My first visit to the park now known as Movie Park Germany took place back in 2004 with the European Coaster Club. At the time the experience was politely described as not good, so much so that a large percentage of the attendees decided to abandon it at lunch time in favour of a family park half a mile away. I returned for the new coasters in 2007 and in 2011, but time constraints on both visits meant that there was no chance to explore. As such today was my first opportunity to see the park properly in over a decade, and while the coaster selection leaves a lot to be desired I can nevertheless report that we had a thoroughly enjoyable day.
The new attraction this year is Star Trek: Operation Enterprise (#2335), a multi-launch coaster from Mack that at first glance looks little different to the Gerstlauer creation we experienced yesterday at Attractiepark Slagharen. However, this installation is superior in just about every meaningful way: it features hugely elaborate theming, a rousing soundtrack, two pre-shows, a transfer mechanism enabling two train operation, a third inversion, and almost double the track length. The only statistic that the two rides share is the maximum speed, which stands at one hundred kilometres per hour.
The queue entry can be found in the Starfleet Academy Recruitment Center within Federation Plaza, a new themed area that is immediately recognisable to anyone who has ever watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. There is a test seat nearby placed strategically within a black and orange alcove labelled Holodeck Simulator, as well as a variety of photo opportunities. There were several obvious and unapologetic Trekkies in attendance today, including several in full costume, demonstrating their obsession with remarkable fortitude given an outside temperature approaching thirty degrees celsius.
The first section of the queue is a small room with life size portraits of four of the most recognisable crew members of the Starship Enterprise, including Lt. Commander Data, Dr. Beverly Crusher, Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Guests then continue into a much larger room with a model starship, a Borg cube, a cabinet with assorted phasers, and an enormous screen that cycles through various facts from the Star Trek universe. From there guests are brought into one of two identical transporter rooms belonging to the Starship Vakompire under the command of Captain John W Reims, who announces via a TV screen that we will all be beamed directly onto the bridge of the Enterprise. Moments later the lights flicker, a sound effect plays, and a door opens onto a full scale replica of the famous bridge. There is another pre-show in here, guided by a member of staff in full uniform. With that complete a door on the right opens into a long corridor that leads to the ride station.
The boarding procedure is quick and efficient, with no assigned seating. The operators take only a few seconds to check restraints before the train rolls forward onto a transfer mechanism, which slides to the right past a sign labelled Variable Gravity Area and connects onto the main section of track. The forward launch is fairly gentle, and the backward launch is scarcely better in the front seat (though the back has respectable hang time courtesy of the ten car train). The second forward launch has a good kick to it, however, and from that point onwards the ride is a smooth thrill with three inversions, a token airtime hill, a few turns, and a brief flash through the middle of an illuminated Borg cube.
The ride is very good indeed, and easily takes its place as one of the best in the park. That said, I found myself questioning whether Star Trek was the correct choice of brand. Space-themed coasters have been phenomenally successful over the years, both in the Disney parks and elsewhere, but the vast majority of attempts in the past have been fully enclosed; having a perceived interstellar journey take place amidst a clear blue sky feels disjointed at best. Though it goes against everything I believe in, I can't help but wonder whether VR headsets might have been a good way to maintain continuity if the budget was too small to support a building. A cameo appearance from John DeLancie would have been a nice touch too!
Our second stop was at the Santa Monica Wheel, the centrepiece of a beach-themed area complete with a giant shark hanging upside down. The light was just perfect for photography, and we came away with some excellent shots, including the High Fall drop, the Crazy Surfer Disk-O "Coaster", the Pier Patrol jetski ride, the lift hill of Bandit, and the side profile of MP-Xpress. We were given three revolutions including ninety seconds stopped at the highest point, which was more than enough for our purposes. There was no queue at all, and I'm quite sure that we could have stayed on if we'd wanted to.
From there we headed to Van Helsing's Factory, an elaborately themed indoor coaster built by Gerstlauer in 2011. I'd been very much looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with a ride that I described six years ago as one of the best new coasters (I've) been on for some time, and I'm pleased to report that the experience was, if anything, even better than I remembered. This becomes all the more incredible when you consider that the track has a height differential of just twenty-six feet, less than some kiddie coasters. There were (and are) no negative things to be said about a ride that is, honestly, a masterpiece that deserves to be recognised as the best attraction of its type anywhere in Europe.
The experience begins with a queuing area in near darkness. The only illuminated areas are a truck body on the back wall complete with mounted assault weapon, and a similar vehicle under construction on the right hand side. This room exits into a narrow corridor, also in near darkness, whose ceiling is lined with a mixture of vehicle parts and body parts. Every few minutes bright purple lights illuminate this area briefly, showing up graffiti on the wall with cheerful inspirational slogans such as "run for your life", "you're doomed", and similar. This is accompanied by a recorded scream that is sufficiently realistic for the uninitiated to confuse it for a teenaged female. We were called ahead to fill two empty seats, which happened to be in the front of a car, and were dispatched with impressive leistungsfähigkeit within about a second of us ratcheting our restraints into place.
The first twenty seconds of the ride consists of slow movement through a room filled with an impressive variety of weapons. A metal shutter on the left rises abruptly to reveal a projection of a heavily armed Van Helsing who says something that I couldn't quite catch in the local patois. The track turns to the right, then left onto a short chain lift stretching almost to the roof of the building. Four screens at the apex show footage of a monster with the wings of a bat who scowls at the car as it banks into a sharp and forceful descending right turn, followed in short order by an equally dramatic lunge to the left. A brief climb leads to a flat piece of track that is equipped as a block brake, though today it was completely disabled allowing us to enjoy another sequence of turns at full speed.
