I was impressed with how solid the rollercoaster selection is at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. A common trend among larger amusement parks is having a glaringly disparate gap in quality between the one or two headline attractions and the large quantities of what I would call ‘filler’ for an enthusiast. You’re more than likely in this hobby to come across a lot of clones and experiences that aren’t unique to a park, so it’s refreshing to experience a lineup such as the following.
#9 Grover’s Alpine Express Due to its location, the smallest coaster in this park is often the first ride to open for the day, making it easy pickings for adding +1 to the count. While it is twinned with a ride at the other Busch Gardens park, at least the Zierer Force 190 is reasonably hard to come by.
#8 Tempesto The number of Premier Sky Rocket IIs in the world is growing at quite a rate and this is one of the newer installations, so it was a little disappointing to see it built here. It filled a very limited niche in the lineup when it was built, now nullified, by having both forwards and backwards direction of travel, and now multiple launches are already covered better multiple times elsewhere in the park. The main reason it’s a popular ride type to buy is most likely the tiny footprint and compact layout that still provides a high thrill level to the average guest. Sadly Tempesto has the worst restraints available for this model of ride the form of ‘comfort collars’. The restricting nature of these shoulder straps make the experience more of a chore, rather than something to enjoy.
#7 Loch Ness Monster Though it has somewhat legendary status as a classic ride of an earlier era, in todays terms Nessie isn’t a coaster I would describe as exciting. Arrow loopers can often lean towards being rough and ready due to their interestingly shaped track transitions and older technology, but this particular installation posed no issues to me whatsoever. In fact it was a rather amusing experience with a big square helix in a shed and a smaller second lift that seemed rather out of place. The interlocking loops are a great off-ride spectacle, it’s just that the layout itself has very little to offer.
#6 Griffon The other clone in the park comes in the form of this B&M dive coaster. It isn’t Busch Gardens fault however, as the other version arrived much later at a park in Korea, nor is it their fault that I happened to ride that version first. These are always solid fun, with a ride experience that generally centres around their one or two massive vertical drops. The drops themselves provide a well sustained out of the seat moment but due to the sheer size of the track and trains the remainder of the layout can often feel a little slow and meandering. Griffon is no exception to this, but it is a good looking ride – the well positioned splashdown section provides an impressive off-ride experience as well.
#5 Invadr I’ve found that GCI are at their best when their rides are huge so that they can really make the most of the relentless sensations they are capable of creating. Invadr is small for its type and yet still manages to pack a certain punch, though perhaps nothing on the scale of an equivalent sized Gravity Group, but it still means that Invadr is worth several laps of good fun. One of the features I enjoy most about these rides is the unpredictable forces that come out of their unusually shaped corner transitions. On certain GCIs these have been nowhere to be found, but they were back and in plentiful supply within the layout here. The ride looks great from outside the entrance, but leaves a little to be desired in the barren landscape that surrounds the majority of the track.
#4 Alpengeist B&M inverts used to be one of my favourite ride types. The first few that I encountered were all smooth, stupidly intense and offered well varied layouts so I was firmly of the belief that you could’t go wrong with one of these. I did eventually stumble upon a few that didn’t meet any of the above criteria. It turns out it is possible for some to ride rather poorly, lack intensity or have the monotony of repeating the same elements, in order. Alpengeist suffered mainly from the first of these. On the day I experienced it, this did ride poorly, particularly towards the back of the train and in the outside seats (usually the most enjoyable positions) with an unpleasant rattle that, although perfectly tolerable, detracted from the performance somewhat. The layout is very refreshing, with the huge swooping downwards spiral that turns far more than your average first drop and the following unique inversion sequence. After the mid course brake run however, the ride ran out of steam to the point of hilarity. We couldn’t help but laugh when Alpengeist was almost travelling at a walking pace through the final turns that dangle your feet over the fake snow trenches carved into the landscape. Speaking of the landscape, the attention to detail in the theming of this ride is wonderful and I really did appreciate the overall aesthetic it provides. It’s a shame the hardware couldn’t match that standard on this occasion.
#3 Apollo’s Chariot The main aim of most hyper coasters is to provide you with a plentiful supply of large hills and a great deal of speed with which to experience them. In an ideal world, these hills will be trying to kick you up out of your seat and the B&M train design for these rides has an almost unrivalled sense of openness and freedom which can only enhance that sensation. Apollo’s Chariot pulls this off a fair few times, but sadly not quite every hill is a hit. The strongest moment of the ride turned out to be the exit of the mid course brake run which angles back to a steep drop much faster than any of the camelback sections of track and provides a great surprise moment of ejection for riders.
Another challenge in designing rides of this scale is keeping things interesting in between the signature hills, finding a good way to transition from one element to another. Most notable in this layout is the turnaround, which is a very long, flat, banked corner that offers nothing to riders other than a means to get them and the train facing in the right direction to head back to the station. Moments like this always bug me as it feels like wasted potential and one of my most sought after characteristics of a ride is that it doesn’t give you any time to stop and think. That corner aside, Apollo’s Chariot is one of the better B&Ms hypers that I have ridden and although the frequency is just a little too low for my liking, in the moments it does deliver, it delivers well.
#2 Verbolten I have to admit that I was surprised to walk away from Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 2019 with Verbolten as my favourite ride in the park. This attraction is usually billed as somewhat more of a family-thrill adventure as opposed to the many taller and faster offerings that surround it, but the ride experience contains a good number of factors that set it apart from the rest of the lineup for me. The queueline, station and overall theming is on the same level as the strongest examples in the park with particular little details like the number plates on the trains all having unique references to elements of the current ride and in one case, the retired ride that once operated where Verbolten stands today.
Beyond the station, the ride has the most extensively themed coaster section of any in the park with a large show building containing the most significant portion of the layout. The train initially takes you wandering into the forest before hitting the first launch, which thrusts you into this building with a surprising amount of gusto. It’s completely dark inside to begin with and you cannot see that the launch track ends in a hill and corner transition that provided me with wickedly fierce and out of control airtime moment before it navigates some tight corners with strong positive forces. The building begins to light up with various themed effects around you as the train continues its journey into an apparent dead end!? Verbolten is one of few rides in the world with a section of drop track. The train comes to a complete stop and one of (I believe) three sequences begins with the lighting and scenery again, one of which, pays homage to the ride’s predecessor ‘Big Bad Wolf’. The train and track section drop together in unison with a gleefully powerful moment of surprise airtime, usually only enhanced by the anticipation and reaction of unsuspecting riders around you – a real crowd pleasing scare element.
The ride picks up a pace again as you leave the building from here and enter a second launch track. My main gripe with the layout comes here in that it doesn’t use this multi launch aspect (usually one of my absolute favourite elements on any ride) to any significant effect. All the energy is immediately sapped from the train again by a single uphill section into the next trick. The trick itself involves crossing a bridge that appears to be collapsing beneath you and a significant drop follows, leading you into some final turns back towards the station, unfortunately again with somewhat less vigour than the immensely strong first half of the ride. Overall I loved Verbolten. It’s a very special attraction and it stands out as the most complete ride experience package in the park and is certainly, so far, the best ride Zierer have ever made.
New for the 2022 season, after a particularly agonising series of delays, Busch Gardens Williamsburg finally opened their Intamin multi-launch coaster. We had known this was coming ever since the previous visit in 2019 and, for various obvious reasons, it took 3 years both for us to visit again and for the park to be able to construct and sign off the attraction. It was wholly worth the wait as by sheer merit of the ride type alone, Pantheon slots comfortably into position as best coaster in the park, the headliner. The comfort of the trains, the modern quirky elements and the moments of serious airtime all blend together into a world class coaster experience, and one that is exactly the sort of thing that keeps me on my travels.
