Monday, 2 May 2016

The Ultimate

England's One True Ultimate Roller Coaster?


Station & Lifthill The Ultimate at Lightwater Valley is somewhat of a unique ride. Nestled into a small to medium sized park on the outskirts of Ripon in Yorkshire, it is somewhat of a hidden gem. Quite simply there is nothing quite like it anywhere else.

1 & 1/2 Miles to Go!!Built before the likes of Oblivion, Nemesis and the Pepsi Max Big One, it could be argued that The Ultimate is the original UK record breaking roller coaster. For nearly 10 years, The Ultimate held the world record for the longest roller coaster. It may have since lost this record, mainly because all the other coasters longer than it are more than three times the height but it is still Europe's longest coaster at 1.5 miles long.
The Blue Train & Lift Hill No.1
The Ultimate was built for a relatively cheap considering its world record and is rather surprising that despite proving you do not necessarily need height to break the longest coaster record, it is surprising over 25 years later, no other coasters have tried to take The Ultimate at its own game.

Located close to the Yorkshire Dales, a big 300ft behemoth was never going to happen (infact when The Ultimate was built, the 200ft barrier had only just been broken!), so to negotiate its 1.5 miles, it features two lift hills. Two very completely different from one another. This is a coaster that doesn't feel like The Smiler at Alton Towers, where in essence you are going through the same course again to break records.

Lightwater Wheel ViewTo the first time visitor, getting a vantage point to see The Ultimate is rather difficult, when you are down by the coaster, the best you are going to get is the first lift hill and the final bend. If you look in the distance you can see the second lift hill. Your best viewpoint is from the Lightwater Wheel (a Big Wheel) near the parks entrance, but even then, your view of the course is somewhat limited.

But what is it actually like to ride?

When you've negotiated the very long train and everything has been checked, the train leaves the station and moves to the first lift hill. The lift hills are perhaps the slowest in existence. If you are in a hurry, The Ultimate is not the ride for you, with half of the total ride time (8 - 9 minutes) spent on these lift hills. But if you look behind you, there is a good view of Lightwater Valley, if you look infront of you the Yorkshire Dales come into sight.
Red Train at the top of the Lift Hill
After what seems like an eternity, you are approaching the crest of the first lift hill. Those sitting in the front of the train, will be part of the way down the drop before gravity kicks in and those at the back will be thrilled to experience a bit of airtime as they are forced down the first drop.

The first element we come across is a fairly small but pretty powerful airtime hill. Just the otherside of this hill is the onride photo, another similar airtime hill follows. Certainly not as powerful as the first but it is still a nice sensation. So far, the track has been straight since you left the lift hill. A slightly banked elongated curve turns you to the left, just before another airtime hill, which is again not as powerful as the two that preceded it.

Blue TrainAnother bend to the left now takes the train through a fairly flat section of track through some woodlands, before turning to the right before a series of bunny hop hills, just before the second lift hill.

First impressions on this section are good but nothing mindblowing, it was all relatively smooth, quite quick but it lost its momentum fairly quickly.

Those expecting the second lift hill to any quicker than the first would be very much mistaken, infact there is a slight jolt as the train runs out of its kinetic energy and connects up to lift hill no. 2. Its certainly not uncomfortable, but it is noticeable.

The Ultimate's Second Lift HillWhat makes the second lift hill worse than the first, is that whilst you are on the top, it stays at the left to do a turn to the left. When you finally get to the first drop of this section of track, you can tell the park really used the landscape to the advantage, with the track seemingly disappearing into this wooded valley. Unlike the first lift hill, there is no real delay in the train picking up speed.

The Ultimate shows its true colours rather quickly. The section between Lift Hill 1 and Lift Hill 2 was rather smooth, virtually straight. As we descend down the second lift hill, the track turns to the left 180 degrees. But, the turn is not that high up and not banked terrifically. As you proceed through it, it is time to get cosy with your co-rider as you are pushed into that direction, in a whip like fashion.

The Ultimate's Blue TrainThe track continues this curve back into the base of the valley, before repeating the trick again to the right this time. By now, only the most ardent of coaster riders still have their hands in the air, the rest are gripping on for dear life, wondering what other surprises it has up its sleeve.

After leaving the turn to the right, a little of the trains power has lost its energy and so the next turn to the left isn't as powerful as the first experienced, but it is still too quick as what it should have been and again expect to pull a grimacing face. The coaster continues to do one more turn to the right and the left before you leave the woodland.

On the Final BendThe train leaves with a mostly flat bit of track, but do not be fooled this will be like the flat section from the first lift hill, there is still a fair bit of power in the coaster, without much (if any!) banking the train turns to the right before descending down a little bit approaching a very small hill, taken with the speed we are going and add to the fact it moves slightly to the left, it is violent airtime into your co-rider before flattening out again and virtually repeating the same trick a few more feet down the track. The train re-enters the woodland area with an unbanked turn to the right, before a slightly banked turn to the left, where we descend into the start of a figure of 8 tunnel. As we leave the tunnel a tight left hand turn brings us on top of the tunnel, before we descend to the right back into it.

The UltimateBy the time we hit the top of the tunnel, the train has lost a lot of its power but to be honest, this is no bad thing, its good for a quick breather.

Once the train has descended into the tunnel and left it, it is clear the figure 8 section did help the train lose an extreme amount of kinetic energy as we are now on the slowest the train has been on the second section since the lift hill. A longer bend to the left takes us in line with the station, before a third and final lift hill, takes us back into the station, 1.5 miles later.

