Parc Astérix

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Parc Astérix, a.k.a. the theme park we always drive past while going to Disneyland. Since I’ve had quite a lot of annual passes for Disneyland Paris during the last few years, I’ve seen Parc Astérix a dozen times. And although I always have a look at that beautiful B&M lifthill next to the highway, it’s been four years since I’ve visited this park for the last time. That’s why Phaedra, Steven, Nick and I chose to plan another trip to this Gaulish place on 8th May 2018. It’s still early when we arrive at the gates, but we are wide awake and ready for our day at this distinctively French, distinctively humorous and distinctively busy theme park.

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Parc Astérix is well known for its crowds and you’d better avoid this park during sunny weekends and French school holidays. However, a weekday in May seems an excellent choice for our trip. Unfortunately, the French have something that’s called Fête de la Victoire on this particular date. That means that 95 percent of the French population enjoy a day off and approximately 94 percent of the French population seem on their way to Parc Astérix today. That becomes clear when we arrive: traffic at the highway exit is backed up and there are thousands of people in the park’s main street well before rope drop. These crowded conditions make us consider the purchase of a Pass Rapidus (which allows us to bypass the queues of some very popular rides) but apparantly, we are too late. Passes are sold out, which means that we’re facing a day full of long, slow-moving queues.

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It’s not Main Street U.S.A. (that one lies approximately 40 kilometres further, on the Eastern side of Paris) but I have to admit that Parc Astérix’ main avenue is pretty awesome as well. The buildings in Via Antiqua are characterized by comic details and surreal design, which works pretty well in this case. However, we didn’t come here to enjoy a street with shops and restaurants… we came to ride some rollercoasters. A majority of our fellow visitors seem to have the same idea. When the crowd starts to move at exactly 10 AM, most of them start running to the Greek section of the park. They are probably heading to Parc Astérix’ legendary wooden coaster or the recently added Pégase Express. We opt for the other side of the park, where we immediately enter the queue for La Trace du Hourra. This bobsled coaster is somewhat unique because it is not themed to bobsleds and the Winter Olympics. Instead, La Trace du Hourra tells the story of prehistoric cavemen who invented a funfair-style slide. Although the theme (which mainly consists of rocks) is limited to the queue and station, the attraction looks pretty good. The actual coaster experience does not disappoint: La Trace Du Hourra reaches a high speed and some curves are surprisingly forceful. So please forget Europa-Park’s very short Schweizer Bobbahn and say no to Efteling’s painful bobsled coaster, because this ride experience is clearly superior.

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La Trace Du Hourra was without a doubt a great attraction to start our day with. However, operations were extremely annoying. During the first 30 minutes after park opening, they only dispatched one train out of four with passengers. That’s a capacity loss of 75 percent, which is… a lot. This seems like an evil trick to create lenghty queues and sell more Rapidus Passes, but I really don’t get the point if those passes are sold out anyway. And if they’re able to dispatch full trains after 10.30, then why isn’t this possible before that time? Long story short: Parc Astérix didn’t exactly make a good first impression and our wait time was considerably longer than expected. It’s even worse for people entering the queue now: their wait is estimated at 1 hour and 20 minutes.

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Up next is L’Oxygénarium in the French themed area of the park. A colourful steampunk theme makes this attraction somewhat atypical for Parc Astérix and honestly, the ride could use some cleaning. Nevertheless, L’Oxygénarium is a fun ride. The raft spins pretty fast and we even experience a collision with the boat in front of us. It’s not the most intense attraction ever created, but I actually enjoy it a lot. The very best thing about L’Oxygénarium is the queue: thanks to the ride’s high capacity, our wait time is only 10 minutes.

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B&M inverted coasters are always cool. You could even put them on a concrete base and add no decoration at all (yes Six Flags, I’m talking about you), but these machines will still look impressive. Parc Astérix, however, added a lot of theming to its inverted B&M and the result is simply stunning. That result is called OzIris and it’s fitted with a dazzling Egyptian temple, an attractive colour scheme and an underwater tunnel. No need to ask why OzIris is one of the park’s most popular rollercoasters: the ride’s popularity results in a 110 minute queue this morning. Luckily, there is a single rider line which doesn’t seem that well-known by French visitors. As a single rider, our wait time is shortened by approximaltely 100 minutes and that is greatly appreciated by my queue-hating friends.

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Two minutes full of g-forces and B&M goodness, that’s what OzIris is all about. This coaster is a surprisingly intense combination of powerful inversions and curves. Besides, OzIris’ lay-out features some unexpected elements and high speeds are maintained until the final brake run. Only one minor downside should be mentioned: there’s a constant rattle which is rather unusual for a six year old B&M. It’s not overly bothersome, but some of the older inverted coasters are considerably smoother than this one. Nevertheless, OzIris is still my favourite French rollercoaster and it may even be in my European top ten.

