Walibi Holland is one of a number of European parks that hosts an annual "fan day" targeted at coaster enthusiasts, promising backstage tours, exclusive ride sessions, and other special privileges. This year's event was attended by more than five hundred people from across the world, including a large contingent from the European Coaster Club as well as at least one visitor from the United States who shoehorned it into a larger trip around the continent.
The morning began with a greeting from park management, followed by an hour to enjoy either Goliath or Lost Gravity. I hadn't expected to see the group dividing almost equally between the two choices, but having thought about it since it makes sense; both are top tier coasters, and while the Intamin machine will likely always have the edge for me the comparison is definitely a case of apples and oranges. If I were in a position to visit the park regularly I'd almost certainly have chosen the ride with the lower capacity for the exclusive time.
Goliath premiered back in 2002 as the tallest, fastest, and steepest roller coaster in the Benelux region (a marketing affectation to be sure, but a valid one nonetheless). The speed record was broken after a fashion at the start of this season when Fury ran a scant half a kilometre per hour faster, but the other two remain in place seventeen years later, reflecting just how far ahead of its time the design actually was. In its formative years the ride had green track and purple supports, though those hues have since been retired in favour of a more sedate but no less striking combination of royal blue and black.
There were far too many people in attendance for us to marathon the ride, but I was still able to clock up three laps in the available window, including both front and back seats. The front was definitely the place to be today, as the tracking was flawless and the wind-in-your-face sensation was perfect for blowing the early morning cobwebs away. There was a slight rattle in the middle of the train that became pronounced in the back row, and the powerful airtime in that location was not massively comfortable in the immediate aftermath of breakfast. (More corpulent readers should bear in mind that the seatbelts on this ride remain extremely unforgiving; at least one group member was unable to get theirs to close today.)
When the public began to arrive our group was escorted en masse into a field in the middle of Untamed (#2817), a new-for-2019 steel tracked conversion of the former Robin Hood manufactured by Rocky Mountain Construction. We had been expecting a question and answer session with park management conducted through English, though by the time I got there it had been swapped to Dutch in deference to the fact that the vast majority of attendees were local. Rather than listen in polite incomprehension I picked up a complimentary muffin and spent the time capturing a series of photographs showing the new ride from as many angles as possible.
In due course a group of us decided that we'd taken enough shots for the moment and made our way into the queue. The waiting area has been decorated by some of the support beams from the old ride, giving an interesting effect that is surprisingly eye catching. There are also a whole series of illuminated signs with the word "LOVE", a theming choice that as of this writing has yet to be officially explained. Three quarters of an hour later we got to the station, where we eagerly took our place in the middle of one of the two twenty-four seat trains.
The ride starts with a slight descent out of the station and a 180° turn to the lift hill, which in deference to the laws of RMC is banked in the wrong direction. The lift takes just shy of forty seconds to bring the train to the apex, which leads directly into a drop of thirty-five metres taken at an eighty degree angle. A slight airtime bump is followed by a so-called double inverting stall, a world first element that can be thought of as a pair of opposing barrel rolls separated by a directional change that occurs while the train is at ninety degrees to the ground. The rest of the route comprises a superb blend of direction changes, ordinary rolls, and sensible airtime that delivers brilliantly.
The ride experience was absolutely superb, and I'd argue it to be top ten material even in the less desirable middle seats. A second lap in the front row generated a whole different set of sensations: not better, not worse, just different. It would have been interesting to do a third lap in the back for comparison purposes, but that didn't happen in the end as we decided against hanging around for the evening exclusive ride session. Certain readers may blanch at this decision, but I'd do the same thing again; with more than five hundred attendees there was precious little exclusivity to be had.
We had a quick buffet lunch at Club WAB before joining the queue for Speed of Sound, an ageing Boomerang refitted some years ago with an upgraded train featuring soft vest restraints. These were a godsend; the ride was not running smoothly today but the lack of rigid horse collars rendered the overall experience pleasant enough. (Later in the day the ride soundtrack was switched temporarily to an old version for the benefit of our group, though I chose not to partake of this due to queue length; while I'm generally quite fond of music on coasters the tune on this one made little impression on me.)
Our next stop was at Drako, a thirty-two year old Tivoli that began its life at Zygo Park in France. I'd somehow managed to forget about the large shark fins in the seats that are perfectly shaped to emasculate. The ride was running a two lap cycle, and in all honesty I'd have been far happier with one. Regular readers of my ramblings will be aware that I often write about being given X laps more than needed; on this occasion it was definitely a case of X more laps than wanted!
All those attending the event today were given a single fast pass ticket, and we decided to use ours for a lap on Lost Gravity. The ride was running far better than in 2016; there was virtually no slow down in the mid course block brake, resulting in a superb experience from start to finish. Our car had six enthusiasts and two female members of the general public, and one of those was exercising her lungs for all they were worth. This proved absolutely hilarious; we connoisseurs of fine coaster track found ourselves laughing uproariously at this poor lady's misfortune while her companion looked on in profound embarrassment. I don't think I've had so much fun on a coaster in years.
At this stage we were treated to two separate photo walkbacks. My group ended up at Goliath first, where we got a range of interesting shots both of the ride in action, the lift hill mechanism, and of coaster enthusiasts in their natural environment (pictured below). The second stop at Xpress Platform 13 was of limited value in comparison as we were a little bit too close to the track to get good pictures, though having said that it was certainly fun to stand within a few feet of an operating coaster. I can only imagine what those on board thought when they saw hundreds of cameras pointing in their direction.
After photographing it extensively (and badly) I decided that it would be rude not to do at least one ride on Xpress Platform 13. I'd somehow forgotten the fantastic queue, which has crooked house elements and an apparent near miss with an approaching train. Unfortunately the ride itself doesn't live up to its preamble. The launch is great, but the tracking feels like other Vekoma products of the period: not what I would describe as rough, but also not what I'd expect from a top tier attraction. It would be interesting to see this layout (or a close variant) rebuilt with the new generation track and trains found on rides like Formula and Lech Coaster; I wonder if it will ever happen.