Parque Warner Madrid

29th December 2023

I set out from my Valencia hotel at 8:30am for the three and a half hour drive to Parque Warner Madrid. Virtually all of the journey was along the A-3 motorway, though I had to detour through a series of local villages towards the end in order to avoid congestion caused by an accident. I thought I’d timed things rather nicely as I approached the park a few minutes before opening, but I'd gone to the wrong place – a programming error had resulted in me navigating to the staff entrance (40.235, -3.578) located roughly five kilometres away by road from the guest entrance. Needless to say I responded to this with a discovery with a cheerful smile and absolutely no colourful metaphors whatsoever.

The park made its debut in 2002 with its own stop on a specially-constructed branch of the Cercanías railway. Line C-3a, built at a cost of €86 million, was a 15 kilometre stretch from Pinto to San Martin de la Vega that never became popular due to a combination of poor schedules and a required train change for anyone travelling into the city. The annual subvention of €3.3 million proved too high for an average of just 190 passengers per day, leading to its closure in 2012. The government at the time instructed that the infrastructure be dismantled, and while some materials were taken away the tracks were left in situ – so perhaps they will be recommissioned at some point in the future. But I digress.

My unplanned detour, coupled with a wait at the car park toll booths, meant that it was 12:15pm by the time I made it into the park. There were no printed maps available, but I followed my nose and in due course ended up at the back of a queue of perhaps one hundred people congregated at the entrance to Batman Gotham City Escape (#3104). The ride was having trouble waking up for the day (I can sympathise!) but empty test trains were being dispatched every few minutes which I took as a good enough reason to wait in place. In due course my patience was rewarded as the gate was opened, allowing both me and the multitudes into a designated waiting area.

I’ve written before about the Spanish approach to queueing, but I think it instructive to do so again, both to educate and because it’s cathartic for me to engage in a good rant. In brief, it is understood locally that one can be in a queue without needing to be there physically. Once you’ve taken a space in “la cola” you can note your location, go somewhere else, and return back behind the person who was in front of you at any time in the future. This individual can sometimes be a friend or family member, but they don’t have to be; anyone with a pulse will do, and it’s not a problem if you can’t find them later; it’s still entirely legitimate to rejoin where you think you should have been. This practice makes it impossible for the casual observer to gauge the length of a queue by sight.

There is without question a “when in Rome” approach that could be taken by foreign visitors, but it’s tough to pull something like that off when travelling on your own, and even if I could speak the language I’m frankly uncomfortable at the thought of pushing my way in front of others even when it’s a societal norm. Instead I’m choosing to adopt a twenty-first century approach to the problem by posting truculent verbiage on my blog. I’d put something similar on the site formerly known as Twitter but I can’t fit a proper tirade into the 280 character limit (and I don’t fancy directing unnecessary traffic towards Space Karen anyway.)

Batman

Recognising perhaps that queueing can be an ordeal, park management have invested in a paid skip-the-line programme – the Pass Correcaminos – that is heavily promoted. QR codes can be found on all ride signage, and direct purchase links can be found on virtually every page within the official mobile app. The most expensive pass includes unlimited access to most attractions with a 95% reduction in wait time, though (as of this writing at least) Batman Gotham City Escape is excluded. My immediate reaction to this discovery was positive, given my vaguely communist view that everyone should have an equal opportunity to enjoy new rides, but I soon realised the truth: one-shot passes were available and selling for an incredible €19, and if the visual evidence today was anything to go by the price point is not an enormous deterrent.

It was for me, mind. With the whole day to play with I decided I might as well enter the regular line, where I passed the time quietly counting the number of people pushing past me due to the inviolable rules of “la cola”. The final tally reached 57, extending my wait time by almost five trains, or for preference, about twenty minutes. I’d have been really irritated were it not for the fact that the nonsense ended with a good result: I found myself assigned to a front row for my first ride of the day. (I couldn't see the Pass Correcaminos entrance from the back half of the queue so I can't give an accurate number for that, but it was comfortably into double figures.)

Intamin’s recent LSM Launch Coasters have generally been well received by the enthusiast community, and I’m delighted to report that the Parque Warner Madrid installation is well up there with the best of them. Batman Gotham City Escape starts with a surprisingly aggressive launch that pushes the train up a small incline into a corkscrew filled with hang time. This leads directly to a second more powerful launch prefixing the ride’s signature element: a top hat lined with a series of trim brakes. When I first saw photos of this moment I thought it was a terrible idea, but I’ve changed my tune; from on board the result feels like a holding brake, giving those in the front a few seconds of sublime appreciation as tangled layout unfolds in front of them.

The highlight comes immediately after the ensuing drop: a powerful airtime hill that lifts riders right out of their seats. This moment is easily the most aggressive of any coaster in the park, being very reminiscent of what one associates with Rocky Mountain Construction creations – but it’s far, far better due to an exponentially superior restraint design. The result is brilliant, and something that (aging stomach permitting) I’d happily do over and over again. The reverse sidewinder that follows can almost be thought of as an opportunity for riders to catch their breath ahead of a second airtime hill that is almost (if not quite) as dramatic as the first. The train then continues into a pair of turns, a second (faster) corkscrew, and even though there’s still plenty of speed left, a LSM boost into the finale: a zero-gravity stall and vertical rollback that doubles as a brake run.

