After a week of travelling miles and miles across states and countries it was time to relax. Two years ago my fiancé and I had taken a cruise around the Med and we were instantly hooked. This time we wanted something a bit different and we chose the Alaskan cruise which sets sail from Vancouver. The ship this time is the second in the chain, the Disney Wonder. This is the sister ship to the Disney Magic and whilst sharing a lot of similarities as some minute differences such as Tiannas restaurant instead of a Tangled restaurant and has a different art styling.
Aside from the obvious differences, this one isn't taken in beautiful Mediterranean sunshine. It instead features cold, ice and a lot of rain. Launch day is a very special time on a cruise in general as you start to settle into the ship. You meet your entertainment team, your cabin cleaner, your restaurant team and your dinner friends.
We recognised a few crew members from our first cruise. Entertainment Joe Slow is a wonderfully Northern lass from England, her co host from Wales. That gave us lots of moments where they would make jokes that only English people would get. This made the cruise feel very personal. We also learnt they don't have halloumi in America. What the hell?!
Day one, sailing away day and our first meal was in Animators Palette, a restaurant where the screens around the room change depending on the course of the meal before ending with Sorcerer Mickey dances around the music to Fantasmic music. We got to meet our dinner pals which were a dutch married couple who were on their honeymoon. When marooned in America, with kids and crazy proud patriots all round you, it's quite nice to have some European sensibilities around you. It was like a nice break from the crazy and we got along very well. They turned out to be theme park enthusiasts to boot and were visiting Disneyland, Magic Mountain, Knotts Berry Farm and Walt Disney World before flying back to Amsterdam.
The days at sea are ironically the best days as you get to enjoy all the facilities on board. The views from the ship as we went into Alaska are absolutely spectacular. For all the good that the MEd was, this is something else.
We also met Mickey, Donald and Minnie because.. it's a Disney cruise.
The stops allowed us to get very close to nature. Whether that be the salmon doing their run up the river (which was absolutely amazing) or wild Black bears a few metres away from us or orcas swimming alongside the ship the link with the wild was something I'll never forget.
Alaska is a beautiful state and such a contrast to other states I've done. Whether that be glaciers, waterfalls, forests or beautiful towns that look like they've not changed in decades.
And when it comes to the last day.. well. It's not like a Disney theme park where even if you don't want to leave, you know you can come back. A Disney cruise is something different. The people you share the ship with whether that be the hosts, the people you eat with or the entertainment hosts, that will never be the same. I found it hard to hold back the tears on day 8 because it really is a special week and the idea of not being on the seas, completely relaxed and free with wonderful people is something hard to let go. This for me is probably the purest Disney experience because you are around or near the ship 24/7. And I wouldn't want it any other way. We've already booked our 2019 cruise around the Bahamas and for anyone that wants to holiday a little bit differently, a Disney Cruise is something I wholeheartedly recommend.
Till we meet again
The final park of the trip is a short skip and a jump from Toronto, Canadas Wonderland is a park boasting 16 rollercoasters and masses of flat rides. Whilst only two of the rollercoasters are really noteworthy, the park is well known for hosting the only Huss Jump 2 in the world as well as owning a Mondial Super Nova and top scan.
So.. first the elephant in the room.
The humongous and previously biggest B&M ever is an intimidating beast. Surrounding the park entrance with its massive hills, Leviathan is one impressive ride. It's easily the parks busiest attraction and the Canadians love it. What about me though? Having done Millennium Force two days previously, what would doing my second giga coaster in two days do?
The problem when you build something to be a country's biggest or most impressive is that you have to do very little with the ride to get the attention. Leviathan has a crippling problem that really bothers me but really what it is a very fast rollercoaster with very little air time. It darts around corners and through tunnels very quickly, the snappy turns being particularly fun. But then it ends. Mako, Silver Star and Raging Bull all have ride content after an MCBR to make the ride feel like it has two parts. The first full of giant hills, the second more smaller hills and helixes. Leviathan enters a break run. It's a massive anti climax after a ride with that much speed just ends with little fanfare. The argument could be made that the ride has done all it has needed and anything else would just be window dressing and just lengthening the ride. Well Fury 325 does exactly that and is well loved because of it. Leviathan feels like a waste of a massive opportunity. We had three rides including a night ride and although the night ride was more like it, it still felt underwhelming.
Luckily there is another ride for a second chance and that is Behemoth.
The main difference between this and Leviathan is the height, the train configuration and ride length. Everything that isn't great about Leviathan features on Behemoth and more. It's a fantastic, air time filled ride. Whilst Levy is all about the speed, this is all about being chucked out of your seat and each hill provides that little burst of it. Of all the hypers I've done, this does the most with its post MCBR section featuring several air time hills and a nice forceful helix. I loved Behemoth because its what a B&M hyper should be all about. It has a great river side setting and does justice to its right length and height. This is without a doubt my favourite hyper coaster from B&M. It had maybe a maximum of a ten minute wait so re-rides were easy and it really delivered.
Vortex is the second arrow suspended on the trip. It doesn't feature two lift hills and its all the better for it as it has a great layout, big swings and properly follows the terrain. The lift hill takes it atop the rocky mountain, the icon of the park, before dropping down the hill into some big helixes that make the car swing pretty violently to the right. It then drives down towards Yukon Striker lake. Whilst a short ride, it delivers a powerful punch. This had the second longest wait of the park for some reason. It has a pretty broad appeal to a lot of people and delivers an interesting and good ride.
What doesn't deliver a good ride is a Volare. This is my first of these horror shows and whilst I don't think they are anywhere near as bad as is made out, they really aren't great attractions. From the torture device restraints to the way the thing just cannot corner properly, instead rattling and jerking left and right, it seems crazy that the have kept this. Right next door is an SLC, this was one of the better ones. I maintain that give these things a good restraint system and they would be fine because I take no issue with the layout.
Hello SLC bunny.
Whilst this park has 16 rollercoasters, a majority are pretty much off the shelf models like SLC's, Boomerangs, Mack wild mouse/powered coasters and the odd one is original. The Mighty Canadian Mine Blaster made sure that even if I wanted children, that would be impossible now. It started off fine but one of its hills just sent the restraint down another click and ouch. Every hill then become a battle not to cry out in horror..
