Since the start of my career as a coaster enthusiast there have been a number of parks on my bucket list, including the obvious destinations such as Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Cedar Point, and Six Flags Magic Mountain as well as quite a few lesser known parks such as Bobbejaanland and Gold Reef City, and today's destination, Mirabilandia. As with all entries on the list the primary draw for me was the presence of a signature ride, namely Katun (#502), an inverted coaster considered by many to be one of B&M's finest. Our day began in the best way possible, with a one hour exclusive ride session.
The layout begins with a fifty metre high lift hill and a forceful first drop that is easily the best that I've come across on an inverted coaster. From that point on riders are treated to a series of well-paced inversions that are negotiated without even a hint of jarring, proving once again (as if it were necessary) that B&M are truly the masters of the inverted coaster. The comparison against the pathetically bad inverted coaster we rode yesterday could not have been more pronounced. The operators were keeping things moving efficiently, and as a result I was able to manage a total of nine circuits during our session. Afterwards, those not riding were led out onto the transfer track area with the operators stopping the loaded train in just the right location for the perfect group photo.
Most of the group decided to make their next stop at Niagara, a giant splash ride that looked like a lifesaver given that the temperature had gone well past thirty degrees. There was no storage area available to leave my camera and mobile phone, and I decided to break the habit of a lifetime and purchase a cheap poncho in the interests of avoiding an expensive accident. This drew ridicule from other club members, and honestly it was unnecessary, as there was a powerful braking system on the ride that stopped the boat in front of the impressively large wave. This would probably have made sense in the middle of winter (or in Ireland) but it seemed a bizarre operational choice for an Italian ride in the height of the summer months.
The stop was as harsh as it was unexpected, which I believe constitutes a serious safety issue. Most of our group (and indeed most people we saw) were riding with hands in the air for the drop, and were caught out in spectacular fashion as they were thrown hard into the lap bar restraint. Later in the day I heard that one of our group had ended up in the first aid facilities after taking the brunt of the impact in his stomach. We didn't see any warning sign advising riders to brace for impact, and it's debatable how effective such a thing would have been anyway; it'd be far more sensible to allow the boat to slow naturally as happens on other rides of this type.
I wasn't feeling massively enthusiastic about riding a L&T Systems wild mouse following my experience on a similar ride a few months ago, though my interest was piqued by the report on RCDB stating that Pakal (#503) had been upgraded with spinning cars for this year. Sadly this information proved to be out of date; though management had planned to introduce new vehicles the design never made it into production due to clearance issues. The standard cars were the same as those in America, but judicious use of trim brakes moderated the lateral forces without castrating the experience completely. The result was a ride that was thrilling without being painful. The only negative was a harsh final brake, but I was ready for it and it presented no real problem.
On disembarking, we headed straight into one of the parks signature attractions without even realising it. The unnamed maze is cleverly designed with numerous small paths not featured on the official map, and we got well and truly lost within it. It was almost ten minutes later when we wound up at Explorer, a standard layout Mack powered coaster upgraded with artificial rockwork tunnels. The ride was decent enough, with the only real problem coming at the end of the layout when the train began to slow while still on banked track, causing riders on the left hand side of the train to be squashed. It would have been useful to have signage warning children to sit on the right hand side of the train to avoid being crushed by their parents.
Our next stop was at the new-for-2005 Leprotto Express (#504), a L&T Systems Junior Coaster decorated with a large fiberglass cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, and other assorted rabbit food. The design features a physical footprint broadly equivalent to Mighty Mini Mega and a similar layout, albeit in scaled down form; the track length, maximum height, and top speed are all roughly one third reduced from the Pinfari. I'd been expecting very little from this installation, which might explain why I liked it so much; the experience wasn't thrilling, but it was fun, and at the end of the day that's what really matters.
Other club members had warned us not to expect too much from Sierra Tonante (#505), a thirteen year old wooden twister that opened as the tallest and fastest ride of its type in Europe. In an unusual move the park decided to commission rolling stock from local company SDC, and while this may have saved some money it was definitely a false economy; an awful restraint design and inconsistent tracking turned what should have been an exciting and thrilling ride into a brutally rough endurance contest that was well down there with the worst wooden coaster I've ridden. The only person in our group who wanted to ride a second time was Darren, and as nobody would go with him he ended up having to give it a miss. The ride would have been far better with trains from Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, though one doubts that management have the apetite for that level of investment at this stage.
Our walk took us past a small amusement arcade, and standing right at the entrance was a DDR Extreme machine. Though Dance Dance Revolution is generally associated with teenaged girls I've had my own mat at home for a number of years as an exercise mechanism, and regular practice has gotten me to the point where I'm comfortable playing some of the more difficult levels in public. As luck would have it another club member who plays turned up just as I was contemplating a round, and our competition generated a substantial audience of amused onlookers. In hindsight playing a physically intensive game in thirty-five degree heat may not have been the best of ideas, but we still managed to put on a good show.
By the time we'd finished it was lunch time, and we began heading in the direction of a group dining area that the club had reserved. Along the way Luke managed to push me into the target area for the junior log flume just as a boat was splashing down, and although the mild spray was quite refreshing I decided that this insolence could not be left unchecked. I duly frog-marched him into the same location and held him there for the next four boats, though to no avail; for whatever reason none of them sprayed even the smallest amount of water. It wasn't until after the meal that I managed to get my own back; I had a reasonable quantity of water cupped in my hands from the bathroom sink, and Luke, who was walking in front of me, had not noticed. I called his name, let him turn around to face me, and threw it in his face. My only regret is that I did not have the camera handy, as his expression was one of the funniest I've ever seen, and if anything improved when I reminded him that this was overdue retribution!
