For those of you who didn't hear of it until now, ACE organized a two-week European amusement park tour this year. Week one was in the United Kingdom, with Week 2 being on the main continent. Participants could sign up for either or both weeks. I could only get the vacation for one leg of the trip, and selected the first (UK) week.
The tour covered the following:
Day 1 -- Thorpe Park
Day 2 -- Flamingoland; Lightwater Valley
Day 3 -- Southport Pleasureland; Blackpool Pleasure Beach
Day 4 -- Blackpool Pleasure Beach (+ most of us hit the nearby South pier)
Day 5 -- Alton Towers
Day 6 -- Alton Towers; Drayton Manor
Day 7 -- Oakwood
Day 8 -- Dreamland; Rotunda
If the above looks ambitious, believe me it was. There was a LOT of "be on the bus by 6:30am so that we can make it to our ERT", and even then we were late for several of the morning ERTs. Still, given the massive scale of the trip, the organizers and tour company did an impressive job, and they're all to be commended for their efforts.
Among the above parks were 50 possible coasters. 49 of them were running (a kiddie coaster at Rotunda was closed), and I managed to hit all of them. Add in the Crazy Mouse on the South Pier, and I hit 50 of 51 available coasters. (Several people even went further, hitting nearby parks such as Chessington World of Adventure before the tour started; I myself just spent a leisurely day in London getting my body adjusted to the 5-hour time difference between Pittsburgh and London, taking the Tube over to Bricklane (Aldgate East actually, then a short walk) for an excellent Indian lunch)
This tour was absolutely insane. I'd do it again, but not right away. I can't imagine doing both weeks -- by the end of the first we were already dragging. I'm bruised, battered, have a cold, and I was limping most of the week when I twisted my ankle on the first day. I'm sure the people doing both got a bit of an adrenaline surge when they got on the ferry,but we'll wait to see how the trip reports fare.
So, some random thoughts before I'm off to bed. Remember, these are my opinions, and I'm sure many people will disagree, but that's the way it goes.
Weather: Amazingly, we saw VERY little rain during the entire week. Our bus drivers even commented on the unusually nice weather we'd "brought with us". Sunshine or partially cloudy, and highs in the low 70's (F) with evening lows in the 50's, seemed to be the rule for the entire trip.
Health: This was definitely a demanding trip. Sleep was limited at times, and it was difficult to eat well. I got home to discover I'd lost roughly 10 pounds over the course of the week, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Additionally, my bad ankle gave out on me (I'd expected this to happen and packed a brace, but didn't expect it to give out on the FIRST DAY! Many people noticed that I was limping for most of the week, but what can you do but chug on...)
Many people were developing colds and just basically looked worn out by the end of the week -- I hope the people doing both weeks are ok in that regard, because some of them looked ready to drop when we parted ways.
Park hours: With the exception of Blackpool, which operated under a "soft closing time" (one of MANY similarities between this park and Kennywood), most parks close at 6pm. However, crowds started to clear out at around 4pm, so from a business point of view these early closing times probably makes sense. There were a LOT of school picnics at many of the parks we were at, but with the patrons leaving early we frequently found ourselves with plenty of last-minute rides before we either had to leave ourselves or hit our evening ERTs.
Best Park: Blackpool Pleasure Beach -- simply heaven. It was a real pleasure to finally be at the park that Kennywood refers to so much in their signs ("This is one of the few remaining examples of this ride, others being at Blackpool Pleasure Beach" -- not surprisingly I spotted reciprocol signs in Blackpool referring to Kennywood :) )
Most disappointing park: Alton Towers -- lovely park marred by very large crowds and trash all over the place...
Best wooden coaster: Grand National (honorable mention to Megaphobia) -- This may raise some eyebrows. :) Megaphobia is a very good ride, but to me the sheer fun factor of Grand National put it on top. Wild course, hand-slapping, reversing circuit...
Best steel coaster: Nemesis (honorable mentions to Colossus and Air) -- Front for insane visuals, back for an intense ride, this may be my favorite inverted now.
Most pleasant surprise: Air -- for all the talk of "family ride", this is one hell of a coaster. Air succeeds where the Vekoma rides fail -- the feeling of FLIGHT. I also personally found the restraints MUCH more comfortable. To me, Air just blows the Vekoma pieces of crap (relatively speaking, I DO actually like them) out of the water. I haven't ridden Superman Ultimate Flight yet, but need to do so very soon. Honorable mention here goes to Pepsi Max:The Big One, Blackpool's 230' Arrow hypercoaster that we'd heard was horrid, but was in fact a pretty good twisting hyper.
Biggest disappointment: Megaphobia -- Don't get me wrong, this is an EXCELLENT CCI woodie. But after Raven and Legend in the dark, Megaphobia just couldn't quite measure up. A great ride, and if I still attempted to rank coasters it'd be Top-10-Woodie material, but it wasn't *THE* coaster that some reports had made it out to be. Still worth the trip.
Best "you'll never see that in the States" ride: The Waltzer -- there were actually numerous Waltzers available on this trip, so I'll elaborate. The best way to describe a Waltzer is to call it an "indoor/enclosed Tilt-a-whirl on steroids". A larger platform with larger, heavier cars, with ride action similar to a tilt-a-whirl. However, two of them (Pleasureland and ESPECIALLY the South Pier) had an added bonus -- attendants walking on the ride giving our cars a spin while the ride is running. The Waltzer on the South Pier near Blackpool is the single most intense ride I've ever encountered. The one on the pier cost 2 pounds, and was worth it (especially when the operator in the booth announced that we could stay on for 1 pound -- I took him up on it twice, for a total of 3 consecutive rides :) ) The operators walking the platform are just insane, and this would never happen in the US, but it really was it a great ride.
Most interesting experience: Pontin's Family Camp. We stayed at this place for 4 nights. Between the people that didn't have hot water and were given 2 sets of keys (one for the room they slept in and one for the room they SHOWERED in), the lack of water pressure for the rest of us (if more than one person attempted to shower at a time in a wing, both would end up with cold water only), no maid service during the stay... I could go on. We actually got used to the place and laughed it off -- one woman even bought a T-shirt -- but it was certainly an eye-opener. Still, it was able to accomodate the entire tour group of close to 200 people for 4 days, and was within walking distance of Blackpool...
More detailed trip reports to follow as I find time, but right now I'm off to scan through what's left of 512 email messages and then to bed.
"Are you justified in taking life to save life?" -- The Great Debate, Dream Theater
*** This post was edited by GregLeg on 7/22/2002. ***
Dayuum, Your HOT!
Sounds like an INTENSE trip...no rest for the weary of mind or body...;).
Can't wait for the extended TRs on BPB, AT, and Thorpe...Blackpool sounds like my kind of park, that's one I must get to SOON.
...finally, gotta LOVE the European system of safety and justice....in the States, perhaps we're a bit too litigious in our overwhelming efforts to bring safety to even the "stupidest" of individuals....color me green with envy, Greg.
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