No, what this park really does is flat rides and it is here that makes Canada Wonderland that little bit more well rounded then Cedar Point #controversy
The torture device.
The Submission experience
The blast from the past.
The parks impressive selection has one big downfall in that each ride has a might short cycle. The Mondial supernova for example lasted less then a minute and it barely built up any speed or sensation. I'd actually ridden it in Germany 12 years ago when it was called Air Wolf and there, it was a mightily impressive, intense ride. Here its only okay. The Zamperla ride didn't need to last much longer then a minute as it was weirdly forceless despite holding you upside down for longer then other similar rides. And finally, the Jump2 was just one of the most bizarre ride experiences I've ever done. If I had to describe it, it would be like what would happen if you're moving along merrily in a car and are then shunted suddenly 50/60 feet into the air in a second. It was jerky yet smooth, fast yet slow, short yet tall. I'm not really surprised that Huss only sold one because it's not a solid ride experience. I didn't come off whooping at this amazing ride but I didn't feel disappointed. It is distinctly average and yet none the less I am glad to have ridden it.
We managed to get on all the rollercoasters here and a majority of the unique flat rides so at 9pm, we decided to leave our first Canadian theme park. I recommend a trip here for those that like their theme parks a little bit weird. This is a theme park of variety, where each member of the family gets a lot of ride choice and things to do. Its like the polar opposite of Cedar Point which almost deliberately targets thrill seekers only. With another 16 coasters under my belt, the day was good and our next week was going to be a completely different kettle of fish and one of the most breathtaking and life altering weeks of my life..
(As if you havent had enough of Cedar Point already)
So this woody has a problem in that there's a part of the ride that travels past the bins and it absolutely stinks. Other then that this is a surprisingly fast and brutal wooden coaster and it took us a little bit by surprise. It had two trains running and never had a queue. I like.
This was pretty standard actually and apart from doing its thing over the pathway and has sentimental value, it's just another rollercoaster at the park and hasn't too much going for it these days.
Look at my photo skills.
I don't really understand this ride. It didn't seem to be very reliable on my visit and for a ride that makes a point of it being a racing coaster, it must be the worst racing coaster out there. The thing doesn't are as the right hand side will always have the advantage. It's also a hybrid coaster but it was pretty unmemorable.
This ride is brilliant. My only experience with Arrow hypers is The Big One which is in my opinion, an absolutely atrocious attraction. No air time, painful, shuddery and rides terribly. But Magnum, my god is absolutely fantastic. I can imagine riding this thing in 1989 and being blown away by just how much air time features throughout the ride. Oddly, the majority of the ride is outside the park and can barely be seen as you stroll around the midway. The ride is strangely themed to almost like a space ship (but obviously not) and features a huge drop and a journey towards the adventure park. But on the ride as you come back towards the station the ride throws air time hill after air time at you and it just feels insane. My first ride I was kind of in pain from just how much ejector you get. The second time I was fully aware and I adored it. So yeah I loved it, my fiancé loved it and I wished I'd ridden more. Alas, too much to do.
The next big ride is ages away in Old Town (or whatever its called) and too start off with...
WARNING, A LENGTHIER REVIEW
When it comes to Intamin, they are either brilliant (Taron, Juvelen, iSpeed) or monstrous (Cheetah Hunt, Tornado). With Maverick, back in its opening year and it had an inversion removed due to being too forceful, I had my reservations with how rideable this thing was going to be. Since opening its had some restraint modifications to make it more comfortable to ride and with its mini look but explosive layout, this ride has developed a somewhat cult following among enthusiasts. And I'm happy to say I am a fan.
The queue line is quite scenic for Cedar Point, going around a small lake and into a small shedded area before going into the station. I like how each train has a different colour and a different name. In the station, two trains are loaded at a time. We always chose the second train and I think it has a slight drawkback. When the trains are dispatched, the first will go straight into the launch lift hill but the second waits at the bottom. Problem is you have nothing to look at so you just sit (like in the picture) waiting for the ride to do something. But once it gets going this ride doesn't disappoint. From snappy inversions, huge air time hills with bucket loads of air time and a great little speed run through the lake with water blasters going off, this has something for everyone and is a real crowd pleaser.
What I like about rides like Maverick, Icon, Taron, Juvelen is that the launch is only part of the experience, a faster lift hill if you will. You're not supposed to get off these rides beaming about how fast you accelerated but how the whole things come together. Maverick is a winner because it brings together everything that is good about Intamin. They don't always get it right but when they do, they really nail it. My only hope is that more open across Europe as they are such great, enjoyable rides.
Ah RMC. Back in your earlier days whilst Theme Park Review were raving and singing your praises, I think a lot weren't too sure about the odd blocky track, the strange stall turns, the way the ride seems to throw riders around with all the grace of a bucking bronco. But over time, as more and more opened, whether completely new like Wildfire at Kolmarden or refurbishments of older rides, each has opened to massive praise. Steel Vengeance is without a doubt their biggest project. Not only did they change the universally hated Mean Streak but the created one of their longest and craziest rides. How does it really compare to other rollercoasters when to be honest there's very few like it.
From the moment the train is dispatched, even before the lift hill there's air time which bodes well. What follows the lift hill is what feels like the most out of control experience felt on a rollercoaster. From the banked air time hills, the zero g rolls that felt like they come from nowhere in the layout, the way the train dives through the structure feels incredible. The zero-g stall, the small air time hills into the break run.
When it comes to B&M's and you ride, you can remember the layout quite easily, it's simple to describe the feelings through each hill or inversion. When it comes to Steel Vengeance, that feels impossible. Especially on the ride when you're flying past wooden beams or over the top of hills, trying to process the experience feels like a trivial exercise in over-analysing. It's just damn good.
My only complaint is the restraints, particularly around the legs aren't great. I don't know if its a height thing because it only seems to effect a few people. But its a minor complaint in what I think is one of the best rides built in the last ten years. Sure, I prefer Gatekeeper as I personally enjoy that ride more. But I don't underestimate the technical skills and know how that went into modifying, building and designing Steel Vengeance.
Go and ride, simple as.
And so with all that, the Cedar Point experience was over. And was it worth it. Without a doubt yes. Maverick, Still Vengeance, Gatekeeper, Millennium Force and Raptor make the visit more then worthwhile. This is such a strong line up and it's only part of the offering. I know there is a load of people who like to pit CP against Magic Mountain and knowing I have been to two of the sought after US parks feels pretty awesome. I personally prefer CP but Magic Mountain is still a top theme park; I'd go there for Tatsu.
