I decided to do a thirty-six hour stopover in Mumbai on the way home from a business trip to Singapore. This was considerably less insane than it sounds; the City of Dreams is more or less on the great circle route from Singapore to my usual transit point of Dubai, and I figured that I might as well use the opportunity to return to Imagicaa at minimal cost. I caught a Friday evening service on Singapore Airlines that landed at 11:30pm local, which was just about perfect for my body clock; I got six hours sleep and woke up naturally about ten minutes before my alarm.
16th November 2019
Anyone who has ever travelled to India will know that road conditions can be a challenge, and nowhere is that more obvious than in Mumbai, which is generally considered to be the most congested city in the country. The local authorities are building a metro in a brave attempt to alleviate the chaos, and it looks like it might; though only twelve stations have been completed as of this writing daily ridership already stands at more than 400,000 passengers. The system is expected to have eight lines and two hundred stations by 2025, and expansion beyond that is already on the cards as planning is underway for lines nine through twelve.
No western visitor could ever hope to drive themselves around the subcontinent, and as such my day began with a prebooked driver collecting me from my hotel near the airport at 08:30. I'd expected the journey to Imagicaa to take around three hours, but it took just under two, perhaps because I was travelling on a weekend. The roads were for the most part in better condition than I remembered; the only real exception was the two kilometre stretch from the highway to the park, which was no fun at all with a full bladder. Fortunately it passed quickly enough.
In the run up to my trip I spent a frustrating hour trying to purchase park admission on the official website. This experience was not made easier by the fact that I had to enter all my information again each time a payment was rejected. All three of my cards were declined, and was only when I tried to use PayPal that I received a message stating that online orders were only available to those with Indian billing addresses. This limitation effectively means that the cheapest admission ticket (valid for one use of each ride) is unavailable to foreigners, though this is less of an embuggerance than it might be as most enthusiasts will want to do the coasters more than once.
I'd resigned myself to a lengthy queue on arrival, but I need not have worried as there were only two people waiting in front of me. That said, they still managed to take almost fifteen minutes to complete their transaction, mostly because they had no idea which ticket they wanted. The resort now offers a theme park, a water park, a snow park, an augmented reality park, a wax museum, and a handful of other activities, and though the conversation took place in the local patois it was obvious that they were being taken through each option in painfully precise detail. I used the time to double check my understanding of the theme park only choices, of which there are two at the gate: unlimited (which is what it sounds like) and combo, which includes a single fast track admission for the major rides and meals in the Imagica Capital restaurant.
It wasn't possible to buy the fast track ticket without the food, but after brief contemplation I decided that the INR 700 (~€8.81) supplement was pocket change in comparison to what I'd already spent on the day. I explained what I wanted, handed over some cash, and was promptly handed eight separate pieces of paper: a lunch voucher, a dinner voucher, an express ticket, a park ticket, a receipt, a wristband, a discount voucher for the gift shop, and a coupon for one week of free access to an e-learning portal. This struck me as pure insanity; surely it should have been possible to embed most if not all of these into the wristband. (I had a quick look at the buffet but decided that it wasn't for me; to be blunt, it looked much like it would have done after a few hours in my digestive system.)
The park is open each day from 10:30-20:00, but readers should be aware that it operates with what is euphemistically described as a "green initiative to conserve electricity and resources". That colourful verbiage is a marketing manager's way of saying that the rides that cost the most to run operate with extremely limited hours. The most heinous example as of this writing is Rajasaurus River Adventure, which is open each day from 15:00-17:00, but it is not the only one; a quick review of the official website lists off ten attractions that are available for no more than half of each business day. This might be forgiveable on a weekday out of season, but there is no excuse for this type of carry-on on a weekend when the park is busy.
I decided to begin my visit with a walk around the park. In due course I found myself at the coaster formerly known as Bandits of Robin Hood, an IE Park JR 30 that suffered a serious accident in early 2014. The rebadged Chhota Bheem: The Ride opened for a brief period in 2018 after standing idle for five years, but closed again soon after. It was cycling empty trains for the duration of my visit, though a collection of plants in the queue and crime scene tape made it clear that it wouldn't be opening any time soon. Later on in the day a member of staff asked me what I thought of the park, and I used the opportunity to ask what was happening with it; he told me that it was "coming soon", which was as much as I could get on the subject.
My first coaster of the day became Hot Wheels Nitro, a B&M floorless machine updated with Mattel branding in October 2018. The only obvious changes were a new sign over the entrance and monogrammed over-the-shoulder restraints, a relatively poor showing compared to what was done with Hot Wheels SideWinder. The track was in need of fresh paint today, but I'm glad to report that the ride quality was not impacted; my back seat ride was every bit as good as I remembered. The operators were doing an excellent job at keeping throughput high; two trains were in use, and there was only a small amount of stacking. (The second train was transferred off later in the day after the crowds dispersed, but I can harfdly fault the park for that.)
