In recent years the United Kingdom has become an increasingly unfriendly place for foreign tourists, particularly those with unusual hobbies. High taxation on air travel means that it is generally costs more to fly from Dublin to London than it does to mainland Europe, and after arrival one has to deal with an environment that is distinctly suspicious. Two years ago there was a major story about an elderly gentleman who was refused entry to a bird-watching event because he wasn't visiting with children, and rather than condemn this discrimination the comments on Facebook implied that the park was right to refuse him admission because he might be a pedophile. Last year an enthusiast friend of ours was surrounded by security and asked to explain what he was doing when taking photographs during a visit to Brighton Pier.
There are many interesting places to go in the world. As coaster enthusiasts we'd much rather spend our money where we're welcomed, and sadly that no longer seems to include the United Kingdom. That being said, there is safety in numbers, particularly when visiting family parks, and thus we decided to sign up for the European Coaster Club trip to Paultons Park and the Isle of Wight, an island located off the southern coast of England. I'd visited both locations previously but not in many years, and the area was completely new to Megan which sealed the deal.
21st May 2016
Eleven years ago when I first visited Paultons Park the place was a pleasantly landscaped garden with a variety of rides. The intervening years have seen a massive transformation, with the launch of two distinct themed areas: Peppa Pig World (2011) and The Lost Kingdom (2016). Both are quite simply spectacular, and take what was a fairly bland facility into a must-do theme park whose presentation is actually somewhat better than the more well known brands. Making the omelette has involved a few broken eggs, with a handful of older attractions being scrapped, but the changes are definitely for the better and suggest a park that is on an upward trajectory.
It was a fairly dismal morning when we arrived at the park, with dark grey clouds disgorging a steady flow of rain. On the negative side this meant rather dreary photographs, but on the positive side it reduced the number of guests through the gate. We were never going to be short of time with a full day to spend in a family park, but the non-existent crowds meant that queue times were minimal, making for one of the most relaxed days I've spent in a park in the last few years.
The worst of the precipitation had eased off by the time we began our morning ERS on Cobra, a Gerstlauer bobsled ride that is essentially a slightly abbreviated version of G'sengte Sau and Thor's Hammer. I was quite interested in evaluating how well the track had held up after ten seasons of operation, given the experience of otherGerstlauerproducts of similar vintage, and I'm glad to report that there were no problems here. The airtime hills at the back of the ride were great, with the second one particularly memorable for a magnificent head chopper. We managed four laps split evenly between front and back.
When the session came to an end the club decided to stage an informal takeover of Edge, a Zamperla Disk'O Coaster and the first installation of its type in the United Kingdom. We had to wait for a few minutes while the nice lady waited for the control key to arrive, but once it did she proceeded to wipe off the worst of the moisture from the seats with a damp towel. Though I'm not a huge fan of the genre, it was fun to ride with a large group of enthusiasts, most of whom chose to eschew the usual cheers in favour of calm and vaguely philosophical conversations about new roller coasters.
Our next stop was at Velociraptor (#2236), the fifth Family Boomerang from Vekoma and the first to feature a non-standard layout. Unlike the other members of the family the two spikes on this model were not parallel, but despite the changes the on-board experience felt no different to othermodels I've tried. I particularly liked the way the queue was set within the ride superstructure where it was surrounded by a number of animatronic dinosaurs.
The ride exit took us to the coaster now known as Dino Chase, which was completely unrecognisable from the days when it was known as Flying Frog. The six car train had been upgraded with new fiberglass bodywork, and the empty space in the middle of the oval shaped track had been filled by a landscaped rock structure populated by three animatronic dinosaurs. The ride was still unequivocally aimed at children, but we enjoyed our three laps nevertheless. Shortly after disembarking we were able to watch an entire train of club members going around the course with hands in the air on a ride that reached a top speed of just sixteen miles per hour.
The second new coaster this year was Flight of the Pterosaur (#2237), a clone of Freedom Flyer and Kvasten. I had high hopes for the ride given that it was constructed with the same track and train system as the magnificent Dragon Roller Coaster, but the on-board experience felt somewhat flaccid, with limited forces in the helices regardless of where we sat in the train. There was a nasty shock in the front seat today when the train hit the brake run, as the accumulated water from the lead car ended up pouring straight onto us; those visiting in wet weather should probably aim to sit elsewhere.
That left Cat-O-Pillar as the final credit of the day, and though the transformation was not as dramatic as on Dino Chase the ride formerly known as Stinger looked drastically different to times past. Brightly coloured cartoon characters had taken the place of the sparse pot plants that once dotted the structure, and a colourful new figurehead adorned the lead car. Only half the train was being loaded today due to weather conditions but that did not impact the ride quality in any way.
The morning finished up with two tracked rides. The War Department officially declared Trekking Tractors to be the best damn ride in the park, and while that comes across as a little excessive she did take a huge amount of pleasure at the sight of a scarecrow, figs, and the greatest of them all, a plough. After such a wondrous experience The Dinosaur Tour Co was almost a let down, as we were taken slowly past a small collection of animatronic dinosaurs that paled in comparison to the magnificent versions at Zatorland.
The afternoon was largely made up with repeat rides, though we did find our way to a couple of things we'd missed in the morning. The highlight was Magma, a spinning drop ride built inside an artificial volcano and augmented with a dry ice machine. We also tried the 4D Cinema, which was showing a dinosaur movie featuring two heroes who somehow managed to land a single engine aircraft despite never flying before. The theme continued with George's Dinosaur Adventure, which put dinosaur figureheads on a relatively standard pony rail ride, and Boulder Dash, a largely nondescript spinning ride with dinosaur eggs for vehicles.
The weather conditions caused many club members to leave the park early, but those of us who remained until the park closed were treated to some bonus ride time, during which I managed three laps on Flight of the Pterosaur and four laps on Velociraptor. The latter was definitely my favourite, and my nomination for the best coaster in the park.