Ride Review – Flying Aces

There’s a certain ride type that remains a bit of an enigma to me. Most of the coasters amongst my all time favourites made their intentions pretty clear to me over the first few laps, but the Intamin Wing Coaster is all about the element of surprise. If things had played out differently during my visit, this ride probably wouldn’t have made the list and I likely wouldn’t be writing about it at all. Luckily there’s a bit of a fairytale ending.

Located at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, home of the world’s fastest rollercoaster, Flying Aces has an unusual physical setup. The entrance is found indoors, part of the expansive overall indoor complex that makes up the park. Every piece of the ride bar the station is outdoors, in the burning sand.
It leads you through an extensive heavily themed queue of rocks, jungle, artifacts and videos inspired by the adventures of Francesco Baracca, a famous Italian fighter pilot from World War I whose plane carried the logo that later became that of Ferrari itself. It’s quite rare for an attraction of this nature to have such an historic influence, so that alone makes it stand out for me in terms of theming. The sound effects of planes flying overhead as you move through the area is loud to the point of deafening (accurate then) but luckily, as with all the parks I experienced in the UAE, it was very quiet and we never had to stick around and hear it for very long.

The route ends behind closed doors in front of the usual air gates, concealing the ride a little longer and maintaining the mystery of what’s to come. Even the station gives very little away, other than the huge and imposing rollercoaster trains with their two-up two-down winged seats and minimal lap bars of course. The outside world is also sealed off by a pair of doors that, once dispatch is pressed and you hear the noise of the plane firing up, fly open to reveal the scorching hot desert sun. And this.

The world’s steepest and fastest cable lift isn’t just a bragging right, it’s a thing of wonder. Before you have time to think, you’re being dragged up to the top at such a ridiculous pace that it feels like you’re just a toy for the ride to play with. I love that about Flying Aces, it’s a character moment – “whether you like it or not, you’re coming with me now.”
In the daytime, these outdoor rides in ~50°C were an interesting phenomenon in themselves. Of course while you’re moving and the wind is blowing through your hair, you don’t really feel the heat. As soon as the brake run hits, it felt like I was on fire – shouting to the ride to hurry up and get back inside.

I was actually in the UAE as part of a work trip for some global conference, so had the rare opportunity to bring a colleague along to experience this park for the first time with me. For the initial lap I had us sitting apart in the back wing seats, not to be anti-social but because clearly that’s the best place to be – one of the usual alien concepts to your average visitor. He had done nothing of this scale before and was of course blown away by the experience. I wish I could have shared in those initial moments of sheer unprecendented terror, but battle-hardened me found it all a bit par for the course. I was asked as we made our way through the exit what I would rate the ride out of 10 and, to great surprise, all I could muster was an “umm… 7?”

It was definitely really good, but I simply couldn’t avoid drawing up comparisons between other rides, in particular the Intamin Mega coasters and to me at that moment, Flying Aces was no more special. I didn’t know what it was trying to achieve in focusing on a range of elements like the ‘world’s tallest non-inverting loop’, whatever that means, rather than the obvious airtime machines like Expedition GeForce which only have one thing on their mind. Was it a jack of all trades, master of none?

We tried it a couple of more times spaced out during the day and not much changed for me. It was starting to become a bit much for my companion though – oh to feel like that again. In the afternoon we were also joined by my boss who wanted to see what the place was all about. Sadly we didn’t manage to coax him onto the two biggest rides and instead whiled away the day on the lesser attractions, though I had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I really want to like Flying Aces – I should give it some more attention later.

After some photo laps in the outdoor viewing areas, we ended up leaving the park in the early evening (under my command of course) to go hunting for a cred in the mall, where the more unusual side of my hobby was witnessed for the first time and er… admired? to a degree. Apparently the phrase “I’ve never seen such dedication in a man” was used as I stood in a queue surrounded by small children for the stupidest of little coasters that actually causes physical pain with its shoulder restraints. Following that we sat down for a relaxed meal in the food court.
I had it in my head that Ferrari World was open until 22:00 so there was plenty of time to give my clear favourite from the day another opportunity to impress me. For some reason, halfway through a large (and amazing) sandwich I decided to confirm this fact and discovered that it was actually closing at 20:00.
“What’s the time now?”
“Just gone 7.”
“Oops, bye!”

Leaving the mortals behind (they were done for the day) I walked as fast as I could back through the mall to the park, simultaneously devouring the significant remainder of the sandwich and downing at least half a litre of Sprite in the process. This was where I didn’t miss being inexperienced – I had been cruising all day and felt like it had only just begun, skipping through the queue alone in giddy excitement. I also imagine walking straight onto an intense rollercoaster while eating a meal makes most people feel ill.

I don’t understand how, but Flying Aces was completely different at night and I couldn’t be more glad that I gave it another chance. The ride was doing things to me that just weren’t happening earlier on, but it wasn’t just that, it was doing things to me that I had never felt before, on any rollercoaster. I fully believed those days were gone.

