Readers who have been around this hobby for a while will be intimately familiar with the many operational foibles of Holiday Park; inefficient procedures, abstruse regulations, and lackadasical customer service have all featured regularly in enthusiast trip reports over the years. This writer hoped that things might change after the business was sold to the Plopsa Group in 2010, but if the experience today was anything to go by, that hasn't happened.
My morning began with Holiday Indoor, a relatively new and very well-themed area that can be thought of as a scaled down version of the main halls at Coevorden, Hasselt, and Kownaty. The building contains a selection of playground equipment backed up by three rides: Bauernhof Karussell (Carousel), Mias Elfenflug (Zamperla WindstarZ), and Tabalugas Achterbahn, a Zierer Force Two coaster. My excitement at seeing no queue quickly evaporated when it became apparent that there was also no train, giving me my first missed coaster of the trip. It would have been nice if this maintenance had been advertised on the park web site, as I'd have gone somewhere else if I'd known.
Instead I made my way across to Expedition GeForce. The ride once considered the best coaster in Europe used to have two trains, but the second (with orange bodies) hasn't been seen in action in several years. There are three different possible explanations circulating on the Internet: it has been sold to another park, it is kept backstage for busy days, and it has become a parts donor to keep the first serviceable. The latter seems the most plausible to me, though it's important to be clear that this is speculation; all I can say with certainty is that the transfer track was empty today.
As usual there was a distinct lack of urgency in the loading procedures. After boarding there were separate passes for seatbelt and lap bar checks, both of which took far longer than they should have done. All guests were required to wear medical masks, which was good to see, but I was considerably less impressed when I was refused permission to wear my strapped glasses; why one item wrapped around the head is okay and another is not is anyone's guess. I managed two laps, both in the back row, and while the airtime was superb, strong vibration induced a low-order headache that prevented me doing any more. By my reckoning the staff were managing a dispatch every 8-10 minutes, and while the park wasn't particularly busy a little bit of hustle could have doubled throughput even with only one operational train.
My second stop was at Sky Scream, a Premier Sky Rocket II that operates perfectly safely without the hideous discomfort collars that afflict many of the stateside installations. The better restraints make an enormous difference both to the overall experience and to the loading speed, as it's no longer necessary to contort oneself and ride defensively. The front seat queue was closed today but the luck of the draw put me there anyway for a superb lap that was butter-smooth and as close to coaster nirvana as I've gotten in a while. I thought about going back for a second round, but decided that anywhere else in the train would be anticlimactic in comparison.
With both operational coasters ticked off the only other ride on my agenda today was Burg Falkenstein, a dark ride with an omni-mover system produced by Mack Rides in 1987. The official theme is of a journey through the middle ages, and in deference to that visitors can see knights and fire spitting dragons, though for the average visitor it can still be regarded as a vaguely haunted house. The experience has held up remarkably well over the last three decades and change, especially since the interior hasn't been through a major overhaul; there are definitely worse ways to pass a few minutes.
An exit ticket is officially required to leave the car park, and it wasn't possible to buy one online ahead of time. I spotted a vending machine on my way out, but it was out of action with a sign pointing towards a guest services office. In there a haggard-looking member of staff was doing her best to help people while also dealing with inbound telephone calls and urging social distancing. The net result was a thirty-five minute wait to exchange seven euro for a small piece of paper, and to add insult to injury it proved unnecessary as the barrier at the exit gate was up.
I found myself thinking back to a story I heard in choir practice many years ago; when singing something difficult the most important thing is to get the start and end right, as nobody really cares about what happens in the middle. The theme park equivalent of this maxim is to ensure that the guest experience at the start and end of the day is as good as possible. The average visitor may not care about the closure of a second-tier ride for unannounced maintenance, but you can bet that everyone will be annoyed at having to wait for more than half an hour to buy parking tickets; management should be ashamed of themselves.
20th September 2020
Mehliskopf is kilometre-high mountain located in the Black Forest area of Germany, a little under ninety minutes drive from Holiday Park. The northern slope is home to an activity park and a respectably lengthy Wiegand Alpine Coaster that has seen quite a few changes over the years.
