Parque Espana is located within the Shima Peninsula, a resort area located around eighty kilometres south of Nagoya. Access by helicopter is straightforward and quick, though most readers will likely use the train, which makes a lengthy detour around the boundaries of Ise Bay. The fastest direct service from the city is the Kintetsu Limited Express, which takes around two hours from Kintetsunagoya to Ugata and costs ¥7160 (~€54) for a round trip, including the mandatory seat reservations. Those on a budget also have the option of a local service which is considerably cheaper, though it does take almost an hour longer. The bus from the station to the park operates every thirty minutes, and costs an additional ¥400 each way.
Early draft itineraries for our 2015 Japan trip included a stop at the park, but we changed plans a few weeks before travel when another enthusiast discovered that the vintage Sansei Yusoki indoor coaster was out of service indefinitely. Bullfight Roller Coaster Matador was still listed online, but the signage in front of its building had been removed, a definite indication that this was not likely to be a short term closure. The ride was subsequently marked as defunct on RCDB, and many enthusiasts including this one thought that the story would end there, but there was a plot twist in the offing; after eighteen months of silence a video was released announcing that it would reopen with an elaborate new theming package, and eight weeks later, it did.
Steampunk Coaster Iron Bull (#2382) operates with a twenty-four seat train divided into six cars that were designed to accommodate local visitors rather than tall foreigners. The operator assigned me to the front half of a car, where I could just about fit by sitting sideways, but it quickly became clear that there was no way I could close the over-the-shoulder restraint at that angle. Fortunately there was more room in the back, and though space was still at a premium I was able to secure myself in place with some effort. The ride operator was initially nonplussed at our changing seats, though she clearly recognised the issue as we were assigned to suitable seats when we returned for a few extra laps later in the day.
The experience begins with a chain lift hill enclosed by artificial stone walls. During the climb the train is illuminated by a spotlight which cycles through a number of different colours before settling on a blood red. At the apex the train makes a gentle descending turn to the left, followed in short order by some surprisingly aggressive direction changes that are negotiated with all the subtlety of a thrown brick. In due course the train runs out of momentum in a mid course brake, where it pauses for a series of visual effects comprising light, sound, and scented dry ice clouds. A second chain lift follows in half light that is nevertheless bright enough to reveal that around half of the building's height is unused, a surprising choice for an indoor coaster. The shortened lift might explain why the drop that follows leads to only a few seconds of gentle coasting that culminates in a final brake.
The ride looks great, but the superbly detailed appearance doesn't quite make up for the fact that the passenger experience is actively uncomfortable. The sharp turns in the first portion of the layout result in severe headbanging courtesy of the obsolete restraint design, and the lack of padding makes the whole journey feel a little bit like driving down a country road with broken suspension. There's no doubt that serious money was spent on sprucing up an old attraction, and that is to be commended; it's just a pity that the ride hardware wasn't upgraded in parallel. The old maxim applies; you can polish a turd, but it still smells.
Operations on Pyrenees were decidedly suboptimal on my first visit to the park twelve years ago, and I'm sorry to report that things were even worse today. The queues were short, and given that one can hardly fault management for parking two out of the three trains in their maintenance sheds. That said, it was much harder to comprehend why the staff were spending five minutes wiping down the train after each ride, and as if that were not time consuming enough, the process of filling individual air gates only began after the cleaning procedures had been completed. We narrowly missed a dispatch, and ended up waiting an embarrassing eleven and a half minutes for the next one, though this did at least mean that we were assigned to the front row.
The ride was every bit as good as I remembered, delivering a smooth yet intense experience that caused brief moments of paraesthesiae (you can look it up, I'll wait) in my feet. The inversions all worked well, and I particularly liked the small airtime hill towards the end of the layout, something rarely seen on inverted coasters. When our circuit came to a halt I took the opportunity to take a few photographs of Megan holding her #1200 sign while seated in the train on the grounds that thirty seconds of additional delay would pass unnoticed, as indeed it did. Later in the day we went back for a second lap, where we were granted special dispensation to sit in the back.
The park retired its Intamin Flying Island at the end of the 2008 season, leaving the land unoccupied until last year when it installed Kiddy Monserrat (#2383), a family coaster from Hoei Sangyo with seven hundred feet of track and a top speed of twenty-two miles per hour. The ride is considerably larger than the manufacturer's usual design, but the salamander-themed train negotiates it with ease. Unusually for a Japanese-built family coaster there was more than enough room for two western adults in each car. The ride was enjoyable if not something we felt the need to do more than once.
