Kobe Fruit and Flower Park is relatively straight forward to get to once you know how; a free bus service departs from JR Sanda Station, and the bus is labelled with the park name in English. The park is geared at nature lovers, with the small ride area being a run-down afterthought that looked like it was on borrowed time. Just three of the rides were scheduled to operate today, and the two roller coasters were not among them. The Jet Coaster looked like it hadn't operated in months, if not longer; the track was covered in rust, and the cars and brake run were covered up with tarpaulin. The smaller Hurry Coaster looked to be in operational condition, but the staff were not prepared to run it for us. As we already had a ticket we decided to use it on the ferris wheel, before catching the shuttle bus back to the train station.
Tojoko Toy Kingdom
4th September 2011
Tojoko Toy Kingdom is also reachable by a free bus, though in this case from JR Shinsanda, a three minute journey from JR Sanda. Unfortunately this does not run in the middle of the day, leaving us with the choice of a three hour wait or a taxi. We ran with the latter at a cost of just over ¥6000; though sizeable, it was just about manageable when split two ways.
On arrival it was immediately evident that this was money well spent. We'd arrived at a bright and colourful park with extremely friendly staff (even by Japanese standards). The lady at the gate evidently figured out that we were interested in roller coasters and phoned ahead, as five minutes later we were accosted by a ride operator who showed us exactly where to go. We were quickly told that the Loop Coaster wasn't working today, which was accurate if slightly misleading; half of the aforementioned ride was removed after it closed eleven years ago, and the rest still towers over the rest of the park. Its current appearance resembles something one might build in Roller Coaster Tycoon just to watch the cute animations when park guests are launched into orbit!
The Waku Waku Coaster (#1676) is a family coaster added five years ago that would be unremarkable were it not for the train, which features one of the most ornate front designs that I've seen anywhere; a set of sculpted toy soldiers that look fabulous. The larger Hill Billy Coaster Texas Bronco (#1677) is an exceptionally lively mine train from Meisho with some fabulous theming including an artificial mountain the middle of the ride.
After trying the Ferris Wheel we spent the better part of an hour wandering the park, enjoying the ambience and taking photos. One of the wonderful things about Japan is that nobody bats an eyelid when you take photographs of random scenes, and the locals do their best not to walk into a picture when they see someone holding up a camera. If only other countries were the same.
Universal Studios Japan
4th September 2011
Universal Studios Japan has an evening price available, making it a logical place for us to spend a few hours. We elected to augment our stay with a Universal Express booklet allowing us immediate access to the various rides we wanted to try. Two types of booklet are sold; one with four coupons, and one with seven, and in both cases the coupons are usable on specific rides only. Those wanting to express-pass the two major coasters will need the seven coupon booklet.
I am not a fan of systems which allow people to monopolise certain attractions, riding over and over again at the expense of those in the regular queue. This type of booklet system allows parks to bring in more revenue while also serving ordinary guests, as the express users are directed towards the less popular attractions; we used ours to ride Back to the Future, Backdraft, and Jurassic Park.
Space Fantasy (#1678) is a spinning coaster from Mack Rides with a moving walkway loading system that keeps capacity high despite the ride trains seating just eight people. After dispatch, the cars traverse a lengthy track augmented by intricate theming and atmospheric background music. The highlight is a scene right before the final brake run, which I'm not going to spoil; suffice it to say that it took me completely by surprise. As a side note, this ride is possibly unique in the world of roller coasters in that guests are encouraged to take their mobile phones with them, in sharp contrast to the usual loose items policy seen at amusement parks around the world.
I'm convinced that there has been a change to the ride programme on Spiderman since my last visit. I'm not an expert on this attraction by any means, but the story line seemed different to me. Whatever the case, I don't think I've ever enjoyed a dark ride quite so much; the entire journey was punctuated by a chorus of "ooh!" and "aah!" noises made by the dozen locals sharing our car, adding a touch of unintentional comedy to the experience!
We finished the night with a lap on Hollywood Dream: The Ride. Though not intense by any means, this style of ride is the ultimate "general public" coaster; something that everyone can enjoy. Additionally, the lighting package on the train looks fantastic in the dark. The only thing to be wary of is the horrible J-Pop soundtrack, which can be avoided with care.