Coaster Kingdom

Expedition Ge-Force (Holiday Park)

I regard record-breaking statistics as a marketing tool, and not necessarily representative of the ride to be had. A good example is Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s Big One. At little over 200ft, it is still sold to us as being the Worlds’ tallest, fastest and steepest roller coaster. What they don’t mention is that this record was lost over five years ago, moreover the middling ride to be had at the end of it.

I’m not into statistics. I don’t know in terms of feet how long a ride is, I am not entirely sure how many coasters I have ridden and how many times I have ridden them. I’m in it for the adrenaline. I enjoy the feeling of impending doom when roller coasters are as safe as houses.

Magnum XL200 was the first 200ft-tall roller coaster to be built. Since then, so-called hyper coasters have spread like fungi throughout the world. The textbook term of hyper coaster is an out and back roller coaster to go over 200ft. This term has  been hazed somewhat by rides like X (which includes loops) and Steel Eel (has all the credentials but stands at only 150ft). This proves my point that this whole culture of statistics is flawed.

To claim the tallest now is becoming a feat in itself. At nearly 350ft, Steel Dragon is currently the tallest, and few parks have the financial clout let alone the space to build such a behemoth. As such, we’re enjoying more coasters around the 200-250ft mark like Superman, Raging Bull and more recently, Expedition Ge-Force.

Expedition Ge-Force is in this field of ambiguity at 175ft tall. It isn’t the tallest, nor the longest, but it is the perfect example of how the term ‘worlds tallest’ is merely something to put on the front of the park map, not a benchmark in thrills.

Holiday Park is a bit like Oakwood. It was unheard of until recently, and as far as Joe Public goes, it remains so. The skyline has always been broken by the 200ft Intamin Freefall Tower, and has since been re-drawn again by the vivid track of Expedition Ge-Force.

A woodland area towards the back of the park has been cleared for a colonial expedition camp base. Supplies are stacked up, tents congregate around the base of the drop and jeeps are parked up where the gravel roadway meets the dense foliage surrounding.

Many tents are open for supplies such as doughnuts and drinks, there is also the Pi Pi Station, a place to relieve yourself before you enjoy the expedition itself.

Enveloping this camp, the vivid orange crosshatch track of Expedition Ge-Force. The supports are a musty green-brown colour and support the insane direction changes of Intamin’s latest contribution to the world of coasters.

Every element of Expedition Ge-Force is completely over-exaggerated. The first drop is not far off vertical, flicking you 95-degrees to the right before swooping off into a parabolic hill. Not too long after disappearing into the trees behind, the track does a dramatic overbanked turn above the pathway.

After diving behind the campsite, an undulating series of bunnyhops takes you into the final brake run with a 180-degree turn taking you into the station.

Before you ride, you can check your dimensions in a mock up seat and restraint set up at the entrance to the ride. If you pass this ‘test’, let the expedition begin. You pass under a corrugated Expedition Ge-Force sign before the queue veers off to the left.

The lift hill that you queue beneath has quite a minimalist structure – no more than Thorpe Parks’ Colossus. The similarities here end, though. Following on  from the complex but necessary cable lift from Millennium Force, Expedition Ge-Force makes use of a similar, more refined system. The queue weaves under the taught return of this cable, with makeshift scaffolding arching above your head.

As you approach the station, the queue forks into two for people who wish to queue for the front, and for those who wish to queue elsewhere. A corrugated tunnel takes those who have lost the will to ride beneath the lift back to safety, before those who are hardy enough climb the stairs to the station.

The station is large and minimalist. It features little more than a small building for the operators, a corrugated ‘shelter’ for storing those valuables that you’ll lose on the ride and the automatic gates for you to queue behind with a barrier further separating the back seats for your enjoyment.

The trains come in a brighter shade of bright and brighter still. The orange one is the most tasteful, yet still bright enough to make a road cone seem inconspicuous. Most worrying of all is the day-glow fluorescent yellow train, bright enough to burn itself onto the back of your retinas.

Fortunately, minimalism prevails, meaning most of the train is the relatively dull emerald green, not the almost insulting shades fore mentioned.

