Readers familiar with my diaries will be aware that the vast majority of my trips are planned weeks if not months in advance, often in exhaustive detail. Today's adventure was a rare exception. I'd been tracking the construction of the new roller coaster at Walibi Rhône-Alpes for some time, but I was determined not to make any firm travel arrangements until an opening date was announced. When that happened late on Monday afternoon I had a quick look at last minute flights, and to my delight I found a suitable round trip into Lyon-Saint-Exupéry for less than €200, a bargain at such short notice. The outbound journey at 6:00am on a Saturday was a little earlier than I'd have preferred, but it was far from the first stupidly early alarm clock I've endured in pursuit of this hobby.
1st June 2019
Le Pal is located close to Dompierre-sur-Besbre, a small town in central France that is within a few hours drive of a large percentage of the country. It is somewhat less convenient for those travelling from further afield; the closest airports are Clermont-Ferrand (90 minutes) and Lyon-Saint-Exupéry (120 minutes) but the nearest major hubs are Geneva or Paris-Orly, both of which come in at around three hours. I arrived at the park shortly after 12:30pm local time, some seven hours after leaving my house, and found all five parking lots were jammed. Fortunately the early arrivals were beginning to clear out, and after a few minutes of driving in circles I was able to claim a spot close to the entrance.
The park opened in 1973 as a zoo, and this heritage remains obvious today in the way that the various rides take second place to the many animal exhibits. They have been spread out around the entire facility rather than consolidated into one area, which helps to distribute guests. It would have been nice if there were display boards to show current waiting times in strategic locations, but the queues today were short enough that this wasn't a huge deal. From time to time announcements about shows and special activities were made over a PA system prefixed by a ten second riff from the Back to the Future theme; I looked for but completely failed to spot any DeLorean.
Yukon Quad (#2681) is the centerpiece of a large expansion of the park that opened to the public at the start of last year. The ride is the sixth installation of an Intamin Family Launch Coaster, and the third to use vehicles designed to resemble Quad Bikes, premiering just two days after the second model opened on the far side of the world. I'd bought myself a priority admission ticket which gave me one instant access to each ride, and I decided I'd use it for my first lap, when I was directed to the back row. This was a nice surprise, though I was considerably less pleased when I was moved out of the back row on my third lap to make way for another priority ticket user!
The train rolls slowly out of the station into an enclosed barn. Recorded revving noises play from a bank of speakers while a rudimentary chasing light effect moves across the ceiling. After a few seconds of this a light bar on the roof shows a series of five red lights, a shutter opens and a bank of tyres accelerate the train. The first launch is understated, pushing the train into a left turn and a hill that is crested at a gentle speed, giving riders a chance to view the whole layout for a few seconds. Another few gentle turns lead into a second tyre launch that notches the intensity up a few levels. The train enters a series of tight helices at a top speed of ninety kilometres per hour, and these are surprisingly thrilling for a machine labelled as a family attraction.
I'd have liked to have had a shot at the front row, but seating was on a first come first served basis, and I decided against waiting for a fourth circuit. Instead I made my way across to Azteca, a sixteen year old Soquet machine that was running very well today. There was one moment of airtime early in the layout, but otherwise the ride experience was mostly about pleasantly forceful direction changes. After two laps in the front seat I decided it was worth doing a courtesy lap on Tiger de Sibérie, the park's oldest (and weakest) coaster. The only slight moment of interest was a dip right at the end to avoid a cycle railway that caught me by surprise; aside from that the ride was too short to be worth the effort. With that done I finished up my day with two back to back rides on Twist.
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