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About this blog

Detailed, sometimes rambling, entries about rides and attractions..

Entries in this blog

BaronC.

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.  

BaronC.

15 Years of Fear - Act 2

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!

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#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!

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(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!

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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!

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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.

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#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.

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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!

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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...

BaronC.

15 Years of Fear

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.

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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. 

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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.

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#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.

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#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'.

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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!

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#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.

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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. 

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#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!

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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...

BaronC.

2016 Containment Review

SPOILER WARNING

 

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.  

 

Other Improvements?

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!

 

BaronC.

BelGerAnd2 - Germany

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...

 

Mystery Castle

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!

 

China

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.  

 

Operations

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.

 

 

Klugheim

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!

BaronC.

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!  

 

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An unassuming entrance

 

Lost Gravity

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...

 

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The top hat looks very square from this perspective...

 

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Escalator theming the queue because...reasons?

 

Goliath

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!

 

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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.  

 

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El Condor

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...)

 

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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...

 

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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...

BaronC.

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.  

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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:

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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:

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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

 

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!

 

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Geeky techy specs were about too

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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:

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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... 

 

BaronC.

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.

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Looks pretty at night.

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Minimalist queue line theming.

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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.

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What a difference a year makes (thanks Thorpe!).

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New Swarm billboard, which should hopefully last a lot longer too!

Birthday Celebrations!

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...

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Still Slammin'...just.

The Coasters

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.

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Random summer stuff happening by Stealth.

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Colossus saw a lick of paint...in some places.

Other Rides

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...

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Samurai just about existing.

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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!

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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.

Easter?

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.

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Fright Nights

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.

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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..

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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.

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Fin's, as done by Scruffy Dog.

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Freestyle pricing.

VIP Experiences

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!

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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...

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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!

BaronC.

2015 Containment Review

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'? :P 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!

BaronC.

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.

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My 'How on earth do I pronounce this?' face.

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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.

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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..

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Bob Express geek board.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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(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..

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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.

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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.

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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! :)

BaronC.

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.

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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..

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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The only good thing about Python is the signage.

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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..

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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.

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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...

BaronC.

*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.

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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...

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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!

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I was rather happy to see some maths on a 'chalkboard' in the queue...

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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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.

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*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...

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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! :)

BaronC.

[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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Peaj was initially sceptical...

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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.

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The maze had bridges.

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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! :wub:

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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.

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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! :P As I say, a bit of a disappointment really.

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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!

BaronC.

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?

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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...

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Octopus

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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.

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I had a little nosey at construction for their coaster on the way to Flashback.

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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...

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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.

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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'.

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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!

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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.

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On our Gold River Adventure, we encountered baby ducks and fountains.

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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...

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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.

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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!

BaronC.

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...

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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.

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Entrance / outdoor section

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Final drop

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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.

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The station area had loads of these cobwebs on the ceiling - I'm still not sure if they're theming or real...

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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.

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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...

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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! :wub:

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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!).

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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).

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A beautiful panoramic shot of the group in Brussels

BaronC.

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)

Bellewaerde (28th)

Walibi Belgium (29th)

Phantasialand (30th)

Toverland (1st July)

Efteling (1st-3rd)

Bobbejaanland (4th)

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...

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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...

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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.

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A somewhat understated entrance.

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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.

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Lift hill

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The infamous washing machine

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Station building

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.

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De Station.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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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!

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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!

BaronC.

2014 is almost over, which can only mean one thing...it's time for my review of Thorpe's season! In a way, it kind of feels silly to do a 'season' review on behalf, since I've "only" made 8 visits this year (by far my smallest Thorpe tally in memory!), so there's a few gaps here and there, and my views may not be fully representative of the season. However, I hope this review will end up giving a nice roundup of the season, and my views on what's gone down. If anyone wants to see my reviews of previous seasons, they can all be found HERE (once again, apologises about the pictures no longer working - darn Facebook!). And with all that out of the way, let's "get ready to go...looking good...3 2 1..."

New for 2014 - Angry Birds Land

Rewind a year ago, and I said that for 2014, "There's been talks of a new 4D film, the return of the Canada Creek Railway, the movement of Vengeance to the park and ...at least one of those things should happen." Fortunately, one of those things did happen.

I don't quite know how ABL has been received by the public, but enthusiast opinion is certainly more on the negative side. However, I must admit, I side with the side that, on the whole, it's an okay investment for the park. The 'land' is very small - it seems almost silly to call it an area of a theme park given how small it is. The 4D cinema, whilst a bit over the top with the effects, is a nice break from the bombardment of rides and is certainly a vast improvement on Time Voyagers (though that's not saying much, mind!). The Dodgems are good fun and, whilst nothing special, a nice filler ride for everyone to enjoy. Personally, I think that Detonator is the biggest waste in the area; new audio was needed, and a bit more of a feel around the ride was required. But instead we end up with a new name and cheap logo plus a random bird plonked nearby - still feels out of place unfortunately.

So yeah, all in all, I don't think ABL is a bad investment. I think it will work in the long run (Angry Birds will no doubt continue to be popular, and with a major film set for 2016, I can see a second wind for it coming up), and brought life into what was a lifeless area. Many say that it's destroyed Amity Cove - but let's face it, there's a huge difference between Stealth-side Amity (Amity Speedway) and Tidal Wave-side Amity (the Amity Cove). A divide is necessary really, and this gives a chance to divide the sides further, which would be a good thing. For the future, I'd like to see the Teacups given an Angry Birds theme, since it feels a bit out of place at the moment, and the well-known Angry Birds tune be made more prominent throughout the area - it's something I was looking forward to hearing if I'm honest!

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Detonator - needs more work...

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These metal plate theming bits are...okay. Not my first choice thematic feature for the area though!

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King Pig's Wild Hog Dodgems - a bit bare, but good fun.

New for 2014 - Other Stuff

Though a quiet year on the rides and attractions front, there were a few new and improved things around the park...

The Shark Hotel replaced the Crash Pad, and is Thorpe's own attempt at a shipping container hotel. Indeed, the shark idea was my favourite of the three concepts (the other two being the Pier and crashed ship). I do quite like the look of the shark - it's quirky and different, and likely a nice talking point for people visiting. My only criticism of it is that, on the inside, you can see all the framework - a bit of a shame in all honesty, but I guess there's got to be limitations to everything. Maybe not the most spectacular thing ever, but I have a fond spot for it if I'm being honest.

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Bite me.

Then there's the improved entrance. It must surely be a short-term solution, as the whole ticket and entrance plaza needs a big rework in my opinion. Baring that in mind, I think it's an okay solution - the video loops they play do a nice job of showing off the park, and presumably do help build a bit of atmosphere and anticipation for guests. Also great to hear the original Thorpe entrance music being played once again!

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Hard to get a decent image of the screen, so here's the best I've got..

The few other touch ups around the park (Stealth Diner and shop, Mexican Cantina extension, etc.) are also welcome additions, now giving more indoor seating, and improved chippy on park - I never really liked the old Fish and Chip place for some reason; maybe the old look of the place just put me off? - and meaning every major attraction has their own sort of shop to some degree. The small things ey!

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Stealth shop looks quite nice really.

The Coasters

The Swarm remains top dog for another year. For me, it just had everything I want, and it's just a beautiful roller coaster to me. After being able to climb its lift hill this year and do a couple of behind the scenes bits and bobs, I have no doubt that Swarm will have a place in my heart for years to come... With it looking very likely that I'll be breaking into Europe next year, I somewhat doubt this will be my favourite coaster next year, but hey, I'll let it bask in its glory till then.

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Looking up

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A pretty sweet alternative view of the ride in general

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Pretty helicopter.

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Standard picture.

X also saw some changes, with new audio and a new lighting set up. I think the reason why I like it so much is because it's so different to anything else the park offers - it's a bit of fun and a laugh. It doesn't try to do anything special and it's not a serious ride. Something that the park needs more of in my eyes!

Inferno was as solid as ever, and it was nice to see the mist and lights working for the majority of my visits. Also interesting to see the workshop area as part of the John Wardley meet too; geeky moments I guess! I still have a soft spot for Saw, even if it does leave many with a soft spot on their head after riding. Again, got to do a nice backstage tour of it, which was great fun and really interesting. Colossus remained as uncomfortable as ever. Stealth was alright too I guess; I'm not too fussed about it though to be honest.. .

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Dear Thorpe, all I want for this closed season is this sign cleaned / replaced. Lots of love, JoshC.

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Arty-farty Saw photo.

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Put my camera through its paces by taking photos of Saw from the Loggers queue line. Funny results followed.

The Other Rides

Won't really put any specific focus on any other rides now because: 1) too much effort, 2) I haven't visited enough to say that much and 3) I don't want to put you to sleep any quicker.

