Plopsaland De Panne

25th August 2014

Several months ago I booked flights around a musical weekend that I'd fully intended to conclude with a few hours riding the new coaster at Nigloland, but then a last minute change of plans meant that I got there unexpectedly in June. That left me with twelve hours to make the most of a pre-booked rental car, starting and ending at Charles de Gaulle Airport to the north of Paris. The nearest new credit in France was a Spinning Mouse at Parc Ange Michel, but the eight hour round trip didn't feel like a particularly good use of time, especially since I'd have to cover the same basic route at a future date in order to visit nearby Kingoland. Driving over the border to Belgium seemed like a far better plan, as the distance was considerably shorter.

It was overcast and raining when I arrived at Plopsaland De Panne, but that hadn't kept the crowds away. The car park was virtually full, and despite what the photograph below suggests there was an enormous queue to purchase tickets. It was impossible not to feel moderately smug at my decision to pre-purchase online, and I duly waltzed past the multitudes to the entrance gate. The cheerful attendant rattled off something complicated in Flemish, but the interrogation was quickly squelched with a polite ní thuigim; an miste leat labhairt ní moille?

Entrance

The park replaced large sections of Viktor's Race at the end of last year after thirty seven years of service. That work, and the addition of a new train, led to quite a few enthusiasts labelling the ride as a new credit. My initial reaction was to do the same, but after further contemplation I decided that the situation was little different to retracking of a wooden coaster, and on that basis it wouldn't be appropriate to pad my count. The introduction of shark fins on the new train allowed the height limit to be reduced to just 0.9 metres, and while the positioning is somewhat less than optimal for adult riders it is fortunately possible to alleviate the worst of the discomfort by sitting fully upright.

The majority of the attractions in the park remain operational regardless of weather conditions, a practical necessity in Belgium where it rains almost all year round. One of the few exceptions to the rule is Rollerskater, whose station brakes are at the limit of their power when dry. The coaster remained closed for my entire visit today, but that wasn't a massive embuggerance given that I'd ticked it off back in 2006. Despite not being able to ride I did spend a few minutes admiring the theming, which featured an enormous (and presumably entirely dry) washing machine at its core.

The queue for Draak was emptying as I approached it, and a young german female left the cause in no doubt by shouting kaput in a loud and clear voice. The problems were apparently temporary, however, as just seconds later the sound of Carmina Burana over the speaker system was interrupted by the distinctive whirring of a powered coaster train. A five minute wait was enough for me to enjoy a front seat ride, starting with a few undulating hills and continuing into a lively set of helices loaded with strong forces. It was interesting to see several other guests making use of a fully automatic on board video system to e-mail themselves YouTube-ready on ride footage for just €2.

It took me the better part of an hour to get to the front of the left queue (for the right track) on Vleermuis, and I'm not sure I'd have bothered were it not for the persistent rumour that the ride is now on borrowed time. Shoehorning myself into the car was surprisingly difficult, and would be impossible for more portly enthusiasts; I had to remove my camera from my belt buckle in order to shut the door. The lift mechanism on the ride was engaged with a terrific crash that hurt, but apart from that the experience was respectable enough, with a fast vertical climb and a smooth descent back to earth. My only real gripe was the overall length, which at twenty-five seconds was just too short given the wait time.

After a ten minute meal break I went for two quick laps on Anubis, each of which involved a wait of less than five minutes. Gerstlauer's second launched coaster has aged fairly well in comparison to some of their other installations, with the notable exception of the climb out following the launch track which was shuddering quite badly in both the front and the back of the car. The two brake sections had been improved considerably since my previous visit; the block brake no longer trimmed most of the speed from the car, and the final stop was smooth and controlled rather than the car crash of years past.

My last ride of the morning was on the Bos van der Plop boat ride. I'd forgotten just how detailed the sets on this ride were, with elaborate forest scenes punctuated by the occasional animatronic. At the half way point the boats climb a small chain lift, probably about five feet, which leads directly to a splashdown with an on-ride photo. The water is all directed away from the boat, however; even those in the front barely get sprayed.

