Touring with a club

15th August 2015

I've been a coaster enthusiast for fourteen years, and during that time I've taken part in tours organised by the American Coaster Enthusiasts, the European Coaster Club, the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain, and the nameless club from the United States that so many long term enthusiasts love to hate. Chasing down credits big and small with a coach full of like minded people is great fun, especially when you have added benefits such as Exclusive Ride Time and other surprises thrown in along the way. The disadvantage, and a dilemma for a dromomaniac such as myself, is the lack of variety in trip plans; RCDB lists fixed coasters in over one hundred countries spanning six continents, but the list of destinations visited by the various groups over the years amounts to less than a fifth of that number, concentrated entirely on locations with significant coasters. This is understandable, but limiting for those of us after the more unusual credit, who have for the most part been left to fend for ourselves.

That being said, a two week club trip is still a great way to sweep through an entire country, and as Megan had never been to Italy she was quite enthusiastic about the proposed trip by the European Coaster Club trip. The invite we received listed the vast majority of parks in the country, with only a small number of not terribly important exceptions, and the routing was also good for me as there were new credits to be had at fifteen of the nineteen planned stops. We thus sent off payment, booked flights, and sat back to wait for mid-August to arrive.

 

Arriving in Milan

15th August 2015

An early departure from Dublin meant that it was mid-morning when we landed in Milan Linate, well ahead of the club flight from London Heathrow. The idea of hanging around in the arrivals area for over an hour didn't appeal, so we set off in search of some lunch, a nominally straight-forward task that proved remarkably fraught in the dark and dingy terminal building dating from the mid-1980s. The only realistic option turned out to be a small McDonald's tucked away at the back of the check-in area with a clear view of the arrivals board, and we set up camp there.

It was only after we were in place that it became apparent that said display was about as useful as a third armpit; the data provided indicated only that flights were expected without giving any details as to their progress. Now and then an entry would flip to landed but no time would be recorded, and there was no hint of the current delays at immigration. Rather than deal with this I started up Flightradar24, which revealed that the flight we were waiting on was currently overhead France, passing within a few miles of an A380 inbound to Paris.

We relocated back to the arrivals area as the inbound flight landed, and in due course the group began to congregate. There were many familiar faces from trips in years past, though one I'd been looking forward to seeing again was unaccountably absent. It was only after a few phone calls that we learned that the man in question was currently waiting for a flight connection in Frankfurt, having been rerouted after missing his flight. The expected arrival time made it impractical to keep the bus waiting, resulting in one lucky taxi driver having his day made with a three hundred euro fare!

 

Movieland Park

15th August 2015

Our trip itinerary allocated five and a half hours at Movieland Park, which our tour leader attempted to cut back as the coach pulled into the parking area. I was in favour of the change, having been to the park before, but the vast majority of people on the bus were against, and this turned out to be for the best; despite relatively light crowds our group still had to skip a few attractions due to time restrictions.

This year's addition to the park is Diabolik, a standard model Vekoma Invertigo originally built for Six Flags America in 1999. The machine in question might still have been in North America were it not for a mechanical failure during the 2007 season that caused a train full of riders to be showered with hot hydraulic fluid, resulting in several injuries. In the aftermath of the accident the ride was sold and presumed scrapped until the newly repainted pieces were photographed in an Italian field during 2013.

The ride has been shoehorned into space that was originally part of the nearby Caneva AquaPark. The station has been placed underneath the steps up to the Stukas Boom death slides, which satellite imagery shows as having been reprofiled very slightly in order to fit things together. The access route is across a fifty-five metre long footbridge from the main entrance plaza that gives a clear view of the boomerang element and the best photographs of the ride from ground level.

The loading speed today was best described as unhurried, but we were still on board less than ten minutes after joining the queue, Megan sitting opposite me. I've written before about how the face-to-face seating makes these rides what they are, and that's even more true when the person sitting across is a significant other (the only soppy comment in this report, I promise!); though she denies it, her expressions were hilarious and terrifying in equal measure, not least because they were almost certainly reflected in my own. The train also had a sound system on board, though the volume level could have done with being a quite a lot higher, as it was only really audible on the two lift hills.

My initial reaction on disembarking was to describe the overall experience as Vekoma Undistinguished, but that was unfair. I've realised of late that visiting over eight hundred parks and riding over two thousand coasters has left me predisposed to be critical of cookie-cutter attractions, entirely oblivious to the fact that the general public (an awful phrase, albeit a valid one for the purposes of this analogy) might visit one or two theme parks a year and thus has far less exacting standards. Whatever a bad tempered enthusiast might say, Diabolik is a good ride that tracks relatively well with minimal headbanging, delivering a unique experience unmatched by anything else in Italy, making it an excellent addition to the park.

Hollywood Action Tower

Our next stop was Hollywood Action Tower, the only first-generation Intamin free fall ride in Europe and one of just half a dozen models still in operation worldwide, the others being at Beto Carrero World, Dorney Park, Himeji Central Park, Nagashima Spa Land, and Rusutsu Resort. This particular unit began life as Drop of Doom at Galaxyland Amusement Park in Canada, where it operated for seventeen years before being put into storage. It rematerialised at Movieland Park in 2006 after a four year hiatus, sporting a new coat of paint and signage more than a little reminiscent of the Towers of Terror at the various Disney parks.

The queue for this ride had a large open space that almost certainly held a cattle grid at one point. Today we were able to walk right through, ending up behind just ten people in the station for a wait time of less than five minutes, which could have been even shorter were it not for the bizarre loading scheme that featured three separate air gates for one four-seat car. The right-hand edge seat had a metal barrier at knee height that would not have done my knees any good, but Megan was able to sit there without problems, her shorter stature working in her favour.