The ride was full of pleasant surprises, but also had its fair share of minor flaws. The very existence of the initial launch and inversion had managed to escape my knowledge and gave Pantheon a very strong start, reminiscent of another world-beating Intamin. From this moment it does get a little messy and convoluted however, with a very abrupt change of pace followed by the signature triple launch section. This segment undoubtedly provides some fantastic moments, the bursts of acceleration over what is essentially a speed bump and the weightlessness of that intimidating vertical spike, but I find it’s hard to gel with the flow of the overall experience with all this starting and stopping going on. This also comes at the price that once the ride does get fully going and takes all the biggest, hardest hitting elements, it then hits the final brakes very suddenly. None of that can take away from the power of the top hat, beyond vertical drop and banked airtime hill however, which all seal the deal on a spectacular package. My surprise favourite moment in fact came from the backwards launch when seated in the front row. The violent nature with which this chucks you over the mid-launch hill is very special and unlike anything else I’ve experienced.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg already had a very impressive lineup, but it just got even better.
It’s coming up to 5 years since I last visited the most well attended theme park in Europe outside of Disneyland. 2016 was a time when Europa Park had more coasters than anywhere else on the continent, when Energylandia was just a small(er) handful of Vekomas, the ridiculousness of Wonderland Eurasia was still under construction (only to close almost immediately after opening) and the permanent funfair setup of Wiener Prater hadn’t quite reached the dizzying numbers we see today. Since that time Europa themselves have only added their smallest coaster to date, choosing to mainly focus on investments in other areas such as dark rides, hotels and a water park and it makes sense not to play the numbers game – they are by far the superior destination in terms of a complete theme park package.
This was also a time in which I had barely done any rollercoaster riding, relatively, something that’s quite hard for me to imagine now. The visit was part of what we consider our first true ‘theme park trip’ outside of the UK and there was much less experience to draw on when forming opinions about new rides, a process which became entirely unavoidable the more I came to learn what I liked and disliked the most. With all that time to dwell on this place over years, opinions have primarily come down to those standout memories and moments that have stuck in my mind. One thing I do remember is not really walking away with a definite favourite and I think I’m still going to struggle today to pick one.
We could call that a weakness of a park lineup, with no one standout attraction making you desperate to return for more (and though the opportunity has arisen, I haven’t yet done this), but in this series we see this as a strength, a sign of a great park. And it really is one of those, for many other reasons. We just don’t know how the list is going to turn out (I don’t, even now), there’s no obvious pick for the top spot and there’s definitely a large and well rounded set of high quality coasters in between, which is always an achievement in itself – keeping the roster both broad and equally enticing.
I’m sure I will visit again at some point, perhaps when they get round to their next big coaster or maybe even sooner just to pick up several new dark rides – another collection aspect of the hobby that is heading towards the forefront of my interests right now. In the meantime, let’s get on with this list as I see it today, excluding Baa-a-a-Express of course.
We begin with the park’s powered coaster which, while not an objectively bad attraction by any means (I do have to point out that nothing in this list actually is, well done Europa) was severely hampered at the time of our visit by the recently popularised Virtual Reality trend in the industry. I don’t have any good pictures of the ride but it looks great from the outside and does pass through this heavily themed indoor section of the park that is a bit of a hidden gem in itself and I really don’t see why you’d want to strap a mobile phone to your face to watch a crude video that may or may not even work and subsequently miss out on all of this.
The predominant emotion throughout this ride was fear of getting my bag wet as it was perched precariously on top of the restraint as instructed by the ride hosts. Water coasters are fine and all that, they usually look rather nice and it’s a +1 to the count of course, but I just don’t think there’s much to be said about the actual coaster part, particularly on this type of installation. Unless it’s really hot and you want to get soaked, it’s an obvious one and done.
So it’s a good thing the park has two of these then, isn’t it? We see a little here how Europa is also a showroom for Mack Rides, the owners of the establishment. Two different styles of their water coaster model are present in different areas of the park and while the other one shows off turntables and backwards drops, this one demonstrates smaller boats and a more significant coasting section with some twists and turns. It’s equally well themed, equally wet and almost as equally uneventful as an actual ride.
I really admire how this one is squeezed in, around and on top of the Swiss land which it inhabits. The theme is perfect for the ride of course and it’s a good time to give a shoutout to how intensely efficient the operations are in this park. If you stand in this spot there will likely be something whizzing past you more than once a minute. As far as Mack Bobsleds go, having since ridden them all across the world, this original is just a bit smaller and weaker, never really getting the chance to get properly going and feel in any way out of control – paving the way for a better future.
A fairly standard Wilde Maus, of which Mack are one of several competing manufacturers. They churned out a bunch of the most commonly seen layout just before the turn of the millenium, but this home installation was the first to have a different layout and also came with the bonus feature of an elevator lift. Going up in the lift as it tilts unnervingly to one side and back again is the most fascinating part of the experience these days, with chains such as Legoland having since snapped up an extortionate number of the same model, sans lift. I wonder why it didn’t interest anyone.
I feel like I’m being a little generous in this placement but I’m going to give Arthur the benefit of the doubt for what it is, or at least tries to be. Truthfully I remember very little of the on-board experience and for some reason have no personal photos to jog any further memories. What I do know is that the whole attraction process rubbed us up the wrong way, from the awful locker process to the seemingly sporadic intent of the ride system. As an inverted powered coaster with train rows that independently swivel, the hardware is best suited to that of a dark ride experience, which the only other Mack built model to date proves to an extraordinary extent (let’s not talk about the Beijing Shibaolai shambles). Arthur half does this, half doesn’t, taking some time to meander around some outdoor portions of track that break the momentum somewhat. The storyline was completely lost on me along with all the actual theming and screen based activities and so the single standout moment was swooping down over the publicly acessible indoor section of the main area, full of the hustle and bustle of guest activity. A spectacle that should definitely become a signature of any future installations.
The other of the two VR experiences we had in this park was found on Pegasus, the debut of Mack’s Youngstar model. Sadly this far superior piece of hardware hasn’t taken off on anywhere near the same level as certain designs above, likely with such stiff competition from the prolific Vekoma Junior. I really like the Youngstars for what they are – family coasters with a bit of fire in their hearts, a few more forces than your average attempt while being almost unnervingly smooth. The VR itself was actually better here too, though still not something I’d actively choose to have, it had an unusual and jarring moment that has always stuck with me – one of the pictured characters leaps up out of the seat next to you, mid-ride, and if your brain has come to subconsciously accept that the characters just are just regular guests by this point, it’s quite the shock to suddenly notice one of them is no longer restrained and is free to invite physical injury. It demonstrates the real power of VR psychology that I have not seen used effectively, in the slightest, on any theme park attraction since, making it a total waste.
I think we’ve now hit the heart and soul of this park. This big crazy spinning coaster loosely themed to Russian space travel has an incredibly long spiral lift system filled with the thunderous sounds of an entertaining techno tune. While inside you can look up (or down) and just see endless track and, more amusingly, several other trains making their way up to the top with you, not something you’d have on any conventional lift system for sure. It’s a great system for holding suspense and padding the runtime (and capacity) significantly. The outdoor portion begins with many high up turns in and out of the striking structures, similar to that of a wild mouse, but the second half is where things really pick up, with several fast and tight corners over some nice landscaping of rocks and water. It can be a little violent at times, but I respect that.
Except Euro Mir wasn’t even the first to do the whole spiral lift hill in darkness, music blaring bit. Eurosat does it even better, with a gorgeous soundtrack that still reaches me on a deeper emotional level even today. There was so much quirk about this ride that I simply adored, most significantly the astronaut whose projection mapped face was stuck through a wall, talking inaudibly to the train that had just departed the station. The coaster section was wild, vicious and out of control, taking place entirely indoors and hurtling down through some retro planetary theming and I loved the layout as much as the rest of the attraction. Narratively it didn’t fit into the France area of the park at all, but that made it all the more endearing to me. This fact has since been rectified (broken) by a retheme of the ride to Moulin Rouge and may well be an active factor in why I have been cautious of a return visit. I don’t want my memories of Eurosat to be potentially ruined without a very good reason.
At the time of the visit, Blue Fire was definitely a strong contender for my park favourite. As perhaps the most successful of all their prototypes to be showcased here, we’re now approaching double figures for the number of installations of this exact layout to crop up around the world. And I’ve ridden my fair share of them since then too. So while I still really enjoy the ride, it now loses out to the leaders here on pure lack of uniqueness. This still remains the greatest example of the layout as far as I can tell. The landscaping and aesthetic is particularly gorgeous and the fact that it has a soundtrack specifically tailored to, and synced with, the onboard experience is one of my absolute favourite things about this park. The coaster itself is well rounded with a launch, inversions that are either graceful or intense and a smattering of airtime for good luck. Can’t really go wrong with this one.