So yeah, in short... Slammer didn't open with the rest of the park, but managed to remain consistently open (more or less) when it eventually did open. Big thumbs up to all those involved with getting the thing to live again, and to actually stay alive. Personally, I think the ride just needs binning - I don't find it exciting and it just seems to be a waste of resources in my opinion. It seems Thorpe/Merlin think otherwise - as do many enthusiasts - so let's hope for their sakes their faith in the ride lasts for a few years before it eventually conks out. When that day comes, I'll happily be the first to volunteer to take some explosives to the ride. :)

Rush, Samurai, Loggers, Zodiac and the like all did well during the season, and I think they're all good rides that add to the line up. On the other hand, I've been disappointed by the likes of Vortex, which is showing its ages, Rumba Rapids and Depth, rides which I do enjoy, but really need some TLC to make them look nice again.

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A working Slammer - a slightly less rare sight than usual.

"What about Storm Surge?" you might be asking yourselves. I didn't ride Storm Surge this year, and this picture sums up my views on the ride nicely...

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I'd much rather look at a building.

The Big Easter

I unfortunately didn't attend this season's Easter event, due to revising for exams. However, by the sounds of it, it was a great event for the park and their new direction. All the reviews of the Brainiac show were great, so I'm glad to hear that's returning for the February Half Term event. I look forward to seeing what Thorpe come up with for next Easter (and fingers crossed I'm actually able to make it!).

Summer Nights

Summer Nights returned for a second season, which is great news. This event is just a brilliant idea from the park and works a treat. I know some say that opening till 10 should be standard for the park during Summer, and maybe that should be the case one day. But right now, I don't think the park would be busy enough to warrant it - making it a separate identity is the best thing for now. The event has definitely gained popularity, and I'd be curious to see if they'd consider adding two trains to the coasters if the event become much more popular.

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Teacups are still an addition for Summer Nights - good thing too, since it's relatively popular during the day..

Summer Event - Huh?

Last year, I said: "Despite Sun Scream obviously being popular enough to last many seasons, I think it's time to think of something a little different now". However, when I said "a little different", I did mean they should at least do something! Unless I completely missed it, there was no specific summer event this season that filled the role Sun Scream had done for the seasons beforehand.

The park seemed popular enough from marketing alone and such, but it seems like a wasted opportunity, especially with the family market. Hopefully it's just a one-off, and next season gives us some decent event for the summer. It would certainly help encourage the crowds to visit during what is one of the busiest periods of the season for the park, and a chance to stand out from the crowd a little bit.

On the other end of the scale, I guess they could partner up with MoS for another event. Mash Up seemed good during Easter 2012 and 2013, so why not bring back that back? Speaking of MoS, still haven't been to a MoS night - they're just not my thing! - however, I'm glad to see that they're still proving popular and successful.

Fright Nights

The biggest change for this season's Fright Nights was, of course, the farewell of The Asylum, and the introduction of Studio 13: The Motel. It's been said a hundred times already, but I may as well say it again - last year's controversy over Asylum was NOT the cause of its removal. The park were planning on getting rid of it even for last season's event - let's hope that that myth doesn't become fact to many.

Another thing which has been said a hundred times already is that I wasn't really a fan of The Asylum. It was a maze of strobe lights which gives you a headache, with no apparent story line other than 'you're locked in with scary people' and very repetitive. So I was glad to see the back end of it. Studio 13's premise sounded exciting and very promising, and it was great to see the park come up with a non-IP maze which still fitted in perfectly with the park's overall theme (which I still love by the way).

Personally, I loved the maze. Great nods to the past, good theming, a story which followed through the maze and overall a good idea. In fact, out of all the mazes I've done, it's the maze where I've felt most apart of the story. It's such a simple idea (you tour through a studio where a horror film is being filmed, then all of a sudden, you're IN the film), which makes it easy to execute, yes, but it was executed so well that it just a beautiful maze.

As for the returning mazes, Blair Witch went from zero to hero, which was great. I hope this gives the park more confidence with scare zones and outdoor attractions. Cabin and Saw remained good attractions, though I think Saw needs a bit of an update, as it feels kind of tame compared to the rest. My Bloody Valentine was yet again the worst; no real scares or anything - just dark, cramped spaces all the way. It will scare many, yes, but you can't just simply rely on that! It will be interesting to see what happens to the maze next season now the arena is in use - will it just move elsewhere, move out of the containers and into someplace else, or what?

I also did Face it Alone again this year. I can't sing the praises of this experience enough - if you like scare attractions, it is well worth giving it a try! I'm so glad the park have continued to look into other scare ideas than your bog-standard conga line maze, and here's hoping that things like Face it Alone, the Overnight Experiences and original maze ideas continue for many years to come.

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Fright Nights proved to yet again been the most popular time of season.

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Me with The Director.

Reserve n Ride

The second season we've seen RnR now and I remain in the minority who like the idea. I'll keep my views here short and sweet since I've argued them to death throughout the year in the appropriate topics - the idea is a nice one and has a lot of potential. The system itself seems to work now; they've slowly managed to iron out technical issues. What the park need to do now is try the system as it was intended - with no standby queues. That way, they see how viable an option this actually is. Make sure there's enough non-ride stuff to do too; that'll help (and, in fact, is a good idea in general!).

Food and Merchandise

As mentioned above, I've gotten into a bad habit of falling in love with the new Fish and Chip place, nice and unhealthy. My lunch of choice usually varies between that, the Mexican Cantina or Bar 360. For the most part though, all of the Merlin-owned food places are good quality and value at Thorpe, which is good. I'll no doubt try the punnily-named Peckish and the new Pizza-Pasta joint in the new season though, because why not ey?

As ever, the merchandise at Thorpe helped empty my wallet. The new resins were all great, and the Swarm billboard is my personal favourite of all the Merlin resins. Then there's the brilliant new clothing items which give some geeky nods (ride opening years and such), which I just love! The new Angry Birds merch is good to see too, even if a bit overpriced in my opinion. Then again, on the whole, merchandise is reasonably priced I think, so I'm not really complaining. Would like to see more bears at Thorpe though - please?

I guess the VIP packages fit into merchandise sort of, so just a quick mention of them. Whilst the main ones are a bit too pricey in my opinion, the lift hill walks and backstage tour are okay, especially if you can get a deal on them (and they do indeed do deals on them at points in the year). Again, really glad to see the park doing cool things likes this!

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The Inferno shop has a makeover too. At least I was spending time in shops, and not just money...

Chief Ranger's Carousel - RIP

Whilst no official note has been made, it seems that CRC has left us after 20 years of service. It's sad to see a ride so rich in Thorpe's history leave. However, in all honesty, it's surprising it stayed as long as it did, especially during the years when families were just not in the park's target market. It's not like the ride has a specific appeal the 99% of visitors anyway - time to let go and move along in my opinion!

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A Carouselfie.

A Look Ahead

2015 brings us...well, we don't know. Potentially nothing of note. We have gathered that Pizza Hut is being replaced by Pizza Pasta, and that building is getting an extension. I have no doubts that we'll see some touch ups around the place (Canada Creek still has a lot of the old branding about, some rides are in desperate need of TLC and I expect Thorpe know that), and there'll be a few little things to keep us happy. However, it seems like 2015 could be the first season since 1997 where Thorpe don't bring us any new attractions. Then again, Angry Birds Land didn't have plans submitted till January, so who knows?

Of course, we'll all be able to gawp at the construction site for 2016's exciting new development - maybe that in itself will be enough to keep us happy next season? ;)

That's it for me; another season well and truly done with. Thanks if you read it all (and sorry for the length)! :wub: As ever, any comments / thoughts / criticisms are welcome!

BaronC.

Last year, a new, independent, scare company burst onto the scene - Twisted Attractions. Opening up in Birmingham in a disused nightclub, 'The Morgue: Live' caught the attention of many people, and got amazing reviews from the scare industry. Fastforward to May this year, and Twisted Attractions had moved to an old warehouse, bigger than the nightclub, with 'The Facility'. The reviews of The Morgue caught my attention, and upon hearing about The Facility, I really wanted to go try it out, but alas, I couldn't for a variety of reasons.

After The Facility closed, it was announced that two new attractions would open in its place for Halloween - 'House of Insomnia' and 'Ward 78'. And, well, I just had to go try it out. And that's just what I did tonight, on the opening night! I arrived just before the 7pm opening and after a slight delay due to some actors being caught in traffic (to which they offered free tea or coffee whilst we waited), it was time for the scares to begin...

NB: I'll give a review of both mazes in the order I did them - I'll do a non-spoiler review followed by a spoiler review (in spoiler tags).

Ward 78

Ward 78 is very different to most scare attractions, in that it's designed to be done either by yourself or in a group of two. Essentially, the maze involves you going through a Victorian hospital ward where, of course, not all is well. The website describes it as follows:

Enter this abandoned Victorian ward used for patients with problems that just couldn't be controlled with a simple drug or tablet.. The old ways of the Victorian Doctors and Nurses had to do.. but did they help?

..of course not!

Will you make it through with just a candle to light your way? Not knowing who or what you might face in this abandoned Victorian ward?

Did they really tie down the insane patients tight enough?

After being told the instructions and signing a waiver, I was given my candle (one of the electronic torch-like ones, not a real one!) and ventured down the hospital corridor...

Non-spoilers:

The maze involves a lot of tight spaces, loud noises and disorientation. Being by yourself already leaves you on edge and the actors take advantage of it; they like to bully you! After a while, my candle was taken from me, leaving me seemingly without hope. This actually turned out to be near the end of the attraction, which involved some nice trickery and a lot of special effects.