Blue TrainPart of why The Ultimate is such a hidden gem on the UK coaster scene is because the thing should not actually exist. The speed the train takes through the bends, are simply too quick but that's what makes the ride. It is truly unique. Like the Wild Mouse at Pleasure Beach Blackpool, it is not meant to be a ride ridden continuously, it can be done but expect bruises especially around the knees. The ride has an awesome power, but most of all it is fun. Before the Megafobia was installed at Oakwood six years later, this was the closest thing to a wooden coaster, it even has wooden supports.

The first half lulls you into a false state of security, it is smooth, quick and has good moments of airtime, its good but nothing special. The second half is its evil twin. Like Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll, its twisty, quicker and is not afraid to show you who is boss. It certainly isn't England's best coaster, but it is the most unique. If you love wooden coasters, or that feeling of not quite being in control, you'll love the Ultimate, its ferocious but not really rough. If you prefer proper smooth coasters, the Ultimate is not for you!

The Good:
- Over 7 minutes in length
- The longest coaster without having to travel to Japan
- Two very different sections of coaster
- Quicker than it looks
- Long train   

The Bad: 
- Could be perceived as painfully rough
- Painfully slow lift hills (at least half the rides duration!)
- Seems to lose momentum very quickly

The Verdict:

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Saw the Ride

Do You Want to Play a Game?

Do You Want to Play a Game?
By the time that Saw the Ride opened in 2009, Thorpe Park had very quickly grew up. Despite Tidal Wave being installed in 2000, it was not really until 2002 with the installation of Colossus that things really started to get going. Just how do you follow up the coasters Colossus, Nemesis Inferno and Stealth? The answer was to do something very different for the UK market.

With no major film studio theme parks in the UK (although that could soon change), means that very few opportunities will arise where a ride will be based on such an intellectual property, so when the announcement was made that the New for 2009 coaster would be based on the Saw franchise, it was quite unexpected and also quite worrying, these were 18 certificate films, that whilst not be everyones taste, were in the publics eye, from Billy the puppet, to the "games" themselves.

Samurai As with many of the developments at Thorpe Park, land had to be infilled (the days where Colossus was on the waters edge are now all but forgotten) and as such it is located just on the outskirts of the Lost City area beside Samurai, a top scan ride.

Following the same strategy of the Disney parks, Merlin bought a medium priced coaster (a Gerstlauer Euro-fighter) and spent the rest of the budget on themeing it (as well was the associated rights costs.) The type of ride was nothing new to the UK market, with Speed opening at Oakwood in 2006, and Rage at Adventure Island opening in 2007) but with a steeper "beyond vertical drop", this time 100 degrees.

It is this beyond vertical drop that draws you in. If you are coming in from by Colossus, it is noticeable but the track is slightly obscured, but if you are coming from by Loggers Leap, you can see part of the ride in all its glory. This is though the first trick of the ride, the lift hill is actually a third of the way around the coaster.

EntranceThe entrance to the queue is slightly obscured by the shop and first impressions of the queue are not great. Not too far into it, it starts a cattle grid type queue, whilst it doesn't look too out of place from the Saw Universe with mock barbed wire and electrical cables, as with most cattlegrid queues, it is not a comfortable environment, but maybe that was the idea? Afterall, the Saw franchise has always been about making its victims/players appreciate the finer things in life.

Thankfully, whilst it continues to an extent, the cattlegrid does get better, with just one or two backtrackings as the queue slowly winds itself to the back of the ride before it continues back to the station building. As with most queues though, there is not much to keep you company. The station building exterior is excellently themed as Jigsaw's lair from the films and littered around the queue are some of the traps from films of the franchise. Saw is one of the few rides without a ride soundtrack as such, instead, it is more of a running commentary of a police mission to raid Jigsaw's lair. It is a different approach and it does hold your attention slightly, with the total loop being around an hour, the trouble is, the audio is quite quiet and you have to concentrate if you really do want to listen to it. Finally, like with Megafobia at Oakwood, not a lot of the ride is actually viewable from the queueline. You get glimpses, but they are literally nothing more than that. It is a queueline that can be quite a chore, especially if you are on a busy day, but thankfully, the queue does seem to move fairly quickly, so you are never in the same spot more than once.

Saw the RideOnce you are ready to enter the station, the themeing becomes more like what you'd expect from the Saw franchise, with red writing on the walls saying "Let the Games Begin" and the suchlike. The soundtrack changes too, with gun shots and every now and again, Jigsaw calling the "Thrill Seekers unworthy of life", and a couple of traps from the films once again.

Once you've handed in your bags, its time to begin. The station looking now something very similar to the interior of Jigsaw's lair is full of trinkets, diagrams that get missed easily in this section of usually fast moving queue. In a bid to improve capacity, two cars of eight are loaded at the same time. There are rows 1 and 2 (car 1) & 3 and 4 (car 2), if you ever get the opportunity, go for rows 3 and 4. The reason for this becomes clear in the next section.

Saw: The Ride
Once checked, the cars make their way into the building. The themeing here for a UK coaster, cannot be faulted. It may not match up to the Disney or Universal parks, but it certainly sells you of the idea your in one of Jigsaw's toys. Similar to the films, a countdown clock is situated just ahead of you, this our time to live or die.

