The Covid Secure Summer Sosche [July/August '22]

Danny

TS Contributor
Favourite Ride
Steel Vengeance
Over the past couple of weeks, @Rob, @John, @AstroDan and I have been on the continent sampling some of Europe’s latest and greatest, a wealth of alpine coasters, brand new Brewdogs, Starbucks and perhaps the most efficient river crossing ferry in France/Germany. Many of the parks / alpine coasters on the trip were entirely new to me.

With a spot of “well if we leave a day earlier, we could go here” as well as “well if we modify this day, we could eat/drink here”, as well as a spot of tweaking whilst out there due to unfortunate circumstances, our itinerary turned into this:

  1. Paultons Park / Channel crossing
  2. Plopsaland De Panne
  3. Bellewaerde
  4. Walibi Belgium
  5. Walygator
  6. Nigloland
  7. Fraspertuis City / Tricky Track
  8. Europa Park
  9. Rulantica
  10. Steinwasen Park / Hassenhorn Rodelbahn
  11. Holiday Park
  12. Klotten Moselbob / Erbskopf Alpine Coasters
  13. Phantasialand

I won’t give a blow-by-blow recollection of each and every moment of the trip, more so my musings on the new parks with notable comparisons of previous visits to the most recent in parks I’d previously visited.

We kicked off our European trip, as you do, from the newly opened Brewdog Basingstoke before heading to Paulton’s Park the next day (minus John until the channel crossing).

Given the sheer distance to the park from my neck of the woods, it felt much easier bolting it onto a trip of this calibre than actively seeking it out on its own. Clearly, the park is well regarded (whilst also one of the most expensive of the trip!), so I was very much looking forward to visiting.

Thankfully we weren’t subjected to the headache-inducing traffic issues the park seems to be tanished with, and were swiftly admitted through the motorway services-esque entrance.

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Paultons is obviously a park very much of three-thirds. The bare-bones, unthemed collection of rides and the splash play area over by Cobra/Edge/Magma, the delightful Lost Kingdom, Tornado Springs and Peppa Pig World, as well as the beautiful lake walk, animals and historic water wheel.

Starting with Lost Kingdom, I wasn’t blown away by the junior boomerang. Perhaps one of the weaker layouts, and certainly during the reverse portion. Praise be for the vegetation on The Smiler like cattle cage queue. Otherwise, I can’t imagine extensive waiting times in here will be any form of pleasure. The SFC, as with all of these layouts, has some nice punchy moments and the theming is spot on.

Over to the un-themed area of the park, Cobra is fantastic. It’s not the prettiest coaster by any stretch, but the forceful corners and the joyful poppy hills towards the end are a hoot. It was virtually walk-on for our numerous re-rides throughout the day, and it has found itself a firm spot amongst my favourite family thrill coasters in the country.

The Edge however, is an utter shamble. An insufferably slow loading process, mixed with the fact several of us needed to borrow a seat belt extender from the ride host, which also needs to be returned at the end of the ride, further slowing the process. Given I’ve never had this on any other Disk-O, it seemed utterly bizarre this was the case. It really didn’t sound great either. Close your eyes, and you would have thought it was a relic Class 142 pacer train rattling into a station from the sound alone. The vibrations and dipping of the gondola mid-ride did not feel right at all, and it is certainly the worst of the ride type I have ridden. I couldn’t care less if it were to be tossed onto the scrap heap.

As expected, Tornado Springs is a masterclass of thematic design by any UK park standards. With the relatively hot weather this day and sitting with a beer and a burger outside the diner, it certainly had VIBES of being in a park abroad; certainly not back home.

Storm Chaser is great fun and the perfect coaster for its target market. I certainly couldn’t lap it as some people do, but everything from the theming down to the build quality is top-notch.

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Cyclonator was possibly the area’s biggest disappointment. A tediously slow loading process, paired with the ride seemingly being ride stopped during the cycle left a rather bitter taste in the mouth. We barely had three full swings before the ride came to a prompt stop which was a shame, as the ride showed some decent promise of being quite thrilling.

