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End of year review 2017

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. IMG_6575.thumb.JPG.ec44a59a83ca07f8280cc05753839107.JPG


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.



6 month break

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


Movie Park


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.IMG_6484.thumb.JPG.bf226684a244e4bb720543690eaeed5b.JPG

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.



The New


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. IMG_5079.JPG

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

IMG_5134.JPG (gulp)

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.


Hyperspace Mountain


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!


The old


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.



Mark9 out.


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