Spoilers:

The torch is literally your only source of light, and it's only when you come into contact with another actors (with their own candle) that there's really any other light. As said above, the maze is lots of tight corridors along with scenes of patients rooms and such. The first couple of actors are nurses, who say how visiting hours are over and the matron won't be happen. Eventually, you're warned that the patients are restless.

You then go into some of the patient rooms, which are very small and contain metal beds. Actors scream, shout, lunge at you and like to make a lot of noise. They get in your face and a lot of the time, it's very difficult to know where to go! There were a couple of tight squeezes (through some blow of walls and low down ceilings) and then eventually I came to a room with seemingly no exit. My candle was taken from me and I was pointed to a tunnel.

After eventually getting up from the tunnel, it all was very manic. It was a bit lighter, but I was pushed and shoved around a bit and then came to a strobe light and a gate. An actor opened the gate from the other side, I was shoved through, the light went off, the gate closed. It all happened so quickly. Screams and shouting occurred as well as a splash of water, and I was pushed around until all of a sudden, I was out of the attraction.

It was quite a weird experience really. Lots of in your face screaming and shouting, followed by some really manic moments. However, it felt a bit lacking of something a bit more. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there needed to be a bit more to make it that something special.

So, all in all, a fun scare attraction. It makes good use of scare tactics and special effects, but I think it was a bit on the short side and needed a bit more to it.

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The entrance/exit. Image from ScareTOUR.

House of Insomnia

House of Insomnia is more of a traditional maze; you go through in groups, though there's no need for hands-on-shoulders. The vague idea is about a pair of twins in lived in a house who essentially went crazy due to mistreatment from their parents, lack of sleep and whatnot (from what I understood) at least. Here's what the website says...

Sitting empty for years, this house has a lot to answer for!

Are the Demurrer twins just an urban legend?

Did they really live within the walls and floors to escape the cruel punishment of their parents?

Are they still out for revenge?

This urban legend caught the eyes of a local company, who decided to turn this old house in to a museum, but what they didn’t expect after just several days of the workmen starting, was that they would become the next victims of the evil presence...

Was it Charlie and Norman?

There’s only one way to find out! Become an urban legend explorer yourself... but be careful... You are trespassing!

Non-spoilers:

The maze starts with an introduction to the story, telling you about the Demurrer Twins. Very nice idea and from what I heard, very cleverly done, however, there was noise bleed from inside the attraction, making it difficult to hear. After that, we ventured into the maze.

The maze is quite possibly the best themed maze I've done - lots of details and consistent storytelling theming about. Each scene follows from the previous and usually builds upon it. The maze is again very claustrophobic and makes great use of a small space. The actors are very well placed and each add to the story line - there's no 'random' actors or anything. The ending isn't particular special and is something that has been done before (indeed, I don't think it's a spoiler to say what the end is, since it's rather obvious from outside, but alas, I shall not say here...). Nonetheless, still very good.

Spoilers:

The group is directed into a circular room with a table in the middle; the museum that is built in the storyline. The door is closed and things happen... The room vibrates, air is blown, mist circulates. It's all very eerie. There's then a story told via a recording about the Demurrer Twins. It's sorta difficult to hear over the maze itself (due to the compact nature of it), but turning it up too loud could well ruin the quality. It is being looked into though.

After this, we enter the house itself. Actors hide in the best places and interact with everyone in the small group of 6 people. Each scene requires you to weave in and out of theming and find your way to the next. More importantly, there's never any dead spots - everything is a room that is themed and styled beautifully! The actors again like to make a lot of noise, get very in your face and aren't afraid to try and scare the braver looking guests (like myself). All very good.

Some highlight scenes was one with a furnace - it was very warm in there, and there was an actor with a baby doll in his hand, and what looked like a baby's head poking out the furnace. Another scene involved a butcher and was very cold, smelt a bit and required you to go past hanging meat carcasses. It's hard to recall many of the scenes because they come at you so thick and fast, and that you've got actors getting in your face.

There were some rooms which were very tight, or required you to crouch down, adding to the fear factor all the more. The maze lasts a good length of time and doesn't feel boring (indeed, it could have gone on for longer and I'd have been happy!), but you know you're at the finale when you hearing the revving on a chainsaw... You don't get chased out like you were in Asylum, but the actor instead picks on people and brings it very close to everyone, which is always bound to scare people!

Overall, House of Insomnia was a very good attraction, again making brilliant use of scare tactics, tight spaces, creating a great story and some top-notch theming. I think the fact that people quickly ended up holding onto one another, even though you weren't required to have your hands on shoulders, shows how unnerving the attraction can be. In fact, the girl being me was seemingly clinging onto my shirt for dear life!

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Entrance to House of Insomnia - taken from ScareTOUR.

It's hard for me to compare these two attractions to their previous ones, but I personally think that the creating of two attractions may have been a bad thing. The Facility was one attraction in the same place as these two, and had a Face it Alone feature as well. Instead, they've created two separate attractions, a Face it Alone one which feels like it needs to be longer and have more substance, and an 'ordinary' attraction which should go on a bit longer. Maybe it just needs more time to settle; who knows? However, I guess I shouldn't really complain when I really enjoyed both attractions!

For anyone interested, the cost of both the attractions was £12 (though it goes to £14 on peak days) and I definitely think it's worth every penny! The main issue is of course getting to it, but if you're near Birmingham at some point when Twisted Attractions are running a show, definitely give it a try (they're about a 10-15min walk from Birmingham New Street train station).

A link to ScareTOUR's review, where I got the photos from - http://www.scaretouruk.com/review---halloween-scream-nights-by-twisted-attractions.html

So yeah, all in all, some great scare attractions from an independent company who only have good things for their future!

BaronC.

For the first in about 10 or 11 years, I visited a non-Merlin theme park. It's been a long time coming, and anywhere was a start. And that start was to be Drayton Manor.

After such a beautiful week, Saturday decided to take a turn for the worst, and give us rain, thunder, lightning (though with a couple of breaks of sunshine during the day!). Adam picked me up and we arrived at Drayton around 9ish. Even though we were early, we could tell it was gonna be quiet day, and thank goodness, after some of the horror stories I'd heard about the park's operations.

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We arrived to some sun, though we could tell dark times were ahead.

Half 9 came and the park opened. One of the first things which confuse me about the park is opening the park at 9:30, but not the rides until 10:30. There's not really enough to do for a whole hour, other than the small zoo, which we headed to straight away.

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Tigers are a'coming.

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A chimpanzee looks to Apocalypse in the distance.

Rides were testing so we headed over to G Force (which apparently had been closed for a couple of days) and we were pretty much first in the queue. 10:30 came and it opened; yay. This was my first coaster with inversions that had lap bars, and I'd heard some pretty poor things about it, but kept an open mind. And yeah, I thought it was quite fun. My first ride didn't give me any problems with the restraints, and it was a fun, fast-paced ride. I did get a bit of air time as well, which is nice. It's an odd ride (especially with the "humpety bumpety" lift) and seems to do all the best bits at the beginning, giving a week end, but hey-ho, it's a fun enough ride.

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My G Force face.

Next up was the big, new thing - Air Race. I wasn't quite sure how it'd ride, what with the continual spinning and moving and stuff, but it was actually really good. The rocking start is very good, and then it just keeps spinning, round and round and round. It doesn't get boring, and there's some nice moments where you're left hanging upside down for quite a while. Near the end of the ride, we started spinning in the opposite direction. Would be nice if it did it sooner, just to mix it up a little, but hey ho. On a ride later on in the day, we counted that we went upside 18 times (sorry Smiler! ;) ).

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Air Race does have a nice entrance feature though.

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Air Race's queue line is a nice cattlepen - like many of Drayton's queue - and has a TV playing annoying things.

Shockwave followed. Have to say, the station and theming in the queue line is quite nice actually. The seats and restraints on this thing though is very, erm, eurgh. Yeah, I'll go with eurgh. They're not comfortable and they just don't feel right. The ride itself has two highlights - a random little dip before going onto the lift, and the zero-g roll (which is actually incredible). The rest is uncomfortable, rattly or boring. There vertical loop was bleurgh, the double corkscrew is verging on painful and then the random straight bits are unimaginative (though, at least they don't try to castrate you). Now I see why so few stand ups have been built...

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Found in Shockwave's queueline - made me chuckle...

Next up was Splash Canyon, the park's rapids. It was barely 11 o'clock, but we were already soaking wet, so water rides wouldn't make much difference. Fun little ride, not that wet really, though the indoor section did take me off guard.

