The flight out that night was uneventful and before long we touched down in Da Nang for the next leg of antics.
A short grab took us to the next hotel which was supposed to be better than the previous – it wasn’t, and was supposed to have views of the Dragon Bridge – it didn’t, but it was functional.
A reasonably early start the following morning allowed us to book yet another grab out to the Ba Na Hills in time for the first cable car of the day. It was on this journey that we met our first true legend of a driver. The vibes were good from the start as he sang along to his playlist of Boney M’s greatest hits. He had a reasonable grasp of English, showed genuine interest in our trip and eventually in helping us for the duration of the stay which, crucially, allowed us to cut out that terrible middle man of an app. As a well-connected man, he also knew someone that worked at the ticket office for the park and rang ahead to check whether it was busy/whether there would be queues (it was dead). We exchanged Whatsapp details and were instructed to let him know an hour before we wanted to leave, so that he could pick us up. The return journey would be cheaper this way, and he would make more money without grab taking their share – win win.
Day 3 – Sun World Ba Na Hills
As the first of the branded, chain parks in Vietnam, I was rather taken aback by how stunning this place was.
The whole entrance plaza has a very polished and attractive vibe and you can almost get caught up in the wander through the deserted faux village that leads to the first cable car station.
This isn’t just any cable car, it’s apparently just over 19,000ft long, reaches an elevation of 4,900ft and takes about 20 minutes from end to end. It holds various records, but they’re all rather muddied by words like non-stop and the stipulation of the number of cables involved, just like certain rollercoaster records.
Point is, it’s big.
It just keeps on going, to the extent you can’t even see where you started.
The climate changes on route and suddenly we were in the clouds.
At the point at which you alight, there’s a small hub with an indoor area that leads to the first outdoor attraction of the resort – the golden bridge with the big hands. It was quite eerie at this time of day with visibility so low and virtually no one else around, but definitely very cool.
To get to the main body of the attractions, yet another cable car must be taken to reach even greater heights. Upon exiting that one, an escalator or two leads guests up to this central plaza. Off and down to one side is the primary ‘amusement’ area which is located back indoors.
As the name would suggest, this is home to a 5D Interactive Theatre – the one where you sit on the horseys and shoot bandits. It was par for the course, with the main disappointment being that the interlude moments where it shows people’s faces and who is doing well wasn’t working properly.
The 4D across the way holds these six-seater simulator things, with a film about rocket cars. A very Phantom Menace pod race inspired sequence of events.
Adventure to the Centre of the Earth doesn’t quite live up to other iterations in the theme park world.
The little cars trundle through predominantly darkness and flashing lights while you shoot at nothing in particular.
This 3D 360° Cinema was even more naff, perching on swivel stools on a motionless platform (so not a dark ride), surrounded by a screen that was showing some horror rubbish. I found the imagery just doesn’t work in this environment – if you’re the subject of the scary events, rather than a third party you can at least empathise with, and then nothing happens to you with each and every scare that then has to end, shrug itself off and lead onto another one, then what’s the point? Goon points, that’s what.
Back to Jurassic was a better dinosaur walkthrough.
Not trying to be something it’s not.
Having efficiently cleaned out this indoor section, headed outside to see that the various Alpine coasters on offer were not ready yet, presumably because you couldn’t even see the stipulated 20m in front of you at this time of day.
Not even sure how, but stumbled onto a funicular railway here that took us over to the newest section of the park. Annoyingly, after virtually having the place to ourselves for the first hour, several massive tour groups showed up at this point and proceeded to tailgate us into every queueline.
A ridiculous castle structure at the other end of the railway is home to just two newer attractions at present.
The inside is so elaborately decorated and yet void of anything of significance, it almost defied belief and the contrast of the intricacies against the utilitarian escalators was quite something.
One of the attractions is Rạp Mắt Bay, a simulator channelling a flying theatre. The station has a bit of a steampunk transport hub type vibe where we were all bustled through some batch doors and into the vehicle. It then proceeded to break itself, with various walkie talkie calls being made and a bizarre episode in which they asked a larger gentleman to swap places with someone within the same bench ‘for a better view’.
Eventually it fixed itself and we were off, soarin’ over various sights and sounds from around the globe. The vehicle moves forward and seemingly off the edge of the platform, towards the screen, to achieve this, which is quite an effective immersion. The other sensory aspects are really rather good. There’s mist, fog, heat lamps, lighting and a decent soundtrack, all complimented by a relatively intense set of movements from the vehicle at certain points, particularly if you’re seated towards the edges and corners.
The bad? The media. I just didn’t get on with the fact that everything is a low-end digitally produced version of real life locations. It was highly noticeable to me that this just meant the scaling of landmarks was off and the level of detail was far inferior to that of something photographic. When you swoop along the Thames and realise half the bridges are missing or wrong, certain buildings look crude, the London Eye isn’t even circular and that there’s just no depth to a sprawling metropolis, it takes me right out of it. I guess that’s the one thing that made the Futuroscope version clever – if you’re gonna render it, sprinkle some fantasy elements in there.
The only other thing here is a massive 4D cinema, the Moon Junction Theatre, with the fun novelty of being required to wear shoe covers to stop you messing up their nice furniture.
It was all very familiar brands in this one, a Mack Media film about that monster family, in English, featuring Europa Park Easter eggs and some Crazy Bats. Quality.
After taking in the luxurious surroundings (construction, get excited), it was time to head back up the funicular to the main hub and see what was what.
With still no signs of activity at the Alpines, I asked a member of staff what was up and they said things should be running in about an hour or so.
To pass the time until then we took a wander around the more scenic and architectural aspect of this bizarre but kinda brilliant place, before stopping off in a cafe for some sustenance.
The estimate turned out to be pessimistic as by the time we arrived back at #1 ‘Alpine Coaster 2‘ (they used to have more elaborate names according to RCDB, but these appear to have been scrapped), a reasonably hefty queue had formed. Sadly they were only running a single side of this one and confirmed that they wouldn’t open the other. Around 20 minutes later we were strapped in and made our descent to the field at the bottom. The views are of course pretty stunning, but there’s not much going on in the layout department. The main drawback of this is that most people just end up on the go-slow in order to savour the moment, even though they’re continually instructed not to.
Over at #2 + #3 ‘Alpine Coaster 1‘, both sides were running and the wait was even more significant. But we’re here now, gotta suck it up. This layout was actually slightly better, but even more hampered by poor guest etiquette.
Confusion happened next as we went round again and reached the split point. Both queues had gone down a fair bit after the initial rush and we specifically asked the guy there if we could go to the other side. He said no, we’re clearing that one out, go the other way, so we bailed out and stepped back to watch for a second. A mere ten people later, he started loading guests into the side we wanted. We followed back in and gestured once again, being immediately waved in the right direction without even a hint of recognition. Bizarre. +2.
This marked the end of everything that needed achieving, single alpine spite aside, so I sent a message to our new best mate that we’d be heading out soon.
On the way down we stopped off at the bridge again for another look. Though it wasn’t that much clearer of a view out over the hills, the amount of people here now was a bit much. Overall I really enjoyed this place though, it’s very different to basically anything else out there. Just needs some proper rides now, which it seems they are building right this minute, so definitely one to watch.
Our guy messaged back and said that he wouldn’t be able to make it in time, but had sent a friend in his place, along with a photo for us to ID him. I double checked that the friend would be happy to take us straight to another park, which was confirmed. We found said friend and were soon our way to
As somewhat more of a city park, the simply named Asia Park, also owned by the Sun Group, often doesn’t open until late afternoon and then runs on into the night. Our designated hours were 15:00-22:00, though in low season matters were complicated further by everything operating on alternating timeslots. Coaster A would run from 15:00-16:00, 17:00-18:00, while Coaster B would open from 16:00-17:00, 18:00-19:00 and so on. While all very well, this information was only presented at the very entrance to each ride, meaning a lot of aimless wandering around, backtracking and last minute planning within the somewhat limited time spans.
Ended up at sort of the main event first, at a time when #4 Paradise Fall just happened to be re-opening. While not the biggest coaster here, the Intamin family launch coaster held a bigger appeal to me than most other things on offer in the region.
Upon sitting down in the front for the first train of the new time slot, it proceeded to do an Intamin and break. We were sent back through the air gates in order to witness an engineer arrive, tell the staff they were doing it wrong, despatch two empty trains to prove the point, and then leave.
Once seated again, we were catapulted off at a decent rate into that Blue Fire looking first element. It’s an unusual one, sideways floptime in quadbike trains isn’t your average coaster sensation, though from there it just doesn’t have much pace or layout to back anything up. The scope of the ride is just too limited, so it’s a bit something and nothing for the type. Oh well, one step closer to set complete.
The oddity that is Highway Spite has been plagued with issues ever since it was first installed here, though I had sort of got the impression that the worst of that was behind it. Nevertheless it was closed, so no steps closer to set complete.
