UK theme parks from another point of view!

 
User avatar
Swarm Chris
TT Member
TT Member
Topic Author
Posts: 643
Joined: April 2018

Swarm Chris' Tropical Travels

Wed Sep 12, 2018 7:02 pm

Work is sending me to the USA west coast, where they have put me up in a hotel pretty much across the street from California's Great America, home to the brand new and shiny RailBlazer! But... as CGA has operations that make Merlin look like Disney, the whole park will be closed for the entire time that I'm there, before I have to move onto my second work location.

The second work location is in a state with 1 whole roller coaster and no direct flight back to the UK available. So to make up for this, I've routed my return to the UK to be from Orlando. Two weeks after my final business meeting. :sus:

I'm excited as this will be my first time in Orlando, plus I will be there whilst Halloween Horror Nights is on. I'm still undecided whether I enjoy scare mazes, but having seen the overall atmosphere of Universal on these nights, I'm really looking forward to this.

I'm staying one week on Universal property, where I'm intending to also go to SeaWorld and depending on whether time allows to Busch Gardens. Then I transfer for 1 week on Disney property, where it will be purely Disney fun!

I'm still trying to figure out how many nights to book Halloween Horrors for. I'm erring towards a "season" pass for the event, just so I can float in and out in a more relaxed way, rather than a mad rush on one night. Especially as some of the days I'm there it will be super peak, whilst others are likely to be fairly quiet.

Should be really good fun, but it sadly means I will definitely be missing scaremazing this year.

Edit: It's looking like CGA will be open for one evening while I'm there. :sus:
 
User avatar
Swarm Chris
TT Member
TT Member
Topic Author
Posts: 643
Joined: April 2018

Re: Swarm Chris' Tropical Travels

Sun Sep 23, 2018 8:38 pm

So I decided to take a last minute trip to Phantasialand for a couple of days. I was going to write just a little bit about travel advice and how I got here, but Phantasialand surprised me with an hour's ERT on Taron and Raik as soon as I arrived. So there will be a little more than just travel too!

From Heathrow your only option is Eurowings (or Germanwings, depending on the day but they're essentially the same airline) for a direct flight. It's an hour's flight to Cologne (Köhl-Bonn Airport) and the staff were super friendly. Some quirks, such as the various slogans on the "comfort" bags. This was my favourite from what I saw:

Image

I took a taxi from the airport to Phantasialand, as I arrived at around 5pm on a Sunday and didn't want to play with public transport. Ideally I wanted to pay by card, so I used the MyTaxi app to order a taxi to the hotel and it arrived within a minute. Whilst MyTaxi is available in the UK I hadn't used it before, so here's a few pointers for those who also haven't. Firstly, unlike Uber you pay at the end via an action, so don't just jump out thinking you're all done! Secondly, if you tip, they will see it immediately. Thirdly, chances are your credit card will not work in Germany, because Germany really doesn't like credit cards. My credit card failed first time, making the driver a little nervous, so I reassured him that I'd preloaded with three cards and had cash worst case. My debit card worked and seems the more reliable option in Germany.

Staying at the hotel Matamba, which is a glorious African themed hotel, far beyond anything Merlin produces and rivals a lot of Disney hotels. Thankfully credit cards work here, as I still had to pay for my room. That's when they surprised me with fast passes for tomorrow, potentially the park being open an extra hour until 7pm tomorrow, oh and if I wanted, there's ERT right now for Taron. The website says you can only have ERT if you have a park ticket for that day, which I didn't. So with a huge smile I said, oh yes please, ran and dumped my bag in my room and legged it to Taron, taking this as my single photo from my room.

Image

For ERT you have to go through the hotel Ling Bau, straight out the back, around a pond and to the completely unmarked hotel entrance. You then walk straight until you get to this view.

Image

It is unlike anything I've seen in any other park. The last time I was taken back by theming in a park was Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure, and in particular the reveal of the mountain range from the side entrance. This blew that away, by some margin. Everywhere you look there is detail. Everywhere sounds. Everywhere Taron.

Image

So within 10 minutes of checking in I was in the queue for back row on Taron. I waited two whole minutes, because even though it was soaking wet and even though there was hardly anyone from the hotel in the park, they were running this at max capacity and getting each train out the door as quick as possible. The staff were visible happy. I was like a kid at Christmas!

Image

The ride. Oh my. So it was raining and it stung like anything, making some parts impossible to see where you are going. But even so, I don't think I could figure out the route this thing takes. It just goes where it wants and even with the restraint stapled the airtime caused me to feel like I was slipping out. Multiple times per ride! This was extreme and not like anything else I've experienced and incredibly fun. I cheered/woo-ed nearly all the way around, as did many others. I did it twice in a row, first time back row, second time row one from back, then I went over to Raik.

