Phantasialand

Klik hier voor de Nederlandstalige versie van dit tripverslag.

I would like to apologize to Phantasialand and its fans. During the last few years, I usually wasn’t that positive when talking about this famous German theme park. I didn’t like the fact that the park felt so cramped and the contrast between old and modern areas was just too big. I actually just didn’t feel at home in Brühl. But times and opinions can change. Over the past decade, Phantasialand made a huge step forward. They opened a breathtaking B&M, one of the world’s most heavily themed flatrides and a truly magnificent log flume. The most amazing novelty, however, wouldn’t open until June 2016. The park presented an entirely new themed land with not one, but two brand-new rollercoasters. So even if you weren’t that fond of Phantasialand in the past, there’s a good reason to give this place a second chance. That reason is called Klugheim.

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Although my opinion about Phantasialand has changed dramatically, there are still a few things I don’t like about the park. One of those things is the first impression you get. Arriving at Phantasialand really isn’t as impressive as arriving at most big theme parks. If you get here by car, it almost feels as if you accidentally took a backstage route. From your car, you will see the unappealing backside of ‘Wuze Town’, the very outdated main park entrance and the ugly brick wall (a.k.a. African rocks) of ‘Black Mamba’. It is also likely that you’ll be sent through a hideous tunnel underneath the park to reach your final parking spot. Another visual miss is the entrance. Especially the Mystery-gate feels very inappropriate. Phantasialand has become a park with wonderful architecture and great attractions, but why is this entrance still made up of cheap-looking wooden sheds? This park definitely deserves better. They invest millions of euros in world class rides, so it couldn’t be that hard to beautify that entrance gate. First impressions are very important and this is one of Phantasialand’s major weaknesses at the moment.

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Don’t worry: that was the most negative paragraph of this report. Now, let’s just enjoy our sunlit day here at Phantasialand. The sky is blue and we expect a scorching 33°C this afternoon. It’s already quite hot this morning, so we really don’t mind starting our day with ‘River Quest’. I guess that the queue for this popular water ride will become massive later today, so we immediately enter the medieval fortress when the gates open at 10 AM. Our boat trip commences a few minutes later, but it doesn’t last for long. ‘River Quest’ is experiencing technical difficulties and we get stuck at the bottom of the lift. That means that we definitely won’t get soaked this morning, but we’re getting a cool ride evacuation and a useful Quick-Pass instead.

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If water ride number one breaks down, just head for water ride number two. This number two is Chiapas, a flume ride which opened in 2014. If you’re trying find this ride’s entrance, just search for the most lively and cheerful square in Phantasialand. The area surrounding this ride can easily be described in one word: fantastic. ‘Chiapas’ replaced two old-fashioned and underwhelming log flumes and that was an incredible improvement. The infrastructure of those former Wildwasserbahnen always seemed messy, but the current situation is simply stunning. It consists of picturesque facades, exotic vegetation, an impressive rock formation and some gorgeous waterfalls. Although I’m within 15 kilometers from Cologne, it feels like I’m in Mexico.

The theming is superb and the ‘Chiapas’ music is even better. Phantasialand hired IMAscore and they created a soundtrack full of uplifting sounds. The recognizable melody can be heard while wandering throughout the Mexican zone and in the queue for this massive ride. The most beautiful version of the Chiapas-theme is played at the loading platform, where we can board almost instantly. The next six minutes are pure joy to me: ‘Chiapas’ offers everything a good log flume needs. The ride features wonderful theming, a very surprising darkride part and a powerful final descent. Although both are totally different, ‘Chiapas’ is possibly the only log flume on Earth which is able to compete with Disney’s highly regarded ‘Splash Mountain’. So dear ‘Chiapas’, I love you, je t’aime, ich liebe dich and we will be more than happy to experience all this splendour again later today. See you soon.