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Farmyard Flyer is easily the best-themed kid’s coaster in the UK. The first ‘new for 2022’ cred of the trip certainly did not disappoint as far as kid’s coasters go, although the transition back into the station at the end of each lap is somewhat jarring. I cannot stress enough how fantastic the theming is here, with so much care put into the detail. The weeding on the runway isn’t a case of purposeful neglect that you would see in Merlin parks, it feels considered and part of the story.

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Naturally, we didn’t experience any of the Peppa Pig attractions, however, we did have a walk through the area. I can certainly see the appeal for younger children, and it’s great to see how well maintained and clean the area remains after being open for quite some time in the grand scheme of things. Whereas some areas of Thomas Land at Drayton feel much cheaper and thoughtlessly slapped together compared to the older parts of the land, Peppa Pig World feels cohesive and seamless in its presentation.

After mopping up the remaining coasters, and a joyful unexpected encounter with penguins, we enjoyed a pleasant stroll through the numerous BIRDS and other animals before popping to the edge of the park for the tranquillity of the historically restored water wheel. This was concluded by a gentle stroll around the lake, set back enough from the park for a moment of peace and to take in the natural surroundings.

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We banged in another couple of rides on Storm Chaser, Cobra, and also ticked Magma off before making an early exit from the park.

Paulton’s was the perfect way to start this Euro trip. It really wouldn’t feel out of place abroad, which it does to some extent in the UK. The operations were fine for the most part (with the exception of Edge and Cyclonator), and the level of care invested into the park is evident.

I recently spoke with someone from the industry who had been invited to Paultons and had discussions with the park’s owners. They have deliberately vowed to ensure everything they do is different to Merlin, from their price point to ensure they are offering a premium product, through to the level of detail and care they put into their investments. That much is clear to see when at the park physically, and it’s a damn shame I live so far away. It’s a joyous park to visit, and perhaps as close to perfect as you can get from our somewhat mediocre theme park offering in this country. Am I glad the trip was extended to feature Paultons? Absolutely. Will I be rushing back any time soon? The only thing stopping me from doing so is the distance! Having experienced the product first-hand, my cheers and wilfulness for them to succeed will only be louder.

After our superb day, we headed across the South (stopping off at a newly opened that day Starbucks on the A3 by pure coincidence, much to @AstroDan's joy), we collected John from Ashford before our painless late evening crossing to the continent.
 
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Danny

TS Contributor
Favourite Ride
Steel Vengeance
Ah, Plopsaland. The park people seem to LOVE to hate. It had been six years since my last jaunt to this trendy-to-dislike park, and my last encounter hadn’t been really that offensive (minus the stench of the water, of course).

Since my last visit, the park’s junior coasters had both taken on other guises, the GCI that had originally meant to be open for our last visit was operating, and of course, the brand new highly rated (mostly by people who have only left the UK for the first time for the purpose of experiencing) Ride to Happiness. Certainly enough fresh content to ensure the 22:00 park close visit wouldn’t be as stagnant as the water bodies around the park.

Greeted once again by the ridiculously large door at the entrance, we flashed our luxurious Europa Park Gold Resort passes at the ticket booths for the hefty discount and made our way inside to reconnect with the entrance plaza.

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Whilst crowded at the start, and towards the end of the day, it’s not exactly an awful reception to the park. We opted to head straight for Heidi given the long queues we anticipated during the day, having to wait for ten or so minutes before the rope drop. Passing Ride to Happiness en route to the family-thrill GCI would be unheard of to many enthusiasts, but it was certainly the right choice.

For some unbeknownst reason, Heidi was opening much later than the rest of the park and closed much earlier (18:30, although most likely due to the noise of the ride, I would assume). I’m glad we didn’t end up queuing at any point in the main queue for it, as by the time we’d got off, the majority of internal cattle pens were borderline full, and the queue time was north of 45 minutes. No thanks.

The ride itself is alright. For a GCI with such short trains, it’s by no means a terrible ride, but it does not really deliver any slight form of thrill kick. It occasionally threatens air time, but you’re left disappointed when it fails to deliver. A crying shame, really, with the ride only being upheld by its decent theming.

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We opted for the Dragon-themed Mack-powered coaster next, with a fond recollection of its rather dull start-to mid layout, only for it to start packing something worth of note towards the end. The queue was basically walk-on for this one-and-done ride.