The other coaster in the Iceland area further enhances the vibe of what is generally considered the best area in the park. The way the rides loosely intertwine with each other, while still having a separate and impressive entrance area and set of theming makes it feel all the more magical as you enter into the realm of Wodan. The queue goes on for an age through dense rocky caves before emerging up the stairs into the station where you’re treated to both the signature GCI flythrough and some creepy statues that turn their heads to both greet the train on arrival and see it out on departure. I massively enjoyed this woodie on the whole, it was a significant step up from almost any other I’d experienced before though it would be a lie to say I was as completely enthralled by it as I would liked to have been, knowing now what the manufacturer can really do if they put their mind to it – they could have made it a clear winner here. It starts off relentless and had me quietly chuckling with joy by the end of it, with some less eventful bits in the middle. Can’t really go wrong with this one.
I think I’ve just about settled, in this very moment, for the B&M hyper to come out on top. And that’s not very indicative of my tastes these days, as I tend to like these rides less than most it seems. However, Silver Star still remains one of the strongest examples of the type for me and I’m reasonably confident that that’s not just down to lack of experience at the time. It behaved differently, with more moments of pure ejector and less of the faffy floater than I’ve come to expect. The main caveat is that this only worked in the back row. If we move to the front of the train it’s business as usual, a bit more sluggish and less exhilarating and that would be enough drop it at least a couple of spots in this list – it’s that close up here at the top. Can’t really go wrong with this park.
Yes, that’s right, the place in the Arctic. #0 – nothing. The end.
Formerly known as Mitsui Greenland, this amusement park currently has claim to the second highest number of rollercoasters in Japan, though this can mostly be attributed more to decline than investment in much of the local industry at the moment. Like similarly scaled rivals, the park hasn’t seen a new coaster in over a decade and it does make me wonder/worry about the business side of affairs.
This was the first park I ever visited in this fine nation. It’s not the most well known of places amongst enthusiasts, particularly those only seeking out that next best coaster as there isn’t really anything in the way of a standout attraction to get overly excited about, but what they do have is a varied and interesting mix, of which it’s much harder to pick a favourite than your average park with filler and a clear winner. Creds are creds as well and sometimes the fun is in acquiring the obscure, whether that be the destination itself or a rare type of hardware on offer.
It should make for a passable list topic in any case.
I’m not one to rag on kiddie coasters. They fit their target market nicely and it just so happens to overlap with the more obsessive counters among us. At the end of the day though, this twin helix powered coaster can be found almost anywhere and it’s just a number to me.
Speaking of numbres, the park is home to a Vekoma SLC. I’ve recently covered the topic of this notorious coaster design in great length on here and, basically, it’s not one to get excited about.
Alright, one more. This common spinning wild mouse setup is often seen at travelling fairs and that’s just where it belongs to be honest. I’ve nothing against the type, they can even be rather entertaining, depending on the often hugely unpredictable performance on the day, but for a permanent installation – could do better.
I don’t remember much of the Meisho/Zamperla international collaboration powered coaster here to be honest, in fact I was fascinated just to learn that that was a thing. Set indoors, with a sprinkling of alien theming and much cornering, most hardware of this nature tends to all blend into one – I guess that’s what happens when you don’t confine yourself to the design limitations created by gravity.
And on the subject of coaster collaborations, during their demise Arrow passed the torch on to Vekoma for the suspended swinging coaster design, one of the key results of which was these happy Orca faces. Even if I thought the last coaster was full of corners, this one makes a mockery of it and that does have a bit of an impact on excitement, but I respect this one. Only three in the world exist and this is the last to retain the original trains.
Something about this ride is just so adorable. I could barely fit in the car, it involved more struggles than the actual smallest cred here, but what a custom layout. Many straight lines winding down the hillside like a low key terrain coaster. Fun theming, amusing train, enthusiastic staff. The whole package.
The pink standard sit down side of this Togo racing coaster currently has the benefits of on board music and the drawbacks of shoulder restraints. It’s not the most significant and intense of layouts so it’s hard to see why the latter is necessary, but the ride is great fun for the interaction between trains alone. Despite the bad rep this manufacturer has earned from installations in the USA, the local examples are, to me at least, a fine relic of their era.
As further evidenced by these amazing creations. This one might look familiar – a different angle of the ride tends to plaster anything online with my name attached to it. I was very happy with my first Ultra Twister mainly because it’s just so… ambitious. The trains look like torture devices and the vertical lift and drop sequence, although a lot more common right now, 35 years after these were first made, is terrifying simply because of that fact. They’re actually surprisingly comfortable though, if you don’t mind a bit of a car crash on the brakes, and the rest of the forces, both forwards and backwards, are always a pleasant surprise.
So much charm. My introduction to Japanese jet coaster life provided the perfect example of what they do best. Cast aside any notions of force, intensity, airtime, this is a machine that simply rumbles around like an amped up transport ride. And it’s joyous. Huge, goes on forever, a dinosaur on the train and a dinosaur on the track. A dinosaur is the track (‘Gao’ is how dinosaurs roar in Japanese by the way). Not trying is the key to not disappointing. I can’t fault it.
I have to give the number one spot to this one based on sheer surprise though. There were a lot of firsts for me in this park but this stand-up was the greatest surprise among them, subverting all previous notions of the ride type being a dud. Never has the standing position been more accurately simulated nor unnervingly exposed on a coaster. Standing worried on a metal plate that gets carried up 125ft into the air, feeling every click of the chain and bump in the track straight though the legs. Then it starts racing the other train, all smiling and waving. Then, distracted, you get thrown into the air on the hills with no semblance of control. Togo are the kings of this specific game and I want them back in business for that alone.
It’s a wonderful world we live in when a roadside berry stand can grow into a world famous theme park. From selling jam and chicken dinner to racking up ten rollercoasters alongside an assortment of other classic attractions, Knott’s has a fascinating history, perhaps one of the best in the States. I didn’t know much about anything prior to visiting, believing it was just a quirky name and had even managed to somehow pronounce it incorrectly throughout my life until I heard it spoken aloud in a piece of queueline audio, but it was obvious on arrival – this place has vintage and charm, about as far removed from ‘concrete and rides’ in the US as you can get.
What they also have, which suits one of these lists particularly nicely, is no obvious standout rollercoaster from glancing at the lineup alone. Instead they’ve got a ‘big four’ going on that complement each other nicely, rather than just the one or two dominating signature attractions and the result is generally a very satisfying and varied line up, something you know I like to acknowledge on here. Let’s tuck in.
We’ll start by getting the dud out of the way. Being a too common, off the shelf, Mack Wild Mouse with a bad pun for a name is the least of CoastRider’s crimes. For some reason it has offensively uncomfortable restraints not found on most other models that happen to dig right into the shin bone and ruin any potential funfair fun that could have otherwise been achieved.
Being an unashamed credit counter, getting on this ride was a satisfying achievement in itself, though I didn’t take a photo of it to celebrate the occasion – you can have Snoopy and a train instead. It’s a rare childrens’ coaster by Bradley & Kaye, who only ever built less than 10 rides in the 1940s and just two remain in operation today, the other at Six Flags Magic Mountain having a strict no adult policy. Over the course of my multi day visit I patiently waited for the right (no queue) moment to give this one a go and subsequently found myself with loads of room in the car, relatively speaking, being taken on a rather wild journey throughout the unnervingly airtime laden 480ft of track.
Much like the motorbike cars more commonly found on this type of attraction, I don’t find this horseback riding position particularly comfortable on a coaster. It may then count as mercy, but there really isn’t much of a layout here to go with it – essentially a figure of eight. I admire the attempt at interaction but sadly the neighbouring rapids ride was undergoing refurbishment during my visit, so no extra points there. Quaint though, and had some great staff.
Jaguar is the king of interaction for the park though. This rare, highly customised Zierer Tivoli layout winds its way absolutely everywhere, in and out of other major coasters, over the heads of guests across many pathways and through its own centrepiece of a pyramid themed station building. Though far from thrilling, I always admire this type of attraction integration and there’s just so much to look at and appreciate as it traverses the layout.