The next stop is Canadas Wonderland so see you then. And thanks for reading.
I'm going to go via the park layout when talking about the rides here, its easier then trying to remember the order (Millennium Force will be the exception).
Ah Cedar Point. Ever since I first got properly into rides in 2003, seeing the Top Thrill Dragster documentary on Ch4 (I think), I've been endeavouring to get out there but things stopped me. But no more. The first thing that surprised me really was the park layout. The front of the park is absolutely loaded with attractions, Raptor is right on the midway for example and sandwiched in next to it is Valravn. Rougarou and Millennium Force being just a stone throw away. But then Maverick and Steel Vengeance are a good fifteen minutes walk right at the back of the park and in-between that is only really Top Thrill Dragster. People will hate me for this potentially but the park has zero atmosphere. I guess this comes from preferring theme parks to amusement parks, every single ride is just completely silent, the only sound coming from bored Cedar Point staff asking you if you enjoyed your ride or the ride itself. Its bizarre, even Six Flags rides have music around them. But not here. I also think their fastpass system absolutely wrecks the place. Basically, the basic package is around $79 and this is al the high throughput rides like Raptor, Rougarou and Gatekeeper. But if you buy the $99 package you get all the low throughput stuff like Steel Vengance, Maverick, TTD and Force. It's no surprise that Raptor is going around with a 5 minute queue, whilst the lower capacity rides have 30-60 minute queues. It's an oddly unbalanced place.
Anywho..... with that out of the way..
With any ride at Cedar Point, there's always an expectation especially as this is one of the most talked about theme parks in the world. With GK, its always come across as a very average ride, some saying the Swarm is better. I don't care if I am an exception to the rule though and I absolutely loved Gatekeeper. I thought it was the perfect wing rider with near misses that actually work, a large sprawling layout that does the wing rider concept justice, no awkward shuffling of the trains through transitions and no effects that are turned off to safe money. It looks gorgeous sweeping over the entrance to the park and never ran less then three trains keeping queues to a minimum. It was a big surprise and even my fiancé liked it (and he hates all wing riders).
This is no exaggeration. Raptor is an absolute beast and one of the most intense inverters out there. It took me a little bit by surprise as I was expecting a tamed down version of Monster at Walygator, but no trims on here, just a pure thrill ride that is not for the faint hearted. My favourite part was the final helix which whips you into the break run. I also loved the loud roar from the ride, it's absolutely ferocious and B&M certainly don't make them like this anymore. It also looks wonderful in its colour scheme.
This was something of a disappointment for me. To be honest its completely pointless at Cedar Point. Steel Vengence, Maverick and TTD already do pretty much this ride but do far more interesting things. Valravn just feels like a bog standard dive machine but it was always busy and suffered a lot of downtime during my visit. It may (have been) be the tallest, longest dive machine but for my money, Baron1898 and Oblivion are far superior rides and in a park like CP, with many tall rides, Valravn is a bit of a let down.
Iron Dragon is next up, this was an ok suspended but it doesn't really seem to do much with its concept. It doesn't really swing much and when it feels like its about to get going, a lift hill appears or a break run. What was nice to see was how busy this ride was. It always had a 15 minute queue.
Another orange B&M (seriously, why are the B&M's at the front of the park?), this time the former stand up coaster now floorless coaster Rourgarou. This ride is pretty odd, its former Mantis state making a very abstract floorless coaster. More positives stand in that it always ran three trains so queues were at a minimum and its a very fast ride with another very loud old school B&M roar. What it isn't though is smooth, the trains do tend to knock you about a bit. For my money, Raptor is a far superior ride, I do think Rouragou's first drop is a bit of a guilty pleasure though.
So this ended up (by careful planning) being my 300th coaster credit. I think it was a rather apt choice. I have a love/hate relationship with Intamin at the best of times and I am glad to see MF really impressed. I like that its a coaster built purely to show off some speed. It's not really an air time ride like most gigas/hypers are, its purely to show off some height at great speed. We only rode on the back row for our rides but I thought it was a fantastic ride. I particularly liked the two tunnels which the ride speeds through.
And onto the final ride of this part.
Top Thrill Dragster
Intamin acceleators are really not my thing. Whilst you get this really impressive launch, the ride rarely ever carries that momentum on for long. Kanonen was probably the best for having an interesting layout and Rita/Desert Racer try their best, the majority are simple letting their impressive speed make up for lacking rides. Top Thrill Dragster is very much one of those rides that impresses with speed but feels completely unmemorable to me. Controversial maybe, but I much prefer a ride like Maverick, Icon or iSpeed which have far more then just an 8 second ride. The launch is fantastic, don't get me wrong but if I'm going to be queuing an hour (plus with rollbacks and breakdowns may I add), then there are much better choices at CP to waste your time waiting for. No point in hitting 420 foot if you only have a second to really appreciate it. I think I may be in the minority for this but its been 15 years since Dragster opened and rollercoasters have moved on from just being record breakers and nothing else.
Cedar Point. Magic Mountain. Islands of Adventure. When you think of American theme parks, these three really are the gold standard when it comes to Uk enthusiast interest. And for good reason CP and MM have a tonne of rollercoasters, IOA is a goldmine for theme lovers (if you can ignore the sheds). It sometimes amazes me just how many US parks fall completely under the radar like SF over Georgia, or Carrowinds or the park I'll be reviewing, Six Flags Great America. This is no run of the mill Six Flags park, housing the worlds first B&M rollercoaster (Iron Wolf), the worlds first B&M inverter and the one B&M wing rider in the Six Flags chain not to mention the RMC or intamin coasters.
First thing to really cover though, Six Flags is expensive. $22 for parking and $15 for a slice of pizza. Geez.
Now thats out of the way, let us begin.
X Flight opened around the same time as The Swarm and the two feel pretty similar. One of my biggest bug bears with the wing riders though is its use of effects. Up until Gatekeeper (oh I'll get to you later), all four wing riders I've done, rely massively on water or fire or mist and all four fall short because they either have nothing on at all or only a handful of effects. It's kind of frustrating knowing what the ride should be and what its actually doing. X Flight though, is safe, middle of the road B&M. We got the first ride of the day on front row left and it didn't feel like anything mind-blowing. A decent ride experience for sure, but if you want a good example, try Flug at Heide.