The experience began with the car moving backwards in an uneven fashion to the accompaniment of an impressive variety of mechanical noises. A particularly loud clunk seemed to indicate that we had engaged the lifting mechanism, and moments later our car began to rise with a slight scraping sound as we passed each horizontal strut. At the apex, recorded twilight zone music played as the car inched forward, our view obscured by the letters of the Hollywood Tower sign and a dry ice fog effect. Then, with a tell-tale ker-chunk, a number of letters fell out of place and our car plummeted back to earth with an incredibly intense stomach in mouth sensation.

Many readers will be well aware that the usual Achilles Heel for first-generation free falls is the bottoming-out and rotation back to vertical, and with that in mind, I'm pleased to report that both were far less violent than expected on this unit. I found myself wondering whether new shock absorbers had been installed during the rebuild, but whatever the cause, the end result was fun, not too painful, and something that I'd have been willing to ride more than once given more time.

I was determined to pay a visit to the Horror House, given the impression it made on me on my first visit, and quickly realised that it was now or never given its extremely limited operating hours, two hours in the morning and ninety minutes in the afternoon. The experience didn't disappoint, taking about fifteen minutes to complete, with the only weak point being the abrupt ending, a set of stairs leading to the gift shop.

The walkthrough was yet another reminder of the number of different media properties found within this park, and it was impossible not to wonder whether all were fully licensed. Looking back through my photos over the years it's amazing how many different brands feature: Star Wars, Back to the Future, Tomb Raider, Police Academy, Terminator, Dukes of Hazzard, Mary Poppins, Rambo and a whole plethora of horror movies. The branded imperial stormtroopers were conspicuously absent today, making me wonder whether legal force (sorry!) had been used to remove them.

Our next stop was made at the park's jeep ride, currently known as Magma 2.1. The decision to use software version numbers has regrettably not been accompanied by a detailed ChangeLog, but I do remember the original well enough to say that the special effects have been upgraded somewhat over the years. The experience still begins with some fairly crazy driving, including an airtime hill, followed by a scene where a wall of water hits the left hand side of the vehicle. The journey continues into an enclosed section featuring loud noises, electrical effects, shaking ground, and blaring siren before an escape through a splashdown pool. On the climb-out, the vehicle runs out of momentum and rolls backwards, thoroughly drenching the back row. The remainder of the journey is relatively sedate, giving those who chose not to spend €1 on a poncho ample time to regret their life choices.

Rambo

The John Rambo stunt show was starting just as we walked past, and we decided we might as well watch. The show arena felt large for a park where most attractions have low throughput figures, but that being said, it was basically full for a thoroughly uninspired half hour performance that managed to be boring despite featuring jetskis, motorcycle jumps, and fire effects. An understanding of conversational Italian might have helped things, but I'd still still suggest readers satisfy any lingering curiosity by watching the official trailer which condenses the important bits of the performance into thirty seconds. That approach will also save you enduring the thoroughly nauseating amount of self-adulation by the cast at the end, which went far beyond what would be considered polite; we left about five minutes in, while much of the audience was still engrossed in sycophantic fawning.

Our decision to skip the credits was vindicated when we beat the multitudes to the queue for Kitt Superjet, a six-hundred horse power speed-boat ride added to the park for the 2013 season. Ten guests at a time don fashionable red lifejackets and board a small boat which is gently reversed out of its dock into the stunt show arena. The captain then opens the throttle wide and shows off enthusiastically over a three minute period, delivering airtime, numerous sharp changes of direction, and a high-speed 360° turn that dumps a wave of water across all those on board. I'd worried a little ahead of time about my propensity towards seasickness but I had no issue at all; the experience was pure fun from start to end.

At the risk of a bit of pontification, any long term enthusiast will have come to realise that there are very few genuinely unique experiences available in amusement parks today. While there have been some exceptions over the years, most half-decent innovations are quickly copied by parks in China (and, occasionally, by those elsewhere too). It was thus a rare treat indeed to encounter an absolutely top notch ride that for now at least has no parallel elsewhere; I'd have gladly ridden a second (and third, and fourth) time if the queue had been shorter.

It was however still necessary to get Megan her credit, and thus two of us climbed into the back seat of Brontojet completely oblivious to the warning in my trip report from four years before. The whirring of classic Schwarzkopf lift hill was pleasant enough, as was the view of Lake Garda from the apex, but things went downhill very quickly (pun intended). The turn at the base of the first drop was best described as uncomfortable, and the second was if anything worse. The final corner into the brake run was the killer, however; it delivered a body slam to the side, and Megan's shoulder-blade was thrown unceremoniously into my right-hand rib.

The pain was immediate and crippling, being several orders of magnitude worse than anything I'd experienced in living memory. I heard Ben's voice dispassionately recording the words "Bannister is down" as I relocated onto a park bench to take stock of the situation. Some gentle inspection and quick double-checking online indicated that nothing was actually broken, but that the bruise I'd picked up could be reasonably expected to hurt for between three and six weeks, an estimation that turned out to be spot on. This was clearly far from ideal on day one of a two week coaster trip, but there was nothing to be done but soldier on.

We therefore moved slowly over to the final ride of the day, Back to the Backstage, a rebranded version of the fifteen minute long monorail with television stops that wasn't terribly good over a decade ago. The new theming, an attempt to capitalise on the Back to the Future movies, was the only obvious change over what I remembered, and to be honest it didn't do much for an attraction that should have been retired long before lightning struck the clock tower on November 12th, 1955. The only moderately entertaining feature was two signs indicating the date, the one at the unload platform being a day ahead; the experience certainly felt at least that long.