a ride just hits that spot and brings a lump to your throat, makes the
hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and completely overwhelms
you. Yet, it takes a better wordsmith than I to adequately explain why
exactly a ride should be capable of conjuring up such emotions.
rides are a particularly difficult genre to quantify in terms of
enjoyment. By their very nature they’re like theatre where you sit
passively in a seat and expect to be taken into another world without
necessarily even moving an inch.
you strip your favourite dark ride to the bear bones, you will see just
how much onus is on music, effects and effective story telling to send
those shivers down your spine, yet try and explain why your personal
favourite has a special place in your heart to someone who hasn’t
ridden and it is a truly infuriating feeling to be met with a vacant
expression and a patronising nod in reply.
epitome of this simply has to be the Mad House, a genre which has
enjoyed a healthy renaissance in Europe recently. While Pleasure Beach
Blackpool’s Haunted Swing is decades old, Villa Volta was the first of
Vekoma’s modern version which was larger, capable of being far better
themed and on which the gondola was capable of moving by up to forty
degrees to encourage the grey matter into thinking you really are being
however much you try and explain how good this type of ride can be, at
the end of a day, you cannot escape the fact that you are sitting on a
near-stationary seat inside a room that can go upside-down. Exciting,
of course, this goes to show how such a mundane concept can send people
head over heels. Ride the very best Mad House and it has the capability
of leaving most people slack jawed, yet without the proper ingredients
it has the potential to be one long-winded snooze-fest.
this day, Villa Volta remains the most highly regarded Mad House in the
world despite a further twelve opening in the last decade. Does Villa
Volta still possess the qualities to retain the crown of best Mad House,
or should it surrender sovereignty to a more deserving opponent?
the risk of uttering certain blasphemy in the church of the dark ride, I
can categorically say without any reservation whatsoever that Villa
Volta is not the best Mad House in the world.
hundreds of readers suitably enraged, I’ll follow up by saying with
equal confidence that Villa Volta is not a bad ride – far from it –
but I am in no doubt that much of the vocal following for Villa Volta is
down to the nostalgic few among us who cannot see the obvious advantages
newer Mad Houses have over Villa Volta.
in the woodlands of Efteling, Villa Volta sits on the bank of a river
running around the outside of the Fairy Realm. By day, this is a
dwelling of quite exceptional standards with white-washed walls, and a
tiled roof finished off with a statue of a slender woman, arms
while Villa Volta appears to be a palace fit for a king, and while it
must surely exude the flamboyant lifestyle of a hard-working and
industrious citizen, for every brick laid was a victim of a dark and
sinister culture of debauchery and pillaging with Villa Volta being home
to the very worst of these bandits, the so-called Bokkeryders.
the dark moonlit nights, Hugo van den Loonsche Duynen and his band of
‘Bokkeryders’ would leave houses bare committing remorseless acts of
theft and arson and living lavish lifestyles on their victims’
sinister backstory is explained on various multi-lingual signs in the
queueline to the right of the building before large oak doors swing open
and a group of eighty-or-so are let into a storeroom with only a few
shafts of light cutting through the dusty air. In the store there are
sacks of grain, boxes of commodities, and railings and fencing leant up
against the far corner.
the room fills, a dramatic rolling orchestral piece stirs anticipating
riders into an expectant anxiety before the doors behind close and the
lights dim. The dulcet tones of a narrator introduce the story as
explained outside before the voices of villagers recount their stories
having falling victim to the Bokkeryders.
that’s what they are. They should be exterminated with root and
all!” seethes one villager.
accounts of the eighteenth century reign of the wicked Bokkeryders
continue punctuated by a crack of thunder where a curtain drops to show
a sign swinging behind with orchestral music swelling up dramatically
before the accounts continue.
the pre-show, the narrator introduces the ringleader of the Bokkeryders,
Hugo, a pair of doors opening as he does so, inviting us deeper into the
house, and into just one of the rooms used by Hugo to store his hoard of
stolen artefacts. This rustic room is uncharacteristically decorated
with spectacular chandeliers and brim full of golden candelabras, vases
and ornate gold-framed paintings.
the midst of this bounty, and sat upon a guilt-edged throne sits the now
old and frail character of Hugo, a quite remarkably realistic
animatronic. Now locked in with this villain of epic proportions, the
lights dim before Hugo is lit up in a striking white light, waking him
from his deep slumber.
is hard to feel anything but pity for this frail old man. Slumped in his
chair with scraggly grey hair, he recounts the dark evening where he and
his band of outlaws decided to plunder the riches of a church.
broken into the house of the lord, Hugo looted the alter of golden
goblets and silver candlesticks before he felt a cold hand on his
shoulder, and turned to find an apparition of a young lady.