We turned our attention to Demon, an arrow looper. American parks have a lot of these old school style Arrow rides and I can't hide it, I kind of love them. Knowing they were designed with pencil and paper and sure they've been outclassed massively, they are still fun (if jerky) rides. This ride was adapted from its initial layout as well, two extra vertical loops added to compliment the two corkscrews.
Next, Raging Bull the only hyper twister that B&M have really ever built and I'm not sure why as this is a great ride. It's long, has air time, lots of force, an unconventional layout and the ride team were operationally perfect. I only wish we had ridden it more in a variety of seats as it was enjoyable and fun.
We made our way to Viper, a wooden coaster which is the mirror image of the Cyclone at Coney Island. I liked this but I took no photos of it because I'm a lazy bum.
Next ride was Superman Ultimate Flight which sported a 30 minute queue (so far we'd walked onto everything). This again, is super safe B&M and whilst the pretzel loop is as good as is found on Manta and Tatsu, the rest of the layout is a big underwhelming. It's better then Galatica if only for the pretzel loop but if you don't like the pretzel, there probably isn't much for you here.
With Batman: The ride closed we decided to head to Goliath, our first ever RMC. I opted for front row and what we found is a masterclass in rollercoaster design, with one problem; it's too short. The ride experience is only thirty seconds long if that but its a damn awesome ride. I was beginning to see the hype but it would be the next day where I came to really feel what RMC are capable off.
For now though, it was V2, one of those terrible Intamin launch impulse things and if you decide to read my Cedar Point blog, I'll save you time. These things kind of suck. If its walk on they are almost acceptable, but I've done three different versions now and they all kinda stink. It's okay though because next ride up was....
It was Batman time. A little bit of history, I've previously done two of these rides and been underwhelmed each time. The 7 row version in Spain wasn't great and backwards at Magic Mountain just wasn't much fun. Finally it was time for the real deal, the first ever B&M inverter.
It was awesome. It has theme, it is intense, it is snappy, it wastes no time at any point in the layout, its fresh coat of paint looks spectacular, it was just fantastic. 26 years on and it runs like an absolute dream. This Batman deserves all the praise regardless of the 11 other versions there are. This is the real deal.
With our minds blown, we had lunch (very expensive) and had a ride on the Dark Knight, an outstandingly themed Mack wild mouse. We then tried to ride Whizzer but that was a no go, went to ride Raging Bull, got in the seat then got asked to get out of the seats and back behind the loading gates. Turned out their had been a park wide power cut and nothing was operational. We took a lap of the park, seeing what was going on but decided to cut our losses and head off. We missed out on a few rollercoasters unfortunately but maybe we'll head back one day. It's a short drive from Chicago and a is a severely overlooked theme parks.
Six Flags in general is a bit of a dark horse. I've heard awful things in the past but with the three I've visted there's been good operations and friendly staff (not in a Cedar point 'how was your ride' kind of way either). I look forward to my next Six Flags park visit.
The Worst GCI in modern history. Wicker Man will be **** we all know it. Doesn't look very interesting, not very fast at all.
Just three ways Wicker Man has been described over the closed season on this forum. There's a wealth of material, of people lining up to give the first modern woodie in the UK in 22 years a good kicking. The point where coaster enthusiasts have already ruled themselves judge, jury and executioner on a ride way before anyone had even had the chance to ride. Here we are a good two weeks later from the preview event and I think there's proverbial egg on peoples faces. I remained quietly optimistic, keeping expectations in check. What I expected was a well paced, fun, mildly thrilling family wooden ride and that's exactly what I got. I knew this wasn't going to be Wodan, it wouldn't be the airtime machine that Megafobia or Tonnerre De Zeus are. But what I did get was the best rollercoaster Merlin have ever built..
Now before you decry my last sentence as hyperbolic nonsense, understand something. I love a thrilling rollercoaster but what I really love is an inventive, interactive, original layout. I love getting on a ride, hearing the people around me screaming, loving every moment, hitting the break run and then shouts of amazement, the joy that emanates from the riders. Hit the break run on Nemesis, Inferno, Swarm, Oblivion and you hear nothing, just complete silence. It's just another steel rollercoaster going through the motions. But for the first time in a long while I heard something from a UK ride. People love the Wicker Man. They can't believe that such an old looking ride (bare with me) can deliver thrills, excitement on such a scale. Europeans and Americans are used to the thrill of a wooden rollercoaster but the UK has forgotten that wooden rollercoasters are more then a match to their steel counterparts. For me, this is the first time that Merlin have hit the nail on the head and got it right.
So why is it so good?
To start off with, I like how little of it you can see from around the resort. There was a lot of discussion around Alton's limitations and how they get around them and Wicker Man is another example of that. The way the ride seems to work on several different levels to gather pace and momentum is right out of the Nemesis/Smiler handbook, the way the ride descends to the bottom of the Flume lake, or the oddity of the lift hill, the way the ride dips through the Wicker Man structure three times, each time getting more and more intense or the way the compact layout eeks out the ride length perfectly. The queue line which features very few switchbacks and naturally uses the terrain to get you close to the structure or the balcony which overlooks the majority of the ride giving great photo opportunities. The mercifully brief pre-show which I thought was perfect for the ride, telling us the story without getting bogged down in details. At its core, this is a very simple story on a pretty basic woodie but the ride is more then the sum of its parts. The soundtrack which I really like slowly builds up in drama the further into the queue you go. This feels like the kind of ride that you couldn't get anywhere else, tapping into legend in the same way that Hex does. This is right out of the Towers rule book and is all the more stronger for it.
At the moment the rides biggest issues are operational. The park hasn't really got to grips with how to run it yet with very slow dispatches and numerous breakdowns. It only ran for two hours on my visit (didn't help that Nemesis was down all day, curse you Towers) and when Wicker Man was running trains didn't seem to go out very quickly. I don't think the way rows are labelled is very clear in the station either, the darkness and moodiness of the station means people can't see the numbers hanging above their heads and numerous times people were just wondering back and forth lost. If you've ever ridden a GCI woodie you know what to expect here from the Millennium flyer trains. They are comfortable enough to ride in whilst durable enough to take it when you go slamming from side to side on the rides cornering. I won't cover the ride in too much detail as frankly it differs massively from front to back but what I will say is that when this thing beds in, those back row seats are going to be absolutely fantastic. Our first ride was row 5 and then onto row 8 and the difference was staggering.
