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To me, Symbolica was the biggest new European attraction for 2017 for theme parks. It's not exactly a difficult feat to achieve, with little of note actually happening this year. But I found the prospect of Efteling, a park known for creating highly detailed and love dark rides, investing their biggest sum in a ride ever, much more exciting than Port Aventura sticking Ferrari Land at the edge of their park and adding a taller and faster Stealth to their line up. It's difficult to review a dark ride without giving spoilers, but I'm going to try my best to not spoil anything. Knowing as little about Symbolica will, of course, be advantageous if you come to ride it - though if spoilers are really your thing, just check out Efteling's YouTube... For some context, the storyline of Symbolica is simple - you're have a feast with the King, but Pardoes, the King's jester, has other ideas and takes you on a behind the scenes tour of the 'Palace of Fantasy'. The pre show sets this story up brilliantly, is easily understood in any language, includes 2 incredible animatronics and a real piece of magic which bought a huge smile to my face. After the pre show, you make your way down the cellars of the palace towards the station. Symbolica has 3 slightly different routes you can take (themed as 'tours' - Music, Knights and Treasure), and you choose these after the pre show but before you board. After doing all 3, they're all of equal standard, and don't differ THAT much, but each one has its own special little feature. The ride itself is trackless, with 2 rows of 3. You go around the palace, exploring several different rooms, whilst Pardoes makes an appearance and does some magical stuff. Each scene is very Efteling, in that it's just whimsical, magical and doesn't quite make sense (in a good way!). Most importantly to me though, there are no dead spots and no wasted moments. Each transition between scenes is themed and makes sense. Each scene is themed 360 degrees. Everything flows in its own weird sort of way. This was a huge issue I had with all other Efteling dark rides (and indeed many dark rides in general) - they either have dead spots where nothing happens, other there's some part of the rooms which are unthemed and make no sense with what's going on. Symbolica, in that sense, is perfect to me. An interesting feature is that the front row has 2 touchscreens. These screens allow the front row to choose their language (it doesn't affect any audio, it's just a message at the start and end of ride), make some of the animatronics do 'things' during the ride, and make your vehicle 'dance' during the finale. It's an interesting idea, but doesn't quite work - I found it more of a distraction during the ride, and it never really added much. Also, it leaves the back row a bit left out - why they couldn't have one screen per row confuses me. So yeah, in short - Symbolica really is a fab attraction. It's clear to see where the 35 million euro budget went, it looks and feels great, it's interesting and immersive to be in and, most importantly, it is fun. Efteling are onto a winner of an attraction, and definitely worth a trip!
Over the last year, my theme park adventures have taken me to some weird and wonderful places away from the U.K. This is all started with Disneyland Paris last april [with a return visit in September] followed by Efteling in November. But from here on, where would my next theme park adventure take me? It would take me to Europa Park, the crème de la creme of European parks amongst being one of the best in the world [if not the best]. After a doable 1 hr 20 minute flight to Basel from Gatwick followed by a 75 minute car journey we had all arrived at our accomodation in Rust. Located 15 minutes away from the park with at least 6 beds per room, this accommodation was perfect for the large [but nicely sized] group of us going. The perfect crash pad and HQ for TPM and ideal for the usual and many meet shenanigans. After an evening exploring the culinary delights and limited sleep, it was time to enter the golden arches into this beautiful park . The entrance area is absolutely beutiful and is another example of a theme park entrance done right, with the grandiose entrance and fountains outside leading into a beautifully layed out main street leading through to the main park. With over 60 rides and attractions [not including shows], Europa Park houses the highest volume of attractions in one park [including Disney] making it even more impressive. Aside from it's stunning cohesive park areas it's a place where you only have to turn a corner to find a random show or enter a small marked façade and find one of many dark rides. The above picture is a disclaimer that I have visited [something that seems to be becoming a standard these days] Europa currently houses 12 coasters [with another on the way soon] making it the park with the most coasters in Europe amongst the world. One of these is Wodan, a GCI coaster which opened back in 2012. At over 130 ft tall, it is a mighty beast of a coaster and rides as beautiful as it looks [if not better]. After the descent into the drop, the coaster races