Since my first days as a coaster enthusiast there have been a number of parks on my most-wanted list. All the obvious destinations were included, such as Cedar Point et al, but a number of lesser known parks were also in the mix, such as Gold Reef City and today's destination, Mirabilandia. The reason in this case? Katun (#502), the longest inverted coaster in Europe, and a ride considered by many to be one of B&M's finest.
Our day began in the best way possible, with a one hour ERS. The ride itself begins with a superlative first drop, the best I've ever come across on an inverted coaster, and from then on comes the usual mix of inversions all taken with plenty of force. Crucially, the ride remains comfortable and smooth, proving once again that B&M are truly the masters of the inverted coaster, especially in comparison to the pathetically bad inverted coaster we rode yesterday. I managed a total of nine circuits during the session as I chose to take available seats rather than wait for front or back.
At the end of the session, those not on board the ride were led out into the transfer track area, with the operators stopping the loaded train in just the right location for the perfect group photo with everyone. The Americans in the group were quite taken aback by this, but it just goes to show that well organised (and well behaved) groups can gain privileges not offered to less well organised clubs. Special thanks to the staff at Mirabilandia for making this possible.
By the end of the ERS it was already hot enough that a water ride would be a good thing, and the Niagara giant splash ride looked like it would fit that bill perfectly. The only catch was the lack of any storage area for me to leave my camera and mobile phone. In the end, I broke the habit of a lifetime and purchased a cheap poncho to protect these devices, drawing ridicule from the other club members but hopefully preventing an expensive accident.
I need not have bothered, as the braking system was on at absolute full power. There were two main results from this. First, the majority of the impressively large wave landed in front of the boat, with riders only getting splashed rather than the expected soaking. This might make sense in the middle of winter (or in Ireland), but in Italy in the height of the summer the decision to operate a giant splash in such a way is questionable at best. Second, and by far the more serious, was the effect of the unforgiving lap bar restraint on hitting the brakes. This sudden and unexpected stop resulted in most of us being winded by a hard punch to the stomach. None of us noticed any warning sign advising us to brace for the splashdown, and indeed I heard later in the day that one of our group had to go to the first aid area after riding due to him colliding badly with the restraint. This is something that the park really needs to rethink, as the current situation might lead to a nasty accident at some point.
My first encounter with a L&T Systems wild mouse a few months ago had left me not overly enthusiastic about trying out this one. Having said that, information on RCDB had suggested that Pakal (#503) had been upgraded with spinning cars for the 2005 season, which would probably solve the major issues. These cars were nowhere in sight, however; the ride was operating with traditional mouse cars. Fortunately, this model was running in a far more comfortable way than the version in America, which produced lateral forces which reached the point of pain. The final brake was certainly harsh, 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. I am referring, of course, to the full size maze which comprises the park as a whole, featuring as it does numerous small paths not marked on the map. The design is sufficiently good that it took us more than ten minutes to located the powered coaster, Explorer. As powered coasters go, this model was one of the better ones. The only problem was the standard one with most such rides, namely the slow speed at the end of the ride on banked track. This causes riders in one half of the train to be squashed, and no indication of the same on loading means that there's a fair chance that parents riding with children may find their little darlings being crushed as the train slows down.
The next coaster we reached was the new-for-2005 vegetarian coaster. The Leprotto Express (#504) is a good sized family coaster with highly unusual theming, consisting of a large plastic cauliflower, numerous carrots, and other assorted rabbit food. Much to my surprise, I really liked this ride. The design is clearly built to compete directly with the Pinfari MMM29, and though it is not quite as good it is nevertheless not far off.
We had already heard from several club members that Sierra Tonante (#505) was a disappointing ride, but without the credit we had little choice but to find this out for ourselves. The awful SDC train and some flaky track work made a coaster with an exciting and interesting layout into a painful experience. It wasn't quite the worst wooden coaster I've ever tried, but it wasn't far off. The only person in the whole club to my knowledge who wanted to ride a second time was Darren, and as nobody would come with him he ended up having to give it a miss. It would be interesting to see if this ride could be fixed by a new train from Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters; something for the park to consider in the future, maybe?
It is impossible for me to walk past a DDR Extreme machine without playing a game, and having another club member who plays nearby made things even more irresistible. Dance Dance Revolution is a game normally associated with teenaged girls, and as such seeing two men playing attracted a substantial crowd of amused onlookers. The hot climate does not go well with intensive physical exercise as required by this game, although we still managed to put on a good show.
On the way to lunch, Luke managed to push me into the target area for the junior log flume just as a boat was splashing down. Although I didn't get more than a mild spraying, I decided that this insolence deserved retribution! I frog-marched him into the same location and held him in place for the next four boats, not one of which sprayed even the smallest amount of water. He thought I'd let it go. He was wrong about that.
We had vouchers for our meal, and the fare was almost identical to yesterday, even down to the odd regulations, which, in this case, were enforced erratically. I got away with taking a fresh banana, for example, where Luke was told he wasn't allowed any fresh fruit. Both parks served what I would describe as two main courses, one of which was some type of pasta, the other being mystery meat that brought me back to school dinners a decade ago.
I managed to get my own back on the way out of the restaurant. I had held 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 splashed the full quantity 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 it was retaliation from earlier!
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.