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I’m probably not the only theme park fan who has a regular morning routine at some parks. At Europa-Park, for example, I always like to start my day at ‘Poseidon’. And at Efteling, I visit ‘De Vliegende Hollander’ and ‘Joris en de Draak’ first. Here at Phantasialand, I usually start my day at Wuze Town to avoid a long wait for the area’s most popular pair of coasters. That’s why we head to the so called Fantasy-area right after riding ‘Chiapas’. At a quite busy place like Phantasialand, Fantasy offers a moment of peace and quiet. This zone is more spacious, more relaxing and considerably greener than other parts of the park. Most attractions are meant for children and families: there are pedalos, a small-scale monorail and a pretty unique (but also extremely boring) boat ride called ‘Wakobato’.

Relaxing rides can be fun in the afternoon, but it’s still early and we’re more interested in thrills at this time. That’s why we enter Wuze Town, an area with two spinning coasters. One thing is certain: this indoor area is amazing. Just don’t stare at the beautiful details for too long, because queues for those rollercoaster can increase quickly. I’m talking about Winja’s Fear and Winja’s Force, a duo manufactured by Maurer Söhne. Just like every other spinning coaster on Earth, the main disadvantage of these rides is the capacity. Phantasialand may have built two of them, but you will probably want to ride them both. Tracks are totally different and they each offer different special effects. I have to admit that I like ‘Crush’s Coaster’ at Walt Disney Studios more, but I will never deny that ‘Winja’s Fear & Force’ are very decent spinning coasters in a fairytale-like setting.

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Wuze Town is stunning, that’s a fact. The neighbouring building, however, looks horrible. Phantasialand tried to cover that building by painting it in natural colours and by extending the Wuze Town facade, but without success: everyone can see that it’s an ugly steel warehouse. Inside that warehouse, there are two rides Phantasialand should be ashamed of. Interested in seeing very bad replicas of famous movie scenes? Then you’re welcome to visit Hollywood Tour on the lower floor. This darkride was opened in 1990, but it looks a lot older. The attraction on the upper floor doesn’t perform any better. That’s Temple of the Night Hawk, a seemingly endless rollercoaster through the dark. I usually love indoor coasters, but this one is slow and there’s literally nothing to be seen. Both rides lost all connection to the Phantasialand we know today, so I sincerely hope that the park will find a suitable solution soon. My personal recommendation: a wrecking ball or some dynamite.

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The Berlin themed land can be found right next to Fantasy and it consists of a huge square and some kind of Main Street USA Berlin. Just a few years ago, the area wasn’t this beautiful: it had some funfair style children’s rides and a ridiculously small replica of the Brandenburg Gate. Phantasialand did a fine job upgrading this part of the park and they even added two attractions. The first one is Hotel Tartüff, a fun house with some great theming. The second one is Maus au Chocolat, a darkride which was decorated as a cake factory. This ride is clearly based on ‘Toy Story Mania’: it features 3D glasses, spinning vehicles and some videogame-style games. This concept is extremely popular and surprisingly fun at the Disney parks, but Phantasialand’s version is less interesting. In this ride, you have to shoot (virtual) chocolate at annoying (and also virtual) mice. That’s a fun idea, but it gets boring after the third time. ‘Toy Story Mania’ may have a less elaborate theme, but I like the fact that it’s made up of different games.

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A sunny lunch with a magnificent view. That’s exactly what we get at ‘Tacana’, a counter service restaurant which is located above the loading platform of ‘Chiapas’. Afterwards, we have a look at a nearby park information screen. This screen displays the current wait times and we notice that it’s definitely not that busy at Phantasialand today: the wait for Europe’s most anticipated new coaster is at only 35 minutes this afternoon. With such a short queue, there’s no reason to avoid Klugheim any longer. ‘Taron’, here we come.

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Rocks. Loads and loads of rocks. Those dark grey basalt rocks have been there during Klugheim’s entire construction phase and they remain the most striking feature of this medieval village. About three weeks ago, I discovered that there’s an intricate network of paths between those rocks. I had the honour to be present at Klugheim’s press event on 29 June, so I already know the way. While walking to the coaster’s entrance, a ‘Taron’-train rushes by at full speed. It suddenly makes me remember how awesome my first rides on this rollercoaster were and I’m excited to be riding again in just half an hour.

