Piratland is a free admission family park in Rochefort-du-Gard, a few kilometres west of Avignon. It was originally developed as an attachment to a themed restaurant called La Taverne des Pirates, though it has been run independently for the last few years following the demise of its parent company. As of 2019 it includes more than a dozen attractions all of which are geared at small children. My sole hit was the Train de la Mine (#2714), a single helix family coaster from SBF; I enjoyed a ten lap cycle in the back seat.
Parc Spirou Provence
20th July 2019
Spirou et Fantasio is a popular Franco-Belgian comic that was first published in 1938. It tells the story of two journalists who run into fantastic adventures, aided by Spirou's pet squirrel Spip and their inventor friend the Count of Champignac. The series has much in common with the Adventures of Tintin though there are also some significant differences, not least the fact that the characters have been developed by a wide variety of artists over the years. Recent strips have been written by Fabien Vehlmann and illustrated by Yoann Chivard, though rumour has it that they will be passing the torch in the near future.
In September 2013 a theme park based on the series was officially announced. The initial publicity suggested that the finished park would open in the second half of 2015, an exceptionally bullish estimate that soon began to slip. Building permits were obtained in March 2014 and a formal photo shoot took place, but there was no sign of any construction work. In January 2015, the official blog (since deleted) published a map with seventeen rides, including a custom roller coaster that looked like a hybrid of Impulse and Wicked. The opening date at this point had shifted to the second half of 2016, but once again this proved to be optimistic; it wasn't until the start of 2017 that construction work finally began, albeit on a greatly reduced scale; the signature coaster was one of a number of attractions to be quietly dropped from the plans.
The finished Parc Spirou opened to the general public in June 2018, a few short weeks after the eightieth anniversary of its eponymous character. The forty thousand square metre facility premiered with twelve attractions: three roller coasters, three simulators, and a selection of flat rides targeted at families. The theming was uniformly excellent, both from a distance and up close; one particularly nice touch was display boards in front of each ride with relevant cartoon strips. Enthusiast feedback from those who visited that year was broadly positive, though reports also flagged the fact that there really wasn't enough at the park to occupy more than an hour or two.
For the 2019 season the park has expanded significantly with the addition of a themed playground and five new rides: two additional roller coasters, a Zierer Star Shape, a Hafema Flume, and a ninety metre Funtime drop tower with tilting seats. The latter in particular represents an attempt to draw in thrill seekers, and while it falls short (!) of the one hundred metre installation at Nigloland it is nevertheless one of the tallest rides of its type in Europe. The new additions have come without any appreciable increase in the park's footprint, leaving a twenty thousand square metre land bank to the north of the current site free for future expansion.
My visit began with En avant Seccotine (#2715), the park's smallest roller coaster and one of four versions of the Zierer Force Zero in Europe. The seventy metre long layout features a tyre drive lift hill, a turnaround, a descending left turn, a climbing right turn, and a descending left turn back to the station. The pink-coloured track has been installed around a tiny model of Mont Ventoux with a layer of snow at its peak. There was no issue with adults riding unaccompanied; I took the back car for a three lap cycle. The ride was fine, though it'd be remiss of me not to point out the fact that the enormous figurehead on the lead car obscured the forward view for virtually the entire train.
My favourite coaster in the park today was Wanted Dalton (#2716), a Zierer Force Two. The ride is one of nineteen examples of the type globally and the third in France, though it is sufficiently remote from the othertwo that it can be thought of as a unique attraction. The entrance queue routes through a faux prison building with static models of four inmates in striped yellow uniforms chipping up stone, and a series of wanted posters on the outside quote rewards of between $400 and $2000 for named miscreants. The ride itself is a perfect family coaster, with smooth tracking and a satisfyingly lengthy three lap cycle. The only negative today was the lack of theming around the track, though perhaps that will come in future years.
The largest coaster in the park at present was also the most disappointing. Spirou Racing (#2717) is a Zierer ESC 535, a design that I really enjoyed two months ago at Wonderland Eurasia. The ride looked good; the two trains were themed to resemble classic race cars, and the queue was lined with appropriate theming, including oil cans, tyres, and toolboxes. Unfortunately the comfort level on board fell far short of where it should have been; numerous bumps along the route were accompanied by significant vibration, and a harsh trim brake prior to the final turn did the pacing no favours while also throwing passengers into their lap bars. A second lap for research purposes was if anything worse than the first had been, a real shame for what should have been a good ride.