What appears on the surface to be just another mine train clone is apparently slightly custom. #5 Port of Sky Treasure rode well and had some fun little pumps here and there. Dare I say it was the best ride in the park? That’s a sad thought.
On the subject of sad thoughts, we headed over to the Vekoma Junior to find that the train was parked on the lift hill. It was broke. They were working on it though, there was hope.
Cheer up, the views here are pretty good.
Until the sight of an SLC slides into view.
To be fair to #6 Queen Cobra, it earned the proud title of my new favourite SLC, out of a good 30-odd by now. While still far from a good ride, the vest restraints and bearable comfort levels complimented by the night ride and some rather awesome and unique visuals in the front row made for a reasonably special experience.
There are patches of brilliance in this place.
Headed back over to the last cred to see if they had made any progress, and they had! The ‘it’s broke’ sign had been replaced with the usual timeslot sign. In half an hour or so, in theory, it would reopen.
So we jumped on the Sun Wheel for some views.
Not the best of conditions for photos with the scratched walls and over-engineered cages, and the on board music appeared to be running on radio, cutting to static for the duration of the high altitude parts.
Upon exiting, a humble staff girl with an Ipad approached us for an on the spot survey. I was overly generous in the moment, choosing only to bring up those points about the Ferris Wheel amongst a sea of praise.
The praise may well have been justified. As promised, #7 Garuda Valley was running like a legend once we reached it again, closing out the day on a high.
Until I remembered that there was another cred just outside the park, within walking distance.
Children’s Cultural Houses
Oh, how I had been looking forward to experiencing my first confirmed Vietnamesely manufactured coaster the previous day. We slapped down our dong at the desk and hopped aboard this without a second thought.
It very nearly killed me.
The lateral force as #8 Roller Coaster descended the spiral is off the charts, and I was wedged to the point that I couldn’t brace for it, bearing the brunt of every single lap with intense pain to my lower left rib cage and internal organs. Again and again it cycled, while I was slowly dying and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Who’d have thought Dragon Slayer would lose its title of second worst coaster experience in the world after such a short period of time, to a children’s coaster no less.
I came off severely bruised and not happy, feeling the after effects of discomfort for the remainder of the evening, and in waves for most of the rest of the trip. It wasn’t even funny (it is now). What a stupid hobby.
With a more successful than anticipated first day out of the way, day 2 in Ho Chi Minh was nothing more than an attempted mop up. After some well-deserved extra sleep, we booked another car over to the third and final ‘most significant’ park of the city. This is precisely where Grab started to let the side down. For some reason after working perfectly throughout the first day, it would no longer let me use my credit card when making the bookings, throwing up one of two generic errors that didn’t make sense. Time to start counting the cash.
Day 2 – Đầm Sen Park
Though the parks had been far from busy the previous day, this Monday morning brought the old classic ghost town vibe often associated with establishments in this region. I was surprised to learn throughout the day that they even deemed themselves significant enough to have a fast track system.
After acquiring entrance tickets and wristbands in this case, there was barely a soul to be seen on the pleasant walk over from decorative garden section to amusement section.
Unfortunately the first coaster we came across was closed, becoming the first spite of the trip. A sign outside stated our old friend ‘maintenance’ and a nearby staff member confirmed that it would not open today.
This non-cred happened to be a significant distance from any others, as we continued on a slightly more despondent journey around the park. Mercifully signs of life were seen at another powered dragon, it was time for a +1.
If I’m not mistaken, #1 Flying Dragon is exactly the same hardware as the indoor one from the previous day, just outside in some trees rather than inside in some trees. Go dragon, go.
Just across the way was #2 Children’s Spiral Coaster, an inviting looking wacky worm with a twist. How often have you seen one of these with a watermelon AND an apple? The clearance and proximity to foliage on the journey round was highly questionable on this one, but that only added to the experience, along with the world’s most intense lift hill engagement.
We next sat on a bench in front of this building and had some refreshments while contemplating my favourite question of the current era – is it a dark ride? Signs pointed to no, nothing on the pictures indicated anything but VR experiences, of which there were several.
With only one way to find out, headed in and noticed a non-descript inner building on the right hand side which turned out to contain a 4D cinema of some description. That’ll do.
Somehow the waiting area ended up being even more pedestrian than the last of these, which only added to the charm.
Inside were these 12 seater simulator pods and a film of a crude fantasy rollercoaster rendering with awkward trackwork, uncannily similar to what you would see on your average Planet Coaster POV these days.
From here I actually bothered to look at the park map instead of winging it, in order to locate the final coaster. Turns out it was the exact opposite end of the grounds but there was a sketchy looking monorail that departed from nearby and should have taken us to the far side.
I say should because it didn’t… Frustratingly this attraction appears to have lost its original purpose and is now seen as ‘yay, we’re riding a monorail’ rather than transporting people from A to B, and occasionally C for groceries. Instead it ploughed (at a comically slow pace) straight through the station we wanted and wound it’s way back round to the start.
Views varied from this.
After that unfortunate set of events, we took the long walk over to where I didn’t particularly want to be, amusingly beating the monorail on foot before it even came round for another lap. I was completely torn on whether I actually wanted the last cred to be open or not. On the one hand it would have sucked to be 50% down for the day, on the other…
It was another one of these.
Sadly #3 Roller Coaster was running, and just to make matters worse they moved me from my tactically central chosen seat to one of the extremities of the train to put me next to some sweaty bloke because ‘rows need to be loaded in 2s’. That’s reassuring.
The only mercy is that it had a single vertical loop instead of two. Nevertheless it was awful, an instant headache was induced and on that note it was time to leave.
Incoming rant that’s characteristically longer than the trip report:
Grab let us down a second time here, though it was most likely the driver’s fault. It developed this annoying habit of saying ‘your driver has arrived’ when you could clearly see they hadn’t yet arrived, both in person and on the map. It then started threatening things like ‘if you’re not in the car in the next few mins, you’re the one who is late, extra fees or cancellation fees may be charged’.
But he’s not here mate. And there’s nothing you can do to protest it. It basically gets stuck in a never ending loop thinking you’re in the wrong (kinda like the Chinese version did a couple times).
So as we watch the screen, he completely skips past the specific entrance I have pinned, where we are standing in a car park getting sunburnt. The car then drives the perimeter of the park and stops for several minutes at the opposite end. Well that’s no good, and it’s still threatening me for not being in the car yet. One of the, what should be useful, features of the app is you can send the driver a photo of where you are, of which I now sent several, just to emphasise the point of where to look.
The car starts heading back towards us, only to completely miss the turning again and come into yet another entrance which was on the far side of a dingy multi-storey car park. Sigh. It looks like we’ll have to go to him then. We start powering through said car park, with the attendant looking like he wants to say something, but doesn’t. By the time we reach the other side we lay eyes on the car for the first time, only to see him driving away from us and out the exit again. At this point I’ve had enough and just hit cancel on the app. The guy’s clearly an idiot and stuff your cancellation fees, you don’t even have my card details now, why does nothing work.
It lets me, and them I’m scrabbling around to try and book the exact same thing again. Guess what? It just pairs me up with the same guy AGAIN. Well third time lucky, he actually bothers to come to where the app is telling him to, and we’re off.
On route I decide to visit the customer support bit of the app to have a moan about the credit card situation. Apparently it’s a security feature (for them, not me), though they refused to explain exactly what that means and how it works. All they could offer was ‘wait 6 days and try again’, to which I responded ‘that’s no use to me, my holiday will be over by then.’ We go round in circles for a bit and then I get the exact same copy paste answer ‘wait 6 days and try again’. Thanks for listening.
Things should have improved from here, as we arrived at one more park for the day. They did not.
I was intrigued to ride my first officially Vietnamese manufactured coaster, adorned with fun RCT graphics. Even after all the faff we arrived about 10 minutes before 15:00, when the rides were due to open. 15:00 came and went, but although there were staff busying themselves around the ride all this time, they were more interested in jet washing their motorbike than their prospective paying customers.
I opted to give them a while and took a wander around the rest of the park where I made the greatest discovery of a generation – there’s a new cred here no one knows about.
Bonus cred! I snapped many photos to mark the momentous occasion and headed back over to the ticket desk to wait.
15:30 came and went, other people were wandering through but seemingly on their way to other places and showing no interest in the rides. We needed to be gone by 16:00 really.
Found a Vietnam cat in the ‘ride area’.
It was time to ask the ride staff. When will the rides open? 17:00. 17:00? 17:00. It was time to head to the airport. All that for absolutely nothing.
After a 3 year hiatus from Asia, it felt good to be back in the old stomping ground. Historically I’ve always been out here around Christmas and New Year, but what with everyone else seemingly having the same idea, things didn’t work out. Instead it led to prices being treble what they usually were and so, along with Lunar New Year falling a little earlier, it was best to hold off one month longer and take advantage of a ‘normal’ cost.
