Travel Note

27th September 2020

I'd intended to spend the last two days of my trip chasing down secondary credits in Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, but decided to change plans after F.L.Y. soft-opened on 17th September.

In an ordinary year I'd have scheduled a separate weekend trip in the run up to Christmas in order to give Phantasialand time to resolve any technical gremlins with their new ride, but that wasn't a realistic option with the COVID situation deteriorating. The switch cost me three parks and three alpine coasters, and added quite a bit of additional time in the car, but was absolutely worth it for a chance to experience what I'd argue to be the most exciting new coaster of 2020.

 

Potts Park

27th September 2020

My morning began with a two hour drive to Potts Park from an overnight hotel in Bremen. The gate had already opened when I arrived a few minutes before the advertised 10:00am, and as there were no other guests in sight I made the most of the opportunity with my camera. It was only during this exploration that I discovered the bad news: the key attraction on my hit list was not due to open for an hour and the new generation Butterfly was padlocked. After a few minutes of wandering I acquired an apfelschorle and took up station on a comfortable bench to wait.

Sabelsaurus

In due course a staff member turned up with the key for Säbelsaurus (#2900), allowing me to claim the tick on my fiftieth Sunkid Heege Butterfly and my tenth in as many days. I am not ashamed. This version had quite a nice theme, with skeletal remains constructed over and around the track and a custom-designed car. With nothing else to do I rode twice, once in each direction; the usual self-start technique worked fine the first time, and a passing operator did the honours for my second cycle. (At the time of my visit I believed the ride to be credit #2901; it was only about ten days later that new information about a relocation bodged my numbers. This type of nonsense is precisely why sensible people don't count coasters; if I'd known what was going to happen I'd have saved the worthwhile ton-up for Phantasialand. C'est la vie.)

The main reason for my visit today was Turbo-Drachen, the world's only abc rides Dynamic Swing Glider and a machine that I missed by a few weeks on my last visit to the park in August 2009. The experience is probably best described as an inverted powered coaster: while the three-seat vehicles have a speed control lever, I found that it had no subtlety whatsoever; the motor was either on or off, with the exception of the last fifty metres of track where a control system limited the maximum pace to that of an arthritic tortoise crawling uphill during an avalanche.

The hardware differs from the newer Wiegand product in a number of ways. To start with the positive, the cars have the ability to swing from side to side, and this motion is facilitated and indeed amplified by a layout consisting almost entirely of turns. There are no restraints whatsoever, a definite boon to those of us who are perhaps a little larger than the designers anticipated. On the negative side, they are enclosed along the lines of the original Arrow Suspended coasters, renewing a fundamentally obsolete concept not seen in the wild since the last new Caripro Batflyer premiered in 2001.

The overall experience needs to be reviewed based on the fact that Potts Park is geared at families, and it scores highly on that basis. I'd have preferred a more energetic top speed and a larger height differential, but both constitute relatively minor nitpicks for what stands as a perfectly respectable attraction. Bonus points are earned for the fact that the installation isn't an eyesore: the track and supports are dark green and blend into the landscape. The most distinctive feature of the whole area is a retired Nord Noratlas aircraft that ties in nicely with the overall theme.

The only other attraction on my agenda was Potts Blitz, a Zierer Force Two that will shortly celebrate its thirtieth birthday. The installation was the debut for the type, opening a full five years before the first clone, yet despite its prototype status it has held up remarkably well. The train has a unique aviation theme with spinning propellers that looks great.

 

Phantasialand

27th September 2020

Before the pandemic struck it was quite normal for all but the smallest hotels to leave their front doors open to the world so that potential visitors could explore at will. The team at Phantasialand have taken an entirely different approach with the new-for-2020 Hotel Charles Lindbergh: a solid black and gold door and no external windows ensure that the aviation-themed secret society masquerading as a guesthouse is off-limits to all but those with advance bookings.

Charles Lindbergh

I left my car in the dedicated lot located across the road from the park's "Berlin" gate, and made my way to the entrance where an unassuming doorbell summoned a member of staff. The door was opened just wide enough for me to to show my reservation, and it was only after that hurdle was passed that I was allowed see what lay beyond. Instead of a traditional lobby I found myself in a narrow corridor lined with a faux luggage reclaim, the contents of which looked to be at least a century old. A left turn from there brought me to a check-in area designed to resemble an old-fashioned airport, and it definitely looked the part. Today it was also home to some unintentional authenticity: a fifteen minute wait while the two guests in front of me discussed their life stories with the long-suffering staff.

My check-in process was considerably quicker, with the only minor delay caused by missing English language paperwork. I was handed a guidebook, postcards, a two day park ticket, and most importantly of all, a pair of fast-passes for the new coaster. My room wasn't ready, but a luggage storage facility was available and a casual glance indicated that I was definitely not the only person making use of it. The only minor embuggerance was that all the sensible dinner times were fully booked due to my late arrival. I was left with a choice of 6:15pm or 9:00pm, and decided to go for the earlier of the two believing (correctly) that it would give me a chance to capture completely unobstructed photographs of the private bar and dining areas for my collection.