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Just pronounce Taron and almost every coaster enthusiast gets euphoric. It’s clear why. We have been looking at construction photos for a very long time, but it’s finally there: an Intamin Blitz Coaster in western Europe. It’s a year full of huge theme park novelties anyway. Dollywood (literally) launches the fastest wooden coaster on Earth, China gets its very own Disney Resort and a Swedish zoo takes the term wooden coaster to an entirely new level. Between all those extreme projects, ‘Taron’ may be one of the most interesting. That’s because Phantasialand didn’t just built a new launched coaster, but the park also created a stunning themed land around the coaster’s tracks. Klugheim is a true beauty and the atmosphere around the village’s main square is wonderful. It must be nice to enjoy the local food and beverage stands (you should definitely try a Flammkuchen, which is a specialty of the French Alsace region), but right now I’m actually more interested in a world class coaster thrill. Fortunately, the entrance to ‘Taron’ is just around the corner and although they still display a wait time of 35 minutes, it doesn’t take longer than 20 minutes to board. This is not what I was expecting during European school holidays, but hey… I won’t complain about it.

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Is there anything you should know about ‘Taron’? The fact that it’s amazing? Yes, but I’m pretty sure that you already figured that out. In fact, it’s very simple: if you can’t appreciate ‘Taron’, then you should definitely start searching for a new hobby. This coaster has everything a good ride needs: trains and lap bars are very comfortable, the ride is fast, extremely smooth and unlike most launched coasters, it’s pretty long too. Just don’t make any conclusions during the first part of the ride, which is actually rather family friendly. Although there’s one moment with great airtime, the first segment just doesn’t blow me away like some other coasters do. But believe me: things get better. A lot better. The best part is easily the second launch, which is hidden in Klugheim’s catacombs. This part of the ride produces a very specific screaming sound and just two seconds later, ‘Taron’ reaches its top speed of 117 km/h. Afterwards, the train travels through an amusing double s-curve and a very intense overbanked turn which has been integrated in the rock formation. It’s unbelievable how forceful this particular part of the ride is. ‘Taron’ keeps that power until the final break run, where we are finally able to breath again. Wow, this was… crazy.

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‘Taron’ is the unquestionable highlight of Klugheim, but there’s another brand-new ride to be discovered. Phantasialand didn’t think one enormous Intamin launched coaster was enough, so they called Vekoma and they ordered the world’s longest and fastest family boomerang rollercoaster. Don’t expect too much: Raik doesn’t perform on the same level as ‘Taron’ does. Despite its two world records, ‘Raik’ is actually a normal family coaster. The theming isn’t that impressive (I really don’t like the barely decorated lifthill tunnel) and the ride experience is just okay. Unlike its world-class neighbour, ‘Raik’ is so ordinary that one single ride will be more than satisfying.

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It’s a scorching hot day in Germany, so a ride on River Quest seems the perfect way to cool down during the afternoon. This morning’s technical issues have been fixed, but there’s a one-hour queue for this medieval rafting adventure. Fortunately, we’re able to shorten the wait with 59 minutes thanks to our Quick-Passes. It’s a quite special ride: unlike most rapid rivers, ‘River Quest’ is very compact. It’s integrated in a three storey castle and it offers a few drops followed by soaking splashes. ‘River Quest’ is a unique and thrilling ride, but I actually prefer the more common version of a rapid river. ‘Piraña’ at Efteling for example, or ‘Fjord Rafting’ at Europa-Park. These rides allow interaction with other boats and they’re even less predictable than this one. At ‘River Quest’, it is certain that at least one person will leave the raft completely drenched. And guess what… I’m the lucky guy today.

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My wet T-shirt dries within minutes while walking in the sun. Luckily, there’s another way to cool down: visiting a darkride with air conditioning. Two of Phantasialand’s darkrides can be found at the Chinese area, which looks absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, the interior of those darkrides is considerably less pleasing than the exterior. I’m talking about Feng Ju Palace and Geister Rikscha, a Vekoma madhouse and an old haunted house in Asian style, respectively. That first one features a beautiful soundtrack, but the storyline is hard to understand. That second ride boasts a lot of details, but it just feels very outdated. ‘Geister Rikscha’ doesn’t add any value to the park experience, so I hope it will be upgraded or demolished soon.

