Welcome to Part 2 of the Stuttgart Sojourn; an April weekend exploring the regional Parks of south Germany (if you haven't read it, Part 1 is here). Following an overcast, but very enjoyable, day at Tripsdrill, a good night's sleep in one of their cosy Schäferwagen, and a hearty continental breakfast in a log cabin in the middle of the WildParadies (a second gate Wildlife Park next to the Theme Park), it was time to make the hour-long drive north to Haßloch's Holiday Park!
And what a difference a day made to the weather; out was the blanket grey cloud, and in were bright blue skies with warm sunshine. Theme Parks generally look great in any weather, but they look especially great when the sun has his hat on .
Holiday Park is based 12 miles out of Neustadt in Haßloch, and much like Tripsdrill before it, is set in the middle of vast areas of German countryside. Rather more "corporate" and polished than Tripsdrill, the Park was owned and run by the Schneider family from its opening in 1971, and was sold on to Studio 100 (who own the Plopsa brand) in November 2010.
Since then, Studio 100 have made significant efforts to "Plopsa-ify" the Park, importing into Germany the characters so prominent in their other Parks (and if you haven't heard of Plop the Gnome, Wickie the Viking, and Maya the Bee... well, you're not missing much). And there are now lofty ambitions for Holiday Park, which had suffered in the years prior to the Studio 100 takeover, with the stated aim to drive gate figures up to 1.2m through a phased €25m investment (to match visitor numbers at the flagship Park, Plopsaland De Panne).
It's easy to spot the new owner's influence from the moment you enter the car park - Holiday Park now sports a jazzy new themed archway at the entrance, much like the one at its sister Park.
The eagle eyed amongst you will have already spotted the Park's signature attraction in the above photo, and it was indeed the first ride we made a Maya-the-Beeline for as we entered the Park.
Expedition Ge Force's reputation precedes it; winner of the (revered?) Mitch Hawker Best Steel Coaster Poll 5 times in the last 10 surveys, and never dropping below third place over that time. With three of my personal favourite coasters coming in at 8th (Shambhala), 9th (Nemesis), and 11th (Katun) respectively, it would be fair to say that I was hyped to get to ride the so-called "King" of the leaderboard.
The ride is loosely themed around an expedition, with jeeps / backpacking gear / kettle drums scattered around the queueline, but the station is essentially an unglamorous tin shack, and the unthemed trains are of the standard Intamin lap-bar variety, commonly seen on their megalite rides (although these had tedious seat belts around the waist as well as the lap bar).
So far, so average. Also average were the operations - one train op, with the 2 ride attendants checking and re-checking both bar and seat belt twice each before the train was dispatched. We were lucky that despite the glorious weather, the Park wasn't overly busy - but had these ops been on a busier day, the resulting queues would have been pretty intolerable.
What isn't in any way average though, is this ride's scale. In a small-ish Park, it looks absolutely huge (at 171ft tall), with a monstrous sweeping layout that takes up a pretty large amount of Holiday Park's available space.
The cable lift hill is speedy, and affords some magnificent views of the surrounding countryside, along with the large twisty mess of track that riders are about to navigate. And as with Shambhala, the anticipation (and feeling of vulnerability) on the ascent is tangible.
There are many standout moments on this ride.
The 75mph first drop is an absolute winner; steep and sharply twisted down to the ground - in the back row particularly it's a killer. The numerous airtime hills, like the one below, deliver a sustained shot of ejector airtime. And the head choppers towards the end of the ride, where the track doubles back on itself underneath the supports of the first airtime hill, are some of the best I've experienced for maintaining the illusion of collision.
CoasterForce have a video of the ride that's well worth a look. GeForce is really, really good fun.
And yet, despite all this, it is hard to recommend it as the best coaster in the world.
The ride was built in 2001, around the same sort of time as Thorpe's Colossus. Aside from the lack of OTSRs, the train and track construction is pretty similar. The trains sound the same as Colossus as they roar around the track. And the comparisons with Colossus unfortunately extend to comfort: Expedition GeForce has exactly the same level of constant vibration / roughness that Colossus has.