Airports seem able to function again normally at this point, which is a welcome relief and proceedings began with a non-descript flight to Singapore, followed by a few days of admin. I’m still itching to get back to China whenever possible as they’ve thrown up so much more since I last visited – it’s the gift that keeps on giving. In the absence of that being possible this time around however, I had to look to the vicinity. Vietnam kept jumping out at me as a bit of an up-and-comer and was eventually settled on.
It’s an interesting one to navigate in terms of park/tourism hotspots, being such a long and thin, mountainous yet coastal country with little infrastructure between major cities. After much juggling and decision theory I settled on a couple of days each at four separate locations, each separated by some irresistibly cheap internal flights.
And so it all kicked off with a Scoot over to Ho Chi Minh. I’ll be honest, there was nothing in this city I particularly cared to experience (a sentence I fear I’ll be saying more as time goes on), but it was a good entry point, a bit of a warm-up and introduction to the more ‘local’ park scene.
As a city, it far exceeded my expectations. I had pictured nothing but crowding and faff, and with the way the internet paints the place, you should go in expecting to be robbed, at a minimum. On the contrary, my snapshot generalisation formed over the initial days was that everyone in the public sector of Vietnam is genuine, honest, friendly and helpful. The place was pretty cool.
The first thing to check off upon landing was acquiring a tourist SIM for that sweet, sweet mobile data. Tried the very first counter we came across, but they didn’t have the specific network provider I was after (having done extensive research into who was the best). This was no issue however, there was no pressure applied, instead a recommendation to try a rival stall just the other side of passport control. Sure enough, stall number #2 had what I was looking for and for the princely sum of £8, I now had the power of the internet at my fingertips for the duration of the trip.
This was key, as the one and only form of transportation worth consideration was booking drivers through the Grab app, a south east Asian equivalent of your Ubers or your Didis. I grew to despise Grab over the coming days, but for now it was as simple as hitting ‘from: airport, to: hotel’, and within mere minutes we had gotten from runway to road.
Driver #1 was sociable, with a reasonable grasp of English and pointed out some of the various sights of interest along our route. The driving here is, an experience. Mopeds and scooters outnumber cars by about 5 to 1 and every manoeuvre is performed in extremely close quarters, with plenty of horn action. Not once is anything aggressive or malevolent, which is refreshing, and I kinda respect the way the system has evolved to accept that though everyone drives rather poorly, they make the best of it and at least try not to crash into things.
We checked ourselves in (literally, there were no staff) to our slightly odd, but very efficient and highly reasonable accommodation and stocked up on sustenance at a nearby parade of convenience stores.
Points of note here, there seems to be no benefit in ‘shopping around’ in Vietnam. Every comparable item that exists within reasonable access across multiple competing locations appears to always have exactly the same price tag, there’s no undercutting. Also bottled drinks were like 30p, so paradise. The currency conversion was always a little unnatural to me. Aside from being a multi-millionaire out of the gate in terms of Dong ownership, it was just awkward numbers all round and I kept having to stop and double check either a) is that really that cheap or b) is that really basically the same price as it would be back home, with very little else in between.
Prepared for the worst, a Grab was booked to the first park.
Suoi Tien Park
Unceremoniously located on a major highway heading to the outskirts of the city is this majestic entrance structure.
Point of note here, contrary to the recent Lunar New Year celebrating the beginnings of the Year of the Rabbit under the Chinese calendar, in Vietnam it’s now the Year of the Cat. 10 of the animals overlap, 2 don’t. So you can have fun playing spot the Mão throughout the trip report. I’ll stop these now.
These local parks sure like a spectacle and it’s interesting how the entrance façade uses large volumes of stairs to add extra height perspective, only for you to immediately descend the same number of steps once through the turnstiles.
Entrance ticket obtained it was off to the first ride, in a roundabout way. The front end of the park is more decorative and secluded, with trees and temples and such.
A bridge is crossed, an elaborate water park is passed (and a wine palace) and then you’re into the amusement or ‘business’ end of the establishment.
Did you know they have a B&M hyper here?
It’s hard to take in the scale of Fairy Phoenix Palace, the enormous bird frontage could have Vogel Rok for breakfast.
Rides here are pay per, with a specific booth outside most major attractions and clustered together for smaller. Inside the palace is a humble dark ride on circular boats that takes you through some jungle stuff with colourful lights, creepy characters and some close encounters with more amusingly big creatures.
Failed to find a couple of other ‘listed dark rides’ from there, instead finding more visual spectacles.
Followed by a whole 12 dimensions of theatre in Cinema 12D TurboRide. Grabbed some tickets for research purposes and hung around the rather pedestrian waiting area. The theatre contains a bank of 2 seater simulator pods and showed an odd combination of brief T-rex encounter, followed by fantasy Olympic bobsled run. Highlights included chasing a disgruntled polar bear, as it too slid down a mountainside.
Continuing around the outer perimeter saw both their farm and crocodile exhibit, before leading to a familiar face, from browsing RCDB at least.
Behind said big stone face is a scary walkthrough of a queueline, with a few surprises up its sleeve, followed by a cute powered dragon coaster with similarly themed aesthetics to the dark ride. Being of unknown origin, #1 Secret of Sorceror Forest is not the standard double spiral layout we know and tolerate, instead being a big oval with a semi-decent airtime hill at the far end. Go dragon, go.
There was a 4D here, guessing there isn’t any more.
If anything this was more spooky than the previous queueline.
With unrestricted access to that abandoned theme park vibe, within a bustling theme park.
Under some shade and on some tiling is this #2 Mini Roller Coaster, an intentionally miniaturised version of the big one here, paint job and all. Because of this, we were accosted upon walking towards it and informed that it was not in fact the same ride, we were mistaken, we wanted the big one. Some explanation was required but it was eventually understood that we in fact wanted both, of course. In jest I said we were just warming up, which they liked.
One friendly and uneventful lap later it was over to said big one. #3 High Speed Roller Coaster or Tyre lift: the ride. One would hope for an Incredible Hulk type experience here, instead you get the lift hill speed of a water ride on Rollercoaster Tycoon, before being eased into a first drop that is shallower than said lift.
As soon as this thing picks up any pace, it tracks pretty poorly. Mercifully the layout is a sprawling and reasonably uninspired series of straight lines and elevation changes in another single large oval. A dive through some rocks is quite good and there might have been some float and crunch in there too.
One, or all, of these parks have a Harry Potter haunted walkthrough which is quite often the subject of clickbait on Youtube. Might have been this one, but it was closed. And with that, nothing else was deemed worth paying for.
Time to book another driver.
Dai Nam Wonderland
Another smooth transaction had us at the main gate to this place. I hadn’t expected things to go so swimmingly. From here there’s a land train to the various attractions that make up part of a larger resort, including race course and, crucially, amusement park. It’s free entrance to the main complex and again pay per ride at booths along the way.
I didn’t have much at all to go on for what was on offer here, other than the writings of a reputedly well-travelled Irishman. ‘Five astoundlingly themed walkthroughs, two of which are dark rides, themed on par with Efteling and Disney’ quickly turned into ‘there ain’t no dark rides and they ain’t very good’ – a bitter Englishman.
Creds first though, and while my foot stuck to the paint on the floor I acquired some tickets for the #4 Worm Coaster. A pop of air, duck for the apple, repeat. Pretty glorious.
Someone was right about this one though, #5 Spinning Coaster span very well for a Golden Horse, almost too well. Not bad.
#6 Roller Coaster is plain bad though. I dread and regret each and every one of these. What a stupid hobby. The restraints were well padded, but that doesn’t help when it’s rough in an unconventional sense. The poor build quality and/or maintenance doesn’t attempt to smash you into said restraint, it instead rumbles and moves your brain within your skull in a resonant fashion, and each +1 probably takes a couple of years off my life. I can feel an echo of the discomfort even now, as I write about it.
A sit down and some well needed fluids provided recovery time before heading into the first of what I believed was a dark ride.
Five Phoenix Discovery or Fairy Phoenix Palace: the not good one was in fact a dinosaur-based haunted walkthrough that was overpriced and not good.
Something about dragons was supposed to be the other one, but it’s now something about hell, the frontage has changed, there was no visible ride system and it was skipped.
Just to get confirmation on whether these were supposed to be good or not, tried the Egyptian themed one because it seemed more interesting than the usual haunted premise. It was awful, relying mainly on being poorly lit, with other stuff you couldn’t see or repetitive props and theming. There were a couple of particular sound loops that really grated on me and were used multiple times throughout the entire thing in utter laziness and despair. These aren’t my bag at the best of times, but what a wretched excuse for an ‘attraction’.
4D though, they have this, a regular old cinema with vibratey seats. Plays a fairly well-cloned haunted mine ride film, but with amusing Vietnamese dub over the ghost hillbilly. Haunted mine ride things happen, although with the lack of accompanying movement against any of the visuals it was extremely uninspired and nearly put us to sleep after a long day.
