Turkey has had small amusement parks for decades, but it wasn't until relatively recently that the country began to invest in proper theme parks. Isfanbul, formerly Vialand, was arguably the first worthy of the description, and it remains one of the largest, occupying roughly twenty-five acres on the European side of Istanbul. It opened in May 2013 as a joint venture between Via Properties and the Gürsoy Group.
The park sits on the side of a steep hill. In its first few years the entrance was at the top, adjacent to a huge shopping mall, but this year management has decided to add a secondary car park and entrance at the lower level, along with a performance stage and new dining options. This work resulted in the removal of Maceraperest, an Intamin family coaster, though we were told that it is due to be reinstalled in a new location in the next few years; track pieces and supports could be seen in storage today. A number of attractions were relocated into the mall at the same time in an attempt to improve footfall, and this certainly worked today as at least fifty wandering enthusiasts traipsed their way past the various shops.
Our morning began with an hour-long exclusive session on Nefeskesen (#2529), a thirty-five second long launched coaster from Intamin. The name loosely translates to breathless, marking the second time this particular appellation has been applied to a similar roller coaster. Though not a bad ride by any means the name feels a little hyperbolic for a layout that starts well but quickly loses steam, especially when compared against the continuous onslaught that is Red Fire. The various elements are both gentle and widely spaced, resulting in an experience that I'd describe as Millennium Force with inversions: a great beginning leading to a high speed meander that really doesn't do all that much. On the positive side, the view of Istanbul from on board is spectacular and better than theming ever could be. I managed five laps including both front and back, and concluded that the front was the place to be.
When the session came to an end we were escorted to a conference room in a backstage area where we were treated to refreshments and a presentation from management. We were shown a time lapse video featuring the park under construction, including an entertaining few seconds where a portion of assembled ride was taken apart again while the foundations were adjusted; one suspects that that happens more often than developers would prefer to admit. Questions were taken from the floor, throwing up more items of interest, not least the fact that the Chief Operating Officer for the park in its first few years is now the General Manager at Land of Legends Theme Park. We were also shown some of the park's marketing footage, not least a video showing meals being served to Nefeskesen riders with predictably hilarious results. The backing track for this footage was the Hallelujah chorus, which seemed oddly appropriate for some reason.
In due course we made our way back into the park, where virtually everyone joined the queue for the Little Miners kiddie coaster. Küçük Madenciler (#2530) has a standard Big Apple layout, though it is one of just a handful of versions out without an animal figurehead; instead, it features a locomotive with matching cars, similar to that seen on the Gold Mine Express that tours in Ireland. The ride looked decent enough from a distance, thanks to a themed archway over the queue entrance and a multicoloured design on the station front. Up close was another story, however; the support structure showed visible rust, the red track was beginning to fade, and there were dog-eared yellow placards glued to each car with the message "only for one adult and one child please". One properly mounted sign at the entrance would have been a far less ugly way to get this message across.
The park is home to a full scale knock-off of It's a small world, complete with an earworm theme song sung by children. Minik Kaşifler (Tiny Explorers) is a boat ride past some scenes which are immediately identifiable (China, England, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, and the United States) and others which I'd classify as generic, such as a snow covered landscape with rotating penguins. The final few moments had the usual goodbye written in many languages, including one that caught my eye. Google Translate hasn't been able to identify "slan agati", leading me to suspect that it might be a misspelled version of the Irish slán agat. There was no queue when we reached the station platform, and given that our group decided to stay on board for a second round.
Our next stop was at Angry Birds Çilgin Yolculuk, a 4D theatre showing the Simworx movie I first encountered a few years ago at Kentucky Kingdom. That version was presented in an auditorium with pairs of seats mounted to individual motion systems. This installation was quite different, in that it featured a sixteen seat base that rolled slowly forward after boarding into a dedicated screening room. The system wasn't equipped with a water splash, but otherwise all the effects were working as designed. (Enthusiasts based in the United Kingdom can see the same performance at Thorpe Park, where it is presented in a much larger capacity theatre, and one suspects that it is available in many other parks around the world.)