I'd hoped to score my fourth hit on Boule & Bill Déboulent, the first park installation of the Preston & Barbieri Spinning coaster. Sadly it was closed today, as it apparently has been for much of its short life; just five people have it ticked on Coaster-Count as of this writing. While taking photographs I noticed that the four car train had over-the-shoulder restraints, a bizarre affliction on a brand new design, especially one with a minimal height differential and top speed; it seems that the manufacturer hasn't learned from the mistakesofcompetitors.
The last new tick of the morning became Nid des Marsupilamis (#2718), my first encounter with a so-called Roller Ball from Ride Engineers Switzerland. The design can be thought of as the top section of a Wild Mouse turned on its side, with seven short drops negotiated by a car that can rock gently from side to side. Long term enthusiasts may recognise the concept as being a close relative of the Frequent Faller, an Interactive Rides creation that was supposed to premiere at at Hersheypark in 2005. There are also some parallels with the Intamin ZacSpin and the S&S Free Spin, though the RES implementation has dampers and trim brakes to ensure that the experience remains family friendly.
The ride is best described as strange. The vehicles take just shy of a minute to ascend a twenty-eight metre high vertical lift, rocking gently as they go. The descent back to ground level takes around forty seconds, and while it is driven by gravity and momentum it feels too controlled for me to think of it as a roller coaster. Each descent is prefixed by a trim brake, and as a result riders never pick up much speed. The implementation seems a little rough around the edges, too; I was told to lift my legs on the last drop as the clearance between the car and the ground was perhaps a little less than it should have been. Though it's good to see a manufacturer trying something genuinely different I really can't see the Roller Ball becoming a bestseller.
My next stop was at Mesozoic Island, a Simworx Immersive Tunnel. Guests board a thirty seat vehicle in the vague shape of a truck, which moves slowly forward into the main showroom where it tilts and rocks in time with the action on screen. The footage in use today was probably best described as "generic dinosaur", and while the projection could have done with being a little brighter it was respectable enough. The only thing I didn't like was the ending, which was extremely abrupt; without any warning at all our vehicle apparently reversed into a shed, going from the middle of a thrilling chase to a dead stop in two seconds flat.
Three hours and change later I'd arrived at Koaland, a small family park in south-eastern France just four kilometres from the Italian border. My target was a Wacky Worm that was photographed in a state of partial assembly in July 2017, its parts visibly covered in bubble wrap. On my last visit to the park eleven years earlier the coaster had been run hourly regardless of the queue length, and difficulties with parking resulted in my missing the dispatch at the top of the hour. I was mentally prepared for a delay, but I need not have worried; today the interval was a much more manageable fifteen minutes, which was just long enough to buy the required ticket. My three lap cycle in the back seat was unusually noisy but pleasant enough.
It was only when I went through my photographs a few days later that I realised that the Chenille had a manufacturers plate that looked very much like the one on the older coaster, and after some investigation I found a shot from a fellow enthusiast that confirmed my suspicions: the so-called new ride was in fact the old one, presumably taken apart for refurbishment. As such I'd spent almost two extra hours in the car for the privilege of riding a pathetic credit I already had on my list, another timely reminder (as if it were needed) of just how ridiculous coaster counting actually is.
20th July 2019
Antibes Land is unique among the French summer funfairs in that it opens each day at 5:00pm, a full three hours ahead of most of the competition. My guess is that the early start time is to capture people departing the enormous water park on the far side of the road, but regardless as to the actual reason it represents a significant boon for enthusiasts with multi-stop itineraries. There were no more than twenty cars in the lot when I arrived shortly after opening, though that changed quickly; by the time I left ninety minutes later it was completely full with a queue of vehicles waiting at the entrance.
Much of the park consists of temporary attractions from the French fair circuit, though there are also a number of rides that stay on site all year round. One example of the latter is Wild Mouse, a pristine Mack Wilde Maus Classic with bright red track and an illuminated sign in English instead of the more usual German. I'd somehow assumed this to be a refit of the machine that has been touring France foryears, but Senyo badges on the cars made it clear that it most definitely wasn't. Research has since revealed it to be the unit that I'd ridden fourteen years earlier at the late and much lamented Expoland. Today it was running very well indeed; there was no trim braking prior to the first big drop, resulting in some particularly dramatic airtime.
My second stop was at Turtle's Coaster (#2719), an EOS Rides Crazy Twister that was added to the park last year. The ride has deep blue track and turquoise supports, a colour scheme it shares with around forty metres of decommissioned rail nearby that was once part of a suspended dark ride. From a distance it looks like the two rides are the same, which is certainly eye catching, though I'd argue that money invested in polishing up the remnants of the old hardware would have been better utilised on taking the parts out entirely. Digressions aside, the coaster was mediocre in the extreme; the tracking was bumpy, there wasn't much spinning, and there was a horrid slam to the side in the final turn.
