There was a time in my life when a 4:00am wake up call for a day of coasters was absolutely fine. These days I am less enthusiastic; while getting up early isn’t completely awful, it is definitely far less palatable than it used to be. It took me three quarters of an hour to get out the door this morning despite having packed everything into a backpack the night before – but I was lucky with traffic lights and arrived at the airport only a few minutes after my planned 5:00am.
Fast-track security left me just enough time to pick up a meal deal in the departure lounge on my way to the gate, which I reached a few moments before priority boarding was called. In the world of Ryanair priority simply means that you’re at the front of a queue of people waiting on a staircase listening to final calls for other flights, but on the plus side it did at least mean that I had space available in the overhead bin. This proved invaluable today as I’d found myself in a middle seat between two very large individuals. Fortunately the flight on EI-EGB was only an hour and change.
4th November 2021
The first week of November is half term in Belgium. This is both good and bad news for travelling enthusiasts. On the plus side, the parks are open on weekdays; on the minus side, they tend to fill to capacity. Walibi Belgium was completely sold out over the last weekend in October, and while tickets were still available for today it’s fair to say that the park was utterly rammed; all the adult coasters had wait times of at least two hours within an hour of opening, and some even stretched beyond that. There was also an enormous queue to get through Covid checks at the entrance.
In the interests of having a half decent day we elected to splash out €45 per person on a Speedy Pass, giving unlimited fast track access to everything except the newest coaster, which was limited to one lap, presumably in the hope of keeping the queue for it under some semblance of control. The park also offered an €85 pass which added Hallowe’en mazes to the above, but those were not important to either of us; we’d have done them if we’d been travelling with others who wanted to, but were definitely not inclined to pay extra for the privilege. Speedy Pass proved its value ten times over; I doubt we’d have been able to do more than three or four rides in the entire day without it.
Our plan was to start with the major new coaster, but having power-walked back to the ride entrance we learned that it wasn’t open yet due to the low ambient temperature, a balmy 6 degrees celsius. Signage elsewhere in the park revealed a scheduled opening at 11:00am. Rather than wait, we walked the long way around the park to Fun Pilot (#2974), a Zierer Force 190 family coaster and the seventh example of the type, premiering ten years, one month, and twenty-two days after the original made its debut at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. We enjoyed it; the seats are large enough for adults to ride without issue, and the footprint is large enough to avoid too much introspection. The plane-themed train was running a two lap cycle today, which was perfect as it saved us queueing up a second time.
Stop number two was at Tiki-Waka (#2975), a custom-layout Gerstlauer Bobsled added to the park in 2018. I’d ordinarily have made the effort to experience this when it was new, but decided not to after the park announced a multi-year expansion plan with the biggest coaster in the Benelux to come. The ride had good points and bad points; I liked the way that it routed above and around the park midways, but this came at the cost of having a layout that lacked the semi-expected mouse turns. The top of the lift led straight into the first drop, which used a little less than half of the available height due to the positioning; in fact the vast majority of the descents were stunted due to walkways underneath. The ride was perfectly respectable, but definitely not in the same league as G’sengte Sau, Aqua Wind, et al. We took a second lap because we could; both journeys were in the back half of a car.
The park’s big new ride this year is Kondaa (#2976), an Intamin creation that is probably best described as a not-quite-a-hyper coaster. Its headline stats are broadly equivalent to Goliath at Walibi Holland, though the difference in ride experience belies that fact; while Goliath is a good ride, Kondaa is an exceptional one that takes everything Intamin has learned over the last twenty years and packages it up into an attraction that is well up there (pun intended) with the very best coasters in Europe – if not quite to the level of Zadra.
For our first lap we elected to join the regular queue, as there was no reason to burn our only line jumping pass before the multitudes arrived. There was no choice of seating available; an operator directed us to row six. My immediate reaction was of a varied and interesting layout, albeit one that was somewhat less aggressive than I’d been led to expect. In hindsight I suspect this to have been because we were on the fourth train of the morning on a cold day. A back seat around two hours later was something else entirely, delivering an aggressive thrill that I could happily have sat on all day. A final ride later in the day using our Speedy Pass ended up in row three, which was again very good if not quite as dramatic as the back had been, suggesting that this is a back seat ride. By the time we disembarked the queue was 140 minutes, stretching well beyond the designated area (see below), and while I'd have loved a fourth lap we decided that the wait was longer than we were prepared to deal with. (It’s worth noting that the operators were keeping two trains moving efficiently without stacking; the wait was simply due to demand.)
The next stage of our day was more or less identical to my 2016 visit, comprising a lap on the Challenge of Tutankhamon dark ride (complete with bonus scene at the end) followed short order by Psyké Underground. The renovated Schwarzkopf Shuttle Loop remains a top notch attraction nearly four decades after it left the Münsterhausen factory, and a full eight seasons after Gerstlauer replaced the launch mechanism. The only real problem is horrible capacity, exacerbated today by Speedy Pass users like myself; the ride dispatches every 3 to 4 minutes at best, and that’s definitely not optimal for a big park on a busy day. I found myself wondering whether it might be practical to retrofit a sliding transfer track mechanism similar to the MrFreeze rides in the US; two train operation would help a lot, and it’s fair to say that the modern launch system can reset a lot more quickly than the original flywheels.
We would up next at Popcorn Revenge, a trackless shooting dark ride using video screens rather than physical sets. This was designed by Alterface and premiered in 2019, though it didn’t garner a huge amount of attention at the time presumably due to it being targeted at families. The experience is more or less equivalent to Toy Story Midway Mania and Maus au Chocolat, though with a unique theme: a Bollywood movie theatre that has been taken over by hyperactive popcorn monsters. The individual rooms are linked around a central hub, with vehicles moving in and out of them in sight of others. I liked this a lot, though I’m not sure whether it’s something I’d bother doing multiple times. The wait time today was showing as 50 minutes; I can’t imagine it’s that long on a normal day.
There were two other worthwhile coasters on our list today. First up was Loup-Garou, one of the two remaining Vekoma wood coasters. Rather than wait for a front or back we decided on seats in the middle of the train. I’m not sure how to describe the tracking today except to say that it felt very different to other wood coasters, perhaps because of a different wheel compound? There was some bouncing and a few moments in the layout that were on the violent side, but on the whole this was a good ride running well.
With that done, we finished our visit with an enjoyable lap on Calamity Mine.
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