Rio Grande, Walibi World
It takes a special sort of talent
to create a bad rapids ride. Even with the most boring layout on Earth,
and waves as menacing than a sleeping puppy, somehow they still manage
to be enjoyable. Even those that make an extra-special effort to be
plumb the depths of acceptability, such as Thorpe Park’s Ribena Rumba
Rapids, somehow manage to provide some entertainment, admittedly in an
Well, I thought that the quest to
find a really boring rapids ride was finally over when I visited Walibi
World (the park that gets through names quicker than Prince and
Elizabeth Taylor combined), and saw Vekoma’s efforts in the guise of
El Rio Grande. Here we have an incarnation of the rapids ride genre that
promises to be as dull as ditchwater, with absolutely the prospect of
zero thrills, next-to-no spills, and very little scope even for
ironic-enjoyment. All in all, you would confidently predict the ride to
be as flat as the nation that hosts it.
From the moment you decide to
ride El Rio Grande, all signals are that this is going to be one of the
crappiest rides you’ll ever uncover. The pathways take you past some
staggeringly unimpressive stretches of rapids, and the ride’s sole
piece of theming seems to be an Aztec style wall, past which the ancient
looking boats amble every now and then.
On arrival at the station, the
only thing that is remotely impressive is that the ride uses a
conveyor-belt loading system, which saves the need for an elaborate
turntable station. This pre-dates the likes of River Quest by quite a
margin (decades, by the look of it), and is far superior to the awkward
accident-waiting-to-happen of boarding the atrociously unseaworthy
vessels that The Tussauds Group seems to love so much.
The boats themselves initially
seem pretty decent, if a little odd, with eight riders split into pairs,
and each pair assigned a cosy “compartment”. Looking around at the
rest of your boat’s crew, you do get a sense of four dinky little
Dodgem cars that have reached a rather unfortunate stalemate. Either
that, or four teams about to take part in the cheapest of daytime quiz
shows - at best you have an urge to enquire “Can I have a P please
Bob?”, at worst you expect Noel Edmonds to creep up and put his arm
around you, which is hardly conducive to having fun.
The boat slides of the end of the
conveyor belt, and plops itself into the remarkably still waters. By
this stage, the promise of the world’s crappiest water ride has grown
into a full blown expectation. Let’s just get it over with and then we
can go on something else, shall we? Here comes the first wave, looking
less like the raging waters of the Colorado, and more like the product
of pulling a lavatory chain too hard. If the average Intamin rapids ride
is anything to go by, the wave will cause the boat to bob about half an
inch into the air. If Rumba Rapids is anything to go by, the boat will
do absolutely nothing, and carry on as if the wave weren’t even there.
Sometimes, if you really believe,
miracles really can happen. El Rio Grande, having provided absolutely no
cause for optimism thus far, suddenly reveals how one tiny element can
take a deeply dreadful ride and turn it into something astronomically
Against all odds, Vekoma, the bunch of vindictive barbarians
responsible for the coaster cars that stunted the growth of a
generation, have come up with a design of rapids boat that turns even
the blandest ride into a riot.
What is so great about them?
Well, the four compartments that divide the boat are indeed totally
separate entities, held together by next to nothing. Secondly, the tyre
(or more precisely, the four small tyres) that keep the boat afloat are
extremely thin compared to the Intamin design, meaning that riders’
feet are well below the waterline, giving more of an impression of being
“in” the river than merely bobbing along half a meter above the
tide. Combine the two, and the result is that, at even the smallest of
waves, the first compartment is practically buried under the water,
allowing water to utterly cascade through the gaps between each segment,
virtually submerging the entire boat.
Now that we’ve been alerted to
the ride’s charms, things look up immediately. OK, the layout is
indeed dull. OK, the theming is indeed nigh-on non-existent. OK, there
is indeed nothing to look at as you go, but who cares? The boat is good
enough to make you forget all that. It just goes to show how excelling
in one component can rescue any number of other faults. The comical
thing is that, in an effort to breathe new life into
rapids rides, we
now have the likes of Phantasia Land’s River Quest throwing drops,
whirlpools, and vertical lifts into the equation, whereas El Rio Grande
proves that, if you concentrate on perfecting the fundamentals rather
than inventing flash gimmicks, the genre is more than strong enough to
survive all by itself.
Now, I know what you’re
thinking. Words like “cascade”, and “submerge” do suggest that
this is a ride that should only be attempting when the mercury begins to
creep to the upper end of the thermometer. Not a bit of it, for despite
the sensation of practically submarining every few seconds, riders
remain remarkably unscathed. In fact, in terms of wetness, it is exactly
what a north-European water ride should be. For once, the old adage
“You will get wet, you may get soaked” is actually true. Indeed, the
best chance of a soaking comes not from the waves, but from the
waterfalls, as you cannot use the old ploy of getting up and running to
the other side of the boat.
And so the boat bobs toward the
end of its deeply unremarkable course, and yet as your maiden voyage
draws to a close, the only thing crossing your mind is “I hope they
let us go round again”. It’s crazy because, were you to tackle the
same course aboard a “normal” rapids boat, you would be suicidally
bored by this stage, and yet here you are desperate for another outing.
And so, we come back to out
original question. How do you make a rapids ride feel truly boring?
Easy-peasy. Just ride El Rio Grande, and then go back to an Intamin
rapids ride. By comparison, it’ll bore you rigid.
05 June 2005
▪ Everything else