Since the start of my career as a coaster enthusiast there have been a number of parks on my bucket list, including the obvious destinations such as Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Cedar Point, and Six Flags Magic Mountain as well as quite a few lesser known parks such as Bobbejaanland and Gold Reef City, and today's destination, Mirabilandia. As with all entries on the list the primary draw for me was the presence of a signature ride, namely Katun (#502), an inverted coaster considered by many to be one of B&M's finest. Our day began in the best way possible, with a one hour exclusive ride session.
The layout begins with a fifty metre high lift hill and a forceful first drop that is easily the best that I've come across on an inverted coaster. From that point on riders are treated to a series of well-paced inversions that are negotiated without even a hint of jarring, proving once again (as if it were necessary) that B&M are truly the masters of the inverted coaster. The comparison against the pathetically bad inverted coaster we rode yesterday could not have been more pronounced. The operators were keeping things moving efficiently, and as a result I was able to manage a total of nine circuits during our session. Afterwards, those not riding were led out onto the transfer track area with the operators stopping the loaded train in just the right location for the perfect group photo.
Most of the group decided to make their next stop at Niagara, a giant splash ride that looked like a lifesaver given that the temperature had gone well past thirty degrees. There was no storage area available to leave my camera and mobile phone, and I decided to break the habit of a lifetime and purchase a cheap poncho in the interests of avoiding an expensive accident. This drew ridicule from other club members, and honestly it was unnecessary, as there was a powerful braking system on the ride that stopped the boat in front of the impressively large wave. This would probably have made sense in the middle of winter (or in Ireland) but it seemed a bizarre operational choice for an Italian ride in the height of the summer months.
The stop was as harsh as it was unexpected, which I believe constitutes a serious safety issue. Most of our group (and indeed most people we saw) were riding with hands in the air for the drop, and were caught out in spectacular fashion as they were thrown hard into the lap bar restraint. Later in the day I heard that one of our group had ended up in the first aid facilities after taking the brunt of the impact in his stomach. We didn't see any warning sign advising riders to brace for impact, and it's debatable how effective such a thing would have been anyway; it'd be far more sensible to allow the boat to slow naturally as happens on other rides of this type.
I wasn't feeling massively enthusiastic about riding a L&T Systems wild mouse following my experience on a similar ride a few months ago, though my interest was piqued by the report on RCDB stating that Pakal (#503) had been upgraded with spinning cars for this year. Sadly this information proved to be out of date; though management had planned to introduce new vehicles the design never made it into production due to clearance issues. The standard cars were the same as those in America, but judicious use of trim brakes moderated the lateral forces without castrating the experience completely. The result was a ride that was thrilling without being painful. The only negative was a harsh final brake, but I was ready for it and it presented no real problem.
On disembarking, we headed straight into one of the parks signature attractions without even realising it. The unnamed maze is cleverly designed with numerous small paths not featured on the official map, and we got well and truly lost within it. It was almost ten minutes later when we wound up at Explorer, a standard layout Mack powered coaster upgraded with artificial rockwork tunnels. The ride was decent enough, with the only real problem coming at the end of the layout when the train began to slow while still on banked track, causing riders on the left hand side of the train to be squashed. It would have been useful to have signage warning children to sit on the right hand side of the train to avoid being crushed by their parents.
Our next stop was at the new-for-2005 Leprotto Express (#504), a L&T Systems Junior Coaster decorated with a large fiberglass cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, and other assorted rabbit food. The design features a physical footprint broadly equivalent to Mighty Mini Mega and a similar layout, albeit in scaled down form; the track length, maximum height, and top speed are all roughly one third reduced from the Pinfari. I'd been expecting very little from this installation, which might explain why I liked it so much; the experience wasn't thrilling, but it was fun, and at the end of the day that's what really matters.
Other club members had warned us not to expect too much from Sierra Tonante (#505), a thirteen year old wooden twister that opened as the tallest and fastest ride of its type in Europe. In an unusual move the park decided to commission rolling stock from local company SDC, and while this may have saved some money it was definitely a false economy; an awful restraint design and inconsistent tracking turned what should have been an exciting and thrilling ride into a brutally rough endurance contest that was well down there with the worst wooden coaster I've ridden. The only person in our group who wanted to ride a second time was Darren, and as nobody would go with him he ended up having to give it a miss. The ride would have been far better with trains from Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, though one doubts that management have the apetite for that level of investment at this stage.
Our walk took us past a small amusement arcade, and standing right at the entrance was a DDR Extreme machine. Though Dance Dance Revolution is generally associated with teenaged girls I've had my own mat at home for a number of years as an exercise mechanism, and regular practice has gotten me to the point where I'm comfortable playing some of the more difficult levels in public. As luck would have it another club member who plays turned up just as I was contemplating a round, and our competition generated a substantial audience of amused onlookers. In hindsight playing a physically intensive game in thirty-five degree heat may not have been the best of ideas, but we still managed to put on a good show.
By the time we'd finished it was lunch time, and we began heading in the direction of a group dining area that the club had reserved. Along the way Luke managed to push me into the target area for the junior log flume just as a boat was splashing down, and although the mild spray was quite refreshing I decided that this insolence could not be left unchecked. I duly frog-marched him into the same location and held him there for the next four boats, though to no avail; for whatever reason none of them sprayed even the smallest amount of water. It wasn't until after the meal that I managed to get my own back; I had a reasonable quantity of water cupped in my hands from the bathroom sink, and Luke, who was walking in front of me, had not noticed. I called his name, let him turn around to face me, and threw it in his face. My only regret is that I did not have the camera handy, as his expression was one of the funniest I've ever seen, and if anything improved when I reminded him that this was overdue retribution!
