25th August 2016
Twelve years ago I travelled to the park then known as Six Flags Belgium with a group from the European Coaster Club. Our tour leader on that trip had warned us to temper our expectations, but from my perspective the warning was unnecessary in what turned out to be a remarkably pleasant park. I'd originally planned to return during the 2007 season in order to experience Vertigo, but that expedition fell by the wayside when it became apparent that the prototype Doppelmayr Mountain Glider was extremely unreliable. When the ride was closed down permanently a year later after less than two weeks of public operation the park dropped off my radar entirely, despite the kiddie coaster still being on my hit list, as a number of enthusiasts without children had reported being turned away and I didn't feel like gambling a full price admission for nothing.
Today we decided to begin our explorations with Coccinelle (#2288) on the grounds that it would probably be easier to tick the ride off before the multitudes arrived. We saw a family of four with children in their mid-teens riding as we approached, raising hopes of a victory, and sure enough the only restriction today was a maximum of four adults per dispatch. Megan and I ended up having the train to ourselves, and though our choices of cars four and five made us look faintly ridiculous it didn't matter in the slightest as we'd scored the wretched credit. (Not that anyone cares, but I'm now missing just three of the seventy two operating Tivoli coasters worldwide: one in China, one in Germany, and one in the USA. Yes, I need a life).
Our next stop was at the Challenge of Tutankhamon target shooting dark ride, which operates with somewhat unusual six seat cars. The park has made a noble attempt at optimising throughput by asking groups of four or more to separate from those containing three or less, but nobody was paying attention to the signage today, resulting in a minor bottleneck at the loading platform. The ride has three different colours of target with different point values, as well as three possible endings depending on the combined score of all those in the car. We shared our journey with three others, allowing us to comfortably exceed the sixty thousand point threshold required to get into the treasure chamber at the end.
The park is home to a classic Schwarzkopf Shuttle Loop that operated from 1982-2008 using a flywheel launch system. My old trip report described the ride as a timeless classic, but also noted slow operation speeds and a rancid odour of hot grease in the queue. After standing idle for four years the ride was renovated for 2013 with a new train, a new launch system using linear motors, and new theming. The acceleration on the newly rebranded Psyké Underground is somewhat less dramatic than it used to be, insofar as the train rolls forward gently for a few seconds before the motors kick in, but aside from that the experience remains both thrilling and brilliantly disorienting. The comfort level remains unchanged from the original rolling stock, a definite improvement over the last time Schwarzkopf trains were replaced.
The latest addition to the park is the world premiere of the Mack Power Splash. Pulsar (#2289) features a U-shaped track with a small airtime hill and a twenty-seat boat that is launched backwards, forwards, and then backwards again. As the train returns to the station for the final time it drops into a splash pool that has been filled on the fly, resulting in an impressive wave that gently douses all those on board while soaking those standing on a nearby observation platform. The designers have put a lot of effort into theming, and better yet, the inherent low capacity of a shuttle coaster has been ameliorated by the use of a turntable mechanism allowing for a theoretical throughput in excess of nine hundred guests per hour.
Despite all the positives, however, I found the ride forgettable. In times past, those seeking to get soaked in a theme park would typically board a shoot-the-chutes ride that would have a slow climb to the top of a lift followed by a brief but dramatic plunge lasting no more than a few seconds. In this modern equivalent, however, all the anticipation is taken away; instead, riders move back and forth a few times, and while the maximum speed does rise each time the corresponding slow portions make the whole experience feel weak. We ended up having to wait over an hour due to a breakdown, and it definitely wasn't worth it; I doubt I'd wait more than ten minutes to ride it again.
We decided to take a break on the Grande Roue wheel, a Vekoma-built model dating from 1979. The best photos from the heights were of Loup Garou, but there was also an interesting angle in the other direction showing Pulsar and Psyké Underground superimposed on each other. I've had a good think about this and I cannot think of any other park in the world with two completely separate U-shaped coasters with LIM launches. Marketing teams are usually quite willing to make the most of thoroughly useless accolades, so perhaps this abstruse world record might come in handy too?
There was a twenty minute wait on Loup Garou, and it would have been much longer were it not for the operators who were managing to keep two trains moving with virtually no stacking. On several occasions we saw the second train rolling out of the station even before the first had hit the brake run, a far cry from the norm during the Six Flags days. There was a staircase leading up to the boarding platform, and at its base there was a split between the front and rear of the train. We decided we'd go for the former, oblivious to the fact that the divide was not an even one: the front queue was only for car one, while the rear queue was for all other seats. The wait wasn't awful, however, and in due course we were ensconced in the front row. The lap bars didn't close anything like as far as the norm for wood coasters, leaving both of us with plenty of room for airtime.
My old report described the ride as being surprisingly good but suffering from a few rough spots. Today the straight portions of the layout were excellent, with some good airtime, but the same could not be said about the rest of the course. The train jackhammered its way around the various helices in a manner not conducive to reriding (or, for that matter, enjoyment) and there were some severe potholes in places. It would have been interesting (in a morbidly curious kind of way) to ride in the back, but in the interests of self-preservation we decided that a single lap had represented sufficient tempting of fate.
After disembarking we came across a display board showing queue times, which revealed that the wait for Vampire was the shortest in the entire park. We naturally assumed this to be a reflection of the calibre of the ride, though it'd be dishonest of me not to record the superb staff who were keeping the two trains moving at maximum efficiency. The on-board experience was the same as every other SLC, being comfortable and enjoyable aside from the portion between the top of lift and the brake run. Joking aside, however, the tracking wasn't dreadful; I've certainly ridden worse versions in my time, not least the allegedly upgraded version at Kentucky Kingdom earlier this year.
Both of us are at the point in our lives where we will generally choose to eschew standard model Boomerangs unless one or other of us needs the credit. This year was unusually heavy in that regard, with Megan ticking off a total of four in as many countries, but all of those featured upgraded rolling stock, giving the original rigid horse collars on Cobra what I'd almost describe as novelty value. It was certainly an experience to have my left knee less than one centimetre away from the unpadded side of the car, especially when the train clattered its way into the not-exactly-smooth cobra roll for the second time. Another guest on the ride at the same time as us let out a stream of colourful metaphors in barely accented English, and it's fair to say that his perspective lined up almost exactly with my own.
Many of the rides in the park have bilingual signage reflecting the fact that French and Dutch are both official languages in Belgium. Le Palais du Génie is altogether easier on the tongue than Het Paleis Van de Geest, perhaps explaining its use on the English language map. We decided to join the short queue for An Pálás Na Spiorad (yes, I just did that) in order to get out of the sun for a few minutes, and found a fairly ordinary Madhouse that, while colourful, felt somewhat lacking when compared against some of the more spectacular installations. The designers hadn't thought through the exit, either; there was a single turnstile in use that caused a minute long bottleneck despite the fact that the ride show room had been less than half full.
The final coaster thus became Calamity Mine, the very first installation of Vekoma's standard mine train ride that was subsequently copied by Golden Horse. Today the experience could only be described as calamitous; we chose to sit in the lead car, where the comfort level is typically at its highest, but despite that there was a nasty thump with every individual track join, and the slatted bench seats transferred every single blow to the base of my spine with unerring accuracy. It was impossible to enjoy the experience, despite the calibre of the theming and the quality layout, and I wasn't at all sorry when we hit the final brakes.
We rounded up our visit with a quick drop (pun absolutely intended) on Dalton Terror.