Much of the potential energy had been consumed as we hit a second block brake and another small portion of dark ride, this time consisting largely of vehicle parts. A second lift hill, using a tyre drive, raises the car rapidly as a vicious-looking animatronic bear makes its presence felt. A ghostly projected image of a vintage car appears on the ceiling at the peak, followed in short order by a seven hundred and twenty degree left turning helix and a full speed crash through a dry ice projection screen that is negotiated without even the faintest hint of jarring. The whole experience is backed by an atmospheric soundtrack that constitutes icing on what was already a delicious cake.
Our next stop was at Bandit, the first modern wood coaster in Germany and a stretched mirror image of the original Cyclone built by the Roller Coaster Corporation of America. Detailed trip reports from its early years are difficult to come by, but it is established fact that the local authorities shut the ride down for safety reasons after just two seasons. At the time the park was owned by the Six Flags chain, who were faced with the choice of scrapping a signature attraction or investing serious money in an overhaul. They decided to go with the latter, bringing in Premier Rides to perform the required surgery. The work was supplemented with new three-bench trains in place of the original Intamin rolling stock, though whether this was an improvement is debatable given that the final design was based on the abominations from Son of Beast.
There was a little bit of shuffling in the short segment of track between the station and the base of the lift hill, but I thought little of it given that similar can be experienced on wood coasters the world over. The chain mechanism was engaged without the usual mechanical clunk, and as we crested the lift hill I found myself thinking for a brief moment that the ride might actually be good in defiance of all expectations. The first drop was actually in reasonable condition, as was the following turnaround, but the second drop brought us back to reality with a terrific impact that was powerful enough to dislodge fillings. The rest of the layout was a hilariously awful blur. Megan's tightly-wound hair bun rapidly disassembled itself as the train crunched its way around a track that had more potholes than an Indian country road after monsoon season.
Our fourth coaster was going to be number 1100 for Megan, and she decided in her infinite wisdom to bestow that questionable honour to MP-Xpress, a 2001-vintage Vekoma SLC. Adopting the go big or go home approach she insisted that we sit in the back seat, something I've never felt the need to do in over fifteen years of coaster enthusiasm. We watched the train roll into the station in front of us, and immediately noticed that not one of the upstop wheels was touching the track. Facial expressions of disembarking guests covered a wide range of feelings, including obvious relief from a young female in row six. My general level of foreboding was increased yet further as I took my seat and noticed supplemental padding on the unforgiving restraints.
As ever there were two highlights to the ride. The first of these was a smooth ascent up the lift hill accompanied by the distinctive whirring noise that I've never heard on a coaster from any other manufacturer. The second was the brake run when the train clattered to a halt. The rest of the layout was the usual shuddering horror, with an extra special dishonourable mention to the impact at the exit of the third inversion. Defensive riding was the order of the day; I kept my right ear pressed firmly into the restraint, which may explain how I managed to disembark without a serious concussion.
By this stage it was the middle of the afternoon and we were both pretty hungry. In the interests of time optimisation we decided that we'd walk in the general direction of the remaining coasters and stop when we found something that looked vaguely passable. We duly ended up in a Mexican-themed outlet directly in front of High Fall, whose selection had more in common with McDonald's than Taco Bell. Nevertheless it hit the spot, with the added virtue of being very quick; our meal was served in ninety seconds flat. (It subsequently ended up as the only worthwhile food of the day, as the unpalatable victuals served at the brasserie in Düsseldorf Airport tasted like they'd been sitting under a heatlamp for days.)
Feeling somewhat refreshed, we made our way to Backyardigans: Mission to Mars, a standard layout 207m Junior Coaster that began life as Coyote's und Roadrunner's Achterbahn in 1996. In its original guise the ride was built into and around an artificial mountain that bore more than a passing resemblance to the various Big Thunder Mountain Railroads, but this theming was dismantled when the ride was rebranded in the mid-noughties. Its appearance now is sparse compared to what it once was, with the structure sitting on a base of reddish-brown gravel, but it nevertheless compares favourably against most of the other installations of the type. It was interesting to see a station built only on the right hand side of the track with no safety barrier to stop inattentive guests stepping out into space (pun intended), a definite never in America moment.
There was a short wait for Ghost Chasers, a compact version of the Mack mouse with two operators managing no stacking despite a full complement of cars. The track had an obvious tinge of rust that the light purple paint couldn't quite obscure, but I'm glad to report that the ride quality was much better than its appearance might have implied, with smooth tracking and plenty of airtime to be enjoyed on the energetic drops. The only negative was one or two hard landings, but they were minor in the grand scheme of things and not severe enough to spoil the ride.
The only coaster we'd not ridden at this point was Jimmy Neutron's Atomic Flyer, the first version of the Vekoma Suspended Family Coaster to operate with the lap bar trains that have since become commonplace across the family. As we ascended the lift hill I found myself reminiscing in a not terribly fond way about the earlier installations which felt like they were designed to put children off roller coasters for life. There were no such issues with this installation, and we were treated to a fun and smooth ride that marked an excellent conclusion to an excellent weekend.