Another water ride followed, and this time it was in the famous Stormforce 10. I'd heard a lot of good things about this, so I was excited. Have to say, the queue - which we once again walked through - is nicely themed and works really well. Onto the ride itself. The first drop is nice, and the way it's done was unexpected by me. Then wandering through the random waterfall is cool. The second drop, the backwards one, was a shock. We were sat at the very back, which meant we got the full force of water. For a split second, I thought I was on Tidal Wave I was that wet. Brilliant water ride. Not-so brilliant for when the weather is already chucking it down. Final drop is quite nice too. So yeah, a great water ride all in all, but I'll try to avoid the back next time... :P

A quick spin on Malestrom (nothing really to say about this, just a nice filler really) and drying off in one of the heater things (which was so worth it given how wet we were...), it was time to venture indoors for Pirate Adventure. It's an indoor boat ride which is basically a knock off of Pirates of the Caribbean. Have to say it's alright, though it seemed like a lot of the animatronics were broke. The ending was super anti-climatic too, which was a shame. For the record, this was probably our longest queue of the day at an amazingly long 15 minutes. Goes to show how quiet it was I guess. A go on the dodgems, sponsored by Free Radio, followed, and they were pretty decent.

Food followed in the Safari Pizza & Pasta:

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Very nice indoors restaurant located by the zoo. Indoors there's loads of animal animatronics which move and stuff and it was quite a nice atmosphere in there. (By the way, unlike Merlin's Pizza / Pasta, this isn't all you can eat in case you're wondering. We just had a nice pizza and wedges meal).

We headed over to Ben 10: Ultimate Mission, the world's first Vekoma Junior Boomerang. It looked surprisingly tall and quick for a junior coaster, and I have to admit, it was one coaster I was really looking forward to. Again, there was next to no queue, which was great. The majority of the queue is indoors, and is very well themed, with aliens, loads of 'high tech' stuff, noises, lights, etc., and a false corridor which tricked Adam and I. Very, very good.

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Aliens.

First ride gifted us with front row. Being lifted up backwards was a nice sensation, though the stop is very harsh and judders you around a bit. Then you're dropped down and you pick up a lot of speed very quickly, meander around a bit, then up a random wiggle. You hear the laser fire and do backward to the station. It's a short ride of course, but it's great. It has a bit of everything and left both of us happy. No doubt kids love the ride as well. It's certainly Drayton's most complete ride and is fun for everyone. What's even more impressive is how it takes up so little room. Given the lack of queue, we went straight back round to do it again, which is a testament to the ride's quality.

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Look at that joy.

Afterwards, we ventured to what I'll nickname 'dark ride row'. We started off with The Haunting, a Vekoma madhouse. Much like Hex, it has two pre-shows before the ride. The first pre-show is very nicely done, with some TVs giving you an introduction, and one or two nice effects used. The second pre-show isn't as good I found, going on for a bit too long, and that you couldn't always hear what was being said. The actual madhouse itself is good, with a nice ending I thought. So all in all it is a nice ride, but it also showed by just how good Hex is as well. Haunting is great in its own right, but Hex is in a different league.

Next door was Golden Nugget - Wild West Shoot Out. As the name suggests, it's a gun-based ride where you shoot things for points. Other than the name and logo, there's no reference to the Golden Nugget cereal. It's a very cheap ride clearly, and to be honest, is quite laughable. It's nice that some things happen when you hit the target though. But still, not a great ride. We ended dark ride row with Drunken Barrels, the tilting teacups. They were good fun, and the plate actually tipped, but our cup was way too stiff to spin.

It was now time for the last major ride (in my opinion), Apocalypse. Decided to go in at the deep end and do stand up first (though, unfortunately, the floorless seating wasn't available today). The seats are okay - more comfortable than Shockwave's at least! - and the tilt is a great twist; did get me a little bit. However, the drop itself is okay at best. Just doesn't really get me as much as I'd hoped. Though the suddenness of the drop is a nice touch. Sit down followed straight away, and I think I prefer that seating arrangement due to the added comfort. One thing which disappointed me with this (and a lot of Drayton in general actually) was the lack of audio, apart from the occasional siren. No atmosphere, very little tension and it just felt like the ride could have been so much more intimidating with some sort of background noise.

We decided to get some other rides done, including Flying Dutchman - yet another odd Drayton ride - and Buffalo Coaster. Buffalo is quite possibly the weirdest coaster I've done, with an odd layout, monorail-like speeds, yet the occasional okay bit. It goes on forever as well. I feels like it's time should be nearly up, and the space and surrounding area would be great for a family coaster (hi there Mack!). Oh, one laughable thing about Buffalo - on our ride, the train overshot the station, meaning the people in the front row couldn't get out, and had to have another go (I feel for the poor souls).

I would do a list of all the things which are more useful than Buffalo, but I think I'd be here for too long... :P

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Buffalo with Apocalypse in the background. The Buffalo should look a lot more sad though.

We then went to the other side of the park to venture round Thomas Land. Looks nice, and I know that my younger self would have exploded with excitement to be there. Only ride we did round here was Troublesome Trucks Runaway Coaster. For a ride set in Thomas Land, it was actually alright, and the ending on it was a specific highlight. Great ride for the younger market.

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We saw Percy whilst queueing fro Troublesome Trucks.

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NEW FOR 2015. Funnily enough, when you're in the park, you don't really recognise the construction going on. When you're outside the park, by the entrance, you see the site, but have no idea what it's for.

With basically everything done, it was time for rerides aplenty. Air Race, G Force and Shockwave were all done again, as was Ben 10. After a while, a storm came over, bringing more rain, thunder and lightning, bringing most rides to a close (as an interesting fact, Apocalypse was hit by lightning this past week :P ). One of the few rides which remained open was Polperro Express Train; a short train ride which goes round part of the park. It gave some nice views of Shockwave, Stormforce 10, G Force and the rapids, and it was a nice break from the rain.

Some rides slowly began reopening, so we were able to get a few more rides in (including on the Golden Nugget ride since it was indoors, and just so we could laugh at it's awfulness some more). We ended up riding Ben 10 five times during the day, which I think shows how it is indeed a good ride for the park. The day ended off with a ride on G Force, and it was the only one where I had an uncomfortable experience. However, I still stand by my views that it is a fun ride; just a shame the restraints can cause it to be otherwise.

Drayton Manor is a nice park all in all, and given it's a small park, it's done well for itself. But there's a few rides which are very cheap and laughable which need sorting out, I imagine on a busy day it's a bad place to be in (queue board times to some description would be nice for example), and there's some things lacking (audio on all rides for example). I don't want to end on a negative note, as I enjoyed the place and had a fabulous day out, and if you take it for what it is, it is good. I definitely would recommend people trying it out (especially if you have a voucher of some description), there are some good rides there which make it worth going there once.

Visiting has given me the extra incentive to try out other parks as well. It's not that I haven't wanted to, but it's more that I've been a been a bit blasé about it all. However, after yesterday's experience, I now have an urge to try parks new and different (and who knows, might even crack Europe next year!)

I'll leave with perhaps the best photo of the day; our last ride on Ben 10:

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BaronC.

Next month, Universal Studios Florida introduce their 'Diagon Alley' expansion to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It sees the headline attraction 'Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts', the Hogwarts Express, as well as numerous shops from the Harry Potter universe.

As to be expected, everyone is excited about the development. However, why should we be so excited? We've got a newly opened area which is much better than Diagon Alley ever could be - Angry Birds Land at Thorpe Park! Travelling all the way to America seems pointless when most of us on this forum can pop down to Thorpe in under a couple of hours to enjoy the delightful Angry Birds Land.

First of all, let's look at the rides and attractions in each area. Angry Birds Land has a 115ft drop tower, perfect for thrill seekers, some fun dodgems, which are perfect for everyone, and a 4D cinema experience, which again is perfect for everyone. So, here, we have a land which caters for all ages - we have a ride which is solely dedicated for a thrill audience.

As far as thrill rides go, Detonator: Bombs Away! is as thrilling as you can get; there's not many better drop towers around after all. Then there's a good set of dodgems. Okay, so dodgems aren't anything special, you can find them anywhere. But people like dodgems, and if people like something, you give it to them! Finally, the 4D experience is clearly something that's been designed for a younger audience, yet it works for everyone. What's most surprising about it is how immersive the attraction felt - it's a film about a set of cartoon birds, who don't speak, trying to get the precious eggs back from some bad pigs. Yet you feel a part of the film, you can create emotional bonds with the birds, and you feel like you're there with them. For a cartoon, that's pretty darn impressive.

Now, Diagon Alley. We have a headline attraction being ride about escaping from a bank. Escaping...from a bank. Just let that sink in for a moment. And this will have loads of goblins scattered about. Not gonna lie, those goblins looked pretty hideous in the films, I imagine they'll look even more hideous in real life. Not exactly a family-friendly thing to have is it? Especially considering this is already a ride about escaping from a bank that you've broken into (great moral values there!). Now, this ride is apparently some epic dark ride/coaster combo. These types of rides are always risks, since some people's expectations can really shape how they react to the ride. Expect a coaster, you may be left unthrilled. Expect a dark ride, you may be left unimmersed. It's a really, really big risk.

Then you've got a train ride linking two parks together. Now, it will of course be more like a 4D experience, and this all sounds well and good. But it's not going to be easy to create a 4D experience about a franchise which already has so much going for it; very difficult to create an emotional link to the story. I have so many concerns.