Raik is a fun little family coaster, but it's not designed for someone with my legs. I had to sit cross legged in the front. I don't think I'll ride it again! :lol

Rode Taron for a third time, then spent 20 minutes just taking in all of the ambience. Nearly everyone riding tonight was an enthusiast it seemed, such a great crowd. So far I've seen this area and the two hotels and I'm in love with this park. This is really what Alton should be aiming for. Everything here is several substantial steps beyond anything Merlin has done. I mean, they have a kids agility course and small climbing wall, in a corridor in the hotel!

Image

So that's it from tonight. Now crashed out in my room, tomorrow I get to see the rest of the park! The excitement I got from this park in just an hour, was not something I've experienced in a very long time.

Goodnight!

Image
 
User avatar
Michelle
Team TTSP
Team TTSP
Posts: 1347
Joined: January 2013
Location: North West

Re: Swarm Chris' Tropical Travels

Sun Sep 23, 2018 11:33 pm

Really looking forward to reading all about your trip!
Image
Image
Image
 
User avatar
Swarm Chris
TT Member
TT Member
Topic Author
Posts: 643
Joined: April 2018

Re: Swarm Chris' Tropical Travels

Mon Sep 24, 2018 9:26 pm

The anticipation from last night's excitement, did not lead to disappointment today when I finally got to see the full park. From the second you step foot into the park, until the moment you leave, the park is themed. Heavily.

There is a noticeable divide between old and new in the park, with the old being largely relegated to just three rides: Hollywood Tour, the ghost Train, and Temple of the Nighthawk. Each of these rides have a perfectly working ride system (except for the slight leak issue Temple of the Nighthawk had yesterday), but the animatronics are a bit past their best, especially in Hollywood Tour.

Image

The new theming however, is simply amazing. The level of detail goes beyond Disneyland Paris and some of it goes beyond Disneyland in Anaheim. This park has certainly been "inspired" by other parks, Disney in particular, but I also think Alton Towers and the Efteling have had their influences. But it has also kept its own identity. It may have its own Victorian styled mainstreet, with every window decorated regardless of whether it is a facade or in use, but it is themed around Berlin. It's amazing how they can get so many people to come to their park without an existing IP being present...

Queues were largely non-existent today. My longest wait was barely 10 minutes for Taron, but that was because I wanted to sit in the front row. Longest time I saw stated was 20 minutes. Taron is still my favourite, and after riding it 10 times during ERT, with several re-ride stints without leaving my seat (maxed out at 4 consecutive goes in the back row before they kicked us out as we were 10 minutes over the hour :lol).

I'm not a fan of spinning coasters, but I enjoyed the two Winjas coasters, mostly for their unusual track pieces. I can see how you build a track that is springy or has a seesaw element, but I can't figure out how to do that safely! The way they spiral around inside is great fun to watch.

Image

Black Mamba seems very much a modern reimagining of Nemesis. Running through trenches mostly, it has a similar feeling of closeness to the ground as Nemesis, but it is not as intense, although just as fast. The way the station is set out with (from what my poor lowlight eyesight could determine) giant snakes being struck with spears, it really made me think that it was influenced by the Nemesis monster.

Image

I also did Chiapas, and got a little wetter than I thought I might. Although nowhere near as bad as nearly everyone else that I saw coming off afterwards. River Quest was closed because it was too cold, I think I got lucky that they still ran Chiapas. A fantastic modern log flume that just seems to go on and on. I was not expecting the musical scene! The final drop is fun, although I felt any airtime from the little bunny hop was lost by the restraints, which all slammed down in the empty rows locking my bag in.

Image

Finally for tonight Maus-au-chocolat. A tracked interactive dark ride, which has three spinning gondolas with seats either side, which stops at various points in the ride so you can shoot things on a screen in front of you. This is the dark ride style that we need Merlin to invest in. A fantastic mix of physical scenes, special effects and screens. It takes what Disney did with Toy Story Mania and I feel stepped it up significantly. The whole ride has purpose: get rid of the mice from the bakery. I rode this several times and it's probably my second or third favourite dark ride, behind Ratatouille and Transformers. I couldn't help but smile from the moment I entered the truly unique queue that takes you around the storage and bakery areas, until I left at the end.

Image
 
User avatar
Swarm Chris
TT Member
TT Member
Topic Author
Posts: 643
Joined: April 2018

Re: Swarm Chris' Tropical Travels

Tue Sep 25, 2018 9:19 pm

My body complained about two things this morning: firstly why did I climb so many steps the previous day and secondly if I was going to marathon Taron then could I please find a way of not having it cause my muscles to be pulled sideways by it so much. I cured the Taron issue this evening, by being extra specially relaxed and gliding with it into the corners, which with my feet swinging out on the turns, gave me the greatest feeling of flight from anything I've ridden. There was little I could do about the stairs though.

