Travel Note

9th May 2016

Day three of our trip began with an early morning flight from Paris Orly airport to Vienna. The reader might legitimately question whether the use of ORY was a deliberate ploy on my part to clock up an additional airport credit, but I can assure you it wasn't; it was in fact a tactical decision based on the availability of cheap flights. In an ideal world I'd have flown out of Lyon, which was an awful lot closer to yesterday's park, but though a non-stop route was available the one-way fare of €795 per person (yes, seriously) made that option unrealistic. The flight we ended up taking, on Transavia, was just €68 per person including a checked bag, and the service (and leg room) was worthy of a flight costing three times that.

Readers returning a rental car to Orly Airport should be aware that accessing the car park is quite a challenge, especially at night, as there are about ten different turns to follow and the signposts are easy to miss. Drive slowly and carefully and be ready to swear emphatically when you overshoot. I'd describe the steps here but unfortunately Google Street View cuts off around the third turn.

 

Familypark

9th May 2016

One of the biggest embuggerances in this hobby is when a park in an inconvenient location (otherwise known as one not easily reached by convenient cheap flights) announces a new credit in the immediate aftermath of a visit. This is of course a first world problem to which the phrase stuff happens (or perhaps no one cares) is the best response, but it was hard to be completely stoical when a new credit was announced just eight weeks after a trip, especially when the cost of that excursion was increased somewhat by the Austrian police. One person in the car that day was so cheesed off that he altered his 2013 plans to fit in a return visit. The rest of us were somewhat more relaxed and elected to wait until a convenient time in the future.

We arrived at Familypark shortly after opening following a pleasant hour long drive from Vienna Airport that took us within a few kilometres of both the Slovakian and Hungarian borders. I'd bought tickets online in order to save time, but the benefit turned out to be marginal, as the park was almost completely empty, with no more than two dozen cars in the parking area. The friendly gate attendant greeted us with something incomprehensible in rapid fire German that I'm guessing translated roughly to have a nice day.

The main entrance gate opens out into an area with several self-operated rides, including Adlerflug (#2218), a mark two Heege Butterfly that stands on the same spot as the Pendelbahn Flic-Flac that was retired at the end of the 2013 season. The ride represents a bit of a conundrum for coaster counters in a world where the community has decided that complete rebuilds don't necessarily count as new credits. Be that as it may, I've decided to claim a plus one on my list thanks to a clearly visible manufacturer plate, and at the end of the day the only people who really care about such things should find something better to do with their lives. As with its predecessor the ride is a €1 upcharge, and once is likely to be enough.

New Credit

The park dedicates quite a lot of space to walkthrough attractions and play equipment that is designed to be instructive while also being fun. Though aimed at children we passed several enjoyable minutes exploring Neptun's Wasserwelt, a gentle flowing stream on a stone surface with a variety of water wheels and adjustable dams that could be used to change the direction of flow. As the name suggests the entire area was guarded by a statue of the Roman god holding a trident and wearing an expression of good natured constipation. Directly next door was the Drachenhöhle, a cave populated by Dragomir Schwefelstein, a friendly green and purple creature who spoke enthusiastically to us in the local patois before spraying us with water. We dried off by climbing across Römerfallen, a ropeway leading to a carefully hidden treehouse that (oddly enough) wasn't designed with adults in mind.

The first worthwhile coaster of the day became Götterblitz, an extended version of Pegasus at Europa Park with an elaborately sculpted station building. As with its parent ride this was very good indeed, delivering a smooth thrill that made a complete mockery of the more common family coaster designs. The only criticism of the design I have, and it's a serious nitpick, is that the enormous figurehead on the front car blocks the view for smaller riders; it'd be nice if that could be scaled back a bit on future installations. There was nobody waiting in the queue when our train returned and given that the operator gave us all a second lap.

Megan had been itching to try a Gerstlauer Sky Fly since we'd missed the new one at Duinrell by a few days. I decided to keep my feet firmly on the ground while she practiced her aerobatics on Leonardo's Flugmachine, and she apparently liked it, completing four rides at various stages of the day and describing it variously as her new favourite flat ride and one of the most intense rides I've been on.

The park added its fourth roller coaster last year in the guise of Herkules, one of six installations (to date) of the Gerstlauer Kiddy Racer, pictured below. As its dimensions suggest this is a ride that is only available to small children, thanks to a height limit of 1.2m (~4ft) and a weight limit of 40kg (~88lbs). The only coaster counters ever likely to have these rides in their track records are those with really cool parents, though one suspects it'll be a few years before any of those start showing up on Coaster-Count. It's a shame, really, as they do look like a lot of fun.

Our target credit was not visible from the area of the park we were in, forcing us to consult the map, which revealed it to be almost half a kilometre away in a wooded area at the far end of the park. The green track of Rattenmühle (#2219) took full advantage of the challenging terrain with a wonderfully paced sequence of directional changes that were negotiated with only mild jarring. It was interesting to see five cars on course today despite a nearly empty park, many of which were being dispatched empty; we completed four laps in total and we could easily have done more.

We also had the opportunity to ride three different track rides, including Schweinchenbahn (pigs), Traktorbahn (tractors), and Waldtierrennen (forest animals). The former two were self operated, reflecting the fact that Austrian children know how to behave themselves and follow instructions. The latter was a very tight fit for me, but I managed to shoehorn myself on board.

 

Wiener Prater

9th May 2016

There is a car park next to Wiener Prater, but we decided it'd be simpler (and cheaper) to leave our car at our hotel, which we'd deliberately chosen due to its proximity to a metro station. It took about fifteen minutes to travel from there to Praterstern Station, located directly in front of the main entrance to the park.