The car now takes a bend to the right, and this is the only difference between the two cars. If you are in car 1, you just see and hear Billy the Puppet on his tricycle laughing/cackling away, before you continue through the building. However, on car 2, this is more inline with the films, with Billy the Puppet setting out the games rules, by again calling us Thrill Hunters unworthy of life and likes to warn us of what will happen if we lose, before he starts cackling away again.

The Games Have Just BegunStill inside the building, the train now continues traversing a corner, before two giant pendulum axes come into view, swinging quite fastly, with giant spikes located just underneath. This is now where the most surprising part of the coaster is and no matter how many times you ride it, you know its coming but its very hard to pinpoint just when. The surprise is a small but sudden, vertical drop. As you hit the crest of the drop, you rise up into the restraints before falling back into the seat at the bottom and turning to your left. The car now rises up gradually as "crossbows" are loaded and fired at you (air cannons) before you once again fall into darkness (not as steep this time) before emerging into one of the rides inversions, an inline twist over a mutilated body, that spurts with blood (read red water) as you pass over. This is now where you leave the station building, and where the themeing all but disappears. This is also where you get the best view of the ride for a long, long time. As the car hits the brakes and does a 180 degree turn to the left, there is now only one way to go, up the vertical lift hill.

Just before you make the ascent, Billy the Puppet shows up on the TV screens, saying in typical Saw fashion, "Game Over" (meaning we've lost!) and starts his cackling once more, without further ado, the train now makes its ascent up the 100ft vertical lift.

Live or Die?As with most vertical lift hills, its a strange sensation, not entirely comfortable, but not entirely uncomfortable either. As we crest over the top, you get a nice view over Thorpe Park, before the beyond vertical drop kicks in, and you come flying out of your seat into the restraints. Ultimately, you cannot tell the 3 degrees extra from Speed at Oakwood, but the sensation is fun nonetheless. As you pass under some blood soaked saws, the car now enters its second inversion.

The usual Euro-fighter tricks come into play now, for such a "small" coaster, they are actually intense, much more so than what they appear. As you go through this Immelmann loop (think of it as a half loop combined with half a corkscrew element) the G forces are strong and get thrown into your restraints as soon as you enter and leave the element. As you continue, the coaster now turns into a very overbanked turn, where your feet are higher than the rest of your body, whether you count this as an inversion is entirely up to you.

Face Your Fears
As you leave the overbanked turn, and lower back to the ground, there is an ejector seat airtime hill moment. I'll be honest, the one at Speed is still my favourite out of the airtime hills, but its similar, just not as powerful. As you descend down the hill, the track veers slightly to the right, which can cause a slight moment where your shoulders really slam into the restraints.

At the very bottom of the hill, is where the rides onride photo is taken, before a very sharp rising banked turn to your left follows. There is a slight rest bite that follows, as you enter a brake run, thankfully, very few times these cause the car to slow down, which means the next part of the ride, is similar, but a lot more powerful to the dark inside drop.

Saw - The Ride
A very steep drop follows straight after, and again you body rises up into the restraints, just as soon as you've landed back down into the seat, you rise up in a twisted Zero G element. This is the most intense of the elements, taken so quickly, and with the element itself quite small, as we leave the element, one final sharp raised bank turn to the left, before the car enters the final brake run, beside the vertical lift hill and 100 degree drop.
 As we re-enter the station building, a Billy puppet to your left, says "Congratulations, you are still alive".

Compared to an awful lot of UK coasters, Saw feels like its of a good length. At virtually 2 minutes long, its nearly twice as long as Nemesis at Alton Towers, and only one of two coasters at Thorpe Park that feels like it is a substantial ride (the other is Colossus, sorry Nemesis Inferno fans!).

Saw - The Ride
Despite being based on perhaps the most horrific horror films in the early years of the 21st century, it has been toned down for the coaster. It is more implied than actual. It isn't one that I'd expect you to take your 8 year old child on, but it is more in the 12A category rather than 18. The gore in the film Jaws, is a lot worse.

One of the biggest complaints about Saw, is its roughness, which I beg to differ. Saw the Ride is not a rough roller coaster, it is an intense/ferocious "little" roller coaster, like what most Euro-fighters are. Yes, a couple of the transitions are not as good as they could be, but they are not that uncomfortable, and only lasts a couple of milliseconds. Unlike Nemesis Inferno and The Swarm, Saw is not a ride you are meant to ride over and over again.

Finally, the themeing as previously mentioned is great for a UK, especially with the station building. It is a shame that we lose all but a couple of pieces of themeing once we are outside, considering what we have just experienced, but this is a flaw with most themed outdoor coasters, hats off to Thorpe Park and Merlin for attempting something risky and it paid off.

In brief, Saw is a fantastic ride at Thorpe Park and is one of the best coasters in the park, it is also the one with in theory, the worst throughput of the park. Resulting in queues often 45 minutes or over, but it is worth it. You are getting a decent length coaster, themed very well with some very intense elements, something which the other Thorpe Park coasters cannot offer

The Good:
- Excellent themeing in the building
- Good length and ride duration
- Explosive airtime moments
- An intense coaster
- The surprise vertical drop in the station
- Fits in with the Saw theme
- The 100 degree drop
- Very different inversions

The Bad: 
- More intense than it looks
- Experience slightly hampered if in Car 1 at the station
- Slower moving queue
- You cannot tell the extra 3 degrees on the drop
- A few transitions not as great as they could be

The Verdict:

Sunday, 26 July 2015


If Valhalla was a song, it would be sung by Wet Wet Wet

The original facade to Valhalla
Looking back, the year 2000 was a rather special time in the UK theme park scene. Yes, not many major coasters were built (the Millennium Roller Coaster at Fantasy Island, actually opened up in 1999) but the country probably had its best range of attractions built. Drop Tower fans had the World First Stand Up Tower Drop at Drayton Manor, Thorpe Park had its first major attraction under (then) Tussauds, Alton Towers had delved into its history and heritage and Pleasure Beach Blackpool went for spectacle, and even now all those years after, Valhalla is still one of the most spectacular dark rides the UK has ever seen.

