The 2016 Theme Park season is upon us, and what better way to kick off than a weekend hop over to visit our deutsche Freunde in Baden Württemberg. The reason for the trip was to explore two of the more regional, and less-well-travelled parks, in Germany: Tripsdrill and Holiday Park.
Planning was a cinch, involving a Eurowings flight out to Stuttgart (£50) and overnight stay at the Wyndham hotel on airport (£30) on the Friday evening, 2-day car hire from Avis (£30) picked up on the Saturday morning, entry to Tripsdrill on the Saturday (£17), overnight stay in the Tripsdrill Schäferwagen on the Saturday evening (£40), entry to Holiday Park on the Sunday (£24), petrol for the weekend (£8.50), and BA flights home on Avios (£17.50); all prices per person, based on 2 travelling. At £217 each, it's great value - and I'd encourage anyone thinking about planning a similar European trip to jump straight in - there's a huge variety of Theme Parks on the continent, not all that far from us, at relatively accessible prices.
As you can see, both Tripsdrill and Holiday Park are easily driven to from Stuttgart airport, although flying into Frankfurt could also work. And for a three day trip, Europa Park is also just under 100 miles away...
First up, on the Saturday, was Tripsdrill; a Park marketed as "featuring over 100 original attractions depicting Swabian life in the late 1800s... remarkable attention to detail, dedication to authenticity and respect for nature truly set Tripsdrill apart". And I'm happy to report that there's no marketing hooey here: the above sums up Tripsdrill really rather well.
This here is a Swabian man - let's call him Günther - from the late 1800s. Goodness knows what he is doing, or what he has on his back, but Tripsdrill is stuffed full of animatronics such as Günther - the Park really is a mecca for rural German history, if that's the sort of thing you're into. There are whole areas of the Park filled with both static tableaux and moving scenes, and you can easily spend an hour wandering around the place exploring all the exhibits.
This, along with its gorgeous rural location (in a valley, surrounded by vast rolling fields), gives Tripsdrill a very "homely" feel: it would come as no surprise to anybody that it remains family owned (the Fischers have run Tripsdrill since 1929; it's easily Germany's oldest Theme Park). It's clearly important to the owners that the Park integrates as much with nature as possible; wood is used for most buildings, and there are trees and flowers everywhere. And being family owned, there is a more "relaxed" approach to H&S (although I never once felt unsafe), operations were excellent, and there wasn't a queue-jumping scheme to be seen.
First up for us was the 2013 Gerstlauer Infinity Coaster, Karacho (no literal translation, other than "a lot of power"). The Park's newest and most intense ride, Karacho still manages to nestle in very comfortably with its countryside surroundings. The ride features Infinity trains with similar assemblies to Alton's The Smiler, but with only 2 rows rather than 4, and lap bars instead of OTSRs.
Themeing on the ride, as with all of Tripsdrill, is excellent, with scenes around the queueline telling a story about a madcap inventor designing his perfect roller coaster, surrounded by plans, prototypes and the like. Karacho is the result of his work, but as riders disembark, they are treated to one final animatronic of the inventor throwing up (water) into an oil drum. Not so perfect for him, then.
The ride itself involves a 180 degree turn out of the station into darkness, a "surprise" indoors heartline roll in the same vein as The Smiler, a peppy 55mph LSM launch out into the light, and an outside layout that involves a 98ft top hat, 2 dive loops and a corkscrew.
Operations were excellent, with fast, regular dispatching of trains - the operator would give each lap bar one push down and one pull up, and that was it; away we went. Top marks.
I was expecting Karacho to be a solid Gerstlauer installation, in the same vein as Lynet at Fårup, or Anubis at Plopsa. Solid launch, decent layout, OK trains. So I was really surprised to find that Karacho was actually bloody fantastic.
The trains are a large reason as to why - the Gerstlauer clamshell lap bar is a triumph; allowing maximum freedom whilst not exerting too much pressure on any one part of your thighs (I'm looking at you, solid Intamin bar of doom; see my Italy TR for more musings on this). For me, Karacho's are the closest coaster seats in terms of comfort to those found on Mack's megacoaster product - high praise indeed.
This elevates an enjoyable experience to a brilliant one, as the rider has complete freedom to be thrown about the remarkably well-tracked layout - which, in contrast to certain other rides, features absolutely no jolting or shuddering whatsoever. It's super smooth, and super fun.
By far the highlight of the ride is the 2nd dive loop, shown below. Not only does the ride tunnel underground, but the transition from the banked curve (seen at the back) and the dive loop (at the front) is very tight, meaning that riders get sharply "pulled around" into the dive (in a similar way to blue fire's final inline twist). It's an example of where OTSRs would have caused all sorts of painful head bashing, but with clamshell restraints, the ride remains intense but comfortable.
