We began day five of our trip with an intentionally lazy morning to allow at least partial recovery from a late arrival into our hotel, and as a result it was almost half past ten when we set out for the short drive to Phantasialand. The roads were virtually empty, and we were able to knock five minutes off the estimated arrival time thanks to a segment of derestricted Autobahn. We were greeted on arrival by a maze of traffic cones and marshalling staff, but they seemed to know what they were doing, and in due course had directed us to a space no more than one hundred metres away from a back entrance to the park beside the Mystery Castle tower.
There was a huge sign up outside the ticket window warning potential customers that the two water rides would not be opening today due to technical problems. It was impossible not to be a little vexed by the closure, as I'd been particularly looking forward to Chiapas, but at the same time it was nice to see a clear upfront warning. The comparison with our experience earlier in the summer could not have been more pronounced. There were lots of other rides on our hit list regardless, so we proceeded to purchase tickets.
The latest addition to the park is Klugheim, a spectacular new land featuring two intertwined roller coasters set amidst what is easily the most elaborate artificial rockwork I've seen in my travels. The area is decorated further by a range of buildings constructed using traditional craft techniques that have been set along a number of twisted stone pathways that provide a range of different viewing angles. The standard of presentation raises the bar for theme parks around the world, and it is no exaggeration to describe it as being well beyond that of any of the over eight hundred parks I've visited over the last fifteen years.
We decided to begin our exploration with Taron (#2282), a double-launching coaster from Intamin with 1320 metres of track and a top speed of 117 kilometres per hour, making it the seventh fastest in Europe. We briefly contemplated going to the single rider line, but the posted wait time wasn't awful and we decided that we'd prefer to ride together. Much of the queue was designed around the ride itself, though in due course we ended up in a large overflow cattle grid surrounded by high walls on three sides. Atmospheric theme music was playing in this area, adding to the experience in a far more memorable fashion than the thumping bass beats and advertising jingles so beloved by American parks. At one point during our wait the ride broke down, but most people chose to stay put and about twenty minutes later launches resumed.
Seating for the new ride is assigned by an operator, and this is arguably necessary as there is a short dispatch interval required to keep the four sixteen seat trains moving at maximum efficiency. There is a dedicated front row queue, and we decided that it was worth holding a few extra cycles after the hour and change that we'd waited thus far. In due course we were on board, and immediately noticed an overhead lap bar design that looked to have been heavily influenced by the Mack restraint introduced on Blue Fire, perhaps Intamin's revenge after their Mega-Lite layout was cloned in France.
The train makes a slow right turn as it leaves the station and heads for the first launch segment. There is a good kick from the launch system and a rush of air as the train picks up speed, but today at least that represented one of the few forceful points in the layout; the ensuing track consisted of a series of gentle turns that were handled in the manner of a Sunday drive, being pleasant but lacking even the vaguest hint of aggression. A second launch segment woke things up briefly as it pushed the train into a dramatic climbing left turn up the side of a waterfall, but at the apex the speed once again seemed to melt away, with the train completing a gentle journey back to the final brakes.
I'd spoken to a few other enthusiasts about the ride prior to our trip, and while opinions were far from unanimous there was nevertheless a general indication that the layout was much more forceful than it had been for me. To that end, I resolved to give it a second chance later on, a fine plan foiled only when it went down for the night shortly before 5:00pm. It seems churlish in the extreme to judge a brand new coaster based on the experience of a single lap, but I've got no choice given that I'm not planning a return visit in the near future, and with that in mind, my experience of Taron was of a top notch family coaster whose key attribute is its theming.
The second new coaster this year is a customised Family Boomerang that gets very close indeed to its higher profile brother. Raik (#2283) has a top speed of just 62 kilometres per hour, but it manages to feel faster than that thanks to tight clearances. As with the other models of its type the ride begins with a backwards tow to the top of a lift spike, but there was no boost on the reverse spike; the train simply ran out of momentum and rolled backwards the way it had come. We subsequently went back for a second lap at the end of the day as a consolation prize for the lack of Taron, and while I didn't notice any difference between our two laps both were good fun.
After a lunch break we headed for Maus au Chocolat, an interactive dark ride added to the park for the 2011 season. The experience is essentially the same as the Toy Story Midway Mania rides from the Disney parks, with the only alteration being theming: here, riders shoot using bullets made of icing sending sticky white splashes (!) towards animated targets. There was a vague aroma of chocolate throughout the queue, and it was consistent enough that I concluded that the park was deliberately pumping the odour in through the air conditioning to give a little extra flavour to the theming.