Indoor water rides are not a new idea, Disney have the Pirates of the Caribbean and It's a Small World attractions and at the Pleasure Beach, there is the River Caves. In a lot of ways, Valhalla is River Caves for the new millennium but it does not quite pay off.

Enter ValhallaThe facade is impressive, or at least the parts you can see from straight on. The water cascading down the front and the giant skull, this is making a statement. The queueline, less so. It is basically a cattlegrid type queue just on the outside, where, if the wind is in the wrong place, you are likely to be slightly damp before you board the boat. With not much to keep you entertained, apart from a few bits of historical information about the local vikings.

Thankfully, throughput is usually quite good with the eight seater boats, so you are not likely to be hanging around in the same place too long. The station interior is a wood carved building, and it is a shame people don't notice it, as far as station ceilings go, it is certainly something you do not necessarily expect. The station is where, you get the first few tastes of what is about to come. By looking at the people leaving the boat, very few people leave dry or even damp. To add insult to injury, despite the fact staff members are trying to empty the boat of water with some type of vacuum cleaner, the boats are still a couple of centimetres (sometimes worse) full of water. Your feet are wet before you've even left the station

ValhallaThings do not get much better as soon as you leave the station, where if again, the wind is in an unfortunate direction, carrying the spray of water from the facade of the building over the boat. In an update of a River Caves effect, there is a second waterfall at the base of the skull, which should stop before you pass under it. With a lot more water being used than its much older brother, means that there are a few larger drips when you pass under. Once entered in the main building, it is time for your journey to begin.

As the boat enters, we hear the howling of the wind and barking of dogs. These dogs then appear from the sides, and the boat passes two cauldrons of fire, before we ascend the lift hill. This lift hill is rather dark, with seemingly nothing but a skull saying various inaudible things, apart from "Welcome to Valhalla!" before slow decomposing away into a skull. However, as I've said it was dark, and this projection is not the clearest so it is easier to miss. What you may not even realise is there also, is a rotating tunnel effect, the ones that with the right type of lighting make you feel like you are inverting, but your just in a straight line. Well, there is one of those also, but the lighting doesn't really highlight it. Which is a pity, as it could have been used to great effect.

Once we're on the top of the lift hill, the boat submerges back into the water, and quite violently, the boat turns around a bend, so much so, (along with many of these bends on the ride) if you are in the front, there will be quite a splash coming over to your legs.

Skull & Waterfall
Appearing to go through a cave, there are strobe lighting effects and on your right hand side, presumably Viking gods keeping a watchful eye on you. The temperature now starts to feel a bit more humid, and another face literally pops up in the cave themeing. The boat goes around to the right, and the reason for the humidity is now evident, as you are going through some sort of steam room. The boat carries on going straight on and turns slightly to the right, and now we have waterfalls beside us, nothing too much to get us terrifically wet, just a few splashes. A couple of well placed holes in the ceiling mind, are likely to get you wet however. Suddenly, the artificial lighting turns into natural lighting, as we find ourselves looking out over the Pleasure Beach. We stop, we move forward and stop quite suddenly. The boat now moves 45 degrees to your left, and you come to the first drop, which is a backwards one.

For those that have been to Drayton Manor, and ridden Stormforce 10 (which was the UKs first backward drop Log Flume) might be expecting something rather impressive here, especially as you've already seen how wet fellow riders are coming off at the station. But no, this is disappointing, the backwards drop only seems like 10 or so feet. You may get a bit of a splash back, but nothing like Stormforce 10. The boat then proceeds to the other turntable, and the rest of the journey is now taken forwards.

Rock SkeletonThe next room that follows, is a complete contrast to the last room you were in before the backwards drop, its cold, very cold. Presumably, meaning to represent a Scandinavian winter, there is real ice around here. We're not in here for too long and the boat turns to the left. Time for drop No. 2.

The drop itself is largely taken in the dark, and it takes you by surprise. Compared to the backwards drop, only a couple of minutes previous, this one will get you a "healthy" dose of splash. If not, you soon will be, as you are now in the part of the ride that throws water at you left, right and centre.

Straight ahead of you is a water vortex, where powerful waterjets are creating a circle around the water channel, however, water does agree with the laws of gravity, so as you pass through, you are all but guaranteed for a soaking.

The boat continues further, before another one of those sharp bends to the right, in a similar effect to the entrance waterfall, and again, it still drips on you after it has been switched off.

Valhalla at NightThe boat now enters another dimly lit section of the ride, as it climbs the second and final lift hill. Like with the first lift hill, there is nothing much really to keep your attention going apart from a skull chandelier that is swinging above you.

Once at the top, the themeing continues, as two very large vikings await you. As we submerge back into the water, another of those sharp bends to the right occur, before, what looks like some kind of siege machine starts to rise up by you. As you enter through it, it releases, and another bucket full of water comes at you from both sides.

