Wonderland Eurasia is an enormous theme park located in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. It was conceived around 2012 by the mayor at the time, Melih Gökçek, who approved the use of approximately two billion lira (~€320 million) of public funds to develop a 1.1 million square metre site belonging to the Atatürk Forest Farm and Zoo at the very center of the Turkish capital.
Initial groundwork began at the end of 2013. Satellite photography from June 2014 revealed six attractions, including two roller coasters installed more than a kilometre away from each other. These turned out to be the tip of the proverbial iceberg; by mid-2015 some twenty machines could be seen, and that figure had ballooned to over sixty by the following summer. As if that were not enough, dozens more had apparently been installed inside ten giant domes located on the western side of the park. Enthusiasts worldwide were eagerly awaiting an opening date for what was jokingly referred to as a real-life game of Roller Coaster Tycoon, but before that could happen the mayor was removed from office and construction came to an abrupt halt.
Many observers figured that the story would end there, with the salvageable hardware gradually finding its way onto the second hand market. Against all expectation however the project was revived with the assistance of Chinese investors, and a grand opening took place on March 20th, 2019. Just three days later the park's social media channels reported that 1.5 million visitors had passed through the gates, a truly incredible figure representing roughly one quarter of the local population (or, for preference, roughly three times the number of people attending Walt Disney World over the same period). One suspects that many of these guests were anxious to see the new park for themselves after such a long gestation period; the writer would have been among the multitudes if the dates had been suitable.
Given the reported crowds it was a nice surprise to find no more than fifty cars in the parking lot when we arrived a few minutes prior to opening on a pleasantly warm Saturday morning. There was a short queue for tickets that we decided not to join; instead, we used the available time to explore a partially completed cable car station adjacent to the entrance. Three flights of steps (with no safety rails) led up to an entrance that was blocked off, though there was no cable and even if there had been the building was a long way from being ready for guests. Pylons for the system could be seen leading towards Ivedik metro station three kilometres away; presumably it will be completed at some point in the future if funding allows.
Ben had been in touch with the park through his local contacts prior to our arrival, as he felt that doing so would give us the best chance of riding all operational coasters. This worked out almost embarrassingly well; we were treated to a private two-hour long tour of several key attractions by golf buggy, and a number of English-speaking personnel were on hand to tell us interesting facts about the park and rides. This privilege was very much appreciated, both because it allowed us to enjoy the key attractions early in the day, and also because it greatly reduced the amount of walking we had to do; afterwards when we continued on foot we logged an incredible seventeen kilometres of back and forth in our mission to photograph, ride, and document as much as possible.
It is important for the reader to understand that Wonderland Eurasia remains a work in progress as of this writing. The western end of the facility is reasonably well polished, though there are still a few areas that need work. The eastern side of the facility is more of a mixed bag; some sections look absolutely great, some sections look a little haphazard, and a few sections should probably be off limits to those without work boots and a hard hat. At various points during our day we spotted exposed electrical cables, uneven footpaths, open drains, and a variety of other hazards ready to catch the unwary. There was a definite sense that the powers that be had made the decision to open the gates before things were fully ready, and while we were more than happy to take advantage of this decision, our visit was far from being risk free.
The park has its own theme song written in the local patois, and it is quite an unusual ditty, at least when compared to the competition. The chorus is in a minor key, robbing it of the inherent cheerfulness of tunes such as Welcome to Gardaland, the Toverlandlied, and the classic Six Flags Over Texas song from the sixties, and while it remains a reasonably potent ear-worm it definitely wasn't something that I'd have chosen to listen to given the choice. On the positive side it was only played a few times during our visit; for the majority of the day the tannoy was pumping out a Disney soundtrack on loop; we heard Fantasmic, the Mickey Mouse March, and Soarin' on multiple occasions.
Our first tick of the day was always going to be on the park's signature coaster. Lightspeed (#2666) is a second generation ten inversion machine from Intamin and one of four examples of the type currently in operation; a fifth intended for Hopi Hari was last seen in storage at Movie Animation Park Studios in Malaysia, though the word on the street is that it may soon appear at Flamingo Land. The ride layout is essentially the same as that of the two first generation models: a loop, an airtime hill, a cobra roll, a pair of back to back corkscrews, and five heart line rolls. The two key differences in the improved version are a cable lift hill (rather than a chain) and lap bars (rather than over the shoulder restraints). The former makes little difference to the average passenger, but the latter represents an enormous upgrade that completely transforms the overall experience.
