La Ronde

3rd August 2006

La Ronde, located in the middle of Montréal, is a park that has been on my radar for a long time. As such, I went into the place with very high expectations, always a recipe for disaster. In this case, however, there was no need to worry; the park is of very high calibre with a lot of things going for it. It is reasonably large, and packed with high quality attractions, all of which are kept in excellent condition. Additionally, it is obviously popular with the locals, given the number of people in the park on a Thursday. Interestingly, all but a handful of the license plates we saw in the car park were from Québec; of the remainder, most were from Ontario and just two, ours included, were from the USA.

La Ronde

There is, however, always a catch. As the only real park in the whole Québec area there is no competition to speak of, and it shows in the speed and sense of urgency, or rather the lack thereof, demonstrated by the ride staff. Dispatch intervals on the Boomerang and Super Manége were coming in around the five minute park. Vampire was running two trains, but quite a bit of the time the second train had hit the brake run before riders had even been loaded into the one parked in the station. The only efficient operations in the park were shown by the Cobra crew, who had their ride running two trains with no stacking whatsoever. All the other ride operators clearly had no interest in efficiency.

This lackadasical attitude was also evident even before we got into the park. We had to queue twenty minutes in the car to even get into the car park, and I'd conservatively estimate more than eight hundred people were waiting in line to buy park tickets. Fortunately, we had Six Flags season passes and were thus able to stroll straight through the gate, but for those buying a single day admission it must have been frustrating. The net result was, in a seven and a half hour day in the park, we managed one ride on each coaster, bar the kiddie one which was out of commission for the day. We went pretty much directly from queue to queue, with no food break. A total of nine coaster rides in a midweek day in a park is not exactly spectacular.

The first coaster of the morning ended up being the newest, Goliath (#861), a scaled back B&M hypercoaster design with a first drop of one hundred and seventy feet. This attraction has quickly become the park's signature ride, even if its positioning along the side of the car park is perhaps less scenic than it could have been. Fortunately, the location of La Ronde, on an island in downtown Montréal, allows even a parking lot coaster to give a spectacular view of the surrounding city. More to the point, it works better than any advertising can to encourage those driving down the nearby motorway to pay a visit to the park.

Only coaster counters could possibly care about Super Manège (#862) and Boomerang (#863), a pair of ageing Vekoma products. The only interesting thing about both was the wait for the former, incidentally totalling three quarters of an hour, during which a total of six trains went out. We had a group of school children in front of us, being looked after by a young man with a dodgy beard, an orange t-shirt, luminous green cap, and the loudest pair of shorts I've ever seen. Just to add to the fun, he was playing on a Kazoo. The kids were clearly in awe of this complete nut case, and it was very entertaining to watch their behaviour (and his!).

La Ronde

With the production junk out of the way we were able to make out way across the park towards the rather more interesting Cobra (#864), one of only a handful of stand up coasters in the world and one of just three I had yet to ride (yes, I know how sad it is that I know that. Sue me). The design in this case looked a great deal better than it rode, though the same is true with quite a lot of stand up coasters so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.

Our favourite coaster in the park ended up being Vampire (#865), a mirror image of the standard Batman the Ride coasters found in so many other Six Flags parks. There was something unusual about this model, though, in that it felt quite a bit faster than the others. My guess is that a different type of wheel may have been in use; whatever the case, it was significantly more intense than usual for this type of layout.

That brought us to the two tracks of Monstre (#866), a racing wooden coaster which the park doesn't bother to race. It wouldn't have been that hard to do, as both tracks were running two trains, but it would have involved efficiency on the part of the track one operators. We waited twenty minutes longer for that track then we had to for track two, despite both queue lines being identical lengths when we entered them. Though we had had prior advice that this ride wasn't up to much, the reality was rather different; both tracks were a lot of fun, even if the second was marred somewhat by two very loud screaming girls in the row behind us. They must have given themselves sore throats, as they certainly gave us both splitting headaches.

The most surprising coaster for me was the indoor Dragon (#867), and while the special effects wouldn't win any awards (short version: it's not Space Mountain) it was still unique enough to be worth riding more than once, or at least it would be if the wait wasn't approaching an hour. Efficient loading could easily have doubled the ride throughput in this case. Are you sensing a pattern here?

La Ronde

The last coaster we had left, which represented a hour and a quarter wait, was Toboggan Nordique (#868), a Zamperla-built wild mouse. With a fully loaded car and no trim brakes in use this ride felt very fast, with some serious forces in the turns. It marked a good way to end the day, although it would have been nice to have hit the road a great deal sooner than we did. Interestingly, the ride signs had a very pertinent warning: hold on to the bars fermly at all times. I can only assume that these were an aftermarket fit by a local company, as the spelling mistake is a natural mistranslation from the original French.

La Ronde is definitely a park I'd visit again, though I would have to time my visit for an off-peak period as slow operations make for an exhausting day. The good people in Six Flags management have been talking about improving the customer experience this year; maybe this is one park they should look carefully at.