Coaster Kingdom

Tonnerre De Zeus (Parc Asterix)

If anyone could get away with making a lot of noise, it was Zeus. Zeus, however, did not go cruising down the westside of Staines playing drum ‘n bass, for he was the god of thunder and wanted everyone to know this. And they did.

As if a living testament to Zeus himself, like small rockets, trains thunder over the heaving mountain of wood to the left of the park, the first beeline for many, as it is often classed as the finest coaster in the park. It doesn’t have much competition though. On the opposite side of the lake that the park is built around, Gouderix, and whilst it looks relatively pretty for a Vekoma ‘masterpiece’ it rides much like a spin cycle in a washing machine full of bricks.

As you pass through the quaint Greek themed area, past and under Vol D’Icare, with the lake on your right hand side, the coaster ebbs it’s way into view. In front, the temple-like station and to your right, Zeus himself carved in aging  bronze, standing proud clutching a fist-full of thunderbolts, eyes more piercing than Paul McKenna.

The rest of the ride is unfortunately around the back, out of view. This is, obviously sacrilege, especially from the point of view of an intrepid and over enthusiastic web-addict and photographer such as myself. This could be construed as a rather lame excuse for the lack of photos here I guess, but if the queue is really long the silver lining for that cloud at least would be access via the queue-line to the less accessible areas of the ride.

You enter under the scantily clad Zeus over the name of the ride that is cleverly paved into the ground. If you have a few spare pictures kicking about after the reasons above, point that lens up under Zeus’ legs for some unforgettable Kodak moments.

The queue weaves around the back of the helix, the handrails made to look like the undulating track-work. This final helix, and the dip ensuing it, gives a good impression of what the ride will be like. You can also look in amazement as the brake-run shifts about three inches and the trains’ wheels lift up when the ride comes to an end.

If you can peel your eyes away from this fascinating phenomenon, sneak a peek at the reactions of riders’ faces when they arrive back from their most unorthodox thunderstorm of dips and twists. You’ll be hard pushed to find an unimpressed face among them. It isn’t only enthusiasts that love wooden coasters, everyone does, ultimately so do the parks as they are the ones taking your money.

After meandering around the various climatic endings of this ride, you then ascend a staircase, shrouded in bubblegum and graffiti, before you are in the open station. Here, it is pretty much a free for all. Keep your back along the wall to the left and you will end up in the back seat. Hard life.

After around eight rides, which fly by bearing in mind the two trains in operation, you sit down in the consistently impressive PTC cars, seat divider between you and your comrade, single ratcheting lap bars and enough padding to keep even the most lazy couch-potato happy.

The staff aren’t too aggressive with regards to pushing down lapbars, so-long as you don’t take liberties, and before long, the train is dispatched, turning smoothly to the right before smoothly engaging on the lift-hill.

The lift-hill is really nice and fast, and riders on both sides of the train really get fantastic views of the fun and jollities that lie in wait. To the left, a knot of helixes and turns, to the right, more turns and dips.

At the top, no rest for the wicked as you quickly turn to the right. You catch a glance of the skull shaped tunnel before you are literally yanked into oblivion as the back car is pulled down the 100ft drop, plunging through the impossibly tight tunnel at the bottom and bursting into daylight again the other side.

A rather awe-inspired train is next thrown up a large hill before being hurled around a right hand bend before plunging back down to terra firma, climbing, heading towards the lift-hill before pushing you through one of the most enduring elements on the ride as you go through a clockwise helix, not once, but twice.

As you spiral upwards, your arms will soon give way and you will relinquish to the lateral forces and be pushed into the well padded car, or indeed the rider next to you.

After what seems an eternity you are hurled into another airtime filled drop, a bunny hop, and then probably the most surprising drop on the ride, the photo drop, and whilst your heads scrape the sky above as you are thrown from your car, if it’s fast enough, the camera will capture your mouth speaking expletives that even Bernard Manning would be insulted by.

That isn’t an exaggeration either. This is probably one of the finest drops on the ride and as you are left speechless by this most delightful drop, you are rocketed into another turn for yet more bunny-hops and drops.

Beware, those of you who have your arms up, put them down, quickly. At the end of this assault of forces, you are ripped off to the left hand side. Experimented on Megafobia, perfected here, the track sharply jolts to the left, pushing you waaaay over to the right. It is really very, very violent.

You turn further to the left, before a quick final slalom through the ride. A final dip over the queue line before you jump up into another long and tight helix before hitting the brick wall, sorry, brake run.

And that is it. The most forceful, powerful, dynamic, intense and action-packed ride I have ever ridden. If there was any coaster that left you with no words in your vocabulary other than ‘phew’, then this is it.

From the first flick over the top into the first drop, it’s going to be a good ride. This is no Pepsi Max Big One though where it loses it after the first drop, as the best is yet to come. The photo drop is gorgeous, the double helix is just incredible, and it still finishes with a punch more powerful than Frank Bruno in a huff.

Although many coasters concentrate on airtime and dips or turns and laterals, this seems to satisfy all tastes. If the ride seems too smooth, worry not, that jolt will more than sort you out. And if like many rides you know what will come next, Tonnerre De Zeus will blow you away. Each turn is unexpected, each drop is hidden. Even after five rides you will probably still forget to brace yourself at the right times.

So, is Tonnerre De Zeus perfection personified? In the morning, probably, in the evening, most certainly. Is Tonnerre De Zeus the finest coaster in the world? The survey says yes… If the reactions of riders before you weren’t proof enough, Tonnerre De Zeus came top of an independent poll that rates coasters regardless of how many have ridden them.

5/5 Marcus Sheen