The earlier comparison to Intamin Megas is an important one because though I do enjoy them a lot, those rides have a glaring issue for me and that’s the predictability of the layout. You see an airtime hill up in front of you and you expect glorious airtime. It generally happens, and that’s great, but it’s diminished by the anticipation. The absolute best moments on rides for me are the unexpected ones and in the winged seats of Flying Aces, suddenly nothing was riding anything like how it appeared it should.

What seemed to be a gradual upwards curve into a reasonably drawn out hill, as pictured on the right here, would actually deliver an insanely unprecedented burst of what can only be described as sideways airtime. I wasn’t just being chucked up out of my seat in the usual fashion, I was simultaneously getting thrown laterally, colliding hard with the side of the restraint as the entirely free top half of my body tries to fold itself over the edge and completely leave the train. This ride is actually trying to kill me now and I can’t emphasise enough how good that feels.

All the twists and turns that had seemed a little meandering in the morning now had the capability to provide moments like I just described and as I moved through the various seats of the train during my glorious night time marathon, this never became predictable. I was at the complete mercy of the plane at all times and loving every second of it. Through lap after lap of it hauling up that lift hill I must have had the most stupid grin on my face. The playful character of the ride was back and better than ever and I found myself uncontrollably laughing with glee at the mere thought of what was to come each time. It’s rare when you get a moment this magical on a ride but it always serves as the greatest reminder of exactly what this hobby is all about.

It seems to me that Intamin’s best creations come out of experimentation and pushing the boundaries and this serves as the perfect example. I can’t imagine that they knew what they were really dealing with making with this ride type. I’d like to think that all the computer simulations in the world couldn’t show you the physics of what’s actually going on here and in my humble opinion things should definitely stay that way. If we come any closer to engineering perfection with these rides, then it may well extinguish the spark that makes something so special.

Score Card

Ride Review – Python in Bamboo Forest

Deep in the heart of China, amongst a forest of bamboo, lives the best wooden rollercoaster I have ever ridden. I knew nothing about the ride before I arrived other than it has a cool looking train, courtesy of this amazing picture:

Subsequently it blew my mind.

Python in Bamboo Forest is the longest ride GCI have ever made. No one seems to know for definite, but to achieve this you’d have to assume it’s the tallest as well. It depends how you measure height though, the lift hill doesn’t go up 160ft and then drop to the floor on a flat piece of land, all you’ve got to go on is the difference between the highest and lowest piece of track, but none of that is relative to the floor. This is a terrain coaster. And as we learnt from Helix, I love terrain coasters.

I’m going to struggle with pictures today because you just can’t see any of the ride from the park. The hill that it lives on slopes away from the entrance area, out towards the park boundary and one of China’s massive, empty roads. I’d love to go back one day and do a photoshoot from outside the park somehow.

The hill is what breathes life into the ride, defying the inherent physics of a rollercoaster that in theory should always start off fastest and then gradually run out of momentum, getting weaker and weaker until it ends. Python never runs out of momentum. It delivers with an equal experience from start to finish and I find that to be nothing short of masterful.

The ‘first drop’ is completely untraditional. A teasing, twisted triple down that builds like nothing else. The snake heads out to the far end of the layout in a seemingly unremarkable fashion.

A major advantage of making rollercoasters out of wood is the sensation with which they ride. This varies hugely from those which are glass smooth, indiscernable from steel and often criticised by enthusiasts for that fact (me included), to coasters so violently jarring and rough that they causes serious internal injury, making you question whether you can ever ride another coaster again – a story for another time. I do like violence in a ride, ideally ones that push you just to the edge of what’s physically tolerable, but it’s important that this line, which is different for everyone, can’t be crossed. This coaster sits perfectly in that sweet spot for me, in a zone that seems to be dominated by a handful of GCIs and most of the biggest offerings from the Gravity Group – all sharing a characteristic I can best describe as aggressive.

Any part of a wooden coaster that looks unremarkable can still be fun because the ride is doing something to your body at all times, just from the way it negotiates the track. Just physically existing on a ride like Python while it moves brings me joy. An equivalent steel with an unremarkable section of track should be completely forceless and would therefore have a dead spot, most likely taking me out of the moment.

At the end of this section is a magical turnaround that somehow looks higher than the rest of the ride, like you’re not going to make it. This provides the only real opportunity to catch your breath between the lift hill and the brakes – a brief moment of contemplation looking back at the rest of the ridiculous layout below you. And then you plunge into it.

The layout weaves back and forth across the side of the hill, gradually heading downwards and every time you think it might begin to ease off, it drops further and further, maintaining that blissful sensation of a ride that doesn’t want to end. It just keeps on giving, eventually diving into dips and trenches below the height of the station to make sure that not a single second is wasted.

While all this is going on, it’s just a top notch ride experience. GCI at their absolute best. The signature thing they do with corners where you enter or exit on a weird kink pops up in all kinds of places. Every spare moment is punctuated by little airtime moments that have you out of your seat more than you’re on it. It’s not the strongest ejector around, you can’t compete with the likes of El Toro and T Express for that, but those rides can only ever have 2 or 3 really significant moments and I personally find that the rest of their experience pales in comparison. Because I’m always overthinking, I would spend the remainder of those rides in distracted anticipation of a few specific hills and once they’re done, I’m done.

