Coaster Kingdom


Dragon Khan, PortAventura

The original concept of PortAventura was dreamt up by Anheiser Busch, a company famed for Budweiser, Sea World, and perhaps more importantly, Busch Gardens. Like today, the park centred around a big coaster, however whilst the hallowed reins were in possession of Busch, this ride would be an Arrow of similar dimensions and concepts of Loch Ness Monster at their Williamsburg park. The climax of this ride would be the interlocking vertical loops in which trains would be able to pass at close quarters.

In the end, Busch settled for being merely shareholders in the park, along with various other Spanish groups like banks and construction companies. Now at the helm of this most delectable vessel, Tussauds, and behind the drawing board, John Wardley.

The park opened in 1995 with the notable absence of this specific Arrow coaster, but with the equally and perhaps arguably more-so presence of the hugely gargantuan Dragon Khan, a Bolliger and Mabillard behemoth that suitably towers over the Spanish park.

As you round every corner on the somewhat oblique path leading to China, the powder-blue structure supporting the rich red track-work dips in and out of view, and as you home in on this restless beast the outwardly small trains do little but intimidate.

Your anxious stroll takes you up and onto the ramparts of the Great Wall of China, crossing a large courtyard, upon which the station looks. The authentic tiled roof supported by large columns plays host to the first part of the queue. Underneath this cooled roof, and around a large Chinese lantern, the queue zig-zags, and before long, the path will lead you to the entrance of the station building.

Once inside, you are free to pick your favourite seat. Like most of Bolliger and Mabillards’ coasters, the front seat is great for visuals, but perhaps better in the case of Dragon Khan, the back is just a riot.

It is on boarding the train that you realise how much we take the shabby efforts of Vekoma’s coachwork for granted. Merely a small step is required to stride into the four across car. Once sat in the refreshingly comfortable chair that will play host to your rear for the next few minutes of anarchy you will be pleased to note the generous amounts of leg-room and the inconspicuousness of the car in front which will do little to obscure your view.

Once you are comfortably cradled into the restraints, the train leaves swooping to the right around a 180-degree bend. As smooth as Barry White, the train engages onto the lift and begins its climb away from planet Earth.

The ride is on somewhat of a hill. This, and the fact the coaster is at the far end of the park give the lift a very exposed feel. It is a brisk climb, and it is as silent as it is fast, and the first hint of the approaching lawlessness is when the rows of cars fronting yours begin to dip out of view.

At the summit, you curl over the end of the lift, turn 90-degrees before the track straightens out and the train is launched into a long, straight drop. As your stomach goes haywire and your shoulders hit the restraints, at a ludicrous pace, the train skims the ground as it peels away and begins a long, skyward climb and inverting the train in one of the worlds’ largest vertical loops.

As the train reaches the top of this outlandish element, it teasingly slows giving you a longer-than-usual inverted view. As you begin to face the ground the pace once again quickens as the train bounces from the ground into another skyward lurch. The track tilts more and more to the side before again, inverted, you hurtle towards the ground in a spectacular diving loop.

From the ground the only way is up, and once as much height as possible is regained, the train is yanked round a spectacularly forceful inline twist, as arms and legs are flailing in all directions regardless of your intensions, as supports seemingly skim your fingertips, you would be right to say that this single inversion alone is the best single demonstration of B&M’s genius.

It is after this crazed flip that you swoop down climbing into what may at first appear to be a normal vertical loop. Half way through this you are pulled to the side, curling round before after a short pause the same is reversed. The cobra roll as it is called rides as well as it looks. Still going along at the speed of a rocket-fuel powered bus, a short break is offered in the form of a mid-course block-brake that merely skims the train. No respite though as the train lurches off to the right into a Shwarzkopf-esque drop diving through a trench and over a semi-buried vertical loop.

A tight turn out of this is followed by a tight and fast barrel roll; another turn around feeds you into another barrel roll that intertwines the first, before a final turn hurls exhausted riders onto the brake-run.

As you return to the station via the transfer track, you have time to reflect. To your right lies the mess of track including eight inversions; two barrel rolls, two vertical loops, a cobra roll, a diving loop and best of all, the inline twist.

Each and every twist, turn and dive is perfectly engineered to exert powerful and varied forces on you, with the combination of strong Gs and floating sensations of the first vertical loop to the weightlessness and lateral vigour of the inline twist.

As much as these contrast with regards to sensation, they all negotiate these seemingly impossible twists with the elegance of a ballerina. Each is smooth, and where the continuous radius of the Vekoma corkscrew is both boring and rough, the way the B&M barrel roll tightens at the top gives a fantastic ‘flick’, yet still maintains the consistent gliding manner that the rest of the ride adopts.

The theme of the ride is a good one, although it is somewhat let down by the fact that the ride has little (read: no) theming around its course at all. It is not hard to get great photos of it though, the path stretches along the whole length of the ride, it just seems to lack what I’ve come to expect of John Wardley over the years.  

For some, the ride may seem to be too ‘loop, loop, loop’, which is true. Kumba, which is nearly identical to Dragon Khan has a powerful final helix, Hulk, which is similar, has a few drops and extra turns, along with a tunnel. Dragon Khan really does lack  non-inverting track, but the straight first drop and the baby-smooth nature of every dip and dive make up this quibble.

As it stands, Dragon Khan is a living showroom of Bolliger and Mabillards’ best inversions and loops. Riding it though, it just feels so right. It would be a shame for people to ride rival companies’ multi-looping coasters only to be left battered and bruised, never wanting to ride another major coaster again; they would of course miss out on what a proper coaster is all about.

MS Undated

Good points:

Blissfully smooth
Well paced with a good selection of elements
Substantial length
Absolutely stunning first drop 

Bad points:

Not much to it other than inversions 



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