I have two main worries. The first is the effects. Lets face it, Merlin are hit and miss with this and as you can see from the Smiler most of it no longer works. No sprayers, no screens, no car wash. The effects on Wicker Man tell a story far more then the Smiler and the danger of the Wicker Man structure having no fire or smoke must be pretty high; I'd be surprised if they still work by June. That's ignoring all the smoke effects before the lift hill, on the first drop tunnel, in the break run. If Towers want this ride to continue to have the positive reaction it currently has, it is essential they stay on top of this. That being said, I think the strong layout helps but on an effects driven ride, that can only do so much. My second concern is the rides longevity. Wooden coasters aren't steel coasters, they need consistent maintenance to keep them from getting too rough, too shaky, too unbearable. I question whether Merlin can give this ride the love it needs five years, ten years down the line. Based on their track record with Colossos for example, they let that go SBNO for two years. I don't want to see that happen with Wicker Man, in my view it's the closest to perfection Merlin can ever get.
So its safe to say, I'm a big fan of the Wicker Man and I call it a triumph for the UK industry. When people were lining up to rip it to shreds, I stayed positive and optimistic and whilst I don't want to say I told you so, I told you so. My biggest hope that comes out of this wooden ride though is that parks like Paultons, Drayton, Flamingoland, hell even Thorpe and Chessington look at what can be done with a ride like this and build their own. The wooden ride genre is big in America, China, all across Europe and yet here, they are seen as dangerous and unsafe. Telling people I work with that I was going to Towers to ride a wooden rollercoaster, they thought it was a disaster waiting to happen. I can only hope that the Wicker Mans success leads to more and more and who knows what that could lead to.
Thans for reading and as for a score, Wicker Man is a solid 8/10. I can't wait to get back up there.
Next time I'll be Enthusiastic Icon.
If 2015 and 2016 were anything, empty would be the main word. I'd lost my coaster enthusiasm in a big way with only trips to the Disney parks across Florida, California and Paris being real highlights, their blend of capacity, good hours and efficiency being real draws. Any time I'd visited Merlin parks, I'd been frustrated with just how boring and badly run they had become. If I remember 2017 for anything, it would be the year that I got back into theme parks in a big way. It happened relatively late on in the year though, with only a trip to Disneyland Paris in February before the 25th anniversary celebrations begun.
I had been planning a trip with a few others for the beginning of April. This was the real kickstarter frankly. Parc Asterix, Nigloland, Holiday Park, Phantasialand, Movie Park Germany and Efteling on the agenda. This was a sublime trip with big parks and some fantastic rides. I could wax lyrical about Alpina Blitz at Niglo for hours. This to me is why Mack rides are so exciting. Intense, full of air time, perfect restraint systems and operations. It's been a long time since I've gone back again and again for a rollercoaster, let alone ride that same ride 10 times in a day. But Alpina Blitz is something special. This is why the idea of Icon at Blackpool is so exciting because Mack rides are rerideable and damn good fun.
Getting back on Oz'Iris, Black Mamba and Taron filled me with delight too. I always wondered if I had just over-rated Oz'Iris back when I first rode it but now I know that I hadn't. It's a genuinely good, unique inverter and the operations were absolutely perfect. Whilst Tonnere de Zeus was a bit disappointing this time around, I still maintain that Goudurix is just brilliantly awful. The thrill comes from wondering if you will survive.
I was still disappointed with Expedition Ge Force. I know why people like it and even get why this was rated Number one rollercoaster for years But we've moved on now and the stupid loading procedures and strictness of the ride holds it back in so many ways. Don't ride Alpina Blitz the day before is all I can advise. A ride that did surprise was Van Helsing at Movie Park. Wow. It's just a simple Gerstlauer bobsled but it was a big shock at how good it was. Very forceful cornering that compete with our own Rattlesnake at Chessington. The final park was Efteling which I wish we had longer at. It's back on the agenda for 2018 because I just didn't feel like I got the full Efteling experience. I really liked Baron 1898 for what its worth and the fairy dark ride was pure class from start to finish.
(side note, has anyone seen that seven rollercoasters you need to ride in 2018 video thats been going around? Why is Baron even on that list?!)
With that excitement over the next trip was IMO the best park in the world, Europa Park. It's no secret that I love Europa and every time I go it surprises and delights at every turn. It was weirdly quiet, managed to stay on Blue Fire twice in a row for example and we didn't really queue longer then 20 minutes for Arthur. We didn't know it was to be our last rides on EuroSat 1. It was running fantastically well. There's something about these older dark rides that just surprise at every turn. Wodan was also running fantastically. Every successive trip, it just seems to get better and better. Whilst I prefer Blue Fire, Wodan really is a great coaster. Coupled onto this trip was a few days at Paris to do all the 25th anniversary shows and to experience Hyperspace Mountain. Yuck. I don't really like it when a ride like Space Mountain has a theme chucked at it in such a haphazard way. The new trains are fine, but the use of Star Wars doesn't work here. New Illuminations is also not very good. There I said it. Stop trying to sell me your brands in such a blatant way.
July time and it was off to Walygator for Monster. This is a pretty damn good B&M and whilst Walygator is a bit of a dump, Monster almost makes up for it.
One final trip to Paris happened (annual pass fun) and then November and off to Florida for a two week vacation. (lol America)
I'll first talk about Busch Gardens and Seaworld before descending into Disney. Do Busch and Seaworld ever get busy? For example, I've never queued longer then 10 minutes at Busch for anything. Walk on Montu, Cheetah Hunt is lovely but surely it shouldn't be that way in Florida. Suffice to say my feelings for certain rides has changed. I'm not sure what they've done to Kumba for example but it felt like the wheels were squares. It was running quite roughly throughout whilst was slightly disappointing as I'd previously loved it. Montu was fine but it really doesn't compare to Oz'iris, Monster, Nemesis. It's first half is fine, but the second half is just the train wondering around finding its way to the ending. Sheikra is excellent. So much force and air time throughout. I hear that it's hated in theme park circles and I really don't get why.