The trains follow a popular trend of being little more than seats on wheels. The train makes use of tiered seating, meaning the second row of each car is higher than the first meaning your view of the twisted track ahead is unrestricted.

There are no sides to the train, just a snug lap bar and seat belt to hold you in. The lap bar is strongly enforced, pushed down as far as it will go by members of staff. Having ridden Expedition Ge-Force, it is a wise move not to take liberties or you could easily be regretting it.

Unfortunately, loading of the train is slow. Seat belts are fastened by members of the public, checked and tightened by members of staff before lap bars are lowered and pushed down as they’re checked. The ride is quite short, so halfway through these proceedings, the other train sits in wait on the brake run.

Once you’re in, the train smoothly, silently and swiftly starts the climb on the lift. With a single clunk of anti-rollbacks, complete silence accompanies your accelerated jaunt up this lift. As you climb, there is ample opportunity to pan right and look at the glorious layout of this sprawling giant.

You approach the mast at the top of the lift, and without pausing, without even slowing, the train drops from beneath you.

Before you can even breathe, you pitch impossibly to the right, cavorting towards the ground in a literal second of perfectly engineered madness. Despite being almost vertical, despite plunging beyond the natural angle of descent, the drop is fluid with the train almost floating down.

You bottom out, pulling unnatural amounts of Gs before you are peeled away from the ground into a near-parabolic hill. Before you even hit the top, you rise from your seat and are pulled by the restraints on your legs as the train drops back towards the ground.

Before you can even get there, once again in a flurry of G-forces, the train turns and banks to the right, tilting beyond the normal 90-degrees into a particularly exposed moment in an overbanked turn.

Bottoming out once again delivers generous amounts of Gs before you are plunged over another enormous bunny hop. You soon realise that as you jump over each drop, the wheels lift from the track and are complete silence until the bottom.

Another overbanked turn takes place towards the station and the pathway in front before you slalom over a lake essentially forming an over-sized figure-eight. Another turn towards the back of the ride takes you through the first of two magnetic trim-brakes, both of which are noticeable, neither of which succeed in taking the bite out of the remainder of the ride.

You soon clock a twist in the track approaching. As you brace your legs for what seems inevitable, the train is spectacularly flicked from a right-hand curve into a left-hand stance in the matter of feet with unparalleled elegance.

Now in the shadow of the first overbanked turn, a sweeping curve takes you into another bunny-hop, shrouded in the supports from the second hill offering some of the most sustained and cranium scraping head choppers ever experienced just as you raise from your seat in another unrelenting moment of airtime.

Another climb before a relatively shallow drop, unfortunately crowned by another trim, turning behind the beige tents that form the campsite, now running parallel in the opposite direction to the lift throwing you up once, twice in two instances of airtime on the final bunny hops forming the return stretch, before a flash of cameras as you are swiftly brought to a halt by the magnetic brakes.

As you slowly advance into the station, you have an opportunity to fumble around with your seatbelt before a member of staff does the honours for you. Most seatbelts are unfastened by the time the restraint unlocks leaving you to jump from the train.

The one thing that strikes me about Expedition Ge-Force are the many directions in which the train is turned on the first drop, the overstated angles of the overbanked turns and the sharp twist to the left mid-course. Yet every one feels so natural, so fluid and so normal.

The train executes each insanely rough-looking element with unrivalled grace. The ride also gets the mix of sensations just right. The overbanked turns are a novel addition in comparison to many hyper coasters, but whilst the aim of these is to emphasise the feeling of speed, the drops and bunny-hops take care of airtime, leaving your toes curling as your seat is pulled from beneath.

Trim brakes are normally as welcome on a ride as Britney Spears at an Eminem concert, yet whilst these are clearly felt as you pass them, the rest of the ride is as powerful as when it starts, and isn’t spent going down steep hills slowly, thinking what a waste the end is.

As well as the track being perfectly manufactured perfection, the trains completely show up the wheeled buckets of the Big One. The feeling of vulnerability is strongly exaggerated, something which helps no end in my enthusiasm towards the ride.

To ride a coaster with high expectations and to have them met is always a pleasure. To have them exceeded is just heavenly.

5*/5 Marcus Sheen