Our morning at Parc Astérix began at a security inspection one hundred metres ahead of the ticket booths that was guarded by at least a dozen heavily armed soldiers in camouflage fatigues. It was interesting to see the locals accepting their presence without even a hint of surprise, a sad reflection on the new reality in France following numerous high profile terrorist attacks over the last few years. The efficacy and necessity of this checkpoint was demonstrated by a large transparent box full of confiscated pocket knives on display for all to see. We saw additional security personnel on duty throughout the day, including in just about every ride queue.
We'd arranged discounted admission tickets through Tesco Clubcard, supplied in the form of vouchers which had to be exchanged prior to entry. The provided instructions told us to go to the Maison d'Oise to the left of the main ticket booths, but this building was nowhere to be found. The most likely looking alternative was the Domaine Des Dieux, and we joined a queue behind a dozen others who also appeared to have vouchers in hand. Twenty minutes later the haggard-looking woman at the desk told us that we'd been waiting in the wrong place and that we should go to ticket booth number one for exchange. Sure enough there was a sign there for voucher exchange, though one would have needed need phenomenal eyesight to see it from more than a metre away.
It was half an hour after opening when we finally made it into the park, heading first to the haunted swing. Though I'd experienced Le Défi de César previously my recollection was limited to the slightly ridiculous initial pre-show where guest faces are digitally added to cartoon soldiers. The second pre-show lacked the brilliance of the first, consisting of a French language speech by an elderly animatronic followed in short order by some projected footage of Asterix and Obelix. The third pre-show was considerably better, featuring brightly lit water effects accompanied by dramatic music in themed Thermae, but sadly the high standard of presentation wasn't maintained in the main portion of the ride, which was eminently forgettable. The theming was designed to resemble a boat, and that really didn't work all that well as the motion sequence began. Additionally, the same video footage was used on both sides of the room, destroying the illusion for anyone not looking straight ahead.
The park has added its seventh adult coaster this year with Pégase Express, a Gerstlauer creation with forward and backward sections built on the same basic hardware platform as FireChaser Express. There was a three quarter hour wait today but this was entirely due to demand, as the efficient crew kept four trains moving with almost no stacking. The layout begins with a gentle launch out of the station that leads into a wide right turn, a somewhat tighter left, and a lift hill. At the apex riders are dropped into thirty seconds of momentum-driven track with airtime hills and ten different changes of direction despite the route following what is for the most part a straight line along a hillside. A second lift leads directly into an enclosed shed with a Medusa-like creature and sound effects. After a brief pause the train launches backwards at low speed, cresting a hill before completing a similarly twisted section of track in reverse.
It's hard to fault Pégase Express, which I'd argue is one of the finest rides Gerstlauer has produced over the last five years. The layout has no dead spots, and the design allows for a real world guest throughput that is as good as anything I've seen outside of a German fair. The only minor niggle for me was the reverse point, which felt distinctly sparse compared to the magnificent firework scene at Dollywood; otherwise the installation was top notch. The key point for me is that the addition fills a gap in the park's coaster roster for those who've graduated from family rides but are not quite ready for extreme thrills. Today the lengthy queue and happy screams clearly indicated that the park has a winner on its hands.
Our next stop was at Vol d'Icare, one of two worldwide installations of the Zierer Hornet. We endured almost an hour of waiting in front of a family with no concept of personal space, which might have been tolerable for a good ride. Unfortunately it wasn't to be here, as heavy braking at each block section resulted in a layout that was far too slow to be exciting. Worse yet, there was a horrendous slam to the side on the climb out from the first drop that actively hurt, a particular disappointment given that much of the original track was replaced during the 2016-17 off-season. The one interesting feature for me was the unusual train design with inline seating similar to that found on the Jet Star family, albeit with an uncomfortable restraint design that added nothing to the overall experience.
We enjoyed a quick snack break before heading for Tonnerre de Zeus, rated as the best wooden coaster in the world from 1999-2001 in the widely respected poll operated by Mitch Hawker. Today the ride was being operated with assigned seating, but Megan asked for and was given permission to wait a cycle for the back row. The ride was noticeably more aggressive than in previous years, and though it wasn't actively rough it was definitely on the edge of what I'd consider comfortable. If the queue had been a bit shorter I'd have gladly gone back for a second lap at the other end of the train, as I suspect that the front few cars would have delivered something closer to the experience I enjoyed on my last trip. With luck the ride will see some retracking this winter.
