France 08/22 – Le Fleury, Mer de Sable + Parc Astérix
Right back at it again. This was originally billed to be a little birthday weekender to treat myself to some Gravity Group wood but it ended up being deferred for a Kpop festival in London no less – about the only thing in the world that can trump coasters these days. This all worked out for the best in the end, not least as one of us was still missing a renewed passport by the time the original dates rolled around, along with the fact that the outbound journey process was far less ruined than it could have ended up being, though still not without issue.
Turns out you can’t go anywhere any more, by any method of transport. We arrived at Dover, bleary-eyed and far too early before the new recommended time allowance and proceeded to get stuck in a 90 minute queue for passport control. Just like Heathrow this didn’t really make sense, as it was running at a higher capacity than ever before, but still, we ended up getting pushed back to the next ferry, which was then half an hour late itself.
As always, there was an overly ambitious plan afoot and some quick calculations during the crossing soon made it clear that an Alpine coaster at Parc D’Olhain was immediately gone, along with a +1 at another park, which I had already forgotten existed by the time the trip rolled around.
We were also slightly fearful of how the fastrack/back row system worked at Parc Astérix, particularly regarding whether it had the ability to sell out or not and, after failing to find any details online, booked ourselves a slot on the app as soon as the park opened. This went wrong straight away however, as it immediately counted us down through a 15 minute cooldown period and then insisted that we had to be on the ride between 10:15 and 11:15. This would be just a little tricky while still being on the ferry. Oh well, no time to worry about it now.
Instead it was straight to
Day 1 – Le Fleury
We were amused and confused to arrive at the car park only to be greeted by a road-side banner that stated Le Fleurby. Have we even come to the right place? Turns out it’s the name of the mascot.
Started strong on this beast. #1 Aircraft is not your average SBF Visa creation and the only one operating in the world apparently. I’ll take that.
Lazy research on my part had me believing Bayou Express was the next +1, but we’ve sadly since discovered that I’d already ridden it in Tivoli Gardens. At least the rest of the party needed it.
Yet another relocation operates here under the guise of #2 Rhaegal. This one found infamy fairly recently after derailing in Scotland and subsequently helped my tradition of picking up all the Scottish coasters after they’ve emigrated away. Like the near identical Pinfaris of late, it rode unnervingly smoothly and was even half decent. On a day like this.
Mer de Sable
I remember us looking at this park online while standing in a queue at Parc Saint Paul several years ago, before performing a cost-benefit analysis and deeming it unworthy of our time. It was wise to hold off as there’s a bit more going for it now, plus maybe my standards are a little lower.
After immediately getting lost and trudging through one of the many sand dunes that make up the park’s pathways, we stumbled across their dark ride first, Jungle des Chikapas. *insert Chiapas song here*
It’s a fun little theme, lots of puppeteered animals playing dress up, doing a whole dose of dancing and being their own civilisations. Very solid.
I hadn’t expected any themes beyond Wild West at this park, but we next wound up in an Asian sort of area. #3 Tiger Express was running like an absolute maniac on-ride with not a single block engaging and what would have been a 90 minute queue courtesy of Cedar Fair took a mere 20.
Up the top of a hill is the nicely rethemed and relocated Vekoma junior, #4 Silver Mountain, that once resided at Ratanga Junction in South Africa. This lands me two out of three coasters from the deceased park in as many months, though I’ll have to visit Chile sometime if I ever wish to complete that particular collection. The ride had great views of the surrounding countryside, a fear inducing water effect and even a bit of mist. Very solid.
It all went a bit grim to finish as we ended up in the longest queue of the day for #5 Bandidos, just another SBF spinner. The ride was twice as popular as it had been when we passed it earlier for some reason and we found ourselves in the midst of a group of about 20 children throwing sand around with their shoes.
Park complete though.
They were just the entrées, time for the main dish. Signs were positive as we powered towards the entrance gate, in that a lot more people were heading out rather than in for the day. The machine gun wielding guards of the past were no longer at security to greet us and, already having the measure of the place from our very amateur visit in 2017, we headed straight to the new for 2022 refurbished Tonnere deux Zeus and found the fastrack gate.
Once again the system was confusing, splitting into two rows up some stairs which I immediately assumed were for forwards or backwards, though neither sign made it clear that this was the case. We later surmised that the separation was in fact for ‘one-shot’ fastrack holders and multi-fastrack pass holders. Nevertheless we bowled up with our own backwards seat one-shot that had now been expired for a good 5 hours and in our already predicted French fashion, the host who was working hard and doing about three jobs at once didn’t even have the time for the discussion as to what went wrong, and let us straight into the back row.
Which was the plan all along, you can’t beat a good backwards ride when you simply have no clue what’s coming next. I wasn’t overly fussed about the old Zeus, we only managed to ride it the once and spent most of that worrying about our bag flying all over the place as it wobbled my thighs around some corners in amusing fashion. Coming into this experience I knew nothing of what the mad lads at Gravity had done to the ride for the refurb, trains aside, so it was quite the unnerving experience heading up that lift hill with all the wrong views.