A dedicated walkway runs from the hotel lobby into the Rookburgh area of the park, passing within a few metres of shiny new coaster track. Readers should be aware that it is exceptionally slippy when wet; while I admit to have been slightly distracted as I walked along, I really didn't expect my feet to go out from under me on a perfectly flat surface. The resulting crash-avec-métaphores-colorées caused vaguely horrified staff to materialise from all directions, but fortunately the only serious injury was to my dignity. For the next week a bruised coccyx reminded me of the importance of watching my step.

F.L.Y. (#2901) is the first new Vekoma Flying Coaster to open in more than a decade, and it represents a coming of age for the both the manufacturer and the genre. The first generation Flying Dutchmen were interesting rides but suffered from inconsistent track fabrication, and while the second generation was significantly better the compact Stingray failed to find its niche in the marketplace, with only a single installation in 2009 that has since been retired. The Achilles' heel of all four versions was in the loading process, which was convoluted and slow, and the not-infrequent breakdowns could leave riders on their backs for extended periods.

F.L.Y.

The latest hardware is to all intents and purposes a return to the drawing board. Riders now climb into what looks at first glance like an ordinary floorless coaster car. There are only two unusual features: ankle restraints and track located behind the vehicle rather than underneath it. The seats remain in their upright position for dispatch and a brief projected dark ride section; it is only after this that they rotate ninety degrees just as the track rolls to the left, placing riders in flying position without even the slightest break in motion. This effortless transition is a triumph of engineering, and unequivocally superior to every other flying coaster in the marketplace today. Moments later a bank of LSMs accelerate the train to an unpublished but eminently respectable top speed.

The track has been integrated into the surrounding theming in a way that has never been seen outside of a Disney park. Building interactions happen almost continuously, with the train weaving above, below, around, and through – never getting more than a few metres away from the nearest obstacle. At the half way point a second bank of LSMs power the train to its highest point and onwards into a curved spiral drop that is the very essence of perfection. The layout from start to end maintains a steady level of intensity and thrill that is on the family-friendly side of extreme, but no worse for it: the idea is to convey the sensation of flight, and the design achieves that with aplomb. Towards the end of the course the seats rotate back into an upright position before coming to a smooth stop in the brake run, followed a few moments later by a short journey to a dedicated unload station.

One interesting feature of the installation is the mandatory lockers. These are free of charge and embedded into the queue, and there are enough of them to ensure no impact to throughput. Access is via a RFID wristband which is handed out on the way in and returned on the way out: a simple and straightforward setup that is several orders of magnitude faster than the fingerprint-and-favourite-colour system so beloved of American parks. Compliance is confirmed using a pair of arch metal detectors which fit the flying theme rather nicely. I'd have liked to have been allowed to wear my strapped glasses, but this was refused on the grounds that the train passes over many different guest areas. (I'm given to understand that this policy has since changed; I hope to make the most of it on my next visit.)

Over the course of the afternoon I completed three laps. I'd have loved to have done more, but as other writers have noted the ride has an higher than normal nausea rating triggered by the unique riding position. This is a very minor observation, however, and definitely not a criticism; as far as I'm concerned F.L.Y. is a top ten ride, and as I type these words I genuinely can't think of a better roller coaster in Europe. Phantasialand and Vekoma have produced a masterpiece, and hopefully more will follow in due time. A crop-dusting example themed to potatoes would be a fantastic addition to my local park, not that I expect that to happen any time soon!

Chiapas

I caught a quick ride on Maus au Chocolat en route to Chiapas, an Intamin flume that I'd missed out on on my last visit to the park due to a failed water pump. This was another top notch ride, featuring indoor and outdoor sections, turntables, forward drops, backward drops, and a soundtrack covering almost the entire route. There were two standout moments for me: a section featuring stone carvings lit up by disco lights, which is probably better experienced than described, and a steep fifteen metre drop followed by an airtime hill. The splashdown at the end filled both of my shoes with water; readers retracing my steps should probably aim to keep their feet in the middle of the boat.

My next stop was at Taron, a coaster that was (until two weeks ago) regarded as the star attraction at Phantasialand. I'd only managed a single underwhelming lap on this on my previous visit due to a lengthy queue, but today it was walk-on presumably because most guests were congregated in the new area. The ride was a great deal more forceful than I remembered, delivering right up until ten seconds before the end when a trim brake bled off much of the speed. I also enjoyed a two lap cycle on Raik; at the end of lap one we were dispatched a second time without the floor coming up.

I decided to finish my day with the ride that the park officially labels as its "Russian water roulette". River Quest is arguably the most unique rapids ride ever created, with sideways movement, a steep drop, and a whirlpool. Today's outcome, to quote the official signage, was sie werden nass bis auf ie Haut und darunter, fully justifying my decision to get the ride out of the way with a hot shower and a change of clothes located close by.