Driving on the wrong side of the road28th August 2004
Our plan to hit two relatively distant parks in one day necessitated an early departure from our hostel. As such, we hit the road just before seven in the midst of a torrential downpour. My first attempt at driving on the right was always going to be a slightly hair raising experience, not least because it had been almost two years since I'd last been behind the wheel of any vehicle. The centre of Paris is possibly not the best location to relearn driving skills, especially when one is trying to mentally rotate everything one hundred and eighty degrees. Fortunately it only took me about five minutes to stop reaching for the gear shift with my left hand, and by that stage we were out on open motorway. Our wonderful insurance companies at home in Ireland seem to think that I'll be far less risky after my twenty fifth birthday even though I won't have driven regularly for several years; go figure.
The early morning bad weather had mostly burnt off by the time we arrived at Nigloland. We were accosted by a staff member armed with a PDA, but we quickly lost him by virtue of the old reliable; nous ne parlons pas le français! It was a nice change to find no parking fee.
The first coaster of the morning proved quite a challenge to find. One could scarcely miss the massive structure housing Spatiale Expérience (#343), but the entrance was actually some distance away in what looked like a completely different attraction. The ride itself was very similar to Eurosat at Europa Park, featuring the same lift mechanism and a very similar soundtrack. It was only running one train today but managed still to be a complete walk-on. Unfortunately, the staff would not allow riders to wait for a specific seat, insisting that all those in the station board available seats in the train. This rule made absolutely no sense, as it wasn't like sitting out one lap would affect anybody else.
My first inverted coaster from Pinfari proved to be a much happier experience then I'd anticipated. Bat Coaster (#344) actually rides very well, with no jarring to speak of. The only bad news was the second half of the course, which was simply too slow; the train makes a turn high in the air which feels like it is going to stop altogether. Lowering this track a few feet would have made things much better, as well as eliminating the rather odd ten foot drop straight into the brake run.
It was at this stage that my eye was drawn to a rather direct instruction posted on the wall outside one of the shops. I'm rather intrigued that the park felt it necessary to give this instruction; surely their pathways don't get fouled too often. Whatever the case, I very much doubt that such a sign would ever appear in an English speaking park, though I'm always willing to be surprised!
The same shop also featured a Microwave Oven attached to the outside wall, clearly for guests who wish to bring their own food into the park. Every other theme park I have ever visited anywhere in the world has strict rules forbidding guests from bringing their own food products into the park; it great to see a park bucking that trend, and better yet providing facilities to help their guests avoid spending more money!
A certain amount of contortion was required to get into the Chenille (#345), which was the most heavily braked coaster of its type I've ever been on; the train practically came to a standstill turning the major drop. I had a look at the train afterwards to see if I could figure why, and I could be wrong, but I could not see any upstop wheels at all, meaning that if a train took a bump too hard it might actually derail. I suppose the best way to prevent that is to stop it speeding up, though it does spoil the coaster somewhat; upstop wheels would be a better solution.
The final new credit of the morning was had on the Course de Bobsleigh (#346), a classic Schwarzkopf design albeit one in need of some maintenance work. While the ride was smooth for the most part there was some very nasty jolts in the track that cannot do the cars any good, let alone the passengers. Once was sadly more than enough.
With the coasters completed we began a circuit of the park, checking out anything that looked interesting. The Dragons Volants monorail provided a few photo angles but was otherwise dull. The Dinosaures Aventure walk through was for the most part worthwhile, thanks to some quality animatronic dinosaurs. The Jurassic Park theme could be heard on loop accompaning the usual explanations (100 million years, discoveries, et al) in relatively simple French that even I could follow. Le Manoir Hanté had the longest wait of the day for two reasons; first, it was a relatively high quality dark ride; second and more importantly, it was the only fully enclosed ride even as the rain came back!
Our final ride of the morning was on Train de la Mine, a surprisingly good powered coaster. Riders get two full circuits of the track, and once the train picks up speed it is really good fun. Unfortunately our circuit was marred somewhat by a child in the car behind us with a particularly piercing scream, with the ringing in my ears still continuing several hours later as I write this narrative.
Walygator Parc28th August 2004
Walibi Lorraine was a Six Flags park up until a few weeks ago, and their influence is clearly evident in the admission price of €22 per ticket in addition to a €5 parking fee. Our overriding impression on entering the park was that there were not all that many people there. Over the next ninety minutes we were to see why.
The star attraction in the park is proudly advertised as the tallest wood coaster in France. This claim is accurate, though it smells a little like desperation when there are in fact only two wood coasters in the country. We had no idea what to expect from Anaconda (#347), and thus we boarded the ride with a completely open mind. It was at the base of the first drop that the swearing began, and it barely let up until the brake run. The ride does at least have an interesting layout, but the train covers it so awkwardly that riders end up bruised and battered, albeit with a new respect for being alive. This ride needs some serious track work, or for preference, a flamethrower. If ever a coaster deserves a label of square wheels, this is it.
In defiance of expectation the other coaster was actually relatively rerideable. Comet Space (#348) is possibly the only decent Vekoma corkscrew in the world, though it is marred by obvious Six Flags training. There were no guests waiting in the station most of the time, but even still those returning from their ride were not allowed to stay on board; instead they had to walk down the exit ramp and reenter through the main queue. We saw a number of twelve year olds who had clearly been riding the coaster for some time; they'd completely mastered the art of jumping out, sprinting down the exit and back through the entrance, and jumping back into the train again before it departed.
With the coasters out of the way, we had a look at what else the park might have to offer. There were the obligatory rapids and log flume rides, but both of us felt it was too cold to try them out. The only other ride of substance in the park was the Space Shot, so we took one go on this. It wasn't one of the better ones, with no air time at the top to speak of, and an outright ban on secured glasses. Had my French been better I might have complained, though to be fair that would likely have gotten me nowhere.
We decided to give Anaconda a second chance on the way back to the front of the park. This turned out to be completely stupid; the ride was even more brutal on this occasion. I have been on rough wooden coasters in my day but this one was off the scale; it was genuinely painful, and honestly I feel it is an injury waiting to happen. I'm just glad it wasn't me.
The only redeeming feature of the park for us was the Dive Show. Shows of this type tend to follow very similar scripts, and this one was no exception, gradually building up to the final twenty five metre dive. Be that as it may it was executed with an enthusiasm and panache that made it impossible to dislike. It had the dubious honour of being the only thing at the entire park that either of us would have repeated.