One of the inherent disadvantages of being in full time employment is a finite amount of annual leave. My current position has a generous allocation, but even with that it is impossible for me to visit all the parks that I'd like to. The inevitable prioritisation of new places and new credits means that return visits to otherwise good parks get pushed out, often for years. Walibi Holland is a fine example; despite a wonderful day there eleven years ago I chose to skip over it on six separate visits to the Netherlands between 2006 and 2015.
The park began life in 1971 as Flevohof, and grew slowly over the years in a very measured fashion. The race to expand accelerated dramatically in 1994 with its acquisition by the Walibi Group, who promptly installed its first roller coasters, including the prototype SLC and a Zierer Tivoli. Premier Parks bought the Walibi Group a few years later, and added three new coasters as part of the rebranding to Six Flags Holland, and as if that wasn't enough a spectacular mini-hyper coaster was added just two years later. This free spending resulted in the park running out of money, and it was sold again in 2004. The ensuing decade saw the temporary closure of a number of attractions while the new owners sought to consolidate.
There was quite a bit of excitement in the enthusiast community at the end of last year when it became apparent that expansion was underway once again. The park's marketing department ran a masterful campaign on social media, trickling out nuggets of information over a period of time that eventually revealed Lost Gravity (#2214), the premiere of a new product line from Mack Rides featuring eight seater cars capable of tight manoeuvres that would not be possible with a longer train.
A sizeable percentage of the budget for the new ride was earmarked for theming, and the result looks very good indeed. The entrance archway is marked by an upside-down helicopter and a number of upturned and partially buried cars, and the track supports are surrounded by assorted shipping containers, an antenna with a rotating satellite dish, and a grey-painted school bus. There is also a fire effect that triggers intermittently, delivering a loud noise and a blast of heat that felt particularly good on a chilly April morning. The queue area is equally elaborate, for the most part eschewing the usual cattle grids in favour of a walkway that goes around a portion of the layout, up a decommissioned escalator (with a vibrating step), through a shipping container, then into a room full of bright lights and colours that would not be out of place in a fun house. Guests then walk downstairs into a staging area that leads to the station platform.
The first half of the ride is quite simply fantastic. The chain lift is quite a bit faster than the norm and there is no slow down at the apex, resulting in the lap-bar equipped car being thrown unceremoniously into a twisted first drop that takes ones breath away. This is followed by an airtime hill that is in many ways the highlight of the layout, as the car crests it at close to full speed. A turnaround and second airtime hill lead to the mid-course block brake. Unfortunately the second half is somewhat weaker, consisting of two slow inversions punctuated by some sluggish turns that feel more than a little flaccid compared to the spectacular beginning. There is no shortage of hang time, but aside from that part two has precious little to offer. We tried both inside and outside seats and there was no perceptible difference between them.
The park is home to a mirror-image of the standard model medium tivoli that has been retrofitted with magnetic brakes. Drako was moved within the park for the 2011 season, taking it out of the original children's area and placing it on the spot once occupied by Flying Dutchman Gold Mine, perhaps reflecting its status as a coaster the entire family can enjoy, though larger readers should bear in mind that the train has shark fins in the seats that are perfectly placed to disembowel. There was no queue today and given that the operator dispatched the train for a second lap without unlocking restraints.
Our next stop was at Speed of Sound, a Vekoma Boomerang that stood idle between 2007-11. Prior to its reopening the ride was upgraded with a new train featuring soft vest restraints and an on-board sound system, and the reverse spike was enclosed within a tunnel. The result is, in a word, magnificent; the coloured light effects in the tunnel are great even in the daytime, and the improved comfort driven by the lack of overhead restraints results in an onboard experience that raises the bar for Vekoma products everywhere. The War Department was particularly impressed, exclaiming "that was great!" as the train came to a halt back in the station.
The park has a slow-moving Ferris wheel that stands at the end of the main midway at the center of the park. The positioning of Grand Roue gives it a superb view of just about all of the big coasters with the exception of Lost Gravity, which is hidden behind a tree. The operator today was giving all riders the choice of disembarking after one or two laps, which was much appreciated as it was cold up there and we'd gotten all the pictures we needed in one.
Our next stop was at Xpress: Platform 13, the third name and theme for a launched coaster that began its career as Superman The Ride. The latest theming brings with it a remodelled queue that is probably best described as a haunted crooked house, with sharply sloped floors and a number of special effects, though it does go on a bit; allow five minutes to walk from one end to the other even if nobody else is in line. The ride layout is often described by enthusiasts as being identical to Rock'n'Roller Coaster at Disneyland, but that is a common misconception; the transitions on this version are somewhat elongated to allow for a higher top speed thanks to a lighter train. The ride itself is fine, if not overly exciting; after the launch segment the rest of the course doesn't seem to do that much, with the train negotiating a series of inversions in the manner of a little old lady out for a Sunday drive.
Only one train was in use on El Condor today, minimising the number of people that the ride could hurt. The transfer track was empty, too, suggesting that the second may have become a parts donor to keep the first going. The ride looked great today thanks to a striking new orange paint scheme, but the original restraints meant that the on-board experience was best described as not good. We sat in row six, and from that location there were a few points in the layout where the seats did their best to perform the heimlich manoeuvre, shuddering backwards and forwards in a very odd manner entirely normal for this style of ride.
The tracking on Robin Hood was absolutely fine, implying that the carpenters who keep it going know their business. That said, the three-bench trains were equipped with lap bars that tended to tighten over the course of the ride, and mine closed to the point that every moment of airtime left my thighs compressed in a manner broadly equivalent to Skyrush. It'd have been nice to ride a second time while holding the lap bar at a safe position, but we decided instead to maximise our time on the best coaster in the park.
I'm speaking of course of Goliath, a magnificent piece of engineering from Intamin that premiered a year after Expedition GeForce set new standards for what roller coasters could do. The custom layout features a series of exciting elements that are paced just perfectly, giving the ride the edge over the newer Mega-Lite design. The seat belts on the ride are very tight, far more so than usual, but that is perhaps forgivable given the aggressiveness of the layout, especially the three powerful airtime hills towards the end of the course. We enjoyed a total of three laps and it'd have been nice to do more.
The only non-coaster for us today was Merlin's Magic Castle a rotating house attraction. As per usual there was a lengthy pre-show, though it was impossible to take in much given that it was all in Dutch. The main room dispensed with the spoken dialogue in favour of a rousing musical soundtrack that I really enjoyed.