For some people, this may add to the ride - no-one can claim that GeForce isn't exhilarating, or that it doesn't "give you a good ride". It's quite the thrill. But it does, especially in the back rows, mean that rides can come off GeForce feeling a bit beaten up.
And alas our old friends - the Intamin lap bars of doom - also don't help this feeling. Granted, they're far preferable to Colossus' restrictive OTSRs, but they do crush your thighs, especially over those ejector airtime hills, making re-riding more of a difficult choice than it should be. How Richard Rodriguez spent 104 days on the thing I've no idea.
So, Expedition GeForce: brilliant in many ways, but not, in my opinion, the best coaster in the world.
The Park's other big attraction is 2014's Sky Scream, a Premier LSM launched coaster with a small footprint; identical to Superman Ultimate Flight (the 2012 original) at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Part of Studio 100's €25m investment plan, the ride replaced the ageing Vekoma Corkscrew Super Wirbel, and a la Towers' entrance, corkscrew track from retired ride has been installed over the pathway towards Sky Scream as a nostalgic decoration.
And as you can see, the old overgrown Wirbel area has been completely transformed by the new ride. Anyone for a quick trip in the Sky Scream Limo of Horror?
I was not expecting to come away with a hugely positive review of the ride, thinking that the experience would be similar to Parque de Atracciones' Abismo, Linnanmäki's Ukko and the like (in short: fun Maurer rides, but too short, and with stomach-hugging, oppressive restraints).
I was surprised.
Sky Scream is smooth, intense, and well engineered. The train shuttles out of the blocks into a half-powered set of LSMs, pushing it halfway up the incline. Then it shuttles (backwards) into the station, where the LSMs (now with reversed magnetism) push it nearly all the way up the incline on the opposite side. Gravity does its bit to take the train back down (forwards) into the station, where the LSMs (at 100%) boost the train right up the incline and over the top of the 150ft structure.
A slow inline twist follows at the top (as with the Maurer SkyLoops), and then a short holding brake (seen below) creates suspense, before the train bombs down again at a very steep angle into the non-inverting loop, and then down again back into the station. The train overshoots the station once, before being comfortably braked coming backwards in to stop.
Sky Scream is a lot of fun, with decent Gs felt across all of the elements, and the (comfortable) lap bar restraints meaning the rider can properly enjoy being thrown around the circuit. It's worth saying that the trains come complete with a leg bar as well as a lap bar - which could be an irritation for taller people - but (at 6'1'') this didn't materially affect my enjoyment of the ride.
Holiday Park chose to open the ride without any of the associated themeing in place (see an early photo here), but a mention must be given to the final product, which is now of a very high quality. The queueline acts as a walk-through Haunted House, with jumpy TV-screen effects, detailed set scenes, and loud noises (chains, dogs barking) startling prospective riders throughout. The Park actually has banners outside the entrance advising under 14s to stay away! I particularly enjoyed the lenticular portraits that changed from "normal" to "spooky" as you walked on past; done before, but nonetheless effective.
Overall, Sky Scream gets a thumbs up. Yes, it's short, but for the size of its footprint I think Premier are on to a winner, besting Maurer's ride by having intense launches, and being less clunky and more comfortable. And with two of these rides having opened last year, and two more opening this year, I'm clearly not the only person to think so.
Given its limitations, Sky Scream clearly can't compete with the very best coasters out there, but I'd ride again without hesitation. Couple that with an impressive themeing package, and Studio 100 have done a great job here - no bad thing if this is indicative of future quality from Holiday Park.
The Park's final coaster comes in the form of Holly's Wilde Autofahrt ("Holly's Crazy Car Journey"), a brightly-themed 2010 Maurer Wild Mouse from the now defunct Loudoun Castle, not dissimilar to Rattlesnake at Chessington. There's not a lot to be said about these rides, other than this one was running well, with barely a brake in sight... other than at the very end! The cars screech around the corners with gusto, throwing all riders uncontrollably into the side of the vehicles.
Brutal, but fun!
It's easy as a coaster geek to undervalue common ride types, such as the wild mouse, the boomerang, even the wacky worm... but for 99% of a Park's guests, particularly the younger ones, these rides are as fresh and exciting as anything else out there.