A quick burst of vintage K-pop from the speaker system as we departed was enough to wake me up, though not enough to board the right train to leave. We ended up being carted to the race course where, regardless of objection, we were unable to stay seated and ride straight back again. By instead opting to walk about a mile through hot sun, back to the main gate, the train passed us by on route just a couple of minutes later. Thanks for that.
Driver was booked. Back to the hotel. +6 and job done for the day.
After a turbulent couple of years for the travel industry, 2022 was suitably huge to make up for it all. Things all kicked off with a first time trip to Florida in March, the most obvious of all theme park destinations and one I had been dreaming of since as far back as I can remember. Mere months later we were back in the USA once more, on the roadtrip of a lifetime, ticking off more major parks and coasters than ever before.
These two trips back to back did begin to stir an inevitable realisation into the foreground of the hobby. I am beginning to ‘run out’ of fresh experiences when it comes down to what’s widely considered the ‘world’s best’. It’s a thought that is equal parts humbling and terrifying. Having come so far feels like a tremendous achievement and there’s still plenty more I want to see and do, so will continue to make the best of it in whichever ways I can.
With such a strong first half of the year, there was a noticeable wind-down towards the end of 2022. A quick traditional weekend jaunt to France in the summer, followed by a few days to and from Denmark at the end of August saw out the remainder of the international travel. Closer to home there were still a couple of minor establishments to visit, but I almost feel obliged to keep a couple of these left in the tank for a (non-)rainy day at this stage.
And so, with all that going on, how do the figures stack up?
Rather well. A record 242 new rollercoasters beats out 2019s best efforts and puts the steady climb of a trajectory back on track for where it was in the pre-covid era. I’m honestly not sure that this figure can ever be reached again, but it’s certainly not impossible. Park-wise, there were 55 new establishments visited, a four year high that is still, somehow, yet to come anywhere close to the all-time high of 2018. The most important number for me remains the amount of days spent visiting parks and making this hobby happen in any way, in any given year. A total of 48 of these made up 2022, tied with 2019 and marking a significant step back into normality.
Now that quantifying everything has made me infinitely happier, let’s talk about some highlights.
Favourite Coaster in 2022
By the slimmest of margins this year, God Damn Iron Gwazi reigns supreme. There were several very close contenders, some more surprising than others, along with a good many potential big names that simply fell by the wayside. Nothing else quite had the power and potency of this new for 2022 creation however and the style of ride experience is right up my street. The coaster developed a bit of a character for itself too, over our visits, which always helps. RMC back on top again and not a Gravity in sight, let’s save that particular discussion for another time though.
Favourite Dark Ride in 2022
With a visit to dark ride capital of the world Florida on the table, this list could have been endless amongst all the incredible experiences Disney and Universal have to offer. The honourable mentions instead chooses to name two of the big guns and two respective highlights of trips with other focuses that had small scale attractions punching well above their weight.
But the biggest gun of all is virtually untouchable. Rise of the Resistance was beyond anything I had ever dreamed of on a technical level. While I don’t think I had the opportunity to pay it as much attention as it deserved (due to the circumstances of the park in which it is situated) and therefore didn’t quite develop the emotional attachment to the attraction that I was also desiring, the sheer magnitude of achievement here cannot go unrecognised. It’s insane. Disney back on top again and not a Fantawild to be seen, we’ll blame a certain country for that.
Favourite Park in 2022
This pains me, I have a spreadsheet to tell me exactly this type of thing and yet I keep looking at the numbers to find something doesn’t add up. So, for the second year running, I’m awarding this one to a park that was a revisit. All the remaining contenders have caveats. While the attraction lineup at IoA is astounding, it’s a stressful place to simply get around. Whilst I adored Kennywood, we had our own personal issues going on that day and it doesn’t quite sit right. Though I fell in love with Knoebels, the visit was a little brief. Kings Island was pretty special too, but too intense.
Tivoli Gardens was just as magical as the first two times I visited and provided me with an inescapable homely vibe almost instantly. It has a bit of everything and everything about the place is just right. It’s fantastic to see how it’s continuously being rejuvenated throughout it’s long and rich history and I’d happily go back at any time, even with nothing to gain.
Favourite Cred Hunting of 2022
Speaking of gains, the fun one. The celebration of the ridiculous lengths I go to for this hobby. A lot of it went wrong this year to be fair, and some days were pretty grim. This particular day was completely chill though, cheap too, and everything went to plan, while still being silly. Eerily identical establishments sandwiched two other visits, one with a bit of bonus redemption and it was all just to break up a casual drive through four separate countries on the way to Denmark.
I seem to always be talking about how the UK failed to spark my interest in so many aspects and today is going to be no exception. I was never particularly enthralled with any of the wooden coaster offerings we have back home as they never showed me what made this seemingly antiquated construction material so special. It was old, it bounced around a lot, it wasn’t very good.
It fell to Great Coasters International to be the first company to introduce me to what highly enjoyable wooden rollercoasters are really all about and for a good couple of years they managed to establish themselves as my favourite wooden coaster manufacturer. Today I’d say that I potentially get more excited about riding a new woodie than I do a steelie and that’s not just because they’re outnumbered by about 25 to 1 in this modern age, substantial credit goes to this lot. The company built their first layout in 1996 and quickly developed into one of the key players in modern wooden rollercoaster design. It’s a very niche market these days dominated by only 3 or 4 names and as things currently stand, GCI have remained the most traditional of the bunch – building on their signature twister style layouts and relentless pacing. Traditional is all you need sometimes and they still top my list for all-time favourite woodie, though sadly as I have travelled further and experienced more, the consistency hasn’t quite always been there. As we near the end of 2022, I’ve ridden a total of 25 coasters from GCI, with only 4 left to go that are currently operating worldwide and a couple more under construction. Hopefully the full set will not elude me forever, but for now I’d say that’s more than enough to sink my teeth into for one of these lists.
The aforementioned first build in 1996 was here in home state Pennsylvania and as this is the one that started it all I feel I can’t judge Wildcat too harshly. Plus, it’s now deceased, shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. It’s reasonably tall, fast and long, but mostly uneventful – they had to learn from something. Big swooping curves form the majority of the layout and sadly I have no recollection of any interesting transitions or airtime.
Still in the early days, this ride hasn’t yet been treated to the manufacturer’s signature rolling stock (the Millenium Flyer) and that fact, combined with style of the layout, makes Roar almost unrecognisable as one of their creations. Aside from the big swooping curves, there’s big traditional airtime hills in here, though again they don’t really do anything. I can’t think of any other GCI that’s been made since to have a hill shaped anywhere close to that, probably with good reason. Shallow and powerful is much more their forte.
I was initially very excited that after over 20 years we were going to get a modern woodie so close to home, from a manufacturer that I believed I could count on to deliver a quality experience. As the construction developed it began to look a little underwhelming and when the day finally came to ride it, I was left with nothing but mild disappointment. Most people love the Wicker Man and I wish it every success, but I’ve seen and felt what GCI can do and this does none of it. Though it certainly looks the part, there’s just no energy in this tiny layout and I stand by what I said in the introduction. Nothing wooden in this country excites me. Hopefully by the time we reach the end of the list you’ll see why. It has been improving steadily over the last couple of years as the tracking deteriorates ever so slightly, so that’s a good thing.
With the bottom 3 out of the way we now enter a large cluster of almost inseparable experiences. I will say that everything from here on is at least a decent ride worth multiple laps so try not to focus on the negatives too much, I’m just better at talking about them. Great Desert-Rally began with the promise of much greater things, taking a fast and powerful first drop similar to a certain European cousin. It then spends far too long in this bit, up high, sapping all the momentum from the ride and the remainder is a little underwhelming.
As easily one of my favourite parks in the world, oh how I wish Dollywood had even a mid tier GCI. Sadly the ride clings in desperation to a pointless claim, something along the lines of ‘most corners in the world’ and that’s about as interesting as it sounds. There really isn’t a whole lot else going on here.
Two thunders in a row and it takes a significantly powerful memory to be able to tell these apart. It took 10 years for GCI to go continental, bringing Thunderbird to Europe and I’m sure that was an amazing moment. The layout tries, tries to do more than corners. There’s that hill in the picture that acts like a second drop and a little section of straight bunny hills that don’t really deliver.
Gold Striker was aggressive, almost in the wrong sense. It gave me a headache on my first lap but I persisted and grew to respect it, to a degree. Offride I love the design of this one (Santa not included), the way the queue sits inside the intimidatingly loud starting sequence. Later on you climb some stairs towards the station where once again the train comes roaring past in very close proximity at a defeaning pace. The signature station flythrough is subverted with these moments and you get a lot more time to appreciate it while you wait. Onride it’s more of the above. I just found myself willing it to do a little more.
