Sunday morning began with a short drive from our hotel to the Jardin d'Acclimatation. There were numerous signs along the route advertising a car-free day in Paris that we missed by a week, a very lucky escape given our schedule and routing. While I respect the fact that there are environmental benefits to this sort of exercise, I take the view that a blanket ban on vehicles borders on the autocratic in a world where people will occasionally have to travel at short notice for unforeseen emergencies. Public transport in Paris is far better than it is in my home city of Dublin, but it is a long way from being exhaustive, especially for those needing to get to the outskirts of the city.
We found a parking space just ninety seconds walk from the main entrance, and though this wasn't particularly cheap the pricing was very obviously due to supply and demand; by the time we left a few hours later the area was chock-a-block with people. There was a lengthy queue for the ticket desks, but for whatever reason nobody was interested in using a bank of credit card machines, and thus we bought admission and four ride tickets, which we presumed (incorrectly as it turned out) to be enough for one lap on each coaster. (As of this writing the three older coasters are one ticket rides, but the new Gerstlauer Bobsled Coaster requires two; those retracing our steps might want to consult the park web site for the latest information.)
Speed Rockets (#2506) features elaborately themed four-person vehicles that look like a classic car body fitted with jet engines. These begin their journey with a fast chain lift and an unusually profiled drop that could almost be considered a double-down; a slight bump on the descent delivers a gentle pop of airtime for those seated in the back of a car. The course avoids wild mouse curves, focusing instead on an alternating series of twisted climbs and descents that are handled effortlessly. A mist-filled tunnel fogs up glasses and obscures the start of a second tyre drive lift hill, which drops into more of the same. The experience concludes with a tight left hand helix into the final brake.
The ride is the perfect addition to the park, being a few points higher on the intensity scale than the existing attractions while still gentle enough for the whole family to enjoy. Throughput is kept high by the simple expedient of lots of cars at once; though the queue was virtually full by the time we went back for our second lap we were still on board in less than twenty minutes. It'll be interesting to see if the demand levels out after a season or two; if it doesn't, then it bodes very well for the addition of more intense roller coasters in the future.
The biggest change to the park this year is a comprehensive new steampunk theming package. The various midways now have vents that blow out clouds of cooling vapour every few minutes, and all of the existing attactions have been renamed and repainted to fit in with the new look. The former Tacot Express is now the dark brown coloured Machine à Vapeur (Steam Engine). The only thing I remembered about this ride from my previous experience of it fourteen years before was that it was good; I'd completely forgotten a powerful drop into a tunnel, several feet below the station, that was the absolute highlight of the layout.
We made our way over to the Dragon Chinois, but sadly it was out of service today. The sign at the entrance used the word "momentarily" and suggested that it would "reopen very shortly", but it looked to us like a significant overhaul was in progress, as the pool under the track had been drained and one of the motor banks had been disconnected. As such our third and final coaster for the morning ended up being the former Papillons d'Alice, now known as Souris Mecaniques. The ride itself was unchanged, though the car bodies had been replaced with new ones featuring oversized mechanical wind-up screws.