A final nod to the ride's lighting package. The well-themed trains look even better when they connect to the power supply in the station, as the two rear "engines" start to glow a vibrant red. It's a simple LED effect but really showcases Tripsdrill's attention to detail, fostering a nice anticipatory atmosphere in the dimly-lit station.
Overall, Karacho came very close for me to being the perfect mid-sized coaster. Although it probably wouldn't trouble my top 10, it would get fairly close - and it's by far the best Gerstlauer I've ever ridden. It actually prompted me to consider a trip to Finland to ride its brightly-coloured brother at PowerLand, and seems to me to be the perfect investment for parks with mid-sized budgets; I can imagine Blackpool and Drayton would be good candidates in the UK for this sort of ride.
And finally - why, oh why, could Merlin not have opted for lap bars on Smiler's Infinity trains...?!
Next up was 2008's Mammut ("Mammoth"), a pre-fab wooden coaster from Holzbau Cordes (similar to Intamin's pre-fab efforts with Balder and Colossos), themed around German saw mills. Cue more tableaux in the queue line of workers, saws, wood, etc... you get the idea. Strangely, no mammoths to be seen. And again, Gerstlauer were involved - this time producing the trains.
It's an imposing ride for a smaller park like Tripsdrill (98-foot tall, 2,822ft long), and I had to set my camera to "panorama mode" to fit it all in...
We were lucky enough to get 4 back-to-back rides in the morning (it turns out the Park doesn't get so busy during dreary Saturdays in April...!), and I'm happy to report Mammut is a good 'un.
An entertaining pre-show before the lift hill (with a "saw mill goes wrong" theme), a killer first drop (especially in the back row), and a varied layout including a tunnel, all add up to a solid ride. Operations were good, albeit one train only.
It isn't hugely intense - although I suspect that's not the market Tripsdrill's after - and there is a little bit of roughness during some parts of the ride - although there's a good argument that this is part and parcel of a wooden coaster - but these are minor quibbles of an otherwise decent coaster.
You also get the advantage of some superb views of the rolling green countryside as you ascend the lift hill.
Moving on, and this is G'sengte Sau - the Park's first "big" coaster, from - you guessed it - Gerstlauer. Indeed, Tripsdrill's involvement with Gerstlauer goes back a long way, as G'sengte Sau was Gerst's first ever coaster, back in 1998. And what is remarkable is how smooth and accomplished the ride is, given that it was Gerstlauer's very first effort.
The ride is built around a schwäbisch castle, featuring the wild-mouse bends and tight helices typical of these bobsled coasters, with some good near misses around the building structure. More than most rides at Tripsdrill, this one felt truly integrated with its environment; the bunny hops towards the end of the layout felt more like they were following the terrain than having been artificially created.
It most reminded me of Thor's Hammer at Djurs, which was no bad thing - and no surprise either given that Thor was Gerst's 2nd ever bobsled ride in 2002. A little rough in places, but capable of pulling some great forces around its tight layout.
Note how close the ride track is to the public pathway; no netting obscuring the view, no fencing or bars erected in the name of H&S. It makes a big difference to the organic feel to the ride, and was great to see - the Germans are clearly more trusted than we are to not do anything stupid...
The other side to the castle hosts the wonderful Badewannen-Fahrt zum Jungbrunnen (translation: "Bathtub Journey to the Fountain of Youth"). This is an above-average Mack flume ride, where riders sit in comedy bathtubs meandering around various animatronic bath time scenes - some featuring a fair bit more nudity than you'd see in other countries! I have photos, but we must remember that TPM is a family website...
There were three drops, including a backwards one, and some nice interaction with the aforementioned G'sengte Sau. The drop was visually impressive, but didn't get you all that wet - which is the perfect combination for a cloudy April afternoon in my eyes.
By far the best bit of Badewannen-Fahrt zum Jungbrunnen however is the figure - let's call her Maike - that greets you when you disembark your bathtub.
She surely has to be one of the most gross characters to be found at a Theme Park, ever.
Some things cannot be unseen...
Onto some of the Park's supporting attractions, and we come first to Doppelter Donnerbalken (literally, "Double Thunder Beam"). This is a quirky set of two 50ft drop towers from Premier, facing each other, both themed to large trees. "Forest Brother" Huzelin lives in these trees, apparently, and the only way to visit him is to ride the tower. You know it makes sense.
What was quirky about the ride, apart from the fab Tripsdrill themeing, was what happened for the finale. For most of the ride the towers acted like oversized frog-hoppers, bouncing around whilst catching the expressions of those on the tower opposite (made all the more thrilling by only having a small lap bar to hold you in). The finale though involved both towers being raised to the highest point, and then a pretty fast, aggressive lurch forwards towards the riders on the opposite side.
