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Back to Belgium - Part 2: Walibi Belgium

HeartlineCoaster

Giga Poster
You’ve probably had enough of me for one year, but here we go again. It still felt like there was more in the tank for more redemption once the reopening of a certain Belgian park was announced. As we already had the travel procedures down to a fine art it became a case of get it done, quick, before something else goes wrong.

The world seemingly threw everything it had at me to stop me riding Kondaa this year. Obviously the ever-present pandemic and endless travel restrictions prevented us from flocking with the rest of Europe back during the initial opening days. Nature had a say next, with those terrible floods that put the park out of action for the duration of our time on the continent. Once we were geared up and ready to go, logistical issues kicked in, in the form of the UKs self-fulfilling prophecy of a fuel crisis – until the penultimate day I wouldn’t have had enough (in the non-metaphorical tank) to even make it the tunnel anyway.
Finally on the evening before departure, the covid tests that we’d pre-booked with precision at a local pharmacy simply didn’t exist upon our arrival. “Oh, we don’t do those any more, no one does” And you were going to tell us when? Many phone calls and a panicked night-time journey to Gatwick Airport for a drive-thru test that massively confused everyone involved (“so, what flight are you taking then.” - none!) managed to save the day.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Day 1 – Bellewaerde

2017, Ypres. Back in the days when Belgium was generally unremarkable in terms of a coaster scene, we were forever at fault for underestimating all of their parks and spiting ourselves on the regular. Just because the creds aren’t all that, doesn’t mean the place isn’t fleshed out in other ways – a lesson I’ve never managed to learn. What with staggered openings and two sides of brand new and not-so exciting Dawsons Duel to deal with, Bellewaerde became one of many visits that wasn’t without issue.

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We had the privilege of going through the main entrance on this particular occasion, one that paints the park in a far better light when it comes to first impressions.

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This is all new to me, I only remember queues, people smoking and Boomerangs.

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Checked out the rapids first, one of those weird looking Vekoma ones with the low-profile flexy boats. They make for a rather different experience, there was an entertaining theme tune playing throughout several parts of the layout, but it ain’t no Hafema.

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Our main reason for revisiting, besides from needing something to do and the fact that it was half-price with the Plopsa card, was Wakala.

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I had pretty much suppressed the entire existence of this ride, which is a shame, because Gerstlauer are still delivering strong on these top quality family coasters and this use of fun, quirky track shaping is getting bolder by the minute.

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It's a great little layout with a significant ride length. The first lift hill takes you up and through the aforementioned twisty goodness for a good while, before hitting a second tyre lift that gives you a playful almost-launch down into this weird straight.

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Which leads to this genius little spike out over the lake. A brief moment of backwards gets the train straight back to that weird straight which also happens to be the final brakes, with the use of a little switch track to return to the station. The station has great audio on departure and arrival, the trains look real nice, it runs super-efficiently and is a ton of fun. Weird pacing, but can’t fault it.

While dwelling on that little victory, we hung our heads in shame as we looked upon Dawsons Duel from afar. Never again.

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Something else we managed to miss, never again, was the park’s main dark ride, Maison Magique D’Houdini.
Colour me massively confused because I had no idea what went on in here, other than ‘Madhouse’. Narration was present of course but, you know, Flemish. There’s a preshow, in a room of full of artifacts from magic trips and escape artistry, that shows some old-timey footage of a classic bit of magic performed by two kids. It jarringly ends by zooming in on the face of one of them suddenly looking rather deranged, with an evil laughter sound effect.
Time to board the ride. It looks rather good inside, a few variations on the usual tricks and some extra things to look at, such as lightning in the fake windows. Spinning happens, magic happens, ending happens. We’re at peace with Houdini? Or his evil best friend? I’ll go with yes.

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Something else we managed to miss, never again, was the park’s themed boat safari, Jungle Mission.
A somewhat inspired adventure that intertwines zoo action, being attacked by ‘locals’ and a cave section in which stuff goes down. The highlight for me was a scene in which a man appeared to be smoking himself out of his own hut, standing at the window, potentially dying, not caring, with a look that says 'I’ve made my choice.'

Took great pleasure in not riding the Zierer Tivoli or patient zero of the Boomerang world.

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Instead giving the rest of our allocated time to Huracan, which had always been rather decent.
They’ve done things to this. The trains felt new, bigger, now with on-board audio (I honestly can’t remember last time though). It also moved far slower through the first indoor section with all the theming, music now blaring. This section contained some different things like weird screens of glass full of tiny bubbles in place of raging waterfalls.