Then there's also theming. Okay, Angry Birds Land's theming isn't the greatest, and there's room for more. However, let's step back and look at what Diagon Alley's theming will entail. Firstly, there's a dragon that breaths fire. Fantastic. That's better than anything at Angry Birds Land. However, this dragon doesn't move, from the looks of it at least. Talk about unrealistic! What's the point in having a creature for theming if it doesn't move. You're meant to be in a world where a dragon has just escaped; it's not gonna stand still, lording it over everyone else puffing some fire occasionally. It's going to move.

Angry Birds Land's theming at least makes sense; you're in a snapshot of a game, where some birds have just been catapulted, others are about to be, and so forth. It makes perfect sense to the story. Diagon Alley's dragon does not. Then there's all the shop fronts. They're shop fronts from shops in a back alley in London. Where's the excitement in that? The transportation to a whole new world? You can't get that here. It's basically just like walking down a part of London with shops you've never seen before (which isn't exactly difficult). Poor theming really; it's taken realism a step too far.

There's other things as well. Harry Potter is an outdated IP. The last book was released 7 years ago. The last film 3 years ago. Even if it's still popular, and there's a spin off film series on the way, the main Harry Potter IP is outdated. It's got little more than nostalgia now. It's time to let go. Take away the nostalgia and all we have is a kid's story that finished many years ago, and whilst still memorable, should be left alone, instead of picked away until its dignity has gone away. Angry Birds is about to get its second wave of popularity. There's a major film to be released in 2016. Mobile gaming is still huge, and a new game could easily make it to the top in 24 hours. Now that's a popular and current IP for you.

I think that's all I need to get my point across. Harry Potter is an outdated IP, and Diagon Alley is shaping up to be an overhyped dark ride that teaches bad moral values and a 4D experience which could go really well or really badly. Perhaps not the best family area. Angry Birds, however, is a current, popular, IP, with Angry Birds Land having a quality 4D experience and rides for everyone, which everyone will enjoy. It also teaches good moral values (don't steal, fight for what you believe in, yadda yadda yadda). If that's not quality, I don't know what is.

So save your money. Avoid Diagon Alley. Save yourself the disappointment. Take a trip down to Thorpe Park and bask in the greatness that is Angry Birds Land, and smile to yourself that you're in a better place than some hocus pocus area set about robbing a bank. You deserve it.

BaronC.

As we know, next month will see Thorpe Park give a slight retheme to their 115ft drop tower, Detonator. A general shift in target market has to led to the perhaps knee-jerk reaction to bring in a family-themed area, and the easiest way to go about that would be an IP. So we have 'Angry Birds Land', and Detonator will become 'Detonator: Bombs Away'. Who knows what this slight retheme will bring? Well, we will find out in little under a month's time anyway.

With most eyes focused on the future, I've decided to turn my head and look back on the past. Detonator opened 13 years ago and is a staple thrill ride within the heart of the park. The ride and its overall experience have remained pretty much constant, so the ride's history seems far from exciting. However, the circumstances in which the ride even came to the park and the behind the scenes stories are far more interesting...

The story starts on a Friday afternoon, in July 2000. A smoker discarded their cigarette into some bushes, which quickly started a fire; 'The Thorpe Park Fire'. Slight damage was done to Mr Rabbit's Tropical Travels. However, substantial damage was done to the nearby Wicked Witch Haunt ride.

Wicked Witch Haunt was so severely damaged it could not be saved; the building was completely destroyed. Of course, the ride needed replacing. At this time, there were very few major rides at Thorpe, and the multi-million pound, record-breaking Colossus was in its planning stages. So the ride had to be cheap and not steal the limelight from that. Also, Thorpe were still very much a family-park, with a big focus on family rides. So the ride had to appeal to a large audience.

The park's first choice was, however, not Detonator. Instead, it was this:

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Photo from Wikipedia

It was a standard Vekoma SLC! The photo shows Traumatizer at Pleasureland Southport, and was later moved to Blackpool Pleasure Beach and named Infusion. The ride is a family roller coaster, very simple, nothing too special or exciting. Plus, it was quick and easy to construct. At the time, it would have fit the park perfectly. The plans were very quickly rushed together and submitted to the council (in fact, Traumatizer was used to judge noise levels for this new coaster). And, from what I can gather, they were approved. Unfortunately, the plans themselves are not online at all, so the exact look, location of the ride is unknown to me! But why was no such coaster built?

Well, very simply put, it came down to troubles with the energy supply! The plan was to get the ride opened for summer 2001. However, associated costs with the ride and power supply for the ride (whatever that means) meant it wouldn't open by then. So the plans were shelved.

At this point, we're in October 2000. The 2001 season would start in March; a mere 5 months away. So Thorpe's management decided to go for a drop tower. Due to the naturally thin structure, it would have little 'visual pollution', it was quick to construct and, though quite thrilling, did temporarily fill in a missing part of the park's line up at the time. Note - temporarily. The original plan was the have the ride operating for 1 season, then replace it with what another coaster. This is why Detonator 'broke through' Thorpe's height ceiling of 100ft - it was only meant to be around for a year and it was under special circumstances!

Everything was all approved and everything was all good. Detonator opened at the start of the 2001 season, along with Zodiac and Vortex (funnily enough, Vortex opened rather late and the park were investigated by Watchdog for misrepresentation. Oops). Colossus was under construction and was hoped to put Thorpe Park 'on the map'. Behind the scenes, plans for a new roller coaster, namely Nemesis Inferno, were well underway.

However, something unexpected happened. Detonator was popular. Really popular. In fact, it averaged "over 9 out of 10" on customer reviews. No park can afford to get rid of a ride that is THAT popular. It had to stay. So the utmost was done to ensure allowed for the ride to stay. Fortunately, the layout allowed for this to be the case.

There was still one more problem though. The ride only had temporary planning approval. By the end of 2001, they would have to take it down. So an extension to this application was sought after. It was by no means a guarantee approval would be given, due to the fact the ride was tallest on park. But, fortunately, the ride was approved for another, temporary, 5 years.

Why only 5 years? Well, Detonator was not in Thorpe's long term plans and it's a fairground ride. Could 6 years of constant operation be too much it? Would it maintain popularity for 5 more years? Would it fit in with the park then? The park weren't too sure.

Of course, the ride stayed, and the park applied for permanent approval of the ride, which was granted. In fact, the MTDP at the time even indicated a second drop tower joining Detonator, but alas, it never happened.

Detonator is, in terms of G-forces, the most intense ride on park. It's regarded as one of the better drop towers in the world and works so well within Thorpe Park. Yet the ride only arrived due to a series of accidents and misfortunes that the park had to get over. Had those accidents never happened, the park could well be very different and - in my opinion - worse off. Would we ever had gotten Inferno if a Vekoma SLC was put in place? Would said SLC still be here today? Would Thorpe be as popular as it is now? Who knows! All I know is that, 13 years later, Detonator remains a favourite to all. How nice, ey?

May Detonator stand tall for many more years, regardless of theme...

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"Detonation...complete"

Disclaimer: I cannot guarantee 100% accuracy behind this information. A lot of the information was deduced from past planning applications and, in some cases, such applications were not always complete. Should there be any information which you believe to be incorrect, please feel free to leave a comment and say so!

BaronC.

Here it is - the 2013 Review of the Thorpe Park season! I'll be sticking to a similar formulaic approach as the 2011 (sorry about the pictures being broken here; I'll be sorting it out asap!) and the 2012 Season Reviews I've done. If anyone has any suggestions on how to improve the style / format of it all, let me know! Sorry about the length of this; it's hard to a balance between a detailed review and keeping it short. Also, for anyone wondering, I won't be doing any for other parks, simply due to the fact I haven't visited them enough to do a 'season review' like this one. Watch this space though - who knows what the next season will bring for me? And so, with that out of the way, in the words of Thorpe Movie Studios' Director, "get ready to roll...lights, camera, action!"

The Swarm

We all know the story now - an alien race has attacked Thorpe Park, leaving destruction in its path. Unfortunately, this didn't bring in the guests last season - maybe the park's marketing was too effective and people actually thought real aliens had invaded? ;) So, the thrill factor of the ride was upped - giving us the billboard and the 2 backwards rows. The general consensus is that, simply put, the billboard is a great addition, which is visually pleasing on and off ride, and creates what many regard as the best near miss of the ride. So Thorpe really hit the nail on the head there.

The backwards rows, however, have divided opinion a lot more. It certainly creates a unique and interesting experience, but it does detract from the 'point' of Swarm. That said, it still is a crowd pleaser, so it's not all bad. The main problem which seems to have arose from it is that of the station queue are being congested, and loading procedures sometimes being affected because of it. I noticed towards the end of the season, the backwards passes were scrapped in favour of just going backwards after seeing the queue size, so maybe that's the way forward? (Pun NOT intended!) I also see that Heide Park's wing coaster is having bag storage in the station area, so if that works out, I'd love to see that implemented for Swarm to solve the problem of the crowded bag area.

All in all, Swarm's touch ups this year are welcome to all, keeping a great ride experience and improving it with more large-scale theming.

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The billboard, featuring the winning competition slogan.

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The reverse of the billboard.

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Swarm is still one of, if not, the, most photogenic rides on park.

