it's certainly a concept I'd like to try again!
A question with 3 possible answers and corresponding codes.
After a spot of lunch and some general wandering around the very small park, we headed over to Vicky - The Ride, which still had a very long queue. This Gerstlauer spinning coaster opened in 2011 and was pretty much our main reason for knowing the park existed! It looked pretty interesting, and had potential. After going through the very slow queue (we were essentially right next to the station and it took a good 30-40 minutes...), we were on, and were left disappointed. The layout doesn't lend itself to much spinning. The huge cars with inward-facing seats makes it difficult to get a good weight balance. And in general, it just felt a bit bland and meh. Maybe expectations were a little too high, but it was disappointing...
Because of the constant on-off rain (though fortunately no thunderstorms!), the bobsleigh still wasn't dry enough to do. So instead we ticked off the star flyer (which felt so tiny thanks to our views from the chairlift), and the FREE mini golf, which was surprisingly decent with a variety of interesting holes, including this one which had no hole...
It was now just after 3, and the park closed at 5. The rain had held off for a long time. We headed back over to the bobsleigh, where plenty of drying of the track was going on - things looked promising. After some lurking about, our prayers were answered - it opened!
The bobsleigh was set on a really tall hill, and featured a random backwards incline to take you to the top, and 2 slopes to take you down. I've no idea how tall the hill was, but the slopes were 600m each and it was reasonably steep at some points, so it was quite cool. There's some awesome turns and fun spots, and some neat points to really gain speed. Unfortunately on my first go there was a crash in front of me about half way down, which really killed the experience. Fortunately we did a second run later on, and I got pretty much to the end before encountering a kid who had stopped on the tracks - joyous. Nonetheless, these were truly a huge highlight of the park and one of the biggest hidden gems of the trip!
Between our rides on bobsleigh, we did a second go on their waterslide, but also did their FREE go kart track. Unsurprisingly it had a long queue, but you got 3 circuits on a decent length track in some cars which picked up an okay enough speed for what they were. Was certainly a pleasant surprise to be able to do something like this for free.
After park close, we made our way into Germany and the wonderful city of Koln. Our beautiful hotel was situated nicely between two very explicit adult shops, our room offered a lovely view of the bin storage area of the hotel, but the beds were super-comfy and the room was huge, which was 2 things the previous 2 hotels didn't have. Woohoo! It was also a 10 minute walk from Hard Rock Koln, not that the restaurant chain interests me that much.
So all in all, Plopsa Coo is a very nice and quaint little park. At one point we were concerned we wouldn't have enough to do, and then seeing all the school kids we were concerned we would be stuck in queues all day. But the park offered a great balance for us so we were able to comfortably do everything in the 7 hours the park was open, without rushing or feeling bored. Sure, it's not a must-do park, but it's certainly a nice park and definitely worth considering if you're anywhere nearby and want a little theme park fix.
Next time, Day 4 - Phantasialand!
So Adam has once again beaten me to starting up the massive Trip Report, but hey, you know what they say, first the worst, second the best...
Once again, we went for a nice 8 day long road trip, hitting up some new parks and some old parks with new stuff. Day 1 was the wonderful French park Parc Bagatelle...
Bagatelle is about an hour away from Calais (which is where we were conveniently staying after arriving by ferry at 2am), and a reasonably straightforward drive. The set up to get into the park is weird, with the car park being one side of a road, and then you have to go through a bland tunnel and security check to get to the main turnstiles and entrance of the park. It's all very dull and you basically just stumble into the park.
Pretty much our main reason for visiting the park was to try out Triops - a Vekoma inverted boomerang, which also happens to be the first one made (though it's moved about a few times). So once the park opened, we headed over there, only to find a flimsy chain and a small A4 sign saying that area of the park didn't open till 11am. Whoops.
After meandering around for a bit, we headed to Gaz Express, a Soquet (nope, no idea either) mine train which looks very Vekoma. It's partially set around a pond, featuring waterfalls and splash-down-esque features, has 2 random fire effects and a random indoor section (with a very cool fountain!). The lap bar restraints were also very concerning to look at, as they featured a large divider right where a gentlemen's groin area should go - any airtime would stop me from having children to say the least.. Fortunately, there was no airtime, and the ride itself was enjoyable enough!
With it still being before 11, we opted to do the park's dodgems, Trafic Jam. Thee are by far the craziest dodgems I've done; the cards skid and drift, go fast, anything goes, and you got a really long cycle (felt like a good few minutes). Couple that along with the French just don't seem to car who they ram, it made a great ride!
11am came, and Triops wasn't open. So we joined the queue for the park's nearby spinning wild mouse (also scheduled to open at 11), Famous Jack, but, somewhat unsurprisingly that wasn't open either. After 15 minutes in the queue, we gave up, and saw Triops testing and got over to it just as it opened. Yay. It wasn't as awful as I was expecting, in fact the cobra roll was surprisingly smooth, yet intense whilst going forward. The vertical loop was horrid though, and the whole ride going backwards wasn't great. So in other words, it wasn't awful, but it's far from great.
Some more meandering around the park's boundary eventually took us to the pirate ship, the 'Bag Pearl'. Unlike all other pirate ships I've done, the tire only drove the ride one way, meaning the ride took twice as long, leaving my stomach feeling a bit lost. It had a nice setting though, next to a lake, and nice enough theming.
After doing their water slide and having some lunch at a canteen-style restaurant (which was alright bar the fact the glass pot my custard came for dessert was chipped), we did some of the water rides. The park has 2 log flumes, one really random one at the park's edge, giving a lovely view of a basketball court, and another decent one that gets you nicely wet. Neither were memorable enough for me to waste space on my phone to take a photo though.. We also did the park's rapids, which featuring a fun whirlpool element, and some good spots of theming...but not a lot else.
After doing the park's car driving ride and some other general rubbish, it was back to the creds, doing Kidz Coaster (a Wacky Worm) and Spirale Express (another Soquel coaster, but a more junior variety, featuring a random sideways turn of fun). Spirale was a bit of surprise, and the Wacky Worm was a Wacky Worm. We did some more general junk that the park offers, including a monorail that shows you less than Safari Skyway did, and then headed to the back of the park again to do what we missed out on earlier...
Famous Jack ended up being my first spinning wild mouse. And to be honest, it was great fun. I literally got tossed, turned and spun in every direction and it was just a bit mad. Sure, it was uncomfortable at parts and I wanted it to be over sooner rather than later, but I can't deny I didn't enjoy it.
We then did the neighbouring Eccentric Bikes, a side attraction where you can ride bikes with off-centre wheels, flat tyres and more around a circuit. It was a good laugh, and also nice to finally experience what the Broncho Bikes at Thorpe might have been like all those years ago...
The last major ride to do was Silver Wings, the park's new thing for 2017, a Zamperla Air Race. It suits the park well, has some nice theming, and adds nicely to the line up. Hopefully the park can continue to add investments like this.
Each arm is named SW1, SW2,...,SW6. The geeks in us all enjoyed this.
The neighbouring restaurant.
After some re-rides, we ended the day at Cine Dynamik, which was a simulator. We knew nothing of the story, and once we got in the building, we were greeted by a giant clown face, florescent paint and a general wacky atmosphere. This seemed good. We then walked past a pre-show area (which a building layout saw suggested was once used to hand out 3D glasses), and entered the simulator. The story ended up being about you being shrunk to small size, and entering the human body as part a vaccine. Oh. Then the simulator ended up being HORRID, very jerky and generally just awful, and made us all feel dreadful. I guess the film has been changed recently, but it is genuinely the worst thing at the park and should be burnt down.
So yeah, all in all, Bagatelle was as I expected really. It's a small park that has the odd flash and good things, the odd general wacky European feel and a lot of generic rubbish. But it was a nice enough day out, got a few coasters for the count, and was a nice easy day for the road trip.
We headed back to Calais and had a nose around the local area. We ended up finding a nice little place which did pub grub and had fab service. After that, we then went back to our dingy hotel (it genuinely looked like a prison on the outside, but was fine on the inside), played some pool, then had a reasonably early night to prepare us for Day 2, featuring Plopsaland de Panne...
To me, Symbolica was the biggest new European attraction for 2017 for theme parks. It's not exactly a difficult feat to achieve, with little of note actually happening this year. But I found the prospect of Efteling, a park known for creating highly detailed and love dark rides, investing their biggest sum in a ride ever, much more exciting than Port Aventura sticking Ferrari Land at the edge of their park and adding a taller and faster Stealth to their line up.
It's difficult to review a dark ride without giving spoilers, but I'm going to try my best to not spoil anything. Knowing as little about Symbolica will, of course, be advantageous if you come to ride it - though if spoilers are really your thing, just check out Efteling's YouTube...
For some context, the storyline of Symbolica is simple - you're have a feast with the King, but Pardoes, the King's jester, has other ideas and takes you on a behind the scenes tour of the 'Palace of Fantasy'. The pre show sets this story up brilliantly, is easily understood in any language, includes 2 incredible animatronics and a real piece of magic which bought a huge smile to my face.
After the pre show, you make your way down the cellars of the palace towards the station. Symbolica has 3 slightly different routes you can take (themed as 'tours' - Music, Knights and Treasure), and you choose these after the pre show but before you board. After doing all 3, they're all of equal standard, and don't differ THAT much, but each one has its own special little feature.
The ride itself is trackless, with 2 rows of 3. You go around the palace, exploring several different rooms, whilst Pardoes makes an appearance and does some magical stuff. Each scene is very Efteling, in that it's just whimsical, magical and doesn't quite make sense (in a good way!). Most importantly to me though, there are no dead spots and no wasted moments. Each transition between scenes is themed and makes sense. Each scene is themed 360 degrees. Everything flows in its own weird sort of way. This was a huge issue I had with all other Efteling dark rides (and indeed many dark rides in general) - they either have dead spots where nothing happens, other there's some part of the rooms which are unthemed and make no sense with what's going on. Symbolica, in that sense, is perfect to me.
An interesting feature is that the front row has 2 touchscreens. These screens allow the front row to choose their language (it doesn't affect any audio, it's just a message at the start and end of ride), make some of the animatronics do 'things' during the ride, and make your vehicle 'dance' during the finale. It's an interesting idea, but doesn't quite work - I found it more of a distraction during the ride, and it never really added much. Also, it leaves the back row a bit left out - why they couldn't have one screen per row confuses me.
So yeah, in short - Symbolica really is a fab attraction. It's clear to see where the 35 million euro budget went, it looks and feels great, it's interesting and immersive to be in and, most importantly, it is fun. Efteling are onto a winner of an attraction, and definitely worth a trip!
It's been a while since I dedicated a whole blog post to a ride review, but this seems like a suitable time to do one.
WARNING: There will spoilers. If you don't know what the ride system is, or want to completely avoid knowing what some of the effects used in the ride are, turn back now.
For those completely unaware, it is a 3D-screen based shooter ride, where you use hand motion to 'fire'. Sitting in rows of four, with your 3D glasses, a lap bar comes down with a motion sensor. In the queue line, a short (and badly presented!) video explains you must swipe your arm forward to fire, keeping it at least 8 inches above the sensor, and to aim high, point your hand / arm higher. Vague, but simple enough I suppose.
The ride passes a variety of screens, some you stop at, some you don't, along with the odd bit of physical theming. There is also some real theming in front of the screens that the animations did interact with which was awesome. There was also a few special effect, include heat blasts, mist, wind and flashing lights (which cleverly disguises the ORP), all matching up with what's happening on screen.
During the first scene, you quickly realise that the fire and aim idea isn't very simple. It is difficult to really know where you ball of energy that you're firing is going to land. So you just have to resort to the 'fire as many times as physically possible' tactic, hoping for the best. Towards the end of the ride, I got the hang of it a bit more, but that is a bit too late in the ride. It's a shame that there isn't a more involved / detailed explanation in the queue line as to how the system works, as it does take a while for most to adjust to it - and judging from the low scores from families, it does seem to be a difficult one for many to grasp.
There is a vague story to the ride, but it's difficult to follow. You start off in training, before having to take down various bad guys, which leads to the big finale of the defeating the Great Devourer; a giant snake. But things happen so quickly that it's easy to get lost. You also battle alongside different ninjas during the ride, all of whom have their own special power. When they appear, you hear them say 'Use *insert their power there*', and I must admit I was confused as to whether I should be making different hand movements or if this was generic talk. However, the ride is very fast-paced, and it doesn't really need a story beyond 'Beat the bad guys', so it works well.
After coming off, I was left surprised. Most shooter rides I'm just keen to find out if I've got the best score, but this left with a big smile on my face, and actually wanting to talk about the ride itself. It was a great ride, and I wanted to talk to others about how the cars moved, about the special effects, about what happened in terms of the story. The score wasn't the forefront of my mind. And the only other shooter to leave me feeling like that was Maus au Chocolat at Phantasialand.
And, I was also keen to do it again, so I could experience the ride again. Not just so I could compete with people again, but so I could experience the fast-paced, crazy middle section, so I could get more interaction with the heat and wind effects. So I could experience the ride again, and not just some game.
After a second time, I did understand things a bit more. The hand motion system was easier to use (though I ended up with a worse score...somehow). The story made more sense (when a different ninja with a different power appears, the shape of the balls you fire changes for example). Things seemed much clearer. And again, I loved the ride, not just the competitive element.
Ninjago really is a great investment for Windsor. It feels very different to the rest of the park (in a good way), has a great throughput (full queue only takes about an hour!), themed uniforms, and offers something for the older end of the target market (and the adults!). It's something that has major re-ride value, and feels like something which would only improve as you ride it more (since things make more sense / are easier to use).