The ingredients of what makes GCI special are beginning to fall into place and I believe I can pinpoint this as the first ride in the list with notable kinks in the corners, something I assumed would always be a part of the manufacturers recipe. These unusual track shapings provide a satisfying moment of unexpected airtime as you either enter or exit a turn and would serve to elevate all of the aforementioned big swoopers by giving them a moment of significance. After all, that’s what you need to stand out in a list like this. Invadr was small, fun and punchy. Things are starting to get exciting.
Most notable to me for being my 200th coaster, I’ve always found this one a little underwhelming in the grand scheme of things. Take that first drop for instance – it doesn’t really go anywhere. Just a big swooping turn (here we go again) into some more swooping turns. The transitions start to liven up a little at this point in the list and Troy does have a good bit of kick to it. I just can’t tell you where or when. I find it’s a particularly good ride at providing the illusion of being more aggressive than it actually is.
Wildcat clearly wasn’t enough for Hersheypark and only 4 years later they ended up with not one, but two more GCIs. This time it was a racing coaster with two tracks intertwined in a spectacular tangle of timber. The racing element certainly enhances things for me, though I still found the layouts lacked a little definition. One side was running slightly better than the other (I couldn’t say which, but it was winning every time without fail) and my favourite moment was the surprise airtime hill in a shed. More of that please.
I can only really separate these three on theming. The two in Europe are owned by the same park chain, share the same layout (albeit mirrored) and they both rode exactly the same – a welcome change to the standard GCI styling with a lot more straights, a lot less corners and a lot more airtime hills. The one in America is the original of the design and has nothing going for it on a visual level whatsoever. They’re very good for the size, but with so little speed to play with there’s a distinct lack of aggression. Which is fine, for a family coaster. For what it’s worth I preferred the look of the one with the werewolves.
The ones that started it all for me remain a relative highlight. During my first two visits this was a real standout experience although the most recent lap we had was far from ideal. Fire breathing dragon aside (RIP), these exhilarating racing coasters throw so much at you in a short space of time and simply deliver bags of fun. The soundtrack is addictive and should be sung on any racing attraction in the world because it perfectly sums up the experience, as does the theming in the station with the cheers and jeers. A proper package.
While still comparatively a baby, this little GCI has that extra spice that defines the manufacturer for me. A relentless feel from start to finish, with a good mixture of twisty bits and bumpy hills. It’s amazing how such seemingly minor changes can make a huge difference to the overall experience.
A well above average woodie experience from GCI, again with a relentless feel, a good mixture of elements and just a little bigger than the above. The signature twisted s-bend drop was a bit of a let down, looking far better visually than it actually rode. It faced some very stiff competition in the week that it was experienced, but can’t really complain about the rest of the layout.
And here’s just one example of that competition. It was unhealthily hot on the day that we happened to experience Prowler and I could barely tell what was going on. From sticking to the seat in a semi-comatose state to the ride breaking down under the stress a few minutes later, I have fleeting memories of surprisingly intense laterals, an interesting layout and a solid all round package propping this ride up amongst the greats.
The sinister statues in the station alone should put this ride in the top half, but it’s the aggressive start and unpredictable ending that really did it for me. While the middle section loses pace for a short while, I always found myself laughing uncontrollably with joy by the time the train hit the brakes.
What a curveball, I expected very little out of this ride and it delivered on every count. It was declared a ‘top 5 GCI’ at the time of riding and that just about holds, even after the rest of the trip was done. Relentless rumbling, with a design that’s much more killer than filler, even the double-cornered first drop is unpredictably wild and puts Renegade’s attempt to shame
I went in to this one expecting something on par with the #1 in this list and subsequently left disappointed. Fortunately I have come to appreciate it a lot more looking back on the experience, it was still a monster. It had all the ingredients to be truly special – the sheer size and the location on the hillside, the queueline even has a lift to take you up to the station, so there was plenty to play with. It ended up a mixed bag though. As though paying homage to the days of Wildcat, a lot of the terrain was used for large swooping corners off the side of the hill and they didn’t really deliver. What made the ride was the straight airtime sequences, which were amongst GCIs very finest for getting me out of that seat again and again.
I went into this one thinking my better days with GCI were well behind me. Instead it was like a warm welcome home, exactly the type of stuff I enjoy most out of this type of ride. A low to the ground, wild romp through the forest with airtime all over the place. By the end of the day the train was tearing itself apart from the track and making noises not heard before, which is of course a good thing. On top of all that, the theming package gives this attraction bags of character and the shed shall forever remain a legend of the industry.
Now we enter the God tier. Stupidly huge, overgrown and built into the side of a mountain, ride location simply doesn’t get better than this. Wood Coaster goes on forever, never stops being aggressive and is just about perfect in every way. I can’t believe this ride exists, I can’t believe how much I went through to experience it and I still can’t believe how much it gave me in return.
But if there’s one ride to beat that, it has to be the snake, just. While the views might not be as spectacular, the experience is even longer and contains more airtime moments than there are grains of sand in the universe. GCI must have thrown absolutely everything they have at these marvellous creations and it really couldn’t be more apparent. I can’t wait for the day when another park attempts something of this magnitude again.
The Yorkshire coaster scene ain’t what it used to be since the death of the Ultimate. Someone went and got a Colossus clone though, so…
Day 2 – Flamingo Land
And what a clone. Due to the fact that it’s still fairly substantial and I had no immediate plans to go somewhere better for a while, #1 Sik earned a nice round #1400 from me.
They have presented it slightly better than I had expected them to, in parts. Being able to look down on the layout from certain spots is pretty rare, there’s some solid plaza type interaction and that little fountain effect in the turnaround at the end.
The mist is a bit much though, I’d rather it was fog like on the very end brakes. Smells better, less like a wet slap in the face. The theme? Not for me. Words on a screen in the station to the effect of ‘a modern twist on urban clothing’ amused me. Tracksuits. Having the shop as both the ride entrance and exit was also a step too far, along with everything from there feeling rather ‘discount Icon’. The one thing I can kinda get into was the station rave. Bring back X.
I’ve already done the lap bar ‘Rev. B’ of this model as well, so didn’t have much of interest to take away from the actual ride experience. There’s a hilariously prominent rattle already going on, which was thankfully comedic rather than jarring. The re-profiling of the airtime hill is worse than the original because it’s more pronounced.
Without having to worry about head banging and all that you can appreciate a bit more just how relentless the pacing of the ride is at least. It’s very anti-B&M when it comes to that early multi-looper style – no faff, just keeps on hitting. The endless heartlines feel more dominating as well, which is a good thing this time with the lap bar. It changes the effect from slow, disorientating hangtime into trying to hurl you outwards from your seat multiple times. S’alright.
Well that’s £37.50 spent. Are we leaving?
It honestly feels like that with Flamingo Land. I just don’t care at all for anything they have, which is rather impressive considering how much they have of it now. Let’s remind ourselves at least.
Mischief Mansion dark ride for the courtesy. It ain’t very good and even the operator tells you that before it begins. Spot the Bubbleworks ‘inspired’ scene.
They have donkeys, no hats. It should be a fulfilling day out, but it manages not to be.
Halloween, get excited.
Didn’t ride Kumali.
Did ride Cliffhanger. Better than Fantasy Island’s.
Didn’t ride Hero.
Did just wanna ride the motorbikes on Velocity. Regretted it.
Did ride Mumbo Jumbo, no regrets.
Think that just about covers admission, what’s next?
Our legend of a contact at Gulliver’s Milton Keynes had set us up with a couple more visits in the vicinity.
Gulliver’s Valley Resort
First up was their newest park. For the third time in a row, having been told to meet someone and be escorted around the park, we arrived to just be let in and roam free. They had on a piece of paper that ‘the roller coaster club’ was coming. Not quite, but we’ll take it.
Never done one of these from SBF before. Don’t worry, they’ve managed to shift nine of them in under 5 years, I’m sure we’ll all find one somewhere. #2 Grand Prix Racers builds up a bit of speed for a nasty crunch in that one valley, so top quality as always.
Have done a few of these from Zamperla before. One of the bigger stretches in the coaster counting world, but just sit back and admire those subtle undulations on #3 Rocky Ridge Railway.
Token dark ride in Tombstone Mine. Same as one of the other parks but with no guns. Had a bit of a Halloween overlay, pretty scary for a kids park, but could well take the record for world’s shortest.
Gulliver’s Matlock Bath
With their previous parks all being in fields, it was a surprise to find that this one has all the terrain and views of the delightful Derbyshire Dales. Bit of a hidden gem in the chain.
The streak was broken on arrival, as the admissions staff picked up the phone to someone who was going to come and take us to the #4 Log Coaster.
And take us he did, with the VIP privileges of going up the exit path to skip the queue. Except there was no queue and we had the ride to ourselves anyway.