One of the inherent disadvantages of spending a day at a park with a first-time visitor who counts their coasters is the requirement to do even the rides that one would prefer to skip. That was how we found ourselves in the tellingly short queue for Goudurix, the highly photogenic but exceptionally uncomfortable seven inversion disaster unleashed by Vekoma almost thirty years ago. We were right after the cut-off point for a train, and thus had first choice of where to sit. In the interests of avoiding injury I decided to preemptively veto Megan's inevitable attempt to head for the back, choosing instead to go to the front row where we would be able to see where we were going. This gave us the ability to admire the hilariously bad geometry that still plagues the track design despite the replacement of much of the original steel in 2013.
There was a vague smell of vomit in the air as we climbed into the car against our better judgment and lowered the clunky overhead restraints into place. Moments later we rolled out of the station and onto the lift hill, and Anita announced that she was ready to disembark. The climb to the apex was fine, as was the low speed turn that followed it. However, a side-to-side shuffling began as the train picked up speed, culminating in a violent lateral shunt at the base of the first drop which really should not have happened on perfectly straight track. There was no padding to absorb the impact which was transferred with unerring accuracy to our necks and shoulders. The next five inversions were catastrophic, and in fact the only portion of the layout that wasn't absolutely dreadful was the two corkscrew inversions at the end. We did enjoy the brake run, but only because we knew by then that the worst was over.
We decided to give ourselves some recovery time before going to another coaster, and Transdemonium fit the bill perfectly. The park's ghost train features a continuous loading system with eight seat trains, which keeps capacity high, and today the operators were making an active effort to ensure every seat was filled. The ride layout is lengthy, taking over five minutes to complete, and it spans multiple vertical levels filled with high quality scenery. Many of the usual effects are present along the route, notably a loud horn blast from a truck horn and banging doors, but there are also plenty of unique features too. The highlight for me was a fake ending with a particularly evil animatronic in place of a ride operator. There was a low speed launch from this point into a coaster-style drop and turn that led to the real unload platform.
The highlight of our day was always going to be OzIris, the superbly themed B&M inverted coaster that premiered five years ago. The park is known for its creativity, and we spotted a fine example of this in the station building when it became apparent that the hieroglyphs within actually represented the ride layout, including guests waiting in the queue, the lift hill, the various inversions, and so on. We were assigned to row seven, and though there was a slight rattle today it wasn't severe enough to impinge on the overall ride experience, which was every bit as forceful and intense as I remembered. We subsequently went back for a front row courtesy of the dedicated queue, and though the forces were somewhat weaker there the visuals more than compensated, particularly as we went down the exceptionally steep first drop.
The park retired its small Tivoli at the end of the 2013 season, sending it to the other side of France, but it remains home to a medium-sized installation. The ride now known as SOS Numérobis was completely replaced during the 2015-16 off-season, presumably so that it can remain in service for the next twenty-five years. The ride was as expected, with the only surprise being a complete lack of queue in an otherwise busy park. This was almost certainly down to lucky timing on our part, as management would not have spent the money to renew a relatively minor attraction if it wasn't generally popular with guests.
Our final coaster ended up being Trace du Hourra, the last (and arguably the finest) of the six bobsled coasters built by Mack from 1985-2001. The ride experienced a brief shut down as we entered the queue, but this had no real impact on us as increasing numbers of guests decided not to wait. When operations resumed they were ridiculously efficient, with fully loaded trains going out every thirty seconds and two on the lift at a time. In due course it was our turn, and I can report that the first portion of the layout was superb, picking up considerable speed and twisting back and forth at high speed. Things backed off a little after the first block brake, but the intensity level remained high enough that I'd happily have gone back for another lap given more time.
The park has a table service restaurant, Restaurant du Lac, and we decided to go there for our dinner at 6:00pm as one might do at anywhere else in the world. However, we were forced to abort after discovering that the only items available were those on the dessert menu as we were outside of normal meal hours. This asinine policy reminded me very much of the problems we encountered earlier this year at Bagatelle, and while it might be perfectly normal in France it is nevertheless very unfriendly to international visitors. We were left with no option but to endure a nearby fast food outlet, whose poor quality fuel was almost certainly the root cause of the engine trouble I encountered later in the evening.