Parks in the UK have been subject to much scrutiny over the past couple of years. In fairness, a lot of the scrutiny and negativity that the parks receive is justified; there are things which do happen which shouldn't happen. And when we compare to our European cousins or American brothers, it does seem like UK parks aren't up to scratch. But at the same time, there is an awful lot of nitpicking that goes on at times.
However, despite this overwhelming negativity, a large majority of us continue to visit our home parks multiple times year-in-year-out. Why that is will no doubt vary for every person. But one thing is almost certain - if we're visiting so often, they've got to be doing something right, surely?
So if you end up making multiple visits to a park this year, maybe even finding yourself in a rut, set yourself a little challenge: Try and notice some new-to-you positive each time you visit. I'm not saying this positive has to be a new thing the park have done, like painting or fixing something (though it can be!), but just a new thing you've personally noticed. Maybe you hear a piece of audio you never noticed before, see a subtle piece of theming tucked away, try something new to eat, some new foliage that's been planted. It could be the tiniest of things. But just try and notice something.
Then maybe, just maybe, you might find yourself enjoying the parks a bit more. You might realise that everything isn't as bad as you originally thought. You might remember what it was like to visit for the first time, and just how awesome some things are. And then you won't be blindly visiting the same park over and over again, but actually visiting because you want to go, want to explore and want to immerse yourself. And that might give the extra incentive to visit a new park, go exploring, go on an adventure, to truly recapture that buzz.
Of course, don't overlook the negatives. Don't be afraid to think 'This is naff' or 'Why have that changed this?' as well. Not everything is going to be perfect. Just don't forget to look out for the positives too, and if you really can't find any, then maybe you've finished exploring that park, and you truly have to wonder why you're visiting at all.
Hope you all grabbed some popcorn or something during this brief intermission. Anyways, here's the second half...
#7 - Cabin in the Woods (2013-2016)
Years experienced: 2013-2016
To be honest, Cabin has gotten progressively worse each season for me. I'm sure that's partly down to getting used to it all, as newbies in the maze really are blown away by the idea. However, the original version in 2013 was by far the best. The idea of the maze was that you would enter a room, close the door, and something would happen. Every room had an actor and seemed to have a special effect to go with it. Maybe I just got a good run, but it felt a lot more interactive and the aim was actually achieved. It wasn't scary, but it was certainly a lot of fun!
#6 - Saw Alive (2010-2016)
Years experienced: 2010-2016
I'm including this as a Fright Nights attraction, even if it didn't start off as one. I've experienced Saw loads of times, due to it being open all season in 2010 and 2011, so I guess it show how much I like it given how high up it is. It's got a good use of effects, which is something a fair few of the other mazes lack. And it later years, it's become a bit more theatrical, which gives it a different feel to the others.
I've definitely got a soft spot for Saw Alive, and I might be over-rating it a tad, but I really have enjoyed it the past couple of years, which I guess helps!
(Concept art from Thorpe Park)
#5 - Containment (2015-2016)
Years experienced: 2015, 2016
2015 Containment was average at best to be honest. But Containment for 2016 was fabulous; from the nice pre-show, to the fun tasks to the fantastic actors. Everything just worked, and left me with a huge smile on my face. The fears included were of a nice range, from the common to the not-so-common: numerophobia (numbers), chronophobia (time), trypanophobia (needles) and haemophobia (blood).
It might be because this is the only escape room that I've done that I enjoy it so much, but it's at least set the bar high, and got me itching to try and another horror escape room!
Image from Scruffy Dog
#4 - Experiment 10 (2011-2012)
Years experienced: 2011, 2012
Experiment 10 was one of the most difficult ones to place on the list. The beginning was pure genius, and the first time I experienced it, it did shock and surprise me. But from there, it went downhill, with little to write home about. And let's not talk about the 2012 version and ending shall we.
Nevertheless, the reception scene, decontamination sequence and isolation rooms were absolutely fantastic, and a brilliant way to start off a scare attraction. If the same atmosphere and intensity from actors could have been matched during the rest of the maze, it certainly would have been higher up!
Image from scare-zone.com
#3 - The Big Top (2015-2016)
Years experienced: 2015, 2016
Obviously for this, I'm referring to the 2016 version. Don't get me wrong, 2015 Big Top had a lot of potential and was fun on some runs, but it just wasn't up to scratch when all was said and done.
2016 Big Top had a nice mix of everything though. The Madame Mephisto scene was nice, the playground area was fantastic, and showed me how a mesh-strobe-scene can work. Then the rest of the maze had plenty of theming and nice, open, sets which all worked really well - especially the clown wash room! Yeah, chainsaw ending doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the maze, and it's a bti cliché, but it still works at least! It is just so much fun and is designed so that it's really easy to scare people.
#2 - Se7en (2006-2011)
Years experienced: 2009-2011
I honestly think that Se7en was quite under-rated during it's time at Fright Nights. It got a lot of hate for being in a white tent, and I think its first couple of years weren't that well received generally, but the times I experienced it, it was a solid, dependable maze, featuring fab theming, great smells and effects and a variety of different scare tactics.
2011 was a stand-out season for Se7en though - actors seemed to have been given more leverage on what they could do, and were very full on throughout. Sure, some of the rooms had lost their appeal after going through it multiple times (in particular the Envy room), but things like the Gluttony room remain in my mind - and nostrils! - to this very day. I know tents aren't the ideal situation for a horror maze, but based on how this and Big Top have gone down, I'd be happy to see more of them back in the future for greater in-maze experiences.
Image from Theme Park Tourist
#1 - Studio 13 (2014)
Years experienced: 2014
I adored this maze. It's the only scare attraction where I've truly felt part of the story. The beginning felt like a backstage tour of a film studio where something wasn't quite right. The middle felt like being part of a horror film. The end was executed brilliantly, with the horror film spilling out into real life, and definitely gave me a shock (moreso because of my expectations than anything else, but still...)
The theming was largely very good as well, and the actors all seemed to work well with the maze in my runs. It all just gelled really well to create quite possibly my favourite scare maze to date!
Image from lukedysonphotography.org
And that's a wrap! Here's to more gorious years of Fright Nights...I look forward to what next season brings...
Fright Nights might be over, and it might be closed season, but I'm doing a belated 15 Years of Fear Celebration! I've been fortunate enough to visit every Fright Nights, and do all but one Fright Nights maze-style attraction, so I'm going to do a quick worst-to-best ranking (16 to 1) of all those mazes.
Naturally, mazes change year-on-year, and even one run through can be dramatically different to another on the same night, so I'm being nice and judging these off my best runthroughs. And, of course, I was quite a bit younger 15 years ago, and scared very easily, so there might be some rose-tinted spectacles of some sort for the older mazes. But oh well. Also, there may be some spoilers of current attractions (and retired ones). Enjoy...
Freakshow 3D (2002-2004)
Alas, I never got a chance to experience the Freakshow in all it's bizarre glory. Biggest Thorpe regret right there.
Image from Coaster Kingdom
#16 - Dead End (2010)
Years experienced: 2010
I won't lie, I liked Dead End. I had good runthroughs with actors interacting with me personally, which makes a change. And I liked the idea of reusing loads of Thorpe stuff to create a graveyard idea. But it should never really have been marketed as a "terror zone", or ran like an attraction. Dead End would have made a fun 'scare zone' in the literal sense, but in the sense Thorpe tried, it just didn't work.
Image from TTP
#15 - Asylum (2005-2013)
Years experienced: 2009-2011, 2013
Probably the most controversial one here, but as a few no doubt know, I really disliked Asylum. The constant strobes for such a long period of time just made me feel headachey, which meant I was more focused on that rather than the maze itself. And it could feel really repetitive if you didn't have a good run / the actors weren't on form. The chainsaw ending wasn't as good as all the other mazes I've done with that sort of ending either.
So yeah, I never really rated Asylum. I think part of it is down to the fact I like a bit of a story with scare attractions, and Asylum was only ever 'There's scary people in there that will scare you!' to me. I might be under-rating it a bit, but I honestly think that I enjoyed / was scared by all the other attractions more.
#14 - My Bloody Valentine (2013-2015)
Years experienced: 2013-2015
MBV was a weird one. The maze was very in-your-face, in terms of actors and the fact most of it involved very tight spaces. But this does very little for me, and so I never got anything out of it. It also meant there was little scope for the actors, resulting in jump scares from loud noises, or just generally trying to invade your personal space. But it just never did it for me. At least the theming was very good throughout, which is something.
#13 - The Curse (2008-2012)
Years experienced: 2009-2011
I hear that 2012 was The Curse's best season, so it's a shame I never did it then. However, in all the times I did do it, it never really got me. It had nice theming and a nice atmosphere I suppose, but it wasn't scary really. Maybe it's because it was the first scare attraction I tried in 4 years and I was expecting so much worse, but I just never got 'it'.
Image from TTP
#12 - Platform 15 (2016)
Years experienced: 2016
I'm really disappointed that this is so low down. It has so much potential, with the theme, location and story all being spot on for a really good scare attraction. But ultimately, it falls short in a major way: it's trying to be something it's not. Platform 15 would make an excellent, creepy attraction, that utilises atmosphere and tension more than impact scares. Instead, it just goes for impact and jump scares continuously, which doesn't work when there's too much space for not enough actors. If you're going to have a large open space, make sure there's actors to fill it! In its current direction, Platform would need at least double the number of actors to have the payoff it promises.
The promising thing is that we have seen Thorpe learn their lessons in the past; notably with Big Top and Blair Witch. Hopefully history repeats itself and we see big improvements to this next year, assuming it does return!
#11 - Hellgate (2005-2010)
Years experienced: 2005, 2010
Looking back, Hellgate really shines through as a trial scare attraction for the park. I know they had experience with Freezer and Freakshow 3D, and they did Asylum at the same time and many felt they got that right. But Hellgate felt like it was a paint-by-numbers attractions - an easy to make, creepy-ish theme, vague story, couple of little effects, creepy audio with very standard, easily repeatable, scares. Like someone Googled "What makes a good scare attraction?" and went from there. All of these boxes were ticked, but none of them were brilliant. It was a reliable, yet unremarkable, maze.
Image from TTP
#10 - The Passing (2012)
Years experienced: 2012
Going against a majority I think, but I enjoyed The Passing. It was clearly a cheap attraction to make, and had a lot of ideas floating around it, but none of them really made the final cut. I really enjoyed the tunnel section of the maze (certainly one of the few genuinely terrifying moments I've had in a scare attraction was when I bashed head-first into a wall, thinking I was at a dead end). But the rest of it was very meh, and the false ending didn't really work; I was more confused than scared.
#9 - Blair Witch Project (2013-2016)
Years experienced: 2013-2016
I'll freely admit that in 2013 this was poor. And 2016 hasn't been the best. However, it improved a lot in 2014, and 2015 was a brilliant season for it! 2015 worked so well thanks to a narrow path that got tighter and tighter, whilst starting off with few actors before loads appearing from nowhere! Loud noises, a subtle soundtrack and audio effects and a general, hard-to-describe, atmosphere made it a fun attraction, and exactly what it was marketing itself as!
Image from Thorpe Park
#8 - The Freezer (2002-2004)
Years experienced: 2003
This has been a difficult one to place, since I remember very little about it...mostly due to having my head buried in the back of the person in front of me. With this being my first scare attraction, and with me only being 9, that reaction is perhaps understandable, and hence makes it unfair for me to judge too much on my experience. However, the things I do remember are a really good atmosphere surrounding the maze, and entering it after the Freezer door opening and smoke flowing out from it. It was probably the most 'theatrical' maze Thorpe have done.
Like I say, a difficult one for me to judge. In some ways, it's probably not fair for me to judge it. And the 2002 version was a lot better as well from what I gather. But I think sitting in the middle of the rankings is probably fair!
The Freezer cannot be talked about without mentioning this video, which still leaves me lost for words...
The rest of the top half is coming soon...
So after trying Containment again this year, it feels appropriate in some ways to do a review to mirror my review from last year, and see whether the improvements I wanted to see happened or not.
For a quick run down, here's some of the things I said could be improved, and some comments...
1) The preshow.
Last year, I felt the preshow either needed to be moved inside or just be given totally be an actor. This year, it's given totally by an actor, who sets the scene perfectly - creepy, yet funny, whilst setting the scene and explaining the rules.
2) The scare rating.
Last year, Containment received a 5* scare rating - something which was completely unjustified, and that the attraction could never live up to. This year, it's been given a much more appropriate 2* rating, matching the attraction's more "panic" feel, than scary intense feel. The attraction isn't scary, but has it's place in Fright Nights, especially with this much fairer rating.
3) The cost.
I'm all for making this an upcharge attraction, but I was concerned £8-10 was too much, especially after seeing time slots not sell out during the second weekend of Fright Nights. The cost hasn't changed, and there's been less marketing, but it's certainly seemed to be attracting a lot of attention too, and has sold out on a few nights already which is good to see. They might need to allow a bit more time between groups (having up to a 30 minute wait after the designated time slot hasn't been uncommon this year!), but it's at least good to see it's selling out.
4) The ending.
The ending still needs more for me. I'd absolutely love another room where it shows you how many rooms you solved, how quick you were and have an actor give you the corresponding wristband, along with a final scare. Obviously space is the main issue for that, and presumably it would add another technical layer to the attraction, making things more difficult to control in some sense. But it would still be awesome. However, it's nice to see that there's something a bit more after completing or failing the final room, giving an actual scare to get you out the attraction.
One thing I really liked was how at the start of each room, an explanation to the fear your were facing was given. Last year, I had no clue what each fear was meant to be - the four rooms were meant to be fear of touch, small spaces, dentists/needles and darkness in that order. I thought it was fear of small spaces, foreign things, needles and darkness... This year, a nice voiceover explained it all, before the actors then begun to do their things.