The oldest Schwarzkopf Shuttle Loop still in its original location and my favourite to date for the simple elegance of the launch sequence. I only rode this one in the dark, where two satisfying sequential clunks turned all the station lights out and then accelerated the train off into the night. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again though, you can only go so far with an oversimplified layout.
This Mack Spinner had the disadvantage of me having already ridden and loved the far more intensely themed indoor edition of the same layout in the UAE. The ride type itself is rather hit and miss as to whether you get a decent spin in the right places and therefore the experience can vary hugely from a tame little family ride to a surprisingly intense thrill coaster. My laps on this one leaned towards the former, but the potential is there. I’ll soon have another version much closer to home to try my luck with again.
And so begins the big four I alluded to above. Sometimes Intamin launch coasters are an invention of wonder and at other times the entire experience hinges on just the acceleration itself. Sadly for me this one falls firmly into the second category, with very little going on outside of some big overbanked turns after the signature top hat also found on lesser layouts. I’ve often said that launches alone don’t do much for me any more and this ride is a prime example of that.
#3 Silver Bullet
It may be one of the weakest of its type but can we appreciate for a moment how attractive this ride looks. I really wanted to like Silver Bullet, as I do with all B&M Inverts and it even contains some cool and underutilised elements not found on others of the same model to help it stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately it seems to me that the elevated positioning over the walkways led to a rather lacklustre first drop design and the momentum just never really gets going throughout the rest of the layout. It lacks the power and intensity that has become strongly associated with this hardware and though it’s no doubt fun and highly rerideable, I just can’t see past that.
I’ve praised my 700th coaster on here a couple of times already and I think I’m managing to fall for it more and more as time goes on. Yet again HangTime looks fantastic but the onboard experience manages to match it this time. That holding brake moment is like nothing else out there and it’s all thanks to the restraints. So many rides around the world could be made better with simple physical details like that and this one stands as a shining example to all.
For all the things I didn’t know about Knott’s Berry Farm before I arrived, this attraction turned into the biggest shock of all. I’d seen the odd account here and there that it was big, rough and a bit past it, then of course heard the news that they closed it for a bit of TLC back in 2015 & 2016. I remained largely sceptical, with the usual fear of bad woodies killing me in the back of my mind. The sight of new GCI trains for the first time as I walked through the queue was news to me however, as was the layout, which was riding particularly well (on the right side of violent) and contained a huge amount of variety – everything that was right up my street for a wooden coaster. GhostRider was hugely popular at all times of the day and night whenever I visited and understandably so. I only wish I could have become more acquainted with this beast. It’s a winner.
Home to the most rollercoasters in any one park across Asia, Nagashima is Japan’s answer to the classic American mega park setup, often affectionately dubbed by us as ‘concrete and rides.’ This place has caused me considerablepain over the past few years with dodgy operations, staff issues and even some unsavoury guest experiences. Overall this gives it very un-Japanese feel for me and I think it’s a shame that this one usually ends up as the poster boy while Fuji-Q gets all the stick. Team Fuji all the way (no doubt I’ll regret saying that one day).
The other issue here is that there aren’t many coasters at this park that are unique to the world, a factor I usually like to celebrate further in these lists. But creds are creds, and they have a lot more of them, so let’s see the list that makes all the suffering worthwhile. I know how to sell this hobby.
I think this one bothers me mostly because it was ridden on our fateful first visit. It’s surprisingly dull, even for a powered coaster, and never has slapping a child friendly brand on a ride been more lazy in execution.
And in that regard, at least this one isn’t trying to be something it’s not. A Tivoli medium is what a Tivoli medium does. Zierer has successfully churned out 86 of these (across a few differently sized layouts) following the original model installed at the park from which it takes the name. Ah, to be at Tivoli Gardens instead…
Why have one wild mouse when you can have two? So that you can always have one closed, that’s why. It’s the Mack version, which is usually slightly better, but still an unremarkable fairground attraction on a global stage.
Similar to Peter Rabbit, I wasn’t left with the best of impressions with this ride due to the circumstances under which it was ridden. This has also led to never actually taking a proper picture of it even after several visits. Luckily you can spot some brown track in the trees from this vantage point on the ferris wheel. I like Jet Coasters, probably more than most, just not this one.
Amusement can come in strange forms. This classic Arrow corkscrew coaster was unintentionally hilarious when we rode it, wet and miserable. Other than the fact that while queueing I had just discovered my raincoat no longer functioned as a raincoat, I couldn’t tell you why.
Another classic steel coaster, though we’re still struggling to get to the actual good stuff here. Schwarzkopf rides always have a certain charm to them, except I find that a little more lacking when there’s no corners in the layout. Lap bar for an inversion though, leading the charge on that front.
Corners yes, that’s the way. This particular Schwarzkopf model seems to be actively avoiding me. Their numbers are dwindling and it feels like I’ve been to almost every park that used to have one and only ever successfully added this one to the count (and even that wasn’t on the first try). Good solid ride, ahead of it’s time, again with the lap bars and mixture of strong forces to go with them. Now we’re cooking.
It’s not just personal bias, my ride type is just infinitely more interesting and special than anything that came before it on this list. Having not grown up in America during the 20th Century, Togo have yet to let me down and now likely never will.
Finally we enter the realm of legends and begin with some mild disappointment. Even with some lovely B&M rolling stock, there’s not much joy to be found in the first half of this Morgan, which has a weird way of making 300ft seem uneventful (to be fair, it’s not the only giga coaster guilty of this). The ridiculous run of consecutive airtime moments in the second half make it a breath of fresh air amongst this smog of clones though. I do secretly like a bit of Steel Dragon.
Like quickly turns to love if we’re talking about B&M flyers though. The ridiculous forces know how to get me excited in ways that few other ride types can achieve and this one has a particularly strong layout to complement that vicious pretzel loop. Shame it’s a clone.
And so is number two on our list. This example of the increasingly common S&S Freespin (good old Six Flags) has the advantage of, according to research, being the best of its kind. For reasons I am unable to confirm or deny, Arashi is far more intense than others, to the point of stupidity, and is one of the few coasters on the planet that still genuinely scares me, even after attempting to get acquainted with it multiple times.
Finally, leaving no suspense at all, the RMC tops the list. Had the park been operating competently on our first visit I would have managed to experience this both before and after conversion. Instead I only achieved the latter through some rather extreme dedication on my third impromptu visit. And that says enough about this rollercoaster really. It’s worth flying across the world for, even with nothing else on your agenda. I adore Hakugei and it’s a real gamechanger for the park (and the continent). Weather permitting.
Merlin Entertainments, the infamous chain that most enthusiasts in the UK love to hate for the current sorry state of our local theme park situation. The company acquired all of the existing Legoland parks in 2005, a major Italian park in 2006 and then the Tussauds group in 2007, which contained the other three key British players and a bonus German park. Their main efforts since those acquisitions have gone towards spreading the Legoland brand further across the globe and attempting to saturate the market with ‘Midway Attractions’ such as the almost inescapable Sea Life and Dungeons properties.
Aside from that there has been a varying degree of investment into the more thrill oriented parks since that time, with a particularly strong focus on B&Ms, doom and gloom themed attractions, becoming almost synonymous with the colour grey, the use of shipping containers and more recently wood on fire. Their time at the helm of the UK parks has coincided with my general decline in interest in visiting them, but to declare that this is entirely their fault would only be confirmation bias on my part – I’ve changed an awful lot myself since owning my first Merlin Annual Pass and we simply don’t know if things would have been done better by anyone else, though obviously they could have.
I’ve actually made the conscious decision to pass on a couple of Legoland parks (the horror) during my more recent travels simply due to a cost/time/benefit analysis. The brand of course comes at a high price with so much to offer to a local family and comparatively so little to offer me – 2 or 3 small creds. It just hasn’t been worth the detour. Those parks aside it took until the latter half of 2019 for me to finally visit all of the major European parks under the Merlin name, so now the list can begin.
