We knew at the outset of today that we would need to leave Plopsaland De Panne no later than three in the afternoon in order to make it back to Charleroi Airport in time for our evening flight. For this reason we decided to set off from our hotel in Calais with enough time to get to the park fifteen minutes ahead of opening. Unfortunately we neglected to allow for a traffic jam in the village close to the park, and that coupled with a ridiculously slow ticket scanning process meant that we'd lost almost half an hour of our already limited window by the time we walked through the gate. Though unfortunate, there was nothing to be done except learn from the experience.
Our plan had been to begin our visit with the low-capacity Vleermuis, but the ride was gesloten wegens technische controle. This miss, though unfortunate, allowed Megan and I to temporarily postpone an inevitable debate as to whether the two tracks should be counted as separate coaster credits. The fact that the two have a shared support structure and combined lift mechanism makes the decision a no-brainer for me, though as with all thoroughly pointless debates in the enthusiast community there are many other equally invalid opinions out there.
Instead we made our way towards Heidi the Ride, a new wood coaster from Great Coasters International and their first European installation since Wodan opened in Germany five years ago. The ride was originally supposed to open last year, and was tested and ready to go when noise complaints from the local authorities got in the way. Since then a wide variety of sound dampening devices have been added to fix the problem, including wooden barriers at key locations along the track as well as foam padding underneath the chain lift mechanism. These appendages make the hardware look more than a little odd, at least when compared against the many other wood coasters worldwide, though they do at least allow the ride to operate which is preferable to the alternative.
The staff on duty today were doing a good job of keeping two trains moving with no stacking, and they were managing this without resorting to the various guest-hostile initiatives found in American parks such as assigned seating and mandatory lockers. One of them was based on the far side of the boarding platform where he could take and store loose articles, which he did time and time again with a cheerful smile. There were no recorded announcements in the station, leaving only the ride theme song to compete with the chatter of oncoming guests. Better yet, there was no rule against wearing glasses on board, either with or without a safety strap.
We decided to take our first lap in the back seat. From that location it's fair to say that the experience was underwhelming; though enjoyable enough, it was definitely on the flaccid side when compared against wood coasters of similar stature, such as Cyclops and Joris en de Draak. There was no perceptible airtime, and it felt in places like we were only just making it over the top of hills. The front, however, was an entirely different kettle of fish; from that location the ride quality was far better, and while it couldn't quite match the intensity level of the many other GCIs it wasn't all that far off.
The longest queue of the day was for Roller Skater, a production model ride made interesting both for its eclectic theming (perhaps best described as housework) and for the fact that it was the very first installation of its type. The original yellow track was repainted red for the 2009 season, and has apparently been fading since; today the brightly coloured cars looked more than a little incongruous as they traversed pale pink rails. Appearances aside however the train made it round the course without any perceptible jarring, a very pleasant surprise for a twenty-seven year old Vekoma product!
Our next stop was at Viktor's Race, a large size Zierer Tivoli rebuilt with new track and trains in 2014 after almost four decades of operational service. We decided to sit towards the front of the train, eschewing our usual positioning so that we'd be able to get a few decent photographs as we walked down the unload platform. The ride was exactly as expected, even down to the stereotypical whirring noise from the wheel bogies. Unusually we were only given a single lap, though it was at least an enjoyable one.
We disembarked and we made our way over to Roxflyer, a re-theme of the ride formerly known as Springflyer. Unfortunately we found it gesloten wegens wind, though I rather suspect that there may have been something more fundamental at play too; from ground level we could hear a distinctive clanking noise from the top of the tower every few seconds, suggesting rather strongly that there was something loose rattling around in the drive mechanism. The consolation prize ended up being Bos van de Plop, the dark ride that I've described more thoroughly in previous reports.
It wasn't really warm enough to get on a water ride, but Megan needed the credit on SuperSplash and it'd have been mean of me not to join her on it. This Mack-built water coaster is the source of some debate within the coaster counting community as it isn't presently listed on RCDB. I take the view that it if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is, on balance of probabilities, a duck. That said, those not seeking to tick a box somewhere can safely skip it, as it is eminently forgettable. The boat trundles slowly out of the station onto an enclosed rotating lift mechanism, and once at the top, drops perhaps seventy feet, crests an airtime hill, and splashes down into chlorinated water. It then proceeds to float back to the boarding platform over a two minute period, passing a bank of coin operated water cannons that were (thankfully) unattended today.
Our experience on Anubis tallied almost exactly with that chronicled in my 2014 report; in brief, the ride quality was fine (and arguably better than many other Gerstlauer attractions) apart from the climb out immediately after the launch, which shuddered quite badly. We took the time to have a look around afterwards, and found an easily missed path to the right of the station building that provided some excellent photograph opportunities.
At this point we'd ticked off all of the credits, and with ninety minutes left before our programmed departure we decided that it was worth taking a break for a meal. Though not something I'd normally record I feel bound to point out that the Pirates' Grill was pricey even by theme park standards. Our two meals came to an eye-watering €40, not including proffered alcoholic beverages, and while the quality of the food was above average it was still a multiple of what I'd have chosen to pay for lunch outside of a Michelin-starred restaurant (which this wasn't). Gripes aside however it'd be remiss of me not to note the fact that the place was busy, and given that, one probably shouldn't blame management for maximising their profits.
Feeling somewhat more human we made our way over to Draak, a Mack powered coaster built into and around an eighty metre long medieval castle. We waited almost fifteen minutes to board, predominantly because each forty seat train was sent for two laps of the course. My favourite feature of the ride was its appearance, anchored by a spectacular green dragon figurehead on the front car. That said, the layout was respectable enough too with some powerful helices that delivered good laterals.
We finished off our visit with a front seat on Heidi the Ride. The ride had warmed up noticeably over earlier in the day, and the faster ride made for an excellent conclusion to our weekend.