Carrying on with this theme of weaponry, we are now being fired at with flaming arrows and some kind of rotating blade device comes over our heads. We go into darkness once again and turn to the left. Now, its very similar to how we started the ride, but instead of the dogs it is now crows squawking in the wind. Unfortunately, this scene is broken with "Please Brace Yourself for the Next Drop"

The third drop is a double drop, but with the hill being a lot further down, than Loggers Leap at Thorpe and Stormforce 10 at Drayton. In the front row, you may get a glimpse of a very good effect, of a line of fire across the water. This drop, is certainly again a wet one. It certainly is not any drier than the second drop.

Leaving the Viking Afterlife
In what can only be deemed as an explosive finale, the boat now travels through what can seem to be some kind of Viking Crematorium, with explosions of fire happening right by you. Thankfully, with how wet you are, even on the warm days, this feels quite nice!

All of a sudden, we leave the building and we realise how cold the North West of England can be, just as they take our photo. However, there is one last bit of wetness, a vertical water cannon, to make sure we are actually wet by the time we return into the station. Trying to walk normally with how wet we actually got.

One of the main problems that Valhalla suffers with  is the frequency of the effects inside. Whilst on most occasions, the big effects will work, the experience is severely effected when they don't and that is quite common.

Is Valhalla one of the greatest water rides in the country? It is up in the top 5, when everything is working, however, the backwards drop is just pitiful and the corners are just too violent, and as such they do get you wet on the ride, where you are not supposed to get wet. It does however, give you a rather impressive assortment of effects, such as the fire and ice, which are so very rarely seen on the UK theme/amusement park scene. Is it one of the greatest in the world? Not really, when compared to things like Pirates of the Caribbean, Valhalla cannot compare in the story telling.

Valhalla, is what I'd like to call, your typical summer blockbuster. It throws everything it can at you, Fire, Ice, Steam and Water, but there is next to no plot, or narrative with what is actually happening. It is entertaining, in its own way, and despite being far too wet in the country, it is one you need to ride once, but for some once may just be enough. Add to it, the effects that don't always work, Valhalla, unfortunately falls short of the best water ride in the world.

The Good:
- Excellent for a Hot Day
- Decent moving queue
- Fire and Ice effects, so very rarely seen in the UK
- The two forward drops are forceful
- 6 Minute Ride

The Bad: 
- Awful for a Cold Day
- You can get soaked before you've even sat in the boat
- The boats are often already filled with water
- The violent bends
- Unpredictability of the effects
- What is the actual story?
- Poor lighting in a couple of scenes
- The backwards drop is a wasted opportunity

The Verdict:

Sunday, 28 June 2015

RC Racer!

The Jewel of the Playland?

Parc Disneyland, whilst a big area, does not feature too many rides, with Fantasyland featuring the biggest array of rides, ranging from the classic rides based on the Disney films to the like it or loathe it It's a Small World. Tommorowland, Adventureland and Frontierland feature 3 or 4 rides in each of the areas. When it was announced that 2002 would be the opening of a second Theme Park, in the guise of Walt Disney Studios Park, the decision seemed a little odd. Infact when it did open, much like its next door neighbour there was very few rides, the park consisted of the Tram Tour, Rock 'n' Rollercoaster avec Aerosmith, the Genie's Magic Carpet and Cinemagique. The rest of the park was full of experiences, which whilst fun and a little different (especially if you've never been to America) it was much to do it once in a day or possibly once in your stay at the resort. Over the years the park did expand, with the additional rides, one of the biggest expansions was the introduction of Toy Story Playland.

RC RacerRC Racer! is headland attraction in the area, and along with the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror it is one of the more imposing rides of the whole Walt Disney Studios Park. Based on the orange track from the Toy Story films, it is in essences like the coaster version of a Pirate Ship.

One problem you do not get at a Disneyland Resort Paris is themeing/decoration and in the Toy Story Playland you are seemingly shrunk to the size of a small toy. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, themeing to RC Racer! is styled as a giant piece of Mattel Track (in the Toy Story films it has a loop though) and Disney have done a good job of themeing this visually unimpressive coaster, with a fake orange track immediately behind the coaster track and some purple style cladding to hide the metallic supports, it's simple but it works, especially in the context that these are meant to be toys.

The Queueline for the RacerLike with the racing themed coasters at Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, the entrance to the queueline is by a giant tyre, unlike those rides, you do not actually pass under it, just merely to the side. The entrance to the queueline could be a little bit more dramatic but the rest of the queue is themed a lot better, which is a good thing. Unless you happen to visit during the quieter winter months, you will be in this queue for a very long time. The floor is themed as a giant Scalextric track, a simple but effective bit of themeing and various little nods to Toy Story are on the sides of the buildings. The queue line itself is like a twisted cattlegrid, full of lots of bends, backing onto yourself, before finally reaching the behemoth itself.

With it being a simple coaster layout, this is one that you know exactly what is coming to you, there are no hidden tricks, so the make or break of the ride is all down to the experience itself and this is where things start to fall down.

RC Racer & WelcomeYou get the impression Disney knew that this could attract lots of queues and at least "RC" (the car) does hold 25 people in one go, it still doesn't hold that many, but it could be worse. Staff are as efficient as they can be to batch you up into the appropriate row and as soon as the previous go comes to a close, you take a seat.

The seats are virtually identical to those found on similar rides, if you've ridden Rita at Alton Towers or Stealth at Thorpe Park you know what to expect. If not, it is in essence a flat lap bar with two thin, over the shoulder restraints. After the seat belts have been checked and tightened up and the staff have double checked everything is ok (it does take a while!), we're good to go.

