I'd intended to spend the night at one of the Europa Park hotels, as I've done on previous trips, but the rates on offer at reservation time were well beyond what I was prepared to fork out for a single room in late September. Instead I booked myself into the Holiday Inn Express in Ringsheim, about five kilometres away, and in so doing saved over two hundred euro. The theming in my "cell" was austere in comparison to the Hotel Santa Isabel, but that hardly mattered; after all, as all rooms look the same when you're asleep.
The park has moved all ticketing to its web site for the duration of the pandemic. I'd bought admission a few days ahead of time using my mobile phone, and had the requisite barcode ready to show, but for whatever reason it wasn't recognised by the system. A member of staff spent a good thirty seconds trying to scan it from various angles before giving up and confirming the reservation manually. The problem prevented me from using the Virtual Line facility in the park app, though that wasn't a huge embuggerance given my short agenda. I considered trying to sort it out at guest services but decided on reflection that doing so would probably burn more time than it would save.
A sensible enthusiast would have made the most of rope-drop to get to one of the big ticket rides ahead of the multitudes, but I resolved instead to take advantage of the early-morning calm for some unobstructed photographs of Ireland. The park redesigned its existing Children's World to resemble the Emerald Isle in 2016, and did a magnificent job. The whole area looks the part, but nowhere more so than a row of shops that would not have been out of place in any small countryside village in Cork or Kerry. There was even some Gaeilge; a crate of glasraí and another of feoil could be seen next to a barrel of Jameson. (As an aside, the designers were not hobbled by corporate branding unlike a well-known American park, and thus there was no "we proudly brew Starbucks" on the signage of the Irish pub.)
The main attraction in the area is Ba-a-a-Express (#2884), an sixty-seven meter long Children's Roller Coaster manufactured by ART Engineering GmbH. The layout is broadly oval shaped, with a gentle S-curve placed between the tyre-drive lift and the turn back towards the station. Those who count their credits will be thrilled to discover that the single five-car train has more space in it than many adult coasters, representing a rare treat; the lives of unapologetic CreHos would be greatly simplified if all rolling stock was this spacious. The station floor folds away as the train dispatches for a very pleasant three lap cycle.
With the coaster out of the way my next target was Piraten in Batavia, a new dark ride built to replace an attraction of the same name that was destroyed by fire in May 2018. Officially the reconstituted experience closely resembles the original design from 1987, though the reality is somewhat different; the ride now features projection mapping, scent machines, and a variety of Easter eggs to amuse serious enthusiasts, including an animatronic version of Roland Mack and a boat containing the few pirates from the original ride to survive the inferno. Though not quite at the level of Shanghai Disneyland the experience is still well up there with the very best dark rides in Europe; I went for a second lap and spotted a number of things I’d missed the first time round.
From almost thirty years the park was home to Eurosat, a space-themed indoor coaster designed by Franz Mack. It closed at the end of 2017 for what was nominally an upgrade, though it's probably fairer to describe what followed as a complete rebuild; when it emerged a year later as Eurosat: CanCan Coaster it had a new theme, new trains, new track, and minor layout adjustments to improve rider comfort. It was also fitted with a second station and entrance, allowing an upcharge virtual reality experience without impacting regular throughput. (While I've decided against counting the ride a second time, that's just my opinion; as ever, please do whatever you like with your own list.)
The waiting area for the new/old ride has been given a comprehensive French theme. The entrance passes under a replica of the Moulin Rouge entrance, including the famous windmill, and continues on into a room with a chandelier and red fabric suspended from the ceiling. Original costumes from the cabaret are presented in a display case, along with a replica of the hand from the Statue of Liberty. The queue felt much larger than I remembered from the original ride, and sure enough Google Earth shows that the building received two extensions during the overhaul: one for the new queue and the other for the second station.
The ride begins with a slight right turn and a pause in front of a dark ride scene with popping champagne bottles. Moments later it engages a rotating barrel lift, albeit one that looks quite different to times past: the base sections feature stylised Parisian buildings, and the upper section has a model of the Eiffel tower. The soundtrack during the ascent owes much to the techno-dance anthem of the original, though it has been performed by an orchestra rather than digital instruments, giving it a more refined tone. The theme continues until right before the peak, when it is drowned out by a triumphant rendition of La Marseillaise, coupled with a French-language countdown of cinq, quatre, trois, deux, un.
The main portion of the ride is a high speed chase in near darkness punctuated by illuminated dancers, hot air balloons, windmills, comedy street lights, and other assorted paraphernalia befitting the theme. The visuals work pretty well, though for me the real star of the show is the famous tune from Jacques Offenbach; the frenetic rhythm fits the experience beautifully, to the point that I found myself wondering why nobody thought to use it on a coaster previously. While some may lament the loss of the space theme that they grew up with, the overall experience has been markedly improved and sets the ride up for the next three decades.
The final entry on my shopping list today was Snorri Touren, a tracked dark ride added to the Scandinavian area of the park in 2019. The five hundred square metre underground space was hollowed out when the area was first built, though until recently it was used for storage. The ride has an underwater theme built up using a mix of projections, static scenery, basic animatronics, and lighting effects. Most of the experience is perfectly decent, if generic, but there's a treat at the end: each car spends about twenty seconds in front of what the designers refer to as a dome projection: a moving base effect that bears more than a passing similarity to a flying theatre.
With around two hours left in my time budget I decided to make my way across to Arthur, a highly themed dark ride masquerading as an inverted powered coaster. There was a wait to board due to enhanced cleaning procedures, but in due course I was able to take my seat for a single top notch lap. As noted in my 2015 report this is a ride for people who appreciate intricate scenery rather than one for people who just want to do roller coasters; in fact I'd suggest that the overall experience would be better if the high-speed outdoor section could be replaced with more theming.
I'd more or less decided to wrap up my visit with a lap on Silver Star when I noticed the entrance to Eurosat Coastiality, and I decided it was worth handing over €6 to discover the exciting world of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. A small queuing area was decorated with models and posters from the movie, though I had just seconds to appreciate it as I was called forward into a staging area. In here there was a video pre-show in German talking about an important undercover mission for the United Human Federation, subtitled in both French and English; I didn't follow it closely but I gather that I was supposed to save the Mül Transmutator.
After placing all loose items in a free locker I was handed a headset, which an operator thoughtfully switched to English mode for me. The experience has been enhanced over previous VR coasters in that guests put their headsets on before entering the ride station, and keep them on throughout the boarding process. This free roam capability worked remarkably well, despite it looking more than a little strange for those watching. My favourite feature was the way that it enabled some interesting visuals: an enormous creature of unspecified provenance consumed a large number of people outside the building window while our group waited to board. Once on the train the ride experience is generic space, albeit with much more elaborate visuals than would be possible in the real world. I enjoyed it, though it'd be remiss of me not to admit that it left me with a mild headache; while VR technology continues to improve it will be a few iterations yet before the virtual world is entirely convincing.
I decided after disembarking that I'd like to do Eurosat: CanCan Coaster once more in standard mode, and that was the right call; my back seat lap was if anything even better than the earlier one had been. With that complete I took advantage of the empty queue on Geisterschloss before heading for the exit.