through it's circuit in a crazily out of control yet impressive style as it's flies through turns and helixes around the area whilst diving in and out of tunnels. Wodan is a spectacular coaster and does everything I currently want from a coaster. From an impressive queue to an even more amazing layout. It is with the combination of both these elements that now make this my new number 1 coaster, knocking off Nemesis from it's top spot after nearly 4 years in the running. Firing off in the nearby surroundings, stands yet another impressive master piece. Blue Fire is such a photo friendly coaster and rides as well as she looks. After passing through the mandatory but impressive dark ride section, the ride thrusts into a smooth but impressive launch which isn't as intense as Stealth and Rita but considerably more comfortable. The coaster flows through it's circuit providing intensity and elegance at the same time, from it's flying through twists and turns to injector airtime inversions whilst proving to be glass smooth. Blue Fire is yet another amazing coaster the park have created and everything from the comftable lap bar trains, to the greatly paced layout make for a fantastic ride, which is now my second favourite coaster overall, only just beaten by Wodan [for it's queue line alone]. This coaster makes me even more excited to be experiencing Helix soon and hopeful that if Blackpool are getting one of these, it will put them back on the map as a must do park. Then there is Silver Star, Europa's giant which until 2012 was the tallest coaster in Europe, taking the height title from the inferior Big One. Despite hearing people saying it was rather mundane before visiting, I actually enjoyed this one alot. From it's steep drop, to it's airtime hills which did give quite a floaty feeling. The ride's position does make it feel you're outside the park though almost which is a strange feeling,but probably helps make it stand out I guess. The ride is one of the first to be spotted when approaching the park and can be seen for miles. It was astounding watching a train go up the lift less than two minutes apart each time too as a result of the park's outstanding operations. But Europa isn't just home to fantastic thrill coasters, but some equally impressive family ones too like Arthur. This is such a gem of a ride which features many dark ride scenes indoors [mixing screens and traditional scenery amongst animatronics] with great bursts of outdoor coaster sections throughout making for a great paced coaster which would be perfect for a number of family parks. Another amusing fact is this has to be only family attraction in existence to feature swearing on the ride, due to the rap song in the alley scene using the n-word . And if those weren't enough to handle, I also managed to take a brief visit to Epcot as well. Of course not, this is Euro Sat, one of the park's indoor dark ride coasters which is located in this giant ball [which mostly resembles Space Ship earth]. But once inside, the similarities between the two become vastly different with the attraction's 80's space theme and german rave music included. Whilst this may be one of the park's older coasters it certainly doesn't hold back as it really packs a punch in it's layout amongst it's long spiral like lift hill. After a couple of go's this attraction was a hit with most people, myself included [which may even be in my top 5 park favourites]. The ride is so much fun and could be described as a superior version of X with some space mountain effects. Euro Mir has to be one of the most bizarre coasters I've ever ridden. From it's long spiral lift [also like Eurosat] to it's long twisty turns amongst mirrored buildings before going through numerous twists and turns. As much as I liked this one, I definitely prefer Eurosat to Euro Mir. Then there's Poseiden, an amazing water coaster. This is yet another enjoyable ride in the park, which I think is nicely paced out with lift, coaster section, splash, lift, coaster and a final splash before returning back to the station. The throughputs on this again are amazing as boats were literally flying out the station to the degree there were even two on the lift at the same time as well. Then there's Atlantica Super Splash, which as perhaps the weakest coaster at the park. However with the decent theming and settings surrounding this can be mostly forgiven. I'd swap Storm Surge for one of these anyday. Then there's Pegasus,which for a family coaster features a decent amount of theming amongst a fun and remarkably thrilling layout for a family coaster. And lets not forget about the park's veteran coaster Alpen Express, which features a fantastic layout for a powered coaster and really speeds through that cave and last ride section at a fantastic pace too. I'm yet to try the VR on both coasters, but if I visit again soon will definitely be doing so. Nestled within the Swiss area is the matterhorn blitz, a wild mouse with a difference. From it's amusing elevator lift to it's steep drop and tight corners, I found this version considerably more enjoyable than many others out there which reminds me a little of the old Jungle Coaster [despite this being