RC RacerDue to a different type of launch when compared to Rita and Stealth, the motors whirr into action, its not quiet but then again its not deafening either, but you can tell it's there. Then all of a sudden you launch at the station, nothing too powerful mind. As soon as the momentum runs out, the car goes backwards, hits the propulsion system and you go higher backwards. This time, when the momentum runs out, you get a slight pop of airtime in your seat, before the train this time goes forwards into the propulsion system and again going higher and get a slight pop of airtime. Within no time at all, you are within the tallest sections of track, experiencing slightly more airtime at the ends. It is fun but nothing spectacular.

RC Racer, Toy Story Playland, Walt Disney StudiosAs fun as it is, and the screams of delight from the other riders, joy suddenly turns to sheer disappointment. After what can only seem like 6 "swings" the loud noise of the motors gets even louder and the ride starts to slow you down. Instantly killing any pops of airtime you where getting on the higher sections of the rides, and after a fair bit of faffing to slow down the car, you are finally back into the station, barely a minute after you set off.

It is a fun ride, whilst nothing mind blowing, but it has sacrificed the ride only having one track, especially in such a busy European Theme Park like Disneyland Resort Paris. If it could have had at least two tracks (preferably more) then it could have had a longer ride cycle and it would be worth a longer queue.

Rightly or wrongly, this doesn't alter during the quieter winter months, it is still as short then. The only aspect that does alter is the queue is likely to be under 20 minutes, instead of the 75+ minutes during the summer months.

To answer the question at the start of the review, annoyingly, it is actually the best ride of the Toy Story Playland area, it is just a shame that the whole experience is cut short by an extremely short ride programme, it is a ride I'd miss out if I had a choice between this Rock 'n Roller Coaster avec Aerosmith or Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, unless it happened to be very quiet at the start of the morning, as ultimately, it comes down to just how long would you queue for a glorified Pirate Ship?

The Good:
- Good themeing
- Pops of Airtime
- Fun ride

The Bad: 
- Ride programme is far too short
- It is just a glorified pirate ship
- Not as much airtime as you'd expect
- Not as much positive G force as you'd expect
- Only 25 people per go
- Long queues during the summer months

The Verdict:

Monday, 22 June 2015


A Worthy Follow Up to Megafobia?

Just how do you follow up the international success of Megafobia? Here we have a Wooden Coaster that is frequently within the top 30 wooden coasters in the world and at its peak it was rated within the top 5. As I've mentioned in its review, Megafobia changed what Oakwood was forever, with a major ride opening up every 3 - 4 years. The park opened up "The Bounce" shot and drop tower in 1999 and "Hydro" (now Drenched) shoot the chute water ride in 2002. The next big ride was to be Speed and it was to be the parks first major coaster since Megafobia was installed in 1996

Speed: No Limits But as I mentioned at the start of the review, how do you follow it up? Do you go through the same route and build another wooden coaster, or do you go for the "And now for something completely different"

Oakwood went for the latter and it is quite understandable really, Megafobia had helped them get on the map and whilst the enthusiast community would have loved them to get another wooden coaster, it was time for something a little more different, to hopefully make the same impact.

Experiencing SpeedOriginally planning to open in 2005, Speed opened in 2006 on the 10th anniversary of Megafobia. Not only would this be the parks first inverting coaster, it would also become, briefly anyway, the UKs only Euro-fighter coaster and only the third of its type in the world. The main selling point here, is the beyond vertical drop. For speed, this would be a drop angle of 97 degrees at a height of nearly 120ft, which is still the UKs tallest Eurofighter.

Compared to Megafobia, which is hidden from the majority of the park, Speed is a statement of presence. With its bright orange track and tall vertical lift hill, your first view of this imposing creature will be from the car park where you will be able to see the majority of its layout. Throughout the rest of the theme park, it is that imposing lift hill and the 97 degree drop you are likely to see, enticing you in (or putting you off) depending on your viewpoint.
Speed in Silhouette
With Speed being in a cul de sac of an area at the moment, it is not the easiest coaster to find, instead you have to go down past the Waterfall attraction and turn left. Considering that the Neverland area is located so close, it is slightly frustrating you cannot link through. As soon as you enter this cul de sac though, you can see everything, the two inversions, the airtime hill, the twisting helices and that lift hill and drop.

Despite only usually one or two cars in operation (each car holds 8 people) the queues are not that big, and with no cattlegrid type of queue makes a refreshing change. There is no much to look at in the queue mind, so if you are queueing for a while, apart from looking at what is about to become, not much else will hold your attention.

Enjoy the View..Once in the slightly cramped but otherwise fine cars, we're given the go ahead and away the car slowly leaves the station, and waits on the bottom of the vertical lift hill. For anyone who has not yet experienced a Eurofighter or similar, parts of the chain for the lift hill have little platforms on it and you have to wait for one of this platforms to connect with the back of the car before you can ascend. Whether a pure coincidence or not, it can be nerve wracking, especially on Speed because of the height, of what is about to happen. With the platform engaged the car starts to make its journey up the near 120ft lift hill.

The sensation is an odd one, it doesn't feel neither comfortable nor uncomfortable, its just odd, in the fact you can feel all the weight going to your back, with a slight force to it. If you happen to look to the right you can see the park at a 90 degree angle, if you look to your left, you can see the rest of the Pembrokeshire countryside. As you approach the crest of the hill you start to slow down and then the coaster can properly begin. Unlike Oblivion at Alton Towers or Mumbo Jumbo at Flamingoland, Speed does not slow/stop you just before you plummet.

