Two years ago I managed to visit three parks in the same day, largely possible because the third was an evening visit, and a short one at that. There were no mitigating factors in today's plan, which involved two international flights and four parks in one day. Ryanair and their kind have made it ridiculously cheap to do a day trip to another country; in fact, my flights today cost less than a round trip train ticket from Dublin to Cork.
A day like this could only be possible with a very early start, in this case getting out of bed for the rather uncivilised time of 4:15am. I made it to the airport shortly before 6:00am, with ample time to catch my 7:10am flight to East Midlands Airport. Much to my surprise the plane was practically full, though I suspect I was quite possibly the only person on such an insane itinerary. George was waiting for me in the arrivals area and we quickly made our exit on the road towards beautiful Cleethorpes.
1st June 2004
We arrived at Pleasure Island a shade before opening time, only to immediately wonder if we were in the right place. Until today I was under the impression that Thorpe Park was a medium sized amusement park on the outskirts of London, but here was a sign for it on the other side of the country. Moments later, though, we spotted an array of amusement rides that definitely did not belong to Thorpe. We were in the right place.
Walking through the gate made me wonder briefly if park management held shares in Huss Rides, as their entrance area looked like a life size brochure for that company. We could see a Top Spin, a Frisbee, a Fly-Away, a Condor, and a Pirate Ship. The only one of these we tried was the Fly-Away, simply because we'd not seen one anywhere before. Two minutes on board was enough to see why; though the ride motion is thrilling enough, the restraints hurt, making this a definite once per day attraction.
The next port of call was the Hyperblaster, a standard S&S double shot ride. This model was equipped with a recorded countdown to launch, which might have ruined the suspense were it not completely out of sync with reality. For our ride the launch occurred a full seven seconds after the count reached zero, just long enough for us to wonder if the ride had broken down. The bad news was that this ride featured a wholly unnecessary wait time thanks to lackadaisical operating staff. Between each cycle the operators waited for exiting riders to leave the ride area, then spent about ninety seconds having a conversation before opening the gate to let oncoming riders in. This is if anything an argument for pay per ride in parks, as staff are much more motivated when each additional patron is worth money.
We took a trip up the Nauta-Bussink built Para-Tower, my first experience of a parachute drop ride. While the drop is relatively sedate, it starts off with a substantial lurch which can catch people out unawares. Yet again the queue was far longer than it needed to be, as only one of the six ride units was in use.
Finally, the coasters. The Mini Mine Train (#254) is a standard model Vekoma junior coaster made a little more interesting by its location over water which may have been clean some time in the last century. An impressive collection of algae and pond scum made me very glad that this was not a log flume. The train was bouncing just a little on the rails, but nothing major. At the other extreme came the Boomerang (#255), which we were stupid enough to ride in the back seat. Original boomerangs are not known for their comfort value, but some are better than others. This was approaching the bottom of the heap; once was quite enough!
1st June 2004
Dunes Leisure is a small park in Mablethorpe that we only stopped at briefly because it happened to be on our route towards Skegness. In reality it stretches the definition of amusement park almost to breaking point, as it looks more like a travelling fair. The star attractions are a waltzer, a fun house, and a powered coaster called the Runaway Train. Passengers pay the princely sum of £1 to enjoy a ride which features one upward helix and one downward helix. The speed on the way up is pretty grim, to the point that passengers can't help but wonder if the screaming motor is going to survive it at all. On the way down, though, it picks up a reasonable bit of speed, making it ideal for the entire family.
1st June 2004
Fantasy Island is one of those parks that makes the average patron wonder how it can exist at all. A large number of amusement rides are spread around a caravan camping site and a market that sells counterfeit goods. The place is almost completely devoid of charm. Nevertheless, it does have five roller coasters. two of which are among the biggest in England. At the time this report was originally written, the park claimed that their inverted coaster reached speeds of up to one hundred miles per hour, which was utterly impossible when the laws of physics were taken into account. This was corrected at some stage, and I've amended this report accordingly.
The first piece of fantasy for the day was found at the overflow car park, clearly advertised as being just three minutes walk from the park. Those who know me will be aware that my walking pace is quite fast, often beyond what others consider comfortable. Even still it took me a good ten minutes to cover the distance.