I next went to the Pomme, which was being run today with an extra-special feature: all passengers were being given modelling balloons, which could either be wedged into the handrail on the front of each car or freely wielded. I'd never expected to see a ride operator handing loose objects to members of the public as they boarded a coaster, yet the action was somehow unsurprising in the country that developed Pouss-Pouss. The three lap cycle in use today was just long enough for him to fill another batch of balloons from an air pump on the station platform.
My last hit was Psychos, a permanently installed dark ride that has been a fixture of the park for years. Passengers climb into cage-themed vehicles with no doors or restraints, a definite hint that the hardware dates from a simpler time. Most of the layout can be found within a two storey rectangular building with a floor area of around 450 square metres, though there is a semicircular extension on the upper level that doubles as a convenient photo point for enthusiasts.
20th July 2019
It took the expected three quarters of an hour to drive from Antibes Land to Lunapark Fréjus, and my timing turned out to be just about perfect; the gate for the enormous parking lot was opened no more than thirty seconds after I'd pulled up in front of it. The evening light was ideal for photographs facing north and east, and given that I decided to spend the first twenty minutes of my visit roaming the park with my camera.
The single most photogenic attraction present today was Magic Mountain, one of three known examples of the Top Fun Typhoon, and the only machine of its type in Europe. Some years ago the original pink track was repainted with an alternating black and white pattern in its inclined loop of death, and the result looks absolutely spectacular. Unfortunately no amount of polish can save what is fundamentally a category one turd. I'd have attempted some on-board shots had the ride not done its best to kill me back in 2008; instead in the interest of self preservation I decided to limit myself to pictures from ground level. As a fun aside, the trains for this ride have a prominent warning label telling riders to "hold on firmly to your head; brutal attraction".
In due course I found myself back at Crazy Mouse (#2720), a standard model Reverchon machine that was added to the park in 2009. The ride was a replacement for the Grand Huit, and it occupies the same spot on the western boundary of the park adjacent to the Chemin de Villeneuve. The ride was pure vanilla until the last few seconds, where I noticed a slight difference; the airtime hump on the bottom level was around half its usual height. This tiny tweak was arguably an improvement as it delivered a gentle float without throwing me into the lap bar.
One of the temporary attractions at the park this season is Tokaido Express, a Pinfari powered coaster that has been touring around France for a long time, initially under the ownership of Kiener and more recently with Landgraf. The programme in use tonight was ridiculously long, spanning more than twenty laps; the operator evidently figured that he might as well leave the power on until such time as there were enough guests in line for the next dispatch. The ride was fine, though a bit on the dull side; four or five laps would have been more than enough.
My last target was the park's smallest coaster. It wasn't possible to pay cash for Train Gourmand; boarding required a red or a blue token, and the required pieces of plastic could only be obtained from a booth at the park entrance some two hundred metres away. I decided that it was worth the effort to renew my acquaintance with what I believe to be the only Big Apple manufactured by SDC. The family layout lacked the speed and thrill of the manufacturer's most successful design but it was enjoyable nevertheless.
20th July 2019
Fatigue had begun to take its toll by the time I arrived at Azur Park, but a brisk walk from the car to the park entrance helped shake off the worst of the cobwebs. King was in its usual spot at the eastern end of the ground, and I decided to make my way there first on the extreme off chance that the trains might have gotten their old lap bars back. Needless to say this proved to be optimism well beyond the point of foolishness. One look at the dire over-the-shoulder restraints was enough to persuade me to give the ride a miss; those unfamiliar with the horrors they inflict are encouraged to read the report I wrote last year.
The one decent coaster in the park as of this writing is an almost new Reverchon Crazy Mouse (#2721) with brown track, an unusual hue that is nevertheless effective in a park that generally only operates after nightfall. I completed the obligatory lap before wrapping up my short visit with a three lap cycle on the Pomme.
20th July 2019
My final hit for the evening was Funny Land, a children's park located close to the beach in La Seyne du Mer, across the bay from Toulon. It was just past midnight when I arrived in the area to find it crawling with policemen, apparently due to an enormous and raucous party taking place on the nearby Plage des Sablettes. Parking was a bit of a challenge, but in due course I found a spot and made my way into the park. Grand Huit (#2722) had a standard Caterpillar-themed train akin to what one sees on most Wacky Worms, though the ride itself was the infinitely superior Super Dragon layout. I enjoyed a three lap cycle then made a rapid exit.