Our trip to Australia began with a twenty hour marathon journey from Dublin to Perth, interrupted only by a two hour layover in Dubai. Both flight legs were operated by a ten-abreast 777, a seating arrangement that was uncomfortably cramped for such a long journey. It was impossible not to reflect upon an article published a few months ago that laid much of the blame for air rage incidents upon airlines; humans are getting bigger, not smaller, and a seventeen inch seat width simply isn't comfortable for a typical adult in this day and age. Surely I cannot be the only one who'd rather pay a small premium on my flight ticket to be guaranteed a sensible amount of room?
We landed in Perth in the early evening and promptly decamped to a slightly dodgy looking Chinese restaurant ("The Village") close to the airport, which despite its appearance proved to be excellent. It was only a short drive from there to our overnight accommodation, a very pleasant apartment in the Kewdale area arranged through Airbnb at about one third of the cost of the cheapest available hotel.
The next morning began with an easy thirty minute drive to Adventure World. Megan had found us some discounted admission tickets through the local Groupon equivalent which needed to be exchanged at the admissions desk for entry. This process was quick and painless, and a few minutes later we were through the gate.
My first impression of the park was a sense of wonder at just how much it has changed since my last visit seven years ago. The relatively plain set of rides and slides on a grassy landscape have been transformed into a proper theme park, and the difference could not have been more dramatic. The Kid's Cove area of the park is now known as Dragon's Kingdom, and all the rides in that area have been given an appropriate look. On the adult side, the former Power Surge has been rebranded as Black Widow, with a suitable paint job and large spider on top of the control box, accompanied by a jukebox playing songs ranging from itsy bitsy spider to more subtle pop music tracks with arachnoid themes. The nearby Rampage, a Moser Maverick, now has a large warrior in front of it connected to the ride with thick chains.
On the coaster side, the classic Turbo Mountain was retired at the end of 2009, and while the enthusiast in me is sorry to see it gone, the realist in me has to respect that even the newest Schwarzkopf coasters have exceeded their design life at this point. It has been replaced with Abyss (#2104), a custom model Gerstlauer Eurofighter, which as of this writing is the only ride of its type in the southern hemisphere. Management has put considerable effort into theming their star attraction, with a stone archway over the entrance and a large number of guardians, faceless hooded figures that can be found in groups all around the ride area. The effect is not dissimilar to Saw at Thorpe Park, though the theming here is far more likely to stand the test of time.
The new ride has a small cattle grid at ground level, followed by several flights of stairs up to the main boarding platform. It was great to see this divided into dedicated front and back row queues, though it would have been nice to see some indication of the potential wait time for each. This need not require additional staff; a very straight forward way to implement this automatically would be the use of turnstiles at the top and bottom of the stairs showing how many people are waiting in each area, perhaps multiplied by the average of the last four dispatch times.
On the way into the station we were treated to a recorded set of ride safety announcements in a suitably sinister voice. Most of these were generic and might be heard at any park around the world, but we did hear one that we'd not come across before, namely a requirement that guests be able to walk twenty-five metres unaided. We found ourselves wondering whether this announcement was required by local regulations, not least because the climb to the station platform on its own would surely be enough to dissuade those with special needs from trying to ride. Abyss is clearly not wheelchair friendly, and a mid-course evacuation for anyone without full mobility would be extremely challenging.
Only one train was in use for our visit, though a second really wasn't needed given that the wait time peaked at around ten minutes. Much of the efficiency was thanks to the operators, who did their best to keep things moving by collecting loose items prior to the train arriving for boarding. We timed the "stopped time" over the course of a few rides and noted that it was generally less than a minute, which is as fast as I've seen an unload/load cycle anywhere outside of Germany.
The ride begins with a slow turnaround and an audio recording welcoming passengers to the Abyss. From here the train negotiates a small drop in the dark that works really well, followed by a trim brake and an inline twist. The base of the main lift hill involves a dead stop, as per normal for this style of coaster, but there is no slowdown as the train crests the apex, resulting in a great pop of airtime even as the train passes underneath a respectable head-chopper from the pull out of the second inversion.
The layout continues with a banked turnaround and an airtime hill followed by the piece-de-resistance, a fantastic head-chopper effect under the mid course block brake. While there is plenty of clearance it really doesn't look that way, and time and time again I saw people grabbing for the restraints at this point. The block brake leads to a tight third inversion and a turn back into the station building, and unfortunately it is this section that represents the achilles heel of the overall experience. In blunt terms, a few of the track transitions are not as smooth as they might be, particularly in the front of the train, and the knocks are sharp enough to limit repeat riding. The back of the train was better, but we still felt that the best solution would be to operate with lap bars rather than the older style of overhead restraint.