The original Bob-Bahn opened in 2001 with twelve turns and three tunnels along its route. In 2013, the height differential was increased from sixty to eighty metres, and a further two hundred metres of track was added to the descent, including a respectably large initial drop and a forceful descending helix that is quite a bit steeper than the norm for the genre. In 2018, the ride became the first of its type in Germany to offer optional Virtual Reality glasses, and while these are unavailable at the moment due to the pandemic they will presumably return if and when the world goes back to normal. The official website mentions two video choices: a western-style option inspired by Indiana Jones and a virtual world featuring canyons and the Great Wall of China.
The ride is proper old-school fun. The layout ensures that those who want to can pick up speed almost immediately. Better yet, the track isn't hobbled with the automatic brakes that ruin so many of the newer Wiegand installations. A full speed run from top to bottom lasted seventy enjoyable seconds, and I'd have done a second lap it the wait had been a little shorter.
20th September 2020
In the first few weeks of the Coronavirus pandemic many shops in my home city of Dublin imposed capacity restrictions with the aim of minimising virus transmission on their premises. This well-meaning idea was quickly abandoned after the powers that be realised that it was creating lengthy queues on footpaths that didn't have the space for them; in simple terms, keeping two metres away from those standing in line on a one metre wide footpath was a practical impossibility.
It was obvious on arrival at Sommerrodelbahn Gutach that management had failed to get the proverbial memo, as a staff member unceremoniously gestured me towards a narrow waiting area with no shade and minimal social distancing. The front was blocked by a rope barrier and a handwritten A4 sign that stretched well beyond the limitations of my non-existent German, though a variation of lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate would not have been entirely out of place.
After a quarter of an hour in situ I was allowed to continue forward to the ride queue, which began just behind the ticket office and stretched quite a long way around the facility. The official Wiegand website states that their products can handle five hundred guests per hour, and while that is arguably true, it assumes that a sled seating two will go out every fourteen seconds – something unlikely to happen all that often in the real world. Most of the sleds today were going out with a single passenger, and I ended up waiting just over forty minutes to board mine.
The Sommerrodelbahn is somewhat larger than its brother at Mehliskopf, with multiple lift hills and a height differential of ninety metres. Unfortunately I got caught behind a slow rider just seconds into my descent, and while I brought myself almost to a stop in the hope of letting her get clear this action gave me no more than fifteen seconds of full speed. A second stop was impractical as the person behind had caught up with me, and at that stage there was nothing to do but seethe as I covered the rest of the layout at little more than walking pace. Our chain had seventeen sleds in it by the time we reached the end of the track, resulting in a number of particularly colourful verbalisations.
I'd have loved to have gone back for a proper lap, but there wasn't enough time for me to do that without putting my planned stop at Funny-World at risk – and even if I'd been able to stay there was no guarantee that I wouldn't run into the same problem a second time. Wiegand really needs to come up with a workable solution for slow guests; three options I can think of right now include automatic track-switching, limits on braking, and if all else fails, a industrial-sized crematorium.
20th September 2020
Funny-World is a family park located just three kilometres away from Europa Park. The owners have wisely decided against competing directly with their better known neighbour, and instead have found their own niche: a collection of more than fifty attractions aimed squarely at children aged twelve and under. Virtually all are self-operated, ensuring that staffing costs are kept to an absolute minimum. This is reflected in the admission price of €11.50, which includes use of all attractions except the bumper boats, which carry a €1 up-charge to cover fuel costs.
The park is home to two separate lepidopterae. The first is Goldminen Express (#2882), an original standard model manufactured in 1995. Though unproven as of this writing the ride almost certainly began life in another park, as it is only known to have been in Funny-World since the mid-noughties. The most likely origin was Freizeit- und Miniaturpark Allgäu; RCDB indicates that all the other examples manufactured that year were still operating in their original homes at that stage.
The second installation was new from the factory this year. Adlerflug (#2883) is the seventh extra-large version of the type, with a maximum height of eight metres and a top speed of thirty-five kilometres per hour. Though I'd love to claim the experience as life-changing I'll be honest and admit that they all feel the same to me; perhaps a future installation will be large enough to make the difference unmissable.
The only other attraction of interest for me was the Oldtimer Express, an antique car ride routing past a fishing pond, fiberglass cows, and a few theme scenes. I completed the obligatory lap before deciding to head for an early dinner.
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