As I alluded to in the introduction, I haven’t been visiting these parks as of late and it’s a shame. By nature, Legoland lends itself to being the quintessential theme park experience with imagination, theming and storytelling being inherent properties of their attractions. It’s not Legoland without looking like Lego or having Lego characters in it – the hand is forced. But you can tell these parks are a business model and not a passion project simply by the fact that every single one has the Dragon coaster in a castle land, the Xtreme Racers coaster in a lazily decorated land, and all with the same appearance. It would have been nice for someone to have been tasked with imagining and creating a unique signature attraction for each and every park that was built but sadly that’s not the world we live in. Where this creativity does come to life a bit more however is in the Miniland areas of each park. As evidenced by a recent documentary on British television about the Windsor property, each park has a team of dedicated model builders and creators that seemingly get to project their own imagination into at least a proportion of the designs that guests see. They usually contain a more regional showcase of landmarks and attractions so you can at least tell which part of the world you might be in by walking around one of these showcases of Lego wonder.
One other positive I have come across so far is in the water ride selection of the parks I have visited. Viking’s River Splash (Windsor), Jungle X-Pedition (Deutschland) and Dino Island (Malaysia) each happened to have a different piece of hardware with an alternative theme and they are above average for attractions of their nature, and that’s great. I just wish, as ever, it had translated to some of the coasters and dark rides.
And it did just that for the exception to the rule. The original Legoland park built on the home of Lego itself contains a rollercoaster gem in the form of Polar X-plorer, a quality Zierer family coaster with a drop track section, showing that it is indeed possible to throw a little spice into the mix every now and then. This attraction combined with a strong showing of the now common other dark rides made this particular park feel a little more fleshed out and special amongst the brand for me. I’m looking forward to visiting the Florida property one day to try their inherited little wooden coaster, hopefully that one can fall under this category too.
I have such history with some of these parks now and it’s rather difficult to put things in perspective. Rather than the usual spiel about how I haven’t properly visited for 10 years nor have they invested in anything that interests me across that time period, I shall focus on the positives. Dragon’s Fury is one of my favourite UK coasters and I actually miss it rather terribly. It’s one of the best examples of Maurer spinners in the world and Mega-Lite even worked on it for a year so I feel like I know it better than almost any other ride in the world. Oh, and the animals are nice. That is all.
This Italian property appears perfectly competent as a theme park, but it lacked a certain spark. There’s no denying that the two B&Ms contributed by Merlin have made the place vastly more attractive to coaster enthusiasts, though the following Fabbri spinning mouse was certainly more questionable. The main issue we found with the place was that it just didn’t hold our interest. There’s a wide range of attractions and none of them a were standout, even the dark rides. Little niggles here and there like operational issues and queue jumpers wore us down before the day was out and though I appreciate Gardaland for what it is, there’s currently no desire to return.
I do genuinely like a lot of the rides here and I’d still want to visit regularly just because it’s nearby and fun, but I haven’t had the motivation any more with latest changes in pricing, passes, operations (and investments). It’s coming close to 10 years now since we’ve had a new rollercoaster, which you’d think would be somewhat of a focus for the ‘thrill capital of the UK’. Sadly Thorpe Park have been having a bit of an identity crisis as of late, one year focusing on becoming more family friendly, pushing them away again the very next and then overly relying on intellectual properties to attract guests as opposed to good, solid, tried and tested attractions.
On paper this should be the best by now, but Wicker Man was a personal blow to me and I’ve just grown so tired of the place. I’ve already praised the lineup on here for being so nice and varied and they have 2 of Merlin’s best (Nemesis, Hex), though I never really found anything joyously rerideable here even in its heyday. On quiet days now I get bored and leave early. On busy days I get annoyed and leave early. There’s a lot more of the latter now and very little balance. Sure, this may well apply to all of these parks if you went enough times, but I don’t feel like I’ve overdone Alton to be honest. It just never feels worth the effort once I’m in it. First timers? Go nuts, but watch out for the hideously short operating hours. It has the potential to be a world class park, but it’ll try its hardest not to give you that experience.
I think more so than any of the other parks in this list I found this one just a nice place to be. Being German it can’t help also being well operated and there’s a good selection of rides, many of which are stand outs for what they are. The B&M combo here is by far the best investment from Merlin in my eyes – the presentation, the soundtracks and the hardware all surpass anything else they’ve done in the chain for me. In the same corner we have Scream, one of my favourite drop towers out there. I’d get excited just standing in the presence of one of these monsters and that’s a highly sought after trait in a park for me. It’s a shame they’ve ruined Colossos, which is now by far the worst of it’s type, it has/had the potential to be the best single attraction across the entire company, but I suppose it’s still worth a few goes to flesh out the day. I hope that now the mess of cleaning it up is out of the way, the focus can shift to investing in something truly great again, but it’s anyone’s game at this point – one truly exceptional attraction at any of the top 4 parks in this list could potentially tip the scales for me. The question is, who and what will it be?
Currently home to more rollercoasters than anywhere else on the planet, Magic Mountain has long been an absolute must visit for any coaster enthusiast. It happened to be my first real US mega park visit, throwing me in at the deep end on an overwhelming number of attractions to tick off in a day – and it failed me. It was busy, most of the operations were slow and some rides were out of action.
I anticipated such an outcome however and allowed a full second day to really get a measure of the place. Even if you did manage completion in a single visit there’s no way you’d get very well acquainted with any of the highlights. It was on this day that I found myself bouncing around the many standout attractions and appreciating the quantity of both significant and interesting coasters that they have.
You know I like to acknowledge that sort of thing in these park lists and particularly after visiting a few other Six Flags since, this fact stands out far more than any other park in the chain which tend to stick to a formula of 1-3 ‘headline attractions’ and then a lot of cloned filler. So here we go – let’s tackle the biggest of them all.
Just before we begin, note that Apocalypse will not be included as it was closed for the construction of West Coast Racers during my visit. Two for the price of one when I get back at least. Green Lantern was broken and about to be relocated (couldn’t care less). Oh, and some kids’ coaster is missing, not through lack of trying.
The Zamperla 80STD model has become one of the foremost family coaster clones over the last 20 years, with roughly 45 of the things existing in many places throughout the world. They’ve become a bit of an ordeal for me, the more I travel and the more I find, and the layout is a bit poxy. I don’t even recall seeing Speedy himself anywhere on this thing, he’s probably a little insulted by this being his namesake. Give me a Wacky Worm any day.
The Vekoma junior model has become one of the foremost family coaster clones over the last 30 years, with roughly 113 of the things existing in many places throughout the world. There’s a handful of different layouts and a few custom ones thrown in there so it’s not so bad, though I’ve likely done this particular version a dozen or so times as it has even been favoured by certain Disneyparks. I don’t even recall seeing Road Runner himself anywhere on this thing, he’s probably a little insulted by this being his namesake. At least old Wile E. is there.
On to the bigger stuff and perhaps starting with something a little controversial now, I just don’t really get excited by speed or height on coasters in their rawest form. The backwards launch of this one bumbles along at what feels like a hugely underwhelming pace, probably not helped by lack of wind in the face and then you end up vertical for a while, looking down and in my case, feeling nothing. Reverse the process, this time with lots of braking and it’s done. Classic example of breaking records for the sake of it.
And for all of those reasons and more, I’d much rather ride a classic mine train. It has corners for a start, many lifts, some good terrain, a bit of interaction and comedy tracking. Things are getting solid now.
Characterised by it’s unusual looking very high up loops, Viper is the first of many rides here that feels like a bit of a legend. I didn’t expect to get on with it at all, most Arrow loopers I’ve experienced are more trouble than they’re worth, but this one was surprisingly… rerideable. The entry to that first loop sure is weird and it gets a little crazy in the ducking and diving towards the station at the end. Nothing on the coasters of today but nothing really wrong with it either.
I said interesting in the introduction but I didn’t necessarily say good. This one did have things wrong with it, but I learnt to adapt and appreciate it for what it is. As my first experience with the now rather rare B&M stand-up coaster, a ride type I had sought after for a good while beforehand, I went in unprepared for how terrible the seating position and restraint combo is – not at all what I expect at all from the most rider friendly manufacturer out there. While not really doing any justice to the ‘standing‘ aspect of such hardware, it’s a huge multi-looper with a solid layout that feels like it goes on forever. In the right part of the train and using some tactical bracing techniques, I found it was possible to at least enjoy it.