First off, it was amazing. There’s something I find so joyous about the not knowing what’s coming, it just results in nervous and/or excited laughter whenever something significant happens, which in this case happened a lot. The first drop was a little shaky but it really found itself after that and just kept on giving. It felt like it went on for an absolute age, with endless little bursts of airtime which, with the direction of travel, provided an unusual accentuation in how the exit of each hill was lower than the entrance. It really drags you through it all in those seats.
As a counter point it was almost a little exhausting and mildly stressful. I’ve never done wood backwards before and that extra fear of being murdered by roughness at some point led to me never fully letting myself relax and be in the moment, always slightly on edge and braced for the worst. Fantastic fun though, one of a kind experience (right now) and highly recommended.
Buzzing with the eventual success, after the anxieties of the day, we headed over to the only other coaster we were specifically interested in revisiting. On route we skipped past old Goudurix and decided it was best left alone, having treated us kindly in the past.
Something that didn’t treat me so kindly was Ozlris, a ride that 5 years ago punched me in the head on the first drop, rode subsequently about as poorly as the Vekoma and was my first real taste of B&M, and inverts specifically, not being all that consistently good any more. I went in hoping for another Nemesis or Black Mamba, and it wasn’t even close. Since that day this one has sat dead last on my invert rankings, which I’ve always felt a little uncertain about as I’ve literally piled another 20 rides onto that list since, shunting it further and further down. Was it really that bad, baffes aside?
Yes and no. That pronounced, violent jerk was still present on the first drop in the back row, though I was ready for it this time. I suppose it could be considered a good thing to start off that boldly and then immediately be contrasted with the unusually floaty first inversion. Contrast hits again and it’s more forceful through the next part and into the loop than I previously experienced. That weird jarring lurch in the exit is still there and on closer inspection it’s a trim brake, which I find very odd (and funny). Is there also a bump in the track or is it purely the friction that gives it that strange feeling?
The ride loses pace a bit from there (I wonder why), which is one of the main issues I took from before as it does several sluggish turns over unlandscaped land, only diving in and out of the ground for some fun inbetweeny sections parallel to the station. One of the zero Gs was especially glorious and overall I much preferred it to how I found it before. It definitely isn’t the worst one but is also quite a step down from the best. Very solid.
Having completed what we had set out to do in surprisingly quick fashion, the plan was now up in the air. Their madhouse, Le Défi de César, had been a highlight of our last visit and so we checked it out again. Sadly it wasn’t operating either of the preshows, from which I remember nothing but fountain peril, although it was rather interesting to walk straight into the ride system from the exit doors with absolutely no context as to what was going on.
This one has always stood out to me as being the one that gets a little inventive with screens rather than just the usual physical decorations. It ain’t no Hex, but it sets it above your average, confusing story fest. The effect wasn’t quite as pronounced as before, though not especially helped by the fact that at least one of the screens was losing signal and cutting out throughout the ride. We went though our army test, got attacked by a giant squid and came out the other side in one piece. Very solid.
Another semi-dark ride that I hadn’t realised existed and subsequently missed before was Epidemaïs Croisières. For some reason we had great trouble even finding it this time, with the park app indicating it to be in the rocks under the Grand Splatch. Somehow we managed to walk straight past it at least once, staring insistently and completely 180° in the wrong direction of where we thought it was supposed to be.
Boats happen, a large man happens, countries happen and then it goes into a cave for some more happenings. The story was more than a little lost on me, in the end it could all be a dream/imagination as the bloke is playing with his toys in the bath, including our boat. That’s my best guess anyway. Supposedly I’m meant to know this stuff.
We weren’t sure what to do with Tonnere deux Zeus other than knowing it demanded some further rerides, but by this time the question had been answered for us. The backwards seats were no longer available to book and so we queued up for some back to back forwards laps through an impressively efficient regular queue to close the day out in style. Without doing it one more time and trying to really relax, I’d say it’s essentially as good in vanilla mode as it is in the special seats, with a far less pronounced difference in intensity between the two when compared with legends such as DC Rivals and Hollywood Dream.
Gravity have done wonders with it as far as I’m concerned, the still shaky first drop and leads into the satisfying CCI-style turnaround and it’s already hauling by this point. Fresh wood hits in the form of the new sideways airtime hill which packs a powerful punch that I’m all too familiar with and is a real highlight of the new design. I like the homage touch of the old train and some track sticking out above the turnaround at the far end, although it’s a shame you can’t really see it that often.
The next two straight sections remain chock full of airtimey speed hills, which amusingly are half retracked and half as-was, leading to a very special sequence of float and crunch as it bounces between the two. This segment ends with a wicked lateral jerk to the side as you’re still out of your seat from the last hill and thus begins the helices of doom.
They’re alright, the thigh wobble is sadly a thing of the past but there’s still enough of my preferred level of rattle to keep things interesting and then the new deafening tunnel full of lightning effects is hilarious. Yes it’s loud, but when you’ve done Hades 360 you can put up with just about anything. The finale is a little weak, as we’ve found with many recent woodies of this scale, a couple of slower hills, one wonky, on a piece of structure that has a rather impressive sway to it. The Voyage corner to finish is even a bit of a damper but it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable entity and a well earned revitalisation. Very solid.
Can’t wait for the one-two punch it’ll form with Toutatis. France are kicking our ass.