The local hire car company in Auckland is a company called Scotties, and they operate in a somewhat unusual fashion compared to the mainstream agencies. You need to tell them which hotel you are staying in, and they will bring the car there for you. On the return journey, you can either park it at the airport (for a fee) or leave it at another local hotel with a free airport shuttle, where they will come back and collect it. Two tourists arriving in a strange country after midnight were very relieved not to have to spend half an hour sorting out a rental car.
At the other end of the customer service scale was Europcar in Sydney, and I'm afraid that I'm going to have to recommend against anyone else using them. Australia is home to a number of toll roads, some of which do not accept cash. The alternative is either a tag or making a phone call to the respective toll operator within two or three days, for which one pays an additional administrative fee. Needless to say each road has a different company to phone.
This can best be described as a pain in the hole for the average foreign tourist. Worse yet it can be quite expensive, as using a hotel phone or a mobile will add significantly to the cost of using the road, not to mention the inconvenience of having to jump through hoops of this sort in the middle of a holiday. The Melbourne branch of Europcar was able to include the cost of tolls within our rental, which made life easy. In Sydney, we were told in no uncertain terms that we must make the calls ourselves. We forgot to do this before leaving Australia, resulting in us having to sort it out from the baggage reclaim area in Los Angeles. The total cost probably exceeded ten times the value of the toll, not to mention the wasted time.
21st March 2008
Rainbow's End is the largest amusement park in New Zealand. It also features the tallest, fastest, steepest, and in fact only roller coasters in the country. With no competition in the market one might have expected standards to slip a little, but in fact the reverse was true; it is no exaggeration to say that New Zealand has one of the nicest amusement parks I've ever been in.
The first of the three coasters has a sign indicating that all adults must be accompanied by a child, but a little bit of good old fashioned charm solved that problem. Dragon's Flight Coaster (#1129) is oddly reminiscent of the Dragon coasters at the Legoland parks, albeit with nothing like the height. The lift hill for the ride was no more than fifteen feet, yet it provided enough potential energy to move the train through a dark ride section and a coaster section that went round the entire children's area. One can probably extrapolate from that what the top speed was like, though it was still noticeably quicker than the Tivoli Railroad!
The surprise hit of the morning was Gold Rush (#1130). The lift hill for this ride was located at the very end of the course, which meant that the single car trains began to pick up speed from the very moment they left the station. The route taken was both exciting and beautifully themed, complete with some brightly lit sections of fake track pointing straight ahead when the ride took a sharp lurch off to the side. It would be no exaggeration to describe this as one of the best coasters in the whole Australian continent, and it's certainly the best of the three in New Zealand!
Finally, the Corkscrew Coaster (#1131) was as much a rite of passage as anything else. It was surprisingly smooth as Arrow rides go, quite a relief given that all riders were given two circuits for their trouble. The six car train was painted in most of the colours of the rainbow, which looked really well.
We finished up our morning with a ride on the Enchanted Forest log flume. Foreign tourists should be aware that this ride has a fairly low height limit of approximately six foot two, but we just managed to fit within it.
Scandia Amusement Park
21st March 2008
We arrived at Scandia Amusement Park almost fifteen minutes before leaving Rainbow's End, thanks in no small part to the wonders of the International Date line. Though in hindsight it is obvious I'd somehow missed the fact that this park is themed to be Scandinavian, with one of the most beautiful mini golf courses I've ever seen. The park is targeted at families with young children, and it fits that bill nicely.
Both of the coasters could best be described as credits and nothing more. Our first port of call was the Screamer (#1132), a ninety something foot ride from Miler. The front two cars had been loaded with ballast for today, presumably allowing the ride to run without full loads. To be honest I can only imagine what the experience would be like with every car full, as some of the turns and dips were extremely violent. Perversely the Little Dipper Coaster (#1133) was considerably more fun, though once was still enough.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
21st March 2008
Six Flags Magic Mountain is the park that enthusiasts love to hate; while it has lots of excellent roller coasters, its reputation for everything else leaves a lot to be desired. On the plus side, however, management have begun to tackle the problem, starting with the staff; the people we spoke to today were very friendly, if slightly clueless when it comes to how to upgrade a regular ticket to a Season Pass; in the end we were bounced from Group Sales Window to the Season Pass Processing Center to Guest Services and then finally to the Flash Pass Sales Office, the latter being obviously the first place one would go.
Every ride we could see was either open or under obvious maintenance, a definite change from previous visits. That even included Superman The Escape (#1134), which was making it about two thirds of the way up the tower, almost exactly the same as its Australian counterpart. Unfortunately, not all the changes are guest friendly. The park used to have perfectly adequate storage bins on the ride station platform where people could leave loose articles at their own risk. Now, everything must be put in a locker which costs a dollar per go, and items left anywhere else will be taken by park security and destroyed. This is frankly ridiculous and amounts to a charge on every ride, as almost every park guest these days will have at least a wallet and a mobile phone. We saw this customer service disaster up close on Scream, where a guest directly in front of us was told he could not ride with a mobile phone in his pocket.
It was also frustrating to see the queue for Tatsu (#1135) being greatly extended by the use of Flash Passes, otherwise known as paid line jumping. My best guess estimation was that somewhere approaching seventy percent of all passengers on the ride were those using passes. If the ride had been running three trains at full throughput then this number of fast passes might have been acceptable, but with a maximum capacity around six hundred per hour it simply wasn't; regular guests had to face a wait time of almost three hours.
Be that as it may, the ride itself was excellent. I've always been a particular fan of coasters that make the most of their terrain, as close encounters with the ground at high speed do more for a ride then theming can. My favourite element as expected was the pretzel loop, which here proved to be stupidly intense from my vantage point in the back seat; it was without question the most forceful moment I've ever experienced on a coaster. It'd have been fantastic to ride it a second time, but the main queue had been closed off for the night. Unsurprisingly, it appeared that additional Flash Pass users were still able to join the queue.
Having an enjoyable day in a park is all about perceived value for money. Today that perception simply wasn't there, and the result was a very poor experience. The park may be improving its customer service, but there is a very long way to go still.