The rooms this year felt a bit more logical too, and actually had things to solve rather than blindly tackle and hope for the best. Definitely an improvement on last year!
Room for Improvement?
I noticed a couple of noise bleeds from rooms at times, which is a bit of a pain, but difficult to solve. And there needs to be a solid way to stop groups from catching up with one another (especially if you solve the first room quickly, since there's no actor to occupy you!). And obviously the ending. However, these are all difficult things to solve, especially with the small space the attraction uses.
All in all, Containment is very good this year - easily my second favourite attraction this season behind The Big Top. The new challenges and new spin on the story is refreshing and has really turned this from a 'nice thing to try' to a 'don't miss' attraction in my opinion! And with a very good cast, it's really done wonders. I look forward to a return of it next year (hopefully), again with new scenes, fears and challenges!
I've wanted to complete my BelGerAnd2 "trip report" for a while, mostly for sake of completion, but I've really struggled to figure out what to say about Phantasialand. It's easy to sing the praises for the park, and most of those praises would see me reiterate myself. So let's get those out of the way...
Maus au Chocolat and Chiapas are the perfect examples of how to a shooting dark ride and water ride respectively. Black Mamba is a great coaster that really turns into a beast in the afternoon, and Winjas is a fine example of how to blend coaster and 'other' elements into one ride. Colorado Adventure is a neat little family ride, though nothing *that* special in my books. River Quest is disgustingly terrifying and yet amazingly fun, and the new theming it's received thanks to Klugheim is great (though I wish they disguised the lifts a bit better). The Berlin area is generally fab too. The park's general atmosphere, theming, sense of showmanship and storytelling is surely one of the best in Europe.
And, in an unusual twist for me, I'll focus a bit more on the negatives...
I honestly do not get the fuss over this ride. I went into it last year with no real idea of what to expect and was left disappointed. Though after hearing there's 2 cycles, one of which is not great, I was left with a glimmer of hope. But this year, I realised that what I had previously experienced was in fact the 'good cycle', and I had the joy of experiencing the not-so-good one. Disappointed is probably the best word that describes my feelings about this. Underwhelmed also springs to mind. But at least the queue is fantastically themed!
Though the China area looks good, the two dark rides (a madhouse and omnimover) are far from good. The madhouse is definitely my least favourite one I've been on, and the omnimover is more outdated than anything else. The trouble these rides have is that whatever park they were in, they would only ever be 'okay' or 'passable' at best, and so their quality - or lack of - sticks out like a sore thumb in Phantasialand. I know not everything can be sorted out all at once and these are on the potential hit list, but that doesn't mean it's acceptable.
Temple of the Nighthawk
Jack and Matt seemed to adore this because of the new music it has. But I still found it awful and boring and just generally a waste of space. Again, it's another ride like the Chinese duo; it's lack of quality sticks out so badly within the park. And, unlike China, it feels slightly forgotten and neglected, almost as if the park are just waiting to axe it.
Perhaps a bit of an odd one, but one thing I noticed during our visit was that some of the operations weren't great. Not really talking about throughputs or getting through the queues here, moreso how they dealt with them generally. Queue times weren't that accurate (especially on the not-so-big rides) and queue boards weren't updating properly (the boards were advertising a 6pm close for a few hours when it was in fact an 8pm close, leaving some confusion). And when one of the Winjas coasters closed, they still allowed the queue to split, creating confusion in the queue and havoc in the station area. Something that should have been dealt with better, especially since the side that did close seemed to have a problem which didn't have a quick solution.
Not to leave this blog post on a negative note, let's talk about Klugheim. It's reason enough to make the effort to go to Phantasialand. Taron might not be everyone's cup of tea, and it might not break into everyone's Top 10, but I can see it being appreciated by almost all of the enthusiast community (and the general public as well). Raik is a solid family coaster, and Klugheim in general is a fantastic area to explore. Oh, and the staff uniforms for that area are just incredible.
Also, much to whole group's excitement, we got to (albeit briefly) speak to Chris, one of the park's managers who was seen in build up videos to Klugheim's opening. He was a super nice guy, and he let us queue up for front row on Taron at the end of the day, despite them closing the front row queue. Only wish we had more time to talk to him because he genuinely seemed so passionate and excited about the coaster when we saw him in the station area; very hands on too!
I really hope that despite my laziness in writing this up, and focusing a bit too much on the negatives, the absolute joy I had at Phantasialand is still shining through somehow. Yes, there's a couple of niggles and a few rides that are getting past their shelf life, but recent investments indicate that when they kick the bucket, something incredible will come in its place. I genuinely cannot wait to go back, and I really hope more and more people but Phantasia on their radar!
Walibi Holland was the only new-for-me park of the trip, and there were two obvious draws for visiting: the new Mack coaster Lost Gravity, and Goliath, the Intamin mega coaster. We seemed to get lucky with our visit, as the park was very quiet, and we didn't queue over 15 minutes for anything if memory serves me correctly. Overall impressions of the park are quite mixed for me; there's some great attractions around the park (and of higher quality to Walibi Belgium's offerings), but there's still a fair amount of trash about that makes it difficult to praise the overall park too much. Anyways...
Xpress: Platform 13
Located by the main entrance to the park, but before the 'containment gates' into the main bulk of the park, this opened up at least 15 minutes before the park opened. And my god, this was a massive gem, probably the biggest surprise of the whole trip. The coaster itself is almost a clone of Rock n Roller Coaster (I haven't done RnRC myself, but that'll not doubt give some indication to the quality of the coaster to those who have done it). But the reason for this standing out so much was because of the atmosphere in the queue line. Themed around a mystery train disappearance, the queue line feels exactly like an abandoned train station, and features plenty of scares, a creepy atmosphere, surprises and excellently themed sets along the way. Dare I say, the queue line is a better scare attraction than many scare mazes that the UK theme parks produce at Halloween!
An unassuming entrance
With surprise opening out of the way, we headed over the Lost Gravity, which opened shortly after the 10am opening. Words cannot really describe this ride. Whoever designed this must have been high on a cocktail of drugs, but they've managed to create a ride which chucks together loads of random, somewhat incoherent, ideas, and makes it work for a fun ride. The queue is weird and features a couple of wtf moments, the theming is odd, the effects make no sense (including the huge flamethrower effect which makes even the staff jump as there's no rhythm to it going off). The ride itself - first drop is fab, airtime hills are fab. The top hat thing is weird. The second half of the ride is really slow and killed by the MCBR, but at the same time, is still alright. I definitely think the outer-left seat is going to give the best ride experience.
All in all, this attraction makes no sense at all, but is still a fun little thing. It's nothing *special*, but definitely a great concept, and hopefully more parks invest in Mack BigDippers in the future...
The top hat looks very square from this perspective...
Escalator theming the queue because...reasons?
The main thing I remember about Goliath is how painfully obvious this was a ride from the Six Flags era. No theming, awful-looking queue, no audio in the surrounding around, unimaginative name, awkward location. That's not to say it was a bad ride, but I guess because I always look for a more overall experience than *just* a coaster, the lack of overall experience will stand out to me. The coaster is pretty fun, offering nice moments of airtime and intensity, and has a decent-ish layout on the whole. We had a ride on it in the hail, which was both painful and awesome in equal measure. We ended up riding this a few times during the day, so I guess that shows how loved it was by the group as a whole, but it's just a shame there wasn't more to go with it!
From here, the park goes a bit downhill. Robin Hood, the park's Vekoma woodie, is alright, and has a bit more airtime than it's sister Werewolf, and is good in its own right, but failed to leave much of a lasting impression on me. Speed of Sound, a Vekoma Boomerang, is one of the better Boomerangs I've done in fairness, but the transition between the cobra roll and vertical loop is rather unpleasant. The soundtrack is annoyingly catchy though. Coaster-wise, we also did kiddie coaster Drako, which wasn't terrible.
The final coaster we did at the park was El Condor, a Vekoma SLC. I heard bad things about it, so wasn't exactly looking forward to it. But dear oh dear, this was dreadful. The OTSR actually squished my ears due to the lack of room they provided. The ride was rough, rattly and in general just uncomfortable and awful. And this was in the front row too! Honestly, I cannot think of a worst (notably) coaster I've done. One can only hope this is on the chopping block for the park (hopefully for their 2019 coaster...)
This is not BaronC. approved.
Outside of the coasters, there's little of note really. Merlin's Magic Castle was a largely forgettable Vekoma madhouse, though did feature a nice bit of misdirection in the main ride show. Their rapids and log flume were fun and featured some quirky signs (though are clearly nothing to write home about as I've forgotten their names, and I'm too lazy to look them up...). And aside from a couple of smaller rides, there's not really much else on park.
I'm probably selling the park a little short here, but time constraints, laziness and a general mediocre reaction to the park isn't really encouraging me to go much further. It's evident that the park's recent investments have been very good for the park though, which is only a positive sign. The lack of indoor rides was something that really stood out to me (especially given the pouring rain!), but hopefully next season's 'thrilling dark ride' will help with that.
One final point - the park's direction. Walibi have made is obvious that they want Walibi Holland to be a thrill park, focusing on teenagers and young adults. They pretty much said as much when they closed down their 4D cinema for next year's apparent new attraction. And, much like Thorpe at the beginning of the decade, they've tailored their marketing and general park atmosphere to that market. From "#HardGaan" ('#GoFast') plastered all across the park and live DJs playing music across the park (with many songs featuring plenty of swears), they know what they think this market wants. Oh, and there's this charming t-shirt, which many staff wear, and is also on sale...
Subtly, not Walibi Holland's strong point.
I'm by no means a prude or anything, but this whole style seems very theme park unfriendly. And it's nowhere near as clever, subtle or humorous as some of the stuff Thorpe did during their fathead phase (the 2011 fireworks event 'Thorpe Park BLOWS IT UP / BLOW S#!T UP' advertising was something which I genuinely found amusing and clever, and still brings a smile to my face thinking about it). Part of me hopes it works for them, as I think turning Walibi Holland into a thrill-focused park would be great, as they have plenty of opportunities (much more so than Belgium and Rhone-Alpes) and a firm foundation already. But at the same time, we've seen plenty of parks try this strategy, before realising alienating families is never a good thing. So who knows.
Anyways, enough rambling. Platform 13, Lost Gravity and Goliath were all fab coasters in their own right, but everything else is a bit drab. Hopefully we can see more fabness in the future.
Next time - Germany, and Phantasialand of awesome-ness...
This past week, I hit up a few European parks in search of some new creds, and to go back to some places I enjoyed last year. Just thought I'd throw in a few thoughts from my visits...
Plopsaland de Panne
Went here last year, and had a lot of fun. With Heidi originally planned to open July 1st, we decided to return for some wooden coaster goodness. Alas, it wasn't meant to be as Heidi Spiti is too loud at the moment, and sound barriers are still being constructed.
Looks like a fab little coaster, and I'm sure when it opens - and is fully themed - it will be a great addition to the park!
Also new since my last visit was the gigantic castle housing a restaurant a teacups:
For what it houses, it's pretty insane. The level of detail and the sheer scale of this is completely unnecessary for a restaurant and teacups. Hopefully this is a good sign of things to come in the future from the park, but one can't help but wonder if the investment would have been better placed elsewhere in the park.
I had hoped to try out a few more attractions we missed out on last due to closures (namely their starflyer, Disko and The Bat; their random suspended coasters). Unfortunately, both the starflyer and Bat were closed, despite being listed as open on the park's website. A bit disappointing, but nothing major. Their disko was open though and has a nice, lengthy cycle, and is nicely themed.
The true highlight of Plopsaland though is Anubis:
This Gerstlauer rolling launch had a lot to live up to after I ranked it so well last time. Fortunately it still delivered. The exit from the launch is a bit rougher than I remember, but otherwise this is a solid coaster, with a very punchy launch, pops of airtime and a nice bit of intensity blended it a brilliant 'older family' coaster.
Actually, I don't have much else to add (for longer review, see my trip last year: http://forum.maniahub.com/blogs/entry/693-belgerand-day-1-plopsaland-de-panne/
Walibi Belgium was a weird one last year. We visited on a very busy day (thanks school trips!) and arrived over an hour late to the park (thanks Brussels traffic!). We managed to get most things done, but it was all a bit of a rush. It wasn't a park I was dying to go back to, but it fit in nicely in the trip as a last day, was a chance to get the Boomerang cred I missed out, and also do their weird-looking new coaster, Pulsar.
Speaking of Pulsar, that's where I'll start. For those who don't know, it's a shuttle coaster featuring 3 launches (2 backwards, 1 forwards) gradually increasing to 62mph and a small airtime hill. On, and one Tidal Wave sized splash. It's one of those coasters where all sensible thought said it'd be naff, but I just felt like it could be great fun. And you know what? It's fun. The launches are both fun and a little bit punchy (and great with lap bars), the airtime is alright, and the splash gets you wet. How wet does depend on where you sit - the back leaves you rather soaked, the sides wet and the inside sprayed. Front row was blocked off due to loads of water spilling into those seats during the ride - hopefully that's an issue Mack can correct soon!
Geeky techy specs were about too
The turntable system for loading (meaning the coaster has 2 cars) is really clever, and it means that one car is ready to go before the other has even finished. No doubt this is thanks to Mack's brilliant engineering and clever way of locking and checking restraints. This meant the queue was really quick moving and it must get a really good throughput (I believe they're aiming for 800ish and I can see them reaching that easily!). The turntable was the cause of a couple of breakdowns during the day, but I imagine these issues will be ironed out with time.
The combination of the ride experience, theming, slight story and music means that Walibi are onto a real winner with this attraction. It feels different enough to their other shuttle coasters, and is a great family attraction. Hopefully we see more of these pop up across the world!
