Germany 03/16 – Europa Park
Due to the size of the place, a common recommendation for visiting Europa Park is that you spend a minimum of three days there. It’s the second largest park in Europe following the Disneyland Paris resort and is owned and run by the Mack family, the very same Macks that are involved in manufacturing rides that I often speak highly of. The main concept of the park is showcasing various countries throughout Europe as themed areas with their own rides and attractions.
Feeling like experts at this stage in our career, we felt that we could probably manage it in two days – let’s see how that turned out.
Day 3 – Europa Park
After parking directly underneath a B&M hyper coaster – a novel place to put the car, we headed in to appreciate the scenery around the entrance area before the ride sections were opened to the public.
In terms of rollercoasters, the most significant area in the park is Iceland, home to both a Mack launch coaster and a GCI woodie. It’s a particularly beautiful area of the park with great attention to detail in theming, scenery and ride interaction.
We began with the Mack, which in a way was a showcase prototype of the new and exciting hardware that the company were introducing to the world in 2009. The same technology that later went on to create my absolute favourite, Helix.
So I was excited to say the least, to see how it all began. It didn’t disappoint.
Following a smooth launch into a high turn, it’s a very well rounded layout taken mostly with a graceful feeling rather than one of intensity. The exception to this is the final inversion, which is taken at ridiculous speed and tries to spin you out of the train, making me instinctively hold onto my head every single time.
Other highlights include the exit to the mid course brake run, the twisted airtime hill that threads the loop and the close interaction with the rockwork which simply dares you to keep your hands up at all times.
The ride also has a great soundtrack, with a 90 second piece that is actually tailored to fit the on-ride experience. Sadly this only played through the onboard speakers during just 1 of our many laps, but I was overly thrilled when it happened.
Blue Fire’s wooden neighbour has a brilliant queueline that gets more and more intricate as you progress. Inside the station, there are statues high up that creepily turn their heads in sequential creaky movements to monitor the trains as they arrive and depart. For further intimidation, there’s a signature GCI station flythrough which the train simply roars through while you wait in anticipation, shaking the whole building in the process.
The start of the ride feels particularly out of control and intense, plunging it’s way through the structure. From here I found that it lacked a little definition, there were no standout moments and it rattles around some rather high up sections for longer than feels necessary.
As with the other Iceland coaster, the interaction with the scenery greatly enhances the experience and towards the end of the layout Wodan begins to improve again, hitting some unusual transitions, strange track shaping in the corners and a couple of small hills that throw you all over the place. By the end of the ride I was simply laughing through sheer joy – high praise.
Continuing on through the creds, we find the first of two Mack water coasters in the park. Located in the Portugal area, this one uses larger boat vehicles, turntables and a backwards portion of track across the top section. Again the station scenery is a particular highlight.
Over in Greece, these smaller boat/cars navigate a more significant coaster portion of twists and turns before ending in the classic splashdown.
Behind Poseidon is Pegasus, a Mack youngstar coaster which is a great family ride – very thrilling for the size and flawlessly smooth. It was running a Virtual Reality headset add-on that we tried, having not attempted any previously (it seems to be popping up everywhere).
This was based on a franchise called Monster Family/Happy Family and the visuals showed some of the characters riding alongside us through various fantasy antics, the most striking moment being when one of them jumped out of their seat in close proximity.
I wouldn’t particularly recommend the experience as it doesn’t really add much, especially when considered against the extra amount of time it adds to the proceedings for everyone involved.
This Mack wild mouse has a special feature, showing off an elevator lift system at the beginning of the ride in place of a traditional chain lift hill. The cars tilt rather unnervingly to the side and back again as they travel upwards before exiting the building and then traversing a mostly standard layout that never quite lives up to the initial spectacle.
Let us pause for a moment to appreciate the other wondrous entertainment that can be found within the park – a lady herding geese.
Disappointly this is a rather unexciting Mack bobsled coaster. The most interesting part of the ride experience for me was appreciating the efficiency of the staff and operations here – something Europa Park are potentially the best in the world at.
