After last nights charade it was in many ways a relief to be allowed into the park before opening so that we could form a queue for the ride of our choice. While some of our group went to Fujiyama, the vast majority including me went to Dodonpa (#661), the second of two major air launched roller coasters built by S&S Power, and by far the fastest. It might have been only an hour after breakfast but I was nevertheless eager to experience a launch from a standstill to 107 miles per hour in just 1.8 seconds. The major reason for my choice was ride throughput; Asia's fastest coaster operates an eight seater train which launches on average every ninety seconds or so. There is not much that the operators can do about this; the very nature of the beast means that a launch can only happen when the previous train has made it back to the station. Nevertheless, this leads to an inevitably long line at the best of times. One hundred and seventeen gaijin did not help the situation one bit.
The last hour or so of the ride queue area is indoors, where a speaker system blasts out the name "Do-Don-Pa!" repeatedly, so that it burrows its way deep into the brain and begins hammering away (click to listen). This was clearly intended to psyche up oncoming riders, though all it really serves to achieve, at least after the first three or four minutes, is to implant in the average guest a fervent desire to rip the speaker system off the wall. The park has carefully placed it high enough up so that this could not possibly happen. I wonder if its location is as originally designed or if it might be a retrofit.
Predictably there were absolutely no carry on items allowed on Dodonpa, and that included glasses secured by a safety strap. Everything had to be put in lockers beside the train. I'll spare the reader a repeat of my usual ranting on this, and just note calmly that I fail to see how glasses secured in place could be any more risky than the locker keys secured to a wrist that they provided us with. In reality the keys could be significantly more dangerous, they being sharp and made of metal.
The train pulls out of the station and makes a small right turn into the launch tunnel, where riders here an excited three, two, one countdown in English. There is no zero, however; the train waits a few seconds before the compressed air kicks in, just long enough to make riders think that something has gone wrong. It hasn't; with a huge blast of energy and a cry of Dodonpa! the train is shot out down the track at breakneck speed. As I had anticipated, the launch is absolutely fabulous, and easily the best coaster launch I have ever felt on any ride anywhere, and I have no shortage of others to compare with. Unfortunately, I have trouble saying the same about the rest of the ride; passengers are taken on a twenty second scenic tour of the park, round a large banked turn (which the trains cannot really handle well) and then into a huge vertical airtime hill. I use the word airtime, but in this case it seems like riders experience at least -1G, and it could be more than that; the lap bar is the only thing preventing one from being launched completely into orbit. It is this that presents the largest problem; the restraint design is comfortable up until this point, when the thighs are pressed into it firmly. The forces were strong enough to be moderately painful, particularly to those who were not expecting them.
The one positive thing to be said for the huge hill was its birds eye view over the queue area, which appeared to be conspicuously empty. Wasting no time, we reverted to the entrance at an undignified sprint, and three quarters of an hour later we were experiencing Dodonpa for second time. A third go would have been nice but was completely out of the question. The queue must have been at least two and a half hours by the time we exited, and it could well have been three. We had two and a half hours left in which to do all the other rides in the park, and that seemed to be a better plan of action.
First of these should have been Fujiyama, but much to my consternation I discovered that it was closed. The reason became evident on closer inspection; a train was stuck three quarters of the way up the lift hill, and various members of our group were being walked down the exit stairs. It turned out that this had been the first train of the morning, loaded with the very people who had decided to head for Fujiyama first. All they really achieved by doing this was a ride up a lift hill, an evacuation, and worse yet, a two hour wait for the other major coaster on disembarking. I felt very sorry for all of them; that could not have been a fun way to use limited time in a park. Later in the day we saw a camera crew talking to a few people in front of the offending coaster. None of us had the faintest idea what they were talking about, for obvious reasons, though the general consensus was that tonight's news may feature a story about trainload of overweight gaijin break Fujiyama. It would have been nice to ride, but at the end of the day it is impossible to do everything, and in this case just serves as a good reason to come back.
On my short visit to the park yesterday I had checked off two of the smaller coasters, but there were still two remaining. The first, Fuwa Fuwa Osora No Dai Bouken (#662) had one impressive feature and one alone; it's name. The layout was dull and slow, with no major drops and some heavy braking just when you thought that something might happen with the ride. Something similar could be said about the kiddie coaster, Rock'n Roll Duncan (#663), an extremely small coaster requiring forty seconds to ascend a lift hill that could not have been more than ten feet tall. The ride did have one interesting feature, however, namely its theming. The lead car on the train was Duncan, apparently one of the newer engines in the Thomas the Tank Engine series. I can't say I remember this one from my childhood, but I certainly remembered the general appearance of the sculptured face!
The theming is due to the fact that the kiddie area in Fuji-Q Highland is, in fact, Thomas Land. All the rides in the area are themed after characters from the Island of Sodor, complete with soundtracks that will be familiar to anyone who grew up listening to Ringo Starr narrating the tales of the Reverend Wilbert Audrey. Most of the attractions were clearly suitable for children only, but there was a good sized dark ride (though the word dark didn't really apply here) through a number of high quality sculpted scenes.
The only other attraction I had time for was the Haunted Hospital, a walk through horror house using unique theming. As an up-charge attraction this is not something I would normally have contemplated, but the word on the ground had been that it was well worth doing. Additionally, it apparently required three quarters of an hour to complete, so it would be value for money if nothing else. The theming within was absolutely top notch. However, though it was filled with live actors it really wasn't particularly scary as such things go; there was only one occasion when I ended up jumping out of my skin. Most of the rest was just slightly creepy rather than terrifying.