Zorky's Planet is a small family entertainment center located in the AFI Cotroceni shopping mall in Bucharest, Romania. It features coin-operated games, trampolines, bumper cars, and Roller Coaster (#2447), a custom family coaster from IE Park. Most of the layout has been installed in a void a floor above shoppers, and this positioning adds respectability to an attraction that would be quickly forgotten on a flat surface. One particular highlight was the way the layout dropped a few feet below the station platform, giving the train a short speed boost.
23rd June 2018
Taxi drivers in Bucharest are well-known for charging unsuspecting foreigners what are politely referred to as tourist rates. We avoided this problem by using Taxify, a phone app that handles fare calculation and payment automatically. The cost of travel via this method was an absolute pittance by western standards, and I'd recommend it as an alternative to driving in the city as parking spaces are in very short supply. We got some free entertainment too; as we pulled up at Orășelul Copiilor our driver pointed out that the park we were visiting was for children. I couldn't help but think back to a similar conversation in Mexico more than a decade earlier.
Children's Town officially opens at 10:00am, though there is absolutely no point in getting early. We arrived almost an hour after the appointed time and found the staff were still completing morning checks on Tornado (#2448), an Interpark Cyclon that replaced a virtually identical coaster retired at the end of 2016. The first car was sent around with an operator on board, and while it completed the circuit successfully it was evidently a little too slow for comfort. To fix this a second was deliberately stopped in the brake segment above the station, where an operator disembarked and made some adjustments with a screwdriver. The third apparently passed muster, allowing us to enjoy a lap of our own that was fun if a little flaccid in comparison to the nominally identical ride in Georgia. (I've a horrible suspicion that I'll be saying exactly the same thing about all similar rides going forward, which I guess constitutes a Coaster Enthusiast First World Problem.)
We had more laps than we bothered to count on Mine Train Coaster (#2449), a SBF double helix decorated with a wide variety of different cartoon characters. Disney stalwarts such as Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck were given equal prominence to less mainstream properties from other studios such as Sylvester & Tweety and Tom & Jerry. Earlier this year I asked a friend in the industry how showmen get away with using well known characters on their rides, using the family coaster themed to Disney's Frozen as an example. The answer was as subtle as it was enigmatic: "there are ways".
The park has an impressive collection of flat rides, many of which have appear to have been acquired second hand from European showmen. Chief among them is Das Monster, a full size Polyp with moving tentacles above its center that almost certainly began life in Germany. We also spotted Xtreme Spinner, a Technical Park Street Fighter formerly operated by Kleuser, and a twenty-four car wheel with the catchy name of Roata Panoramica Sector 4. The most memorable feature of the place for me however was the collection of elaborately themed benches, each featuring a life-sized character decorated in full colour as part of its structure. There were at least a dozen different designs around the place, and these were definitely an improvement over the usual bland installations found in parks and gardens around the world.
Parcul Lacul Tei
23rd June 2018
We had very little information about Parcul Lacul Tei prior to our visit, other than the fact that it was a public park, and thus it was quite a surprise to find the main entrance marked by an enormous bust of Heydar Aliyev, the former president of Azerbaijan. Online research has revealed that this was installed as part of an international deal that saw a statue of Romanian composer George Enescu installed in an urban park in Baku. The friendship between both countries is particularly strong with their presidents visiting each other on a regular basis.
Over the last few years the park has added a number of amusement rides sourced through Italian manufacturer Preston & Barbieri. The highlight of the collection as of this writing is Balaurul 7 Capete (#2450), the Dragon with Seven Heads, currently the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Romania. The twenty-one metre high ride is considerably larger than anything else in the Preston catalogue, being broadly comparable in scale to the venerable Schwarzkopf Looping Star, but despite being almost a prototype the designers have done a wonderful job; the twisted layout is negotiated with finesse and no jarring whatsoever. The ride has a top speed of around seventy-five kilometres per hour, achieved at the base of a curved descent from the apex that goes to within a few inches of the ground. We thought that the back seat had a slight edge over the front, but both ends of the train were great. (A second version of the design was installed at Palace Playland this year, replacing an obsolete Galaxi; I hope to get to back there at some stage.)
The park also has a custom dark ride with three different names depending on which sign you read. Casa Groazei/Dark Ride/Horror House is slightly unusual in that doesn't actually have a loading platform. Instead, a few guests at a time are allowed into the show building where a number of two-person vehicles are stopped. Once everyone is seated the door is closed, dropping all into pitch darkness. The cars dispatch separately, about fifteen seconds apart, and when everyone is back the door is opened for guests to leave. The ride features a total of seven high quality scenes, six featuring animatronics, and a video projection showing Dracula wiping his mouth with his hand and blood seeping out. Each has its own soundtrack, ranging from screams to a particularly sinister pipe organ riff. (Those after non-sinister organ music should consider purchasing a charity CD that I worked on a few years ago that includes a Fugue on Angry Birds, a Toccata on Postman Pat, and the theme from Riverdance.)