The Vienna Prater is currently part way through a celebration marking its two hundred and fiftieth anniversary, and as part of the festivities it is playing host to the world's largest transportable roller coaster, just one of thirty-four different coasters to have spent time at the park over the years. The high turnover is explained by the fact that all the rides in the place are independently owned and operated, and attractions not paying their way don't last long. The place feels very much like a permanent fairground rather than a structured park, and there are no unlimited ride deals available, making for an expensive night out; we crunched through a budget of €100 per person in the space of a few hours.

Race

The light was nearly perfect for photography when we arrived in the early part of the afternoon, and thus spent the first hour of our visit exploring and getting a feel for where the different rides were. It was quickly apparent that almost all of the attractions were open despite minimal crowds, with only a handful of casualties, notably Boomerang, Ponny-Carousel, Race, and Space Shot. The loss of two credits was a minor irritation, though a kiddie coaster and a cookie-cutter ride were definitely the two we'd have chosen to miss. There was quite a bit of advertising for a new roller coaster restaurant, though we decided to skip it in favour of the equally overpriced but somewhat more predictable Hard Rock Café.

Our first tick ended up being Maskerade (#2220, €5), a custom designed enclosed spinning coaster from Gerstlauer themed around a masquerade ball. The layout began with fifteen seconds of elaborate dark ride filled with venetian face masks and exotic costumes. The car then engaged a vertical lift mechanism from where it was released into a series of helices that wrapped around a brightly lit disco ball and various coloured lights. The experience was very good indeed, if a bit on the short side, lasting around thirty seconds from lift to brakes, but on the positive side the designers did at least make the most of the available space. I subsequently went back for a second and a third ride.

Our second stop was in the back row of Olympia Looping (€8.50), which today was running a single five car train. I've written before (and extensively) about this masterpiece of engineering, and there's not a lot to add except to note that it fits rather well at the edge of the Prater grounds. There have been persistent rumours in recent years that the ride is coming to the end of its travelling career, and while I hope that isn't the case I'd be happy to see it enjoying a long and fruitful retirement in Vienna as opposed to standing idle in Mexico. We subsequently went back for a second ride in the front, and The War Department went for two more laps on her own.

The nearby Blumen Rad (€3.50, or free with the purchase of a cocktail!) was perfectly placed for photographing Olympia Looping, though the view was obstructed somewhat by the presence of Turbo Boost, a relatively rare example of the Funtime Vomatron. There was also a good overview shot to be had from this location showing quite a range of flat rides.

After disembarking the wheel it was time to ride what is arguably the worst permanently installed steel coaster in Western Europe. In the interests of a happy relationship I normally make a point of riding all the coasters that my girlfriend needs even when I don't need the credit, but I draw the line when it comes to pay-per-ride attractions that are known to be dreadful. Megan thus handed me a copy of her will (okay, not really, I just made that up) as she entered the queue for Volare (€5) and was kind enough to provide a whole series of wonderful facial expressions before the car engaged the lift hill. My understanding is that the ride quality did not improve from then on, making me glad that I'd chosen to abstain.

Happiness

On my first visit to the park many years ago I remember enjoying the prototype Star Flyer, at that point a completely new ride design that was catching the attention of parks (and manufacturers!) around the world. In 2010 the original machine was sold to the UK-based Mellors Group and replaced by a larger model that for three years was the tallest of its kind in the world. We couldn't pass a ride like that by, and thus we paid €5 to ride Praterturm. Though no longer a record holder the 117m height provides a view of Vienna that is rather better than the industrial sprawl visible from the tallest model right now. It's worth noting that Praterturm is operated by its manufacturer Funtime; one wonders if the foundation was built to allow a further upgrade at some stage in the future?

The highlight of the park from a coaster enthusiast perspective remains the Hochschaubahn (€3), now one of just eight coasters worldwide to feature an on-board brakeman. The ride is not the tallest or fastest of the genre, but it does have the best theming by some margin, including trees, rock work, a river, a waterfall, a church spire, castle turrets, and a resident family of gnomes who are not above making impolite gestures at passing trains. Today the ride quality was very good indeed, aided considerably by a brakeman who was applying the absolute minimum amount of force.

We found a thoroughly unexpected gem in the guise of Megablitz (€4.50, rerides €3), an ageing Vekoma ride that consists almost entirely of extended helices negotiated with strong lateral forces and a smoothness reminiscent of rides designed by the late Anton Schwarzkopf. The two car trains featured inline seating, suggesting rather strongly that the design may have been intended to compete with the Jet Star family.

We had three blind wild mice to complete, starting with Wilde Maus (€3.50), which today was running fairly well thanks to a lack of block brakes. The track was a curious mix of colours, and I'd be tempted to blame that on the owners running out of paint part way through a job change were the same mixed hues not visible in different places in my photos from eleven years ago. Our second stop was at an enclosed spinning mouse from Maurer that used to operate at Tokyo Dome City; the newly rebranded Insider (€4.50) was wonderful, delivering powerful spinning accompanied by a techno dance sound track and lots of coloured lights. Last and by all means least, Dizzy Mouse (€3.50) delivered a typical Reverchon ride, being a box tick but little more.

There was one more achievable credit available that neither of us particularly wanted to ride, but it had to be done. Super 8er Bahn (€4.00) was the only known example of a Pinfari FC80, and with good reason. The transitions on the twisted layout ranged from uncomfortable to actively painful, despite lap bar restraints, and neither of us were sorry when the train hit the final brakes.