Another cred for the list was Cobra, a Vekoma boomerang:
It was rough, awkwardly intense and just not a fun ride. So glad I didn't waste 20 minutes of my life queueing for it last year.
I won't really bore you with the rest of my trip. The park was very quiet (longest we queued for anything was about 10 minutes for Psyke Underground), so we managed to get everything done, and some rerides of some stuff. My opinions haven't changed much from last year (see here - http://forum.maniahub.com/blogs/entry/699-belgerand-day-3-walibi-beglium/ ). Would like to add that I still enjoyed Werewolf, despite now having done other woodies, though naturally not as much as my first ride.
Something I'd just like to throw out there was the atmosphere of the park. With generic chart music everywhere (except Pulsar pretty much), a few rowdy guests who seemingly would never follow instructions (people standing up on their extremely rapid rapids rather dangerously) and the like, the atmosphere felt a bit dull and meh. A bit of a shame, especially since last year's visit was overall much nicer despite the large crowds.
I feel as though I've properly 'done' Walibi Belgium now. With Pulsar, Psyke and Werewolf, they've got 3 coasters I enjoy, and the likes of drop tower Dalton Terror and madhouse La Palais du Genie are fun rides, but there's just not enough to entice me back any time soon. Not a bad thing of course, it's a nice enough park, just nothing all that special.
Next time, a new-for-me park: Walibi Holland, featuring Lost Gravity and Goliath...
Yeah, I'm doing this thing again. It's my 5th season doing a 'season review', and it's interesting seeing not only how the park has changed, but also how my general views of the park have changed, in that time. Here's some links to 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014's reviews if you're interested. This entry will be a lot less photo-heavy than the rest, mostly because I've taken less pictures this season, so I'll try and keep the writing to a minimum too. With the boring points out of the way, "prepare for Detonation"...
New for 2015 - I'm a Celebrity "Maze"
At this stage last year, it seemed likely that nothing new would be added. But in February, the announcement of the IAC maze came about, and well, when I first heard about it, I'll admit, I laughed. I thought it was a joke. And even after it set in that it was actually happening, I was a bit sceptical. But at the same time, I had a lot of hope - I could see the potential there, and that it could be something quite different and fun; features which were desperately lacking at Thorpe.
Throughout the season, IAC has been a mixed bag. Even though not all the effects were working (and some planned effects never came to fruition), it was good fun and had a smile on my face all the way through. One of the great things about it was how plenty of little tweaks could be done, keeping the attraction fresh for regulars, whilst still being fun for newcomers. However, towards the end of the season, it became a bit flat. Less effects, scenes skipped and less coherency. Maybe it's because of the numerous run-throughs that I feel like that, or maybe it really did go down in quality; it's hard for me to say.
All in all, IAC isn't a bad investment. It fills a gap that Thorpe were missing, and has some great quality theming. It has a bad throughput (though one that isn't far off the demand it will have in future seasons I expect), and won't last more than a few seasons, and the money invested in it could have been better spent elsewhere. But for the time being, it's a neat little side attraction.
Looks pretty at night.
Minimalist queue line theming.
A very unflattering photo of me as King of the Jungle.
New for 2015 - Other Stuff
In terms of general improvements, touch ups, etc., there isn't exactly much new to speak of. The refurb of Bar 360 to Fin's Bar and Grill was fantastic; with a nice general atmosphere and good food to go with it. It's nice to see things begin to link together, with the Shark Hotel, Fin's and the bits of island / shark theming in the Dome have created some consistency in the park's main hub - I'd just like to see more of it!
Other than that, there wasn't much of note. A few bits and bobs got a bit of cleaning up (Depth Charge submarine, Stealth signage, Swarm billboard, etc), which is nice to see. A name change to the BBQ to try and push IAC a bit more, and a couple of new game stalls moved about, showing that on the whole, this season really was low key.
What a difference a year makes (thanks Thorpe!).
New Swarm billboard, which should hopefully last a lot longer too!
The S&S duo turned 10 this season, a birthday I'm sure many of us thought at one point or another Slammer wouldn't reach. In fairness, Slammer did have a good 4 and a bit months of pretty much continuous, day-to-day, operation this season, which hasn't always been the case in recent seasons. And it did manage to make it to the last day of the season, even if it did have its Fright Nights rest. But still, we're talking about a ride which opened over 2 months late, had to close every day for engineering checks, isn't exactly very popular and can't be trusted as far as you could proverbially throw it. Thorpe must be commended for keeping it for so long and such, but surely it's almost time to give up the ghost.
Rush, on the other hand, is still swinging all the time, but seems to still be troubled with out-of-time swings and short cycles. It feels like both of these things should be sorted, and shouldn't have been a trouble for so many seasons now. One can only hope that this is sorted...
Not much to say here on the whole, since my opinions on the coasters haven't changed that much really. I guess the long-standing issue of reduced operations should be mentioned, with specific mention to Colossus and X starting the season off on reduced capacity for quite a while now. I always feel like Thorpe shoot themselves in the foot when they say 1 train op is down to 'lack of demand', as it feels like a kick in the teeth to anyone waiting in those queues which can be up to 45 minutes in my experience.
Saw's extended period of closure following the Smiler incident was also a big hit for the park too. From an operational standpoint, it didn't seem like queues were affected that much by it, but I guess the decrease in guest numbers would also explain that.
Random summer stuff happening by Stealth.
Colossus saw a lick of paint...in some places.
I'll keep this short and sweet, since there isn't really much to say. Samurai died again, but was resurrected (again). Rumba Rapids still needs a lot of TLC. Tidal Wave closed early, and whilst the ride itself isn't missed in the line up, the area feels distinctly lacking without the crashing of a wave every few minutes. Vortex also died for a what felt like a good couple of months.
This seems to be a problem Thorpe will face in the very near future. Some of the filler rides are becoming less reliable, even less popular and lack the general appeal in the modern theme park environment Thorpe are trying to create. One does have to wonder how long it will be before we see some of the bigger name rides removed...
Samurai just about existing.
This nice themed bench appeared by Teacups. It lasted a couple of days before being removed due to damage. But it did return, fully fixed!
Storm Surge makes a mess as usual.
February Half Term
For the first time since 2009, Thorpe opened its doors in February. With a very small ride line up, a large Brainiac show and some small Brainiac stalls set up around the park, it was an interesting idea, and perhaps a slightly risky one given how the previous events went down. I unfortunately didn't attend because of uni stuff, but on the whole, it sounded alright, but it was still a case of the park not being ready for such an event yet.
For something like this to be successful, you need a show or two, a couple of indoor attractions and a mixture of rides, from major to minor ones. The event just didn't have enough of this. Hopefully, in a couple more years, the park will be ready to have another, more successful, shot at this. I'm not surprised that it's not returning for 2016 in all honesty.
No Easter event this season was a disappointment. They seemed to be onto a winner with last season's event, and it would make sense to push Angry Birds every Easter in my opinion. But yet, we had nothing. Lack of budget, maybe? Who knows. A shame really, but let's hope they can do something for 2016...
Island Beats / Summer Nights
8 weeks of live music acts, including some big-ish names, at a theme park with interspersed with late-closings. It sounds like something which could really work at Thorpe. And with over 70 acts performing, including some established names and some up-and-comers (including Louisa Johnson, this year's X Factor winner!) it feels like something which had to work.
However, it just didn't seem to do the trick. Maybe there wasn't enough marketing? Maybe there wasn't enough interest in visiting theme parks in general? Maybe it was just too confusing? Maybe the two just don't mix? I don't know. But Island Beats just didn't seem to work for the park, and it strikes me as a lot of time, money and effort for something which just ultimately wasn't worth it. It'll be very interesting to see what happens next summer.
On the other hand, Summer Nights had a successful third season - let's hope that it not only continues, but also grows.
I sometimes think people forget just how huge Fright Nights is, and how, theoretically, it is brilliant value for money if scare attractions are something that interest you. You get 5 free attractions (some of which are quite different to your run-of-the-mill scare attractions), with the option of a 6th one to pay for, along with roaming actors and general change in atmosphere. There's few places which offer the quantity that Thorpe offer, especially when you consider how little they raise their prices compared to non-FN days.
This season saw a very clear shift away from the Lionsgate partnership, which is a shame. It could have been used so much more than it was. Instead, we had the clown-focus (which, in fairness, was good), along with Big Top, which was far too inconsistent. It was an ambitious maze for Thorpe, but ultimately they just couldn't find the sweet spot. Containment was also new, and was pretty good on the whole, but just marketed as way too scary for what it is.
For me, Blair Witch was the best attraction all in all, and I do hope that we see Thorpe continue to use that route in the future. I also loved Face it Alone once again, and it's great to see Thorpe pushing boundaries even further. I was disappointed at the lack of overnight experience this year though - was planning on trying it out this season!
It'll be interesting to see the direction taken next season, especially since the Lionsgate partnership is rumoured to be done. And with the overhaul Scarefest saw this season, Thorpe do need to consider upping their game once more.
My post Face it Alone face...
Reserve n Ride
RnR happened again this year, with some much-needed improvements to previous years. On a personal level, I thought the system worked great and still believe that if properly implemented, could be the way forward for Thorpe.
However, it might seem that Thorpe themselves disagree. Given that trials were planned to take place during the entirety of Fright Nights (and rumours of it even being trialled in September too), but didn't, would suggest some concerns internally. Whether they simply did not want to risk it after a bad season, wanted to change it, or had just lost faith in the system is anyone's guess. But after the plug being pulled, I am somewhat doubtful we will see the return of RnR next year..
RnR advertising was subtle, meaning no one knew about it...
(Please make sure the screen doesn't break again for so long Thorpe!)
Food and Merchandise
Not much to say on the food front, since essentially all my meals were eaten in the aforementioned Fin's Bar this season. Was nice to FINALLY see the Freestyle machines introduced on park, even if it is a shame that it is one unit, by the front of park, and only opened on peak days. Hopefully this can be the beginning of them being rolled out across park though..
Merchandise was once again good this season, as seems to be the case with all the Merlin parks. A nice variety of things, and it was good to see them trial limited edition stock in Fright Nights and WC16 merch. Given how quickly some of the FN stuff sold out, I expect we'll see an even bigger range next season too.
Fin's, as done by Scruffy Dog.
This season, I did coaster climbs on both Colossus and Inferno. These are truly great experiences and something I would roughly recommend people looking into! They are on the pricey side, yes, but as with all things Merlin, there's always going to be an offer on them at one point or another; so jump on them if you see them.
What I find a bit novel about my experiences were the different weather conditions - I did Colossus on a very cold, windy March day, and Inferno on a very wet August one (so both very different to be sunny Swarm experience in 2014). It made for all the experiences to be very different in more ways than one!
These experiences are JoshC. approved.
Loggers Leap - RIP?
After many rumours circulating, Thorpe confirmed via Twitter that Loggers Leap wouldn't open in the 2016 season. However, it isn't clear if this closure is permanent or not. It's hard to know what to believe at the moment, but in any case, the closure of Loggers seriously dents the 'fun for all' ride quota at Thorpe. Fingers crossed that, whatever is happening, we're not left without a log flume for too long...
A Look Ahead
WC16. Simply put, WC16 has to be a success. It has to draw in the crowds and it has to be a well received attraction. If it's not, then I am genuinely worried how badly Thorpe could be affected in the future. What would be the point in throwing large amounts money at Thorpe if it doesn't pay off, especially when Merlin are trying to minimise the aftermath of the Smiler incident?
Personally, I'm still not "excited" for the attraction, since I struggle to get excited over something I know nothing about. However, I'm intrigued by it all, and do really look forward to trying it out, whatever 'it' is.
As for everything else... Well, I have no doubt we'll see the odd touch ups around the park, nothing special, just the standard little bits they've done in recent closed seasons. I'd really like to hope that this is the season they bring back themed areas too. But I would like to see it done right, rather than the park just slapping names to sections of the park, so I wonder if it's a bit too much to ask?
A Personal Touch
As some on here will know, last year I had a brother join me in this funny old world. So, back in March, at a mere 5 months old, my baby brother went on his first trip to Thorpe. Not quite as soon as me (Thorping since I was 6 weeks old, oh yeah), but still a good start...
Just a shame the Carousel couldn't have stuck round a little while longer for his first Thorpe ride!
And that's about it. Unsurprisingly, I said I'd keep things short and I haven't; oh well. Thanks for reading!
Captain Obvious Alert - This blog may contain spoilers.
So on Sunday, I did Containment, the new escape experience at Thorpe. I've never done one of these escape room things, and I've always been a bit sceptical about the idea - so many things can go wrong which can ruin the experience. But nonetheless, I was still excited to try it out...
One thing which is worth noting was our group was made up of only 6 people (4 TPMers and 2 randomers), rather than the full 10. This was at the 4pm slot, so it makes me wonder if not enough are keen to spend the money on another attraction / there's not enough advertising going into it? Anyways, review time...
The pre-show video was nice, and did seem to nod to Experiment 10? The trouble was, it was very difficult to hear (not helped by the nearby leaf blower and Swarm's roar). Whether this was intentional (to draw people in closer to the screen to help with scares) or not is hard to tell, but it does just need to be easier to hear. Big thumbs up need to go to the actor here though; really did a great job at creating a funny, but also slightly eerie, feel.
The first room I assume is meant to play on the fear of darkness. It was a bit disorientating, but not scary or challenging really. I guess it's a nice way to introduce you to the concept and get you rolling.
The second room was a lot more challenging. The actor in here gave us a great jump scare and then started acting very crazy and creepy. Constantly going 'tick tock, tick tock' and 'clock clock clock' to try and give us a hint to the situation. I'm not entirely sure how we cracked the code, but I believe we did just in time? Not really sure.