 

Bellewaerde Park

25th August 2014

I'm almost always happy to see a new roller coaster in a park, though it is unfortunate when something else has to go to make room for it. Huracan (#2099) was constructed in the building that once held Los Piratas, an elaborate dark ride that operated from 1991-2012. It was a bit of a surprise to see it scrapped, given that the hardware really wasn't that old, but the word on the ground is that it was due for an expensive overhaul which wasn't justified by the number of guests riding it.

Huracan

The new coaster opens with a respectable dark ride section. The train rolls out of the station and turns to the left, passing through the middle of a heavily chlorinated waterfall that gently sprays all those on board. It then rounds another corner into a series of rooms featuring illuminated statues and smoke. There are no animatronics, but none are needed; the atmospheric lighting serves well enough to set the stage. After a few more turns the train engages a rapid tyre drive lift hill that exits through the roof of the building. A small outdoor drop of about ten feet sets the stage for a much larger drop back indoors that leads into about thirty seconds of forceful twisted track, negotiated in almost complete darkness. The brake run is in front of a slowly rotating laser projection onto a dry ice screen, which goes out after a while allowing the train to trundle gently back into the station.

The overall experience is excellent, and a great addition to the park. The only thing that I really didn't like was the enormously tall bodies on the cars, which blocked almost all of my forward view despite my 6'2" frame; smaller riders wouldn't have a chance. Over the course of the day I tried three laps in various different points of the train, and didn't notice any significant differences between locations.

I decided to demonstrate some sadomasochism by riding the Boomerang, the first Vekoma Boomerang to open to the public some thirty-one years ago. It was, as expected, more than a little rough, and I chose to eschew the opportunity of a second lap despite a minimal queue.

The rain had gotten heavier over the course of the afternoon, and given that it was quite a surprise to find Keverbaan open given its use of both a tyre drive lift hill and friction brakes. The operator was loading the first five of its twenty cars in order to reduce the overall weight of the train, but despite that it was overshooting the brakes every time. At the end of the second lap the front car would stop at the base of the lift hill, and the operator would slowly reverse it back into its parking spot to the accompaniment of a loud beeping noise.

My next stop was at Jungle Mission, a boat ride (with a roof) that could best be described as a low budget equivalent to Disney's Jungle Cruise. There were a few real animal exhibits along the way (flamingos, caged birds, et al) but most of the ride seemed to consist of water fountains that deactivated just as my boat approached. This worked the first time, and perhaps even the second, but the anticipation had thoroughly worn off by the time we approached the third, fourth, and ninth occurrences. The only really interesting portion of the course was a smoking animatronic using enough dry ice to fill a small building, and a tunnel with a waterfall in front of it (that predictably turned off just as the boat approached).

Bellewaerde has a small haunted swing called Houdini that I'm given to understand is a direct clone of the two models installed in Six Flags parks in the United States. I wasn't able to follow the pre-show due to the language barrier, but I did enjoy the way the candle lights were synchronised to the music, as if wired to a graphic equaliser. I found the main part of the ride a little disappointing, though; the optical illusion really wasn't working; it was thoroughly obvious that the shell of the room was rotating around the bench. The music was also very understated, unlike the atmospheric soundtracks found on equivalent rides at Efteling and Europa Park.

I'd run out of energy by the time I exited, and given that I decided I'd leave about ninety minutes ahead of my planned time with the hope of getting some dinner close to the airport. This was a fortunate decision, as I hit a major traffic jam on the outskirts of Lille that delayed me almost three hours. I was convinced that I'd miss my flight, and had entirely given up as I parked my rental car at the airport just fifteen minutes before the scheduled take off time. Luck was smiling on me, however; the inbound aircraft was over an hour late, and as I'd checked in online the lack of staff in the departure hall presented no obstacle.

2014


Plopsaland De Panne

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Bellewaerde Park

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