superior]. Last but not least is the Schweizer Bobbhan, the park's bobsled coaster and by definition the prototype, due to Europa being a showcase of many of Mack rides [being owned by the Mack family]. The ride layout is highly enjoyable but not quite as good as Blackpool's but probably wins due to it's loverly location. A loverly location indeed. It also has one of the longest break-run-station transitions in existence which takes up nearly half the ride alone. However, there is more to Europa than a dozen coasters. It's all about the park's random dark rides. Many of which are cleverly hidden away some of which are little more than a ride sign and a door in the wall. Like this random christmas themed ride in the Russian section. Or this PIrates Of The Caribbean style knock off. Which was actually remarkably good and well done. Even the ceilings were themed up as well. And there's no waiting for this Ghost Train either. It was actually really well themed and reminded me quite alot of the sadly long gone Wicked Witches Haunt ride amongst some tongue and cheek references to the Haunted Mansion with it's singing heads and stretching room. The food at Europa is absolutely fantastic [even the quick service places]. The restaurant that naturally stands out the most however is Food Loop, the originally Roller Coaster Restaurant. The food wasn't bad either. I absolutely loved this place, from the clever way of ordering food on the screens and then watching them race down along the track to your table. Whilst I don't think it beats Polle's as my favourite theme park eatery I really did enjoy this and look forward to trying the Towers version in the near future hopefully. The park also has many shows, so many you could almost spend a whole park day watching them. One of these was a show about celebrating the park's history featuring rotating sections like the Caroulsel of progress I believe. There was an Elvis tribute act in the Globe Theatre in the England area, no I am not lying. Was still amusing though. However the ice show in the greek area was considerably better and more entertaining. The projection mapping and performances in this one were impressive to say the least. There was also a park parade too which even had a soundtrack [quite reminiscent of Magic Everywhere]. Whilst the Paris parade was most likely the better of the two, what makes this one nicer is it feels a lot more close and intimate. There's a noticeable reduction of crowd hogging and finding a place to watch seems an easier task without waiting an hour find a good spot. Some of the other weird and wonderful attractions in Europa include this set of football themed Dodgems, with an actual over sized football in play too. The 'infamous' London Taxi ride, which is a lot more fun than getting a real taxi. The Queen's Diamond, a laser maze which is a fun little filler. This amazingly well themed splash battle attraction. This quirky inverted monorail ride [the attention to detail is ridiculously good]. This 4D show about Euro Mouse. It was sort of like Angry Birds 4D but slightly better. There is also the astoundingly themed Columbus Dinghy. This features projection mapping, fountains, rider control of directions and thematic centre piece all just for a sea storm ride. It's absolutely amazing. And not forgetting this Jungle Cruise style ride. This was again lots of fun and a worthwhile filler attaction. This picture alone perhaps describes the difference between Merlin and Europa. RIP Skyway There's even a Fairy tale forest-esque area at the park which is very reminiscent to Eftelling's, except for being much smaller. But even then, Europa Park is very beautiful and picturesque place to visit. And the on-site hotels are just as beutfiul Even the underground walkway is themed. And it was a fantastic place to visit. Europa is an amazing park. It features pretty much everything you'd wish in a theme park. A wide range of rides, coasters and dark rides, plenty of shows and green spaces, decent upkeep and great selection of food as well. The park definitely had a lot of tongue and check influences from places such as Disney & Efteling amongst some elements bringing back the days when our parks used to put care and effort into their rides. Comparing this park to what have in the U.K is like comparing a tesco microwave meal to a michelin star restaurant [which the park apparently has actually] and they just can't be compared at all. Europa certainly has to be my favourite theme park now, probably just scraping past DLRP in greatness. It's not a park you would go to experience the rides more-so [bar Blue Fire & Wodan], but one just for the amazing surroundings and showcases in how everything there compliments one another and isn't just plonked down. To appreciate the park, it's definitely a place where you need several days to visit, in which the longer you stay, the more you will appreciate the park. I spent three days at the park, which is probably the minimum amount of time of getting the core park elements done, but could could have easily done another day or two, just to experience all the shows, re-ride the coasters, do the VR and adore the park even more. Bucky approves of Europa Park.