Travel note2nd September 2005
During the Shinkansen journey to Hamamatsu, I managed to inadvertently pour a quantity of water on my shorts, in a rather unfortunate fashion. This is not something I would normally document. Nevertheless, it became memorable entirely due to George's generous offer to me; Would you like a tissue? I haven't got one.
Hamanako Pal Pal2nd September 2005
It took us a few minutes to locate the entrance to Pal Pal even after arrival at the park. We could see a large number of rides in front of us, but no obvious means of accessing them. In the end, we twigged it; the park entrance was in fact on the other side of the road. With this problem solved, we paid for general admission, opting once again for ride tickets over an unlimited pass. We didn't expect any of the coasters to be worth riding more than once, and it seemed prudent to save as much money as possible.
The first coaster certainly validated this decision. Mega Coaster (#588) was confirmation yet again, as if it were necessary, that TOGO of Japan have not figured out how to build inline twists that do not hurt people. The ride had all the comfort value of Manhattan Express, with just one saving grace; it was shorter. Martin described this ride as a death machine, and it is hard to argue with that assessment; once was more than enough.
Most visitors might assume that the much smaller Mini Coaster (#589) would not be worth riding, and how wrong they would be. This diminutive little coaster hiding away in the corner turned out quite unexpectedly to be the best in the park, far superior to the horrible monstrosity next to it.
Having not ridden one recently, it is impossible for me to be completely sure about my next comment here. Nevertheless, it seems highly probable that the Batflyer (#590) restraints had been customised to fit the local population a little better than the standard versions. Either that, or my legs have gotten longer in the last two years, and as my total height has not changed I consider this unlikely to say the least. I was able to fit into the ride, but only just. I really like these coasters, and wish there were more of them, but given the inherently low capacity (and the collapse of Caripro) I would guess the world has seen its last new one.
The Jungle Mouse (#591) was a violent and rough ride, on a par with the wooden wild mouse at Blackpool. Precision engineered steel should not ride in a similar fashion to classic wood, but this ride did; once was more than enough. We have at least one more Sansei-built coaster later in the trip, in the form of the second longest coaster in the world. Hopefully it'll run a little better than this one did.
Lagunasia2nd September 2005
Lagunasia was a late addition to this trip, planned in at the last minute after a message from Martin which advised us that we should not miss it under any circumstances. He was quite right in this assertion,; this relatively unassuming park in Gamagori turned out to be my favourite of the trip to date. This wasn't in fact for the coasters; rather, it was for some positively spectacular dark rides which almost made Efteling look tacky.
The first attraction we tried was Fire Fire, a shooting ride with an unusual tracking system which allowed the vehicles to move between two vertical levels, with targets to be expired in all directions. These targets were substantially larger than other such rides, helping those such as myself who would have no difficulty missing an elephant at five yards. Each had a ring of red coloured LEDs that gave a clear visual indication when they had been hit. At the end of the ride, small printouts of our scores were output from the cars as a souvenir, though I quickly ditched mine; I didn't a piece of paper describing my score as BAD!
The next stop was Stellar Coaster (#592), a moderately decent ride that nevertheless doesn't quite match the promise of its name. Far better was Treasure Hunting. This began with a lengthy pre-show in Japanese which I could understand perfectly despite no comprehension of the language; it was an entirely predictable affair with a semi concious animatronic explorer with his head on the countertop of a bar, the requisite skull and crossbones flag, and so on. With that out of the way, we were led into the inside of a heavily themed tomb, where we boarded large off road vehicles mounted on a track.
Once we were secure, we set off over some rough terrain, with speed and elevation changes as we passed through some fabulous scenery that felt like an abandoned temple. Among the other scenes were one where some headlights approached us at speed only for our vehicle to dive underneath into an abyss which we had not been able to see in advance. Such a fabulous attraction was marred only by the fact that nobody was riding it; only four of us had been in the pre-show room, so the operators down by the jeeps, which could seat sixteen, were largely idle. Sadly it seems this ride was removed at the end of 2006 in favour of another family coaster.
