Travel Note

26th August 2015

Three years ago I made an attempt to visit the then brand-new Etnaland as part of a weekend trip. My routing included one day at Mirabilandia and one day at Etnaland, achieved using three flights and two rental cars. The three hour drive from Palermo airport on that Sunday morning was punctuated by intermittent thunderstorms, but the skies had cleared to glorious sunshine by the time I arrived to find the park closed; management had taken the decision not to open due to weather several hours before. There was nothing to be done except to seethe quietly and make another attempt at a future date.

The word redemption was fresh in my mind as I boarded the club coach early in the morning for the predicted nine hour drive to Sicily. The published itinerary for the trip included a planned rest stop at Pista Bob Lorica, but it had already been decided to drop this given that almost all of the drive times in the trip had been underestimated. Not everyone was happy with this call, but from my perspective it was for the best; after all, Etnaland was the reason we were driving cross-country in the first place, and thus it was important to maximise our time there.

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. We were a few hours into our journey when an unpleasant buzzing noise started emanating from the front of the coach. Several attempts were made to solve the problem with unscheduled breaks by the side of the road, but after a while it became apparent that the problem wasn't something that could be fixed on the fly. Our driver parked up at the Autogrill Rogliano Est and told us that a replacement vehicle had been dispatched from Naples, some three hundred and fifty kilometres away.

Coach

The coach issue resulted in a cumulative time loss of five and a half hours, and thus we didn't arrive at our Catania hotel until 10:45pm. An incredibly efficient switch to the third coach of the day had us back on the road within minutes, and a total disregard for published speeds got us to Etnaland in an incredible twenty-three minutes, not bad given the distance involved. However, despite this heroic effort, our late arrival meant that we had just seventy-five minutes to appreciate the park before it was due to close for the day.

The situation we found ourselves in was not the fault of the European Coaster Club. Nevertheless, with the full benefit of hindsight it seems utterly bizarre for the planners to have deliberately scheduled such a long drive when domestic flights were available at bargain prices. If we had travelled by air then we'd have been in Sicily by lunch time, allowing a leisurely afternoon of sightseeing ahead of an evening at the park. There might also have been time to visit Nettuno Park, a small park within a mile of the hotel that we skipped over entirely. Instead, the itinerary gave us most of a day on a coach, which circumstances turned into hours by the side of the road.

 

Etnaland

26th August 2015

Ticket sales at Etnaland had stopped by the time our group arrived, but we were met by a member of staff who escorted us in through a side entrance. Once through the barrier the majority broke into an undignified run in the general direction of rides, albeit with a certain amount of confusion as nobody had thought to pick up a park map. We took the only approach possible, heading for the coaster we could see in the hope of using the apex of the lift hill as a vantage point to spot the others.

Eldorado (#2157) is the first (and as of this writing) only example of a mine coaster from S&S, a company best known for its air launched tower rides. The ride is definitely geared at families, with a moderately paced layout consisting entirely of helices that route around and through a beautifully detailed artificial mountain structure. The tracking is completely smooth, a nice change from other recent S&S efforts, giving it bonus points over just about all the other mine trains of this scale. The six car train, complete with faux locomotive up front, is enormously spacious and comfortable, and has clearly been designed with the corpulent in mind; were it not for individual lap bars it would be easy to get a third person into each row.

Eldorado

Our second stop was at the ride that many members of our group considered the highlight of the evening, but for me Storm (#2158) was just another tick. Perhaps it was over-anticipation on my part. Perhaps it was the circumstances we found ourselves in, with time to enjoy just one lap. Perhaps it was the staff's insistence that I couldn't wear my strapped glasses, thus dramatically reducing my enjoyment factor. Whatever the case, the ride was good but not outstanding, and I disembarked without wanting to run back for more, unlike certain coasters I've ridden. I'll gladly admit that the hardware looks spectacular at night, thanks to trains illuminated both by headlights and a row of LEDs along each side, and there are bonus points for the rousing soundtrack on the lift hill and the recorded rumble of thunder as the train went through the single inversion. The tracking was as smooth as anything that Mack has built, and the restraints were comfortable. However, the intensity simply wasn't there. It's a shame that the layout wasn't designed to be that little bit faster; my sense is that a few additional miles per hour would have made all the difference.

The impotence of Storm meant that it was possible to switch to credit whore mode in good conscience, and thus we joined the queue for Miao Coaster (#2159), my third encounter with a SBF Visa Double Coaster MX605. I've seen some bizarre coaster operating policies in my travels, notably the loading procedure on the spinning coaster at Greenland, but nothing quite prepared me for what was happening here. The operator was allowing two people through at a time, closing and bolting the gate, waiting for them to pick one of the eight available rows, securing their restraints, then repeating the process. The end result was a time between dispatches of almost ten minutes. The one saving grace was that we made it in to the last car of a cycle, thus saving us precious minutes.

Hip Hop Coaster (#2160) thus became the final credit of the evening, only my third encounter with the large model Zamperla family coaster that premiered at Luna Park NYC in 2010. The upper level of the ride was quite bouncy, with the train clattering around in a manner broadly equivalent to the much more common smaller model, but the rails were negotiated in a less haphazard fashion when the train picked up some speed, with a descending helix that was almost smooth.

By the time we disembarked it was 12:27am, some three minutes before the queues were due to close for the night if everything was running to schedule, a dangerous assumption at the best of times but all the more so in Italy. Word had already spread that Storm had been closed for the night, and thus Megan and I decided that our best bet would be to jog enthusiastically towards the School dark ride. The theme park gods were apparently smiling on us, as we made it through the entrance with seconds to spare, a member of staff closing off the gate right behind us. We boarded a car bearing a striking resemblance to an old-fashioned wooden school desk, which moved slowly through haunted house scenery with an academic theme, including a chemistry lab, a maths lesson, and a library. At various points during the journey there were questions on the wall, and we were apparently supposed to pick the correct answer using three illuminated buttons on our car, our scores counting towards a final exam. Our lack of written Italian made this completely impossible, but we still managed to appreciate the theming and the genuine novelty of the concept.

As we returned to the coach it was impossible not to count our blessings. We'd somehow managed to get on four coasters and a dark ride in seventy-five minutes, thus ticking off all of the must-do attractions from our list on a day that had threatened to be a complete write-off. The evening wasn't relaxing or satisfying, but an additional minute of delay at any point of the day would have resulted in a miss. It could have been much worse.

School