I’d much rather have 50 little moments and not count them, each one indistinguishable from the last to keep me guessing, keep me laughing with joy from start to finish. In some twisted way it all becomes just one single extended moment of abuse.

I was fortunate enough to have this elite rollercoaster completely to myself for an extended period of time. It was a freezing, murky day and I could count on one hand the number of other guests that appeared on park. The ride was running both cold and empty, a combination that generally means ‘slow’ and ‘not at it’s best’. But it was still the best woodie ever. It still tried to rip the shirt from my back every lap. It was still THAT good. How could it possibly get better?

Ride Review – Revenge of the Mummy

I made the bold statement in the about section of this website about how this ride changed my life, so I thought I had better back that up with some reasons.

Situated in Universal Studios Singapore, Revenge of the Mummy is an indoor coaster built by Premier Rides and themed to the hilt by Universal themselves. To this day it remains, for me, the finest demonstration in the world as to how to combine the thrilling hardware of a rollercoaster with the awesome spectacle of a dark ride. These are the two types of attractions that really get me going in parks and I really wish that more places would attempt something of this magnitude again.

The area of the park that houses the ride isn’t big (the park isn’t either), but it has a wonderful aesthetic to it. The cheery Egyptian style environmental music quickly works its way into the ears and draws you in as you approach from any angle, the scenery looks great and the whole vibe suits the burning Singapore heat perfectly.

As soon as you enter the queue, everything changes. The temperature drops a good 20°C, shadows dance across the walls through the sudden gloom, the music is replaced by eerie noises and whisperings and the bustle and excitement of the park outside is instantly shielded. Only a foreboding dread remains. For that single moment of transformation, this is easily my favourite queue in the world.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit on several occasions when the ride has been extremely quiet and so taking the opportunity to wander alone through the actual labyrinth of pathways (the main queue, single rider and fasttrack all dip in and out of each other at various points) is totally mesmerising. I could get lost in here and not even board the ride, but still be happy about it.
An unfathomably vast statue lies within the centre of the various staircases that lead up to the station and you can never quite see all of it. It’s not in your face like some of the perhaps better queueline scenery out there, but it looms impressively nonetheless.

As we enter the batch point of the dual station I have to mention how much I love the staff uniforms throughout the ride. They’re all dressed up and looking gorgeous in their desert rags and I’m a huge fan of little immersive details like this.

The trains leave a little to be desired in their restraint design with a slightly obstructive ‘shin bar’ on longer legs but the lap bar itself is just what we needed. If both sides of the station are operating simultaneously you can often get a fun moment of two cars dispatching at the same time, heading towards each other, the point at which the tracks merge and playing a game of chicken, with one stopping suddenly at the last second to every rider’s delight. I love it when ride hardware has a bit of a character building moment for itself, I get the feeling that it’s toying with me and that’s exactly what I want it to do.

‘The boooook… find the boooook’, the creepy whispers bounce off the walls as you progress around the first couple of turns and truly leave civilisation behind. Just thinking about this moment and these sounds chills me to the bone. Perfectly complimenting the earlier feeling of entering the queueline, this time strapped in with no escape, it’s the most beautifully atmospheric moment I’ve ever experienced on a ride.

Image Source

With desperation in his voice, the explorer demands that we find this book and kill Imhotep just as the nightmarish Mummy animatronic reveals himself and shuts him up with a pop of magic. Our souls will be his for all eternity… eternity… eternity… the whispering echoes return, each one getting deeper and more devilish in tone.

The following is the most breathtaking scene, a twisted face appears on a huge screen up front and threateningly requests that we serve him and enjoy the riches that fill the room around us, lighting up in tempting response. If we refuse? BAM! Mummies popping up on all sides, water effects, fire effects, the whole bloody marvellous package. Through the chaos, the ride speeds up and races towards a door that’s closing down on it from above, with a narrow escape.

If there are other riders on board at this point, then it’s guaranteed that they’re properly losing it around you. The pace of scares becomes relentless as you hit a dead end, the wall breaks and a plague of bugs comes pouring out at you. It’s now hard to distinguish the audio from the genuine terror of guests as the car propels you backwards to supposed safety.

But oh, no, we’ll never find the book now. The room rotates as the train tries to point itself in the right direction again. It lines up, nothing but mist and darkness lie ahead. What’s that terrifying face doing up so high above us? ‘Your souls are MINE!’ The LIM launch kicks in and wrenches you up the hill into the mouth and now the thrills can truly begin. Pure narrative perfection.

The crest of this hill provides the best moment of airtime in the layout and I’ve found it to be the most potent in the back left seat due to the direction of the transition. A dizzying sequence of turns and transitions follow through the dark with the occasional flash of a scary banner lighting the way. As quickly as it all started, the train comes screeching to a halt in a block section. On good days this comes with a brutal braking force that takes the wind from your stomach, and rightly so.

It ain’t just any old block section though. We’ve found the book.
And then the room catches fire. Sweet, beautiful, burning fire and the exhilarating feeling of the intense heat lapping at your face. Just before further injury is caused, the train plummets away from this and finds a way to the end brakes. It usually parks directly under a fog machine that keeps on pumping directly into my eyes while waiting for the block section ahead to clear. A wooden casket hangs above the track containing the defeated mummy, who each time makes one of several cool statements like ‘death is only the beginning’ accompanied by the sounds of the box splintering. Why should it be over? We can just do it again and again and again.