We had been advised that we should not miss the Scuola di Polizia stunt car show, so we headed there next. This turned out to be the single best show I have ever seen in any theme park anywhere. There is something about Italians and fast cars, and in the interests of safety I'd much rather watch them demonstrate their talents in a controlled environment rather than out on the motorways. Numerous hand brake turns, motorcycle jumps, driving on two wheels (both the back and side), and the obligatory collection of loud explosions and flame effects made for a thoroughly entertaining experience. There was probably a story in there somewhere, but it was completely superfluous to the spectacular driving we were shown.
Mirabilandia is home to one of the largest ferris wheels I have ever seen by the name of Eurowheel. Like the London Eye, the wheel rotates continuously at a very slow speed, and riders have about fifteen seconds in which to embark and disembark. Unfortunately, the cars were fully enclosed by not altogether clean windows, and most of my photographs had both reflections and dirt spoiling them. Given the height the enclosure is not altogether surprising, although it would have been nice if there were small holes for photographers to poke their camera lenses through.
One of the perks of such a large wheel was that we could spot the final coaster in the park, a standard 335m Vekoma Roller Skater by the name of Family Adventure (#506).
Darren wanted to ride the Mongolfiere balloon race ride. A weak stomach has always prevented me from being a proper spin ride enthusiast, but even I could deal with this one, featuring a gentle motion not unlike a wave swinger. I elected to sit out the rather faster looking contraption he went for next, as a cool drink and some shade seemed like a much better prospect.
To cool down properly, however, necessitated another water ride. The Rio Bravo rapids ride completely failed to get me wet despite me tempting fate by having my camera out and switched on for quite a bit of the journey while I attempted (successfully, for the most part) some group photographs.
Mirabilandia has a pair of 197ft tall S&S tower rides; a Turbo Drop and a Space Shot. One cannot help feel sorry for the park in their choice of theming. It could have been worse; the Space Shot model is named Columbia and the Turbo Drop Discovery; the other way round would have been even more embarrassing. Getting Luke to try out these attractions proved to be the challenge of the day. It is not difficult for me to understand the problem such rides present for some people, having been there myself. Nerves are a terrible thing, but the only way to beat them is to face your fears resolutely, with an internal decision along the lines of I am going to have fun, whether I like it or not!
Luke considered the drop side to be less frightening, so we went for that one first. As I write up this diary, about a week later, this fact remains a mystery to me. Upward launching towers have never presented a difficulty for me. It just goes to show that people are different. All of us enjoyed the ride, which was one of the better such towers I have ridden. The on-ride photo was very good, although we decided not to purchase it; a decision I regret now in hindsight. Unfortunately, as the ride was coming back to ground level, Luke decided categorically that, though he had liked it, he would NOT be doing the other one.
I took him aside for a quiet chat, the details of which I do not intend to recount here. Suffice it to say that, after a few minutes negotiation, a deal was done between us, and moments later we were all waiting in the queue for the shot side. Persuading all parties to remain within said queue was also a challenge, but one which proved successful in the end; in due time we were on board. Luke was very insistent that his restraint be closed as firmly as possible, and hung on as tightly as I remember doing on my first giant drops.
After the first launch shot, however, something remarkable happened. The hands went straight out, and the child who had been a nervous wreck moments before adopted the traditional coaster enthusiast tower riding position. I couldn't help being impressed while at the same time feeling a mild twinge of annoyance; it had been a lot harder for me to learn to like towers. Luke, however, was delighted; the resultant wide grin would not go away for the rest of the afternoon (though to be fair it might as well be a permanent fixture as is).
The only major ride we had not already tried was the log flume, Autosplash. As the name might suggest, this ride had the singularly odd theming of floating sports cars. The designers clearly intended this to not be a wet ride. For most people it probably isn't, but this changes when you load a boat of coaster enthusiasts, certain of which have arms long enough to reach into the water!
I couldn't resist the temptation of watching the Scuola di Polizia show a second time. The group split up at this point, with Luke coming with me and everyone else heading over to try some more spin rides. The show, if anything, improved on its second viewing, as I had a rough idea of what to expect, and which directions I should be looking in to see the important things.
Luke decided he wanted to try the 24 Ore car ride. This is a very slow car journey on a track. It does sound like it is running on internal combustion engines of some sort rather than electricity, even if they are throttled to a top speed of about four miles per hour, but the twin track racing idea was somewhat spoilt by the limited speed.
We made our way over to the 4D Theatre attraction, but there were no further showings scheduled before our departure time. We were wandering around aimlessly when we came across a second DDR Extreme, this one being played by a teenaged Italian girl who was playing a reasonable game on light mode with a large audience. The ego in me switched on and I resolved to play a game on standard mode with careful selection of the songs I know best. After all, a twenty five year old male is bound to be amusing to watch right? I think I may have surprised them a little. For the first time in my life I received applause between songs, and ended up bowing to the crowd.
After the game, we tried out the Carousel, a double decker model.
It was approaching time to leave, though we had time for one final ride. The eventual choice was Luke's suggestion; he had enjoyed the Columbia ride so much that he wanted to do it again. It seemed that he wanted to cement into his own mind the fact that he could do space shot rides and enjoy them. Either way, this was a roaring success, with hands out even for the first launch. May all his problems be solved as easily.