In the immediate aftermath of travelling with the American Coaster Enthusiasts in 2002 I began to investigate options for doing a similar trip again. ACE had no plans for any large scale trips this year, and the idea of planning my own didn't seem particularly appealing. Fortunately the two major English clubs each had a major trip which fit the bill; the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain to the United States, and the European Coaster Club to Scandinavia.
The dates of the first trip were much more suitable for me. However, there was one major caveat; the trip was designed as a surprise, with participants not being told where they were going short of the start and end airports. Some people may be willing to invest a few thousand euro into a holiday without knowing the itinerary, but not me. One quick e-mail solved that problem, with ten of the twelve parks on the plan being new to me. The only other thing to do was to read about some previous trips with this group. The comments seemed to be fairly positive, so the cheque went in the post.
The only major issue that I hadn't foreseen was the necessity of somehow getting to London for the club flights. Better yet, the outbound flight was too early in the morning for me to have any hope of making a same day connection. Since I'd have to pay for an extra night of accommodation anyway it seemed best to go over in the morning and use the extra day to visit a park.
31st May 2003
Airlines and airport authorities alike are fond of recommending that passengers are present for check-in two hours before the scheduled departure time of their flight. Thanks to a particularly enthusiastic taxi driver, I made this cut off with time to spare, leaving ample time for breakfast in the airport, or so I thought. Seeing just three people waiting in the check-in queue seemed like a bonus. Upon reaching the counter, however, I was informed that my flight was being operated by British Airways, not Aer Lingus (despite what my ticket said) and that I'd need to check in with them instead.
It quickly became evident that the staff in the terminal were not having a good day. The check in desk I was directed to turned out to be suffering a computer problem of some description, and we were all shunted to another one. Unfortunately they only chose to make this move after people had been waiting almost an hour. Worse yet, the staff were almost painfully slow. It seemed impossible that the flight could leave on time; as it was I was only checked in twenty minutes before the scheduled take off time. We eventually got into the air more than an hour late. The last insult was the lack of any breakfast on the plane.
By the time we landed it was clear that there was no chance whatsoever of me making my planned rendevous with Adam and Stephen at the train station near Thorpe Park. While waiting for baggage reclaim, therefore, i called Stephen on his mobile to let him know I'd be late, and in the process woke him up. It was impossible not to mentally contemplate the unfairness of it all; I had been awake for more than six hours and this guy was still asleep. At any rate, my bag eventually arrived half an hour later, and I made my way out to the courtesy shuttle for my B&B. For the first time this morning something went right; it was just pulling up as I approached the bus stop. Ten minutes later, I'd checked in, dumped my bags, and walked over to the local train station.
It was at this point I realised what a joy it must be to live in a country where the railway system actually works. I know many people in the UK moan incessantly about British Rail, but from someone who is used to the Irish equivalent, it was a dream come true. On a Saturday afternoon, no less, I was able to get a return ticket from Horley to Staines, with directions as to where I needed to change train, for £10.40. The sales agent was even able to give me precise instructions, down to which route I needed to follow in the three minutes I had to make my connection, and these worked perfectly. And the trains were on time. The efficiency of the rail system was enough to make up most of the time I had lost courtesy of British Airways, and in the end I was only twenty minutes late for our scheduled meeting time. We were at the front gate of the park just before 2:00pm.
31st May 2003
My last visit to Thorpe Park was just under eleven months ago. At that stage, they had just begun construction on what was then known as Project Calypso, a new inverted coaster from B&M. Some months later the marketing people got their paws on the ride and rebranded it as Nemesis Inferno (#115), presumably to take advantage of the name recognition of another similar coaster in Staffordshire. The ride certainly presents an impressive appearance from the ground, as it passes over the main walkway and around the small Detonator drop tower.
First port of call was, naturally, the front seat. The restraints were slightly damp, which came as quite a surprise; the weather was overcast but it had not been raining at any stage in the previous few hours, so the only logical conclusion was that the ride included a water effect somewhere. The idea of getting wet didn't much appeal to me on this chilly afternoon in May, but there was no way I was going to skip it after all the difficulty in getting there.
Adam was distinctly unimpressed at my decision to hold on to the hand grips. Apparently he felt one should keep hands in the air at all times. While this may certainly be the case on occasional visits to parks, there was no way I'd try it today. The reason was simple; we were going to be riding an awful lot of coasters over the next fortnight, and I didn't want to pick up any unnecessary bruises this early in the trip. Against his protestations I stood (or rather sat) my ground.
The train departs the station accompanied by a thumping bass soundtrack, powered by some serious subwoofer tubes hanging from the station ceiling. This added quite a bit of atmosphere, though it struck me that the ride operators who have to listen to it all day might not be quite so enthusiastic about it. This is followed by a small drop into an enclosed tunnel filled with damp mist. The train takes basically a straight line through this, which seemed a bit of a waste to me (an enclosed inline twist would have been well worth it for first time riders!), and then engages the lift hill. It had been several months since my last ride on a Roller Coaster, and I quickly realised how much I'd missed the adrenalin rush. I need not have braced at all; the tracking was sufficiently smooth that I might as well have been sitting in an easy chair, if a somewhat berserk one. The layout after the lift went by almost in a blur, and even now as I write this I need to look at my photos to remember the exact route the train took. We went directly round for another circuit, this time in the back seat. This was, as expected, somewhat more intense than our previous ride had been, although on balance I think I preferred the view from the front seat.
At any rate, the ride is certainly a good one. However, despite what the marketing people would have you believe, it is not in the same league as its more famous brother. The naming is almost unfortunate, because, it invites comparisons to a ride which might otherwise have stood perfectly well on its own merits.
Andy and Stephen elected to ride Vortex, a spin-and-spew ride which held no attraction for me whatsoever. Rather than revisit my earlier lunch, I spent some time taking photographs around the park. Fifteen minutes later I returned to meet them, but they had only just boarded and as such I was able to take a few pictures of them flying around, including one snap which showed Stephen looking distinctly unwell. I was quite glad of my decision to sit it out, although both proclaimed how much fun it had been when they disembarked.
We managed three laps on Colossus, the record breaking ten inversion coaster installed in 2002. The ride quality had degenerated somewhat since my visits the previous year, with some very noticeable vibration throughout, and evident in all three locations we tried; back, middle, and front. The decline in ride quality in just one year is more than a little worrying, as while it is still very rerideable it wouldn't take a great deal to spoil that, especially through the four consecutive barrel rolls towards the end of the ride.
By this stage it was almost park closing time. We made our way back over to Nemesis Inferno but it had already closed down for the evening, with one of the trains parked on the lift hill. We were not disappointed though; in three hours at the park we had managed five coaster rides in total, not a bad tally for a Saturday afternoon.