And I have. It’s the first theme park attraction I got truly addicted to. Of course I greatly enjoyed a wide variety of rides back in the UK before this moment (this was my first proper theme park visit outside of the country), but they never had me marching straight back around like a man possessed, a singular thought in my mind – ‘more!’
The sudden knowledge that something at a theme park can be THIS good is what really knocked me sideways and from that moment on I knew I had to kick this hobby up several gears in order to get out in the world and find ‘more!’ This ride is responsible for reshaping my whole future into a literally life-consuming endeavour.

I imagine I’ve failed to convey the sheer brilliance of this attraction as I’m just waffling away with a bunch of superlatives at this point but that really is how Revenge of the Mummy makes me feel. I’m sitting here in front of a computer screen, buzzing – my heart rate has been elevated by virtue of recounting these memories in my head and I don’t quite know what to do with myself.
While I go and calm down, you go and ride it. Deal?

Score Card

Ride Review – Helix

How does one go about building the greatest rollercoaster in the world?
Look no further than this hillside in Gothenburg for inspiration.

When talking about my hobby to anyone I am probably most frequently asked the question – ‘so what’s your favourite then?’ The reply of course is ‘Helix, it’s in Sweden’, but when it comes to explaining why that is, I find it rather difficult to do in a sentence or two. The simplest answer is that ‘it has everything’, but what does that mean to someone with no real context?

Let’s start with the ingredients.

The Layout

Having an inspirational layout is probably the most important thing I look for in a ride. It’s the core of rollercoaster design and, for me, every experience can only really be judged as a sum of its parts, rather than defined by singular moments. Simply put, the layout of Helix is a sheer masterpiece in my eyes. It does everything I love and I cannot fault it.

I already mentioned the hillside and that will be coming up a lot because it contributes to several of the factors that make this ride special. In this case, it makes the layout of the track completely unique as it is entirely built around the physical landscape found here.

The station for the ride is situated at the top of the hill, meaning that unlike most other rides, gravity is already at your disposal. There’s no need to build up that potential energy and you can start as you mean to go on – which Helix does all too well. As early as the point of dispatch, the train surges out of the station into the first drop which then immediately throws you out of your seat. Airtime already?

A wonderfully floaty inversion follows, flopping you down into the restraint and giving your first of many surreal upside down views out over the park.
From here it heads round a sweeping corner, through the trees at the northern most point of the ride, above Liseberg’s quaint garden area.

That section was just a taster and now the first launch accelerates you into a larger and more spectacular inversion above the height of the starting point. We’ve got even more to play with now.

With another sweeping turn into a twisted airtime moment, the train begins to build momentum and work its way further down the hillside. The height differential of the landscape comes into play more and jutting out over the edge is a Norwegian loop.

This is a rare element, currently only found on three coasters in the world and it’s essentially a sitdown version of the Pretzel loop on flying coasters – often considered to be the most intense inversions in the world. Another way of considering it would be a standard vertical loop stood on it’s head – the heart of the element is the lowest point and therefore the fastest part.

It flips you onto your head before diving down into the base of the loop with a ton of force and then pulling out the other side with a second flip, pointing you back in the original direction of travel.

Following this element the ride just wants get as far away from the station as quickly as possible. After diving under the lift hill of neighbouring coaster Lisebergbanan, the first traditional airtime hill follows, taking you over the station of that same ride.

Contrary to the name, the snappiest and most out of control inversion on the ride is the subsequent Zero-G roll and this part really is Helix at its wildest. Another surprisingly snappy transition takes you into the closest thing the ride has to having an actual helix, a tight 360° banked corner at the lowest and fastest point of the layout. You’re almost at the ground now.

Rather than thinking about losing any speed at this point, the track quickly twists the other way and turns you into the second launch. A rolling launch is often one of my favourite elements purely from the utterly joyous sensation it provides just in knowing that the ride is far from done – instead of running out of steam, it’s giving you the opportunity to do it all again.

This launch sets you up for what I’d consider to be the two most signature moments of the ride. The largest of the inversions and the highest point in the ride, this inside top hat towers over the surrounding pathway.

The unusual shaping of this element provides a strange mix of sensations, along with the most sustained sensation of hangtime and an inverted view back out towards the ride station and city beyond.

The train plunges out of there and into what I consider to be the greatest airtime hill in the world – no mean feat.

All this new found momentum is more than enough to carry you all the way back up to the height of the station with significant speed and this is done through what I like to call ‘the slither’ – a fun series of twisted transitions in alternating directions up the hillside.

Just when you think you’re safe, a brutal final roll pitches you onto your head one last time before the brake run.
Not a single moment is wasted in this layout and that can’t be emphasised enough.

The Forces

We saw a lot of different elements in the layout there and when earlier I said that Helix has everything, this also holds true for the forces it provides.

A contender for strongest airtime on the planet, the execution of the negative Gs on this ride are truly spectacular – from leaving the station out of your seat to the more subtle twisted pops there’s a huge variety.