Outdoor coaster section was the same of course and then back inside I want to say there was far more going on with lasers and other visual effects. Turned something from rather decent into just plain decent.
Good job Bellewaerde, you’re fully redeemed.


Coo may have been gone, but it wasn’t forgotten. After brimming the tank with some sweet Belgian fuel and having a hilarious run in with some sour Belgian road rage, we arrived at our second park for the day.

Plopsa Coo

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This moose is on the way out, but I’ll mention him in place of an entrance shot, of which there isn’t much of one. He moves, he talks, we’re off to a good start.

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Gerstlauer Spinners are a rare breed out this way, with the US seemingly being the biggest fans of the model. I’ve never been bowled away by one, they generally appear to lack something I can’t quite pinpoint. Is it spinning?

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Well Wicky the Wiking the Ride certainly looked the part, but the trend continues, in my experience. It had a rather cool drop and the ‘what Maurer calls an immelman’ was nice to see, though not a whole lot else to offer.

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I had a sudden urge to ride this slide (scary blue one, obviously) upon seeing it. It’s not every day you get to pull a crazy stunt like that without dedicating yourself to swimwear and a waterpark and it simply had to be done.
Scary, crazy, vertical and backwards. Genius.

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I’d always liked the look of Halvar. A terrain layout in those rare but cool single file Vekoma trains of Megablitz fame? Sign me up, I said.

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It wasn’t quite what I’d hoped, definitely far more family orientated than it’s lung-crushing funfair cousin, just look at that profiling. Entertaining and unique at least.

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Have to imagine this little scenic feature looked rather more scary back when this park also fell foul of the flood.

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Looks like they’re trying to stop it happening again.

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One more ride to do, yet another crazy eye-catcher from on the way in. There’s clearly more to Coo than creds.
I had questions:
1) Why are they going backwards up that lift hill?
2) Why are there empty poles coming back down on a cable?
3) Why does the end of the track have an end?
4) Why are staff/guests picking up and carrying the cars at the bottom?

Questions that could only be answered by riding.
1) Because why not? Wiegand are nutters.
2) These poles stretch and hook onto the back of each car, dragging it up the lift hill.
3 & 4) Because the lift hill and the downwards section of track are entirely separate.

You get to pick a car and lug it onto the bottom of the lift hill yourself before boarding and having a staff member hook you up to the system. The lift hill mainly comprises of nice views and the feeling like you’re going to fall into some leaves at any minute, because the only thing keeping you on the standard plastic tea tray with no back is physics, the fact that you are travelling backwards. At long last you reach the top, which once again involves unceremonious lugging of transportation devices.

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They’re quite hefty, even in their handily auto-folded state.
Now it's time to load it up on the starting angle, remembering to keep the brake pinned down at all costs before making a fool of yourself. Not on a track of your choice sadly, for some unexplained reason one track is for singles and one is for doubles, so no chance of any fair racing.
And down you go.

All in all a nice little place with some interesting and quirky attractions. It's got a great setting and was very refreshing to see how the place has it's own charm, mostly free from the corporate-chainy-feel of many other Plopsa properties. Not sure it justifies the day ticket and parking cost though - definitely get that season pass.

Up next - rain
 
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Matt N

Strata Poster
Wow, this is a quick turnaround from your last trip! Out of interest, how long after your Eurodemption trip did this one take place?

I hope you manage to get on Kondaa on this visit to Belgium! Also, given how much you loved RTH, are you headed back to Plopsaland de Panne for more rides on that?
 

HeartlineCoaster

Giga Poster
Wow, this is a quick turnaround from your last trip! Out of interest, how long after your Eurodemption trip did this one take place?
A whole three weeks.

Also, given how much you loved RTH, are you headed back to Plopsaland de Panne for more rides on that?
There was no Plopsa, we considered it, but after having such a perfect day before (16 laps, nearly all of them walk on) and with it being so recent, didn't want to potentially spoil it with a busy weekend.
 

HeartlineCoaster

Giga Poster
Poor Walibi Belgium. They’ve had a rough year to coincide with the opening of their brand new headline coaster. I really admire them for all the hard work and effort that went into getting the place up and running again before the end of the season, after seeing just some of the extent of the flood damage, and thought it was only right to visit and show our support.

And yet day 2 of their grand re-opening weekend – rain like you wouldn’t believe it. The final few minutes of the motorway drive were particularly hairy when it came to visibility, with water hammering in on all sides. Not the best of omens when heading to a park that’s only just been crippled by this type of weather.