So we moved onto the third room, where a lovely female actor started to cough all over me. She appeared to be dying and was in desperate need of the much sought-after antidote. Wasn't she taught about 'Catch it, Bin it, Kill it'? Anyways, this room was a bit tricky, in that it was relatively easy to figure out what we needed to do, but it was just doing it which was the problem. After a while, and following some general interaction from the actor, we eventually got it done. The final room awaited...
Final room is a weird one. The lights went out very quickly and we were left really unsure what to do. The actor shone a UV light to reveal the hidden message of 'Find antidote' on the wall. After some general walking around in the darkness and trying anything and everything to get closer to figuring out what we needed to do, eventually the actor shone a torch in the general direction of a massive clue to help work out the final code. Once the code was worked out, it was just a case putting it in - in very little light - before we had escaped.
And that's how it ended. We pressed a button and after a few seconds, the actor opened the door to let us out. It had all ended so...confusingly. We had cracked the final code, and got let out. The story has disappeared and it just leaves you feeling so uncertain. I had to ask the actor if we had completed the task because it just felt like the end wasn't there. Being lead outside and asked by an ordinary member of staff if we had completed it (to hence be given our wristband) feels like a missed opportunity too.
Despite the sudden ending, and perhaps my less-than-excited sounding review, I really did enjoy Containment. It's a fun experience and something very different to what the park has ever offered. It needs some more work, but on the whole, it's a neat thing.
So - what could be improved?
1) The preshow. Having the preshow inside would be best, as it would make it far easier to hear. Alternatively, just not have a video and let an actor give it. I appreciate space is the issue here though.
2) The scare rating. This was rated 5/5 stars, and yet was not really scary. Yes, there was a couple of jump scares and a couple of dark scenes, but not enough to warrant a 5 star rating. Arguably, this isn't scarier than Blair Witch, and so isn't even worthy of a 2 star rating. That's not to say it's not a good attraction and not something that doesn't deserve its place at Fright Nights.
Either the park need to make it scarier / more intense. Make you have to work against the actors, with them deliberately trying to sabotage you, rather than have them being generic scary people who eventually point you in the right direction. Or, lower the scare rating. Given what they've tried to do, and that I assume more people will be 'got' by the scenes, a 3 star rating might have been more suitable.
I guess giving it a low scare rating would make it harder to sell tickets though. Speaking of which...
3) The cost. Given the restricted numbers and the popularity of the attractions at Thorpe, I think a charge is a sensible idea. But a £10 charge is a lot. And perhaps too much - if they're not filling out the groups and have already stopped offering timed tickets online (instead giving you a time on collection I believe?), then maybe the demand for such a high-cost attraction isn't there. Lower the cost, reduce the group size or push the experience more.
4) The ending. There needs to be more of an ending. I think scene which shows you which rooms you solved and ones you didn't (say by a green / red light on a screen), along with a corresponding message, actor interaction to give you a wristband, plus a scare to get people out would really help the attraction feel complete.
So - is it worth it?
In a nutshell, yes. It's a steep charge for what they are offering, but I genuinely think it's a neat attraction which can only grow if they continue to offer such an experience. Let's hope it does return next year; though with new / updated puzzles and scenes!
The last day of BelGerAnd is here! And unfortunately it's not ending with a bang, but rather a slur of 'b's and 'a's in one word - Bobbejaanland. For those curious, it's pronounced Bob-e-yan-land (we didn't fully know this until about half way through the day).
Being close to the park meant that after our free breakfast, we arrived with plenty of time for the 10am opening. We got there at about 9:45 and let through the main gates, where we were immediately bombarded by a costumed character and member of staff forcing us to having a photo with them. Whilst this was happening, Adam had seen a hidden A4 sign saying that the park was closing at 6pm, instead of 7pm as advertised on the site. This filled us with some hope, since it indicated that the park might be quieter than the park originally expected, especially for a lovely (33 degrees) Saturday in July.
The entrance area can be likened to Towers Street at Alton I guess, in that there's a street with a few shops and stuff. At the end of the street, they had gates which would open at 10, after a little intro show my The Smurfs (yeah, bit random). So whilst we waited for the gates to open, we went to the customer service kiosk to ask where we got maps; turned out they were 2 euros each!? Fortunately I had some loose change I was trying to get rid of, so did get one, but the cost for a map is ridiculous.
My 'How on earth do I pronounce this?' face.
Even the Smurfs had no clue why they were there.
With the entrance show done, we headed into the park. We realised that a map wasn't really needed for the park quickly, since the park was just based around an oval lake, with nothing particular hidden. So we essentially just went round the lack and ticked off the rides as they came. Bobbejaanland had the most coasters out of all the parks on the trip, with 7. Just a shame that none of them were very good...
Our first ride of the day was Typhoon, the world's second Gerstlauer Eurofighter built. I was quite keen to try out another Eurofighter, and was looking forward to it. But the ride just doesn't really do a lot. After the standard (and VERY slow!) vertical left and 97 degree drop came a vertical loop, which was actually very intense and the highlight of the ride. The rest of the ride slowly meanders abouts, doing some turns, some twists and some inversions, but it just feels slow and boring. A real shame.
The coaster opened on 3 cars (out of a possible 5 by the looks of things), but at one point in the day, was down to 1 car it was so quiet! We didn't bother riding it again because there were other, better rides, on park.
We had planned to do the nearby Dizz, the Maurer spinner, afterwards, but since it opened at 10:50, apparently, we moved onto Revolution, the indoor coaster with a rather impressive 30 car train (and thus being able to hold 60 people per train), and a very long-winded spiral lift hill. I was expecting a coaster with such a ridiculous gimmick to be a bit boring, but it was surprisingly fun. It wasn't a 'good' ride (indeed, it just about scrapped onto my 'Top 20' list for coasters ridden during this trip), but it was fun.
The remaining coasters quickly followed. Speedy Bob, a Wild Mouse, was very meh, and it really shows how much theming can do to a ride, as it feels completely different to Rattlesnake. Dream Catcher, a suspended Vekoma coaster, was next, and was very forgettable. The junior coaster Oki Doki was a surprise; a nice fun coaster. The powered coaster Bob Express was also pretty neat, featuring an interesting enough layout. We eventually rode Dizz in the afternoon, but it was by far the worst spinning coaster I've done; the layout doesn't lend itself to allow the cars to spin that much..
Bob Express geek board.
We also watched the first showing of their new show, featuring magicians Rob and Emiel. I don't know how big they are in Belgium / Netherlands, but they have their own website, so they must have made a bit of a name for themselves I guess? Unfortunately the show wasn't very good (a lot of the stuff was very visual, so the language barrier wasn't much of an issue), though they did seem to be a bit nervous, and there were some crowds troubles. They did speak to us before the show though, after noticing we were English, and did have a bit of a chat with us.
The redeeming feature for Bobbejaanland though is in some of its other rides and, surprisingly, their indoor attractions. The park has many small attractions, like boat rides, water slides, slidey slides, and a few flat rides / dark rides. However, there are four that really stand out:
The first of which is El Rio, a park's rapids. With the majority of the layout hidden away, it was hard to tell what to expect. But the ride had a decent layout - featuring a whirlpool! - and got you a good level of wet. It was nice to see a decent rapids at the park.
What is most interesting about this ride though is the ferris wheel feature on its ride:
Don't get too excited; it's not in operation. Essentially, what would happen is a boat would travel onto a platform, the wheel would rotate, and the boat would go down a long, steep-ish drop, likely making a very nice splash. Unfortunately, the wheel hasn't been in operation for about 9 years, according to TPR, because it was an operational nightmare. Boats instead take a route around the wheel.
The next stand out ride was Indiana River, an indoor log flume. This is one of two log flumes on the park, though the second, outdoor, one is very meh. Given the looks of the outdoor rides on park, it was a pleasant surprise to see this ride so well themed. It was very jungle-like, and the majority of the route had some nice features to look out. The ride seems to get the front of the boat soaked, and the back of the boat stays dry (we tried a couple of different seating configurations on our goes and this always seemed to be the case), which is a bit odd.
(Above photo taken with flash on; the place feels a lot more atmospheric in low light!).
Another water ride which stands out is Banana Battle, an indoor splash battle. The layout has LOADS of interaction points, meaning that you get drenched. It's a great ride all in all, and even if it's a bit too wet for my liking, I still enjoyed it. The ride smelt a bit too much like chlorine for my liking though..
Finally, the best attraction on park is, by some way, The Forbidden Caves (warning: spoilers!). New for this year, it's an immersive tunnel ride. In a similar vain to Hex, the ride has 2 pre shows before the main ride. The premise of the ride, from what I gathered/remember, is that we're going on a Cave Tour, inspired by explorer Jasper Dubois. He had many adventures, but got lost on one whilst trying to find some treasure, so we're going to go find him.
The group is taken around by a 'tour guide' during the pre shows. Usually this is in Dutch, but on our second go, it was only us and an English-speaking French couple, so we were fortunate enough to be given the pre shows in English (lucky that the staff member spoke very good English too!). The first pre show takes place in an elevator, descending us down "several thousand meters very quickly", and the guide tells a few jokes. It was a standard effect, but done well. The second one involves a lot of talk about the treasure and the guide touches a found gem, which, in turn, activates loads of effects, with things shaking of the walls, loud noises, smoke, lights, and a evil force warning us to go away. It was very dramatic and very well done.
The ride itself then follows. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a letdown. It's either too hard to see the screen (if you sit too far back), or all the immersion is ruined if you sit too close to the front (you see the trough the ride carriage travels in, etc.). The video itself is alright and it's not a bad simulation experience, it's just that the ride hardware is very meh and average.
All in all, Forbidden Caves was a fab attraction, and its overall quality feels out of place at an average park like Bobbejaanland. Indeed, in terms of quality, and even theming, it wouldn't have felt out of place at some major parks that I've now visited! So kudos really need to be given to the park for opening such a solid attraction! The one thing which was a bit of a shame was that is opened at 1, and closed just before the park closed.
Overall Bobbejaanland thoughts: Bobbejaanland is a very odd park, and it's not surprising that a park of this size and quality cut it's opening times by an hour at such short notice; they clearly weren't getting the guests to warrant it. But, despite its overall average-ness, there are a couple of neat little rides there, and if Forbidden Caves is the sort of level of theming and quality we can expect from the park in the future, it might be one to surprise us all in a few years time.
And so that's it! We left Bobbejaanland and hit the road for the long drive back to Calais. Funnily enough, we actually passed Plopsaland on the way, which made the trip feel nice and closed in a way. Unfortunately, when we got to Calais, we were told that no ferries had gone to Dover all week (because of the immigration problems at the time), and so we had to try our luck at Dunkirk. Fortunately we managed to get on a ferry there, but it meant we didn't get back till rather late (I tucked myself into bed at the cool time of half 3 in the morning...).
Thanks to anyone that did read all the entries or leave comments; t'is greatly appreciated!
Better late than never ey? I've condensed down this entry so that it's easier for me to write / more people read it / I actually decide to write it...
With Baron already ridden, and 2 full days (10-8) at Efteling left, we knew we'd be able to take our time with the park, and were in no rush to do anything straight away. We covered the whole park easily within those two days, and had plenty of time to reride our favourites too. So, to cut to the chase, I adored Efteling. I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did, as usually the fairytale thing isn't always my 'thing', but I just loved the place. From the rides, to the ride themes, to just the general setting and atmosphere of the park - it's all just beautiful and brilliant. I won't go through both days extensively like I did with the other days, but just touch on some stand out attractions to me...
Vogel Rok, the park's indoor coaster, was surprisingly fab, mixing a fun layout, with nice theming and effects, and pretty cool onboard audio too (and you don't realise just how loud it is until you get back into the station!). Solid ride.
Whilst Vogel Rok was an instant hit for me, Droomvlucht left me a bit unsure after my first go. Droomvlucht is an awesomely themed dark ride with a great story and neat finale. But after my first go, I was left a bit unsure what to think of it; I could really appreciate the theming and everything, but the ride didn't leave me with as big a smile as everyone else in the group. I'm not too sure why; I think it might have been because it was one of the first rides we did on our first day there, and I still hadn't got into the proper fairytale mindset (if that makes sense). I enjoyed it more on the second day, but again, still not as much as everyone else. I can really appreciate it as a ride, and do think it is a great attraction, but I guess it's just not really my cup of tea..
Had a mighty impressive entrance though!
Sticking to the dark ride theme, Villa Volta - the park's madhouse - was a ride that left me a bit disappointed. The ride itself was actually great and I really enjoyed it, but one thing which really ruined the overall experience for me was the doors. You could easily see that there were two sets of doors to the ride area when they opened and closed, and it spoils the illusion completely for me. Maybe because this was my 4th madhouse in 5 days I was subconsciously looking for flaws, but it's just a shame really, as it did let the experience down for me a bit.
To round off my noteworthy dark rides from Efteling, I'd have to mention Fata Morgana, the absolutely fab boat ride. The sets, theming and effects are just outstanding, and I really was blown away by the quality of it!
The park's headline show, Raveleijn, has clearly had a pretty penny Euro spent on it. It's a good show, and it was easy enough to follow the plot despite the language barrier. Some real top quality effects used as well. But at times, it felt like there was just too much going on, and you just didn't know where to look. Maybe not necessarily a bad thing to some people, but it just felt like too much was being crammed in at times.