X

Another 'New for 2013', though not heavily advertised, was the rethemed X. Finally, after closed season upon closed season of rumours that it would be given attention, the rumours were true! Forward facing trains, individual lap bars, a lowered height restriction, a vague theme, lights, music all in one - it added up to a whole lot of potential for what was likely a cheap-ish retheme. Now, my first go on the new X happened when the block brakes were still on the ride. It created a slow, boring and unenergetic ride which was a shadow of its older self in my opinion. Being a fan of X:\ No Way Out, it was hard for me to see how the park could successfully improve it.

However, my goes after that were without the block brakes. And the ride got better. And better. And better...you get the picture. I love it now. Everything about it just works; it's just a fun little ride which everyone can enjoy, and was something that was really missing in Thorpe's line up. As someone who remain sceptical over an overhaul of the ride, I'm really glad it's worked out and given the ride a new lease of life!

Nemesis Inferno

In 2003, the public felt the heat of Nemesis Inferno for the first time. 10 years later, and the fire is getting hotter and hotter! Inferno ran brilliantly this year, giving a faster and more relentless ride than ever before. It just goes the show that even B&M Inverters which are seen as 'boring' or 'unforceful' can still grow into something which can pack a punch. The tunnel's effects were a bit hit and miss, yes, but for the most part, I think they've been pretty good this season.

What speaks more volume about Inferno than I could ever say, though, is what I saw back on a cold, snowy April's day this season. The park wasn't busy at all, and rides had a maximum of a 5 minute queue, with 5 minute queues. Inferno, however, had a consistent 20-30 minute queue throughout the day, not because of slow loading procedures or anything, but simply because it was pulling in the crowds. Goes to show you don't need some amazing gimmick to create a coaster which will keep people coming back...

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Inferno on a sunny day.

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Inferno on its 10th birthday (look at that queue!)

The Other Thrill Rides

In a season where the park has aimed to slightly shift its target market so it's not all about thrills, the park's thrill rides themselves have had some mixed fortunes.

Stealth has had a pretty successful season, with no major breakdowns coming to light. It's nice to see a ride which was previously having a few troubles here and there be continually running smoothly. I love how the park use the ride's plaza area for loads of small little things, like Dr Pepper stuff and the ice cream event, making it feel like it is not only the 'icon' ride of the park, but also the icon area. Also, the Ice Cream event photoshoot was massive fun - 20+ rides on Stealth on a summer morning is always a great way to wake!

Colossus and Saw, known as the two rough rides on park, have also had decent seasons. Whilst Colossus is no longer the coaster with the most inversions in the world (or even the UK; thanks Smiler...), it's still got the 'world's first' to draw people in. It needs a spruce up, yes, but hopefully that will come sooner rather than later - after all, the park themselves have said they're keen on the idea when the time is right! Saw is a very Marmite ride; most people seem to have a strong dislike for it, whereas a few have a soft spot for it. I'm in the minority who enjoy it and feel that this season has been alright for the ride. Effects have been good on the whole, and I still don't think the ride is rough. If I have one criticism of the ride, though, it is that the outdoor audio is broken / turned off / too quiet to hear (I have no idea which); really would like to see that rectified.

Slammer started off the season really well (if anyone had been asked to place a bet on it working throughout days of snow, most people would likely have kept their money...), but it unfortunately hit its snag around the half way point of the season. It's a shame to see a ride which is having so much time and money invested having so many problems (and, as far as I'm aware, it's not reoccurring problems, it's usually a different problem each time). Hopefully 2014 will be 'the season' where it manages to be pretty much problem-free as you do wonder how many more long periods of downtime the ride has to have before the park say enough.

Slammer's S&S brother, Rush, has remained pretty consistent during the season, which is good news. It's been a bit of a shame to have shorter ride cycles this season compared to other seasons, but I assume there's a reason behind this. Detonator and it's shiny new restraints has been brilliant as ever; always gives you 'that feeling', and never fails to deliver. Vortex has been feeling very 'juddering' this season though, which has lead to an experience which makes me feel rather queasy unfortunately. Fingers crossed that this closed season will see the ride given a little bit more TLC.

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Samurai also had a bit of trouble this season. :(

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Detonator stands tall as the park's most consistently good flat ride.

The Water Rides

With the charge in target market becoming obvious just before summer time, the park's water rides played a bigger role than normal this time around. For a park the size of Thorpe, I think 5 water rides is a on the larger side, so why shouldn't the park put them in the limelight a bit more?

The season began with everyone fearing that the removal of Loggers Leap's tunnel would ruin the ride. Fortunately, not all of the tunnel was removed, and the ride experience isn't really affected by it at all. Of course, this is no reason for the park not to replace the tunnel, as I bet for first timers, the indoor lift is somewhat of a surprise. Other than that, Loggers has remained on good form for the most part, though seemed to struggle a bit towards the end of season. Also, the smell after the tunnel seems to have gone away / become less potent; if that's the park's doing, then yay!

Rumba Rapids is a ride high on my list (maybe top) to get a bit of attention. It doesn't need too much, a bit of work inside the tunnel, a fresh lick of paint and hey presto, it's pretty much done. The thing is, even though it's a short ride, rapids rides are the perfect ride for everyone and can work on any level. Tidal Wave is a ride I don't do, but it still looks as striking and wet as ever, so no complaints! Depth Charge's new boats are presumably heavier, as I've found boats to go faster and further, which is great fun.

As for Storm Surge, well...I'll let you fill in the gap here for yourself... ;)

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Tidal Wave...operating in the snow.

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A variety of TPM members show off their Storm Surge reactions...

All the Rest

Not much else to say really about the other rides. It was nice, but a bit strange actually, to see the Teacups be repainted with the Tetley branding half way through the season - goes to show that they are working towards a good look for the park. Other rides like Quantum and Zodiac were doing as well as ever I felt, and rides like Rocky Express and Flying Fish were nice fillers which will no doubt become more popular as the family market builds all the more.

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A blank Teacups midway through the season.

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Despite supposedly closing at around 5pm for Fright Nights, Rocky Express stayed open much longer. Perhaps there's more demand for the ride than the park realised!

Thorpe Park Mash Up

Mash Up ran for a second year, again in conjunction with Ministry of Sound. The fact that the previous couple of Easter events only lasted one season must say that the name and style of Mash Up was appealing. Unfortunately, I didn't go to the event this season, but I expect it was much the same as last season's, which worked well, so no problems there!

Sun Scream and Dr Pepper

Sun Scream returned for what I think was its fifth season, and was again sponsored by Dr Pepper. The more family-friendly direction the park were heading saw no stunt show, but instead a 'chill zone' take the arena, sand-sculpting be in the smaller half of Neptune's Beach and other things for everyone to enjoy. Then there was the Dr Pepper red button roaming around the park long after Sun Scream had finished, giving everyone the chance to win prizes if the dared to press the ominous red button. Good to see random little fun things like this crop about.

Despite Sun Scream obviously being popular enough to last many seasons, I think it's time to think of something a little different now. It's all feeling a bit tired and overused now; just a slight change in direction and couple of other tweaks with give it a fresher feel which I think is needed.

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Sand sculpting on the beach.

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The Colossus sculpture was highly detailed.

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The Chill Zone was very different to the usual bike stunt show which would take over the arena.

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The Red Button.

Smaller Events

There's been a fair few smaller / one-off evening events this year, no doubt to help encourage people to make use of the other evening things the park does (keeping Bar 360 open till 11pm for example; great idea!) and to give something extra for Crash Pad guests. These included comedians working their way up, roller disco nights, lesser-known groups such as 'Please..?' and 'Anttix' playing in the dome and others.

It's nice to see the park experimenting and trying to get crowds in for longer / for other reasons than 'just the rides'. In honesty, I doubt these were huge successes, due to the lack of marketing they got, and that people probably weren't drawn to smaller names. However, the park shouldn't give up with them - they need to stick it out with things like this, find what works and what doesn't. Yes, it's a bit of a risk, but that's what the park need to do!

Summer Nights

A surprise feature of the season was Summer Nights - 7 roller coasters and 2 water rides open for 3 hours for a small charge. Okay, at first the park were wanting to charge what was probably a bit too much (£18 for non-AP holders, £15 for AP holders), it was great to see Thorpe respond to the criticism and swiftly lower prices. The park was very quiet for all of the nights it ran (the first night being essentially dead and there literally being no queues). It was great to be in the park with such a relaxed atmosphere, and the staff were clearing enjoying themselves as well. Everything about the event worked so well.

The true testament to the quality of the event is that the park are doing it again next season, for pretty much every weekend during summer!

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Queue free indeed.

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A literally empty left hand side of Swarm's station area.

Fright Nights

Two words - Intellectual Properties. These are what dominated this season's Fright Nights, and will do for at least the next two. IPs are tricky things to pull off at theme parks, but I think that the risks involved with pairing up with Lionsgate paid off.

Some may say that the IPs have ruined the mazes, but I think that isn't the case. Cabin in the Woods was a brilliant and unique idea, which worked brilliantly. Blair Witch Project was something different to the rest of the park's line up, and even though it didn't live up to expectations, it's a good learning curve for the park. Also, considering it was a 2* rated attraction, it really isn't that bad. Saw Alive remains a strong maze in the line up and the idea if the You're Next characters roaming the park was very clever. The only weak spot was My Bloody Valentine, which was a shadow of the original Experiment 10.