At pretty much any given point in Phantasialand you are on top of, or below, something else. Chances are you may not even realise it. But with this superb usage of space comes stairs. Lots and lots and lots of stairs. There is no getting around it, although if you explore off the main paths, and go up and down many stairs, you may find hidden things.

Image

Phantasialand has been a wealth of new experiences. Today's new experience is certainly unique: colliding with a staff member, whilst I'm strapped into a ride. This made me really notice the difference in risk and safety between the parks here and at home. As a precursor, I'm not going to say that Phantasialand is unsafe, far from it, but that there is a difference in attitude and expectations.

Ride staff are free to move around a lot more than at our home parks. Crossing the station is common and doesn't require operator approval, instead everyone has situational awareness. No ride requires station staff to keep a button pressed for the ride to release. In fact the only station with staff buttons is Taron, and once the train starts to move they don't need to hold it. During normal operation Taron staff walk alongside the incoming train, whilst during the ERT this evening they were all clapping and chanting with each trains release.

I'd also always believed that as a rule, roller coasters could not be dispatched if all of the bars weren't secure. Colorado Express disproved that idea. Empty rows are left with the bars fully raised, the train happily dispatching. I'm not sure the same system is in place on any of the Big Thunder Mountain's.

Then there is access to the rides. Taron in particular is so close to the paths that you can almost reach out and touch it. This is brilliant for getting an unobstructed view of the ride and really adds to the wonder of being a spectator. You can even look straight down into the end of the second launch. No netting, extended fencing or anything else you would expect a UK park to have to stop someone being stupid. It's refreshing to be at a park where the expectation is that the guests won't ruin it for everyone. So hopefully that attitude remains.

Image

So for the collision with the staff member. The Black Mamba crew all seem to love their job and have a very distinct way of gliding throughout the station unlocking, relocking and checking restraints. As I mentioned previously, staff have a lot more freedom of movement and at Black Mamba they don't have to be in a designated safe zone. So one staff member had made their routine to be stood in the ride area as the train approached, so he could unlock the restraints of the front row as they arrived. I watched him do it so many times from the queue, standing in the middle of the lowered platform at the exact stopping point for the front row, with such perfection. Then along I come and ruin it all, by kneeing him in the side as he misjudged the stopping point.

We laughed, he apologised. Everyone went about the rest of their day.
 
User avatar
Swarm Chris
TT Member
TT Member
Topic Author
Posts: 643
Joined: April 2018

Re: Swarm Chris' Tropical Travels

Thu Sep 27, 2018 7:42 pm

Having fallen asleep on the sofa at about 9:30 last night, I've somewhat recovered from my Phantasialand trip. So here are some final thoughts and a few pointers.

The level of theming throughout the park was remarkable. Klugheim is vast, yet there are so many small details everywhere. Buckets and items left in tucked away areas, village signs and many small sealed doorways, all give the feeling of it being a real living village. But even at the smaller ride end, this little ride had fantastic cars with spinning fans behind them.

Image

One thing I did notice was that none of the music really stuck in my head. Congo River Rapids, Splash Mountain and Wicker Man are all rides where the music was burned into my mind after one ride. I had to listen to both the Taron and Chiapas sound tracks again to remind myself and still they've not really stuck. Other rides like the ghost train and Hollywood Tour lacked any real audio to note.

Food was very good throughout the park and hotel. The buffet breakfast was fairly normal on the continental side, with croissants, pain au chocolat and fruits. The cooked side had various eggs and omlettes to order, with the Hotel Matamba offering some items that I suspect are unique to its buffet, with mini boerewors and a strange toasted flat bread wrap with a tangy cheese filling, which I forget which African nation they said it was from.

For dinner I ate at both hotel's buffets. Theming wise, the Matamba's buffet was far better, with the Ling Bao's buffet interior being far more normal restaurant like. However, I far preferred the food from the Ling Bao buffet, with options from Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and China. Both had cook to order items, with the Matamba buffet offering various grilled meats including crocodile, and the Ling Bao's buffet offering stir frys plus a dessert maker.

Image

I would recommend booking dinner at the hotels though via email before you travel. The restaurants aren't that large and even during off-peak periods they do fill up with corporate events, meetings and conferences.

In the park there were various stands offering normal theme park burgers and pizza, along with restaurant options at the Ling Bao, Klugheim and a sandwich shop in Berlin. There were also many fruits and marshmallows covered in chocolate, however I did notice many wasps in them every time I went past. But it was the waffle shop that caught my eye when I first entered the park, and it did not disappoint!

Image

It was too cold for me to have ice cream, but there was always a long queue to get at its window! Fairly sure the other window that was open had more options.