Cobras Curse was new last year and seemed to be having a lot of problems. We managed two rides and it was an okay enough ride but was a bit haphazard in its execution.
Seaworld has three top quality rollercoasters and thats it. Luckily, these are B&M"s and three very strong ones at that. I'll start with Kraken (or Kraken Unleashed) which has been completely wrecked by VR. I'm not sure how the queue works anymore because the queue is closed off with a gate for the whole day and you have to ask to ride without VR. If you want VR you have to grab a virtual queue ticket. You could easily lie however and just queue normally and get straight on. But if you have a virtual queueing ticket you get priority onto the ride and can still just choose not to use the VR if you so desire. It was weird. The VR is fine but again it take away from the quality B&M experience you could be having instead. I'd never really liked Kraken that much before but I really enjoyed it this time around. It felt a bit rough around the edges and less smoother then before so maybe I like the more visceral experience.
Manta is excellent. The flyer is a bit of an under-rated gem in Europe to be honest and its a shame its never really taken off because from what I've seen and experienced, the flyer is the most intense B&M product available. I know some don't like pretzel loops but I absolutely adore them. MORE PRETZEL LOOPS PLEASE.
And finally... Mako. My experience with B&M Hypers is ashamedly lacking. I've only been on Silver Star and Shambhala so far so I was looking forward to Mako. A few things with this first. Most hypers have nine rows, Mako has seven so it looks really short and oddly shaped compared to the norm. I think this may explain why Mako is so much more airtimey and 'intense' compared to the others I've been on because the air time here was far more in the Intamin category of air time then the norm. The first half of Mako is excellent and surprisingly intense. It felt far more violent that I'm accustomed to from Shambhala for example which takes everything far more calmly. Mako isn't like this at all. What does take away its edge though is two trim breaks. WHY DO THEY DO THIS. Mako has two and the first nearly kills an air time hill, the second makes for a poorer ending then Mako really deserves. What Mako does do is deliver another excellent B&M for Seaworld who IMO have one of the strongest B&M line ups in the world. There, I said it.
So Disney World. This was all really about Animal Kingdom frankly. It delivered. There's a slight bit of animosity towards Pandora: The Land of Avatar and I get where that comes from. But it pales into significance of how incredible the area is. It's immersive, its full of little details and each walk through of the area is full of surprises. It's particularly amazing at night when the pathways come to life, full of colour, the plants shine, the waterfalls glisten.
There are two rides in the area. Flights of Passage is the big one which gets 180 minute queues from the start, all the way to the end of the day. The other is Navi River Journey, a small boat ride that takes you through the land of Pandora. For all my money (and worth), I think Navi River Journey is the better ride. This goes slightly against the grain but to me, I prefer the physicality of River Journey with a particularly impressive animatronic. Flights of Passage only just justifies its long queue time and if I was being cruel, it's just a slightly more impressive Star Tours. There's no doubt that what Disney have done here is tried to put you on a journey, to wake you up to the damage being done to our world, albeit very subtlety. I just find the pre-shows over long and full of faff, impressive faff but faff nonetheless.
What does impress however is Expedition Everest at night. Disney are the masters at lighting and riding Everest in pitch darkness has to rate as one of my favourite rollercoaster experiences. Rivers of Lights, Animal Kingdoms new night-time show is impressive in its small scale. It's not like the castle firework shows where its essentially a Disney clip show. RoL is about how we live with animals and our bond with nature. I really liked it.
Nothing to really report about Hollywood Studios and Epcot was it's usual retirement home of locals and retail. Frozen Ever After is fine if unremarkable but just about enough to justify its queue times. Happily Ever After, the new firework show at Magic Kingdom is fantastic. The Christmas event was fun but no way on earth am I queuing three hours to meet Moana.
And with that another theme park year is over. It's been one where I finally feel back into the theme park groove. Hope this wasn't to long a read and congratulations if you've made it to the end.
Hello again, long time no see. It's been a quick six month break since I've been on here, since my 'emotional' breakdown a few months back. In that time, my love for rollercoasters has been reinvigorated without the related cynicism that forums can sometimes create. I thought I'd do a blog of somewhat of what I've been up to.
April 2017 - France/Germany road trip
Three months ago, (where has the time gone), myself along with Peaj, Dan and Fred went on a six park trip across Western Europe parks. The aim was for everyone to grab the odd new B&M, Intamin and new parks galore. For all of us, the only new park was Movie Park Germany. I have to admit our trip was oddly planned, we somehow missed all the new rides that were due to open in May, however I think in spite of this, we had a wonderful time. So to start off we went to Parc Asterix. I think of this is a very under-rated place. The rides are fun, enjoyable, interestingly themed and very re-rideable. The obvious highlight is Oz'Iris which, five years after my first ride is still an incredible ride. We managed a back row and front row ride and each was enjoyable. It managed to toe the line between modern and old school B&M and the custom layout works really well with the nearby theming.
Tonnerre de Zeus has had some queue line work too but seemed rougher then I remember, presumably its starting to age and might need a little bit of work done. I was impressed with the parks newer additions such as the disk which features fire effects and the way the ride is designed into the lake. I love Goudurix. This may be controversial but it's an intense, raw experience which many newer rides could learn lessons from. Sure its still rated one of the worst rollercoasters in the world but I don't think it deserves the hatred it received.
Park 2 was Nigloland, a park celebrating its 30th anniversary. This park has a lot of Mack rides, in fact it almost comes across as a mini Europa Park. This was my biggest surprise of the trip frankly, it's a fantastic park that retains its family history and the obvious pride in the place is something you just don't get with company parks. The obvious star of Nigloland is Alpina-Blitz, an absolutely sublime rollercoaster and by a country mile my favourite ride of the trip. One of my favourite aspects of it is the little Mack touches, the way the ride has such forceful air time in the Blue Fire type trains, the little walkway that extends over the track in the station to allow disabled access, the way it borrows the best bits from Piraten (Djurs Sommerland) and improving on them massively. As I've got older, I don't re-ride rides more then 2/3 times but Alpina Blitz, we got ten rides out of. It is worth the trip to here alone.