I expect we'll see at least 1 or 2 replacements next season (or maybe even a completely new line up bar Saw; who knows?), so the event should continue to grow in its own way. The way to improve the event from here is for park-wide theming; the park has got the mazes more or less sorted, they've got lighting and audio done rather well. To create an event which can start to compete with the best, theming the park is essential, and with Fright Nights being the crowning glory of the park's season, let's hope they can continue to go all out!

The highlight of the event, for me, has to be Face it Alone. By far the most extreme experience possible, well worth the money and exactly what the park needed to add to create this 'terrifying Fright Nights' which they claim. This really should return next season, as it is certainly a great experience.

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Small theming pieces were around the park; specifically by the mazes.

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The roaming actors caused quite a crowd when they were around.

Reserve 'n' Ride

Another experimental thing for 2013 was Reserve n Ride. A free-to-use service which replaced Swarm's main queue for about a week and a bit all in all. The overall idea of it seems very optimistic - turning the park into a queue-free environment, because you can book the time you want to ride.

The system worked to be fair. However, there are some problems, such as having to rely on having a smartphone with a decent battery life, and people understanding how the system works. The idea of making the park queue free is highly ambitious, but this might be a suitable replacement for Fastrack in some respects. Again, it's great to see the park trying out totally different things, and it will be interesting to see if this develops further next season.

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When it worked, there were no queues in sight.

Food, Drink and Merchandise

Back before the season began, many were wondering if the outsides brands would be leaving the park, especially with the Burger Kitchen outlets arriving at Alton Towers and Chessington. Fortunately (based on reviews of BK at the parks), all outside brands stayed and no new food outlets came to the park in 2013.

All food outlets have continued to serve good quality, and the prices remain good value for what you get (which are made really rather good if you have can take advantage of Annual Pass discount). The only shame about drinks is, for a period of time, some outlets wouldn't refill the quenchers. Seems really odd, just doesn't make any sense (apart from for outside brands, of course). I did notice that during parts of the season, they became more relaxed about it all, which was pretty good.

A quick word on merchandise too. It's been great stuff yet again and of decent value too. Swarm's merchandise is still beautiful!

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Amity Drop n Shop got a new sign!

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Enjoying amazing kebabs.

Nature

It's no secret that there's not an awful lot of green space around the park. It's all too easy to forgot that the park is surrounding by water, which is actually a really beautiful setting when you think about it. So here's a couple of photos showing off the little bits of natural beauty that is around the park...

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Sunken Gardens towards the beginning of the season...

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...and in the middle of the season.

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Swans and their babies by Swarm. They ain't afraid of no aliens.

Other Stuff

Just a couple of other bits as well. We've seen new LED signs outside ride entrances come about this season, which are good quality and much more inviting than the previous ones. If there wad one criticism (which is quite a picky one too), it would be that all of them say 'WELCOME TO THORPE PARK' every so often, which seems a bit pointless really. Having it on the large queue boards, fine, but on the individual ride ones is a bit excessive.

Also, one thing I noticed on Summer Nights, when all the audio was the same all around the park, some of the speakers were a few seconds out of sync. I don't know if it was a one off or if that's now been sorted, but if it hasn't, then I'd like to see that fixed up. It's such a small thing really, but it makes a world of difference.

Speaking of audio, 'The Noise' was a great idea, and something which was well executed. It will be interesting to see if they stick with a similar idea next year, or go back to a themed entrance music piece.

A Look Ahead

2014 brings us the rebranded Crash Pad, aka 'The Waterfront Hotel'. Thorpe are creating their own shipping container hotel, with brighter colours and more rooms available. It will be interesting to see if there's a change in quality or price now there's no ties with Snoozebox, but that's only something time will tell. From reviews that I've heard this year, The Crash Pad was actually nice inside, despite the unpleasing exterior, so maybe it's one of those things which will get more popular as word of mouth spreads?

Other than that, we have no concrete announcements of anything new next year. There's been talks of a new 4D film, the return of the Canada Creek Railway, the movement of Vengeance to the park and others, but will any of it happen? If the change in target market to be a bit more family friendly becomes more prominent, then at least one of those things should happen. Thorpe have alluded to a spruce up of the entrance as well, which is much needed in my opinion. Other than that, I expect we'll see a couple of spruce ups around the park, as there are a couple of rides in need of a bit of tender loving care. Whilst it will be a quiet year for the park investment-wise, it doesn't mean that there won't loads of interesting little things come the new season!

So that's it for another season - onwards and upwards as they say. Thanks for reading! :wub:

BaronC.

10 Years of Afterburn

10 years ago, Thorpe Park were graced with the introduction of Nemesis Inferno. It was B&M's 22nd Inverted coaster, a type of roller coaster which had proven most popular over the previous ten years. Billed as 'the world's greatest roller coaster experience' and having a name that obviously was leading itself to be a successor to the extremely popular Nemesis, the ride had a lot to live up to.

Unfortunately, Inferno didn't live up to hype. From what I can gather, it's not a particularly highly rated B&M Invert (it's hard for me to judge of course, having only been on two B&M Inverts, but this is based on what I've heard across various forums, and based on the, Mitch Hawker Poll, where it ranked 123rd, if you feel that has some validity) and is seen as a 'good, but not great' ride. It could also suffer from the criticism of it being a 'cookie cutter' B&M, to a degree. So, instead of being a successor to Nemesis, it ended up more being the runt of the two - not that that's a surprise to anyone really.

However, when you wash away the hype, the expectation and the comparisons, Nemesis Inferno is, simply put, a solid, well-rounded ride. It's nothing special, but not everything has to be, and sometimes I think people expect everything to 'be special'. Inferno is easily the park's least-gimmicky major coaster (something which I think is indirectly highlighting on the park's website as well), which, in a way, makes it more appealing to the general public, especially as a 'starter big coaster'.

My first ride came a year after it opened, and in honesty, I don't remember being particularly impressed. Okay, maybe impressed is the wrong word - I did enjoy it and that, but it felt somewhat lacking to me. For various reasons, I rated coasters such as Colossus, Dragon's Fury and Vampire as 'better'. However, as time has gone on, it has improved in leaps and bounds. I think it's safe to say that the ride has aged incredibly well. Like modern B&Ms, it is quite smooth, yet it has aged in such a way that there are a couple of intense moments; specifically the vertical loop. From about 2006 to 2011, it was my favourite coaster at Thorpe, and second favourite I'd been on, which I think does speak for itself. Last year, for some reason, it didn't rank as well with me; I can't quite explain why though. It just 'felt' as if it wasn't as good as I thought it was. It's tenth year, though, it has come into its own. Fast and intense, with the audio and effects really showing that it is a good ride.

As said earlier, some could criticise the ride for being a bit of a 'cookie cutter' B&M, just sticking together some tried and tested elements and creating a decent ride without really doing anything innovative. The pre-lift section is fun, but feels wasted. Unfortunately, the tunnel which it goes through requires the effects (mist and lovely red lights) to be bursting onto you; this is very hit-and-miss. After the near-100ft climb follows the 'standard' drop to the left followed by a forceful vertical loop. A zero-g roll follows; these inversions are quite possibly my favourite inversion, and this one is quick, relentless and unforgiving.

We get a surprisingly low, ground-hugging turn, which takes us into the first of two 'interlocking corkscrews'. Personally, I don't rate the corkscrews; I don't particular feel like they are a worthwhile part to the ride. They feel very bog-standard, and just thrown in because they work on other Inverts. Thing is, the whole 'interlocking corkscrew' thing doesn't exactly shout out to anyone 'Look at me, I'm an exciting ride', yet I almost feel it was designed to have it in mind, and took away from a potentially more interesting element.

Anyway, enough of the negatives. Following the interlocking corkscrews, the ride meanders a little bit into the finale; a figure of eight helix. Whilst the meandering feels a bit unnatural and against the rhythm of the ride, the finale is fun. The best elements of the ride do come in the first half, which makes the second half feel somewhat lacking; a shame really, but I guess that happens in a lot of coasters to be fair.

Theming-wise, the centre-piece volcano is visually striking and impressive. Okay, so what if the other side of it is just a tin-shed; it doesn't actually take away from the appearance, and it just generally is a pointless thing to worry about. There's so many ways money invested in finishing it off could be spent, most of which would be a much better idea. Other than a few bits of rockwork, and long-gone crocodiles hiding in the pools, there's not really any other bits of theming, which is a shame. However, I can't see how much else could effectively have been added to the ride / ride area. Along with the tunnel effects, there are the geysers which sometimes works; always good to watch them when off-ride. What really sells Inferno, though, is the scenery - all of the trees, foliage and so forth makes you feel like you're in some tropical area, and you actually are nearby a real volcano. It just works - perfectly.

So, that's about it really. Inferno is probably Thorpe's most consistently rated coaster; very few people I know of 'dislike' or 'hate' the ride, and the general opinion of it seems quite positive. In a way, that's what's made this blog entry very difficult to write (4 months in the making, on and off), because it's hard to describe the quality of a coaster like Inferno when everyone more or less accepts that quality. However, being 10 years since it opened, I felt like I needed to do it, and had promised to do one following my Saw, well over a year ago...