One attraction not to be missed is Adalet Kulesi, a drop tower from Fabbri that has been almost fully enclosed inside a mock campanile. The seat assembly is lifted clear of the structure, giving a few seconds to see the surrounding area, before it plummets back to earth – and plummet is definitely the appropriate word for a boosted descent that had me out of my seat the whole way down. The experience was quite a bit more intense than the norm for such rides. I noticed the words "pick up weld" handwritten on the catch car mechanism in several places, suggesting that it was installed by an English speaker; why this wasn't subsequently painted over is anyone's guess.
Another important hit, albeit for its hilarity rather than thrill value, is King Kong. Today the enormous gorilla appeared to be suffering from a bladder problem, as hydraulic fluid could be clearly seen leaking from between its legs, though fortunately the issue wasn't severe enough to suspend operations. We were joined for our ride by Andreas, who calmly observed that he was looking for a bench to sit on, but this is just as good. This statement proved to be spot on, and our group quickly lapsed into uncontrolled laughter as our seats tilted excruciatingly slowly in different directions. (Despite the lacklustre ride experience there are currently six known installations of the type worldwide as of this writing, and there may be others that the community is unaware of.)
After a lunch break in the staff canteen we went back for another ride on Nefeskesen. It was immediately apparent that our exclusive session earlier in the day had been a rare treat, allowing us to ride repeatedly without faffing about. During regular operation the station has to be completely emptied after each cycle before the staff allow oncoming riders access, resulting in quite a lot of wasted time while people retrieve their possessions. That was bad enough, but there was worse to come; today the staff were taking several minutes to chat between filling the air gates and opening them, apparently oblivious to the building queue outside. The restraint checking process when it finally began was unhurried, and though we dispatched quickly enough once complete I would not have wanted to have been in the queue on a busy day. One train every ten minutes seemed to be about the limit of what was being achieved, resulting in a throughput of just ninety-six guests per hour, a profoundly embarrassing number for a signature coaster at a major park.
At this point we exited the main park and headed across the mall, where we found three more attractions. The first was Jungle Park, a combination reptile house and aquarium with a few token monkeys and dinosaur skeletons at the end. This was well presented, but not something of huge interest to me, and after fifteen minutes I decided to move on. I was rather more taken with Safari Tüneli, a rather good trackless target shooter set in a jungle environment. The cars moved between projections and physical sets, with the targets on the latter being African face masks that changed colour when hit. The guns had a red laser beam for aiming, making game play very straightforward.
The best of the ancillary attractions by some margin was Zindan, a superb trackless dark ride that I'd describe as a haunted house for connoisseurs. Many of the scenes looked to have been designed to be appreciated rather than to startle, as evidenced by the lighting fading gently in and out. There was quite a bit of fine detail to be admired; an animatronic that rose out of a coffin turned its head back and forth as we watched, its eyes following our car. Other scenes included a crocodile with open jaws, a demon with eyes and mouth lit by an artificial flame effect, a mannequin in an electric chair, an oversized neon blue spider, a skeleton sawing a log in half, and a chandelier made up entirely of skulls lit by a gentle clicking strobe. I'd have liked to have gone around for a second lap, but unfortunately my ticket was limited to a single viewing.
With around half an hour left before our planned departure time I decided to catch one more ride on Nefeskesen, where I ended up in a middle seat. I'd disembarked and was heading toward the exit when word began to spread that the park had agreed to temporarily open a dark ride that had been closed all day for maintenance work. Fatih'in Rüyasi tells the story of Mehmed the Conqueror, whose capture of Istanbul at the age of twenty-one brought an end to the Byzantine Empire. Readers unfamiliar with the story can pretend that they're viewing Pirates of the Bosphorus, as the scenes fit that hypothetical narrative perfectly. If Johnny Depp is reading this, how about it?