I was reminded of this when watching riders on Holly's Wild Fart (yes, a fart gag) - almost every car was filled with guests screaming their heads off and having a thoroughly good time. These ride types are successful for a reason, and although we goons might have ridden many identikit versions of a type ourselves, this doesn't make their existence any less worthwhile.
Onto the Park's supporting attractions, and first up was Sky Fly, a new-for-2015 Gerstlauer, um, Sky Fly. Whilst not winning any awards for naming innovation, the Park have presented the ride well in a colourful new area surrounded by stalls, cafes and a toilet block. I am a huge fan of this ride type, which involves riders tilting the wings on their individual aircraft left and right in order to induce rotation, all whilst being whirled around a central support via a giant arm (much like a Mondial Top Scan).
Holding the left wing down / right wing up will rock you in one direction, holding left wing up / right wing down will rock you in the other. Get enough momentum up and you can make it over the top and complete a 360. Keep your wings "fixed" in the wing position (up / down) that pushes you over the top, and you'll continue to rotate in that direction like a madman. Of the 12 guests per ride, usually 2-3 will grasp the concept and make it over the top.
What is brilliant is that the rider can set the intensity of their ride by how much they want to rotate their aircraft. What is also brilliant is that if you get the rotation momentum right, the resulting spinning is downright insane - and easily one of the most intense flat ride experiences out there. If you have read my mini Trip Report from Nigloland in 2014, you'll know that their Air Meeting gave me a subconjunctival haemorrhage, as well as an uncontrollable fit of the giggles. Whilst the eye problems were thankfully not repeated in Holiday Park, the giggles certainly were, and I came away with a big grin on my face, along with lots of strange looks from the waiting crowd.
The Park also has a Star Flyer, the 260ft Lighthouse Tower, from Funtime. I like these rides mainly for the fab views (yes, more German countryside), but with only a few chains holding your chair onto the central spinning structure, I can see why some otherwise-confident guests chicken out of riding...!
Burg Falkenstein ("Falkenstein Castle") is a German hill castle in the Harz mountain range, located between Aschersleben and Harzgerode, dating back to the High Middle Ages. It's also the name of Holiday Park's only dark ride!
Built in 1987, the ride certainly looks the part from the outside, complete with wooden stocks and well-established plants growing up around the aging brickwork...
...and long-time visitors to Thorpe will recognise the inside - it's Phantom Fantasia!
Sort of. Mack provided Holiday Park with this version of the omnimover-style ride 4 years after they furnished Thorpe with theirs, and 5 years after they gave Europa Geisterschloss.
Alas time has not been kind to the Burg on the inside. Burg Falkenstein has to be one of the most badly-aged dark rides in Europe, with only a tedious journey around supposed "animatronics" that are either falling apart, squeaky, or stationery, to offer. The attraction is very dark, and there is the impression that scenes have been removed over the years; there are some entirely blank spots during the ride. Altogether very dull.
It's a well above average dark ride building, and a well below average dark ride. A shame.
Much more impressive is Donnerfluss ("Thunder River"), an Intamin rapids ride that also happens to be Holiday Park's oldest ride; built in 1983, Donnerfluss was also Germany's first ever rapids.
Sporting the same boats as Thorpe's Thunder River (also an Intamin creation), this rapids has all the components of a great water ride: good rockwork, thunderous waterfalls, surprise geyser bombs, and most importantly, some pretty hairy rapids sections! 3 out of 4 of our boat got very wet; only one of us came off unscathed, and thankfully that was me .
And on the subject of good water rides, Wickie Splash is another solid addition to the Park's lineup. The Mack flume was opened as Teufelsfässer in 1992 ("Barrels of Hell"; darkly-themed with the devil, skeletons, and fire effects), but received a family-friendly Plopsa re-brand in 2014.
The re-theme is fantastic, brightening up the whole area with shiny, colourful buildings and characters from the Wickie the Viking series (if you still aren't familiar, you can enjoy / waste 3 minutes introducing yourself here). And the log flume itself is excellent; 3 fun drops including one backwards, with the inside turntable sections allowing for some storytelling with Wickie and friends. The final drop is an airtime-filled double-down, much like Logger's Leap's (now sadly missed), but a smidgen higher at 65ft.