SuperSplash is a ride I remembered well from the previous visit. A poorly operated, poorly water-treated Mack ride of the same name, which, much like Heidi, had not opened with the rest of the park. We waited a good 20-30 minutes outside the entrance before it opened, being able to almost walk onto the ride itself. The station has about as much atmosphere as a funeral, and the two-boat operation ensures capacity is as limited as can be. Anything remotely fun about the ride (the lift hill and drop) is over in seconds, leaving you to soak up any stench-infested spray as you bob around the ride trough for a painstaking two to three minutes. Oh, and here’s a pleasant image as you disembark:

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The queue for SuperSplash gathered to over an hour during the day, so riding it almost first thing was a sickening blessing.

Having ridden Lynet the previous month, it was great to get back on Anubis to compare. However, what isn’t great is the queue line. An endless cattle-pen in one confined room with no air con on a hot day is vile at the worst of times. This time, getting to ride Anubis felt much more of a chore than the previous visit, with time seemingly slowing down before riding. Whilst I much prefer the launch and first portion of Lynet to Anubis, this Belgian entry from Gerst had a significantly better second half. Of course, both remain vastly inferior to Hansa Park’s Novgorod.

It was time then to experience what we had really come for. Nestled in its own little Tomorrowland plaza, you can’t help but notice there is certainly room for a flat ride or two here, perhaps in years to come. Ride to Happiness feels like an isolated product from the rest of Plopsaland, both in area and quality. The Watching the trains crawl out of the station through the hang time-inducing heartline roll is hypnotising. On our first few rides, we rarely queued anything more than five minutes, almost walking onto the ride at various intervals. The queue line doesn’t feel laborious to navigate and is mostly very well themed (with the exception of some light weight theming props at the top of the first staircase which can be blown from their positioning).

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Opting for a front row ride first to greet a ride-host friend of mine, gazing out of the station towards the first element isn’t quite as dramatic as Helix with the first drop down into the hillside of Gothenburg, but intriguing nonetheless.

As a result of being one of the slowest inversions perhaps ever created, the heartline roll creates a dramatic sense of peril as it feels like you could genuinely slip out. The anticipation for the launch each time is addictive as a result of the spinning. Which way will you be facing? Crucially, how will you face the first major drop of the ride? You needn’t have time to think about this before the launch kicks in along with the thumping soundtrack on either side of your head.

From here on out, Ride to Happiness is outrageously ludicrous, a balls-to-the-wall mix of air time, hang time, and dizzying spins that marry together harmoniously to create a totally unrivalled coaster of any nature. The soaring climb to the peak of the ride kills much of the pacing from the launch, but in doing so, presents you with a brief pause to reflect on the insanity of it mixed with the free spin. Then there’s the drop. Whether you do this forward or backward, it is an utter joy (although doing it backwards on the back row is easily one of the best sensations of any roller coaster I have ever experienced).

The only other banana roll I have experienced on a coaster is Steel Curtain, which is perhaps one of the major components of that particular ride. RTH’s banana roll chews up Steel Curtain and spits it out as if it’s irrelevant, and yet it doesn’t even feel like one of the ride’s headlining acts. The spinning nature radically enhances the traditional vertical loop on RTH, before being thrown around into the zero-g roll and then the second, hilariously fun bouncy launch. The step-up under flip/non-inverted loop is sensational as the soundtrack continues to blare, and on reflection from my night ride, is what cemented the ride a place in my top ten. The ride refuses to let up as it gracefully curves around its water plaza, before hopping its way back to the brakes.

Wow.
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I knew RTH was going to be great. An outstanding coaster at best. However, I hadn’t anticipated just how consistently bonkers it would be.

It feels like there are limitations and that having a unique ride on each go is impossible to some extent, but there are superb elements when facing forward (such as the heartline roll), yet most of the ride is best experienced either sideways or backwards. Riding this at night, accompanied by the blaring soundtrack, made me think back to my first night ride on Helix. The euphoria of falling in love with a coaster for the first time, and the familiar pain of yet another incredible coaster that isn’t on our doorstep (despite it not being far across the channel).