Other rides in Nigloland aren't 'quite' up the standard of Blitz, but they don't need to be. Euro-Sat has a little brother here for example and whilst not quite as good or as long, is a nice surprise. The log flume, I found very strange. It runs about nine boats in total and contains only one drop in a very short layout. Strange. I loved the powered coaster, I forced the others to ride a further two times. A few rides there were a bit dodgy such as the Jungle Cruise rip off or the Jurassic Park walkthrough which were a waste of time really, but in the context of the park are good fillers. The new drop tower which sticks out like a saw thumb was pretty terrifying if only for the sheer size of the tower. The drop had nothing on our Detonator, however its height was intimidating.
Park 3 - Holiday Park
The original intention was to visit Walygator for Monster and Anaconda. However when that decided to open three weeks later, we quickly diverted to Holiday Park in Germany. It's been eleven years since I last visited and I originally didn't really like Expedition Ge Force finding it over-rated and disappointing. My opinion on this has morphed slightly, however I think EGF is now severely outclassed by Shambhala, Alpina Blitz and Piraten. The ride was running one train and because of intamin related problems, it took ages to load. The restraints bite hard into taller people meaning the air time hills become more and more painful as it goes on. I'm 6 foot and was on the edge of pain. It was more enjoyable then I remembered but there's just no way that the ride is number one.
The new star of Holiday Park is Sky Scream. I liked it a lot. I'd been on Superman at Discovery Kingdom and it is pretty much exactly the same albeit, the theme is very different. Horror theme just doesn't work on this kind of rollercoaster, especially in glorious sunshine. Holiday Park suffers from a lack of family rollercoasters. It has two thrill machines and then everything else is slightly below par. An average omni-mover, a pretty good rapids and a stupidly wet log flume don't really make up for the lack of family support rides. The drop tower being themed to a teenager tv show was odd.
Everyone knows this park is awesome, that goes without saying. I love the Baron hour extra ride time for guests at the end of the day, I love the hotel, I adore how cheap the ride photos and food are at at the park. I hate Winjas. The news of a launched flyer is welcome news. Kind of glad it isn't B&M as well.
Fantastic views of Mamba from the hotel room
This place is weird. You can tell that it's had a change in direction with one half of the park being movie themed and the rest rides just chucked at pathways. The highlight by far was Van Helsing which isn't just a good ride, is a stand out Gerstlauer wild mouse. Some really forceful hair pins and great dips in a ride that really showcases the best of the company. It's theme was pretty decent too, although admittedly the head peeking out of the ceiling on the exit platform was more comedic then scary. The rest of the park is pretty poor though. Star Trek was desperately needed but not ready to open on our visit. The Vekoma SLC was Dan's first of this type, well deserving of a front row seat. Wasn't that bad but after Oz'Iris and Black Mamba, it doesn't come across well. The only photo I have of the day is Oswald at Disneyland Paris so that will have to do.
And finally Efteling
When I was younger and in my theme park teenage years, there were three parks that I always wanted to visit because they sounded more magical then theme parky. They were Liseberg, Tivoli Gardens and Efteling. And I was finally ticking this off my list. The park was busy and queues for the big rides topped an hour. My obvious interest was Baron 1898 which I'll talk about later. Firstly, Flying Dutchman. What a great concept let down solely by the middling rollercoaster bit. The theming of Efteling is second to none and the atmosphere of the indoor bit is fantastic. I was slightly thrown off by the lift hill where I thought an obvious backwards bit was going to happen but didn't. Next, Volga Rock a rather extravagant Vekoma rollercoaster which I really enjoyed. My memory is hazy because of the sheer oddness of the trip. The fairy dark ride is fabulous. I was taken back by the sheer scale of the ride, the attention to detail of the sets is incredible. The Venom Madhouse requires you to know Dutch and well, we don't. Music was great though. Joris en de Draak, the parks racing woodies were both running one trains and to be honest, I didn't think it had anything on Wodan. I don't get the appeal of racing coasters to be honest, the rides motions get completely ignored by wanting to see where the other train has gone. And I hate losing.
And finally, Baron. I thought this was a wonderful take on the dive machine concept. I like my rides to involve the people passing by so the little bell emanating from the lift hill when a train is about to descend is the kind of detail I love to see. The show rooms on this don't rely on a knowledge on the Dutch language enabling anyone to understand the story. The drop is rather nifty and whilst shorter then Oblivion has a similar impact. The zero g is good.The air time hill is terrible. There isn't a single bit of sensation as the train rises and falls over the track and fills like its there to increase ride length only. The ride also has a problem with capacity. It only has three trains and even with that there is massive stacking. Oblivion with its seven trains (in its heyday anyway) runs rings around Baron. In spite of this, 1898 is thematically far more interesting and engaging then Oblivion. The power of dive machines to grab attention is second to none.
And with that the trip was over. Some of the top parks in Europe are only a couple of hours away from the UK so there really is no excuse not to go.
Next up was Thorpe Park which was absolutely dead. Where was everyone? This was my first time on Derren Brown and I have to say it was relatively enjoyable. It suffers from the Merlin problem that acting = shouting at guests and ordering them around. I loved the train concept and even fell for the bit where a tube train is thundering down the tunnel. We were lucky that there was no queue and we got batched in straight away. It's not worth a long queue but it is interesting that the ride length of Derren Brown is probably longer then every other ride at Thorpe put together.
This is Samurai which I haven't ridden for about three years.
Next up was Disneyland Paris where we were by chance around for the reopening of Space Mountain as the shameless cash in, Hyperspace Mountain. I didn't like this one bit and the main problem is the clashing of themes. Star Wars on the Californian version is fine, that has a rather charmless theme as it is. The Jules Verne mixed with X-Wings and Death Stars doesn't work at all. Sadly this ride will be a lot more popular with visitors, equalling longer queues, meaning the original version from 1995, may now never return. On the plus side, the new trains are excellent albeit, slightly more restrictive then the old ones.
Other new features for the 25th include a new parade (which was a massive upgrade from the old one), a new firework show (which is a massive downgrade from Dreams) and new day time shows celebrating the magic of DLP.
I forgot to mention Europa Park, but lets face it that place is just insanely incredible. It was the quietest I've ever seen it with being able to stay on Blue Fire three times in a row or walk on front row Wodan. New area Ireland is fine, the rather odd choice of theming a rockin' tug around a Titanic life boat is an interesting choice for a ride..