Day 2 - Walibi Belgium

As we pulled into the car park, there were only about 10 others in total. We were vaguely directed towards a space, though ended up picking the one wrong spot in a sea of emptiness. Top tip – don’t park next to a tree, they like to keep them clear for emergency access, though they might not tell you that until you’ve already stopped and got out.

The moment I had stepped out of the car, though the actual rain had subsided just a little, one of my shoes was instantly filled with water. Bracing ourselves against the weather with whatever resources necessary, we headed towards the entrance. This is either going to go very wrong, or be amazing.

Expecting the masses, a large series of cattlepens had been set up as the only means of access to the ticket desks that morning and, though it ended up being entirely unnecessary given the current situation, they were unavoidable. And so our day began with several pointless minutes zigzagging back and forth through endless puddles, getting soaked to the bone and already unable to see.

Once inside the park we headed straight towards the back, though only by internal compass. Rocking my raincoat hood down low, along with a medical mask and glasses combo, all I could do was stare at the blurred floor directly two feet in front of me and I didn’t actually manage to lay eyes on any rides at all until we reached the new (to me) area.

Kondaa was showing no signs of life at this stage and had two staff members standing ominously at the entrance, but Tiki-Waka was drowning a couple more staff members with some test laps.

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Though it was yet another Belgian Gerstlauer I had managed to suppress, it actually became a momentous occasion. By riding Tiki-Waka I had now completed the entire set of their Bobsled coasters worldwide, all 14 of the beasts.

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Sadly this one broke the tradition of ‘every time I ride one of these I keep thinking it’s the best one yet.’ While it looks fantastic (once I could actually see it) and has many more of those quirky track profiling moments, there’s a bit less of an overall punch here than I had grown accustomed to, even while not being able to see what was coming next, but at least it’s unique yet again. Probably also took the crown of best coaster in the park for three years, without too much effort.

More good news, Kondaa was now also testing.

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I’d bigged this modern Intamin Mega up in my head for a good while now, though I didn’t know the ins and outs. The theme was all brand new to me and the ride joins the ever-growing list of mythical creatures that find themselves decorating an Intamin train. In this case, Kondaa is a big snake thing with arms, who has a bit of a clash with the local humans.
Maybe they’re building on his habitat, maybe he’s just being predatory, there’s an excellent mural on the outside far wall of the station building that depicts a bit of a battle scene between the two. Some men on their knees, head in hands, doomed (will that be me shortly?), while two cheeky bastards abandon the cause run off with one of his eggs. I’m already loving the aesthetic.
The station has a cramped, jungle feel to it, with great accompanying audio. Took a few listens to work it out, but the tribal chanting that echoes throughout is actually repeating the word Kond – Aa in two disctinct syllables. Maybe they’re trying to appease him, maybe they’re building themselves up for the fight. Yet more paintings on the wall depict men literally riding the creature’s back by means of the spears they’ve stabbed into him in combat. Guess that’s the experience we’re going for.

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What with all the external sensations of the weather and my temporary blindness pressing in on me, I really had the time to process that we were actually riding Kondaa until part way up the excitingly fast chain lift. Suddenly we were thrust into a big, vertical twisted drop and, by means of the train alone, it’s already better than GeForce.

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The first large hill is an interesting one. It’s not your standard massive ejector experience you might expect from Intamin, instead I feel like it’s more what I always wanted B&M hypers to be/do. There’s a combination of a gentle lift out of the seat and a more intense ejection at different points, that can flip depending on where you sit, and I like that, it’s not just a tease, it still has payoff.

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The wacky outerbanked big hill is pretty special if you’re feeling a bit free and easy in those comfy seats. Yet more strange, falling out of the train sideways sensations are coming into play, though nothing in the realms of their wing coasters. It was also often a fun moment later on in the day for the views of Calamity Mine’s second half. Though it took five laps before I even managed to spot it, many times after that the little mine train would pop out of it’s tunnel and say hello to Kondaa in a cute moment of interaction.

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The non-inverting cobra roll is a bit of a non-event in the grand scheme of things and I’m tempted to say it should have just actually inverted. There might then have been a bit more whip in the transitions, perhaps like a double version of the dive loop on Hyperion. Instead it doesn’t really deliver much except a very strange creaking noise from the train and I’m left feeling like it was an element created for the sake of the name. We want to build the world’s first ‘one of those’ and see what happens.

This is turning into one of those reviews where I keep name-dropping other relevant coasters, so I may as well keep going. The exit of that leads into the first of the speed hills, rather reminiscent of the highlight moments of Coaster through the Clouds, combining that momentum with some headchopping (albeit a little late) to really send you flying for a moment, though perhaps not quite as powerfully as I would have hoped.

