A few days prior to our trip the wonderful Aer Lingus sent out a text message recommending that we arrive at Dublin Airportat least three hours before the scheduled departure of our flight due to an expected large volume of guests. This was clearly far from optimal given a flight at 5:50am, and the request was made even more ridiculous by a footnote indicating that check in desks opened at 3:00am. Curiously there was absolutely no mention of the fact that the airline lounge wasn't due to open until 5:15am, almost two and a half hours after we were advised to be present.
We ignored this warning and arrived at the airport two hours prior to departure, and as expected it took less than five minutes to drop off our bags. Security was cleared in record time, hardly a surprise at the crack of dawn, and as a result we found ourselves with over an hour to wander around the airport before we could grab breakfast in the lounge. The flight was showing as go to gate when we did that, but had flipped to final call less than five minutes later after we'd wolfed down a quick snack. We launched into an undignified run across the airport, only to arrive at a shiny red Gate Closed sign. My immediate thought was that we'd managed to miss our flight, but it quickly became apparent that the boarding was still in progress, and indeed we were nowhere near the last passengers to arrive; the final guests showed up over ten minutes after we'd taken our seats.
The flight itself was uneventful, though it was marked by repeated sales pitches over the PA system, notably an extended blast about perfumes available for below retail prices (just what one wants to hear before 7:00am). The landing in Marseille, however, was a bit of a shock; instead of parking up at the main airport terminal we taxied to a grim warehouse next door labelled MP2. I'd experienced the joy of the "low cost terminal" a few years before when flying Ryanair, but I'd never expected to encounter it when flying with an airline that advertises with the slogan enjoy your flight. We traipsed down the air stairs, across the tarmac, and through a building that looked like it had been last cleaned at least half a century before. Reclaiming baggage took about twenty minutes, and with that done we walked the ten minutes back to the main terminal to sort out our rental car.
Our chosen agency did its best to get away without reporting a huge (and obvious!) scratch down the side of our car, and fixing the paperwork took longer than it should have done, but in due course we were out on the road only to discover that our GPS wasn't working properly. It took a while for me to figure out that there was a missing tile in the French maps that I'd loaded a few days before travel, an unfortunate side-effect of having a decade-old Garmin without enough space for a full map. We reverted to plan B, namely Google Maps on an iPhone, and about ninety minutes later we parked, relieved, in front of the first stop of our trip.
7th May 2016
On my first visit to OK Corralover a decade ago the park was home to a Pinfari Z64, one of the tallest coasters manufactured by that company and a relative rarity, with just eight known examples worldwide. Though a popular ride, park management elected to retire what was essentially a larger version of a machine found all over France in favour of something completely unique for the local market, and in doing so ended up with a fantastic ride that is as of this writing the only complete-circuit coaster in the world to travel both backwards and forwards on the same segment of track.
A ride on Gold Rush (#2215) starts with the single ten car train being pulled backwards to the highest point on the ride, roughly fifty feet in the air, by chain lift. After a short pause the train is released to coast through a tight right helix, an airtime hill, and a gentle twist that leads onto a second lift with a tyre drive mechanism. At the apex, the train takes a sharp left and connects back to the first lift, giving riders a second lap of the course. The tyre drives engage again at the end of lap two, but instead of pushing the train over the top they supply just enough potential energy for the train to complete a third circuit of the track in reverse. The coaster opened with minimal theming, but changes have been made in the intervening years, resulting in a machine that (capacity notwithstanding) would not look out of place in a Disney park. Guest throughput is not fabulous given that a ride cycle takes of the order of three minutes, but it's worth noting that the wait time never exceeded ten minutes today despite gloriously sunny weather and a fairly busy park.
With the new credit out of the way we wandered into Les Mysteres de L'Ouest, a superb tracked dark ride with some very detailed theming and sound effects. Readers with small children should probably be aware that that the scare level of this ride was set quite a bit higher than would be typical for a family park, to the point that we saw quite a few younger guests crying when they disembarked. Some of the scenes were a little on the gruesome side, including an execution with an axe and a blood-soaked corpse falling part way out of a vertical coffin.
We walked to the back of the facility for Serpent Hopi, one of four large size Tivoli coasters in France and the only one to feature a custom figurehead on the train. The ride quality today was exactly as expected, with the stereotypical Zierer whirring and a pleasant ass massage as the train traversed the course. There was no queue at all, not much of a surprise on a ride that seats up to forty people at a time.
The only other ride that caught our attention today was the giant wheel, which has the park has partially enclosed within a tent structure giving it a somewhat bizarre appearance. Tipi de Sitting Bull was not a large ride by any means but it was tall enough to capture overhead photos of the rest of the park.
Magic Park Land
7th May 2016
It would have been more logical to begin today at Magic Park Land given its proximity to Marseille Airport, but we elected to reverse our routing when it became apparent that the park closed for a one hour lunch break beginning at twelve noon, minutes after we were expecting to arrive. Enthusiasts should be aware that midday closures are quite common in the smaller French parks, presumably due to the legal working week of thirty-five hours.
The newest coaster in the park is Strom, a non-looping Pinfari that stands on the exact location that was once home to Eden Rail. I'd been led to believe that this ride might be a new credit for me, but it quickly became apparent that it was the machine I'd ridden six years earlier in EuroPark Milano Idroscalo. The giveaway was a neon sign on the upper level of the track featuring the original name of Storm rather than the misspelled version that Magic Park Land has decided to use. Today the single train was handling the course in a manner entirely typical of Pinfari, with bottoming out at the base of each drop and headbanging in the turns courtesy of unnecessary overhead restraints. The final insult came on the brake run, where a dead stop resulted in my knees sliding into the car in front of me, delivering a neatly matched pair of bruises that became my first coaster injury of the week.
The park is also home to a Fabbri spinning coaster that was purchased second hand from a Spanish showman, and the appearance of Formula One (#2216) reflects its fairground ancestry, with some of the most elaborate theming ever deployed on a ride of this type. Each car had a different colour scheme reflecting the various F1 teams as they stood around 2009, including Ferrari, Red Bull, Benetton, BMW, Williams, and Mercedes-Benz. Better yet, the ride was set in front of a spectacular mountain backdrop that made it look superb. The hardware sadly didn't live up to its presentation, with cars that clattered badly and barely spun at all, but visually it was without question the most finely polished turd I've come across in my travels.
I barely managed to fit in Chenille, but shoehorning my knees into the car in proved worth the effort when it became apparent that the train wasn't braked on the way through the station. The five lap ride thus featured a pop of airtime on laps two through five as the train bounced out of the station and round the lift hill. The effect wasn't quite as spectacular as the similar ride in Muscat, but it was fun nevertheless.
Eleven years ago I was somewhat critical about the park dark ride, but it seems that quite a bit has been done to Magic Mystery House in the intervening years. Though not to the same standard as OK Corral the scenery inside now is respectable, and far better than what might be expected given behind what is essentially a travelling fair facade. The only oddity was the final scene where we were sprayed with soap suds; one poor child in the car behind us started wailing after he was caught neatly in the eye.