The final full day of my trip began with exceptionally inclement weather, a delightfully American turn of phrase with a down-to-earth Irish equivalent: a great day for the ducks. This colloquialism. amusing as it might be, is predicated on a rather questionable assumption that anatidae appreciate having water land on them. I'm not convinced; further research may be warranted, perhaps leading towards an Ig Nobel prize. This would not be without precedent; the ceremony has recognised related science in the past, notably a 2022 paper on how ducklings swim in formation.
It had been a rough night. A series of thunderstorms kicked off in the early hours of the morning, and continued for several hours. Every few minutes a terrific crash would shake me from what passed for slumber, and as a result I was more than a little groggy when my alarm began to chirp at 8:00am. It was tempting to stay in bed; the view out the window was dispiriting, with grey skies, heavy rain, and limited visibility suggesting that the day was going to be a write off. Fortunately the worst of the conditions cleared while I was having my breakfast.
The sun had come out by the time I arrived at Adventureland Iowa, though banner signage at the entrance made it clear that operations would be limited to "selected attractions" in the dry park; the water park would not be operating. While no specifics were available, I guessed (correctly) that management would have prioritised their newest attractions, including my target roller coaster. All three of the park's wood coasters were closed for the duration of my visit, along with Phoenix; fortunately I’d ticked all of them off on previous trips.
My visit began at Flying Viking (#3091), a Zamperla-built family coaster that wraps around a separate flume ride. The designs for both were created for Luna Park NYC and premiered there in September 2022 after a pandemic-induced eighteen month delay. The layout doesn't do an enormous amount, but the comfort level is well ahead of previous Zamperla installations, making it a respectable enough addition to the park. I completed three laps, one in the front and two in the back, and noticed no difference between locations.
I next made my way over to Monster, which for me remains the best coaster in the park and a definite contender for the best coaster ever built by Gerstlauer. The ride looked somewhat different to my last visit, as the Sky Ride that used to thread the middle of it has been retired, but other than that the experience was unchanged. The one point of note came from the operator handling grouping; when someone in front of me said “it’s not that scary, right?” he responded with a “nobody’s died this year!”. Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot? Are memories that short?
Later on I took a lap on the park train, from where I could see the remnants of the Raging River ride that killed Michael Jaramillo and seriously injured six others in July 2021. Crude black plastic shields obscured some of the site from view, though not completely. What I could see looked very overgrown; part of me hopes that a memorial will be built in the space once the various legal processes have run their course, as was done following the similar accident at Dreamworld.
Lost Island Theme Park
12th July 2023
Lost Island Theme Park is a privately-owned facility that opened its gates for the first time in June 2022. It was developed by the Bertch family, operators of the nearby Lost Island Water Park, with the primary goal being to create an amenity for the local population. The family have stated on record that the investment in the water park will likely never be recovered, but that the business is cashflow positive, and that they hope to achieve the same with the theme park in due course. They've got a way to go at the moment primarily due to low visitor numbers; there were less than a hundred people in the park when I visited on a sunny afternoon in the height of summer, and online reports indicate that my experience was far from unusual.
It’s probably useful at this point to riff on the difference between amusement parks and theme parks. The former can be found all over the world; they feature rides and attractions, sometimes with landscaping around them, but most if not all rides stand on their own. The latter can also be found worldwide, albeit in much smaller numbers; their rides are augmented with art, sculptures, landscaping, music, and more to ensure a consistency of presentation.
Marketing departments the world over use the two terms interchangeably, doing a real disservice to actual theme parks. Some of the more egregious examples include Brean Theme Park, M&D Scotland’s Theme Park, Tropic Falls Theme Park, and Uncle Bernie’s Theme Park – all four of which are made up of unadorned rides on concrete. Enthusiast reports from Lost Island Theme Park indicated that it was one of the few locations with “Theme Park” in its name to actually deserve the moniker, and I’m thrilled to say I agree entirely.
During my visit I had the opportunity to chat with Eric Bertch on behalf of First Drop, the magazine of the European Coaster Club. He spoke very candidly about a lot of different topics, including about some of the challenges he's faced and some of the things he wished he'd known before building the park. The full interview will be published in issue 112 later this year; if you’d like to read it, then please become a member – you'll get six issues of our magazine, invites to club trips, and discounts for parks all round the world.