Turning attentions to a couple of the more thrilling rides the park has to offer, the first ride we headed to was De Vliegende Hollander (aka Flying Dutchman). This water coaster was beautifully themed (naturally) and had a decent outdoor section to go with it. Unfortunately, much like Supersplash at Plopsaland, I found the actual coaster somewhat uncomfortable, which is a shame. The thoughts of the discomfort have stayed with me almost as much as the amazing effects, theming and atmosphere inside the attraction, so it's just a bit of a shame. I did really enjoy it, and did it a couple of times of course, but the discomfort just stops it from being a truly magnificent ride for me.
The park's duelling GCI woodies, Joris en de Draak, were much more of an overall hit with me however. The layouts of both the coasters are brilliant fun with some good airtime moments. I do like how the coasters do actually 'race' as well, with the winner being announced and everything. Originally, we thought it was fixed to some degree (as we were seeing alternate sides winning), but it does seem to be a true race? Of the two sides - fire and water - I slightly preferred the fire side, just because it seemed to have slightly better airtime. I also enjoyed the theming for the ride, including a fully animatronic, fire-breathing dragon, though I guess it's a bit of a shame you don't really notice it on ride.
(As a side note...After being treated to brilliant rides on Troy as well, it was hard to tell which woodie I preferred. I think if you had asked me after my first day at Efteling, I'd have said Troy. However, after my second day, I would have to say Joris; it's just got sheer fun and joy factor in its side!).
The other attractions on park are a bit of a mixture. I enjoyed Piraña, the park's rapids, but then rides like Python (Vekoma looping coaster), Carnival Festival (carnival-themed dark ride) and Bob left no impression on me other than disappointment unfortunately. Some of the other filler rides are fun though. Worst attraction in the park goes to Spookslot, a completely random 'show' which was laughable for all the wrong reasons. The Fairytale Forest area, however, was absolutely fantastic - we spent a good couple of hours walking round on our second day! Also loved the Aquanura fountain show; fantastic way to end the day.
The only good thing about Python is the signage.
Fairytale Forest is full of characters.
And, because I love it so much, just one final word about Baron. Despite the lengthy queues during our visit for it, I ended up riding it 5 times. I guess that it speaks volumes about how much I enjoyed it that I was happy to wait up to an hour for it when other rides on park had 10 minute queues, and even leave the rest of the group to join the single rider queue whilst they did other rides..
Overall Efteling thoughts: Like I said at the beginning, I adored Efteling, perhaps more than I thought I would. Genuinely somewhere that I just love and can't wait to go back to.
Leaving Efteling was a hard thing to do, and after having dinner at the Bosrijk restaurant, we left and set our sights back to Belgium. We arrived at our last hotel of the trip just before 11pm, and fortunately was only 10 minutes away from Bobbejaanland.. Though more on that park next time...
*Once again, a long time between entries into this trip - sorry to anyone who is still reading this! Reports will probably be shorter from now on so I can finish this thing before Christmas...*
After a nice sleep in Dusseldorf, we said out goodbyes to Germany and ventured into The Netherlands. Out first stop was Toverland, which, despite being a relatively small park, was one I was looking forward to a lot. The 10-6 opening time would surely give plenty of time to give everything a couple of rides, before heading off to try and get a sneaky ride in on Baron at Efteling for its opening day (yes, this report is all the way back from July 1st). We arrived to a very empty-looking car park at opening, and got in. We were told that the ropes course was closed for the day and that the park's signature coaster, Troy, would only be open 12-5.
With half of the park basically being indoors, we decided to start off in there and do the big rides that there were. We started the day off with Boomerang, a Vekoma junior coaster. A neat little coaster which feels surprisingly high when at the top.
After a quick ride on the Teacups - where my bag flew out of mine and Adam's cup despite minimal spinning! - we did the nearby waterslides, which were good fun. We then ventured outside and did the random hedge maze, before heading to the second half of the indoor part of the park. We had planned to get the bobsleigh ride done, but it has suffered a technical fault, so we instead did the adjacent funhouse and the nearby logflume, Backstroke. It was a nice flume, with it being partially indoors and outdoors, and has a nice bit of theming. It doesn't get you very wet, but has a nice backwards drop and a weird turntable mid lift to turn you forwards...
Blitz Bahn, the redone bobsleigh ride, has opened by the time we were done with this. It had a nicely themed queue, which was good as this had the longest queue of the day at a staggering 15 minutes. The ride itself was fun, can't really add much more to it than that really!
I was rather happy to see some maths on a 'chalkboard' in the queue...
With the noteworthy things inside done, we ventured outside and headed over to the Magic Valley to ride the park's newest coaster, Dwervelwind, a Mack spinning coaster. Rather unsurprisingly, it was practically a walk on, so we made our way through the nicely themed queue and into the station building. I really loved the station; nicely styled and there's a neat little dispatch sequence with some lights when a train leaves. The ride itself was pretty fun with a nice layout that even could be enjoyed on a non-spinning coaster. We got some decent spinning on our first ride too.
Temperatures we soaring, so we went and did Djengu River, the park's rapids. Again, not a particularly wet ride, but they were a fun set of rapids with some good spinning in the boats. Certainly a much more welcome rapids ride than River Quest to me! The queue line was themed beautifully as well, which was a bonus.
We went back on ourselves to Booster Bike, a motorbike coaster, which was now open following a small closure. I've wanted to try one of these out for a while, for the obvious novelty factor of them, so was a bit excited. I was surprised at how comfortable the seating arrangement was, which was a bonus. The ride's layout was fun, but I just can't help but feel the ride would be much better if it just had a normal seating arrangement with lapbars. The novelty is alright, but I think I'd have enjoyed the ride so much more with just lap bars.
12 o'clock was approaching, so we headed over to the Troy Area to get ready for Troy's opening. Before that, we did Scorpios, a pirate ship with some cool water effects. I wear I read somewhere a couple of years back that this was the tallest or the steepest pirate ship in Europe, so the whole group was really excited for this, but was understandably underwhelmed when we were greeted by a quaint little ride. Don't trust everything you read on the internet guys...
It was now time for pretty much the main reason why we visited the park - Troy. The coaster really does dominate the park and the immediate surrounding area, and it really does look impressive. Again, the ride was basically a walk on, which was fab. Back row awaited us, and off we went. And wow. The ride is truly relentless, with a great first drop, awesome speedy moments, nice pops of airtime, and the out-of-control feeling woodies are known for it. The ride really is fab, and shot straight up to my favourite ride of the trip so far.
*ORP to come here soon..*
With no queue and everyone loving Troy, we went straight back on for another go, and all loved it again (I think I got front row this time and it was still fab). We then decided to retreat indoors and have some lunch; I had some form of spaghetti and it was nice and reasonably priced.
It was just coming up to 1 o'clock now, and we'd done everything major already. We stayed inside for a bit and did a couple of the smaller rides in there that we missed out on, before doing some rerides. According to my ride count I wrote up in the car to Efteling, we'd done all the coasters multiple more times, and the water rides again (including the surprisingly wet indoor water slide which was so much fun!). I remember riding Dwervelwind one time and smacking the back of my head against the seat quite hard mid-way through the ride, and the rest of the ride being quite uncomfortable. The rest of the group did another ride on it straight away whilst I sat out. Troy was the most ridden ride on the day, and despite the temperatures soaring (34-35 degrees; possibly the hottest I've experienced in my life..), I was happy to keep on riding it during the day.
We also watched the Fountain show, and in general had some fun by the fountains, which was nice. Pictures don't really do the show justice...
I continued doing all the rides till about half 4, before the constant high temperature had finally gotten to me and I had to stay inside. It was a shame to miss out on a couple more rides on Troy, but despite staying well hydrated during the day, the heat had really just gotten to me. We left the park not long after 5, so that we could set off to Efteling to try and get the ride on Baron...
Final Toverland thoughts: Toverland is a fantastic little park with some really good attractions. Their coasters are all good fun, and having pretty much half the park indoors is great too. One or two more attractions would be nice to help give the park just that little bit more ride-wise, but still is a great little park as it is! Not a park I'm dying to visit again any time soon, but that's not a bad thing I suppose.
Now, I don't want to steal the thunder from Toverland, but since I'm doing these blogs in days, I can't not put a bit about Baron here. With Efteling a little over an hour away from Toverland, we made our way to the park, hoping that we'd be able to get to the park before the 8pm close and sneak a quick ride in on Baron, on it's opening day. We made good time on the road, and checked into our room in the Efteling Bosrijk Village (which was lovely!). By the time that was all done, we got into the park just after 7 and headed straight to Baron. I won't go into it too much, since my ride review is here, but the hour-or-so queue for front row in the heat made it quite a long and gruelling experience, but oh so worth it!
We then went to the nearby town to try and find dinner, and almost had no luck before finding a kebab shop which did nice and cheap-ish food. A short walk back to our room and I quite happily collapsed into bed at some point around 1am I think (goodness knows where all the time had gone...).
And that's where I'll leave it for now. The next report will combine our 2 days at Efteling, and hopefully shouldn't be too long before I post it!
[Apologises for the length delay between reports - I've had an interview to prepare for recently, as well as a few other bits come up!]
After a surprisingly nice sleep in the hostel of meh-service, and a slight accident where Adam reserved into a lamp post (don't worry, no damage done to us or the car!), we set off to Phantasialand! Collectively, it was probably the park we were looking forward to most. We arrived at the park for their 9am, and headed into the park.
Our first port of call was Maus au Chocolat, which opened at half 9. We joined the short queue of people outside and were able to get on the ride pretty much straight away. It almost felt like a shame to have my first go on the ride be a pretty much walk-on, as it meant I didn't take in the awesome queue line as much. Enthusiast problems ey? As for the ride itself, I adored it. I loved the theme, I loved the shooting system, I loved the soundtrack, I liked the mixture of screens and real theming on ride. It can see why people think it is bit too long / repetitive, but I didn't find it like that myself to be honest. For me, this was basically the perfect indoor attraction.
We moved onto the first coaster of the day - Colorado Adventure. A ride which I'd heard decent things about, but I was a bit unsure about, possibly down to my underwhelmed thoughts Calamity Mine at Walibi the day before. Once again though, my preconceptions about the ride were wrong and, like many others, I do enjoy the ride. The lift hills are very slow though and really do kill the pacing of the ride, and that feeling isn't helped by the adjacent Chiapas and it's epic speedy hill. Still, a great family ride, and does live up to hype.
With it being a hot day, and with the 11 hour opening time suggesting it was going to be a busy day, we decided to stick to Mexico and ride Chiapas, which only had a 20 minute odd wait. I remember watching a POV of the ride when it first opened, and not really understanding what all the excitement was about, but I had heard brilliant reviews of ride, so went into it with mixed expectations. Fortunately, all I can really say about the ride is WOW. This must surely be the perfect water ride? Very good length, nice theming, a fantastic soundtrack, awesome backwards section, amazing final drop, and gets you a nice level of wet. Just sheer perfection.
Next up was the famous Talocan, the top spin well-known for its epic effects. Simply put, after experiencing Rameses Revenge and Ripsaw a few times, I just felt like top spins were rides I didn't really rate, and were just spectator rides. But I went into this with an open mind. However, my thoughts aren't changed - whilst we were sat on the good side, and had a set of brilliant effects running during the ride, the actual ride itself is still a bit uncomfortable and just a bit meh all-in-all. Great spectator ride, average riding ride.
We left Mexico and headed over to the Fantasy area of the park, which held 3 of the park's coasters. Before tackling them, we did a couple of the lesser rides in the area, starting off with Race for Atlantis. It was an awful simulator ride, with an awful pre-show (which I still can't work out if it was terrible on purpose), a juddery experience and a pretty meh film. We then headed over to Hollywood Tour, an indoor boat ride - unsurprisingly - themed around Hollywood films. It was a nice little experience in honesty, and I did enjoy it, but it certainly looked very old and tired, and in desperate need of some attention. It's hard to believe that a dark ride in this state is in the same park as Maus to be honest!
Temple of the Nighthawk, an indoor coaster followed. It was a walk-on, bar a couple of minutes wait following someone throwing up (hot weather + hot indoor building + roller coaster obviously wasn't a good idea for someone). Jack and I got front row. The coaster does two things in extreme - darkness and length. The ride is very dark, bar a few lights here and there, and way too long - three lift hills, with sections that feel like they do nothing. It's a very much a burden to ride it really, and it just feels boring. Another ride which needs a lot doing to it.
Random station theming is random.
Safe to say that the Fantasy area hadn't lived up to the bar set by the attractions earlier in the day. Felt like I was more in a Nightmare Land to be honest. The next attractions had a lot riding on them, as it was beginning to feel like a waste coming to this part of the park. Fortunately, the next attractions were Winjas, the set of two spinning coasters. I knew a bit more about these coasters than I would have liked to as a first-time rider (I read up on them a few years back in my days of "Well this is a park I'll probably never get to"), but fortunately that didn't ruin the coasters as a whole. We did Force first, then did Fear straight afterwards. To avoid spoilers for anyone - I found Force had the better second half, whilst Fear had the better first half. I feel as if the second half of the coasters could have been better themed and had some more off-ride effects, but I do see why they've decided to keep those sections very dark. But all in all, two excellent coasters!
Peaj was initially sceptical...
Was difficult getting any decent shots of anything indoors with my camera... ¬¬
We decided to polish off a couple of the smaller attractions in the area, including Baumberger Irrgarten, a nice little maze, and Wakobato - a splash battle type-ride which doesn't interact with any other boats, and has no (working?) effects. It was a pretty bad ride, even if it had some nice bits of theming.
The maze had bridges.
Unfortunately, Phantasialand didn't get the memo that "If I wanted to look at trees, I'd go to a garden centre".
With lunchtime approaching, we decided to grab a bite to eat, and were able to catch the majority of the show that happens in the China Town area. Was a nice little thing to watch whilst munching on a bratwurst and chips. We took things easy for the next couple of attractions, doing Wellenflug, the chairswing with awesome water fountains, and Das verruckte Hotel Tartiff - an epic fun house. We had no clue what sort of attraction Hotel Tartiff was, so after experiencing the fab pre-show, I think all our faces lit up when we realised what it was!
