The vast majority of my trips are planned around specific coasters that I want to try out, with everything else in the vicinity being gravy. This particular ten day excursion was no exception, and was scheduled to begin in France only because of the presence of a brand new wood coaster at Walibi Rhône-Alpes, a park that I'd not visited in over a decade. My initial thought was to try to do a weekend trip, but the park's location on the eastern side of France made that a practical impossibility; scheduling limitations meant that a three night stay would be required, increasing the cost exponentially. The only cost-efficient solution I could come up with was to connect two unrelated European trips with an internal flight, and I ended up doing just that.
It was a three hour drive to the park from our overnight hotel in Marseille, and a slightly delayed start meant that we arrived at the park about an hour after opening. It was a very pleasant surprise to find no charge for parking, in sharp contrast to the rest of the Compagnie des Alpes chain and a particular treat given a location that has a captive market, there being no other coaster parks within one hundred miles. After a quick bag check we walked through the gate where we were greeted by the view of a lake with rides visible in the distance on all sides.
Before we could ride the new coaster it was necessary to tick off one of the other three credits so that Megan could log a worthwhile coaster for her nine hundred. Her insistence was driven in no small part by the fact that she regarded all eight of her previous landmarks as worthless, and in the interests of a stable relationship it seemed wisest not to argue. (As an aside, we're discussing possibilities for her one thousand at the moment, with a strong chance that it'll be something European in the late part of this year. Watch this space.)
The day thus began with Woodstock Express, a relatively rare example of a Zig Zag Coaster, a wild mouse design that went out of production after Zamperla licensed the wildly popular Spinning Mouse design from Reverchon. On my first visit to the park the ride was exposed on three sides, but for this year a wooden structure has been built to hide the supports from the midway. The ride quality itself was actually fairly respectable apart from an awful clunk as the car engaged the chain, with the track being handled fairly smoothly. The only oddity was that I had to cross legs to fit into the car, not something I'd expect on a western-built coaster.
With that done we walked over to Timber (#2221), a family-sized wood coaster that had opened a few weeks prior to our visit. The new ride operates with two twelve-seat trains that feature an elaborately sculpted circular saw on the front that presumably isn't as sharp as it looks. The lift hill is accompanied by the recorded sound of a saw, though it is barely audible underneath the noise of the anti-rollbacks which are among the loudest I've ever heard on a coaster. The first drop is accompanied by a loud cry of tiiiimmmmmmmbbbbbeeeeerrrr and the layout from that point on follows an out-and-back design with a figure eight element at the far end. There is a magnetic trim brake right before the station, though this only impacts the final hill and presumably was added at a late stage in construction to reduce the stress on the final section of track.
Our first lap was in the back seat, and to be honest it wasn't good. The level of roughness was right on the edge of what I'd describe as comfortable, which was more than a little worrying on such a new ride. Megan remarked that this was a coaster that wasn't going to age well, and I've got to say I share that concern given our experience of Roar-O-Saurus. here was a definite sensation that the train was tearing the track apart; every moment of airtime was followed by a hard landing, and the side-to-side motion was far more violent than it should have been. That being said, the front seat was like a completely different ride, and in a good way. We did three laps there at various points in the day, all of which were excellent. The first drop was unsurprisingly the highlight, and while it wasn't as tall or as steep as our local coaster the sensations were very similar.
The park's Vekoma Boomerang was upgraded for the 2014 season with new rolling stock manufactured by Sunkid Heege GmbH, a combined entity made up of Schäfer Amusement Technology and the manufacturer of the ubiquitous Butterfly. The design eschews traditional overhead restraints in favour of a simple pull down lap bar mechanism, and while the result isn't perfect it nevertheless represents an enormous upgrade over the original. Climbing on board EqWalizer now requires some contortion, as there is a hand grip made up of an unpadded steel oval that is perfectly placed to hit unsuspecting knees. Once seated however the simplistic design comes into its own; as the train dispatches one's weight is pushed forward onto the bar, delivering an incredible sensation of vulnerability as the cars are raised to the heights, followed by elation as the inversions are negotiated without even a hint of jarring.
The final coaster in the park was my nine hundred eleven years ago. Today Coccinelle felt exactly as it did on my first visit, though the loading was far more efficient today. It was interesting to see that a tent-like structure had been installed above the lift, presumably to enable operation in inclement weather.
The War Department spent a few minutes exploring the Mini Ferme petting zoo before the two of us went to Tam-Tam Aventure, best described as a local take on Disney's Jungle Cruise albeit without the human guides. This was quite a lengthy ride, lasting some fifteen minutes, during which we were brought past a wide variety of scenery accompanied by an eclectic selection of musical themes played on native instruments, including Jungle Book, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Jurassic Park. The ride was honestly a bit too long; the average five year old might be impressed, but everyone else should probably stick to the coasters.