The park is divided into five realms, each of which has its own distinct architecture, culture, characters, and of course rides. Some of the differences are immediately obvious, such as the colour palettes and light fittings. Others are much more subtle, such as symbols on walls and engravings in concrete. There are interactive elements in places, and those who look around will spot in-jokes and fun references; to name just one, I noticed a bookshelf in a queue with a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lost Island.
I began my visit with Volkanu: Quest for the Golden Idol, a 4D trackless target-shooting ride manufactured by Sally Corporation. Virtually all of it can be found within a half-acre warehouse style building that is almost entirely hidden from the park itself; the average guest will only see an archway leading into the side of a volcano. This leads initially into a pre-show room, where a video explains the basic objective: climb into an Inferno Transport, and use your Thermal Equaliser to trap the evil Volkanu – described on the official website as a “fiery bat monster”.
A small queue area features atmospheric music and a humanoid animatronic explaining more of the plot and warning guests that they must help save the island – and (of course) that there’s no time to lose. Once through this the main section of the ride features a journey through a mix of elaborate physical sets, projections, animatronics, and even actual fire. The result is terrific, and raises the bar similar attractions around the world. It won an IAAPA Brass Ring Award in 2022, and with good reason.
Next for me was Matugani, an Intamin Launch Coaster formerly known as Kanonen. The rebranded ride has been painted in a bright shade of green, and it looks very well in its new home; the average visitor would never realise that it was designed for a rooftop on the other side of the world. The trains have been re-skinned, and the over-the-shoulder restraints have been softened with extra padding that mitigates against the neck-bashing that plagued it in its previous home. The tracking has also been smoothed out noticeably, and the result is great. The thumping heart sound effects before the launch have not been transplanted, though that represents a very minor niggle in the grand scheme of things.
I took a quick ride on Shaman’s Curse, a Zamperla Disk'O coaster operating a lengthy cycle. The ride looked to be the most popular flat in the park; every time I walked past it there were people on board. I also enjoyed the Alzanu’s Eye wheel, placed perfectly for photographers at the centre of the park. There was no issue with single riders which was a relief, as I had the entire ride to myself.
Nopuko Air Coaster is a Vekoma SLC with bonus helix that once operated at Ratanga Junction. The extended model never got much traction in the market, with justfourotherexamples, all produced in the late nineties; Lost Island Theme Park has the only one in North America. The original trains have been replaced with new examples featuring soft shoulder restraints, and there’s no question that they’re a major improvement over what came before, though it’s fair to say that the result is…. well, it’s still an SLC. For my visit the operators were advising oncoming adventurers to sit towards the back for a smoother ride. I wasn’t brave enough to try a front seat lap for comparison, but I can report that in the back row the comfort level was above average for the genre, coming in at more shaky than painful.
Another major attraction is Skyborne, a S&S Turbo Drop relocated from Buffalo Bill’s Resort and Casino in Nevada. A themed queuing area tells the story of the ride ahead of your journey on an “experimental” air transport, a nice juxtaposition given that the ride is the original (prototype) of the now-ubiquitous S&S product. It runs very well, too, with a nice pop of airtime on the descent.
With the major coasters out of the way I made my way to Lokolo (#3092), a SBF Visa Wacky Worm with a custom train. The park decided against a standard caterpillar design, believing it to be “nightmare fuel”, and I can’t say I disagree with that. Ordinarily I'd feel just a tiny bit self-conscious when riding one of these on my own, though not today; the only person in sight was the operator. I noticed a QR code taped to the top of the lift hill, though I never did figure out what it was for.
I loved Lost Island Theme Park. The ride selection has something for everyone, and the overall standard of presentation is top notch. The park is not without its flaws, most notably a lack of shade, though that will come in time as the hundreds of trees that have been planted grow out. The second-hand SLC is also less than ideal, though as ever with such attractions enthusiasts can take comfort from the fact that it will inevitably take people out of the queues for the better rides.
The main challenge the park will have in the near term is growing attendance to a point where the bills can be paid. Numbers have been on an upward trajectory for a while, but will need to increase quite radically in order for the park to survive in the longer term. The population in the immediate area is below 70,000 – and as such, the focus will have to be on pulling in visitors from further afield. Management believes that the potential catchment area includes cities such as Chicago, Des Moines, Minneapolis, and St. Louis, but persuading people to get in their cars will not be easy, especially when all of those cities have amusement parks.
As a long term enthusiast I value theming, presentation, and experience – but selling the product to the average Six Flags patron won’t be easy. I hope the park figures out how to do it, as I'd love to visit again at some point. I'll keep my fingers crossed.
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