23rd June 2018
We had lunch in the local Hard Rock Café before retrieving our rental car for the two and a half hour drive to the Black Sea coast. Virtually all of this journey was on well-maintained motorway, and the standard of driving made the journey relaxing if a little painful due to the lack of cruise control on our rental car. Satellite imagery had revealed a whole series of small parks in our target area; we decided to focus on the four that we deemed most likely to have roller coasters. Readers retracing our steps without a time limit may also want to investigate Jupiter and Venus.
Luna Park Mamaia
23rd June 2018
Most of the parks in eastern Romania consist of slapdash collections of fairground machines that are taken down and travelled outside of peak tourist season. Luna Park Mamaia is the major exception to the rule, with a collection of around twenty rides and attractions that have been permanently installed over a period of at least twenty years. Many appear to have been acquired second hand and retain traces of their former homes, notably the Paradise Sky Wheel which still carries the logo and signage from Cypress Gardens, and La Piovra, a Polyp that was operated by defunct Italian firm Catterplanet around the turn of the millennium. There is a dedicated car park at the main entrance, which costs a flat fee of 10 Lei to use regardless of length of stay.
Wild Mouse (#2451) was acquired new from Zamperla towards the end of 2008 to replace a Wacky Worm that had reached the end of its service life. It has been installed roughly one hundred metres to the south of the main part of the park in a location where it could easily be missed by the average patron. Today it was drawing people in using obnoxiously loud music that was audible from some distance away and actively unpleasant up close. We saw a child disembarking with fingers in his ears, and the operators should probably have been wearing hearing protection to avoid long term damage. The ride was eminently missable; while it tracked without issue, our carefully balanced car managed almost no spinning, and I watched a few other groups do no better.
It's worth pausing briefly to comment on the unusually convoluted ticketing system in use on this ride. Would-be passengers first queue at a cash box, where they exchange their money for a luminous green token and a separate paper ticket. The former has to be inserted into a turnstile at the queue entrance, while the latter is needed about fifteen seconds later for the ride operator on the platform. I can only assume that this arrangement was put in place to stop people climbing over the barrier, but would it not have been simpler to remove the turnstile and collect tokens at the station platform, thus avoiding a lot of wasted paper? Or am I overthinking things again?
The park has two dark rides. The first was labelled as T House, its first four letters having been lost at some point over the years. It was closed today, though it did appear to be in operational condition. We were luckier with Spuk, though it's fair to say that the dimly-lit interior was mediocre in the extreme, and definitely not up to the standard promised by the colourful exterior.
Parc de Distractii Costinesti
23rd June 2018
The resort of Costinesti has a triangular site in the center of town that is often home to a funfair in the summer months. Online research had suggested a 6:00pm opening time, but this was definitely not accurate, as the place was inactive when we arrived shortly after 7:00pm. We decided it was worth investigating on foot regardless, and thus we parked our cars in the nearest lot we could find (43.9473, 28.6330) and walked back to the rides. It was quickly apparent that startup tasks were underway, and thus we passed fifteen pleasant minutes wandering around and taking photographs. It was interesting to see a Larson Fire Ball, a ride type I don't recall seeing in Europe before.
American Express (#2452) is an oval shaped coaster from Yamasakutalab with tyre-drive motors that Megan quickly branded as the credit card credit. As with the similar ride in Armenia the station signage featured a number of well-known coasters that were immediately recognisable to us, including Alpina Blitz, Millennium Force, and Rougarou. The onboard experience wasn't quite up to the standard of any of these greats, being fairly forceless from start to end, but we enjoyed our eleven laps nevertheless.
Luna Park Neptun
23rd June 2018
Luna Park Neptun can be found behind a number of popular restaurants, giving it footfall; tonight the place was pleasantly busy, though it did look to me like there were more observers than paying customers. The highlight of the ride collection is Techno, a smaller model KMG Move It operating today with its base locked in a fixed position. The site also features a Paratrooper, a Wheel, and Brucomela (#2453), surprisingly enough the only Wacky Worm in a day filled with pathetic coasters. This model had unusually strong airtime on the main drop, achieved by only engaging the trim brake after the train was most of the way down the descent.
Luna Park Saturn
23rd June 2018
Satellite imagery for Luna Park Saturn last year showed what looked very much like two coasters, one in front of the other. This year the sole credit on offer was Love Train (#2454), another Yamasakutalab oval, albeit one running at a much higher power setting than the version we'd ridden an hour before. Signage indicated that a ticket was for a three minute long ride, which was long enough to send us around the track seventeen times. The lateral forces in the final turn before the station were the highlight of the ride, being far more powerful than expected.