In late November I decided to book a day trip to England for two fairs, one located in London and the other in Reading. Heathrow was the most convenient airport for both destinations, but the flights were outrageously expensive, costing over €300 for the round trip, which at this time of year is not far off what it costs to visit the United States. After some investigation I found a one way flight into Southend for just €9.99, which I paired with a return from Gatwick that was only marginally more. (As an aside, those planning their own adventures in the greater London area could do far worse than Southend Airport, as it has its own train station with an hourly service to Liverpool Street, and its small size makes it infinitely preferable over the hellhole that is Stansted.)
In the interests of sanity I decided against doing a same day return journey, opting instead for a single night in the Holiday Inn Southend. This decision proved more than a little fortuitous, as my flight was almost two hours late due to an ongoing air traffic control strike in France. The apologetic crew explained that they'd picked up the delay on an earlier rotation to Malaga, and any irritation I might have felt melted away when I saw just how exhausted they looked. The delay cost me some sleep, but that was a relatively minor embuggerance in the grand scheme of things; passengers heading into the city had a far worse time as they missed the last train of the night.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
7th December 2019
I'd intended to start my day at Reading Winter Wonderland on the basis that it would be a quick hit, but upon reflection decided to swap the order around so as to avoid the worst of the crowds. This worked out better than I could have hoped; though guest volumes increased steadily during my two and a half hour stay at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland the only queue that I saw was for the security check at the entrance when I was leaving. A friend visiting a few hours after me mentioned that he'd had to wait for the better part of an hour to get in, to which the words "foxtrot tango" seem appropriate.
One huge perk of being early was a private ride on Olympia Looping, which today was operating with a single seven car train (with four more on the transfer tracks). It was tempting to take the back seat, but the forces were never going to be at their best without the weight of other passengers and given that I decided I might as well claim front. The sensations were excellent as usual, and I'd have stayed on for a few more laps but for the fact that it was £9 (~€10.89) a go. (Towards the end of my visit I returned for a back seat lap in a full train that was everything that I hoped it would be, though I think I still prefer the front for the view).
New this year is a Big Apple with an identity crisis. Family Coaster (Manning) (#2844) has a huge illuminated sign with its primary name, though the fascia and a banner behind the lift hill call it "Crazy Clown". Unusually for a British-owned ride the basic hardware is augmented with some theming, in this case a fiberglass giraffe in a cage (to be sure to be sure?) that stands adjacent to the lift hill apex. The experience today was a little sluggish, but that was perhaps forgivable given that I was on my own for what was probably the second or third dispatch of the morning. During my three lap cycle I noticed the operator pouring an industrial quantity of WD-40 on the station rails.
My third hit was Ice Mountain, the themed enclosure which this week featured as its guest coaster (with apologies to Messrs Hislop and Merton) the ride formerly known as Fantasy Mouse. The four seat cars were spinning unusually well today, though as ever the experience would have been better if there were fewer holes in the tent.
Also new this year is City Star (Göbel), a seventy metre high Ferris wheel from Dutch manufacturer Mondial that claims to be the tallest transportable ride of its type, though this is the subject of some debate; online sources suggest that the Star of Puebla may be somewhat taller even though the Guinness Book of Records claims otherwise. Regardless of statistics, however, one cannot but be impressed by the scale of the machine which travels on sixteen trailers and can be built up in just four days. It must make serious money at peak times, given the £11 (~€13.31) ticket price and forty-eight cars seating six passengers; a quick back of the envelope calculation based on a five minute cycle suggests the gross income on a good day could exceed £38,000 (~€45,980) per hour. The view from the top was excellent, if not photographer friendly due to glare from the glass windows.
I also enjoyed laps on Wilde Maus XXL and Dr Archibald: Master of Time, the latter operating with an English language soundtrack that compensated slightly for a calibration issue with my VR goggles. The imagery was quite a way off center, though after the first ten seconds I realised I could solve the problem by sitting at a thirty degree angle. I flagged the problem to an operator on disembarking, though I'm not sure whether anything was done.
Reading Winter Wonderland
7th December 2019
I met up with my brother and his partner for some traditional English cuisine before catching a train from London Paddington to Reading, a journey of around half an hour. From there it was a short walk to Forbury Gardens and Reading Winter Wonderland, a small selection of amusement rides set up alongside a skating rink. My sole target was Happy Caterpillar (Bills) (#2845), a Güven Rides machine operating a two lap cycle. The restraint bar on this unit was unforgiving, and while I was able to close it without issue I could see it presenting a problem for more corpulent readers.