The guy had obviously dealt with some dirties before as he expected us to want to also ride a piece of children’s play equipment, in the guise of a zipline, in the guise of a ‘rollercoaster’. We declined and had a brief discussion about the silly nuances of this hobby before I asked if we could try their dark ride instead. I do count those. In a different way.
And thus he became the second legend of the Gulliver’s universe. The (yet another) Silver Mine had already closed for the day but although he wasn’t working on rides that particular week, baby-sitting and operating were amongst his many talents. He even had the keys to just open the thing up for us and run it himself. This one does have guns again, not for points, for effects.
As one final bonus, because it had been one hell of an uphill climb through the whole park until that point, we were invited to take the chairlifts back down to the entrance.
The scary ski type ones that come in behind you at great speed. Cracking views though. Definitely the nicest of the Gulliver’s. Set complete, but there’s already a new cred at Milton Keynes now, so the circle of life continues.
We bade several farewells both to the staff and the lightweights of our group at this point, who wanted to head home because ‘work tomorrow’.
I had my eye on more creds for the journey back, however. Work can wait.
Nottingham Goose Fair
And what an adventure it was. No on-site parking because, to put it lightly, it’s a right mess. We used a nearby park and ride and hopped on a tram for a few stops which was a novel experience in itself. Never knew Nottingham had them.
Coaster Count was so useful at this point, but also such a tease. They had 6, six! creds on-site in a jumbled maze of fairground nightmares. I only needed two though and the above pictured wasn’t one of them. That’s Ice Mountain in disguise, owned by that Mellors lot. Skip.
Fear not though, at the other end of it all, after much searching, we found the other identical #5 Wild Mouse that was needed. Cheaper than the other, too, the cheek. I don’t think it’s a Reverchon because it was even more jank and was one of those that’s missing the double up and the final speed bump.
And they had two identical ones of these, again one of which I had ridden and one I hadn’t. You can tell this was the right #6 Runaway Train for me because it has Mario on it. It did about 50 laps too many and then we got the hell out of the place.
What I didn’t preface any of that with is that this was by far the worst fairground I’ve ever been to. If you’ve ever seen Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park at capacity, picture that, but 10x busier, 10x louder and 10x narrower.
Maybe it’s my inner old man kicking in but I couldn’t understand how anyone seemed to be having a genuine good time here. I was on a mission, I had reason to put up with it all and that’s fine, but stand between any two rides or stalls for a single moment and get two ear-splitting, out of sync dance tracks battling your brains out.
To make the crowd flow even worse, what must have been nearing 50% of all visiting groups had toddlers in pushchairs, unable to move, constantly bashing ankles and moving at 0.1Mph in all directions. Why anyone would want to bring children of that age to such a hostile environment eludes me.
There were police everywhere, people sitting on the floor crying, guests being accosted by other guests on drugs, at least two fights and it wasn’t even dark yet. Barry Island eat your heart out.
Been a while since we’ve had one of these. With all the big, glamourous trips going on, there’s been nothing else to report on in the gaps, aside from a fun first time visit to IAAPA with DRdb and getting to watch Coaster Hipster ask Intamin about Juvelen just one more time. Sadly no one brought a big apple there though.
Oh and I went to ride #1399Doggy Dog at Old Macdonald’s Farm out of nothing but tactical desperation.
It was time to get back to basics in October.
Always forget how grim the drive up here is. The reason for the visit (aside from one of the group needing the creds) – two new dark rides. One that nobody knows what it is and the other that I followed religiously on their website for months on end only for them to never actually update said website when it eventually opened late.
A.k.a. Harrington Flint’s Island Adventure. A second hand ride system from Dubai rehashed into an explorative romp of shooting screens with evil explorers and the tribal masses. It’s clever what they’ve done with the space and there’s some physicality to the interactive part, which is always nice. Most of it is already broken however and the graphics lag pretty badly in places. S’alright.
I now know what the other one is, The Guardian, but it wasn’t running so that’s no good at all. Instead the staff member that was sending people away all morning went for a lunch break (someone needs to be here) and we ended up joining a few other confused guests on a journey into a completely unmanned, but switched on ride.
The queue was massive and well decorated, for what is just a 4 person simulator arm. Clearly there’s some sort of pre-show going on here. Something wasn’t right though.
Didn’t need Family Roller Coaster, but I’m shameless enough to lap it again if someone else does and it is in the spirit of hunting after all. This one has picked up an injury.
I can talk about many things in this shot. Most strikingly the colour of that water splash.
Millennium has lost the title of smoothest major Vekoma coaster, it now has a bit of jostle to it. The wind was up and it was super slow through most of the inversions, providing a weird, crunchy bit of flop time and then nearly stalling into the last section.
Rhombus Rocket wasn’t hauling as much as previously, clearly a back row only ride for that evil twisted hill.
Did The Volcano (shot tower) because nothing better to do. It’s a thing.
After somehow re-convincing myself it was for scientific research, I did dare to re-ride Odyssey after hating it several years prior. We arrived to the station just as it closed down for wind however so we’ll never know how that would have gone down. Gives it a 1 out of 4 success rate on my visits.
Feel like I’ve been to this park too many times already. It’s not the greatest. Stuff like Seaquarium and Toucan Tours have charm but it’s really not a revisit kinda place. Too much faff.
Never too much faff if it’s something new though. We headed up over the Humber bridge (another new bridge cred) and into central York, through castle walls and all. Why?
Jorvik Viking Centre
Dark ride, that’s why. 10% museum and 90% ride, I had stories of this attraction from my parents riding it back in the ‘80s. It’s all changed since then, receiving a new ride system in 2001 and new scenery from 2015. It’s long, slow and all rather impressive.
The new(er) vehicles for Time Ride have on-board audio and screens to teach you all about what’s going on in each scene.
Scenes include this guy, a man selling a cabbage to a woman who doesn’t want one and someone on the toilet. York, 948 A.D. Would recommend.
Within a single decade, Rocky Mountain Construction have established themselves as the boys to beat when it comes to making the best rollercoasters money can buy. Their rides are seemingly tailored to what enthusiasts like myself enjoy the most – a blend of powerful airtime, interesting elements and minimal gimmicks. They began their days by converting and revitalising older wooden rollercoasters in certain parks – removing the track, leaving the structures intact and using their unique steel rails to create a brand new and vastly more experimental experience. Since then, several ‘ground up’ installations have been built, which tend to use the same system, though also having a layer of wood underneath the rails in order to replicate the classification of a wooden rollercoaster, just ones like you’ve never seen before. While they haven’t really branched out into specific ride types other than the recent single rail Raptor model, the label ‘RMC’ itself is by far the most consistently rewarding in the world right now. I believe they have also played an important role in demonstrating to more casual guests how the most fun coaster in the park doesn’t have to be the biggest and fastest. It should be something repeatedly enjoyable rather than just a scary experience to try once for a laugh, and I’ve already witnessed dedicated followings and numerous marathons first hand. As of this 2022 update I’ve now experienced 17 out of a total 23 operating RMCs, with half of the remainder being cloned layouts, so there’s only really three left out there for me now – a harrowing thought.
#17 Jersey Devil Coaster (Six Flags Great Adventure, USA) – We begin with the aforementioned Raptor model. Admittedly I’ve only done the two of these, but that does encompass both of the layouts that exist in the world right now, which is enough to know that I’m not a fan of sophomore design. The prototype was a marvel for the industry, I’d never seen anything quite like it before and it brought a completely fresh style to the table. Taking the hardware and then running with nothing but a remit of ‘taller, longer, faster’ led to a ride that lost the spirit of the single rail. There’s no reason this couldn’t just have been a regular two rail RMC other than for a bit of short term marketing. It also rode poorly and had restraint issues. It’s the worst RMC, but it’s still world class.
#16 Goliath (Six Flags Great America, USA) – More records were up for grabs here, with an early installation of the ground-up wooden coaster design. Goliath was huge, as the name suggests, but for all that height it doesn’t do a whole lot to back it up. It’s a compact and succinct layout that introduces a lot of RMCs early hits, most notably the stall element, and this makes it a quintessential experience that just doesn’t have enough going for it when stacked up against the rest.
#15 Outlaw Run (Silver Dollar City, USA) – It was on this trip that I learnt that ‘wooden coasters like you’ve never seen before’ might not stand the test of time for RMC, in their current form. The most aggressive of the bunch has already received extensive re-tracking to the point at which it can no longer be classified as a wooden rollercoaster. Outlaw Run, the very first of these, is suffering from similar issues. The wheel seats were a dud for me, due some rather headache-inducing tracking and the front of each car was definitely the place to be. There are some amazing elements in this layout and the setting is to die for, but it’s once again very short and I don’t really rate any of the inversions, particularly the final two, which are a rare miss.