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OzIris may be an amazing ride, but its family-friendly neighbour is nothing more than average. SOS Numérobis is a medium-sized Zierer Tivoli coaster and although Parc Astérix provided a background story, there’s hardly any decoration. That’s why there’s no need to put SOS Numérobis on your to-do list, but Steven doesn’t agree. His major goal is to achieve a coaster-bingo today, so he doesn’t mind queueing for this one.

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After our lunch (a cheap, but pretty good all-you-can-eat buffet in a giant circus tent) we really start to feel how massive the crowds are. Pathways are congested and the queues for most big rides exceed the one hour mark. However, there’s also good news: because of these crowds, the park will stay open until 8 PM instead of 6 PM tonight. This means that we get quite some extra time to enjoy the attractions, but we will definitely need it. Even the queue for Transdémonium is estimated at approximately 45 minutes, which is rare. This was the first darkride to open at Parc Astérix in 2003 (the second one being Le Défi de César, a mad house built by Mack Rides) and it’s still the most impressive one. During my previous visits, I always experienced Transdémonium as a very decent ride. I liked the dark atmosphere, the brilliant lighting effects and the spooky puppets which play an important role in the story telling. It always reminded me of antique ghost trains on a fun fair, but in the best possible way. Nowadays, however, Transdémonium seems less amazing than it used to be. That’s mainly due to the low-speed vehicles. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I always thought that Transdémonium had more variation in speed. Especially the last scene was pretty cool thanks to the sudden acceleration. Currently, there is hardly any change in speed and that’s a shame. Don’t get me wrong… Transdémonium is still an enjoyable darkride, but I really regret the adjustments they made here.

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Phaedra and Steven face seven new credits today, but I only need to ride one single rollercoaster to reclaim my coaster-bingo. That rollercoaster is Pégase Express, a brand-new family coaster built by German manufacturer Gerstlauer. Although I’m generally not that fond of their rides, they are usually pretty good at creating family coasters. Besides, Pégase Express is considered as the European version of Dollywood’s Firechaser Express, a ride which surprised me in the best possible way. That’s why my expectations for Pégase Express are at a high level and I’m not disappointed at all. First of all, the theming is wonderful. Parc Astérix created a beautiful new square in the Greek section and the ride’s station is truly magnificent. Another nice feature is the queue, which offers funny details and some great views of the surroundings and the coaster itself. While waiting in line, we notice that the ride’s capacity is immense. Four trains are dispatched at incredible speeds, so our wait time turns out to be considerably lower than expected. The screen at the entrance predicted an 80-minute queue, but we reach the platform in approximately 45 minutes. A big thank you to all the staff at Parc Astérix, because they work exceptionally fast. They don’t mind running and sweating, just to reduce queue times. This should be an example for almost every other European theme park.

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If you’ve ridden Firechaser Express at Dollywood, then you know what to expect from this one. It feels very similar: they both start with a soft acceleration out of the station building, followed by a fun family coaster which travels forward and backward. Just like its sibling in Tennessee, Pégase Express is very smooth and the ride lasts quite long. However, I don’t like the fact that most of the lay-out was built right next to the parking lot. Most other coasters at Parc Astérix offer a better location, in the middle of a dense forest. Although it may seem like a detail, a more hidden location would definitely add some excitement to Pégase Express. Especially Medusa’s forbidden temple (where the backward part is initiated) would benefit from it. But hey… please don’t get me wrong: it’s a solid ride anyway and the decoration is great. This is one of those rollercoasters which pleases families as well as thrill seekers.

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While checking my smartphone app, I notice that Goudurix currently has the shortest queue of all main coasters. That’s no coincidence: this Vekoma multi looper is known to be one of Europe’s most painful rollercoasters and that’s why the wait time is only 45 minutes this afternoon. Let’s start with the good news: staff are dispatching trains at the speed of light, so the line keeps moving pretty rapidly. Unfortunately, I actually liked the queue better than the ride itself. Goudurix is a collection of shaky inversions, unnatural transitions and loads of headbanging. Even the ride’s colour scheme looks terrible since a recent paint job… So please, Parc Astérix, start planning the removal of Goudurix and buy a new, better coaster. I’m sure B&M, Intamin or Mack Rides will be happy to help.