This maneuver was genuinely surprising, and only a touch away from being "too rough" - with only a thin lap bar to hold you in, the experience could be compared to having a minor car crash.
A nice idea, but I have no doubt that the same effect could be achieved in a more refined way. It's telling that I didn't rush around to ride it again, and I'm a big fan of drop towers (for the record, Thorpe's Detonator still stands as #1 drop tower for me, even up against other towers three times its height...).
The Park also has a decent kiddie coaster in Rasender Tausendfüßler (translation: "Raging Centipede" ), a Zierer Tivoli with a high-capacity train that snakes around a lake with a fountain.
Some decent landscaping - and two laps around the track rather than one - elevate this coaster above the majority of similar kiddie rides.
Tripsdrill also has an excellent rapids ride in Waschzuber-Rafting ("Washtub Rafting"), a Hafema installation themed around an old washhouse from 1808. The queueline was, as ever, excellently themed, although old mangles and first-gen Miele washing machines aren't the most exciting of things to view whilst queueing...
I've always been a fan of Hafema rapids (their best creation surely being Phantasialand's River Quest) due to their innovative 3-piece boats that allow water to slosh around everywhere. This rapids was great fun as expected, with some seriously choppy bits, a thundering waterfall section, and a mock whirlpool, seemingly a Hafema hallmark.
Note again how close the Park's public areas are to the trough of the rapids. There's only a small wire fence between the pathway and the ride, meaning that an idiotic guest could easily jump right on in...
...and the same applies for Mühlbach-Fahrt ("Mill Stream Ride"), the Park's kiddie flume with a teensy 11ft drop - the cobbled area shown on the bottom right of this photo is a public area, but with absolutely nothing to stop a guest falling / jumping in to the water. I wonder how many kids in the summer have attempted to jump in!
In today's age of hyper-sensitivity to H&S and litigation, Tripsdrill's approach is unusual, but refreshing - let's just hope their more trusting attitude doesn't spell trouble for the Park down the line.
And finally a quick look at some oddities that make Tripsdrill, well, Tripsdrill. This ride, Weinkübelfahrt ("Wine Barrel Ride"), looks like your typical cars-on-a-track affair (R.I.P. Miss Hippo), but when various sensors are tripped around the course, the barrels spin like a lively teacup. Fun!
Fittingly, just behind the Weinkübelfahrt is the Vinarium, a free museum dedicated to German viticulture that offers all those who enter a free Tripsdrill glass ( ) and a walk around (yet more) exhibits of Swabian culture.
More of note was the cellar of this Vinarium, which turned out to be a fully operational bar. Manned by a local guy with absolutely no understanding of English whatsoever (A Level German suddenly became very useful to me), locally-produced wines from the region were the order of the day. I went for a glass of red (€1.50), which proved very palatable.
Tripsdrill are onto a winner here: if only more Theme Parks would give out free merch and sell cheap local wine in pleasant surroundings....
Laughs were had on the Park's Wackelräder ("Shaky Wheels") bikes, which had asymmetrical spokes on the front wheels, making them pretty hard to cycle around. I crashed into a wall once, and very nearly crashed into another guest barely a minute later. Good fun, with up-charging conspicuous by its absence.
In all, Tripsdrill is a really lovely place, filled with good quality, well themed mid-sized attractions.
Karacho is a stand-out ride. The fact the Park is family owned and run is evident throughout, and although it was pretty when I went, it must look really gorgeous in the summer. The flowerbed : guest ratio, even in peak season, must be approaching something like 3 : 1 .
It's also a place filled with German heritage oddness, which can range from educational and interesting to just plain strange.
To finish, I'll leave you with the latter; yet another Tripsdrill character - let's call this one Stefanie - who was found towards the end of the Tripsdriller Eheinstitut (translation: "Tripsdrill Institution of Marriage"; itself an odd attraction).
You saucepot, Stefanie.
N.B. We stayed overnight in one of Tripsdrill's Schäferwagen ("Shepherd's Carts"); essentially a classier, all wooden Thorpe Shark Hotel, set in gorgeous woodland surroundings. Theoretically you can fit 5 in these 13 sq.m.carts, although it would be a squeeze even with 4: two bunk beds hang over a central double bed, with a couch doubling up as a potential fifth bed. Toilets and showers are situated in a (well maintained) central block, but for those with a bit more cash to spare, full blown 6-person 35 sq.m. treehouses (with integrated bathrooms) are also up for grabs.
It was more than comfortable, and didn't just provide €7 pizzas delivered to our door and a great night's sleep, but a hearty free breakfast the next morning. At €100 (£80) a night all-in, including free entry to the Tripsdrill Wildparadies Nature Park next door and discounted Tripsdrill Theme Park entry, it comes recommended to those looking for an overnight option.
Thanks for reading; comments welcome as always.
Next up: Holiday Park!