Ride Review – Soaring with Dragon

The triple launch coaster has become a popular purchase over the last decade. The main advantage to these started out as the ability to hit high speeds over a shorter length of track, a feature which is great for both fitting thrill rides into small spaces and cost saving by increasing ride duration over the same amount of physical steel. The general design also comes with selling points such as eye-catching reverse spike elements and the marketability of multiple launches, or backwards movement, any of which can be turned into a ‘first in <any location>’ these days.

Intamin first entered this particular market in 2016 with the striking looking Soaring with Dragon at Hefei Wanda theme park. Unlike the other competition we had seen up until this point, this was not a compact ride at all. This was the headline attraction for a brand new park, with a sprawling layout that seems to have only ever intended to capitalise on the sheer spectacle of a massive triple launch, rather than any of the other more pedestrian benefits.

I managed to visit Hefei Wanda exactly one year after it first opened, a day on which they were celebrating this first anniversary with heavily discounted entrance tickets and the promise of a late night fireworks display. Coupled with being a Saturday, it was amongst the busiest I’ve seen from any Chinese park during my travels. It is perhaps thanks (or no thanks) to these crowd levels that I witnessed some highly unlikely two train operations on Soaring with Dragon, a spectacle which I have never seen at all in this country outside of Disney.

This kept people moving at a reasonable pace, with the wait times settling at around an hour for most of the day and it was during these slower periods that I got to fully appreciate the design of the queue. The path winds its way in and out of several buildings as it heads towards the station, steadily drawing nearer to the launch track as it goes.

If you’ve heard the sound of either of Intamin’s 2016 LSM builds then you’ll know that they have a rather distinct character to them, a real guttural and resounding vibration of a noise that’s very unlike the clattering of a hydraulic launch or the comparatively gentle whistle and hum of other magnetic propulsion. It is, in a word, intimidating, and as you approach it over time the sound gets louder until the point where guests can actually see it happening just through the fence and foliage, almost drowning out the screams in its wake.

The effects of this on the expectant riders that I witnessed were rather profound and again something I haven’t really experienced elsewhere in the country, either due to lack of crowding and atmosphere or an observed general lack of paying attention to surroundings – ‘we’re having a day out and doing a thing, but it doesn’t matter.’ Guests were vocally nervous, excited and buzzing about what they were seeing and hearing here and that’s always infectious and nice to see. Even I had a small case of the jitters, though that was likely because it was threatening to rain at any moment and ruin my day.

Entry into the station building gets you up close and personal with one of my favourite train designs. Sure it has the wonderfully raised open seating and lap bars popularised by the Mack megacoaster, but really it’s all about that cheerful looking dragon on the front. I love it.

Surprisingly soon (you know, because there’s actually a reason to despatch the train reasonably efficiently when there’s another waiting behind), the first corner is traversed, the switch track is crossed, and you’re ready to soar.

A short but surprising burst of acceleration kicks things off with a little tease halfway up into the massively imposing initial element. What really gets things going though is the backwards launch just as you ease back into your seat after that supposed failed attempt. It’s powerful, and it comes with a general lack of anticipation, making it all the more frightening. There’s now enough momentum to make it most of the way up that enormous reverse spike, which provides a great sense of weightlessness and visuals that would more usually be associated with a swing ride over a coaster.

As you hit the launch track running for the final time there’s one more wrench, though it’s not quite as powerful as a full on rolling launch you might find elsewhere, with a little hesitation as if to say ‘you’ve already got enough speed going here’ – that reverse one is too good for it’s own good. The train can of course now clear the non-inverting loop, an element that generates a fascinating set of sensations and one that’s quite hard to put into words. Something I do notice in these, while being slowly rotated from ‘not quite upside down’ through to ‘not quite upside down again’ is the overwhelming sense of scale and height at which you’re performing the manouevre.

In the coaster world this altitude is most commonly dedicated to the upright riding positions of a lift hill, top hat or camelback and I have ridden a few of the biggest monsters out there without really feeling that height. There’s something about throwing some lateral movements into the mix, or perhaps viewing the sky the wrong way up that just enhances it far more for me.

Straight after diving back towards the ground, you’re thrust up into an actual inversion and that happens all over again. It’s a graceful execution rather than an intense one, it’s good to have these moments of serenity to mix the ride up a bit.

The element turns you back towards the station and fires you out into a glorious speed hill over pathing and buildings, another fantastic visual moment but, more importantly, a real highlight of the ride experience.

For me sadly the spectacle ends here, as the remainder of the layout consists of two fast turnarounds separated by an unremarkable change of direction, and the brake run.

The second of these corners takes place around the ridiculously huge and attractive dragon centrepiece of the park but I have to say that this feature lends itself to being as good offride as it is onride, with nothing particular in the way of exciting forces to speak of during that segment of track.

I hugely admire the ambition and the presentation here, but the perfectionist in me wishes for a better execution and a ride that starts so overwhelmingly strong just seems to burn out before its time. With half the time spent in those glorious first elements, it never really ‘gets going’ with anything fast paced or out of control, the contrast to the serenity that can make coasters the best of the best.

Perhaps there is a little more of that underlying raison d’être present in this triple launch than I alluded to earlier but still, Soaring with Dragon is an amazing experience overall and Intamin’s first attempt at this particular concept did seem to spark a degree of interest for several more throughout the industry, as there were some very exciting announcements not too long after the debut. From attractions like this one I just know that this Swiss manufacturer has all the potential to dominate the industry once more, so we’re just waiting for a park to go all out, throw everything on the table and really tip the multi-launch over the edge.

Score card

50 years of coasters – 2000
50 years of coasters – 2001

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