It's not too difficult to visualise a scene of controlled panic in the boardroom at Śląskie Wesołe Miasteczko at some point in early 2015. Poland's oldest amusement park, virtually unchallenged for sixty years, had abruptly lost a large portion of its market share to a new and better funded competitor just thirty miles away in a former industrial wasteland. Worse yet, the haemorrhaging was almost certain to get worse as the upstart continued its relentless expansion. The business as it stood was very clearly in trouble, with only one advantage to keep it going: an urban location with its own tram stop, sandwiched between two big cities with a combined population approaching half a million people. The possibility of closing the park entirely must have been considered, given the obvious value of the land bank. Instead, however, management decided to sell 75% of the park to Slovakian company TMR in exchange for a cash injection of thirty million euro.
At the time the park now known as Legendia had the look of a semi-permanent fairground, largely because virtually all of its rides were travelling machines that had evidently seen better days. The general appearance of the place was made if anything more dispiriting by the fact that the main midway was uneven tarmacadam that hadn't been resurfaced in years. It was immediately clear that things had changed for the better today as we walked through a brand new entrance and main street area lined with shops on both sides. Upgraded theming was visible everywhere, and an intricately patterned brick footpath extended off into the distance in both directions. The north-eastern corner of the park looked untouched, though this was presumably only because the construction crews ran out of time to complete their work during one off-season; a small note on the park map made it clear that this area would be getting an overhaul for 2018.
We were going to begin our visit with the new coaster, but there was nobody waiting to ride Tornado when we walked past and it would have been unconscionably rude not to give it a try. The physical hardware looked shabby and unkempt, but despite peeling paint in places it did appear to be operational. Sure enough the compressor was started up as we made our way up the stairs, and a bored looking ride operator was ready to check our restraints as we took our seats in row one. The ride experience was unchanged, comprising two powerful loops followed by a pointless low-speed wander that was far too slow to be thrilling. It felt very much like the designers had spent a bit too much of their potential energy budget on the loops leaving nothing for the rest of the course. Some form of booster system (perhaps a LSM or three) on the second hill would have made for a much better experience though one probably beyond the budget even in the reconstituted park.
The major new attraction for this year is Lech Coaster (#2396), the world premiere of the Bermuda Blitz from Vekoma built at the bargain price of €4.36 million. The new coaster has been beautifully landscaped, with its many inversions wrapping themselves around faux rock work, a water splash, and a castle structure that looks spectacular both from a distance and up close. The name is derived not for the slightly derogatory English noun, but for the legendary founder of Poland who decided to settle while out hunting (as one does) on a site where he encountered a fierce white eagle. A stylised version of the famous accipitrid is embossed on the front of the trains, which seat twenty passengers at a time secured by soft vest restraints linked to pull down lap bars. Each has a backup seatbelt as an additional failsafe, though these are sufficiently out of the way to have no impact on comfort.
The ride is, in a word, superb. The layout starts with a gentle descent out of the station and a turn, followed by a fast chain that takes around twenty seconds to bring the train to the forty metre apex. The main drop is an almost vertical descent coupled with a ninety degree turn to the right, levelling out inside a hewn rock tunnel just feet above the water. This is followed by a reverse sidewinder inversion, a twisted airtime hill, a water splash effect, and two corkscrews split by a series of powerful airtime hills. There are no bumps in the track whatsoever, with the entire course handled with a finesse reminiscent of the very finest Schwarzkopf rides. The back of the train adds powerful forces to the mix, with several points on the layout where my vision began to blur. The experience was so good that I found myself wondering how different the amusement industry might have looked if Vekoma had figured out how to build rides like this in the eighties. I managed five rides over the course of our visit, stopping only due to fatigue; Megan managed a total of eight.
Everything else was always going to be secondary to a superb new attraction, but we decided that we should at least confirm this for ourselves on Dream Hunters Society, a relocation of the family coaster once known as Cyklon. The new home for the ride is roughly one hundred metres to the north of where it once stood, adjacent to a boneyard filled with assorted mechanical parts and the remnants of the original Śląskie Wesołe Miasteczko sign. As enthusiasts we naturally spent a considerable percentage of our lap looking for objects of interest there rather than concentrating on where we were going, perhaps explaining why neglected to brace for an extremely abrupt stop at the end of the course. My left knee took the brunt of the impact; let the reader be aware. (We would have liked to have ridden Scary Toys Factory, formerly Himalaya, but that ride has been out of service following a two car collision in mid-August).
One of the signature rides at the park has had many diverse wraps over the years, including different ones on each of my four visits to the park. The classic flying machine attraction now known as Dreamflight Airlines looks a lot better now than it did when the entire structure was wrapped with the logo and branding for Cappy Apple Juice. The ride cycle today was satisfyingly long, comprising what felt like a minute of acceleration, three minutes at full speed, and a lengthy period of time slowing down. There were no real photo opportunities from on board, but we made up for that on the Legendia Flower wheel, which also gave us a look at the construction site for the new-for-2018 Bazyliszek. With that done we finished off our night with the Magical Postal Service, a themed set of antique cars that was one of the four attractions added to the park in 2016. The track was decorated with a variety of old style posters for the Magic Toy Factory, apparently established in 1879, and offering such gems as the Mini Rocket, Love Potion, and Flying Carpets.