Another Arrow I didn’t think I’d be too fussed about, as my only real experience with yet another dying ride type had been the already converted Vampire in the UK with floorless trains. It’s a classic, but it doesn’t do much. The use of terrain for this particular installation combined with the size and, I assume, target audience, puts it in a totally different league. The low down turns taken at high speed produce a substantial amount of force as the original floorfull trains swing outwards to compensate and I like the way the layout doesn’t hold back, runining itself out of steam and resorting to a second lift hill to return to the top of the mountain.
I believe I named this one discount Lisebergbanan at the time and I stand by that statement even now. It has the Schwarzkopf vibe, sailing through the terrain and trees with a massive headline attraction interacting overhead. I’m beyond glad the trains were recently upgraded for this one (and that I missed the brief virutal reality overlay it had) as I imagine any form of shoulder restraint (or screen on my face) would have put me off it. As it stands, the world’s first modern vertical loop now has everything it needs to be appreciated fully.
I’ve already covered this famous clone a few times on here and the Magic Mountain edition was a decent example, though not the best. As a highly solid B&M Invert layout that’s always enjoyable it’s not worth writing home about, particularly across the Six Flags repertoire.
Let’s throw some more controversy into the mix. I think most people that don’t rate this ride extremely highly find it too intense or even rough. I’m the opposite – I was utterly underwhelmed. How? There’s so much to unpack about X2 that I’ll probably save for another time, but know that I came into this legendary attraction from a very unusual position. I had already ridden both of the S&S4D coasters out there and this is the original Arrow prototype. Tons of expection both on ride experience and the overall presentation package (station music, soundtrack, atmosphere) led to tons of disappointment. None of this delivered on any level for me (mostly because it wasn’t even there) and the ride itself has got nothing on it’s two children. Don’t get me wrong though, if you’re anyone else in the world, I’m sure you’ll love this insane creation.
‘Better than it ought to be’ trumps ‘not as good as it should have been’ on this list. As another legend of the industry, something about this one drew me in. On paper it’s not even very good – the layout seems a poor use of 255ft by modern standards with many, many corners and only really one airtime moment to speak of. I found the golden spot was in the back row though and there’s something about that drop profiling that makes this massive plummet to earth feel a lot more significant than others of this size, and bigger, that I’ve often lamented about. The speed hill was also decent fun from this position, but the second half is trimmed heavily by a mid course brake run and is rather uneventful. I believe it used to pull some serious Gs and I’d like to have given that a spin.
I’ve become very unenamored with this ride type since riding Scream! as they’re all starting to blend into one, much like a few other B&M creations. You know it’s going to be good, great even, but there’s little to get excited about when you keep coming across the same elements in the same style presented in a slightly different way. Having said that, when this car park coaster was running (they seemingly can’t be bothered to even open it half the time) I had great fun on my laps with it, particularly at night. There’s a nice flow to the whole experience and it has some above average B&M inversion moments.
B&M feel completely different when it comes to their flying coasters however. Much more boundary pushing and just about as intense it gets, this type is where they truly excel for me. My expectations for Tatsu were high and I did love it, though mostly for the unorthodox late game pretzel loop off the side of the mountain. The location is amazing and the views are fantastic, but the first half feels a little too repetetive and I feel like it could have used the terrain better in order to be a real standout both in this park and on a global scale.
To have some questionable picks down the bottom you’re inevitably going to balance with a couple more at the top. I feel like Full Throttle hasn’t been that well received amongst enthusiasts due to early onset hype/potential, maybe even the obnoxious marketing? I never paid attention, turned up 5 years too late and absolutely fell for the thing. Sure it’s short, but it has a clever trick up its sleeve to compensate, one that’s definitely right up my street. The trains are great, the launch is punchy, the stupid size of the loop and sensation of running through it is mindblowing and then coming back over the same piece of track from above gives some ridiculous airtime before being comically and forcefully trimmed. I just think it’s really cool and can’t bring myself to find much fault with this one.
The inevitable winner, I’ve recently raved about this one on here at great length. One of my most favouritest coasters in the whole wide world. RMC at their best, Six Flags at their best, I could spend all day on this one and quite easily forget the remainder of the park, which is quite a statement in itself.
I first visited Blackpool in October 2014 and it has become an annual pilgrimage ever since. There’s something about the laid back atmosphere, the sheer quantity of attractions and the ridiculously cheap wristbands that sets the place apart from all the other UK parks for me. While I have little love for the high hassle, low reward experiences I get from the rest of the British theme park scene these days, with the Pleasure Beach there really is no excuse and nothing to lose.
I had very different tastes back on that first day, having not yet embarked on the wonderful world of what I do now. For some reason I remember declaring Infusion was my favourite (steel) in the park and was the only one of the group to really enjoy Grand National. Having suffered through at least another 15 Infusions across the world since then, there is nothing but regret tied to that memory. I regret Nash for a different reason that we’ll come on to shortly.
The only thing that hasn’t changed is Valhalla. It was then, and remains to this day (2020 overhaul permitting), one of my favourite dark rides for the sheer ferocity and insanity of what’s involved. The real reason for the pilgrimage always hinged on the chance to subject our bodies to copious amounts of abuse by repeatedly riding the wettest ride in the world, in a t-shirt, in November, on the North West coast of England. I still plan to visit before the end of this season (2020 permitting), but things won’t be the same without it.
Nothing else in the park could ever touch those experiences, particularly as the rollercoaster lineup ain’t great, to be honest. I change my mind on the middle grouping of these all the time, though I will attempt to read between the blurred lines and rank them today, again, as I need something to fill the gap in the park page for this fantastic place. Here we go.
I love a violent ride and I really liked this one the first time. Possibly the second time? I can’t remember which year it tried to kill me but I can vividly remember everything else about how horrible those moments were. Everyone experiences things differently and I’d just like to emphasise that none of the following is exaggerated in any way. As soon as we took the first drop, the train began to negotiate the entire track with such terribly specific (possibly even resonant) jolts that I could literally feel my internal organs bouncing up and down out of sync with the rest of my body. It wasn’t just painful, it was deeply unpleasant. I have never felt anything quite like this before or since and it was so jarring that I truly believed it might have ended my hobby, right there. I could only assume at the time that the ride had caused a serious medical issue and insisted that we sat in the nearby cafe for a long while, as I contemplated what had just happened and how terrible my insides felt. A terrible thought crossed my mind several times – if any ride does that to me again, I’m done with this whole game, there is no alternative. Thankfully, so far, I’m good. For that reason I currently consider Grand National the worst rollercoaster in the world by a colossal margin. There’s tons of rubbish out there and I’ve done a lot of it since, but the worst they can ever do to you is something temporary and, if I was coerced, I would ride them all again, for a laugh. Not Nash. Not ever. I just can’t take the risk.
There we go, a complete 180 from my first visit, the top two are now the bottom two. Infusion isn’t actually too bad for a Vekoma SLC and it’s the only one I’ve ever ridden more than once, but it is just that, an SLC. When having to do new ones for the +1 is a chore, why would I ever bother with the local one again?
The smallest wooden coaster in the park. It’s cute with those miniature trains, but it doesn’t really do much.
Everything from here onwards has that distinctive Pleaure Beach charm, a combination of rarity and vintage…ness. Nothing else in the world like Steeplechase exists right now and for that reason alone I’ll never say no to a lap. It’s not a particularly comfortable experience, the seat backs can be rather unforgiving in the bumps, but I do love a good race and it’s always tremendous fun to get into the spirit of the ride, physically and verbally willing your horse forwards. Come on!
The oldest woodie in Blackpool is an inconsistent beast for me, currently tapering off as the years go by. It has provided me with some great airtime in the first section of hills and I always love the completely unbanked section of laterals, but the rest of it is very hit and miss. I want to go back to the days when everyone rode it standing up, waving canes and wearing top hats, like the video in the station.
Sitting in the back seat of this old Arrow hyper still puts the fear in me, though like with Big Dipper it seems to become more unjustified as time goes on. Taking the first drop from this position is notorious for the almost dangerous sensation of being whipped round the twist and nearly hitting your head on the support structure, but that’s about the only thrill that it can offer me these days. The remainder of the layout is a hilarious example of how far modern ride design has come as the train negotiates straight lines, the most shallow camelbacks known to man and a few big corners. It used to be brutal, now I just laugh as the big softy trundles and bounces along.