The two major hills toe the line perfectly between brutally ejecting you out of your seat and sustaining you there for a significant period of time, often a hard balance to encounter. Normally this sort of force is over before they can catch up, but it literally drags your limbs up into the air, taking total control of your body.

I find the the best way to experience positive forces is not so much the common crushing head sensation but the tingling and numbing in your feet, something the B&M invert perfected first with the dangling legs of the seating position.
Although Mack mega trains do have a floor, the seats are raised above it so your legs are still hanging in a similar fashion. Helix is the only sitdown coaster in the world that puts pins and needles in my feet and it’s mostly found here in the Norwegian loop due to the speed and sustained force at bottom of the dip.

Somewhere between the extremes of negative and positive force, each of the other inversions on Helix provides an interesting sensation of floating or snapping, all being taken at different angles, height and speeds. There was a time in ride design when going upside down was purely for the scare, the spectacle or a more basal thrill. The earliest inversions like vertical loops and corkscrews are generally quite boring these days.
Helix is part of a new generation of rides where the inversion has been revolutionised, all seven in this layout are enjoyable in their own way and contribute to the ride experience. None of them feel like they are just there for the sake of it – they all have purpose.

I can’t even describe what this one does, but it feels like at least 5 different things are going on at once with the sharp upwards entry, sudden twist and more drawn out exit. It’s very unique.

The Interaction

Among my most favourite experiences on attractions are those moments when there is an interaction with another nearby, especially when there’s another train or car involved, full of other riders. It’s a bit of a weird human trait, like waving to people on a gentle train ride at a level crossing – a moment of shared joy. In better cases of this you aren’t an innocent bystander, you’re all sharing high thrill experiences together – duelling and racing coasters are particularly good at this. In the best version, they’re different thrill rides altogether.

You can see the majority of the Helix layout in the image above. The coaster it shares a lot of moments with is Lisebergbanan in white. A log flume crosses twice at the bottom right of the layout, near the second launch. AtmosFear the drop tower sits within the upper left corner at the top of the hill.
There’s also Uppswinget towards the centre of the picture, an S&S Screamin’ Swing which sits both above the spiralling turns of Lisebergbanan and below the highest inversion of Helix, perilously swinging back and forth between the two.
I commonly refer to this location as my favourite place on earth. I could stand there all day watching it all go by and with the operational efficiency of a park like Liseberg, it’s particularly satisfying how frequently something special happens.

The highlights of this ride interaction include chasing or being chased by a Lisebergbanan train across the hillside.

And in the moment between what I described as the two most significant parts of Helix, an Uppswinget swing is likely to come hurtling towards you from the right. These both always cause me to simply shout in amazement.

The Location

Besides being situated amongst these other attractions, even just the scenery is particularly attractive for this city park. The view from the station while sitting in the train, looking out across the valley past the first inversion is always a magical moment.

There’s always something different to look at with a unique perspective during each of the slower inversions, enhanced by such a high vantage point.

The defining moment of the final airtime hill that coins the phrase ‘being ejected into Gothenburg’ is truly spectacular. It feels like you can just leave the train and fly over the Gothia Towers into the heart of the city and a ride at night with everything lit up never fails to take my breath away.

Other than pure physical location, the ride happens to be in my favourite park in the world – Liseberg, and I can admit that the two actually influence each other in the definition of this. Though there may be other technically better parks out there, I can’t deny the appeal of one containing both the best ride ever and my happy place. In 3 visits over 6 days I have never found a single fault with the place from the atmosphere, attraction lineup, operational efficiency (5 trains on Lisebergbanan), food (now MAX), staff, opening hours (regular 11pm nights). You simply cannot fail to have a good time here and, like Helix, it has it all.

The Hardware

Though this ride has likely played a part in defining this as well, The Mack mega trains are my favourite rolling stock on a coaster. I often declare that I want one of the bucket seats as my office chair and they really are that comfy.

Comfort is one part of the story, but freedom of movement is also extremely important to me on a rollercoaster as it ensures there are no restrictions on the forces the ride has to offer you. With minimum points of contact, nothing gets in the way of your body moving where physics wants it to and there’s no threat of being punched in the head by a lumpy restraint. The way the bucket seats have such wide (and airy) backs, the lap bar coming in from above rather than between your legs and the raised position from the train floor that I mentioned earlier all play a significant part in making sure you get the best of Helix.
There were concerns amongst enthusiasts (myself included) when seatbelts were added to the ride after a few years but from personal experience and with careful use these have made no impact whatsoever.

The trains also have headlights and strip lights down the side that looks great at night, particularly if you take a late ride on the ferris wheel – you can see them zipping about all over the hillside in a wondrous fashion.

Mack themselves are an extremely competent ride manufacturer. Everything about their recent creations exudes professionalism but there’s also that slightly twisted darker side to them – the willingness to push boundaries and do things out of the ordinary. It’s a perfect combination of what the industry has to offer right now and I think it sets them apart nicely. The track is smooth, the launches are intelligent, the ride is extremely forceful and none of it feels clinical. I will likely touch on the subject in other reviews but it has what I would call character.