The beyond vertical drop is a great sensation, suddenly from being on your back or being forced into the front of your restraints. Its not so much as airtime as it is falltime. It maybe a gimmick but its a gimmick that works and doesn't let up no matter how many re-rides you do. You know what to expect but it'll still take your breath away.

-1.3G on SpeedJust as you land back on your seat, it is time for perhaps the most extreme airtime hill on a UK coaster. The height of this hill seems just less than half of the lift hill/drop just before it. With the momentum still fairly strong at this point, you crest the hill, reaching -1.3Gs basically meaning as you hit the top, you lift off with your body coming into contact with the restraints and you will not fall back down into your seat until the bottom of said hill.

A stranged shaped over banked turn immediately follows, that seems to have a sharp turn at the top before descending once more into the vertical loop. This turn isn't forceful as such, but it is taken quickly and it gives a little breather before the next portion of the ride.

Approaching the LoopThe loop is perfectly circular, think more of the letter O instead of the number 0. With a slightly different shape, comes slightly different forces, especially with how quick you are still going at this point, you feel the positive G force clamp you down into your seat. Compared to the negative G force not too long ago, this makes a change, but it is an extreme change, this loop can be very intense as you are not quite expecting it.

After the loop another hill follows and this runs into a mid course brake run. Unfortunately, this does take a lot of momentum out of the ride. It does need it for what is about to become, but you do go from 45 MPH to about 20 MPH.
Twisted MetalImmediately afterwards, the track dips and you enter the second inversion, a barrel roll and straight after you do a banked turn to your left before rising again before a couple of tight helices. Its this section that is one of the most intense sections, and whilst the brake run did kill the majority of the momentum I feel if it hadn't, this would be unbearable. It is a nice and forceful way to end the ride just before you enter the brake run.

The magnetic brakes kick in, not too suddenly but enough for you to get some force from the deceleration and you slowly make your way to the station.

Where the Helix EndsSpeed is a lot more intense than it looks, despite the small car and the relatively small height restriction, the pacing changes are quite extreme and as such, you can come off the ride with a headache. This is not to say it is rough, as it isn't. There is a difference between ferocious/fierce and rough. Speed is definitely the former, but you cannot do as many re-rides as you could on Megafobia.

The length of the coaster also comes into question, it almost seems that it is too quick for its own good. And despite being nearly 2,000 foot long there is no escaping that Megafobia at over 3,000ft long seems the fuller experience and just as Speed gets going its brakes kick in.

Sunshine & SpeedBut, to answer the question posed at the start of this review, is Speed a worthy follow up to Megafobia? Certainly, it is at the other end of the spectrum. Megafobia is the more fun ride, and Speed is its twisted cousin, not being quite as forgiving and showing you who is the real boss around these parts. It was the coaster Oakwood had to install at this particular time.

Is Speed the better ride than Megafobia? No, Megafobia overall seems the more complete ride and whilst great in its own right, Speed just falls short. If it was slightly longer, then I'd say it would be more of a serious contender for the title of the best ride in the park, but at the moment it comes in as second best

The Good:
- Relatively small height restriction
- Not often too busy
- The 97 degree drop
- The -1.3G airtime hill
- An intense coaster
- Completely different to Megafobia

The Bad: 
- Mid course brake run takes out a lot of momentum
- Feels like it gets going and then it ends
- More intense than it looks
- When busy expect to be queueing a long time

The Verdict:

Sunday, 7 June 2015


Nemesis' Nemesis?

Oakwood located in Pembrokeshire, Wales, is now one of the major contenders in the UK Theme Park scene, it may be one of the smallest parks in the list (in terms of rides) but what it has been able to achieve in less than 30 years is quite remarkable and what it has accomplished is down to one ride only.

Oakwood opened in 1987, as a minor theme park in one of the most touristy areas of Wales. Over the course of the following seasons, it added several unique and fun rides but nothing out of the ordinary, this changed in 1996 with the parks first major investment.

Just two years earlier, the UK had three unique coasters (all of which were either Europe's or UKs first) built in the form of the Pepsi Max Big One (Hypercoaster), Nemesis (Inverted) and Shockwave (Stand Up) as a result all three parks had enjoyed record attendance. Oakwood needed that killer ride, put it on the map, problem was, the cost. The steel coasters were too expensive immediately for anything of a decent size, and instead they opted for a wooden coaster built by CCI, who had been receiving great acclaim in America for their coasters. Could this be replicated in Wales, let alone Europe?

The First Drop of MeggyFor a small park, and such a major ride, Megafobia is surprisingly hidden. Located near the most southern part of the park, it isn't until you get to the obligatory shop and on ride photo booth, do you begin to see the ride. This isn't because its small, far from it, at 85ft high it is a fair height for a wooden coaster.

There are not many rides that feel at home in their surroundings but Megafobia is one of them, built onto a small hill, it partly hides how tall it actually is, the natural trees of the park hide a lot of it and when you're lucky enough to get some sunny Pembrokeshire weather, the reflection into the lake is wonderful.

