Plopsaland De Panne
25th August 2014
Several months ago I booked flights around a musical weekend that I'd fully intended to conclude with a few hours riding the new coaster at Nigloland, but then a last minute change of plans meant that I got there unexpectedly in June. That left me with twelve hours to make the most of a pre-booked rental car, starting and ending at Charles de Gaulle Airport to the north of Paris. The nearest new credit in France was a Spinning Mouse at Parc Ange Michel, but the eight hour round trip didn't feel like a particularly good use of time, especially since I'd have to cover the same basic route at a future date in order to visit nearby Kingoland. Driving over the border to Belgium seemed like a far better plan, as the distance was considerably shorter.
It was overcast and raining when I arrived at Plopsaland De Panne, but that hadn't kept the crowds away. The car park was virtually full, and despite what the photograph below suggests there was an enormous queue to purchase tickets. It was impossible not to feel moderately smug at my decision to pre-purchase online, and I duly waltzed past the multitudes to the entrance gate. The cheerful attendant rattled off something complicated in Flemish, but the interrogation was quickly squelched with a polite ní thuigim; an miste leat labhairt ní moille?
The park replaced large sections of Viktor's Race at the end of last year after thirty seven years of service. That work, and the addition of a new train, led to quite a few enthusiasts labelling the ride as a new credit. My initial reaction was to do the same, but after further contemplation I decided that the situation was little different to retracking of a wooden coaster, and on that basis it wouldn't be appropriate to pad my count. The introduction of shark fins on the new train allowed the height limit to be reduced to just 0.9 metres, and while the positioning is somewhat less than optimal for adult riders it is fortunately possible to alleviate the worst of the discomfort by sitting fully upright.
The majority of the attractions in the park remain operational regardless of weather conditions, a practical necessity in Belgium where it rains almost all year round. One of the few exceptions to the rule is Rollerskater, whose station brakes are at the limit of their power when dry. The coaster remained closed for my entire visit today, but that wasn't a massive embuggerance given that I'd ticked it off back in 2006. Despite not being able to ride I did spend a few minutes admiring the theming, which featured an enormous (and presumably entirely dry) washing machine at its core.
The queue for Draak was emptying as I approached it, and a young german female left the cause in no doubt by shouting kaput in a loud and clear voice. The problems were apparently temporary, however, as just seconds later the sound of Carmina Burana over the speaker system was interrupted by the distinctive whirring of a powered coaster train. A five minute wait was enough for me to enjoy a front seat ride, starting with a few undulating hills and continuing into a lively set of helices loaded with strong forces. It was interesting to see several other guests making use of a fully automatic on board video system to e-mail themselves YouTube-ready on ride footage for just €2.
It took me the better part of an hour to get to the front of the left queue (for the right track) on Vleermuis, and I'm not sure I'd have bothered were it not for the persistent rumour that the ride is now on borrowed time. Shoehorning myself into the car was surprisingly difficult, and would be impossible for more portly enthusiasts; I had to remove my camera from my belt buckle in order to shut the door. The lift mechanism on the ride was engaged with a terrific crash that hurt, but apart from that the experience was respectable enough, with a fast vertical climb and a smooth descent back to earth. My only real gripe was the overall length, which at twenty-five seconds was just too short given the wait time.
After a ten minute meal break I went for two quick laps on Anubis, each of which involved a wait of less than five minutes. Gerstlauer's second launched coaster has aged fairly well in comparison to some of their other installations, with the notable exception of the climb out following the launch track which was shuddering quite badly in both the front and the back of the car. The two brake sections had been improved considerably since my previous visit; the block brake no longer trimmed most of the speed from the car, and the final stop was smooth and controlled rather than the car crash of years past.
My last ride of the morning was on the Bos van der Plop boat ride. I'd forgotten just how detailed the sets on this ride were, with elaborate forest scenes punctuated by the occasional animatronic. At the half way point the boats climb a small chain lift, probably about five feet, which leads directly to a splashdown with an on-ride photo. The water is all directed away from the boat, however; even those in the front barely get sprayed.