The Verdict

When I first rode Helix in 2015 I had been on less than 100 rollercoasters. Both the amount that it did and the way in which it did it completely redefined what I thought I knew about rides. I sat on the brakerun with my mind spinning. I loved rollercoasters but I had never considered the possibility that they could be THAT good.

I returned the following year with double the count to my name and it quickly reaffirmed everything I thought the first time around. Nothing comes close to touching this brilliance.

Over what felt like a long 2 years I was constantly looking for an excuse to return. It’s truthfully the only ride and park in the world that I am constantly, constantly thinking I would like to pop back to for no other reason than sheer enjoyment. When what I get the most out of this hobby relies so heavily on finding new experiences and travellings to new places, given the choice I will always go somewhere I haven’t been yet. Or here.
That’s it.
The moment finally came towards the end of the 2018 season. I was well over 600 creds now, having seen and done a hell of a lot more and a little nagging doubt had crept in as it often does when you look back on ride experiences – will it stil hold up?
We arrived at the park in the evening and it was already dark. We headed straight to the ride and it me took as far as the zero-G (head over heels, can’t see, mind racing) on our first lap for the single loudest thought to pop into my head. ‘Yes, this is still by far the best thing I’ve ever done.’
I stand by that to this day.

They knew it before I did and the poster says it all. Helix is the next level of rollercoasters. I can’t wait for one to join it.

Score Card

Ride Review – Lost Gravity

Walibi Holland are slightly off the rails, in a good way. Let’s just say the park themselves know how to have a good time. I can’t think of a better investment to represent that than this. Hard Gaan.

Lost Gravity was the first ever installation of a Mack big dipper. I’m a massive fan of Mack rides, not least because they made my favourite coaster on the planet. Their restraint and seating system revolutionised the modern inverting coaster giving an unparalleled sense of freedom and comfort even against the most extreme of forces, teaching the world once again that you don’t need these poxy shoulder restraints everywhere.

These same seats made it onto this new model of ride, on which the easiest comparison to draw for the cars would be to a Gerstlauer Eurofighter. In a head to head, they fix absolutely everything about them, from the awkward restraints to the clunkiness with which they rattle around.
On top of this, the outside 4 positions can be described as wing seats, as they stick out over both the edge of the car floor and the actual track, letting your feet dangle. Wing seats like this can be a powerful ally to a ride, effectively doubling any lateral forces in a snappy transition as physics has to move you, the rider, further to keep up.
The advantage of single 8-seater cars on a coaster such as this, as opposed to full trains is that tighter (and snappier) manouevres can be attempted without (less) serious engineering issues.

The theme for the ride is in the name. Gravity has been lost and the scenery throughout the queue and the ride area is a random assortment of objects, vehicles and containers that are upside down and strewn all over the place. The entertainment highlight as you move through the queue is an escalator that no longer moves. Instead, if you happen to be standing on it while waiting, the floor intermittently vibrates underneath you, in a hilarious fashion.
There’s always some intense dance music playing throughout the area, fitting perfectly with the vibe of the park and I believe there was a dedicated DJ situated near the ride entrance at some point.

The ride does have a song written for it and it’s one that I have a great attachment to, though sadly I’ve never heard this played in situ.
The other highlights in theming are a couple of flamethrowers that go off viciously every so often, enough to give people in the queue a good fright. You can’t beat a bit of fire.

On to the actual ride then, it begins with a wickedly steep and twisted first drop that just disappears from underneath you, throwing you particularly hard if you’re in the correct wing seat. Before you’ve had time to recover from that there’s a silly little hill, no more than the size of a speed bump, which produces a very amusing and odd sensation of airtime.

Nobody should know what this element is supposed to be. Some semblance of a top hat, but the shape is just so warped and again produces some rather unique forces, although slower this time, before you hit another big violent hill of pure ejector.

The train then enters a flat turnaround up high, ending in a mid course brake run which tugs at the pace a little into the dive drop that marks the second half of the ride.

The ride gets more twisty now, navigating a series of tight corners, another well placed inversion and a final punch of airtime before the end.

I was very happy with the final product. I like a mixed bag of forces on a ride and I always implore designers to try new things, be different and unique. It did everything I could have asked for really and instantly became my favourite attraction in the park. Although Goliath was an old friend of mine it just can’t compete with the simplicity of what it delivers in comparison to a ride like Lost Gravity.

What holds it back from the elite though? Because it isn’t up there with the best of the best for me. That’s a question I find hard to answer.
I believe it comes back to the Eurofighter comparison from earlier. Though Mack fixed everything I thought they could about it, there’s something more inherent about these rides with single cars instead of trains. What you gain in manoeuvrability you lose in grace, they just don’t… flow as nicely. The momentum and rhythm is different, much more stop-start and, for want of a better word, it feels gimmicky.

Still loved it anyway, bought the T-shirt to prove it. Not the one that says ‘Ask me about Lost Gravity’, but please do.

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Ride Review – Baron 1898

On my first trip to Efteling, this ride was nearing the final stages of being built. They certainly weren’t afraid to show it off to everyone and get them excited for what was coming to the park – not a construction fence in sight.