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At the risk of continuing to sound a bit negative (I love this thing, but nitpicking is what I do), Intamin appear to have failed to break the tradition of having a meandering couple of corners in the middle of their mega coasters. I desperately wanted this creation to cast away the shackles of it’s oppressive forebearers, yet it still appears to follow that age old underlying formula. The turns are at least low-down, fast and far less jarring than the competition in their impact on the layout, but without a key highlight like a snappy i305 transition or something it still feels sub-optimal.
Also, worryingly, this part contains a sideways banked hill that rode exactly like the one on Abyssus – pure visual, all style and no substance, didn’t feel a thing on it.

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Good stuff returns in the form of a second speed hill, and then a weird combination of drawn out twisty hill into wonky double down on a corner that I don’t have a name for. This leads into another decent airtime moment, some more low down twisty and then the hilarious climax of little flat hills that are just silly fun. This is the type of creative stuff I can get more behind and adds a certain wild flavour to the ride that is more often than not lacking on Intamin’s clinical airtime machines. A strong start and a strong finish, it all feels so familiar.

And that’s the quandary for me. It both is and it isn’t like their past creations I’ve regularly bemoaned for being too ‘obvious’. It draws on their beats and yet delivers them all differently. There’s more spice and more flavour to Kondaa, it has an out of control feeling at times, but it never truly kicks your ass like you might have expected from the manufacturer. While these days I would tend to be drawn towards coasters that take everything to an extreme, I can also just be appeased by a good, solid, fun layout. And it is that, for one of these. World class yes, world beater no.

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They do have other stuff here of course. It had been far too long since I was acquainted with Tutankhamon, so much so that it had begun to fade in my memory. Our previous visit was such a rush, what with fast track and SLCs to contend with, that it barely made an impact. Far from just another shooting dark ride, this is potentially the best of its kind in the world. It appears to have been well loved just recently, with many of the more technical effects working really well, much more so than I remember from before at least.

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The ride provides a perfect balance between interaction and spectacle, something which I believe so many others miss the mark on. You feel compelled to both shoot at the targets, many of which are (for the sake of the story) active moving threats, and gaze in amazement at all the other scenery and magic (fire!), with neither disctracting from the other. Underneath all that is the drive to actually score well as a a team, not just for unrelated bragging rights, because achieving a certain amount will take you down a different route at the end of the ride, to fight the big boss. More to see, more to do – get involved!

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Why have one shooting dark ride when you can have two though? I was a little concerned for what this one would be like, though admittedly knowing nothing about it. Turns out it’s also fabuous in its own right and the two are easily different enough to justify the co-existence.

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These popcorn critters are out for mischief and need flavouring to calm them down, so the trackless ride vehicles pass between a central, circular hub to reach several different rooms that contain a screened scene for shooting. There are a lot of fun little details beyond your average screen based romp however, with each room being complimented by some degree of physical set, a chaotic little screen in the central room from which you can continuously rack up points while transitioning to each area and other, more hidden bonus ways to score points. Loved it.

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Elsewhere on the dark ride front we gave Palais du Genie another shot. Again this was better than I remember, mainly in the music department. It had a solid, catchy tune playing throughout the main madhouse portion, something that all of these should have by default.

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Time to mop up the last cred, Fun Pilot, the Zierer Force 190 putting in all the hard work while the legendary Coccinelle is out of action.

It was rather amusing to contemplate what else in this park justifies a reride, the place used to be such a cred run and yet they’ve done so much to dramatically transform that status in such short time. Belgium’s getting serious. Why can't we?

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Settled on Calamity Mine for old time’s sake, though I’ve since ridden a hundred different iterations of the same throughout China. The OG version still has charm and is nicely decorated for it, though it is a little distracting to have Kondaa looming over it now.

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Based on how dramatically the wooden coaster experience can change over time, thought we might as well give Loup Garou a lap as well. I took issue with the restraints previously and spent the duration surviving, rather than enjoying.
Not sure exactly how, but they weren’t an issue in the slightest on this occasion, which then only helped to highlight that it just aint very special. A lot of mild mannered bouncing around that makes for some light entertainment, much like the Intamins of old.

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All this was done between wanting to rack up some ridiculous number of laps on Kondaa simply because it was a walk on all day (thanks to the weather) and really, stupidly good. The aim was to better 16, which was my tied personal best between local boy Icon and the recent Ride to Happiness revelation.
That became far too easy by the end of the day. See if you can beat 22.

Now, what's this about America re-opening?
 
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