Another place that VR has appeared in this park is on their Mack powered coaster. This is unfortunate as the ride spends some time in a beautiful indoor area with crystals, caverns and dragons. For some reason we chose to don the headsets again, I was underwhelmed again and I’m told that the screens weren’t even working for Mega-Lite, forcing him to sit in stunned silence throughout the ride. We made up for this by spending a lot of time exploring this magical hidden section of the park on foot instead.
As well as having this more traditional powered coaster, Europa Park saw the debut of Mack’s inverted powered coaster – a ride system that suspends guests below the track with cars that can gently rotate, it lends itself well to dark ride sections and strong theming, with good control over both the pace of the trains and the direction in which they face.
I don’t quite know why, but I never took photos of Arthur. To help with the seating arrangement, the area outside the queue has a free locker system to store loose articles but it was the most complicated and frustrating encounter of the whole park. A combination of tickets, coloured lights and German men shouting are supposed to indicate which locker you have been assigned to, while other guests attempt to steal it from you or block the way and end up timing you out.
Once on the ride, which is themed around the film Arthur and the Invisibles, there are several scenes on screens, a short outdoor section and a much more impressive indoor section through which the trains suddenly go swooping across a vast open area full of immersive scenery and guests walking below.
Other than this particular moment, I wasn’t overly taken with the whole system. The movement was a bit clunky and I failed to follow the storytelling or be left with any other significant impression (or a picture).
For an indoor coaster that satisfies on all levels, a visit to the France area is a must. Eurosat is another Mack coaster and is situated entirely within this sphere, with an amazing soundtrack and a space theme. It utilises a spiral lift hill which appears to take several minutes to get to the top, climbing and climbing forever while the music keeps you thoroughly entertained.
When it finally reaches the summit, the train begins to wind its way down in total darkness, other than the sight of an occasional illuminated planet or asteroid. The movements are totally unpredictable and in many cases completely wild and it results in a rather intense but totally joyous experience from start to finish.
Sharing a lot of features with the above, Euromir is a Mack spinning coaster with a space theme, a great soundtrack and an endless indoor spiral lift hill. The coaster portion is outdoors this time, beginning with a series of teasing turns, high up between the striking structures, before dropping into a much more intense sequence of banked corners with occasional strong spinning. It isn’t as good as Eurosat, but still rather enjoyable.
I believe that only leaves one more coaster – the big boy, the B&M hyper.
In a slightly unusual change from the rest of the park, this ride is sponsored by Mercedes, has nothing in the way of scenery (admittedly hard for a ride of this scale) other than some cars in the queue and an amusing song that encourages Silver Star itself to ‘ride on.’
We tried the comfy B&M trains with their minimalistic clam shell restraints in various positions and learnt that the ride offers vastly differing experiences. The front row simply wasn’t worth our time for the unobstructed view, providing an underwhelming set of forces throughout the layout.
The back row however was a completely different beast with powerful airtime through many of the hills and a really strong and unexpected kick out of the mid course brake run that violently tried to remove me from the train.
As well as an extensive coaster selection, there are many dark rides at Europa Park.
Cassandra’s Curse was one of the stand outs for me, being Mack’s own version of a Vekoma mad house, with a bonus physical surprise in the seating that was rather fun. It lacked the ambience of my inevitable comparison for these types of rides – Hex, which I feel will put most of the ones I find in future at a disadvantage, but I thoroughly enjoyed it regardless.
The other highlight was Piraten in Batavia, a boat ride with a strong resemblance to the Disney attraction Pirates of the Caribbean. It held it’s own rather well, with several impressive sets and a strong atmosphere throughout.
There are several tracked attractions including a ghost train and a shooting ride, but none of these particularly stood out to me on the day – the sheer number of attractions we got through in a single day (actually everything we wanted) was quite overwhelming at times.
Having successfully completed the park in a single hit, we were left with the whole of the second day to take a much more relaxed pace, enjoy many re-rides and then embark on a surprise side quest (stay tuned).
I was very taken with Europa Park overall, you couldn’t hope to find a more competent park in the way that attractions are presented and operated. One thing that was missing for me was a real standout ride, something that makes me desperately want to return other than just for the park itself. I couldn’t even name a favourite coaster upon leaving and that’s not to say that more than a few aren’t really, really good, I just feel that one especially killer ride would tip the scales for me and make it something truly special, perhaps almost unbeatable.