It excited me too, though I wasn’t a local. This was a time in my life when B&M were the most consistent manufacturer I had come across and from what I had already experienced that day, I was sure Efteling could produce something really special.

A couple of years later I was back in the Netherlands and of course took the opportunity to see how things had turned out, soon finding myself standing in the queue that was once mud.

The area that the ride lives in is wonderfully presented and fits right in with the overwhelming aesthetic and charm of the park. Drawing strongly on their experience with Vliegande Hollander, theming becomes the most dominating part of the attraction and Baron takes it a step further by even having it’s own preshow – something very few coasters do.
This is also a good time to mention that there was an extensive soundtrack composed for the ride, which I always admire, but in this particular instance none of the melodies have ever really stuck with me, unlike certain attractions.

In Efteling style, the preshow tells a tale of the Baron himself, the opening of his gold mine and the Witte Wieven that haunts it. Now the scene has been set, guests move into the station to board the Dive Coaster trains which are to be your mine cars. You’re now a part of the story.

The train pulls out of the station into another room, where impressive projections and physical effects continue the story. Trouble is afoot, the ride can begin.
It’s hard for me to feel intimidated now in these comfy B&M seats as they ascend the lift hill. At the summit, the signature holding brake of the ride type dangles you over a misty pit.

The train releases and you plummet down the near vertical drop into the ground below. Baron is comparatively tiny for a dive coaster, not quite reaching 100ft off the floor and it shows here in that the defining moment of the ride is not as effective at launching you out of your seat or providing the sustained sense of freefall that I would have expected. The pull out of the drop is almost instantaneous.

With your face full of sweet mist, the ride navigates two consecutive inversions that are pulled off rather nicely, before entering a helix that seemingly serves no real purpose other than to burn a bit of speed. Moments like this in a layout do bother me as, with my mindset, it just feels like wasted potential.

The final element is a slight airtime hill that is somewhat satisfying and you hit the brakes far sooner than expected.

While solid fun as a coaster, there was nothing truly spectacular about it. The theming remains the most prevalent feature of the experience, which I’m fine with, but it could have been something really special if the hardware had lived up to it.
I can only assume they were erring on the side of family thrill to suit the park as a whole, which makes the choice of ride type seem a little unusual – other than for the look and to fit the narrative.
Dive coasters by original design were to be dominating, powerful and scary, the prototype literally being themed to fear. It’s refreshing to see one used in a different way, but it didn’t quite meet my expectations on all fronts.

Score Card

Ride Review – Taron

There’s an unavoidable sense of awe around this Intamin multi launch coaster, particularly if you enter it from the direction at which you can look down on most of it from above. Taron has the most ‘crossing points’ of it’s own track over itself, on any coaster in the world. I could stand and look at it for hours. How they fit all of this ride into one of the most immersively constructed lands out there defies belief.

Because you can just enter Klugheim as if it existed first, the section of Phantasialand that it is located in. It’s like a small viking town with shops, a bar and a cafe. All the while this dominating presence of a rollercoaster is just there, seemlessly integrated with it. And it’s not just the visuals. The noise that the launches on the ride make echo throughout the area with an almost vicious anger and it’s deeply satisfying to hear, even more so once you’ve experienced the ride.

That’s why we’re here though right? The ride. It’s amazing.
I have to admit though, I find it hard to comprehend and quantify the experience, so bear with me.
The trains are new ground for Intamin, in a way they emulate the Mack launch coaster, with a comfy lap restraint that comes in over your head, slightly raised seating that leaves most people’s feet dangling, though still with a floor beneath them and most importantly – a very open sensation, lots of room for the top half of your body to move around with relative freedom. This sensation is important, because of what Taron relies most upon.

Once you’re on board, the train pulls out of the station and onto the first launch track, teases you for a second and then fires away with a quick burst of speed into a sharp corner around some rockwork. There’s a lot of those.

From here, it’s the transitions that make up the majority of the ride experience. In the way that the track twists and turns around itself, more often than not the direction changes are very sharp and this is what provides the force of the ride. The near misses with the scenery can have you independently ducking and diving as much as the train.

The second launch is potentially my favourite moment on any coaster. The way the ride violently drops into it, at the bottom of a pit, is just so unique and satisfying. It’s already fast, but it’s about to get a whole lot faster. With no hesitation at all, you accelerate to what feels like a million miles an hour through the trench, with the train and seats vibrating and shaking beneath you with the raw power of the LIMs – the power that makes the wonderful noise that echoes through Klugheim. It’s nothing short of exhilarating. I find myself throwing my arms wide open and just screaming “AHHHHHH!” at this moment. That’s not a very me thing to do.

As a rule to myself, rides cannot be measured by single moments alone and this becomes Taron’s downfall. It has to be about the whole package for me. Launches aside, the rest of the ride is a good little sit down, a bit of tossing and turning, but it’s never truly intense and it never really excels at anything else in any particular way. I have never found any notable airtime on the ride and without any focus on that, I think having specific elements could have also helped to give it a bit more for me to rave about.

The trim brakes at the end of the ride also act against it for me. It contradicts what I said earlier about the wonderment of fitting everything into this land. They almost found design perfection, but they had to compromise somewhere to make it fit in a forced manner and it’s a bit of an anticlimax to an otherwise spectacular ride.