#14 Wildfire (Kolmården, Sweden) – Talking of wooden rollercoasters like you’ve never seen before, how about this monster? This was the first RMC in Europe and the first one I rode (eventually). I was already aware of the hype surrounding the manufacturer at the time and though an amazing ride in its own right, it didn’t quite live up to the exceedingly high reputation. At the time of riding, I couldn’t pinpoint the spark that was missing from Wildfire but having since ridden other RMCs it’s blantantly obvious – other than the first drop it lacks any of the characteristic airtime moments that punctuate the other special elements on offer. The combination of the two is the literal definition of these rides for me and if you only have one half of that, you’re going to come up short. The other nitpick I have is though it is marketed as the greatest wooden rollercoaster in the world (and it isn’t), I didn’t think it rode like a woodie at all and I have since confirmed (further down the list) that RMC are capable of generating this feeling in a good way, and (further up the list) a bad way.
#13 Joker (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, USA) – I struggled to get the most out this comparatively baby RMC due to poor operations on the day. It has all the classic fun elements throughout along with airtime in greater quantities than Wildfire, but no definitive moments that stand out quite as much.
#12 Railblazer (California’s Great America, USA) – This (almost) unique looking attraction is nothing short of ridiculous. As we’ve already seen, the Raptor model uses just one rail and trains that straddle the track with single file seating. Railblazer takes the whole layout from start to finish at a ridiculous pace and contains several intense airtime moments. The downfall is that it’s just really short and it may have been slightly elevated for me by being both a completely fresh experience and only riding in the back row at night for every lap.
#11 Twisted Cyclone (Six Flags Over Georgia, USA) – This is where we hit RMC’s true mix of elements at its prime. What this ride does is as good as its wicked and timber brothers, only the layout feels half the length and leaves you wanting more. My favourite part is the immensely intense hill out of this magical element that you don’t even see coming from the back row.
#10 Untamed (Walibi Holland, Netherlands) – Europe’s 2nd RMC after what felt like a very long wait. I didn’t find it to be the most intense of their creations and it contains noticeably weaker sections than any of the below. Untamed still gives an amazing, lengthy ride that delivers a lot of incredible moments. My head says it’s objectively better than the next ride in the list, but my heart just won’t let that happen at this point in time. It lacked a little character.
#9 Lightning Rod(Dollywood, USA) – Aww. I wanted this ride to be the best thing ever, but it wasn’t. Expectations may have let me down slightly as I thought it was going to be one of the bigger RMCs feat. quad down, but it’s actually short and the legendary quad down is 50% of the ride. I have been led to believe that the initial launched lift has been toned down and that I may not have experienced the rod in all it’s glory. If true, I sincerely hope there comes a day where this can happen. As I found it, the first half is a little too underwhelming for what follows and then just when it gets absolutely amazing, it ends.
#8 Wicked Cyclone (Six Flags New England, USA) – This was another case of not getting as much time to appreciate the ride as I would have liked (thanks again Six Flags), so it’s harder to big it up. Contrary to the above, Wicked Cyclone feels like just the right amount of length and the way it flows and bounces between the mixture of inversions and airtime is simply beautiful. In particular, the surprise wonky hills hidden inside the structure are some of the best in the business.
#7 Storm Chaser (Kentucky Kingdom, USA) – Somehow Storm Chaser almost manages to be forgettable in such a lineup. By no means is it to be underestimated though, even with the understated grungy look, it has big bad airtime and a satisfying raw power to the other key moments of the layout. I found it to be the best of the weather related ones by the tiniest margin and that’s all down to personal preference really – more aggressive airtime.
#6 Zadra (Energylandia, Poland) – The first RMC in Europe to go over 200ft and earn classification as one of the ‘big boys’ that get rated the world over as the absolute best of the best. It’s not hard to see why, this monster has a piece of everything that makes these rides so special, is insanely fast paced and delivers amazingly throughout a satisfying length of layout.
#5 Steel Vengeance (Cedar Point, USA) – And here’s the OG ‘big boy’, literally regarded the best rollercoaster on the planet by an overwhelming majority. I agree that it’s just so damn good, but Steel Vengeance didn’t have that killer instinct I was hoping for, to tip it over the edge. Chuck in a handful of moments that try to hurt me, make the inversions more interesting and you’ve got the best in the business. For now, this is as far as it goes.
#4 Twisted Timbers (Kings Dominion, USA) – As we enter the top tier, things get truly intense. I had Twisted Timbers down as a variable performer after our first visit, but more recently it seemed to be out to prove a point and was holding absolutely nothing back. Mere days after the revelations on Steel Vengeance, this one definitively demonstrated to me that it’s just more my cup of tea. It’s insane, it hurts and it has all of that killer instinct. And that’s exactly what I’m looking for in my RMCs.
#3 Iron Gwazi (Busch Gardens Tampa, USA) – God Damn Iron Gwazi. The new American monster is so wild and full of extremities at every level. Unlike the above, and it’s biggest rival over at Cedar Point, it’s not the biggest airtime machine but it makes the best use of the fast paced approach by being packed full of killer manoeuvres. Several of these elements stepped up the manufacturer’s creativity and range of sensations another notch. As if that was even possible.
#2 Hakugei(Nagashima Spa Land, Japan) – This is nothing short of a beautiful creation. It was never quite as wild as some of those that came before, but it was a consistently incredible ride at all times of day in all parts of the train, even in the direst of situations. Hakugei has perhaps the most to offer, of all RMCs, in its combination of both length and power. The resultant layout probably has the closest to perfect mix of elements, from someone who over-analyses these things to the point of detraction. It did lack character for me and maybe has one zero-G too many so that, combined with not being the most intense, holds it back from the top spot.
#1 Twisted Colossus (Six Flags Magic Mountain, USA) – Still the king and I’m as much surprised as you probably are. Using pain as the measure for intensity (in a good way), no other RMC has come close to hurting my legs (and neck?!) with airtime as much as Twisted Colossus did. The out of control feeling exiting the high-five element hasnt been matched either, in a ride type that starts to feel a little calculated and clinical the more you delve into it. In a list where several coasters suffer from the feeling of hitting the brakes and wanting more, you hit the brakes on this ride, then you get more. The easy way. In a list where several coasters just didn’t quite hit the mark with everything they could throw at me, every single moment counts on this ride, to the point of physical duress. The simple knowledge that there’s more fun to come while creeping up the second lift hill is easily enough to keep me happy, but the interaction between the two trains during the layout adds an extra special layer to this mind blowing experience, truly setting it apart from the rest.
Bolliger & Mabillard are great at gifting me list topics. With a narrow portfolio of ride types that almost all happen to be large thrill coasters they become instantly relatable, comparable and it’s easy to know where you stand with them. I’d better pace myself before I run out of posts on such things.
Characterised in their own words by ‘the straight vertical drop with riders facing down’, the Dive Coaster has had an interesting presence in the industry over the years. It began life at Alton Towers in 1998 with the highly famous Oblivion and has since taken form in various different shapes and sizes, both larger and smaller. Within a couple of years a mirrored clone of the original was bizarrely built on the side of a cliff in Taiwan, but it took a full 7 years for the product to start shifting more seriously when the Busch Gardens parks decided to change the style somewhat – from intimidating and mysterious to imposing crowdpleasers with inversions, splashdowns and even bigger track and trains.
China, much as I love it, wasn’t one for setting any industry trends in those days and soon said “we’ll have a couple of those cloned as well”, but the 2010s found new ground in the birth of the mini version. Europe put fear and theming back on the agenda in conjunction with tighter manoeuvres and the smaller trains, suddenly the order book for Dive Coasters was more full than it had ever been. It felt like Cedar Point marked a turning point in how enthusiasts (or perhaps just me) viewed these creations, with Valravn making silly boasts about the tallest, fastest and longest (of a specific manufacturer and model), only breaking those statistics by miniscule amounts and clearly just for the sake of easy marketing, while not doing anything more interesting with the design or layout. Suddenly the attitude became “oh no, not another dive” and though the last 5 years has seen the population of these double, the spark of excitement for them seems to be fizzling out.
Again that could just be me, I’m up to 12 out of 16 on the checklist with only 3 unique layouts left to try and feel like I’ve already seen everything that they have to offer. Hopefully Cedar Fair can still surprise me, but in the meantime let’s have a look at how the rest stack up.
And here we are, the turning point itself. Valravn was a massive let down in all regards. The cars being a narrower eight-across rather than the usual ten for a Dive coaster that’s well in excess of 200ft tall had me believing, for a brief moment, that it would be nippier than other North American brethren. It was not, combining all of the worst aspects of the relative sluggishness that comes with a coaster of such scale with a jarringly unpleasant rattle that also made it the roughest and least entertaining of it’s type.
Hmmm.. apologies to all the Oblivion fans still out there, the original just doesn’t do it for me any more. Part of the blame can be laid on the park, who have managed to strip the attraction of all its atmosphere over the years. We can’t play the audio any more, we can’t show the queueline videos any more and we can’t use the holding brake as much. All that’s left is a big drop, which is admittedly still one of the best for doing what it does, and then the brake run. I like it enough, but it’s almost at flat ride status.