There seems very little reason for this ride to do so well, it just feels special. The whole execution is very dated and clunky but also charming and quirky. Revolution makes the humans do all the hard work by climbing to the top of the stairs. This gravity isn’t enough though, we’ll have to launch you forward with a crude block on wheels. Being launched into a drop has it’s perks in the airtime department, if only the train allowed you to experience it with a little more comfort. Of course it gets better backwards, the anticipation steps up a gear and I find myself enjoying it almost a bit too much.
On paper this one ain’t good either, but Avalanche is actually a strong example of the ride type on a global scale. Having now ridden them all, the pacing on this one is top notch, it just keeps building and building, getting more intense as it goes. I’ve only more recently been riding it solo and with only one possible restraint position for the trains, Avalanche really tries to kick me out of the car with some surprisingly out of control moments towards the end.
My favourite woodie in the park these days is the orange eyesore. Streak has remained the most consistently thrilling for me over the years, sitting comfortably in the middle of good classic wooden airtime and not sucking all other sensations out of the ride by shaking itself to pieces. It also helps that the seats are like a sofa.
I’m not going to pretend like I was a huge fan of this before they removed it. The news was a shock, but it didn’t particularly bother me. I do now have the slightest sense that the Mouse would have appealed more to the tastes of current me, rather than the me that rode it in the past. The experience was vicious as anything and would leave seatbelt marks imprinted in places you wouldn’t think were possible. Wild Mouse was the best coaster in the park when it existed, but that wasn’t saying much. I respected it. I never truly loved it.
And the trade off was oh, so sweet. We got a Mack launch coaster on our own shores. I still can’t quite believe it’s a thing. By far my favourite coaster in the country, the only one I actively seek out annual rerides on (at a minimum) and still can’t get enough of it. Can’t wait to be reunited at the end of the month. Will it be another 20 years ’til the next one?
I’ve often sat and wondered to myself what my favourite Six Flags park is and the truth is that I don’t really have one yet – none of them made a good enough impression on me as an amusement park in it’s own right. They’ve all been just soulless vessels for large quantities of creds (and then some RMC marathons). The phrase ‘have a Six Flags day’ also confuses me, because I haven’t worked out what it’s trying to imply. Give the guest a full day of whatever they feel Six Flags is synonymous with? For me that would be finding a way to dampen your spirits, as no day in their presence has ever gone entirely smoothly.
Thrilling day? Fair enough. Even though 2020 marks my second calendar year of owning their amazingly priced gold season pass, obviously it hasn’t been used at all (extended through 2021 now, yay!) and I’m still well short of the collection. Here’s two different lists and then some maths to try and work out which one I like the most so far. Hopefully with another 9 to go, the format can change and the bar can be set a little higher.
By ride lineup:
Umm… Wild One! I like Wild One. Great classic woodie. I was going to say the best Vekoma Flyer in the world (like that’s such a good claim) but even that might not be true any more.
The RMC, Joker, plus some other one and done stuff. Lots of clones and even Medusa failed to impress me. Best Premier Sky Rocket II in the world though, wahey!
The RMC, Wicked Cyclone, plus some generic rerideable stuff like Superman. 2 Boomerangs? Who asked for 2 Boomerangs? (Well even if we did they were both closed).
The RMC, Twisted Cyclone (seeing a pattern here?), plus some generic rerideable stuff like Goliath, plus it has a unique dark ride in Monster Mansion.
My boy El Toro, plus some cool rerideable stuff like Nitro. I’d struggle to name another even amongst 14 coasters. Bring on the Jersey Devil.
My boy Twisted Colossus, plus some other cool rerideable stuff like Full Throttle and Tatsu. It’s just so easy to fill a day here and I’ve spent 3 already, whereas I think I’d struggle on any of the others with a revisit as they are right now. A clear winner in the ride department.
By least troublesome days:
Denied Wicked Cyclone to our face 5 hours before the park was originally due to close and 1 hour before the then amended closing time because they weren’t making money and ‘had to clear the area.’
Denied me an hour of walk-on Joker time at park opening because I owned the wrong type of season pass. The rest of the day saw the queue at 90 minutes a pop on 1 train op.
Constantly closing rides here and there, seemingly when they feel like it because supposedly they’ve got enough to keep you occupied. When I said above that I spent 3 days here, I physically had to to get more creds and even now I’m several short. It was a struggle at times, to say the least.
Turned El Toro into a living nightmare by the end of the day through terrible operations. Many things went down many times, but it was just about manageable.
The queues were too big, but we solved that with a flash pass. There were too many waspy things, particularly living in the station of the star attraction. We were spited a couple of B&Ms.
The woodie was closed for a while, but they fixed it. With hilarious consequences. The rest of the park was a breeze, even when every coaster was closing down for wind regularly. A clear winner in the hassle free department.
If we assign points in reverse order for first to last in each category, this leaves us with:
=3. Six Flags New England with 4 points =3. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom with 4 points 2. Six Flags America with 7 points =1. Six Flags Over Georgia with 9 points =1. Six Flags Great Adventure with 9 points =1. Six Flags Magic Mountain with 9 points
Nice and inconclusive, but at least it’s a good indication as to why I don’t have a favourite yet. Which one will it end up being? My money’s on La Ronde.
Fantawild are my favourite theme park chain in China right now. It’s been a bumpy ride over the last 5 or 6 trips out there but my most recent visits really highlighted how much I do actually love what they do.
The definitive niche they have over all other parks in the region is that they design and build their own dark rides – even the ride systems are done in house. The end result of some of these is nothing short of incredible and when you pair a couple of attractions of this nature with a top tier coaster, a few of which they also have, I get very excitable.
Currently owning 27 properties throughout the country (with another 8 on the way), many of the locations are resorts in their own right with multiple gates and extensive hotel complexes. There have been a few generations of development so far, each one being bigger, better and more ambitious. They’re a bit harder to come by on a quick jaunt in the region, usually sitting a fair distance outside major cities with limited transport access, but a good number of them are well worth the endeavour.
With so many locations already existing, the prospect of visiting all of them is likely largely offputting to most people and because of the repetition seen throughout these parks (there’s only so many times you can listen to Chinese Opera), working out which one to visit can seem a bit overwhelming. However, if you do go to China for theme parks and don’t experience Fantawild I will consider it a crime of the highest order.
I’m missing a couple (tons) of early Adventure parks (no big loss) but by the end of my last trip (more opened since…) I had visited every Dreamland and Oriental Heritage in the country so I thought it might help to create a little overview guide as to what attractions can be found where, what those attractions are and which parks I think personally give the best of everything.
I’ve been meaning to get onto dark ride reviews on the site at some point so I’ll have to branch off with more detail on some of these incredible examples. For now we’ll have settle with this list, which will end up as a ranking (of course) of the overall contents and feel of each set of parks in a resort. I shall aim to name 5 signature attractions in each gate and give them a Tier rating from A+ (world class) to E (trash).
Wish me luck.
Space Warrior – dark ride (C) Dino Rampage – dark ride (D) Sky Sailor – flying theatre (D) Mount Tanggula/Vesuvio Volcano – mine train coaster (D) Flare Meteor – suspended looping coaster (E)
We’ll start with an example of why the first generation Adventure parks aren’t much cop on their own and not particularly worth seeking out. It feels a little unfair to have Shenyang at the bottom because I didn’t mind the place once I had my expectations set super low, but it’s the only standalone version I’ve bothered with (by accident too). It’s a competent enough theme park in the grand scheme of things, although once you’ve done literally any other Fantawild at all, it just becomes a cred run.
Location notes – The city is half a day away from Beijing in the opposite direction of the rest of the country, so not ideal. The main draw for visiting Shenyang would be the Hotgo resort, although half of it remains unopened. Allowing some breathing room for spite on a trip could result in a visit here, but I wouldn’t go out of the way for it. I didn’t.