Image

An added bonus of staying in the hotel outside of
the peak summer season, was an hour's ERT on Taron and Raik every evening. This was eerily similar to a TTSP event ERT, with everyone immediately following the etiquette of you can stay on if there's no one waiting, otherwise it's a (literal) run out the exit, up the stairs, past the restaurants and bemused non-riding onlookers, back over the bridge and into the single rider queue line again to try and get the next train. The event was empty enough on my third evening that our train did 6 runs without anyone leaving their seat. The staff were brilliant; cheering, clapping and laughing as they sent us off for another go around! Managed 10 or more goes on both my second and third evening, with a total number of Taron rides during my stay approaching 30. I ache a little! :lol

I think I've covered most of the rides previously, but there is one I missed: Mystery Castle. A "bungee" drop tower. I'd only ever done the little things in the Dungeons before, so I was interested to give it a go, although a little nervous it has to be said. The building is impressively tall and can be seen from most points in the park. However, I'd seen videos of the ride and it didn't look like it went that high, certainly not as high as the building, which must all be for show. With a brief glance at the information board, where it announced it travels 65m, my imperial distance based mind went, see not that high. I reached the back of the queue and it turned out there were just enough seats for everyone except me to get onto the next ride. So I stood outside and listened to the loud electricity noises, the whooshing and then the doors shaking. Umm... If only I had remembered that Thorpe had put in its mid-term plan intentions for building 40m and 50m tall coasters, then the 200ft launch within seconds of the final restraint having been checked would have been far less of a surprise! I think I enjoyed it, but somehow I didn't feel the need to go back on. :lol

Image

Overall a great park, which attracted people of all ages because of its mix of rides, ambience and shows. This really is what Alton should be and I hope that they continue to up their theming game otherwise they are going to get left completely behind by what these non-Disney European theme parks are now doing.

I'm looking forward to going back when Rookburgh opens. Even though I'm not a great fan of flying coasters, I'm sure it will be another fantastically themed land.

Image
 
User avatar
Swarm Chris
TT Member
TT Member
Topic Author
Posts: 643
Joined: April 2018

Re: Swarm Chris' Tropical Travels

Sat Oct 13, 2018 2:46 pm

I've come to the conclusion I don't particularly like Disney Fastpass+. Sure there are benefits to being able to guarantee a ride on a particular attraction, before you travel. But that's at the expense of having to micromanage your trip and have everything planned out long before you arrive. If you add in restaurant bookings and shows as well, you could end up with an hour by hour schedule for each day and no freedom to just enjoy.

Then there is the attraction selection grouping. In some parks you can choose one key attraction only. So in Epcot, as there was a space on Frozen, it then prevented me from then booking Test Track, Soarin' and a couple of others at all that day. Whilst at Animal Kingdom i was able to pre-book Na'vi River Journey, Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris. I spent an hour with the app, figuring out what seemed to be a complex puzzle before giving up.

Given the resort is twice the size of Manhattan and I have no idea where I'll feel like going, I've pre-booked for 2 days attractions and will just wing the rest. One day was simply because it was the only day with either of the Avatar attractions available, whilst the other is at Magic Kingdom, which will just be crazy busy regardless. Normally I'd recommend booking all meals at Disney, as at both Disneyland and Disneyland Paris it is pretty much essential. But with too many options and not wanting to be stuck to a schedule, I'm betting on quick serve and worst case going over to Epcot Food and Wine each night.

Universal seems much easier. The hotel gives me front of the line passes for the duration and priority access to some of the restaurants.
 
User avatar
Swarm Chris
TT Member
TT Member
Topic Author
Posts: 643
Joined: April 2018

Re: Swarm Chris' Tropical Travels

Fri Oct 19, 2018 2:03 pm

It's 6:00am, I've been awake since 4:30am. At 7pm, CGA opens with its Railblazer-y goodness. But...

I'm currently 1 mile away from the park. The drive time is currently 7-10 minutes with low to moderate traffic. It's literally a 4 lane straight and direct road from where I am to the park. It's expected that the drive time at 6pm will be 20-50 minutes. Bare in mind it takes me 40-50 minutes to travel 35 miles, including the M25, from home to Thorpe Park. Walking is 35 minutes and includes literally crossing at motorway entrance and exit ramps. There are crossings marked, although it's an advisory and not a cars must stop crossing.

Then some bonuses. Operations could be single trains. The park is likely to be extremely busy. Finally, the crowd last year managed to out-do anything Alton has seen on its worst Sunday's during Scarefest, with gangs carrying tasers robbing people and guests literally climbing the perimeter catch fence to get out.

After all of that I'd only have a couple of hours there, as my flight out of here is at 9am tomorrow.

It's safe to say I'm looking forward to the first theme park of my trip: Universal Studios Orlando. :lol :lol :lol

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 39 guests