While I admire the aesthetic here, the layout leaves a lot to be desired. It borrows nearly all the features from the bigger brothers including the mid-course brake run, but this in particular seems entirely unjustified against both the pacing and the reduction in height (plus Happy Valley one train operations) to then just enter some uninteresting corners, the not overly spectator friendly water feature and end.
Similar issues on a different scale. I absolutely love the theming, preshow and presentation package of this coaster and I would have thought the short layout would lend itself to being potent and pacy. It somehow doesn’t though (space saving helix?) and the actual ride just isn’t punchy enough to seal the deal for me.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record (the predictability of the ride type is beginning to kick in), the forces weren’t strong enough on this mid-sized installation. The theming didn’t land very well with me either, but overall it looks great, the views were spectacular and I admire the attempted airtime hill.
The first of the giants in the list. Truth be told there’s very little separating these few, and even the ones that came before. If there’s one word I’d use for these Dive Coasters it’s ‘solid’. As a Happy Valley resident this one was again plagued with operational issues that bothered me. The big drop is serious business, but the mid-course brakes were biting a little too hard (on the only train on track) for the second half to deliver in equal measure. Hold that thought.
It’s fine, absolutely fine. Nothing more than that though. I think the only thing that puts this one above the previous clone in the list is the presentation of the splashdown area, which is particularly gorgeous. It’s amazing how much the Chinese park missed the mark on that feature when plonking it down in their own space and a true testament to how lazy cloning attractions can be.
It’s fine, absolutely fine. Nothing more than that though. I think the only thing that puts this one below the following clone in the list is the fact that the restraint put grease on my jeans. A mark that still remains today as a memory of better times.
Oh, and the queue. This Korean cousin had a really nice exterior buliding, queueline and even a bit of storyline. It was also an absolute mission to get a ride on this one at all, making the reward feel all the greater.
Still holding that thought? Good. My original experience with the big boy edition remains my favourite. It didn’t stop at all on the mid course brakes and therefore had a much more powerful second drop, which was further enhanced by a tunnel and misters. Chimelong did a really good job of integrating this layout into the surroundings and operate it surprisingly well, two things I can’t say for that other Chinese one with the lazy name.
This sea monster taught me that these rides could have pace. While the larger versions have an impressive sustain in their drops, that’s the only real trick up their sleeve and they spend the rest of the time wandering around in a cumbersome fashion. Even with the risky use of an early splashdown, this one still delivers effectively in each subsequent element (however few there may be) and that airtime hill is the best of the bunch. Even though it’s amongst the smallest, Krake was also another long overdue masterclass in intimidation factor – just look at it (granted, that sky helps). Heide Park surpassed all my expections with this one and raised the standard by which I measured the genre. Oh, and it has a great soundtrack too.
This marked the second time the Dive Coaster game changed for me. With a much more significant layout (and no pause for thought on any brake runs) Valkyria absolutely blasts its way through the course, providing several forces along the way that I previously believed these rides weren’t even capable of producing. Construction began at the aforementioned time when I thought I was over them and foolishly I didn’t even have faith in my own favourite park to pull off anything special with the hardware. They did of course, in spectacular fashion. I now love Liseberg even more for it. And no, I won’t hear a word against the vests. We can save that discussion for the Wing Coasters.
No more new coasters today, I’m afraid we’ve peaked. There were far too many insignificant options on the table to pad out the return leg of the journey with, to the point that I was still making decisions the night before while I should have been sleeping. Tweestryd sounded like a good idea at the time, zoo, a +2 and 40% off with a Plopsa pass. Local knowledge led me to believe that they rarely, if ever, run both sides however due to a lack of popularity and the sheer China-ness of that fact took the wind out of the sails.
Located near the heart of Utrecht in the Netherlands, this is more than just your average train museum. It’s home to a number of themed attractions and is simply one of those places that would always otherwise be skipped because they don’t have an rollercoaster. I found it to be well worth the time, reasonably priced and a refreshing experience. Think I need to vow to do at least one thing like this a year that isn’t based on upping the coaster count. For health reasons.
The star attraction, for me, is a dark ride by the name of Stalen Monsters. It’s a home-brew design that has you sitting in a little pair of railway carts on a powered track system (made by Kumbak no less, of other random train fame). It takes you around various varieties of the namesake Steel Monsters, a.k.a. big old trains, which doesn’t, on the surface, sound that great to anyone but a train buff.
It’s really well done however, very well paced, maintains a good level of intrigue and there’s something highly satisfying about having all the real life props forming the ‘theming’ of a dark ride system as opposed to just theming ‘theming’. On top of that the system itself is pretty special, with elevation, speed and directional changes all being woven into the journey and even managing to add a certain level of thrills where you might not expect.
Before the ride itself there’s a highly detailed queue of exhibits as well as a little preshow room with video that was entirely unmanned. With the place being basically empty on a weekday this added a good deal more to the adventure. Well worth the visit alone.
In the outside section there’s a simulator by the name of Trial by Fire.
Plenty going on in here too, before a preshow that starts off historic and ends by setting up something slightly more fantastical. An engineer character gives us briefing that can best be likened to Smuggler’s Run. Teams of 6 have different tasks to perform on one of the three simulators, though the catch here was that there was only the two of us in the entire room.
It’s slightly less evenly spread on the interactivity. The front row of 3 has a variety of levers and buttons to play with while those in the back only get to man the ‘dead man switch’. We were running up a million things at once like a ‘70s keyboardist although it doesn’t really appear to do anything to the sequence.
The sequence itself was a little bizarre, but entertaining. Once again things have to get a little ‘runaway rollercoaster’ down some ridiculous and unrealistic track but before long we’re doing Back to the Future 3 style jumps to different places in order to keep things interesting and/or perilous. Again I loved the distinct lack of staff presence here, adds to the mystery a bit and the vehicles themselves looked pretty fantastic.
The last of the big things I was into was this themed walkthrough, The Great Discovery, which involves time travel of the more subtle variety. You board a little elevator which takes you back to the days of Robert Stephenson, where you’re unleashed into this intricate world replicating the old town and his workshop.
I’m led to believe you’re usually presented with an audio guide for this to explain the details but this wasn’t happening on this occasion so it was all taken in on visuals. Of which there are many great ones, but also fun little tricks like a mouse moving in the rafters.
The second major area contains De Arend, one of the first two locomotives in the Netherlands, situated in a station from back in 1839. Trees and all. Pretty cool.
Other stuff around the museum includes the usual displays, along with miniatures and the like.
A mini game simulator that actually is responsive to what you’re doing.
And plenty more real live locomotives in their natural habitat which you can mostly just freely wander around.
They also have a show, for kids, but it’s all in Dutch, and a set of the famed Dutch snack machines – but they were all empty! A real trip ruiner.
In all seriousness though, a great place to stop off for a few hours.
And then things went wrong. I had wanted to get to Plopsa Station in Antwerp next for some more dark ride action and to get one final, final use out of that pass, but the roads were having none of it. Catastrophic traffic on the attempt to escape the Netherlands. Catastrophic traffic on the attempt to get in/around Antwerp. Absolute carnage.
In the end it transpired that I couldn’t have arrived until 15 mins before close which, given it wasn’t just a Wickie Coaster and something I had a modicum of interest in, wouldn’t have really worked. Even at the point that this idea was bailed upon, my backup plan then ended up being cut very fine as well.
Plopsaland de Panne
Oh yes, one last hurrah on the new sensation for the season.
To make matters worse in the massively faffy ending to the trip, they were only running one train on it and therefore I queued the longest I ever have for Happiness by a significant margin, picking up just a single lap in my hour on park.
Worth it though, gleaning perhaps one of the best rides, of many, experienced on it. It worked up one hell of a spin and I had that golden top hat exit moment in the back row, rotating from sideways to backwards as it takes the plunge in a literal heart in mouth, stomach wrenching terror of a drop. It was at least double the magnitude of the Time Traveller version and that one’s already beyond insane. Scary thoughts seeped their way into my brain on the brake run after all that wait. If it rode like that time, every time, it could well be a number 1.
The chunnel was trying to be a bit more spitey on the way back, with tons of aggressive warnings all the way along the French motorway saying ‘severe delays into the UK, expect to queue for several days’. This didn’t happen, instead we got automatically booked on a slot an hour earlier due to turning up in good time. Even inside the place all the signs were apologising for the devastating disruptions and yet, beyond a little slower than usual passport queue, nothing was actually wrong. I’ll take it.
Short and sweet, but quite the map. They’re always fun.
Total countries – 5 New coasters – 18 Total coasters – 23 New dark rides – 5 Total dark rides – 8 New parks – 5 Total parks – 10 Zierers – 7 Best new coaster – Fønix of course Distance travelled – 2000 Miles-ish Spites – –1/17 (-5.88%)