Reflections of MegafobiaThe queueline is a lengthy affair, starting off by the boating lake and then weaving into the structure. By now you can see the lift hill, the first drop and one of the later turns of the ride, but at over 3,000ft of coaster, this barely scratches the surface. From the queue itself, you see slightly more, but not much. On the days were you do have to queue for lengthy periods (it mainly happens at the annual After Dark event) it can be quite a boring queue. After a very bendy queueline between the station and the brake run, you are virtually at the station. You walk up some stairs and enter the rather roomy station, especially when compared to Pleasure Beach Blackpool's wooden coasters.

MegafobiaThe trains themselves are comfy, and slightly wider than the classic wooden coasters at the Pleasure Beach, and are not too dissimilar to the Grand National, post the 2004 fire. After the belts and lap bars are checked, the ok is given (sometimes with interaction from the ride operator) and the train, slowly makes its way out of the station, down a small drop to engage with the lift hill that you went under earlier in the queueline.

It ascends the lift hill quickly, and can see over to the hills and mountains on a clear day on the Pembrokeshire/Ceredigion border in front of you, and if you look behind, you get a nice aerial shot of the park.
Megafobia in Motion
Once at the top of the hill, another very small drop immediately follows, which then quickly does a semi circle to the left, before rising ever so slightly before going down the biggest drop of the ride. If you are in the front of the ride, it feels as if it struggles ever so slightly to make it over this little incline, and the descent is quick with nothing else worthy of mention. However, the further you get to the back the more extreme the airtime is. At the back itself, you literally rise up off your seat, into the restraint and you don't return again until the very bottom of the first drop.

The sound at this point is fantastic, and equally matches the iconic "roar" noise of Nemesis at Alton Towers, Megafobia sounds alive.

Cross OverNo sooner have you returned up your seat, it is time to ascend up the next fairly steep hill as you rise up and over the lift hill. This hill is slightly banked, so expect to get thrown around slightly as you climb, as you reach the top, a smaller drop follows, which again offers more natural airtime in the front of the train and more extreme and forced in the back of the train.

Another hill rises immediately after, followed by a tight turn to the left, if you didn't get cosy with your co-rider before, you certainly will now. With a similar effect as the lift hill into the first drop, the track dips slightly down this drop, before rising again before a bigger drop. You know what to expect down this drop? That's right, more airtime. This time its more extreme at the front, left alone the back. The On ride photo is located here, and often picks up some great facial expressions!

The pace slows down momentarily, as you rise up a more gentle incline, before descending down a steeper one. The airtime follows, but due to the gentler incline, this, even at the back, feels a more floaty, less forced as the last hill did eat into the speed of the coaster.

Ready to TurnWith a steep incline again and a turn to the right this time, it is time to get cosy with your co-rider once more, as you weave outside of the lift hill, a tighter turn to the right quickly follows.  Before the whole train descends once again, into a hill and drop. The negative G force having a great impact on the riders, as we all once again come off our seat and those in the back of the train, not getting their bums back on seats until ascending the next hill.

At this hill, a very tight turn to the right throws you into your co-rider more so than the others. It feels as if the ride is toying with you, but in a good way. The track descends gently down the next drop, and whilst the hill that follows isn't the steepest, it does have a slight curve to it that you only really notice when you're on it. This curved, hill not only provides the airtime, but as you move off the seat, you move mid air to your right. It is a fun sensation.

Passengers on the First DropThe next hill, turns you to the left as you end up close to the first drop again. The curve to the right continues as you rise up a hill, that feels like it did take a bit much of momentum off of it, but you quickly build up the speed as you descend it. A smaller gentler hill and drop follow before a final rise and steepish drop offering the last pop of airtime into the brakes.

As you enter in the brakes, you'll be smiling, laughing and if you listen you can hear the upstop wheels (those that are underneath the track) spinning after what you have just experienced and I'm not talking just a few here, but virtually the whole train feels the same and can't wait to have another go. Since the installation of Megafobia, Oakwood managed to install a serious array of big rides, some of which, were only the second in the world. Not bad for a "minor" theme park

Even now, all those years after it was built, Megafobia is still a refreshing change to the UK coaster scene. This is a ride, not focused on any gimmicks, all what Megafobia was focused on is being a fun ride, a proper family coaster of a great sized length, to the usually short UK coasters. This is an airtime machine, with only the Grand National in Blackpool coming close to it but Megafobia beats it hands down.

As the day gets on, and Megafobia warms up, it just gets more insane, the airtime becomes more extreme and it gets quicker. The best time to experience this is in the parks After Dark season in August, whilst busier, Megafobia really shines through with 12 hours of riding potential. The only trouble with this is, the next time you ride it after an After Dark event, it can seem rather slow, to begin with

'Fobia and the BridgeMegafobia, along with Nemesis are often revered to be the best two coasters in the British Isles but are at completely the opposite end of the spectrum. Nemesis is all about inversions and positive G forces, Megafobia is all about hills and negative G forces. Both rides have their very minor niggles, but these are phenomenally good, whichever one you prefer is up to you but it'd be a close match for those who have been lucky to ride both.

If you ever are down in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthanshire or Ceredigion area of Wales for a holiday, go for a day trip and experience Megafobia, a pretty much flawless coaster and one that Oakwood (and Wales) should be very proud of!

The Good:
- Great pacing for the majority of the ride
- The ride gets better as the day progresses
- Airtime machine
- One of the longer UK coasters
- Feels wild and out of control; everything a wooden coaster should be
- That major drop
- Nice surroundings
- Often quiet
- One of the highlights of the After Dark event

The Bad: 
- A couple of the hills take the pace off a bit too much
- On some days it can take a while to get to its peak running condition
- Dull queueline

The Verdict: