Futuroscope is the fourth busiest amusement park in France, just behind Disneyland Paris, Puy du Fou, and Parc Astérix. It has its own TGV station, several onsite hotels, and sixty acres of car parking – which, for purposes of comparison, is roughly 20% larger than the extended lot at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
I’ve known about the park since I was a small child. In my teens, I pestered my parents relentlessly in the hope that they’d fit it into one of our summer holidays, albeit to no avail. By the time I was mature enough to travel independently my priorities had shifted towards locations with major roller coasters, and while the place remained on my long term to-do list I couldn’t bring myself to pay a premium ticket price (plus accommodation and transport) for a location without worthwhile credits. It wasn’t until 2020, after thirty-three seasons, that management decided to correct this lamentable situation, and plans for a long overdue trip were finally put into motion.
My first impression on arrival was that I was visiting a money tree. In a break from the local norm there was a €9 charge for car parking in addition to the €48 admission fee, yet despite this the park was absolutely heaving with people. Within an hour of opening there was a wait approaching ninety minutes for every major attraction, and while Premium Passes were on sale (€30 for five rides, €79 for unlimited) we decided instead to be selective. We didn’t get to do everything as a result, but I’m still more or less convinced this was the right call – for all the ballyhoo about the park, there are only so many simulators you can do in a day before you run out of enthusiasm.
We began our day with a short walk to Objectif Mars, a launched coaster from Intamin with spinning cars. The ride has a strictly enforced 1.95m (6’4”) height limit, and anyone who appears close to that has to be measured and issued with an official wristband before they are given access to the queue. This was a vaguely amusing novelty; I’ve seen minimum height wristbands many times over the years, but a special wristband for outsized grown-ups is a new one. (For what it's worth, I’d argue that a limit this low on a brand new attraction represents a design failure; it really shouldn’t be a big deal in this day and age for a non-extreme coaster to accommodate those up to 2m/6’6” or so.)
The ride has an extensive outdoor queuing space that had yet to fill for our arrival, allowing us to head directly into the main show building. The route took us through a series of upside-down rooms designed to resemble the interior of a spaceship, the most interesting of which was a bathroom with a toilet and bathtub (complete with rubber duck) attached to the ceiling. We then continued into a room with a green screen against one wall and TVs on the other showing us overlayed into a rendered martian landscape. This led into an upper level balcony looking down on the ride station, giving everyone in line plenty of time to assimilate the boarding procedures prior to it being their turn.
The main portion of the ride begins with a series of short pre-shows, including a projected robot, fire effects, Tesla coils, and a launch scene reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise engaging warp. The train then rolls slowly around a corner onto a forward-facing tyre drive launch that provides just enough of a kick to negotiate a small airtime hill and a series of gentle turns. The official press release from Intamin suggests a top speed of 55 kilometres per hour at this point, though it definitely doesn’t feel that fast, perhaps because much of the route is a few metres above the midway. In all honesty this portion of the ride would be largely forgettable were it not for some gentle spinning, which adds immeasurably to the overall experience.
The best moment of the entire layout comes immediately after the second tyre drive launch: a forceful low-to-ground turn taken at considerable speed. A few more airtime hills follow before the train comes to a stop in a themed tunnel with the telltale label of “Gravité”. The enthusiast in me immediately realised what was coming, but I was apparently one of the few. An abrupt five metre drop a few seconds later triggered a cacophony of vaguely terrified screams, which morphed smoothly within seconds into paroxysms of laughter. We enjoyed two laps, and would likely have done more if the queue had been a little (okay, a lot) shorter.
Virtually all of the attractions at Futuroscope are installed inside eye-catching and architecturally interesting buildings, and Arthur, l'aventure 4D is a fine example. The enormous glazed cube with angled reflective panels on all sides was first constructed in 2000 to house Le Défi d’Atlantis, an IMAX cinema installed in front of four 25-seat simulators. The original attraction went through a €6 million overhaul and rebrand at the end of 2009, re-emerging under its new name with upgraded Cobra motion bases from UK-based Simworx. The end result is well presented, but the jaded enthusiast in me found the whole thing a bit homogeneous and dated. The motions were quite violent in places, too; Europa Park had a much better idea when they decided to tell the Arthur story using an inverted powered coaster.
At this point George suggested we should return to the front of the park and tick off Balancier (#2989), a Sunkid Heege Butterfly. There was a twenty minute wait to board, and while standing in it I realised something interesting: the old fashioned red bucket pictured on RCDB had been replaced with a new vehicle of the rounded design found on post-2015 installations. I thought for one brief moment that I might have discovered an undocumented new-for-2022 ride, annoying coaster counters throughout the world, but it seems not; the track clearly wasn’t new, and the control box still featured a 2006-vintage specification plate. My guess is that the previous vehicle was replaced to better fit in with the park theme.
Our next hit was La Machine à Voyager dans le Temps, a unique and rather interesting custom dark ride. The storyline is based around the TV series Les Lapins Crétins (Idiot Rabbits), who have somehow come into possession of a washing machine that can travel through time. There was a clear Back to the Future influence in the design, which featured a red/yellow/green display showing different dates and times on it. The motion system, provided by ETF, comprises groups of interlinked cars that face into the centre of the building, and these move slowly through a series of scenes that effectively blend projected backgrounds with foreground scenery. (Readers should bear in mind that this ride has a single rider line that got us on board in ten minutes, versus a reported ninety in the regular queue.)
Our favourite attraction of the day, aside from the coaster, was L'Extraordinaire Voyage, billed as the first flying theatre in Europe and the most technically advanced ride of its kind. The hardware was supplied by Dynamic Attractions and consists of a 110 ton ride unit in front of a 20 metre wide screen, coupled with scent and moisture effects. There are also a series of pre-shows centred around an imagined airline office and departure lounge. The main show is generic, but well-presented and definitely one of the better examples of the type; I’d love to do it again in a few years.