Blue Fire remains as incredible as always, surely one of the best rides ever built. It's on its 9th season but you couldn't tell it as it has not aged one iota. The drops with that level of smoothness make it one of the most consistent rides out there.
I apologise for this blogs length and well done if you even got half way. It's been a breezy six months and I'm so glad that my passion for theme parks have been reinvigorated. Nothing is like our hobby, the sheer escapism and joy from theme parks is unrivalled. And to end this length trip report, here's Scenic Railway at Margate which gave me chills.
I must admit when reviewing Disneyland two years ago I was way to harsh. Part of the nature of theme parks is having high expectations and them not quite being fulfilled. Part of that is my fault, I'd built the place up to be the place that Walt built, when in reality the place has grown beyond recognition from when he was alive. The aspect I wasn't quite prepared for was just how small (in comparison to Disneyland Parc or Magic Kingdom) Disneyland is and how crowded it could become. Everytime I think of the place I think of the bottleneck entrances to Adventureland and Tomorrowland and that somewhat overshadowed the excellent stuff that is contained within. So the time, a little older, a little wiser, here is another full blown review of Disneyland. Woo.
So to start of with.
Decked out for the 60th anniversary, the castle has been decorated in diamonds on its spires. Special 60th anniversary merchandise adorns each shop. Special 60th cake pops, toffee apples, muffins, cupcakes tempt even the stingiest gate. I'm a sucker for this stuff frankly. We tried nearly everything and I have to give top ranking to the cupcake with bavarian buttercream.
Three special shows were introduced for the anniversary, the first being Disneyland Forever which is the main firework show in Disneyland. It's very reminiscent of Dreams in Paris but there are a few differences. Disneyland Forever uses projection mapping all down main street so that it's not essential to see the castle, it uses physical effects, my particular favourite was the Finding Nemo where the Matterhorn was used during the ring of fire scene. The snow effect during the inevitable Frozen scene was awesome as well.
If Disneyland Forever was a more atypical fireworks show, then World of Color - Celebrate was far more representative of the history of Walt Disney and the company. It's come in for a lot of stick from Disney fans. I personally really liked it even though the Frozen scene was completely unnecessary. WOC-Celebrate bought a tear to my eye and a collective aww during the scenes such as Dumbo being hugged by his mother or Beymax.
I really enjoyed it.
The final main addition was the Paint the Night parade. My highlight was the Cars lorry as it looks wonderful in its lights and on the whole, a very enjoyable parade.
So what else is new (well, for us anyway)
Alice in Wonderland
I really liked this. I normally have a problem with rides that try and tell a whole film story in less then three minutes (Peter Pan's Flight I'm looking at you). But because of the subject matter, Alice in Wonderland is a wonderful (pun intended) attraction that in my opinion, is worth the 40 minute queue we did on our final day.
Finding Nemo Submarines
I have to admit that this wasn't an attraction that I think is very noteworthy and I personally think I would have preferred the original version. Nemo to me, doesn't fit in that well here and it feels a little hokey. Like the omnimover at EPCOT, I feel the IP has been shoehorned in. I have a lot of respect for the ride itself and its size and scale but the subject matter isn't to impressive. Big props to Disney for keeping the thing going and even bigger props to the poor submarine operators, whose feet are exposed to guests at the bottom of the sub.
I didn't like Space Mountain on my original trip, I'm happy to say that Hyperspace Mountain was a vast improvement. The use of projections through the ride of TIE fighters and X wings, as well as physical effects such as laser shots along with a ride that felt far zippier then before left for an impressive ride.
Grizzly River Run
This rapids ride, whilst pretty much themed quite sparingly, is an intense, violent and soaking water ride. I found both of the drops terrifying and seemed to spin the boat more then I would really like. Would re-ride on a warmer day (It wasn't very warm when we rode!)
Luigis Rollicking Roadsters
New for 2016 was this redesigned attraction. Previously was a set of tires which with your body leaning in certain directions, would move the tire. It was a hard attraction to crack and was replaced this year with a ride based on the same technology from Ratatouille and Mystic Manor. I liked this for what it was. The movements of the cars is potentially better to watch then it was tor rise as watching the cars do there thing was mesmerising.
New Characters that we met
Oswald, My personal hero!
I felt this time, I was able to appreciate the rides far more and particularly the park structure. This was thanks to the previous trip, the app that displays live queue times and also lets you know what fast passes are available. We never queued more then ten minutes for Star Tours, Splash Mountain, Hyperspace Mountain, Indianna Jones, Radiator Springs Racers, all the busiest rides on park. We also learnt fairly early on that certain rides fastpass return times never get far enough ahead. Big Thunder Mountain and California Screamin' for example were always 40 minutes later. Even at night, we were able to get easy night rides on BTM and I have always been a big fan of these rides. We also used the parades to our advantage. Unlike Paris and Florida which have massive areas to avoid parade routes, Disneyland doesn't. When it's running, it effectively cuts the park in half. This means easy access and tactical positioning mean minimal queues at the best times. For instance, for the Soundsational parade, we positioned ourselves near it's a Small World so that when the parade ended, a quick run meant less then a five minute wait for the ride.
Sure this all sounds rather strategic and boring and maybe it is. By having frequent fastpass available, we utilised our day better and I found I appreciated the park far more. Rides that before, I thought of very little such as Mr Toad's wild Ride and Rodger Rabbits Cartoon Spin were suddenly more enjoyable. I still prefer California Adventure on a park basis. I love the variety of rides and my appreciation of Screaming' rises after every ride.
And just to mention...
I think it would be a crime to change this to Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm a massive fan of that film but compared to the Tower which in my opinion is a timeless classic, no flash in the pan film series will ever compare to a ride which is so thoughtfully themed, imagined, designed and constructed. Whilst it wouldn't be so hard for say a Brit to take (what with Paris less then three hours away and being eight hours away from Florida), it seems absolutely ludicrous that we are even considering a world where the Tower of Terror is replaced.
So, on that note, I had a much better time at Disneyland for my second trip to the Golden State. As a theme park, Disneyland is somewhat stretched to braking point. But there is no doubt for me now that with the addition of Star Wars Land, the park will go from strength to strength and I hope this solves some of the parks capacity issues.
And of course Radiator Springs Racers is there, which is just one of the most beautifully scenic rides I've ever ridden.