Adlabs Imagica is a major new park that opened last year in Khopoli, a village located roughly half way between the cities of Mumbai and Pune. It took just over three hours to drive there from our hotel next to Mumbai Airport, but more than half of that time was spent getting out of the city. Once we made it to the expressway progress was more rapid, with our driver averaging seventy kilometres per hour. The road that leads up to the park looks a bit like any other small town in India, and I was just beginning to think that we'd gone wrong when the unmistakable sign of a big red B&M appeared on the horizon.
There are two different choices for admission; a standard ticket, or a premium wristband that includes the ability to skip the line on each major ride once. Today the park was quiet enough that the only place that premium would have made a difference was on the dark rides; on busy days, though, it could potentially save a huge amount of time.
On arrival at the ticket window we were greeted with a sign indicating that Deep Space and Scream Machine were closed for maintenance today. This sign was accurate but incomplete; once inside the park we discovered that Bandits of Robin Hood was also closed, presumably due to the accident that took place earlier this month. Missing two out of the four roller coasters was annoying, but there was nothing I could do. I'm hoping to be back in India in a couple of years, so with luck they will be open for my next visit.
The signature roller coaster at the park is Nitro (#2012), a floorless B&M ride with five inversions. The staff member at the entrance to the queueing area insisted that I should read through the instruction board before I could join the line, sommething I've never come across before, but I was happy to oblige. Having thought about it, this is probably because large roller coasters are completely new to the Indian market, meaning that local guests might not be aware of medical restrictions and such.
My first impression of the ride wasn't a positive one, as the operators would not allow me to wear my prescription sunglasses that I'd secured to my head in their presence with a safety strap. My guess is that they'd never seen such a thing before and been given a no glasses rule to enforce, but a little common sense would have been nice, especially when I was able to demonstrate how secure they were.
That gripe aside, however, Nitro is a winner. The first drop is very different than the norm for this style of ride, with no pre-drop and a steep curve during the descent. This is fun in the front of the train, but positively brilliant in the back. The rest of the layout was a bit of a blur, but I remember there being no block brake to interrupt pacing. I'd hoped to watch a few trains go through the ride, but much of the area had been blocked off by thick green netting rather than something visitors could see (or point a camera) through. This looked fairly temporary, however, so it may well be gone by the time these words are read.
The other operational coaster today was Gold Rush Express (#2013), a ride that is basically a copy of the Wild West Mine Train at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. The view of the hillside in Khopoli doesn't quite match the magnificent natural scenery of Hong Kong Island, but the park has spent a lot of money on old west theming and it works well. On disembarking, I happened to notice signage indicating that several rides, including Nitro, Gold Rush Express, and the shot tower would be closed for three hours for scheduled inspections from 2:00pm-5:00pm. It's great to see an emphasis on safety in a park, but given that major international parks can run their rides for twelve hours straight it seemed a little odd that this one can't. Furthermore, does the work really take place on all three of these rides at once? Would the same engineers not work multiple attractions?
It'd be remiss of me not to highlight the general level of friendliness among the park staff. I must have been accosted ten times over the course of the day by different people in park uniforms exhorting me to try their particular ride, or asking whether I was having a nice day, or asking whether I enjoyed X ride, and so on. They were particularly insistent that I should try I for India, a local take on the Soarin' rides at the Disney parks. This ride is the only one in the park at the moment that was designed and built locally, and it has to be said that they've done an excellent job. The footage is fascinating for the tourist, covering all the well known sites in India and a large number I'd never heard of. Better yet, all riders are given complimentary souvenir booklet with text and photographs showing these sites.
Before the performance, safety rules were announced in English by a staff member shouting them out without the aid of a microphone. There were a large number of children in our group and he was doing a very nice job of keeping them under control, stopping and glaring at them before saying that those who didn't listen would not be allowed to ride. Perhaps he might have been a schoolteacher in a past life?
I've got two general observations on the ride itself. First, the show seemed very rushed to me, with the scene changing every couple of seconds. I'd have preferred if the number of sites was cut in half with twice as long spent on each. Alternatively, the park could split their footage into summer and winter shows in order to encourage repeat business. Second, there were a few places where the footage seemed to stutter a bit, as if the frame rate didn't quite match the projection. I'm conscious that it's not always easy to cut back content, but I think that the overall quality of the show would be better if the makers concentrated on their best footage.
The Red Bonnet American Diner might have been the only place in India playing Del Shannon on this Tuesday afternoon. The menu was about what one would expect, though the names had been themed; I was particularly amused by the idea of Grilled Lamb Suspension. Better yet, the food was absolutely top notch, several orders of magnitude above what one usually gets in theme parks. It looked like there might be free Wi-Fi on offer, but connecting to it put up a walled garden offering a download of the Imagica app for Android phones and nothing else.
The park has an exceptionally well themed target shooting ride named Alibaba Aur Chalis Chorr. The targets were reasonably sized green lamps which occasionally turned to yellow, offering much higher scores. The quality of the scenery was well up there with the usual benchmark parks like Efteling and Tokyo DisneySea. The theming on the Salimgarh ghost train was also of international standard, and the show was improved by the presence of two live actors at different points in the ride. There was an excellent special effect at the end which I'm not about to spoil, other than to say that it worked very well indeed.
On exiting the ride, I heard music that I recognised. It took me a few minutes to place it, before it came to me as the Villa Volta theme from Efteling. Later on I heard the same tune again in that area of the park, suggesting that it is part of a mix that the park has on loop.
The Wrath of the Gods show is probably best described as Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom (sorry!). The show has a queueing area but was not in use today, with guests being asked to line up in an ante room before walking into the pre-show area. The show was in Hindi and thus a little hard for me to follow, but the water and wall lit up accompanied by suitable sound effects. In the main event room there was an very good fire/water show, with water splashing up from ground level and falling from the ceiling in places. One could easily get quite wet by standing in the wrong place, but there are several dry areas that can be found around the edge of the room.
The one ride in the park that I really didn't like was Mr India, a simulator ride taking place in front of a 3D rendered movie, much of it apparently set in a version of Imagica. The spoken dialogue was in Hindi, but that in itself wasn't a problem; the issue was with the abrupt and violent movements, as the car threw me around aggressively. Better padding would have helped a bit, but some form of damping on the movements would have helped even more.
The park has a few additional shows which we decided to skip as we were getting tired. Instead, we made a stop at Roberto's Food Coaster, a large installation of the Food Loop mechanism (albeit without loop) that debuted at Europa Park a few years ago. Nobody ordered anything for delivery by coaster during our visit unfortunately, and we'd already eaten or we'd have given it a go!
I'm conscious that not many coaster enthusiasts have made it to Imagica as yet, so I'd like to conclude by summing up my thoughts on the place. To start with the positive, the park is very pleasant with a high standard of rides well above and beyond what is normal for parks in this part of the world. The theming is excellent, the staff are friendly, the food is restaurant quality, and the whole package feels like good value for money despite being the most expensive park in India. On the negative side, it was very disappointing to see multiple rides out of commission at the same time, maintenance windows in the middle of the operating day, a ban on secured glasses, and restrictive Wi-Fi.
Would I recommend visiting the park? Absolutely. Imagica would be a worthy park anywhere in the world, and it definitely raises the bar for high quality attractions in India. At the same time, however, there are still things to do if the park really wants to be thought of as international standard.