Our next stop was at Gran Montserrat, still the only non-powered mine train from Mack Rides. The ride uses looks two parallel lift hills, giving it more than a passing resemblance to the common Vekoma product, but the onboard experience is in a completely different league as the layout is both taller and faster. Both of the slow ascents are followed by drops leading all the way to ground level and a series of forceful helices around and through elaborate artificial rock formations. The entire course is negotiated without even a hint of jarring, resulting in a superb ride. The only slight disappointment today was the lack of duelling, as only one train was in service despite a thirty minute queue.
The park has a wide variety of dark rides and walkthroughs. We elected to begin our exploration with Batalla del Alcazar, a target shooting attraction named after a symbolic Nationalist victory in Toledo during the opening stages of the Spanish Civil War. The targets were demonic kings rather than Republicans (though there isn't a huge amount of difference nowadays) who had taken over the ruins of a medieval castle (constructed in the early nineties). The vehicles were the standard Senyo design, with four seats facing into the centre of the ride building.
One of the curiosities within the park (!) is Alice in Wonderland, a bizarre walkthrough that opened in 2007. An operator at the entrance handed us electronic wands which could be used to trigger different special effects. She provided a remarkably enthusiastic demo accompanied by at least sixty seconds of high velocity Japanese, apparently oblivious to the fact that her four foreign visitors were all wearing a look of polite incomprehension. We were then ushered into a mirror maze, where gentle use of the wands made for easy navigation. There was a table set with tea cups and assorted cakes on the far side, as well as a blank television on the wall. The wands had no effect here, though in the next room they caused an evil demon to rise from a pit of Technifex FauxFire®. They also caused music to play in a room with a harp and a rabbit playing a trumpet. The final portion of the experience comprised a series of corridors lined with life size playing cards.
The attraction once known as Shining Luminous Castle Sparkling Carnival Ride has been renamed to the somewhat more mundane Illumination Ride: The Nutcracker, but the experience remains the same: a tracked journey through thousands of coloured lights accompanied by various themes from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. The lights are supplemented by a small amount of physical scenery, including two decorated Christmas trees and a triple stacked wedding cake. We followed this up with a brief museum featuring European alcohol, though sadly without free samples. The selection included ten different styles of Spanish wine and four European beers (Löwenbräu, Hoegaarden, Leffe, and Stella Artois) with information boards charting their history.
Our next stop was at Don Quixote's Magical Flight, a suspended dark ride using a similar system to the Peter Pan attractions at the Disney parks. The standard of scenery on our underwater journey was fairly high, though the experience suffered from an exceptionally repetitive soundtrack comprising about twenty seconds of chorus sung in a variety of different ways. The tune made the theme from It's a small world seem imaginative; you have been warned. With that complete we wandered into Choquy's Mystery House, a crooked house attraction where guests were responsible for helping Choquy on his quest to find the fairy goblins of the forest. The interior featured a rotating barrel scene, a hall of mirrors, and interior walls painted from top to bottom with upside-down cartoon style frescoes. The imagery reminded me very much of the Monkey Island computer games from the nineties, all of which can still be played today thanks to the magic of ScummVM.
Mechanical problems forced the untimely closure of the elaborate Adventure Lagoon dark ride at the end of 2012, leaving a large hole at the western boundary of the park. In an unusual move park management decided to reuse the boats and the outdoor portion of trough for Feliz Cruise, a slow journey past landscaped gardens and miniature static scenes showing assorted Spanish festivals, not least a bullfight. The original attractions has been memorialised in a small building nearby that features an image of a ship at sea assembled from photographs of guests over the years, as well as a number of posters showing off the various indoor scenes. (It's worth noting that these are almost certainly still present, though blocked off; it's possible that they may return as part of a future attraction some day).
Last but by no means least came the unnamed Escalator Ride, an experience that I'd argue to be the highlight of the park (if not Japan in general). The fact that it remains absent from the guidebooks after all these years just goes to show that the very best attractions out there are reserved for those considered to be in the know. The video embedded below features but a tiny portion of the nearly fifteen minutes we spent enjoying the ride experience in full.