The journey is augmented by theming elements in key places and an onboard soundtrack that represents icing on what was already a delicious cake. The volume could have done with being a little louder, mind – I didn’t notice it on my first two rides (front, row two) and only picked it up on rounds three and four (both in the back) because I was really listening for it. The mechanical noise of the wheels, the LSM farts, and rider screams effectively drown it for all but those paying close attention, and I think it's fair to say that the average punter is unlikely to do that.

Batcave

The overall calibre of the experience is well up there with VelociCoaster; it’s a top tier attraction that is by some margin the best coaster I’ve ridden in Europe in recent years. The only real criticism I’d make relates to the pre-show, which – in two words – feels cheap. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by some of the other parks I’ve been to in recent years, not least Efteling, but I’d argue that the drawing room of Wayne Manor shouldn’t look like it was constructed on a budget with furniture from IKEA. A single TV up near the ceiling is used to narrate a story by showing a moving sound wave with subtitles and rendered graphics, and while there are a few visual effects (no spoilers here) this area could have been so much more than it is. I'm guessing that too much of the budget was spent on the rest of the queue: a respectable Batcave that appears to have been hollowed out of rock leads to a subway platform that bears more than a passing resemblance to the real thing.

With the new coaster thoroughly sampled I set about renewing my acquaintance with the rest of the park. I began with a quick circuit to ascertain the lay of the land, during which I discovered that Stunt Fall was in an advanced state of non-functionality. This was annoying, though it wasn’t as painful as it might have been had the ride been open as I already had the credit from my 2003 visit. I continue to believe that I'm one of the only enthusiasts on this planet to have ridden all six Giant Inverted Boomerangs (and two relocations), not that that’s anything to be proud of.

In due course I wound up at Hotel Embrujado, a twenty-one year old Vekoma Madhouse enclosed within a building that the park claims to have been inspired by the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. The connection seems somewhat tenuous to this observer, but leaving that aside, the theming inside is of a hotel falling into disrepair. The main show scene takes place in the dining room, which is set for a candlelit dinner. Despite the impressive appearance, however, the illusion effect really didn’t work for me today; it was very obvious that the room was moving separately from my seat. I also found that the restraint bar locked itself in an uncomfortably tight position, though this is perhaps forgivable given the accident in 2005.

My next stop was at Aventura de Scooby Doo, a Sally-built dark ride themed to the famous Hanna Barbera series. Seven versions of this attraction were built between 2000 and 2005, though the other six have passed into history; the four at Cedar Fair parks were stripped of their licensed theming in 2009, and the two Six Flags installations were retired in 2014 and 2018 respectively. The Spanish version uses trackless vehicles from ETF Ride Systems, with a unique design of gun with a fire button that doesn’t need to be released between shots. It was relatively straightforward to steer the laser beam towards targets, though I found that only a subset were registering properly today.

Scooby

I headed into the children’s area of the park in hope of finding another dark ride, and while my search was in vain I nevertheless took the opportunity to enjoy a lap on Correcaminos Bip-Bip, a Mack YoungStar Coaster with the layout developed in 2008 for Götterblitz. The operators on duty today were doing a superb job keeping two trains in circulation without stacking, something that was apparently impossible to achieve elsewhere in the park. The paint on the track had faded from its original deep red to a light orange, but aside from that the ride (and indeed experience) was exactly what I remembered: an excellent family coaster that I'd gladly have ridden more than once.

I also caught a lap on Tom y Jerry, a large format Zierer Tivoli that was the penultimate example of the type to come from the Deggendorf factory, premiering just two months before the final example opened thousands of miles away in Xetulul. I wasn’t altogether pleased to find shark fins in the seats, but the operators didn’t mind when I sat between two sets in the middle of the car, so no real harm was done. The ride was fun; it'll be a sad day when the last Tivoli goes to the great midway in the sky.

The former Wild Wild West was the fifth and final effort to come from the Roller Coaster Corporation of America, and in this case the word “effort” is pertinent. The ride now known as Coaster Express was comfortable enough in row two – I made a point of avoiding a wheel seat – but that’s probably the only compliment that can reasonably be given to it. The layout consists almost entirely of curved dips and helices, with nothing particularly steep. One solitary airtime hill towards the end does something, but it can’t make up for the fact that the other four thousand feet of track is (frankly) boring. It seems incredible now to think that this design came from the drawing board of Werner Stengel; it definitely wasn't/isn't one of his finer efforts.

Herr Stengel did a much better job on Shadows of Arkham, formerly Batman La Fuga – a B&M Invert rebranded to its current identity this year so that the Caped Crusader’s name could be repurposed for a newer coaster. Today the ride was being run with assigned seating, but the procedures were so slow that I’m really not sure why they bothered. Two trains were in use, but the first train invariably managed to hit the brakes before boarding had started on the second. For all that, the ride was great, delivering as expected for the type, though I imagine it'd have been even better if I'd been permitted to sit at the back of the train.

Assigned seating was also in use on Superman: Atracción Acero, one of just two B&M floorless coasters in Europe. The ride is positioned right at the southern boundary of the park, making it almost impossible to photograph from anywhere other than the water park (which doesn't operate in December due to low temperatures). Leaving that aside, however, the hardware has held up well; two decades after its debut it continues to negotiate a seven inversion course without even a hint of jarring. I found myself getting a little nauseous towards the end of my lap, a timely reminder that I’m not 20 any more, but I'm not sure I can blame the coaster for that.

Superman