With our meal complete the group descended en masse on the Scuola di Polizia stunt car show, which we'd been told not to miss. This advice proved right on the money; the staging featured spectacular examples of dangerous driving in a controlled environment, including burn-outs, motorcycle jumps, driving on two wheels (both the back and side), and more. A particular highlight was the use a handbrake turn to parallel park a BMW between two others, a visually impressive manoeuvre that must have been practiced for weeks. Screeches of tyres and the distinctive smell of burning rubber were accompanied by assorted explosions and flame effects that added yet more excitement to an already stunning performance.
The park is home to a ninety metre high Ferris wheel that was the largest in Europe when it opened in 1999. In common with many larger installations Eurowheel does not stop for loading and unloading, meaning that riders have about fifteen seconds in which to embark and disembark. The cars are fully enclosed and air-conditioned, making for a comfortable eleven minute rotation. Unfortunately the windows on our car hadn't been cleaned in quite some time, meaning that the vast majority of my photographs were impacted by both reflections and dirt. On the positive side, however, our vantage point allowed us to locate and plot a route to the final coaster in the park, a 335m Vekoma Roller Skater named Family Adventure (#506).
With the coasters complete it was time to see what else Mirabilandia might have to offer. Darren wanted to ride the Mongolfiere balloon race ride, and I decided that I'd join him as the wave-like motion didn't look like it would present a problem for my weak stomach. I enjoyed the experience, though I decided not to tempt fate by joining him for the rather faster Music ride he headed to next; a cool drink and some shade seemed like a much better plan. Even the shade had become uncomfortably warm at this stage, however, and given that I decided that a water ride was in order. I'd hoped for a few refreshing water splashes from the Rio Bravo, but a particularly contrary fate ensured that I came off almost completely unscathed; apparently rapids rides only get one wet in poor weather.
The park has a pair of sixty metre high S&S tower rides that were the first of their type in Europe. They have been installed side by side just inside the main entrance gate, and branded using imagery from the American space shuttle programme. Part of me wonders whether a replacement theming package was considered after the disaster of February 2003, but for better or worse things remain unchanged for the present. I rather suspect that there was some relief among the management team that they named the Space Shot Columbia and the Turbo Drop Discovery rather than the other way round!
I decided that the challenge for the day would be persuading young Luke to try these rides. It was obvious that he was somewhat frightened, an emotion I was well placed to understand having been there myself in the not too distant past. The only way to deal with this type of fear is to face it resolutely and with determination. I tried some gentle persuasion, and in due course managed to talk him to trying the drop side, which Luke felt was the less frightening of the two (and a reverse of what I would have expected from my own experiences). The tower was running very well and we all enjoyed ourselves, as was evidenced by a very good on-ride photo which I really should have purchased.
As the car settled back at ground level Luke proclaimed that he had liked the ride, but that he would not be doing the other one. Once again I took him aside for a quiet chat, and after a few minutes of negotiation, a deal was done between us, leading us to join the queue for the shot side. Persuading all parties to remain within said queue was a challenge, but one which proved successful in the end; in due time we were on board. Luke was very insistent that his restraint be closed as firmly as possible, and hung on as tightly as I remember doing on my first giant drops. After the first launch shot, however, something remarkable happened. The hands went straight out, and the child who had been a nervous wreck moments before adopted the traditional coaster enthusiast tower riding position. I couldn't help being impressed while at the same time feeling a mild twinge of annoyance; it had been a lot harder for me to learn to like towers. Luke, however, was delighted; the resultant wide grin would not go away for the rest of the afternoon (though to be fair is essentially a permanent fixture as is).
At this stage we'd ticked off all the major rides in the park with one exception: Autosplash, a log flume with boats painted to look like Cadillacs. The four minute long ride consists mainly of gentle floating, though there are two drops, the larger of which features a double-down that delivers a small amount of airtime. Under normal circumstances the design keeps riders fairly dry, though those sharing a boat with a bunch of immature enthusiasts may find that that changes rather dramatically, as the trough is wide enough for those with long arms to add their own bonus splash effects.
Most of our group decided that their next few stops would involve spin rides, and this didn't appeal to either Luke or I. Rather than join them we decided to watch another showing of Scuola di Polizia, and this was definitely the right move; the performance was arguably even better on its second viewing, as I had a fair idea of the running order in my head and knew which directions to look in for the most exciting effects. I'd have gladly repeated it a third time given the opportunity, a testament to the calibre of the spectacle.
Fast cars were replaced by extremely slow ones as we tried 24 ore di Mirabilandia, a simulated race using two parallel guide rails. The vehicles made realistic enough sound effects, courtesy of tiny internal combustion engines, though today they were scarcely capable of exceeding walking pace. The result was an experience that anyone over the age of five would likely find boring. We were rather more taken with the double decker Carousel, which says it all really.
We had missed the last showing at the 4D Theatre, and were wandering around aimlessly when we came across a second DDR Extreme, this one being played by a teenaged Italian female who had attracted a large audience despite playing on light mode. I decided that I'd put on a performance of my own using standard mode and a carefully curated selection of songs to ensure that I'd be able to do well. My status as a twenty-five year old male may have raised an eyebrow or two initially, but after a few seconds of play the scepticism clearly vanished in favour of amusement. For the first time in my life I received applause between songs, and ended up bowing to the crowd.
There was time for just one more ride before we had to leave the park. The eventual choice was Luke's suggestion; he had enjoyed the Columbia ride so much that he wanted to do it again. It seemed that he wanted to cement into his own mind the fact that he could do Space Shots and enjoy them. Either way, the return was a roaring success, with his hands outstretched even for the initial launch. May all his problems be solved as easily.