At some point in the last few years the queueing system for Winjas was redesigned, removing the dedicated areas in favour of a single path that splits for the last few minutes before the station. From the perspective of the writer this seems like a good approach, as it evens out the wait time for the average punter who probably doesn't care which of the two coasters she rides. That being said, there are some issues with the implementation, the most obvious being the lack of signage at the split point indicating which track is which. The route that leads to the Fear track is also a bit longer than that for Force, causing problems for larger groups that want to ride together. Both tracks were running well today, though we got a lot more spinning on the Fear track for some reason.
Germans are inveterate smokers, and nowhere is this more obvious than in amusement parks where someone invariably has to light up in every queue despite obvious and repeated rauchen verboten signs. One such desperate ignited his cancer stick on entering the line for Temple of the Night Hawk, and it looked to us like he just about had time to enjoy three puffs before reaching the indoor section. The cigarette was dropped unceremoniously on the ground, still lit, and I decided as a good citizen to trample it in order to reduce the risk of the park losing more coasters. Megan was absolutely fuming (pun intended) at the rudeness, and though I'm sympathetic I have realised over the years that it is beyond my power to educate the masses.
The ride has held the title for the world's longest indoor coaster for almost three decades, an impressive run for any record made all the more significant when one realises that the next eight places in that particular leaderboard are held by Disney parks, with the top ten rounded out by Eurosat. The Phantasialand ride has a relatively diminutive height of just thirty-eight feet, and achieves its length by the simple expedient of three lift hills. The hawk was conspicuously absent today, the effect having apparently broken some years ago, but fortunately the atmospheric soundtrack was still working. One of these days I'd love to experience the ride with the lights on; perhaps that's something that could be arranged on a future club trip?
We hadn't planned to do Hollywood Tour but the wait time was posted at five minutes when we walked past it and on that basis it would have been rude to skip it. Megan described the ride as the epitome of old school cheesy dark rides and that was about right. We boarded large size boats with no restraints at all and dropped gently into a room full of rainbow colours and glitter that led into a variety of movie sets, including Jaws, 20000 Leagues under the Sea, the Wizard of Oz, King Kong, and a handful of action scenes we didn't recognise. The animatronics were hilariously dated, having apparently not been changed since the ride opened in 1990.
Our next stop was at Colorado Adventure. When I first visited the park the ride was subtitled The Michael Jackson Thrill Ride, though that branding has now been removed. The queue is accessed via a small path that looks to be heading in the wrong direction, but it eventually reverses course into a spacious cattle grid that probably hasn't been fully utilised in several years. There was no wait at all, and thus we were quite surprised when a family of four walked up the fast track entrance and burned a €15 ticket for nothing. It got even more bizarre moments later when one of the children from the group got cold feet and exited without riding. I couldn't remember anything about the comfort level, and given that, I suggested that we avoid a wheel seat if possible. We thus ended up in the middle of the second car, and from that location the tracking was okay if not outstanding. The highlight of the layout was the section after the second lift hill, where the ride picked up a lot of speed, the sensations amplified by some tight clearances.
We caught a quick ride on Geister Rikscha before heading for Black Mamba as the final credit of the day. We decided to wait for the front seat, and this paradoxically turned into a tactical error as we ended up sharing the row with two teenaged boys, one of whom had positively rancid BO. Worse yet, he had absolutely no sense of personal space; during our ride he was waving his arms in all directions, and in so doing elbowed me repeatedly. My polite entreaties were ignored, and the assault got sufficiently bad that it was completely impossible to enjoy the experience; we were back at the brake run before I realised what had happened. Megan didn't have the inconsiderate neighbour problem, but she reported that the comfort level fell far short of what one has come to expect from B&M with her left ear burning from too many collisions with the overhead restraint.
At this stage we took a look at the map to see what else there might be to do, and that was how we discovered the presence of Verruckt Hotel, an elaborately themed fun house. The experience began with an "elevator" ride, albeit of the non-moving kind; after a brief pre-show a different set of doors opened allowing us in to explore. Over the next few minutes we discovered rooms with ridiculously colourful wallpaper and paintings on the wall, a vortex tunnel, a mirror maze, and an entire bathroom suite glued to the ceiling. I don't think I've ever seen a themed fun house before, making it a highly enjoyable novelty.
We made a brief stop at Feng Ju Palace before heading to Mystery Castle, the indoor tower ride from Intamin with face to face seating. The ride takes an incredible sixty four people at a time on a twenty second journey up and down the castle turret, and it's really good fun to watch others bouncing up and down the wall across from you. It'd be nice if the loading procedure was a little quicker, though we waited less than five minutes for both of our rides.