Personal bias here because I had a really rough day at the Ningbo park. It was my first ever Fantawild experience and it couldn’t have started any worse. Terrible, nonsense weather policies meant that absolutely all of the outdoor attractions were closed for the whole day, so I haven’t actually ridden this Jungle Trailblazer. Fortunately (can’t believe I’m saying this) it has been cloned at another park in this list so my assessment is based on that one. Even the second worst woodie in this post is still an A, so you know these lineups aren’t messing around. They’re getting a second gate and a big shiny Vekoma so I’m hoping things turn out better when I come back here for that. For now, any Oriental Heritage by it’s own right is a fantastic park and well worth a visit, but I can’t bring myself to recommend this one.
Location notes –Although named after Ningbo, this one is almost equidistant between the outskirts of Shanghai and it’s namesake, albeit over a massive stretch of water/Hangzhou Bay Bridge. The cityitselfis under 2 hours away from Shanghai with the right train and also contains Romon U-Park, so it’s a decent enough shout from the most commonly visited regionfor coasters.
And the aforementioned clone lives here. It has taken me actually doing this exercise to notice how identical the Jinan and Ningbo parks are and it really pains me that this one only ends up 7th because I absolutely loved the place. If I was doing this park by park and not on resorts then it would place a lot higher. It marked my second visit to a Fantawild establishment and was the perfect showcase as to how Ningbo should have been, sparking the honeymoon phase of my relationship with the chain. As an added bonus (since I’ve been), there’s been a mini expansion (a small family coaster) and it is now home to the most creds in any of these parks. From the gorgeous aesthetics of the place to the cracking ride lineup, you can’t really go wrong in Jinan.
Location notes –Jinan can be as quick as 90 minutes away from Beijing by train, so a day trip from the capital would be possible. As a better alternative it’s a decent stop off point within the golden triangle, particularly if you’re doing both Beijing and Shanghai in a single trip. Quancheng Euro Park is just up the road but if you’re new to the chain then please don’t try and do them in the same day. Soak this one up first.
Things are getting tougher now because every resort I’ve done from here on in contains at least one of the A+ attractions – Jinshan Temple Showdown in some form or another, which justifies a visit all by itself. Xiamen is the first 2 gate establishment in the list and mainly suffers from having the weakest Jungle Trailblazer in the country. Aside from that, all I can really say is the location doesn’t lend itself well to any theme park based route through China. A solid pick, but only if it works for you.
Location notes –4 hours in the wrong direction from any other major parks, you’d have to be as desperate as me to want to add this to any itinerary.In a moment of particular insanity I even considered going by boat from Taiwan. Don’t.
The weather spited my first attempt at this one and I tried to use that opportunity to experience more indoor attractions and do some shows, of which this resort has many. Bad weather means absolutely no one turns up and the day is a complete write off so the park don’t bother to run anything anyway. That plan failed. On a redemption visit I only allowed a single day, starting with the good and then rushing the bad, missing the signature shows yet again. I believe they’d elevate the experience, but can’t guarantee. If this is your first Fantawild resort then allow 2 days or you’ll likely miss too much with the time slot based attractions. If things go well there’s even some bonus creds and you can complete the hat trick in a third Adventure park in Wuhu, at the complete opposite end of the city.
Location notes –3 hours from Shanghai, but an easy day trip from many other significant cities in the region. Under an hour from either Nanjing (a good base with nothing in it yet) or Hefei (for the Sunac park). Other than Ningbo, it’s probably the most conveniently located Fantawild resort for theme parking in and around Shanghai, but that part of China is becoming so basic – buck the trend.
It physically hurts me to put this park in in 4th. I had tears in my eyes on the way out of the place – it was that good. It’s the newest build I’ve done to date and absolutely sealed the deal on my rejuvenated passion for Fantawild parks. They’re stepping the theming up even now and they still have the capactity to invent new mind blowing dark rides. I didn’t think they had it in them to exceed themselves any more and then Magic Gallery happened. Things aren’t stagnating forever, there’s already infrastructure for a second gate here and I’m so excited for their future. But, and it’s a big but, it doesn’t have a woodie and the Vekoma just can’t compete.
Location notes – If it wasn’t what felt like 500 miles from the next resort in the list, even though you can daytrip both from Changsha equally comfortably, we’d have a winner. There’s always the option of ignoring my criteria and doing that anyway.The city is a pretty big hub in itself these days, with a good little triangle between Nanchang (for the Sunac Park) and Wuhan (Happy Valley) all within a couple of hours of each other. If you’re on a particularly long trip, Changsha is very central and a good stop off for almost any cross country direction.
Adventure Space Warrior – dark ride (C) Dino Rampage – dark ride (D) Sky Sailor – flying theatre (D) Mount Tanggula/Vesuvio Volcano – mine train coaster (D) Flare Meteor – suspended looping coaster (E)
It’s not worth calling these next two a resort because the way they’re split you simply don’t need the 2nd park for anything but creds. With no Oriental Heritage to steal the spotlight, the Dreamlands end up getting it all. The Jungle Trailblazer here is a clone of Fjord Flying Dragon at rival chain Happy Valley’s Tianjin park and that also took the edge off for me slightly even if it is one of my all time favourite rides. Weaknesses over the below? A Boomerang instead of A Vekoma SFC and the 2nd best woodie instead of the 1st best. For a one day visit, you can’t get a much better representation of 2nd Gen Fantawild.
Location notes – Forget it’s called Zhuzhou, do it from Changsha. Other than that, see above.
Adventure Space Warrior – dark ride (C) Dino Rampage – dark ride (D) Sky Sailor – flying theatre (D) Mount Tanggula/Vesuvio Volcano – mine train coaster (D) Terror Twister – Maurer Sky Loop (E)
Except for this one of course. The same, but better. We’ve already had some world class woodies in the list and words cannot describe how this one takes the cake (well, they will when I get round to writing them down). I had issues with the logistics of this resort. Thanks to the official transport we got stranded on the wrong of a massive road, their customer service was abysmal and the place angered me. My first Adventure park angered me even more. The Dreamland park was the perfect remedy for my foul mood and in a matter of moments I fell in love again (this keeps happening). It’s only a snapshot and likely to change at any time but they’re the only example of the 2nd Gen parks that I saw actively running preshows for their dark rides. Given how intensely themed the queue areas for these attractions are, having the excuse to stop and appreciate that with some back story only elevated things further. Bottom line – save all the hassle, get your Didi driver to take you to the door and don’t even bother with the second gate. Trust me, you don’t need that Skyloop. I didn’t, and no doubt you’ve seen what I’m like on here.
Location notes – They call Zhengzhou the crossroads of the Chinese high speed rail system, but it’s quite far from anything else to consider doing as an in and out and much better to do it in passing. The golden triangle was bound to come up again – Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an, but I’ll add Changsha into the mix and make it a diamond. If you’re doing any 2 of those in one trip then you can easily knock off this city en route.
We’ve made it to the top at last. If you want the most concentrated injection of what Fantawild really has to offer you then look no further than this one park. No second gate, no distractions. It’s a visual feast. The park is a compilation, but it’s also all new stories and it shows off Fantawild at their most creative. Everything’s fresh, clean, wonderful and from what I saw they intend to keep it that way, unlike certain other places. After doing 5 things the same at all the others this park finally got me excited again and I haven’t stopped being since. They have the best woodie, again (I hate them for cloning my fav… *bites fist* not now) and they have an awe-inspiring alternative version of their signature dark ride. In going through ths list with all the pairings of JTs and JTSs, everything above us was lacking the complementary pinnacle of their home grown pure dark rides – they never had a Nüwa in the same gate. Nor does this park, but it has a Sita (same tech, new story). The boring and stupid Chinese Opera ride is no more and they’ve replaced it with a heart warming tale filled with mesmerising scenes (and smells). I didn’t even get to try everything due to a couple of closures, but on top of all that there’s many, many more quality dark rides and shows (and a Wacky Worm) to give you one of the fullest days an empty Chinese park has to offer.
The only problem with this park being different to all the rest is that it’ll make you want to try another one. Wait… That’s a good thing.
Location notes – Definitely not the default go-to area for a Chinese theme park trip yet, but the region has improved significantly with just the opening of this one. Under 3 hours from Guangzhou on certain trains, it can be reasonably be incorporated into a southern trip if you stay over. There’s also a rubbish Wanda park just over a bridge.