With lunch settled down, the next stop was truly obvious to us - Black Mamba. I'd heard great things about Mamba, and with the similarities to Nemesis, I was very excited. With a very short queue and plenty of time left in the day, we opted to do front row for our first ride, knowing we'd have time for back row later on. I absolutely adore to the station; so nicely themed! The ride itself is good too and another coaster I really enjoyed. I feel as if the ride does too much too soon, leaving the end of the ride to feel a bit lacklustre. It's not a terrible thing of course, as the ride is still nicely paced and does a lot with what it's got, but I just think something else is needed at the end really. I did like the idea of how you enter the station building and are in darkness before returning to the station; it just seemed to work.
Station! (Unfortunately, having flash on has taken away the really awesome atmospheric lighting).
With only two major rides left, we headed over to the Mystery area for two rides I'd heard some good reviews about. First up was Mystery Castle, which was walk-on. The queue was fabulously themed and so so atmospheric. The loading for the ride was great, and I really liked how the control booth was in the middle of all the towers; it was another little thing which really worked, and makes the experience so much better. However, the ride experience was a bit underwhelming. Too short, no standout special effects. It even felt quite small; like it wasn't using the full height of the ride? It does seem we caught it on a day with short cycles, which is a real shame. One thing I did like about the ride itself was how at one point I genuinely couldn't tell if we were going up or down - we were quite obviously moving, but my sense of direction had be distorted enough for me to have no clue what was happening! Just a shame there couldn't have been more of that really.
We then moved next door to River Quest, the park's 'rapids' which had a 20 minute queue. Not really seeing any of the ride before, and fortunately avoiding POVs online, I was really intrigued by this. But, at the end of it, I was a bit disappointed. The ride itself lacks any real theme or theming, it isn't very rapids-y (a by-product of the space issue with the ride I guess) and left me absolutely drenched, especially from the waist down. Yes, I know it's a water ride and you're meant to get wet, but I just don't like get absolutely drenched! As I say, a bit of a disappointment really.
We still had quite a few hours left on park, so we went into China Town to do the attractions there. Their madhouse, Feng Ju Palace was very average, possibly the worst I've done given how bad the pre-show was. Then again, since this was the third day in a row of doing new madhouses, I think I was beginning to tire of them a bit! Their omnimover, Geister Rikscha, was also very average really, which was a bit of shame.
With everything of note now done, we essentially had the rest of day (I think 3-4 hours?) to do rerides and the some of the park's shows. We saw Pirates 4D which was a great blast from the past, as well as the on-park ice skating show, which was good fun. We re-rode all of the major attractions I think (though I gave a miss on River Quest, but in the end, the guys came off practically bone-dry; typical!). Back row on Mamba was a particular highlight! The day ended with us being the last group of Maus au Chocolat, with the queue line being shut as soon as we joined and the staff in the station area not actually knowing we were coming. The fact we rode it 3 times during the day and I didn't tire of it says to me that this will probably be one of my favourite rides for a long time to come!
With the longest on-park day over with, we had a nice hour long drive to Dusseldorf, where our next hotel lay in wait. It was a decent enough hotel; easy enough for me to crash out and sleep whilst the rest of the group discovered what highlights Dusseldorf had to offer (which, if I remember correctly, wasn't much!).
Final Phantasialand Thoughts: All in all, I really enjoyed Phantasialand. It is obviously a top quality park with some truly fantastic attractions. The trouble I have is that there are quite a few attractions on park which are either very meh or are crying out for something to be done to them (or even just scrapped altogether). Whenever I think about the park, the first things which come to mind are the likes of Maus, Chiapas, Winjas and Mamba, but then the likes of Temple, the Mystery and China Town attractions and the poor filler rides in the Fantasy area just leave me with a bit of a disappointing after-thought. That being said, I still really did love the park, and genuinely can't wait to go back to it!
After a fab night's sleep in our lovely hotel, it was Walibi Belgium day. Out of all the park's we were visiting, Walibi Belgium was the park I was most 'meh' about visiting. All the other parks had one or two attractions that I was really interested in trying out, and in some cases, were parks I wanted to try out for quite a while now. Given how I'd only heard about Bellewaerde a few months ago as well, this perhaps shows how blasé my expectations were for the park.
We set off, giving ourselves what we thought was plenty of time to make the half hour drive to the park for 10am opening. Unfortunately, traffic had made other plans for us. Despite being informed the night before many times of loads of roads being closed, we didn't really think it would affect our journey too much. We were very wrong. With traffic being reminiscent of the M25 at times, we crawled through Brussels and had plenty of time to take in the lesser beautiful surroundings of the city (as well as slowly pass plenty of news crews..). Anyways, we eventually made it out of Brussels and made some good time on getting to Walibi at about 11am.
Unsurprisingly, the park was relatively busy, and there seemed to be a lot of school trips going on. With the major coasters at the front of the park, we decided to leave them till later and head over to the back of the park. Our first stop was Challenge of Tutankhamon; A Sally Corp laser shooter dark ride. Unsurprisingly themed around Ancient Egypt, the ride only had a 5 minute wait, and so was a good first ride choice. It was a fun ride, with some great theming. It was nice that not all of the ride involved shooting, giving you a chance to appreciate the actual theme and story. Not a huge fan of the guns and shooting system, but I assume it's the same for all Sally Corp rides?
Following rides on Octopus, a weird but fun spinning ride, and Salsa y Fietsa, the quirky-named Teacups, we moved onto the first coaster of the day. It had to be none other than La Coccinelle, the park's kiddie cred. It had no queue and the op didn't seem to mind 4 adults having a go on the ride. Nothing more than one for the coaster count to me, but it was a bit of a laugh...
Some wandering round happened, before we opted to do Flashback, a log flume. It had quite a long queue, and most of it was in a horrid indoor cattlepen which was quite warm and sweaty. There was some bits of theming and it was out of the very warm sun though, so it could be worse I s'pose. The ride starts off in a great little tunnel section which all of us adored. It was a decent log flume too - three drops, including one backwards one, and a suitable level of wetness for me. Certainly my favourite of the 3 we had done so far.
I had a little nosey at construction for their coaster on the way to Flashback.
A sorta-view of the main drop of Flashback, featuring styled bins!
Next up was Le Palais du Genié. After reading about the ride the night before, we realised that this was another Vekoma madhouse. I was excited to try out another one! I felt like that the standard pre show for it was a bit long and laborious, but maybe it was because I put less effort into trying to follow along with the French sections (I think the talking was done in French and Dutch?). However, I really enjoyed the ride segment; everything just seemed to work well and it just had a nice little set up. But what really surprised with this was how, at the end of the ride, people started clapping. It was a loud clap of appreciation and utter joy. It started mostly from a group of school kids, but everyone else - who had seemed to enjoy the ride as well - started to join in shortly afterwards. I've never experienced something like that away from a large group of enthusiasts. So I think that shows that the ride is fairly decent. It's not a Hex-beater for me, but I still think it's very good.
I think we were contemplating lunch now, but the lure of blood was too big a temptation, so we headed over to Vampire, a Vekoma SLC. Once again, another first for me and, much like with the Vekoma Boomerang, I was a bit unsure what to expect after hearing many mixed reviews. We joined the 25 minute queue (which was quite a bit shorter than the other major coasters and nearby rapids at the time) and started moving along relatively quickly. Then, in a similar vain to what happened on Niagara at Bellewaerde, a staff member comes from the adjacent station building, calling for any 2s or 4s. We happened to be in the right place at the right time yet again, and managed to skip about 10-15 minutes of the queue and got on the next ride!
To put it simply, I wasn't a fan of the ride. It was quite uncomfortable, especially on the lower back, for the majority of the ride, which made it hard to enjoy. The thing is though, I think for a coaster of this size, the layout is actually alright, and if it was a bit more comfortable, I genuinely think I'd enjoy it a lot more. A shame really. Also, one other thing, a red and black colour scheme does not suit a ride called Vampire...
After a spot of lunch, we made our way over to the wild west themed area, and did another coaster - Calamity Mine. It's a Vekoma mine train, with two lift hills side-by-side (which kind of almost race each other to the top if the batching is right, though there's little duelling between trains). The layout and surroundings are quite fun; indeed, it's probably the park's most fun ride to look at in my opinion. The ride experience was alright, but, for some reason, I just didn't get that smile on my face that everyone else in the group got. It's especially odd as I normally love these sorts of family coasters. Ah well.
Wild West areas need more Calamity Jane references.
Next up was the small matter of Dalton Terror - a 240ft drop tower (making this the tallest ride I've done!). It was good fun; it's nice to finally experience a drop tower with a long drop time. In terms of drop towers, I still prefer Detonator for the force of it, but this is still a great ride experience, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is one of the better ones for mixing imposing-ness, whilst not having a drop which feels 'too long'.
We moved onto the adjacent, but hidden away, 3D walkthrough, appropriately named Walibi's Secret. It's basically like Hocus Pocus Hall meets Freakshow 3D, in that it's a fun walkthrough which makes use of paint which becomes 3D with 3D glasses. Except it's got a more fun feel than HPH. It had some nice little scenes (my favourite being a ramp which looked like a ladder), and it really is a neat little secret on park. Definitely something wroth trying out if you ever visit!
It even featured some optical illusions!
After a long ride on Gold River Adventure, the park's boat ride around the lake, we then headed over to Psyké Underground, an indoor Schwarzkopf shuttle loop coaster. The queue for it is really weird, since you enter the building, go underneath the station, then go back outside, only to queue in a partially-enclosed area, before entering the building again. It was nice on a warm day to be able to queue outside but in the shade, but it just felt so random and odd!
I sort of liked the ride itself though. It's got a bit of a club/party atmosphere, in a similar fashion to X, and whilst the ride is starting, the staff get everyone the train to clap along to the music, which is a great touch. Jack and I were in the front row for it - the launch was fun and the vertical loop was a bit disorientating with the lights. But it just felt like it needed more. The ride itself feels very short (even shorter than you expect, even when you watch it whilst in the station), so I felt like it could do with more lights, louder music, maybe another effect or two, just to further distract you from the shortness of the ride. It's a fun little ride, but it just needs MORE.
On our Gold River Adventure, we encountered baby ducks and fountains.
Some of the odd-but-neat posters in the Psyké Underground queue line.
With time pressing on, we were a bit unfortunate in that biggest rides that we had left to do were still quite busy. We moved onto Radju River, the park's awesome-looking rapids. They were very rapidy, of a decent length and in general very fun. The operations on it were a bit weird, as they kept stopping and starting the station turntable, which was causing stacking of the boats a lot. Not sure if this is normal or not of course, but it would explain the long queue either way..
Now it was gone half 5 (where did all that time go?!), and the queue lines closed at 6. There were two casters left to do - Werewolf, the park's woodie, and Cobra, another Vekoma Boomerang. Cobra was closer and was saying a 25 minute queue, and the operations looked slower than at Bellewaerde. Not wanting to run the risk of missing out on the woodie for the sake of a another Boomerang, Jack and I headed over there, whilst Adam and Peaj risked it all...
Not today thanks.
So, we headed our way over to Loup-Garou / Weerwolf and joined the ugly cattlepen queue. Given that the only woodie I'd done so far was Antelope at Gulliver's Warrington, I was really looking forward to this, and it was a fitting way to try and end the day. We missed out on back row, as one train's back row was out of order, and there were loads of people waiting for it, but still got quite near the back. One thing I loved about the ride was how the bag drop point in the station had lids that would 'mysteriously' open and close - it was a neat little effect that I really appreciated.
Now I think with this being my first big woodie, I perhaps over-rated it, but I really enjoyed it! Super comfortable seats, a decent layout with good length, and not too 'rough around the edges' meant it was just a great ride that I really enjoyed. Even looking back now, I just remember feeling a huge smile beam across my face.
We noticed that Adam and Peaj had just about made it into the queue - last ones in in fact - so they ended up getting one up on us. We waited around for them, and even lurked around the exit to see if they would let us on if there was space; no such luck there though. After they had their ride, we begun to head to the exit, when we realised that the chairswing, Wave Swinger, was still operating and still letting people join the queue. We decided to go for a quick spin for the sake of it, and it was a nice way to end the day.
After a bit of shopping in the Wab Shop, we left and set ourselves on course for, Cologne Germany. A couple of hours later, and we arrived at our hostel. Much like with our hotel in France on Day 1, we were greeted by a locked door and no response when we knocked and rang the door bell. With no telephone number to call, we seemed to be quite stuck. A little while later, one of the other people staying eventually came out for a cigarette and let us in. We knocked around the rooms and eventually found one unlocked with 4 made beds, so decided it was our's. We found another guest who was able to give us a telephone number for the owners, who told us that they thought we weren't coming because we didn't arrive in the check in time (even though online, check-in was until 11pm, and we arrived before 10). In the end, we were told the room we had found was indeed our room and we continued the night we no problems.
We wandered around the local area, and I grabbed a currywurst and chips for dinner - was very nice. We found a local supermarket and stocked up on some drinks (500ml bottles for 99cents; bargain!) and some snacks, before heading back to our hostel. It had been another long day with a lot of time spent in the car, but we knew a longer day was coming, with Phantasialand open 11 hours tomorrow, it was time for some sleep.
Final Walibi Thoughts: For a park that I was a bit meh about visiting, I was pleasantly surprised overall. It had some decent rides which were fun and there were some nice bits of theming scattered about. The park atmosphere was a bit lacking on the whole; something just felt a bit missing from the place. What that 'something' is though, I can't quite put my finger on!