And I leave you with this:

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Feel the heat SNOW. (Taken on 4th April 2013; Inferno's 10th birthday!)

BaronC.

After trawling through the planning portal again, which is always interesting I find, I came across the original plans for Colossus. Much like with the http://forum.maniahub.com/topic/151-tidal-wave/page-30#entry164771]original Tidal Wave plans, they are quite different. But before I divulge into that further, let's look at how a new coaster came about in the first place...

As is well known, in 1997, the Tussauds Group took over Thorpe. Prior to that, as you'd expect, it was hard for the park to get serious funding for any major development or investment into the park. In the 10 years prior to that, there had only been two 'major' investments - Canada Creek and X:\NWO. Due to the otherwise low investments, and local competition from Chessington and the newly opened Legoland Windsor, guest numbers were declining and the park was not making profits. In fact, the park themselves describe it as a "spiral of decline", and between 1993 and 1998, visitor numbers had dropped from 1.35million to 0.8million; quite a significant drop really!

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This shows the number of visitors, in millions. This was made sometime during the 1999 season, so any figures for 1999 and after are predictions / hopes (with a coaster opening in 2001).

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Thought this might be of interest too. Attendances at the Tussauds parks and Windsor Safari Park on a similar timescale.

The introduction of Pirates 4D and Tidal Wave was aimed to be, if anything, a 'quick fix', to boost visitor numbers in the short term. Pirates had the intriguing tagline of 'the UK's first 4D cinema', and Tidal Wave could pretty much sell itself, so those investments spread over two years would help attract some people to the park. However, more is of course needed, especially as Tussauds aimed to turn the park into a profitable, year-round business. Of course, as it is, Thorpe still isn't a year-round park.

The aim was, just after the turn of the century, to introduce two big, huge new rides. This would, essentially, be the first step in truly turning the park around. Tussauds noted that, following the introduction of Nemesis at Alton Towers, that park turned around, and it was hoped the same could happen with Thorpe. Two rides were applied for in 1999, to open in 2000 and 2001 - what is described as a "45m elevator ride" and a 40m coaster respectively. Both plans were withdrawn following discussions with the council (and, as such, plans for the rides are not available online). Despite the council advising the best location of the coaster - the current location of Colossus - it was said to be difficult to get approval for the coaster. Whilst it was probable they could have gotten approval for the 45m ride, they decided to withdraw that application too to help with the approval of a revised, 30m tall coaster - what we now know to be Colossus. I can't quite figure out where this elevator ride would have gone, but by the sounds of it, the area would have been close to the coaster, and were to be developed soon. So, I'd guess we'd be looking at where the Lost City flat rides are (which makes sense with rumours I've heard of Detonator originally being planned for Lost City).

So, the park didn't just want this new coaster, they needed it. Without it, the park would struggle and continue its spiral of decline quicker than a helter-skelter. It was projected that an additional 200,000 people would visit the park thanks to the new coaster; a quarter of their current visitors. Can you imagine a ride now where the park hoped they'd get almost an extra 500k visitors thanks to it? So, it was a huge risk in one way; if they didn't get the visitors, it was huge amount of money pretty much chucked down the drain.

So, that's enough background I reckon. But, with all that in mind, what sort of ride do you go for? Well, the park's first choice was, interestingly, a LIM coaster (just to be clear, this coaster had a maximum height of 30m. As I mentioned earlier, the plans for a 40m coaster aren't anywhere online, unfortunately). A brief outline of the coaster itself: The actual launch mechanism was to be inside a tunnel, for protection apparently. After the launch, the train would dip down slightly, and then enter a cobra roll, which would be the high point of the ride, and a vertical loop would follow. Some strange, twisty meandering in the air, an airtime hill and another weird twisty bit and the ride ends. It covers almost the exact same area as Colossus I believe, though a bit shifted about of course.

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A side on view of the coaster.

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A view from where, I think, Rush or Quantum is now situated. Looks...interesting.

However, for reasons I can't find, the plans changed, despite approval of this coaster. I'd assume one reason the plans changed to what we now know to be Colossus is to get the world record inversion count. If you're gonna do something big, you may as well do something massive, right? Personally, I think I prefer what we have now. Colossus really was, and always will be, the ride which 'put the park on the map'. Whilst it might now be uncomfortable and not highly rated - especially amongst enthusiasts - it did the job, and still does to this day.

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A couple of badly-edited pictures showing the difference of how the coasters would have looked.

As some may know, and as I mentioned to earlier, Colossus was intended to open for 2001. However, due to this change in plan, the project was pushed back a year. Perhaps this was fortunate for the park; 2001 brought instead 3 new attractions, bringing in more guests, and adding to people knowing of the big, brand new coaster coming next year.

So, we now have the coaster we know and 'love' as Colossus applied for and approved. Yet what we have today is still slightly different to what was originally planned! The entrance was is a completely different place to where it is now - though the cobra roll. The queue would start there, go down into the pit (similar to Smiler's entrance in a way I guess), and then meander around in a similar, but shorter, fashion to as it does now. The shop also bordered directly with the station, instead of its current location.

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I've - badly - shown the queue layouts; black is ordinary, red is Fastrack (then known as Virtual Q). Interestingly, approx maximum queue times were 40mins and 15mins respectively!

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This is a RCT screenshot made by John Wardley, where you can see the entrance through the cobra roll. (Photo taken from Thorpe Park Guide Archives).

I'd guess the changes to the queue line and shop location were more cosmetic more than anything else. Again, I think I prefer what we have now, specifically the pit, than what we could have had.

So that's about it really. If you read through all that ramble, I hope it made sense. I just thought I'd share the wondrous history of Colossus which I've pieced together - from the initial reasons and vision, to design and to what we have got today.

BaronC.

As we'd expect, 30 years ago, Thorpe Park was a very different place. In fact, it wasn't really until 1983 that the park saw investment in 'theme park rides'; until then, the park was a more educational/leisure area. One attraction which opened in 1983 saw Phantom Fantasia - the first incarnation of what many knew as Wicked Witches Haunt. The ride was rethemed into WWH in 1994, before its untimely closure in 2000 due to the infamous Thorpe Park Fire.

Whilst I never got a chance to ride the original Phantom Fantasia (would be a bit difficult considering I hadn't been born then :P ), I've heard / read a couple of accounts of the ride, and it seemed to be a very British attraction - it had that eerie / scary tone, yet had humour to it as well. It was a ride which sounded fun for everyone, and was just spot on. When we remember that at this time, Thorpe was a small business, and the idea of a theme park wasn't really around in Britain (something which Wardley discussed about so well in his autobiography I thought), it's - in a way - an astounding achievement.

Here's a few photos of the original Phantom Fantasia, from either 1983 or 1984 (put in spoilers to save on space and such):

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The queue line (I assume!)

Some scenes from the ride:

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Unfortunately, I can't really offer much explanation into the scenes and such. However, Neilfever added a brilliant video of the ride onto his Youtube account a few years ago...

One final Phantom Fantasia photo to leave you with is this one...

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Anyone recognise him?

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You walk past him as you exit Nemesis Inferno! I think after the fire, he appeared in MHFS, and now keeps guard of the now abandoned area...

Wicked Witches Haunt

I did get a chance to go on WWH, however. Several times. My memory of it is rather hazy, seeinghow the last time I went on it I was barely 6, but there are some scenes that I remember. I think that in itself speaks volumes of this attraction - for me to remember it 13 years after my mind shows that it was an attraction that stayed with you. It might not have been the best dark ride, but that doesn't mean it didn't affect you.

My personal memories of the ride was that it was one of the attractions you 'love to hate'. Not in Storm Surge way, but in a way that it always left me scared or spooked out, I'd have to close my eyes really tightly or cover my eyes and I'd sometimes let out a scream. As a child, it was ride that scared me, but that's why you like it. The best way I can word it is that it's the child-equivalent of a scare maze, or watching a horror film.

The witches didn't scare me really. I guess at that age, you're introduced to stories that split opinions on witches - some seem horrible, but are actually nice and vice versa. The thing was though, it did give me a 'feeling'; something bad could well happen here. The scenes that never failed to scare me were the ones with spiders - there were big, fair, ugly hairy spiders. They jumped out at you and stuff. I was petrified. I think the finale, or a scene very close to it, involved the carriage turning to face a wall, and then the biggest spider there was jumping out at you. Scary stuff. For the family audience the park had at the time, it must have been a huge hit.

So, that's really all I have to share. Whilst the ride was not 'iconic', it certainly played its part in Thorpe's history, and is probably something that will be mentioned for years to come. I do doubt that the ride would have stayed at the park much longer anyway, due to the shift in target market, the age of the attraction and such, it is a true shame it burnt down. But c'est la vie.

A couple of links which show of PF/WWH really nicely -

http://www.memoriesofthorpepark.co.uk/phantomfantasia.html

http://www.baffles.me.uk/features/tpg/features/wwh/index.html

Would be great to hear others' memories of the ride too! :)