Tayto Park captured international attention two years ago with the premiere of Cú Chulainn, a spectacular wooden roller coaster. The decision to install something of that scale was a huge gamble for a park that up until that point had been targeted primarily at families with young children, but it has evidently paid off as the number of visitors continues to rise. In recent weeks the owners have lodged a planning application for a 250-bedroom hotel, and there are persistent rumours that another large coaster is on the cards for the next few years.
The new attraction for this year is Viking Voyage, an elaborately themed Super Flume from British manufacturer Interlink LG that threads its way through an artificial mountain and past replica ring forts, a round tower, and a monastery. The ride, which lasts five minutes, features seven hundred metres of track with three lifts, two turntables, a backwards section, and a curved drop that is the first of its type anywhere in the world. The experience is completed by an atmospheric soundtrack on the lift hills.
The ride operates with twelve boats with six seats laid out in three rows of two. Each seat has an individual seatbelt that is unobtrusive enough to have no impact on the overall experience; in fact I forgot I was wearing mine almost immediately. There is no particular advantage to seat location except in terms of wetness; those sitting in the front row of a full boat should consider wearing a poncho, which can be bought from a shop found in the middle of the queue. Those who do come off soaked have the option to use a full body dryer next to the exit.
The new attraction presents quite a challenge to would-be photographers, as very little of it is visible from the park midways. There is a small viewing area next to the Power Surge that provides an angled view of the third drop, and another point where the first lift can be seen (as pictured above). Taller people can see the second drop by looking over the wall beside the Endeavour, but beyond that the only sight lines are from the top of the zip line launch platform nearby. During the media event today park staff were escorting the press through backstage areas to get their shots, a luxury that isn't likely to be available to the multitudes.
The presentation of the ride is excellent, though there are a few rough edges as of this writing. The exterior of the mountain is made up of beautifully sculpted rockwork, but the interior is a simple canvas with stones painted on it, which feels a bit like a finger painting in the middle of an art exhibit of the Italian Masters. Additionally, the second turntable is inside a bland concrete box. Both issues are minor in the grand scheme of things, however, and I'm guessing that they were shortcuts taken only so that the ride would be ready to operate during the summer months. It wouldn't surprise me at all if upgrades are made during the off-season.
I'm not going to pretend to be an expert (or indeed a connoisseur) when it comes to log flumes, but I will say that this was one of the better ones that I've experienced. The curved drop took me completely by surprise on my first lap, and it was negotiated with remarkable finesse given that flume boats don't always handle transitions all that well. The real attraction, however, was (and is) the theming, which blows the only other permanent flume in the country completely out of the water (pun absolutely intended).
After three laps we decided it was time to see how Cú Chulainn was holding up after two full seasons of regular operation. I'm glad to report that the ride has broken in very well indeed, and there is no perceptible difference in the comfort level today versus when it was brand new. The only portion of the layout to have minor issues was (as ever) the over-banked turn, though the bounciness in that element was reduced over previous years. Only one train was in use today, though to be fair the park wasn't busy enough to demand the second one.
The one minor thing I'd like to see change with the ride is its boarding procedure. At present precisely one train load of guests is allowed into the station at a time, meaning that seating is very much the luck of the draw. It would be really nice to see dedicated front and back row queues, and the station does have enough space to make that happen. Today we managed to score both front and back due to a combination of luck and an obstinate refusal to allow myself to be line-jumped ("if they were really your friends they would have waited for you") but it would be nice if people had the option of waiting for choice seats.
Our next stop was at the 5D Cinema, which this year is showing Dino Safari, a four and a half minute long show from nWave Pictures that owes much to the Jurassic Park movies. The performance didn't do much for me, but I was definitely in the minority; almost everyone else in the auditorium seemed to love it, screaming in excitement as the various special effects were used. We followed this up with the Dinosaurs Alive and Ice Valley walkthroughs, as well as a stint in the Zoo where we did our best to avoid rampaging school groups.
The park map mentioned that the Tayto Factory Tour had been revamped this year, and we decided to take a look. The most obvious alteration was the addition of Mr Tayto's Secret Lab, which looked like hours of fun for those under the age of eight. One wall had a whole collection of unusual flavours that could be sniffed, including bubblegum, candy floss, and oatmeal raisin, none of which I'd have previously associated with crisps (though there are plenty of weird and wonderful options out there). Another was dedicated to what looked like an interactive exhibit, though there were about fifty children surrounding it so we didn't get to see it up close. The two Vortex Tunnels at the exit were gone, though we subsequently noticed that they'd found new homes in the main area of the park.
The one other ride we found time for today was Windstar, a Zamperla creation that we skipped last year. It was only after taking our seats that we realised that there was an element of interactivity, namely a control that could be used to raise or lower our seats. The speed was heavily governed, perhaps unsurprising on a family attraction, but the overall principle reminded me very much of the ever popular Flying Scooters.