I was at the front of the queue for Gold Rush Express when an Indian teenager barrelled past me and lodged herself in the front seat, smirking as she did so. As I was on my own I figured that this didn't need to impact me in any way; I took the one next to her and pulled down my lap bar before anyone could object, much to her surprise and the amusement of her friends. An operator told her to put her mobile phone away, but it came out again on the lift hill and was used to film a brief vlog before being turned to face the track. It looked for a few seconds like she might actually manage to hold the phone steady, but once the train got up to speed there was little chance of that; instead she captured a good minute of camera shake punctuated by piercing screams. (The ride was adequate, if not outstanding; once was ample for me today.)
I took the chance to renew my acquaintance with Alibaba Aur Chalis Chorr and Salimgarh before heading to I for India, the locally built flying theatre ride I enjoyed back in 2014. There was a preshow today that I didn't remember with prominent branding for Alcorn McBride Inc, and another less pleasing retrofit; after the theatre lifted to the heights we were treated to a two minute long advertising reel for e-learning products before the main footage began. Today the ride ended in a ridiculously abrupt manner; the footage switched from idyllic nature to the ride logo for a split second before going black. It would have been much better to have a controlled and thoughtful ending, perhaps with some footage of the park, but if that wasn't possible at least a gentle fade out would have been an improvement.
By the time my flight came to an end it was ten minutes short of the advertised opening time for Deep Space (#2846). I made my way there to find that around sixty people had already lined up in the outdoor queueing area. After brief contemplation I decided that I'd use my fast track ticket for my initial lap just in case, and that worked out better than I could have hoped; I was the first person into the building, and was able to claim the front seat for my introduction to what I fully expected to be the best coaster of the day. I'm glad to report that I wasn't disappointed; the experience was well up there with the very best space-themed coasters (and considerably better than some).
The train leaves the station into a sparse but effective dark ride section, featuring space suits, a technician at a console, dry ice and laser effects, and a launch tunnel with a countdown timer and chasing lights. After a brief pause the train is accelerated rapidly into a sharp right turn followed by a zero gravity roll to the left. An airtime hill and left turn prefix a corkscrew, a descending helix, another airtime hill, and a right turn onto the brake run. The tracking is completely flawless from start to end, and though the experience could do with being a little longer that constitutes a very minor nitpick for a ride that would place highly in coaster polls if it were somewhere a little more accessible to the world's enthusiasts.
That said, it would be remiss of me not to record the fact the operation procedures in use today were ridiculously inefficient. There were two twelve-seat trains on track, which in principle should have allowed a dispatch every ninety seconds or so for a capacity of 960 guests per hour. Unfortunately only a dozen guests were being allowed into the building at a time, and that was happening no more than once every ten minutes, reducing theoretical throughput by more than 90%. It'd take a blind man to miss this; there were no guests in the station when I disembarked at the end of my first lap, and though I rejoined the queue immediately it was quite some time before the next group was admitted. As if that were not enough, the ride closes intermittently for a "safety check" which reduces throughput yet further. One can only assume that the cost of six launches per hour was determined to be excessive forcing staff to come up with novel ways to keep the electricity bill under control. Over the course of the next three hours I managed three more laps, all of them in the back seat, and while they were uniformly excellent I should easily have managed twenty or more in the available time.
I'd had plans to grab a snack in the park's roller coaster restaurant, but discovered that it no longer has one; Roberto's Food Coaster has transformed into Roberto's Food Court. The themed food choices were also gone from the Red Bonnet American Diner, and though I was still able to get a hot dog it was passable at best and definitely not worthy of the superlatives I lavished upon it back in 2014. With that done I wrapped up my day with Rajasaurus River Adventure, a combination dark ride and water splash. Virtually all of the layout was enclosed: a lengthy journey through a warehouse full of animatronic dinosaurs prefixed a lift to the heights and a mostly enclosed drop with a design heavily influenced by the Jurassic Park ride at Islands of Adventure. I decided to buy a poncho given the lengthy drive ahead of me, and this was the right call; there were water sprays in the dark ride area, and the final drop was drenching; I was the only person in the boat who didn't end up dripping wet.
16th November 2019
It took three hours to cover the ninety kilometre distance from Imagicaa to the Infiniti Mall Malad, where I'd hoped to finally tick off the IE Park looping coaster that I missed on my last visit to the area five years ago. Sadly it was once again closed for maintenance; the train was tied up, and brake skids were resting on the ground. My consolation prize was a very nice meal in a Chinese restaurant that was advertised as offering the "most authentic" cuisine (in the manner of places like Jimmy Chungs and Panda Express). There was a definite local influence in the flavours, but that just added spice to the experience (pun intended).