Vulcania is a geological theme park located roughly 15km west of Clermont-Ferrand in the very centre of France. It is one of those places that is only really accessible by car; the local airport serves domestic traffic only, and the fastest train from Paris takes three and a half hours and terminates roughly 40 minutes away. Having said that, I’d encourage all enthusiasts to make the effort required to get there, as the park is great – it has pleasant landscaping, a variety of interesting attractions, and most importantly of all, a top notch roller coaster.
It’s worth stating up front that the park is not large. I’ve no idea what the official guest capacity figure is, but at present at least there are only a few attractions with both pulling power and sufficient throughput to soak up large crowds. Today we left our car in P2, but saw signs going all the way up to P26; if all available spaces had been in use then the wait times would have been exponentially longer than the fifteen minute peak that we saw. Those with the flexibility to do so should probably avoid visiting during the summer holidays.
Our morning began with Namazu (#2991), a custom-designed family coaster from Intamin that opened to the public in July 2021. The ride is named after a giant underground catfish found in Japanese mythology (where else?) that is believed to cause earthquakes. In deference to that, the queue routes through a five minute long seismic event simulation that is well-presented, but not the sort of thing anyone will feel the need to endure more than once. Unfortunately there’s no way to bypass this after the first, second, or fiftieth watch – which is a shame really; I’d have ridden far more than three times without it.
The layout begins with a left turn out of the station into a room with a gratifyingly brief pre-show. After a few seconds of increasingly excited video footage the floor appears to crack, triggering a two-stage vertical drop: an initial descent of around half a metre, followed by a more substantial fall that connects with a tyre drive launch below. The speed of the acceleration that follows hasn’t been published, but it’s enough to push the train through a climbing left turn and an airtime hill over what for ease of description can be thought of as a midway. Most of the route from that point onwards hugs the ground, though there is a brief climb after a set of booster wheels that is presumably there to trigger a rollback in the event of a misfire. (As an aside, there was a strong agricultural smell covering the second half of the course today; I suspect a temporary deployment of cows in an adjacent field.)
The rolling stock comprises two six-car trains that bear more than a passing resemblance to the quad bikes introduced on Juvelen; the only real difference is a lurid yellow grille designed to resemble an obnoxiously garish 4x4 of the type seen throughout the American mid-west. I found that the front was the place to be today; while the forces were stronger in the rear the overall comfort level wasn’t as good thanks to some distinct vibration. Readers should be aware that staff were not allowing guests to wait a cycle for a preferred seat if there was an empty available elsewhere, though I was able to dodge that potential embuggerance by disavowing all knowledge of both French and English. I never expected the phrase an bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí an leithreas would come in useful in my adult life; sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
As of this writing the coaster is the only major attraction at the park to be located (mostly) outdoors. Everything else of consequence has been installed within a 12,500 square metre building designed by Hans Hollein, an Austrian postmodern architect most famous for creating the Haas-Haus in Vienna and the Museum fur Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt. Some 60% of the space is below ground level in a crevice created by a lava flow from the nearby Puy de Dôme, a volcano that last erupted approximately 10,700 years ago. An artificial volcano and geyser-shaped fountain are the only architectural elements visible above the surface.
Our first indoor hit became Premier Envol (First Flight), an attraction best described as flying theatre without the actual flying. Guests were asked to stand on one of five motion base units which rocked gently in time with spectacular natural footage tracking a bird flying through the sky. The projection was spot on, and noticeably sharper than that seen yesterday at Futuroscope, but any vague hope of realism was thoroughly kiboshed by the abstruse choice of hardware.
Our next stop was at Dragon Ride 2, a Triotech XD Theater complete with manufacturer’s branding on the back of each seat. The movie, which premiered in 2020, follows Henri de Dragoniac on a journey to find several elemental dragons. There was a pre-show prior to the main movie, comprising projection mapping effect on what looked very much like bedsheets: a novelty, but nothing more than that. (The original Dragon Ride used the same hardware, but presented a different movie; I couldn’t help but wonder whether it’s possible to run the old programme occasionally by changing a setting in the computer. Perhaps we’ll get a Dragon Ride 3 at some point.)
Virtually all of the video footage used at the park, including that used in both of the above attractions, was supplied by Studio AmaK, a local firm that has made its name producing bespoke visuals for amusement parks in France. It was scarcely a surprise to find Abyss Explorer in their portfolio too. This ride simulated a submarine descent using a motion base in a room with large rounded windows showing projected footage. At the end of the movie guests exit into a room with high ceilings that is presumably intended to simulate the ocean deeps. It’d be churlish not to give this attraction points for effort, but it’s fair to say that it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
The most technologically impressive attraction at the park is Volcans Sacrés (Sacred Volcanoes), an ETF Systems Multi Mover trackless dark ride that brings visitors past six of the most famous volcanoes in history: Devils Tower (USA), Ol Doinyo Lengai (Tanzania), Vesuvius (Italy), Bromo (Indonesia), Fuji-san (Japan), and Kilauea (Hawaii). Each is presented alongside animatronics, projections, scent, and smoke effects. The experience is very good indeed, and well beyond what one typically sees in smaller parks, though it’s a pity that the layout doesn’t make better use of the trackless system; it is only in the final room where the vehicles finally start to follow a non-linear path. A little more imagination in the programming could easily upgrade this to a solid ten out of ten.
We also found our way into Reveil des Geants d’Auvergne (Awakening of the Giants of Auvergne), another multidimensional theatre – I wonder if there’s a world record for the number of theatres in one park, and whether it’s held by Futuroscope or Vulcania. There was a water and air spray unit clearly visible in front of each seat in a little box, which I’ve never seen before; strategic positioning of my finger ensured that I didn’t get even remotely wet, and yes, the innuendo here is entirely intentional. The movie demonstrated what it would be like if various volcanoes were to erupt, and it was very nicely done; this was easily the best of the video attractions.
The last stop of the morning was back outdoors. The Forêt des Dragons (Dragon’s Forest) is a walkthrough comprised of animatronic creatures of all descriptions. It is a good ten minute walk from everything else, and really isn’t worth the effort unless you’re trying to get your daily step count up. There are photographs and videos online that cover all that you’ll ever need to see.