Coaster Kingdom

Oxygenarium (Parc Asterix)

Until recently, water rides very rarely differed from the tried-and-tested log flumes and rapids rides. Occasionally you would find a giant splash, but fortunately these really have never caught on in northern Europe for pretty understandable reasons.

As parks overindulge on coasters and thrill rides, water rides often prove as an engaging family substitute to the white-knuckle thrills of a high-rolling coaster. The scope of rides that was available was until recently piteous so a few manufacturers saw a blatant niche in the market and provided some great solutions to this problem.

White Water West is one of the better-known manufacturers of so-called blue-tube rides, the kind of things you find at Butlins resorts. The dry water-coaster is a ride they have been pushing of late with the dingy-style boats keeping riders relatively dry. Versions of these can be found at Oakwood (Snake River Falls), Thorpe Park (Depth Charge) and Fantasy Island.

Another great ride along the same lines soon appeared at Bobbijaanland whereby a large circular raft could carry around six riders. After going up a conveyor lift, the raft would then skid along a film of water around curves, bends and dips before splashing down into water.

The ride is great fun and divinely novel, but the capacity was just far too low for any sensible park, a problem that would soon be easily overcome.

By 1999, Parc Asterix was the first park to get a spinning rapids ride, a moderate variation on the raft-ride whereby panels on the surface of the waterway would spin the boat. Add to this some great theming and Parc Asterix were rightly proud of their newest attraction.

With the bobsleigh, Le Trace De Horras, this corner of the park is becoming a really popular haunt for people looking for pink-knuckle thrills. The majority of L’Oxygenarium is out of sight in a wooded area towards the outskirts of the park.

For the 1900 Worlds Fair, Ferdinand de Téffélé dreamt up a whimsical piece of machinery to pump, cleanse and contain air pumped down from the mountaintops.

It is beneath a brightly coloured navy-blue, red and amber air pump that you enter. The machinery breathes with action, pivoting, inflating the concertinaed cylinder to your left.

The pathway goes off into the wooded area and crosses the final drop of the ride. The majority of the ride is raised on supports and looks like an enlarged water-slide with meandering beige plastic slide with water flowing over it.

The station for such a ride is huge. Continuing the Victorian theme so far set by the ride, lattice iron-work holds the ceiling high above and supports brightly coloured duct-work piping the fresh, cleansed air to respective locations.

Such gadgets such bubble trumpets, cloud containers and thunder tanks distract you from the loading of the ride, taking place below you as the queue wraps around the wall one floor up.

You cross a gauze walkway from which you can see the large red and yellow striped rafts pass under you as they begin their 60-foot ascent. You then descend down a staircase down to the station platform.

Three boats are loaded at the same time on a large conveyor-belt. Each raft consists of large inflated rubber rings. Each is about two rings tall, with riders sitting on a smaller ring on the inside facing inwards. It is pretty much like a inflatable Intamin rapids boat and you hold on to the plastic handles around the outside of the boat.

The boats are then dispatched, passing under the earlier mentioned bridge and beginning the climb up the huge conveyor-lift. As the boat goes over the rollers on the lift, your feet almost get massaged through the boats’ thin bottom.

The bottom half of the lift is enclosed in a tunnel with whimsical propellers whirling above as you follow the deep-orange pipe-way above. The tunnel then decreases down to archways as you continue to climb.

To the right of the lift prevailing rafts skim down the 550ft course. The top section of the lift is enclosed too, and as you go underneath a nose being siphoned of air, into the fresh air you go, bouncing off the side of the waterway to the right hand side.

As you twist and turn, the visuals are restricted to the plastic tubing and the trees beyond that, but upon every turn, the boat skids off the side, turning and making rather ominous ‘sea lion noises’.

The pads in the bottom don’t really spin the boat at all, and although you do turn as you bounce from corner-to-corner, you don’t spin - you turn. It isn’t the turning that makes the ride run, it is just the noises it makes and the way it ricochets from each turn.

A final straight section sends you careering into a dip, another dip and then you slide off the end of the plastic waterway into deeper water, slowing the boat to a slow walking pace.

A final turn stacks boats up in a queue as previous riders leave the ride, and then you climb a final conveyor-belt into the station, before you can jump off.

So, what of the ride? Well, it most definitely is a fun and unique ride, but it is still a palaver to run with the rafts still queuing up at the station and the lift stopping to accommodate the rafts further along the ride.

Also, something of concern was the lack of handles on the boat where they had been snapped off. Other versions of the ride normally use a strap fastened around the boat, this uses plastic handles, the kind of thing you would open a cupboard with, and to see many of these missing was a bit worrying, especially as this isn’t really a ride you can get away with not holding on to as you would probably be thrown to the floor (it has happened before – although it isn’t dangerous as it may initially sound).

The whole manner and concept of the ride is fantastic. The rubber graunches and squeaks as it slithers along the course, hitting corners and bouncing to the next. It is a laugh and a one-of-a-kind, but once the boat is skimming around the waterway, there is very little to entertain, and as the ride is so short, following a queue you may feel slightly ripped off.

Bonus points for the conception though.

3/5 Marcus Sheen