2017, De Panne. A faffy cred hunting trip that ended in failure. The inadequacies of Plopsaland and our own misplaced stubborn desperation to ride a cloned GCI that had broken down resulted in us missing out on Vleermuis, potentially forever. Ticket machines were out of order, staff were slow and chunnels were missed. Not the best of impressions were left.
Many years later they weren’t making it any easier for us, with sporadic opening dates and a soon-to-be-abolished pre-book system that wouldn’t let you pre-book. We ended up getting full blown Plopsa season cards in anticipation of dusting off several other +1s from the chain either later in the trip or within the next year. Saves a fortune on parking at least.
Day 19 – Plopsaland De Panne
Ideally we would have visited this on the way home, seeing that the park is under an hour from the channel tunnel and closer to my house than Alton Towers, but a 6 hour round trip from the German border, on a Wednesday of all days, would just have to do.
Was it worth it? Yes.
The reason for visiting of course was the recently opened Ride to Happiness. I had no idea what to expect, having never ridden a Mack Xtreme Spinner and not understanding the rather unusual theme that came with it and, well, we’ve certainly got something special on our hands here.
I’ve totally fallen for the theme for #1 Ride to Happiness now that I understand it. Sign me up for this Belgian music festival. There’s a wonderfully serene and other-worldly aura to the area, from the calm and soothing queueline soundtrack to our new robot friend here in the station who makes bold but reassuring statements to imminent riders about how their lives are about change forever.
And they are. This ridiculously slow inversion out of the station is the most comfortable and natural sensation ever, even if it has no right to be. The ability to take it at any angle and a variety of speeds makes it an instant classic.
From there, you pause at the start of the launch track in a moment of nervous anticipation, sometimes spinning, sometimes not. How will this play out? You never know, it’s a surprise every time. The sudden burst of acceleration might initiate an intense spin, it might pin you sideways, forwards or backwards. You’re at the mercy of the machine now and the on-board soundtrack matches this change in dynamic perfectly.
The first element out of the launch is another that just conventionally shouldn’t work. A 90° turn in the midst of a 100ft top hat? Why not.
If you’re in the front of the train, the airtime at the crest of the hill immediately tries to kill you before teasing you into a slow and inevitable vertical plummet. If you’re in the back it seems fine, we’re just turning and spinning a bit, up high, and then comes the terrifying drop that has you out of your seat at any angle for what feels like forever.
I can’t go on describing all the different combinations of what this ride can feel like and do to you because the spinning aspect makes it an endless list. Highlights for me into the banana roll and vertical loop combo were moments of intense positives that literally folded me in half around the lap bar while trying to implant my belt inside my stomach, leaving an ugly bruise. Sure, if you like.
There’s a gloriously disorientating fourth inversion straight after that, out over the water, which is just one of those ‘coasters don’t get much better than this’ moments for me.
And yet you’re only half done. Mack’s strangely humped second launch makes a return appearance, giving a weirdly satisfying shot into the last inversion that defies description. Hangtime, sideways airtime, falling out of your seat… you name it, it can do it.
And just to seal the deal on the whole experience, some more epic ejector on the last few hills, any which way you like. This ride left me laughing and crying on the brake run every time, without fail, mask either over my eyes or around my neck There’s just so much to process and it never gets old. I love it.
There are other rides here, though you’d be forgiven for not knowing or caring at this point. The gap in quality is just ridiculous, as we soon reminded ourselves.
Nevertheless we started with a token lap on spiteful Heidi The Ride. It’s fine, I guess. Only been a year since we rode the Polish equivalent to death, so it all felt very familiar. Why did we let this thing cause so much fuss?
Anubis: The Ride is still here and I bet it’s feeling rather embarrassed and redundant right now. Just a sub-par launch coaster with inversions, not Eurofighter bad at least, but probably time to step aside.
We also managed to miss their dark ride last time. Bos van Plop is a brilliant little boat ride through a million different gnomes up to various tricks, complete with catchy soundtrack and bundles of charm.
Thus concludes our circuit of the park. We were here for Happiness and made it our mission to ride it as much as physically possible. The weather was ridiculously hot, the coaster is stupidly intense and we were struggling, but with regular rest and sustenance, we got it done.
I was having scary thoughts throughout the day about how much I like this thing. Each go would bring something new to the table, moments that I once thought were exclusive to certain other top ten coasters. Of the 16 laps we ended up with, honestly, there were a couple that weren’t as special, there is a degree of luck involved. But the majority were just something else and it simply can’t be beaten on that rerideability factor, nor the fact that it can blow your mind equally in any seat.
Every time I doubted myself, head in hands on the brakes, not knowing what to do with all these thoughts, we’d roll into the station and the robot woman would be there looking down on us, sometimes judging those feelings, sometimes affirming them, with those weird monocle cogs that rotate in and out of place. Once again I find It’s the little details that can endear you to a ride. Suddenly the return of the station soundtrack would stir up an overwhelming emotion that almost has me shaking, even now, as I merely think about it.
Yes, this is the second best rollercoaster on the planet.