That being said, our visit was on a very warm day where the temperature peaked in the high thirties. A member of park management has posted on the Parkz Forums to say that Abyss runs faster on warmer days, and given that, it is entirely possible that we caught it at a bad time. Apparently Gerstlauer has recommended that the ride not be operated when the mercury exceeds 40°C, due to the risk that the steel might deform at higher temperatures. (As an aside, it occurs to me that this might be at least part of the reason why the Eurofighter originally designed for a park in Dubai ended up at Belantis).
The other coaster in the park is Dragon Express, an off-the-shelf kiddie coaster from Zamperla that feels like it was designed to put children off riding coasters at an early age. We were quite amused when the operator warned us that her ride was very rough, and that it would be better for me to sit to one side of the lap bar rather than across it. This proved to be a tactical error, as I managed to clobber my knee on the underside of the front of the car. I've never understood why so many of these rides have been sold, and I've got to say that this type of ride makes me question why I count my coasters!
It's worth highlighting at this point that the staff at the park today were without exception fantastic. There are many parks out there where the overall atmosphere is ruined by surly personnel who give the impression that they're doing you a favour by allowing you on board their attractions. Today we saw several instances of staff going out of their way to interact with guests, making sure that everyone had a day to remember.
In fact, the only real argument I have with the park as a whole was the price of food and drink. There's no question that the meals served from the park restaurant were high quality, and I'd hate to see that toned down, but it felt a bit over the top to have spent over fifty dollars on a light breakfast and lunch for two people. Perhaps the solution here is to consider the approach used by Holiday World, namely to tack on a small amount to the park admission fee and offer free drinks; that way the overall perception of value remains without any drastic impact on overall profit margins.
With the coasters out of the way we wandered into the Aussie Wildlife Experience, a relatively recent addition to the park, featuring a selection of local animals, including kangaroos, wombats, dingos, koalas, and so on. Megan was particularly taken with one whose disdainful expression and lackadaisical pose reminded her of Hampton, her English Springer Spaniel who passed away late last year. I could have done without the didgeridoo music on speaker, but that's just me being grumpy; it certainly went well with the area.
We decided for the heck of it to ride Yarli's Safari, a convoy ride from Zamperla with gloriously colourful theming topped off by a large blue dragon head poking out of the flower bed. I'd half hoped to use the ride for an overhead photo of Dragon Express but there was some fencing in the way blocking the view. On the plus side, Megan got considerable mileage (pun not intended) out of the fact that our car was bubblegum pink.
Our next stop was at Rail Rider, a lengthy pedal based track ride going all the way around the lower section of the park, including a small loop around the outside of the front gate. It was very clear that I was somewhat taller than the design audience for this ride, but the pedal position was perfect for Megan and she was happy to take the strain, so I let her get on with it.
We took a lengthy walk around the lower section of the park before climbing the hill to Freefall, a classic Huss machine that spent many years on the European fair circuit under the ownership of Michael Goetzke. While most of its stops were in Germany, I got to ride it just ten minutes from home when it made a three week visit to Ireland during the winter of 2006/07. One doubts that many Adventure World regulars have travelled to European fairs, and given that it would have been great to see some form of poster board in the queue line showing photographs of the machine in different locations; there are certainly plenty out there.
The ride itself was being operated with three upward shots and one drop. The shot sequences were excellent, coming with no warning whatsoever and reaching all the way to the peak of the tower. The drop was a bit understated, however, being a floating release rather than a powered descent. The one thing I found a bit odd about it was the delay between each shot, which seemed to go on for quite a long time for reasons unclear.
We walked the rest of the way up the hill to the top station of the Chairlift (or Sky Ride, depending on which sign you read). The climb was rewarded with a rapturous reception from the delighted ride operator, who apparently wasn't used to guests using his ride to go downhill rather than uphill. He warned us that the ride was slow, and it definitely was; a note in the bottom station mentioned a maximum operating speed that was probably about four eight times what was being achieved today. Nevertheless, the slow descent was close to optimal for taking pictures, so much so that we decided to go back up the hill the same way for a few more.
The last major attraction for us today was Dinosaur Island, a walkthrough with miniature dinosaurs. These were animatronic, but seemed to spend most of the time sleeping with only the occasional wake up, possibly triggered by a timer system. The entrance walkway to this area had a roof that was a little too short for me, suggesting rather strongly that I was about twenty-five years older than the designed target audience!