I love the music for Taron, it’s one of my most listened to soundtracks and hearing it in the ride area always gives me a buzz.

I despise the queue, it starts out great, meandering through rockwork and track supports but ends up in front of what looks like a multi storey car park with a massive section of cattlepen. As it was with other queues in the park, the guests are all overly packed into this tight space but this time they’re also always chainsmoking. A literal haze forms over the queue from the amount of smoking that goes on here and it puts me right off.

So that’s Taron, almost perfection. One of very few coasters in the world that has caused me to return to a park that had built no new attractions since my previous visit. The lure of a night ride is that strong.

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Ride Review – Icon

I had tried to distance myself from the hype surrounding this ride somewhat, for the year or so leading up to it opening. In trying not to let it sink in that my favourite ride type was coming to the UK, it eased the expectations and even by the time I was sitting down in the thing, the realisation hadn’t quite hit me.
When that moment finally arrived I found myself in a sexy Mack bucket seat, sitting on a launch track, in Blackpool. What?

First impressions were good. Nothing was overwhelming, but it felt like a solid layout that had somewhat more to give… and give it did.

I kept going back to it throughout the course of the day and it only ever got better. I soon came to the selfish realisation that regardless of how well Icon was received by the public, how well it did for the park, whatever, this ride is exactly what I wanted for the UK.

This isn’t purely down the ride itself, but also the park it’s located in. Blackpool Pleasure Beach is great for its easy-going atmosphere, but the park also separates itself from most others in the country by being just well run and packed full of enough attractions for you to really get the most out of your day there. Queues don’t get huge, operations are great.

When I first rode Icon it was a gorgeous weekend, we didn’t even arrive for the park opening time, but had done all the rides bar a couple of breakdowns by lunchtime. The brand new attraction never got above 15 minutes, but it can’t physically hold a queue of more than about 20 minutes.

Why does this matter? Because Icon is ridiculously fun and re-rideable. Something that has been missing for me in this country, personally, forever.
I’m very happy to say it’s my new favourite in the UK and I’m extremely excited that it’s been built somewhere that really lets you make the most of that.

Nemesis had that crown before, and it’s great, but it was never a ride I’d want to do 10 times in a day, even when the UK scene was all I had.
Merlin parks are forever falling out of my favour as the queues and operations get steadily worse. It’s a struggle to turn up to those places on a whim and have either an overall good time or spend some time whoring something you love. Even if they did get something as good as this I just feel it would be harder to enjoy and appreciate. When I do turn up to them, the time investment is rarely worth the return for me, and that’s a much more significant factor when you’re dealing with your ‘local’ parks – there’s no real obligation to stay when you can just sack it off and go home if you’re not feeling it.

Enough sidetracking. The back seat of Icon is where it’s at, all the key air time moments are enhanced by this position and it’s those moments punctuating the other sensations going on that make this style of ride special for me.
The first hill is crazily good with it’s sharp entrance and exit, separated by a slow drag over the crest.

A well executed sequence of twisty elements follows to keep you amused, never too repetitive and always with at least some purpose.

The gentle downhill inversion is glorious, something Mack have always managed to nail for me. Then the ride gets a little wild and kicks you down into the second launch and you’re soon being dragged through another almost indescribable feature with a mesmerising mix of sensations.

With more twists and turns, including one particular moment of the layout that stands out with some strong positive forces (another tick for variety), the ride keeps you happy all the way into the brakes, never truly letting up. I even appreciated the way it flies straight out of the brake run again and into the station, coming in hot. I like a sense of purpose in a ride.

Minor onride nitpicks:
The mist in the tunnels that it opened with was off within the first few weeks.
The wonky hill near the end doesn’t kick as strongly as some of its rivals and is a bit unbalanced in that it’s tailored towards the left half of the train. I would have liked a counter to it somewhere in the layout.
I never really felt, appreciated or even noticed the interactions and near misses with other rides that, during the whole ‘how the hell are they going to fit this ride in at Blackpool?’ conversation, seemed like they would be a dominating part of the ride experience.
Maybe I was wrong earlier and I was overwhelmed, the whole time.

The entrance and queue are decent. I like the framing of the ride over the gate and the way the pathway follows inside the supports for a while. The fact that Grand Prix is mincing along the fence next to the queue makes me laugh.
The station is decent too. It looks like a bit of modern interior design, the phrase ‘those mirrors will just open up the room’ must have been said at least once. They’ve adopted the free-for-all row allocation strategy which I know and love, the staff sometimes got annoyed by this, but I hope it sticks. The bag holders and section of wall that is built directly into the transfer track and move with the train also make me laugh.
The exit to the ride is a bit lacking. The plain black walls are too high to enjoy the views as you pass between the two launches, the floor is already collapsing and the stairwell is boring.

I fell for the soundtrack as soon as I heard it in person and found myself singing it quite often throughout the day which is always a good sign. It ignites an infectious spirit within me, standing in the station and tapping along to it while waiting for my turn to ride. The music ended up a worthy addition to trip playlists.

It’s the only rollercoaster in the UK I can say I actively want to go and experience, every year, many times. I think that says it all.

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