The ride has been placed on the western boundary of the park, directly parallel to a main road. This allows it to double as an outsized billboard, and this status has been emphasised by an elaborate lighting package that guarantees that it will remain clearly visible after nightfall. The designers have also considered visuals within the park; a one hundred and fifty metre inclined queue ramp runs along the side of the track from the entrance gate to the loading station. It would have been nice to capture some photographs from here, though sadly the area was off limits today; guest access was through a side door and an unfinished building that will presumably become a gift shop at some point in the future.
The station itself has a futuristic theme that is somewhat reminiscent of Hyperion. Powerful blue lights on the ceiling diminish all other hues even in the daytime, and though the effect isn't quite as dramatic as TRON Lightcycle Power Run it remains visually striking. The back wall has a small door leading to a maintenance shed and transfer track, where a second train stands ready for use on busy days. In the other direction a bank of lockers is available for all loose objects. In the interests of expediency I decanted my worldly possessions into one of them before taking a seat in the front row. Moments later our restraints were checked and we were sent on our merry way.
The climb to the top of the lift hill took less than twenty seconds. There was a barely perceptible mechanical clunk at the apex as the cable mechanism disengaged; from that point forward the tracking was perfectly smooth. The improved restraints obviated any requirement for defensive riding, allowing us to ride with hands in the air, though I elected not to for the heart line rolls in the interests of thigh preservation. A second circuit in the back seat had some very slight vibration, but I doubt the average visitor would notice; overall the experience was excellent at both ends of the train. Readers should be aware that Lightspeed generally requires a minimum of sixteen passengers to operate; we suspect that we'd have waited quite a while to ride it today if we hadn't made arrangements in advance.
Our second stop was at Otorobot, a 4D cinema manufactured by local company DOF Robotics. The entrance is through what the park refers to as a "Museum of Robots", a hall featuring a dozen or so imagined specimens that could easily find supporting roles in future Transformers movies. The hardware is an Explorer with ten separate motion base units, each of which seats up to twelve passengers. When the ride starts these rotate 180 degrees to face an enormous dome screen, where they can tilt in all directions in sync with the on screen footage. The movie in use today was Great Wall of China by Niceberg Studios, featuring a rocket-propelled bicycle touring the wonder of the world at silly speeds. Those of a geeky disposition are advised to sit in a side seat, as you can easily see the other units moving around you.
We made our way into the first of the park's domes, the Buz & Ateş Şehri (City of Ice & Fire). There was no sign of any Iron Throne, but we found something infinitely more useful: an indoor roller coaster from I.E. Park. Lav Macerasi (#2667) routes above, around, and through a full size log flume that had yet to open as of our visit. The layout starts with a tyre drive lift that changes direction several times on its route to within touching distance of the building roof. A drop to ground level prefixes several forceful turns, a vertical loop, and some more sedate but still enjoyable turns, including one that passes through the jaws of a sculpted dragon. The ride was smooth and thrilling at both ends of the train, though the back was the place where the hangtime in the loop was at its best. The only minor nitpick was the fact that the train took an absolute eternity to move from the brake run back to the station. Other attractions in the same building included Bumper Cars, a Drop'n'Twist, a Jump'n'Smile, a Moser Rides Free Styler, a SBF Mini Dance Party 360, and a two person miniature Top Spin.
Our journey continued through a dome containing electric Go Karts and into a pair of interconnected domes focused on younger visitors. Family Eğlence Alanı and Toddler Eğlence Alanı contained an impressive array of junior attractions. There was a definite sense that the developers had gone to both SBF and Zamperla and said "one of everything please", as there were a lot of very similar machines in close proximity. The whole area was decorated with fiberglass statues of Misket, a fictional cat with one blue eye and one green eye who has been the mascot for the city of Ankara since 2013. The main draw for us was the Misket Coaster (#2668), a standard layout Big Apple with an elaborate custom train.
The final stop on our private tour was at Devin Kileri (#2669), one of five global installations of the Zierer ESC 535. Despite being only three years old the track looked like it had been through the wars; there were places where paint had been touched up using a different shade of grey to the original, and there was quite a bit of visible rust. The comfort level was absolutely fine however, with none of the bumps that I remembered from the original version at Schwaben Park in Germany. The layout was good too; an excellent curved first drop prefixed a series of forceful turns punctuated by the occasional airtime hill. I'd gladly have gone back for a few extra laps had there not been a great deal more to explore.
We thanked our entourage profusely, took a few photographs, then set off on a mission to find additional coasters. The first that we got to was Seydi Reis (#2670), an outdoor Big Apple with a submarine-themed station. The ride had a standard caterpillar train, though it looked better than average thanks to different colour schemes in each car. (As a fun aside, Wonderland Eurasia isn't the only park with more than one installation of the ubiquitous kiddie coaster; Star City and Tsentralnyy Park also have two. If money were no object it would be amusing and exceptionally childish to take the world record for the largest number of coasters in one park by opening perhaps twenty-five variants side by side. The investment could probably be recouped quite easily by charging coaster counters their published count in Euro for admission).
