When I first visited Parc du Bocasse back in 2006 it was a pleasantly landscaped family park with a ride selection geared primarily at younger audiences. The 40,000 square metre land bank included just one roller coaster: a respectably large but not particularly intense Soquet mine train. There was very little to draw in visitors from outside the immediate catchment area, and indeed a review of the date information on Coaster-Count suggests that only a handful of enthusiasts had visited by that year.
Sixteen years later the park is scarcely recognisable. In 2015, a twenty thousand square metre expansion moved the entrance across the road from the original area – the top half of the map pictured above – with a Zamperla spinning coaster anchoring the new space. In 2017, a large custom log flume was installed nearby. In 2019, the mine train was upgraded and partially enclosed by Universal Rocks, the Portuguese company better known for the elaborate landscaping around Taron. The pandemic might have been expected to put the brakes on further spending for a while, as indeed it did at many other parks around the world, but management decided otherwise – in 2021 the park put itself on the map for real with the installation of a 453m Vekoma Suspended Family Coaster, taking the records for both the tallest and the fastest roller coaster in Normandy.
Investments like this cost money, perhaps explaining why the gate price today was €24, an uplift of 42% in just five years despite a faltering worldwide economy. Having said that, if the crowds we saw were anything to go by there’s likely scope to extend this further; we waited around ten minutes to purchase tickets from the automated machines at the entrance on an overcast and cold Monday morning, and the line grew considerably while we were standing in it.
We decided against following the multitudes to the big new ride, instead beginning our visit at the back of the park with Pirate’s Coaster (#2982), a so-called Mine Vagon manufactured by Preston & Barbieri. The ride consists of a tyre drive lift and a single descending helix, and in fact the only really obvious way to distinguish it from competitors (not least the SBF Vortex, the Gros Breeze, the L&T Systems Mini Coaster 17x10, and probably a few others I can’t think of at the moment) is the manufacturer’s stickers on the side of the car. We were given a three lap cycle, which was pleasant if two laps longer than really needed.
The walk towards more respectable attractions took us past Speedy Gonzales, and as there was no queue we decided it’d be rude not to do at least a token lap. The first drop had a pleasant lateral force to it today, but the rest of the layout was extremely sluggish to the point that I seriously thought that we we were going to valley. In hindsight it might not have been the smartest idea to put two adults in the back of the train before the wheels had had a chance to warm up!
Our next stop was at Apiland, a dark ride starring hundreds of animatronic bees. My trip report from 2017 regretted the lack of soundtrack on what was otherwise a top notch attraction, which in hindsight turns out to have been a serious misjudgment. The audio was playing today, and after six repeats of the tune I found myself longing for the chart-topping excellence of Disney’s It’s a Small World, or for preference the creative and imaginative lyrics of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. Different portions of the layout had slight variations of the theme, but the changes were not enough to appropriately dismember the ear-worm. Readers retracing our steps are advised to wear ear protection (and possibly noise-cancelling headphones).
We disembarked and headed directly to Fort d’Odin, the park’s mine train. The ride formerly known as Train de Mine now starts with a partially enclosed lift hill covering roughly half of the ascent, and the rock work continues on the left hand side all the way to the apex. I wondered briefly whether the variance might be for noise abatement, but that seems unlikely; there’s scarcely any sound from the drive mechanism, and there are lots of trees between the track and the nearest building which is around a hundred metres away. The initial descending helix and drop is out in the open, but the second helix has now been fully enclosed and is the better for it, upgrading the experience considerably. The tracking today was butter smooth, as befits Soquet; I’d gladly have ridden more than once if the queue had been a little shorter.
One curiosity of the experience today was the presence of two photographers standing within feet of the track, one working from a tripod and the second roaming free. I’m unclear whether they were there to shoot publicity materials or photos on behalf of guests, but in either case I couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit of jealousy at the unique angles they were able to achieve, coupled with a tiny bit of incredulity that they were allowed to be in a live ride area during routine park operations. One can only assume that insurance requirements in France are somewhat more relaxed than in other countries; one misstep could have led to a very nasty accident.
The final stop for the morning was Orochi (#2983), which we fully expected to become the best coaster of the day. We were not disappointed. The world’s newest Vekoma SFC is a piece of precision engineering that is flawlessly smooth no matter where you sit. Perhaps it was my imagination, but it seemed like this model was slightly more forceful than its predecessors; the first drop in particular was powerfully intense in the back seat. I particularly liked the way that the ride had been installed in a valley, giving unique visuals both for riders and observers. I stopped at two laps only because I was hungry; I’ll be sure to do a few more laps on a future visit.