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Did I already mention it’s hot today? The emperature is climbing to 27°C and we’re obviously searching for ways to cool down. Our first choice is Menhir Express, one of Europe’s best (and wettest) log flumes. Even the theming is worth mentioning: passengers don’t conquer this water ride ik classic logs, but menhirs are used instead. Unfortunately, Menhir Express seems to be the victim of its own success today. The line stretches throughout a large part of the park. Besides, the stand-by queue hardly ever moves because of the large number of fast lane users. After staying in the queue for 15 minutes without moving, we give up and decide to try again at another water ride: Romus et Rapidus. This name is a fun reference to the founders of Rome, but the actual ride isn’t themed that elaborately. Romus et Rapidus is just a decent rapid river with some good chances to get wet. This rapid river is actually so intense that almost every passenger in our raft gets soaked. That’s great during a hot summer day like this one, but you may want to reconsider riding Romus et Rapidus during colder periods.

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Time flies when you’re having fun… and time flies when you need approximately an hour per attraction. After spending another 50 minutes in the rapid river’s queue, I notice that it’s already 6 PM. That’s why we head back to the Greek section, where Steven still needs to add two credits to his coaster-counter. We are in luck: the first one apparantly just reopened after technical difficulties. I’m talking about Le Vol d’Icare, a Zierer family coaster which features a beautiful queue and a gorgeous station. Despite all this beauty, the actual experience is rather disappointing. The ride isn’t smooth and it seems as if the engineers never heard of a thing called banking. Since Pégase Express opened its doors, Le Vol d’Icare seems like an unnecessary part of this themed area. That neighbouring Gerstlauer ride is better in every single way and it also caters to a wider audience.

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Tonnerre De Zeus is a legendary name for many theme park enthusiasts. This ride was built by CCI in 1997 and in the past, it was often considered as one of the very best wooden coasters in Europe. This ride has a height of 30 metres, a track length of more than 1,2 kilometres and it reaches speeds of up to 85 km/h. Despite these impressing facts, Tonnere De Zeus’ golden age is unfortunately over. During my previous visit to Parc Astérix, I thought that this ride was too rough to be enjoyable. True: a wooden coaster shouldn’t be perfectly smooth, but Zeus’ ride experience was just awful. That’s why I really don’t feel the need to enter the coaster’s 80-minute queue today. Steven and Nick, however, persevere in their duty. Their reactions after the ride confirmed my fear: Tonnerre De Zeus is still very painful.

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While Steven and Nick are queueing for Tonnerre de Zeus, Phaedra and I decide to give Menhir Express another try. The queue for this water ride has become a lot shorter compared to this afternoon and most Pass Rapidus users seem to have left the park. The result is a line that moves quickly, but once again, luck isn’t on our side. While we’re approaching the loading platform, Menhir Express breaks down three times in a row. As a logical (but unfortunate) consequence, staff members then announce that the ride will be closed for the day. Bad luck for us, but we eventually manage to visit one last attraction before the park closes. That attraction is called Épidemaïs Croisières and it’s the perfect way to end this crazy busy day. This boat ride travels through Astérix & Obélix’ village and the theming level is actually pretty good. Don’t expect any outstanding effects as most scenes are completely static, but Épidemaïs Croisières really offers the peace and quiet you need after such a crowded day.

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Once we have reunited with the Tonnerre De Zeus boys, we head towards the park exit. It was a long, hot and extremely busy day, but I leave the park with a great feeling. I always considered Parc Astérix as one of the best theme parks in Europe, even more so after today. These crowded times perfectly show how well a theme park is organized. And although I still regret this morning’s operations at Trace Du Hourra, Parc Astérix performed outstandingly. The park’s crew members are actually amongst the most efficient and motivated theme park staff in Europe. At OzIris, for example, staff manage to unfasten every single seat belt before the restraints are opened. And at Goudurix, crew members organized some kind of fastest-dispatch-of-the-day-contest. Anyway: the staff really amazed me today and they did their best to keep wait times as short as possible. Such things make me happy, even if I just queued for 75 minutes.

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I used to wonder how a theme park like Parc Astérix manages to survive. It is in direct proximity to Disneyland Paris and the park isn’t that well-known to the international audience. However, Parc Astérix is definitely worth visiting and the French seem to love this place. It’s easy to tell why: the park offers a world-class B&M, they recently opened a great new family coaster, water ride lovers will find 4 different ways to cool down and there are quite a few shows. Furthermore, the park and its rides are designed cleverly and if you look closely, you’ll find a lot of hilarious details. The park would definitely benefit from another top coaster, a new dark ride or a thrilling flat ride, but the current ride selection feels very complete anyway. That’s why I suppose that 25.000 people had a great time at Parc Astérix today, including those four Belgian visitors…

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