If you ride every coaster at this park, you will travel quite a big distance on coaster track. That’s because Phantasialand clearly loves long rides: they have ‘Temple of the Sleeping Hawk’ (1.200 meters), ‘Taron’ (1.320 meters) and the longest family boomerang on Earth. You can add another 1.300 meters of mine train track if you ride Colorado Adventure in the Mexican area. You could describe this coaster as Phantasialand’s answer to ‘Big Thunder Mountain’, but there are two major differences. First of all, ‘Colorado Adventure’ is considerably more thrilling than its Disney siblings. The drops are a little steeper and the curves are more powerful. Does that automatically make this ride better than ‘Big Thunder Mountain’? No, not at all. That’s because the second difference is the degree of theming. Whereas ‘Big Thunder Mountain’ is remarkably themed, ‘Colorado Adventure’ really lacks some decoration. The first section of the ride takes place in a bleak hangar and most rockwork in this coaster’s area looks messy and unrealistic. Although the coaster itself is perfectly fine, this ride just doesn’t perform on the same high level as most other big rides at Phantasialand. A theming upgrade would be enough to solve this problem.

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Travelling from Mexico to Africa is very easy at Phantasialand. And Africa seems to be a great place, according to the Germans. They believe that the Dark Continent is filled with luxurious hotels, Bratwürst-selling restaurants and B&M inverted coasters. Yes, that’s correct… European theme park fans were quite ecstatic when Phantasialand announced its new ride for the 2006 season. Black Mamba was born and designers did their utmost to transform this inverted coaster into a truly unforgettable experience. The level of detail is amazing, the atmosphere at the loading platform is great and the coaster is extremely well integrated in the tropical landscape. In short: ‘Black Mamba’ looks stunning and the actual ride does not dissappoint. Despite its height of only 26 meters and a track length of less than 800 meters, the ride is extremely powerful and unpredictable. ‘Black Mamba’ is pure coaster joy from the first descent until the final brake. The best news is the fact that there isn’t any queue today, so we experience this g-force filled coaster over and over. Once you go Black Mamba…

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Summer holidays are in full swing and there are school vacations in almost every European country. That’s why we’re amazed by the wait times today. ‘Black Mamba’ is in a two train operation, but there are lots of empty seats. Same story at ‘Colorado Adventure’. The only attractions with a (minimal) queues are the water rides and the new Klugheim coasters. It’s a bizarre situation, but it’s makes our day even more enjoyable and thrill-filled. The park will stay open until 8 PM, so we have plenty of time to rediscover the catchy music of ‘Chiapas’ and the smooth coaster awesomeness of ‘Taron’… four times in a row! The only main attractions we skip, are called Mystery Castle and Talocan. I’ve ridden these both flat rides in the past and I don’t hate them, but they are definitely not a must-do for me. ‘Mystery Castle’ is a quite tame shot and drop tower and ‘Talocan’ is a heavily themed top spin. This spinning thrill ride is actually so beautiful that I prefer to enjoy its fire, sound and water effects from the viewing area. This ride is a simple infill attraction at most amusement parks, but Phantasialand transformed it to a sensational feast for the senses. Life is fun when you’re not on a budget.

Do you know the difference between a good theme park and an awesome theme park? Awesome theme parks don’t kick you out right at closing time. If a park truly knows what the word hospitality means, then they should give you the opportunity to get a souvenir or a snack after rides have been closed. That’s what I like about Phantasialand: we’re able to get a pizza slice after 8 PM and staff aren’t pushing us to the exit. It makes me realize that this was one of the most perfect theme park days ever. Attractions were running at maximum capacity, we got served quickly at F&B outlets and the weather made me believe that Phantasialand was suddenly located at the Spanish coast line. I’m very serious when I tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed this day. It seems that my love-hate relationship with Phantasialand has finally come to an end. If a theme park within a two-hour drive from my front door performs so incredibly well, then there’s no reason not to adore that park. That’s why I can conclude this trip report by saying that I love Chiapas, I love Black Mamba, I love Taron and I just love Phantasialand. And hey Phantasialand, just one more thing… Please make F.L.Y. at least as impressive as Taron. That would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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