The Legend of Labyrinth was a log flume and dark ride combination. This opened up with a small backwards drop, which was completely enclosed so oncoming riders had no idea it was coming. This was followed by a reversing section to turn boats the right way round again before moving through some spectacular light effects partially hidden by thick mist. After breaking into the daylight we ascended a steep lift followed by a very wet splash, at least in my boat; I ended up absolutely soaked, far more so than I would ever expect from a normal log flume.
To dry off, we went over to Aqua Wind (#593), a brand new wild mouse style ride from Gerstlauer. This proved to be a superb little coaster, with excellent theming improving an already great ride. Unfortunately the staff insisted on us leaving the ride by the exit and back in the entrance again for reriding, something pretty silly given that we were almost the only people there. Nevertheless, this chinese fire drill resulted in a lot of amusement for the staff, who engaged the common high power energetic waving we've come to expect in this country. At one stage it looked like we might have all six of the on ride photo screens with our picture on it, though thanks to the occasional inconvenient alternate guest we were only able to manage four of them!
The final dark ride was Magical Powder. The name refers to the contents of paint cans with labels indicating the special effects they are supposed to cause, such as enlargement, shrinking, etc. The connection between this powder and the animatronics within wasn't immediately obvious to this gaijin, but even though the story was probably lost on me I very much enjoyed the ride. It had a cuteness factor not dissimilar to It's a Small World at Disneyland, but without the tackiness, and crucially without the supremely irritating theme song.
At this stage we had hit every major attraction in the park other than one which apparently required guests to have the ability to read Kanji. By mutual consent we decided that we had arrived at lunch time; it was nearly 4:00pm after all. My meal consisted of cold mystery meat in a bowl with cold noodles. This wasn't quite what I had been expecting; I ordered by picture, which I had taken to be a bowl of ramen. Nevertheless, whatever I ate turned out to be delicious, and very good value too.
It is a mark of a good dark ride when guests feel compelled to ride it for a second time in one day. After eating we chose to do both Treasure Hunting and Magical Powder for a second time, before getting on the shuttle bus for the train back to Tokyo.
Aqua Stadium2nd September 2005
The Shinkansen we caught concluded at Shinagawa station, and as this was the location of one of the newest coasters in Tokyo it seemed a good idea to go ride it while we were there. Galaxy Express 999 (#594) is located within the EPSON Aqua Stadium, a large aquarium with a few small rides attached to the Shinagawa Prince Hotel. Purchase of ride tickets proved somewhat complicated at first, as we were directed to the wrong place, but once we had figured out where we were looking for we determined that individual rides would set us back ¥1000. One ride on the coaster would be quite enough at that price!
We were told that there was no wait for the ride, but in fact there was no wait for the first of three pre-shows, all of which were in Japanese with no subtitles. This did seem a bit of an oversight given that guides to the park were available in English, though perhaps those are a recent addition. The first was in a room full of space suits behind glass windows, presumably documenting the history of space exploration. The second had a particularly interesting floor, with reflective scenery below that proved utterly impossible to photograph. While I admired this everyone else was listening intently while an operator narrated something profoundly interesting (I assume) at high speed. In due course, one of the doors lit up in a bright shade of blue, accompanied by a metalic ping noise, and we were escorted into another room containing the third and longest show. This one showed a cartoon that looked very Japanese indeed, that immediately left me thinking all your base are belong to us. Without any Japanese in my vocabulary beyond the essentials it was impossible for me to even speculate as to what the true plot was intended to be.
At any rate, we were finally able to board the coaster, and as luck would have it we got the front seats. Much to my surprise, the ride was fitted with the original Intamin lap bars, of the style that has since been replaced on many coasters due to problems with passengers not being properly restrained. There were no extra safety bars on the side. There was no doubt in my mind; I would be holding on to my restraint throughout the course. No hands in the air here.
Everyone I have spoken to has described this ride as really short. It launches round a corner, through a vertical loop, round some helixes, and into a brake run. It isn't a particularly long ride, but to criticise it for that reason is, in my humble opinion, unfair. I timed the duration at forty seconds, which puts it at quite a bit longer than a certain Queen of Speed at Alton Towers. I did find the ride a little disappointing due to the significant amount of vibration during the journey, but aside from that it was a good ride. If it had been a little cheaper I might have gone round for a second go. Instead, it seemed a good idea to return to the hotel to get some sleep.