The park has a second Zierer machine located around one hundred and fifty metres northwest of the first. Ejderha Uçuşu is the seventh worldwide installation of a Force 190 family coaster. Its entrance features an elaborate custom sign with a painted dragon and eggs, and the ride area has been filled out with artificial rock work. The result deserves to look great, though as with its larger brother it is let down somewhat by the state of the track, which is in need of fresh paint. The headrest in the left hand seat of the back car was bent almost twenty degrees off the vertical, suggesting that something extremely heavy was dropped on it at some point. Once again however the comfort level was absolutely fine; we enjoyed our three laps immensely.
We also found our way into the station for Canavar Dalga, a clone of the highly regarded Jet Rescue with some particularly detailed surfboard theming; this ride looked ready to launch and extremely tempting, but there was no power in the station and a layer of dust on the cars made it clear that nothing had happened in the recent past. We also wandered past a pair of wild mice, one from Levent Lunapark and the other from Fabbri. Both were physically complete, but it was evident from their general appearance that quite a bit of work would be needed before either could open to guests.
We had somewhat better luck at the eastern end of the park in an area dedicated to younger visitors. There were no other guests in the vicinity, but two cheerful staff members were on standby ready to operate attractions on an "as needed" basis. Our first request was Köpekbalığı Girdabı (#2672), a single helix family coaster similar to Çuf Çuf and Racing Coaster, albeit with a shark-themed train. The layout passed through a faux stone archway, and circled a treasure chest overflowing with gold coins, presumably all that were left in the kitty after the vast majority were spent building the park! We were given at least ten laps and it could well have been more. With that done we asked about the nearby Altin Madeni Coaster (#2673) and were told that we were welcome to ride it provided that we didn't mind the dirty train. Five minutes later the non-spinning figure eight became tick number eight.
We ran through the list of the remaining coasters with our new friends, and as expected the vast majority were not available. The biggest loss was Migfer, a ride that earned notoriety among enthusiasts under its original name of Cool & Fresh. However, we were told that we might be able to ride the Volare, even though this was apparently not recommended. This was pertinent and sage advice for a ride that Zamperla personnel memorably described as a big mistake, though as per usual the coaster counting gene led us to ignore it entirely. Staff were working on the ride in question as we approached, though they were content to let us camp out in the queue while they did something with tools. The work continued apace despite occasional crashes of thunder, though after about twenty minutes they advised us that it was a no go.
Our relief was short-lived however; we walked past the ride again perhaps half an hour later, and a member of staff working on the brake run gesticulated at us enthusiastically. Moments later we'd thrown caution to the wind and boarded Volare Hiz Kizagi (#2674), my tenth encounter with the type. To start with the positive, the lack of trim braking today delivered an unparalleled sense of speed, particularly in the final few turns. Unfortunately the experience was far from comfortable thanks to an almost complete lack of padding in the cars. Our first lap was not as violent as anticipated, and based on that we decided to tempt fate with a second. It is perhaps best to say that that wasn't the most intelligent decision of the day.
With all operational credits completed our next obvious stop was at Small World Turkiye, a dark ride based on the well-known Disney attraction. The building facade was clearly influenced by the mouse, and though there were no moving parts that we could see, a boarded-up door close to the center looked like it might have been intended to house an animatronic or two. The interior used a colour palette heavy on red, green, and yellow, giving the ride a distinctive appearance that was quite different to similar attractions in other places. I'd have preferred a wider variety of shades, though that is a matter of personal taste. (A second dark ride is under construction at the western side of the park, though as of this writing Zelzele is a long way from being ready to open).
We resumed our exploration of closed coasters at Öksökö Öfkesi, a copy of the Maurer Rides SkyLoop manufactured by Beijing Shibaolai with a particularly elaborate station building. The knock-off has over-the-shoulder restraints instead of lap bars, but otherwise is virtually indistinguishable from the original. I've never been a huge fan of the genre, though the Chinese appear to love them; nine of the fourteen operating examples can be found in the People's Republic, and a further four are expected to open later this year. We also found Girdap Sörfçüler, a rare example of an Interpark Wild Wind; the track and train were almost certainly serviceable, but the lift hill chain looked to be rusted solid.
A fellow enthusiast who visited the park a few weeks prior to our trip had warned us that good food was in short supply, though we had no issues at all today. There were a number of restaurants available on an island in the middle of the lake, though the menus were only available in Turkish. After brief contemplation we decided that the easiest approach was to go to a kebab place where we could point at pictures, and that was the right call; the meal that we had was superb, so much so that we joked about having the same thing again at dinner time.
This trip report is continued in part two below.