Good length, multiple drops, a backwards section, well themed, wet but not too wet. You can't ask for much more from a Park flume!
The final ride of note in the Park is Anubis Free Fall Tower; the first free fall drop in Europe, standing tall at 230ft. I love Intamin drops, common though they are, and this delivered as consistently as any other. That said, having opened in 1997, its age does show - the fall itself was pretty unrefined and clunky, and there was definitely a greater than average amount of shaking on the way down!
It's also worth saying that the link to Anubis, Studio 100's successful kids drama, was tenuous at best - there were a few posters of the show displayed in the queueing area... and that was it.
Previously the ride was simply called Free Fall Tower. Nothing like shoehorning in an IP when it's not required...!
And last, but by no means least, we come to the Park's all-season Wasserski Stunt Show, staged at least once a day in the Park's 1,300 capacity Aquastadion.
Replacing the incumbent show of the last 2 years, "Hollywood's Talking Dead" (um, OK ), for their 45th birthday Holiday Park debuted a brand new spectacle: "Die Jubilaumsshow Holiday Park - 45 Jahre" ("The Anniversary Show of Holiday Park - 45 Years"). There was even a giant celebratory cake floating in the middle of show lake.
The Holiday Park waterski show remains Europe's first and only waterski stunt show in Europe, and against any metric, it's an absolute winner. A team of c.10 stunt performers showed off some serious skills on the water, involving waterskis, waterboards, high speed boats, jetskis, and jetpacks. There was also some abseiling and high-wire work across the audience.
And the whole show was set to a pumping up-tempo soundtrack, with gunfire, cannon-fire, pyrotechnics and party streamers thrown into the mix!
Perhaps the best thing about the show though was its bonkers storyline. My German's not exactly great, but from what I could gather...
- Holly (the Park's original mascot; not a Plopsa character) wants to throw a party to celebrate Holiday Park's 45th birthday
- Holly has made a giant birthday cake, and needs help lighting the candles
- Comedy French bad guy (in a comedy cape, sporting comedy mustache) turns up with his comedy French henchman, having arrived all the way from Disneyland Paris (in a Mickey-Mouse themed old banger)
- Disneyland Paris bad guy claims that Disneyland is the best Park in Europe, and therefore must ruin Holiday Park's 45th birthday celebrations
- Holly attempts to eliminate the Disneyland bad guy, via many high-speed chases and stunts on the water
- Having had no success, Holly rings up good friend Roland Mack (!), who provides Holly with a Europa Park stunt boat (!!)
- Holly saves the day by arriving in the nick of time on the Europa Park stunt boat
- Both comedy French bad guy and henchman are blown up in a big fireball via a cannon
- The cannon is then filled with fireworks and directed towards the cake
- The cake explodes with colourful fireworks, streamers erupt into the audience, Holly does a dance, much jubilation, etc...
Utterly hilarious, and great to see such tongue-in-cheek rivalry between Parks on the continent...!
Holiday Park flatters itself by making the comparison to Disneyland and Europa, but still... top stuff .
So if it wasn't clear already, I had a great day at Holiday Park, with GeForce, Sky Scream, and the Wasserski Stunt Show being reason alone to make the journey over to Haßloch. It's in a period of transition, with the new owners investing in both new areas (Sky Scream) and redevelopment of old areas (Entrance Plaza, Wickie Splash) - and long may this investment continue.
There is certainly more to do; the Park's layout is strange, and the quality is inconsistent; generally, things that have been Plopsa-ified are of a far higher standard than the legacy areas from the old ownership (I'm looking at you, Burg Falkenstein...). So there's a way to go before the whole thing feels coherent. But I am confident - seeing the improvements to date, and having the backing of the chain behind it - that this upward trajectory will continue.
And any Park that invests heavily in entertainment gets my vote. In addition to the Wasserski Stunt Show, Holiday Park puts on an energetic daily parade involving all the Plopsa characters, as well as regular shows for little ones in the main plaza area.
Thanks for all the smiles, Maya the Bee!
And thanks to you for reading; comments welcome as always.