Coaster Kingdom

Robin Hood (Six Flags Holland)

Premier, owners of a admirable collection of parks in the United States, in a surprise move pounced on Six Flags in the late 1990s, buying them out, making it one of the worlds single largest entertainers. At the time, Walibi was one of Europe's largest theme park chains, and also surrendered to Premier Parks and from there we knew that it could only get better.

Premier have a habit of transforming modestly sized theme parks into bulging behemoths. They add an outrageous number of rides in the first year, watch the crowds pour in, and continue to invest from there. Its a great idea, and seems to be working well for both Premier, and of course, you and me.

Walibi Flevo in Holland was the first park in Europe to become a Six Flags park, meaning practically the whole park was bulldozed, rebuilt, and opened within the course of six months. Tenders for rides of all shapes and sizes were put in, with Vekoma and Huss being victorious in virtually all their respective categories.

From one success story to another: Vekoma. No coaster manufacturer in the world is as busy as Vekoma of Holland. Every year, they turn out tens of rides, and in their seventy five year history, have been responsible for hundreds of leading, and innovative rides and attractions.

Vekoma's first ride was a Giant Wheel, four more have been made since, but they are most famed for their coasters, in particular the equally cursed and blessed Boomerang coaster, which made many parks’ dreams of a multi looping coaster reality.

The last year has seen Vekoma innovate more than ever, with prototypes already opening (Stealth for example) and more in various stages of origination (Hammerhead Stall for example). However, whilst one of their newest rides this year is certainly an innovation for Vekoma themselves, the wooden coaster is certainly not a new concept.

It's an unwritten rule that steel coasters are smoother than their wooden counterparts. Vekoma have a reputation of building rough steel coasters, so it would always have been interesting to see just how well their first attempt at a wooden coaster would be pulled off.

The ride appears modestly sized despite being Europe's tallest, and the circuit is a variation on the out and back style coaster, which concentrates on dips and drops as opposed to turns. These are what wooden coasters are all about, focusing on the stomach in the mouth feeling that throws you from your seat.

The ride is towards the back of the park in the Sherwood Forest area, home to stereotypically quaint buildings built around a lake with a charactoristic Robin Hood flavour to them. The station looks great, with two flights of stairs leading up to the well themed building, adorned with wooden tiled roof and turrets.

The lift hill and subsequent ride stretch off to the left hand side over a lake,  with a high level turnaround section in front of that. It looks stunning, the park have done well, and with regards to first impressions, this ride gets full marks all round.

Queuing is nothing special. It weaves around between the aforementioned turnaround and the station, ending in a steep staircase up the front of the station going up onto the station platform. Here you will find no separate queues for the front or back of the train, but should you wish to make use of these vantage points, queue a bit longer and you’ll be in luck.

The trains look great. Each train is four cars long, each seating six. They’re painted so that they look like old untreated wood, are trimmed with brown seats, and each car is fronted by a fence style barrier, fronted by a crest on a shield on the very front car.

To sit in, the trains are even better. The T shaped lap bars are comfortable and un-intrusive, and you have a rail to hold onto on the back of the seat in front, that is of course if you wish to use it.

The seats are probably the most comfortable you could ask for, they’re outrageously squishy, a feature that is continued around your sides on the  inside edge of the car. The seat is also really wide, giving you plenty of room, and with the great design of the bars, you have more than enough leg room.

Whilst you’re indulging in the creature comforts of the train, your bar will be checked by the efficient ride operators, before being dispatched. The train swoops gently out of the station, turning 180 degrees to the left before engaging on the lift.

This isn’t done smoothly, so make sure at this point you hold the bar up or it will click down and really bug you throughout the ride. The lift is really slow, just like all Vekoma lifts used to be, but before long, you have reached the top, where it levels out and drops into the first, straight drop.

The drop is fast, and although it doesn’t drop anywhere near to the ground, you can feel it really trying to give you some airtime. It fails, but what will take your breath away is how smoothly its executed. It is smoothness personified, and I don’t think I have ever, ever experienced an element on any wooden coaster so flawlessly smooth.

Bottoming out, the train begins a climb curving off to the left hand side, riders on the left will experience at close quarters the handrails of the returning stretch of track, riders all around will experience the less than rounded nature of this curve, pushing you around no less than three times.

From here, you continue to turn, before heading back in the opposite direction. You drop, and halfway through the drop, it significantly steepens, providing back seat riders with a surprise dose of airtime, before the front of the train is blasted over a bunny hop, climbing, and losing a lot of speed to the high level turnaround.

The turnaround is subtly banked and provides a nice break from the chaos of the first half. The train then accelerates riders into another steep, long drop, climbing over a bunny hop, before rising and curling over the top of yet another drop and diving headlong into the main turn of the ride.

It drops out of here, over another dip, climbing and bursting straight into a tunnel of wood created by the rides first hills at first surprising you with a superb head chopper effect. There is a subtle turn to the right before you hit the brakes and return to the station.

Although wooden coasters don’t push the envelope with regards to cutting edge technology, there is a lot of things rides like this can get right, and a lot more they can get wrong. Trains can often make or break a ride, and with Vekoma's trains normally being the most basic out there, the first of many surprises was to find what are essentially sofas on wheels.

From here, the surprises don’t let up. The first drop is more an exhilarating descent as to get speed up, as opposed to a tool to throw you skyward, but it is done with such grace, such smoothness that it will leave you buzzing.

From here, the mix of laterals and airtime is perfection. Every element is stupidly smooth, and perfectly banked enough to give you a great ride. Half way around the ride, you climb, slow and turn. As much height as possible is regained here at this point, and because of this, the second half is just as good as the first.

The ride in the back is fun, but for the real surprise, head for the front. On this ride, not only do you have the quirk of great visuals, but also airtime all over the place. Its great, and all because of the bunny hops, the back does well to push the front over the next hop, skip or jump.

So, it seems after a history of building only average rides, Vekoma have finally built a ride which is getting universal praise. Praise well deserved mind you, and of date, this is Vekoma's finest ride, no questions asked, full stop. I would really be hard pushed to think of any sensible suggestions on how to improve the ride, it's great fun, fast, and packs a punch. It's everything I expect a wooden coaster to be.

4/5 Marcus Sheen