Numerous coasters trips over the last few years have taught me pretty much all there is to know about organising theme park visits for small groups, at least in English-speaking countries. However, the process becomes somewhat more challenging where one does not comprehend the local patois. It is in situations like these that organised club trips come into their own, as all that the traveller needs to do is be at the coach at the scheduled time. As such, when the European Coaster Club announced a trip to The Netherlands there was no doubt in my mind that I would be going. Unfortunately for me, the dates conflicted with another planned trip, making that a non-starter. Instead, therefore...
It took less than an hour to cover the distance from Schiphol Airport to Walibi World. George was at the wheel of our compact rental car, a huge Ford Mondeo Estate with German registration plates. Tom took station in the passenger seat with a satellite navigation unit, the net result of which was a direct route to the park with no diversion. All that was left for me to do was to constantly remind the driver which side of the road he was supposed to be on. Fortunately for the nerves of all concerned this only proved to be necessary twice.
Exiting the car was like stepping into a furnace. The temperature, which had been fifteen degrees celsius on landing a few hours before had now reached almost thirty degrees. One does not typically associate The Netherlands with warm weather at any time of year, and we were woefully unprepared for it. The heavy clothing which had been an absolute requirement in Dublin was quickly abandoned for something much lighter, and even then it was still fiendishly hot.
Walibi World is the local park for Vekoma. Four of the seven coasters, and indeed a disproportionate number of the other attractions in the park were built by Vekoma. One such product was the first coaster of the day, Xpress (#469). The ride originally opened as Superman the Ride, and the queue line stretched through a themed replica of the Daily Planet newspaper offices. The park changed ownership at the end of 2004, and all Superman references were removed at that point. Unfortunately, the net effect of this is a confusing hodgepodge of theming. The building has been hastily redecorated to look like a railway station, but badly; if Tom hadn't pointed out what it was I might never have noticed. It still looked like a newspaper to me. This left me thinking about ways of connecting the two, and the only thing I could come up with was be a crazy tie in with a computer program, namely QuarkXPress®, which would make absolutely no sense. Following this thought to its logical conclusion, though, did give me some other strange ideas for a Computer-themed park should anyone ever be sad enough to construct one. Perhaps it could contain Microsoft: The Ride, a dark ride through assorted varieties of blue screen? Or maybe Apple: The Ride, an upcharge attraction?
The major innovation on the El Rio Grande rapids ride was without question the boats. Rather than have a solid vehicle sitting six or eight people, this ride operates with four triangular shaped units connected via rubber interconnects into the usual rapids boat shape. This has no obvious effect on the ride experience but without question has novelty value!
My major dread about coming to Holland was having to experience El Condor (#470), the original prototype Vekoma SLC. The sane reader might now be enquiring why I did not just skip it, but like it or not it is, or will be in time, a historically significant coaster. Let us not forget that, like it or not, the Armenian Genocide was also historically significant. We received a clue for what we were in for as the train ascended the slowest lift hill in the known universe; there was more than an inch of clearance between the side wheels and the track. Every twist in the rail looked like it would cause the train to slam sideways, and sure enough, it did. Paradoxically, this useful addition to the park also had the longest queue of any ride in the park. Go figure.
The seat belts on Goliath (#471) are very unforgiving and easily the tightest I have ever seen on any coaster anywhere. It was snug on me, making me suspect that anyone with a waist line greater than about 40" would not be able to lock the belt. This ride is still operating with the original Intamin lap bars that have been responsible for several accidents, and evidently the park has decided to play cautious with who can be safely restrained. It is very easy to see why on riding, as there is powerful air time in several places on the course. The lap bar did feel like it would do the job on its own, but nevertheless I remained glad of both the seat belt and the grab bars on the car in front. This is not a criticism mind; a second ride was enough for me to decide that this was my favourite Intamin ride to date.
Vekoma has to date built just three wooden roller coasters, and Robin Hood (#472) was my first. There was about a thirty minute queue, mostly thanks to the fact that only one train was running. The problem was compounded by the operators, who did not seem in any particular hurry to check and dispatch the train. I used my stopwatch to time a number of cycles, and the crew were averaging a little over four minutes per dispatch, for a capacity of a little under four hundred per hour. Admittedly this throughput was somewhat better than on El Condor, but nevertheless it was still disappointing. The coaster itself was surprisingly good and on a whole appears to have been maintained well, though there were (as always) a number of sections of track that could use work.
In a little under five hundred coasters I have never encountered a Wild Mouse ride that I did not enjoy. True, some have been a little on the rough side, but those are few and far between. It takes special effort to spoil a Mack-built ride, but Walibi World has managed to do that with Flying Dutchman Gold Mine (#473). The ride does not use its trim brakes to anything like the usual extent, and the net result is that the train takes the second half of the circuit at a speed higher than the track and ride vehicles can cope with. The net result is some painful jarring both at the top and bottom of each hill. It wasn't just me, either; both George and Tom commented that it was easily the most uncomfortable wild mouse ride they had ever tried.
The queue for the boomerang, La Via Volta (#474), had a number of busts lining it. Though none of them wore expressions of pain, one of them was missing an ear. Perhaps this one had tried out the Boomerang we were about to ride? George certainly thought so, though Tom and I had no problems. Apparently this is a mark two model, the improved version which runs more smoothly. The lift seemed higher than I remember from other boomerangs, though that could have been my imagination playing tricks.
After a quick credit whore on Wok's Waanzin (#475) we headed for the Crazy River flume. This proved to be significantly longer than expected, not least due to a substantial backwards section. The queue line gets within about three feet of the flume channel, with only a small flowerbed in the way. It was also interesting to note that the operators were allowing riders to load the boat backwards if they so wished. This is obviously safe, given that the boat travels in both directions anyway, but would never be allowed anywhere else.
We all took the obligatory spin on the La Grande Roue ferris wheel, before splitting up for the last hour in the park. I chose to spend the time getting in three more circuits on Goliath.