19th September 2004
This park was known as Six Flags Belgium at the time this trip report was written. The names of the roller coasters have remained the same under new management.
Our intrepid tour organisers had warned us ahead of time that Six Flags Belgium might prove disappointing, and perhaps for this reason a number of people were joking that senior management had come to welcome us when Bugs Bunny and Tweety Pie showed up inside the gate. This prophesy turned out much to my surprise to be largely incorrect; while I can't speak for everyone I managed to have a fun day at a pretty good park.
Having never ridden a Vekoma built wooden coaster before, I was not sure what to expect when it was announced we would be having an exclusive session on Loup-Garou (#366). Vekoma steel coasters can be horrendously rough, but equally there are many, especially the newer models, which are very rerideable. What would their wooden coasters be like? Arriving in the station and seeing the condition of the train didn't leave me with a lot of confidence. The benches were well padded, but the condition of the padding left a lot to be desired. To add to the fun, the train we were in had evidently been left out in the rain the night before, so on sitting down, everyone got wet!
Fortunately, the ride itself turned out to be surprisingly good. The design features a healthy amount of airtime in a tight twisted layout. There were a few rough sections, but this is a wooden coaster and that is par for the course. Our visit was also very near the end of the season, and I assume some retracking will be done before next year. I managed a total of five rides during our session. I was also able to do some on ride photography, and although this wasn't particularly successful, it was still nice to be allowed to try.
When the session ended, most of the group moved over to the Challenge of Tutankhamon, a shooting dark ride. This was streets ahead of the disappointing effort at Bobbejaanland yesterday, with some very detailed animatronics. More to the point, though, this was the first ride of its kind I have seen with force feedback in the guns, so you can actually tell when you hit a target. The ride also had scoring, which in my case proved to be more of an embarrassment than an advantage!
I was well over the posted 105cm height limit for the Cocinnelle junior coaster, a Zierer Small Tivoli. I have ridden a few of this model in other places, so I know the height restriction was not put in place by the manufacturer. I was mildly irritated later when I discovered that the regulation was not being enforced and that some members did get to ride it, but on the other hand that is my fault for not asking. Maybe next time.
Credit whoring our way through Cobra (#367) allowed me to save a truly classic ride for my three hundredth steel coaster. Turbine (#368) was known as Sirocco when it made headline news all over Europe few years ago by jamming in the vertical loop, leaving riders suspended upside down. They were secured by lap bars, which did exactly what they were designed to do, showing that OTSR restraints are not required on many looping coasters. But I digress. Since this incident, the park has enclosed the launch track and vertical loop, with just the vertical spikes visible on either end. The effect of going through a loop backwards in the dark is quite disorientating, to say the least, but it shows once again that older Schwarzkopf designs are timeless classics. Hopefully some other manufacturer will resurrect the Shuttle Loop concept in the future.
The only criticisms I have of Six Flags Belgium came out of this ride. First and foremost, part of the queue area is enclosed within the ride building, and it is a narrow corridor smelling strongly of hot grease. This cannot be healthy! An air conditioning unit would be one solution, but even an open window would partly solve the problem. There was also some scatalogical graffiti on the walls, much of it in English. The real problem, though, was the inefficiency of the ride operators. The ride itself takes 35 seconds, but the staff were taking some 210 seconds, three and a half minutes, to empty and reload the train. There is no excuse for this speed of operation; it took two minutes to empty the train when we were watching. Throughput on this ride could easily have been doubled, and with a little effort tripled. Later I learnt that this delay was due to overheating problems on the ride clutch mechanism, but in all seriousness this is something that should be fixed via a new cooling system rather than by deliberately slow operation. Hopefully this will be resolved in years to come.
I had heard many good things about Calamity Mine (#369), a Vekoma built mine train. The ride itself feels very much like Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland Paris (but then it would, as it is the same manufacturer). The ride features two lift hills side by side, and presumably if the operators time it right two trains can go up the lift simultaneously. This wasn't happening today, but I can imagine it would certainly add to the experience. The train wasn't covering the track as smoothly as the Disney ride though; I wonder if that is maintenance or a design issue?
The last coaster in the park was Vampire (#370), my ninth Vekoma SLC, and my fourth new one this year. There are at least another dozen of these I haven't encountered (yet). Standard model SLCs have a well deserved reputation for being rough, and while this wasn't the worst I have encountered it was still a definite once a day ride.
I decided to do the Dalton Terror giant drop before our scheduled lunch break. This is one of the higher giant drops I have done, and I really did enjoy it. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, I managed to sneak in two more rides before it was time to leave. Unfortunately, we had to depart at 2:00pm to get back to the Channel Tunnel terminal; I could easily have spent the rest of the afternoon there.