I initially thought the name for Ride to Happiness was utterly daft before riding, but unlike many other coasters, this has an actual meaning. It unleashes even the most hardened of coaster veteran’s adrenalin and forces your joy and elation to the surface. This is Mack rides at their absolute best. A high-quality coaster that tears up the rule book and delivers sensations no other coaster ever has, or perhaps ever will.

It truly does exactly what it says on the tin. The Ride to Happiness will take you on one hell of a ride to an outrageously satisfactory level of happiness.

I lost count of the number of times we rode RTH throughout the day, experiencing it towards the start of our day, a handful of times in the middle, some in the early evening, and the breathtaking night ride to conclude the day. Say what you want about Plopsaland as a park, but this single ride is worth the entry fee alone.

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Throughout the rest of the day, we went around mopping up various other rides and attractions. We opted not to ride the former washing machine-themed Roller Skater, as the advertised queue of 45 minutes looked spot on. We did, however, opt to experience arguably now one of the best-themed Zierer Tivolis there is. The teenage school IP tack-on may introduce a whole new level of cheesiness to the newly dubbed #LikeMe Coaster, but the amount of effort that has gone into theming this bog-standard family coaster is certainly admirable. A brand new chunky station building with a mid-queue line disco. You know what? Fair enough. It oddly works.

This time around, we also decided to have a stroll down to the goat farm. Cue the “aww look, billy billy” and inevitable selfies with the chilled AF goats around the place. An uplifting pleasantry.

We also took a moment to enjoy a drink in the PlopsaHotel. The bar and hotel were both rather quiet, whilst we could just about hear several hundred guests in the distance observing a show. I had no expectations for the hotel, but it seems pleasant enough with its theatre-inspired entrance lobby. Sadly, we weren’t able to get a proper look at the water park, but I’m hardly inspired by waterparks as it is anyway.

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Back in the park, we found a moment to ride the indoor boat ride, which had maintained an insufferably long queue for the majority of the day. I couldn’t remember much at all about this from the previous visit, but it was certainly adequate enough to ride. Nowhere near worth the length of the queue it had amassed earlier in the day, however.

Given the stench of the water on the last visit, I had opted to give the log flume a miss. This time, however, I decided to brave it along with John. Thankfully a mild level of acceptable wetness ensured any water-related stench was minor, and the air-time-filled double-down finale was certainly worth it. The volcano-theming, which has been installed within the last four years if I recall correctly, is quite laughable, however. Not great.

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After our final night ride on RTH, we managed to escape the heaving crowds in the entrance plaza as they waited for the firework display; an underwhelming state of affairs we were able to half-heartedly observe as we dashed back to the car and left. Something in a similar vein to Pleasure Beach's poor attempt when compared to Alton's.

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Overall, this visit to Plopsaland was much improved compared to the previous one. The downsides remain the woeful stench and horrendous quality of the water, which still makes the water rides quite offputting. I think these will be avoided entirely on any future visit, thankfully. Some operations were much slower than necessary, such as Anubis, in addition to the inadequate throughputs found on the Roller Skater and the indoor boat ride. One particular instance of waiting on one man in a kiosk serving out pasta was also painstaking, to say the least.

However, the park does feel more developed since my last visit. Whilst Heidi is a solid family coaster, it lacks the substance and fails to deliver on the threats of actual thrills. Of course, the real gem at Plopsaland is now found in Ride to Happiness. It seems totally out of place in a Plopsa park, yet works so well as a concept and a hopeful direction the park are aiming to go in. There is plenty of entertainment to go around, even if you aren’t actively seeking it out. The hotel whilst not necessary for us, seems perfectly fine if for some absurd reason you wished to have a multi-day visit. There has been quite the investment in theming since I last visited, and the park are actively plugging away at building something towards the back, indicating there is no sign of investment slowing down either.

Of all the parks we visited on this trip, Plopsaland was the firm middle ground. A park with plenty of room for improvement, but nothing overly offensive other than the water quality. Do I love the place? No, absolutely not. But do I hate it? No, of course not. There are far worse parks on every level you could ask for out there on the continent. Besides, it’s also home to one of the best coasters on the planet.

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“Roland, how do you respond to allegations that your best creations are outside of Rust?”.
 
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