Day 2 of the trip got off to a slightly bad start, with no where around our French hotel seemingly being open for us to buy breakfast (despite the internet and shop signs saying they would be open..). After much wandering around, we found a nice little bakery where I couldn't resist getting anything other than a croissant. After food was sorted, and a nice 30 minute car journey was had, we arrived at our second park , Bellewaerde.
Now, before I start, I should probably confess that I hadn't really heard of Bellewaerde at all until Adam suggested it be part of the trip in its early planning stages. I remember hearing about their signature coaster, Huracan, being built a couple of years ago (indeed, if you dig round on the forums, you'll probably find it being briefly because of its epic opening ceremony), but I didn't exactly think anything of it other than "Oh, that's an obscure park I've never heard of and probably won't visit any time soon". Fast-forward to now and I'm here, with said coaster right before my eyes.
We were directed to park by the Mexico entrance rather than the main entrance, which straight away took us to the likes of Huracan and some of the other big rides on park. Huracan opened at half 10, so we decided to wait around a bit, and Jack and Peaj went on El Toro, the park's breakdance to pass the time...
They weren't overly impressed with it.
We joined the queue for Huracan, which was stated to be about 30 minutes. Given this was the park's headline ride, we decided to brave it expecting it to be longer later in the day. The entire queue is indoors and very nice, though slightly boring to wait in admittedly. This is saved by the epic station area, which is nicely themed, very atmospheric and has awesome lighting and sound effects.
The coaster starts off with a dark ride section, taking you pass a waterfall and many large temple-like statues. I think the ride is meant to have on board audio, but unfortunately it wasn't working for us. Whilst the theming here was something special, the lack of audio obviously meant something felt like it was missing. The lift hill then takes you outside briefly, giving a lovely view of part of the park, and the warehouse the ride is held in, before dropping you back inside. There's some cool light effects in there, and the layout is fun, but again, without any audio, it feels like a lot is missing from the attraction. The ride ended and left me saying "Is that it?". As an overall attraction, it's probably great when everything is working, but it just didn't do enough for me on the day. A real shame.
Entrance / outdoor section
Atmospheric station is atmospheric.
We then moved over the El Volador, a Topple Tower. Infamous rides really, and whilst I have wanted to try one out for ages, I was a bit unsure on whether the ride would be any good. The ride experience is weird, as it's not dull, not exciting, but it just happens. Very unremarkable in my opinion. I guess for me they're a lot like top spins in that they're fun rides to watch, but that's about it.
It was time to move onto another coaster, with Boomerang just around the corner. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's a Vekoma Boomerang. It's the first one I've done, and I wasn't exactly looking forward to it after hearing many bad reviews. Alas, even if the long-ish queue gave me plenty of time to hear the rattlyness of the ride, I went in with an open mind. Admittedly, I didn't find it as rough as I was expecting, but it wasn't a comfortable ride. Coupled in with the fact that it's an intense ride mean I didn't enjoy that much.
To complete of Mexico, we watched a French showing of the park's new 4D film, Le Petite Prince (we could also have watched it in Dutch if we wanted, but chose against it. It's got a fair few special effects, and the fact we were told to keep our bags away from the seats should have been an indication of what to expect from the film. The seats move in all directions an awful, awful lot - the effect is a lot more over-used than any of Angry Birds' effects, for some perspective. The film itself was alright though.
After about 2 hours in one area of the park, we finally moved along to the Far West to do River Splash, the park's log flume. It was a very warm day once again, so I was hoping for a reasonable splashing. Unfortunately, despite having a nice bit of theming and style to the ride, it was quite short, relatively dry and all in all, just a bit meh.
Adam insisted I take a photo of the bin, because "no one would believe they have themed bins here if we didn't take a photo".
After a spot of lunch and making priorities of what we should get done, we headed over to Jungle Mission. Bellewaerde is a theme park and zoo integrated into one another, and Jungle Mission is one of those rides that mixes theme park and zoo perfectly (sort of like what Zufari tries to do at Chessington). It's a boat ride that lets you see multiple animals exhibits, but also has a variety of special effects that make it feel like a fun boat ride. It was my favourite attraction of the day probably, with the effects being great, the theming being great, and decent views of the animals too.
The station area had loads of these cobwebs on the ceiling - I'm still not sure if they're theming or real...
Next up was Houdini, a Vekoma Madhouse. The pre-show was interesting with lots of good bits of theming, and I think we were able to be able to pick up the general gist of the story. The actual ride section was alright, but not to the standard of Hex, unsurprisingly. Still, a fun ride in its own right. This was followed by the Bengal Express - a train ride that takes you through lion and tiger enclosures. Again, another fun ride, but the heat meant that the (obviously enclosed) train carriages were quiet warm, and the animals themselves were more lounging around staying cool.
With time ticking on, we went to the Canada area of the park, with a Shoot-the-Chute style ride, Niagara, on the cards. Now, I'm not someone who likes get drenched on water rides unless I'm in the right mood (for context, I haven't done Tidal Wave since 2009 or 2010, despite many opportunities to). So I gave this one a miss, but did queue with the group. Somehow we were lucky and skipped a good 60 minutes of the 80 minute queue when a staff member from the station shouted for a group to come forward to fill up a row (why they got a group from near the end of queue instead of the front I have no clue, but I guess we weren't going to complain...). After seeing everyone after the ride, they didn't look that wet and I kind of wished I done the ride now, but ah well...
Looking pleasantly wet-ish.
A go on Screaming Eagle, a Shot n Drop tower, followed. Once again, it's a type of ride I'd never done before, but had wanted to try. It was okay, but I think I prefer ordinary drop towers to be honest - they provide a better, and more comfortable, experience really.
With 5pm approaching, we headed over the Gold Rush Stunt and Dive Show, new for this year. It was really good fun, with great special effects, a decent run time (25 minutes or so) and some good stunts of course. Being a stunt show meant it was very easy to follow as well, an added bonus for a park which is trying to cater for 2 different languages. It bought back some memories of Thorpe's stunt and dive show too; forgot how much I missed it!
With the show over and the 6pm close looming, there was only really time for one more ride, and we opted to do Bengal Rapid River, unsurprisingly a rapids ride. It was a really fun ride, with it being quite 'rapidsy', a good level of wetness, with some nice bits of theming and scenery scattered around the course. Also slightly strange to see a rapids ride have its station on a slope (though, as we'd find out during the trip, not exactly uncommon!).
First time I'd seen a rapids ride with the 'wedge seat' boat design too!
Final Thoughts: Bellewaerde is an odd park in some ways. It's a mixed bag between having some quality attractions (Jungle Mission, Bengal Rapids), but then some attractions which feel like they have missed opportunities (Huracan, River Splash). Maybe on a different, slightly quieter, day, I'd feel different about the park. But even then, I still feel like the park needs a little bit more to feel complete. It's a park I'm not exactly desperate to go back to any time soon, but a park I'm glad I've done. One final thing I want to mention is how friendly and generally great the staff were - also an added bonus that many spoke English, which was much appreciated after some of my failed attempts at speaking French!
We then set off to head to Brussels, which was meant to be a relatively nice journey. Unfortunately, roadworks on the motorway had other plans. A journey which should have taken us just over an hour ended up taking us 2 and a half hours, thanks to single file traffic and an accident. Joyous. Fortunately, when we arrived at the Meininger hotel in Brussels, we were greeted by great staff, a huge room and a Hard Rock Cafe a very short walk away! Would highly recommend this hotel for anyone planning to go to Brussels. There was also a fabulous atmosphere in the city centre with many celebrating the closure of roads happening in the area for an 8 month trial period (to help the atmosphere around that area or something; not too sure on the actual reason).
A beautiful panoramic shot of the group in Brussels
So, as some on here might be aware, myself, scarycoasterboy (Adam), J.S217 (Jack) and Peaj did a bit of a European road trip at the end of last month / beginning of this month. 8 days, 7 parks, 3 countries - it was a big'un. Parks we visited were...
Plopsaland de Panne (27th June)
Walibi Belgium (29th)
Toverland (1st July)
As we were visiting Belgium, Germany and Holland, we squished the three countries together to get the working title of 'BelGerAnd' for the name of the trip. Unfortunately, that terrible attempt just sort of stuck (much like Stealth's project name ey?). So that explains that.
(PS: Any feedback on the style of this would be great. I do plan on writing up reports from all the parks, so would be nice to do it in a way that people would want to read it!)
Anyway, enough set up, let's get down to TR-ing...
An early start beckoned us - leaving to get the 5:15 ferry from Dover. Naturally, this meant we arrived at Plopsaland - a realtively short drive from Calais - ridiculously before the 10am opening...
The entrance area looks very nice.
We wandered around the local area to pass the time, and about a 5 minute walk away, we found a Belgian War Memorial. It was somewhat surprising to realise that a theme park was so close to a place like. We had a wander around and it really hits home...
With our respects paid, we ventured off to the world of Plopsa. First up was the coaster I was most looking forward to off the day, Anubis.
It's the first launched Gerstlauer I've done, and indeed the first rolling launch I've done. I was looking forward to it, after hearing many good reviews. After a near walk-on through the nicely themed queue, we were on. Simply put, the ride is fab - the launch is great fun, and then the ride that follows mixes pops of airtime, inversions and bits of force nicely together. I found going up the initial hill quite intense too. The ride flows really well and it's very smooth too. It's a little on the short side and lacks any substantial outdoor theming, but at the same time, it doesn't leave you feeling short changed. All in all, a great ride that is really enjoyable.
A somewhat understated entrance.
Couple of ride shots.
We then moved over to Rollerskater, one of the park's family coasters. This immediately caught my eye for one reason - the random theming. From a giant washing machine, bird in a cage to a turtle on a plate, the ride seemed a bit wacky. The coaster itself is fun, but the random bits of theming just make it a right laugh.
The infamous washing machine
We then ticked off another cred, by doing their powered coaster, De Draak. It's got an extravagantly themed queue line, but it also has a long layout that interacts nicely with the surroundings. Picks up some decent speed and it's nice that it goes round twice too.
With temperatures soaring, we decided to cool down on De Boomstammetjes, the park's log flume. It was okay, had a nice double drop finale, but didn't get you wet enough really. By now we had realised something a bit odd - the park itself felt very very busy, but the queues themselves didn't really reflect that. Not sure if that's the norm for Plopsaland given their target market or not, but we weren't really going to complain, as it gave a nice atmosphere to the park, but meant we could try out all that the park had to offer.
With this in mind, we did a few of the filler rides, including Waterfietsen; some pedal swan boats. Was a very nice tour round the lake, though have to admit my legs were aching after a while! Two filler rides that we didn't get done during this little period, however, were their Teacups, which is still being given its awesome-looking retheme, and Rox-Flyer, their Star Flyer. Ah well.
Two rides of spite.
With some flat rides done and lunch out of the way, we moved over to Supersplash, the 'water coaster' which anyone would have a hard time calling a 'coaster'. It was probably our longest queue for the day, at about 20-25 minutes - quite nice that it was indoors too! Following an interesting lift sequence, the ride does a drop underneath a bridge, before coming back up and then giving a nice-looking splash and then meandering back to the station. The lift sequence is nice, but lacking anything substantial really. The drop I found a bit rough in all honesty, but the splash was nice - not wet of course, but was refreshing. I'm a bit unsure on it as an attraction - it takes ideas from a couple of different rides, but doesn't really do anything with them. A bit of a shame.
A shame I didn't get a shot with a boat in really.
We then planned to tick off the two remaining creds on park - Vleermius, the random suspended coaster, and Viktor's Race, the park's kiddie coaster. Unfortunately, it became apparent that Vleermius would spite us - it was closed with no obvious work being done to it. Shame, as it's something I did want to try out, but I'm sure I'll get to try something like it in the future. Viktor's Race, however, was open. Nothing really to say about it, merely one done for the coaster count.
Neither ride was very photo-worthy for me, it would seem.
More wondering round the park was done afterwards, and getting in some rerides along the way. We were planning on heading over the to Wickieland to try out the Disk-o and splash battle over their, but noticed the Disk-o was closed due to it stalling, so we decided to leave that area till later. Instead, we worked our way over to the indoor area Maya Land, near the front of the park.
It's a great area for kids with some fabulous looking rides. The one that caught my attention the most though was De Waterlelies, a Zamperla Demolition Derby. After not getting on the one at Drayton for the past two years, this simply had to be done. Certainly a fun little ride, though it does sort of feel like it drags on a bit towards the end. We also did the slide in Maya Land before leaving to explore the rest of the park once again.
Spinning waterlilies <3
After a couple more rides on Anubis, we then headed over to Het Bos van Plop, an indoor boat ride. I really enjoyed it to be honest, the theming was lovely, the music was catchy and it was just a nice way to relax. Such a simple ride executed so well. We then did the train ride around the park before heading over to Wickieland again...
The Disk-o was still closed, but the car had been bought back to the station-area at least. Instead, we decided to the splash battle - Wickie The Battle. It was very nicely themed, a good length and got you to a good level of wet. Great water ride all in all!
With park close nearing, we dashed over to Supersplash for one more ride (majority vote over-ruled me unfortunately!). We then stayed in the park for a bit longer, looking around the entrance and such, before hitting the road. An hour-or-so drive later, we arrived at our French hotel, and after realising the hotel owners were out for the night and eventually being given our keys by other guests, we were finally in. A quick McDonald's and some French TV bought an end to our first - and fortunately longest - day!
Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed Plopsaland. It's a fab little park, with some nice little gems and great theming. The addition of a woodie next year is definitely music to my ears - one more family thrill coaster would complete the park's line up I think. It's certainly a park I want to go back to soon, and the proximity to me is a bonus!