The main target for the day was the only coaster I'd been unable to ride on my last visit, namely Jubilee Odyssey (#256). The opening of this ride was excellent, with a superb twisted first drop that I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, it was at the base of that drop that the head-banging started, and it didn't let up until the brake run. It was impossible to enjoy the otherwise interesting layout, as there was no choice but to brace for impact throughout. Sadly once was more than enough; will Vekoma ever learn how to build smooth coasters?
The most recent big addition to Fantasy Island is Absolutely Insane, a ride consisting of a small gondola suspended from three huge towers by bungee cords. Six passengers at a time are launched to approximately three hundred feet in the air, at which point the seats tilt forward giving all on board a clear view of the ground below. Much to my surprise, I loved this; being shot so high while leaning forward proved a fantastic rush, and one that was worth the trip on its own. George wasn't quite so enthusiastic about it, declaring once to be enough for him, but it certainly wasn't for me; in the end I rode three times.
Another recent upgrade in the park was a new car on the Volcanic Impact tower ride, this time featuring tilting seats. The change improves the ride experience no end, as the tilt is quite dramatic, forcing riders to look at the ground almost two hundred feet below. Both of us liked this ride, though it was very disappointing to only get a single full height launch, especially since there was nobody else queueing at the time. In case anyone from Fantasy Island is reading this, the Space Shot at Prater Park in Austria gives you four (yes, four) full launch programmes per ride, despite tickets being somewhat cheaper than this model.
George still needed the credits on the other coasters here, so we made a quick circuit of them. Millennium Coaster is still the best in the park and a fantastic ride overall, but not one we were willing to pay full price for more than once per day. The Rhombus Rocket powered coaster made no major impression one way or another. Finally, the Fantasy Mouse was as much a rite of passage as anything else. We finished up our time at Fantasy Island with a trip on the Eye-On-The-Coast ferris wheel, ideal for taking some overview photographs.
Botton's Pleasure Beach
1st June 2004
By the time we arrived at Bottons the weather had begun to close in. It let go completely just as we were boarding our first coaster in the park, coincidentally named Storm. Time has not been kind to this ride; two years ago it was bumpy but not completely unmanageable. Today, however, it was well beyond the comfort zone. At this point it needs some major work, or for preference, a wrecking ball.
The rain had stopped by the time we found our way over to the Runaway Train, which was running just fine, albeit at greatly reduced capacity. The reason was a simple one; the wet brakes couldn't stop the train properly with more than five people on board. While waiting, I noticed the lift hill tyre drive mechanism was using a single motor and a rubber belt to power the entire unit, which seemed to me to defeat the purpose of using tyres in the first place. Most coasters using this type of propulsion use a number of smaller motors, consuming less power and also eliminating a potential single point of failure.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, the Queen Bee (#257) came back online. This layout can be thought of as an inverted version of the standard Big Apple coasters, and it rides much the same. This model is installed on the roof of a building, adding enough height to make the ride thrilling for younger people. The theming on the ride and train was beautifully done, other than a hive full of mud and litter on the way up the lift hill. Later on, I discovered this ride had been my 200th steel coaster, and I can think of nothing better today for that accolade.
1st June 2004
George dropped me back at East Midlands Airport with ample time available before my flight, where the day went from manic to utterly surreal; the terminal building was deserted. The check-in area was large, but the only staff member in it was a lonely looking young lady manning the Ryanair desk, conveniently located at the opposite end of the building from the departures area. There were no other customers in sight, and it wasn't much of a surprise when my boarding pass featured sequence number one.
After half an hour drinking coffee and reminiscing about the day, I proceeded through to security where the weirdness continued. A total of seven uniformed officers had the task of getting just one person, me, through the xray and metal detector. There were no more than half a dozen customers milling around in the airside area, making me wonder how on earth the airport could be turning a profit, let alone the airline. It remained that way right up until a few minutes before the flight, when a few more patrons appeared, but the plane was still less than half full. It was hardly surprising when we took off a full fifteen minutes early, leaving me at home well before my expected arrival at midnight.