frail account of that fateful night is synchronised by the ghostly tones
of the woman from behind; “Repent, and do not bring down the wrath of
God”, she warned.
a cold laugh, Hugo ignored this maiden’s warning and left the church.
returning to his glorious mansion Hugo would again be haunted by this
mysterious missus. Stood at the very top of his mansion, arms waving
mysteriously in the wind, she barked at Hugo that never shall he find
peace again until someone with the conscience as clean as an unborn baby
enters his cursed house – and that he shall remain a prisoner in his
own home for ever.
haunting tale concludes with a plea from Hugo; “Enter with a pure soul
so that doom leaves this house and my soul will be at peace which I so
Hugo fades away into the darkness, a pair of doors open into the room so
that we can enter the main hall inside the house.
that Hugo is a thieving, lying, blasphemous pyromaniac, this is clearly
how the other half live. This magnificent room is beautiful to the
finest detail – gothic pillars reach up to the outstanding arched
ceiling, trimmed with gold and lit with crystal chandeliers. The
peachy-coloured walls are trimmed with wood panelling, broken up with
large French windows obscured by luxurious curtains.
the antique wooden furniture, four long pews line the length of the room
grouped in pairs facing the centre. Once sat on these deep wooden seats,
lapbars automatically lower and pin you tightly into your seat. Hugo
clearly doesn’t want you to leave.
soundtrack explodes into life before fading to a gentle background
ambience. You slowly start to feel pressure as you clearly start moving,
yet to the eye you haven’t moved a centimetre. As the music swells up
again, the gondola slowly but surely begins a hypnotic sequence of
slowly swinging across the width of the room.
the music gets faster, the pendulous movements of the gondola get larger
and larger. Soon, the walls become the floor and ceiling, the lighting
in the room flashing dramatically in time to the music.
the music climaxes, what was the tiled floor hidden beneath the gondola
soars high over mesmerised riders as the entire room – furniture,
fittings and all – quickly orbits around the gondola full of people.
gondola momentarily pauses before the music surges and once again the
room circles around you, lights fading and a brief flicker of light on
the floor (now) above revealing a character buried beneath the marbled
lights flash dramatically and the music moves up a notch, the ride makes
one further revolution before slowly, but surely, the room returns to
its upright position and the lapbars release.
you have it – (potentially, at best) the second best Mad House in the
if it’s not the best, what’s wrong with it? Of course, there are the
usual problems associated with Mad Houses, as well as a few others not
only limited to Villa Volta, but problems other Mad Houses have
address the usual problems, Mad Houses are very much the Marmite of the
dark ride world. While many consider Mad Houses to be the very bread and
butter of some parks, while others simply cannot catch whiff of a Mad
House without wincing.
is also the problem of translation. Dark rides often suffer by placing
too much onus on dialogue which is great for locals, but wasted on the
minority of tourists who visit the park and are not well rehearsed in
the local dialect. There are few Mad Houses that don’t rely on
dialogue, and those that don’t (Phantasialand’s Feng Ju Palace, for
example), are often clumsy and confusing whatever your tongue.
regards to the problems many Mad Houses suffer from, there is a clear
need for – and as far as I can see – evident lack of a clear
conclusion. Did we banish the curse that kept the wicked Hugo a prisoner
within his own home? Or does the curse prevail? Who knows? Not me.
the wake of other Mad Houses, in terms of eye candy Villa Volta has
competition. Villa Volta is by far the most beautiful of the Mad Houses,
but in terms of keeping the eye entertained, Hex and even Merlin’s
Magic Castle have far more to look at in terms of effects.
don’t mean to paint a picture of negativity, though. Villa Volta is
far from being a poor ride and can carry its own in many respects.
like the legend of the Towers, the story of the Bokkeryders is – at
least in part – true. Yet, unlike Hex, though, the ride feels very
artificial and staged when compared to the chillingly real setting of
is another string to Villa Volta’s bow, and undoubtedly one of the
most popular aspects of this ride. Somehow, it manages to fuse together
genuinely atmospheric orchestral melodies before mixing with a more
poppy and mainstream finale. While my description probably makes it
sound forced and unflattering, it is truly one of the most memorable
pieces of music you’re likely to hear at a theme park.
Volta is clearly a meticulous work of art. Inside and out, the ride is
faultlessly themed and littered with small details normally associated
with Disney rides. The woman on the roof that Hugo speaks of in his
harrowing tale, for example, remains in statue form, while there are
numerous nods to the Bokkeryders (Goat Riders) throughout the
attraction, both inside and out.
while subtle, the pre-shows are well presented. Hugo is one of the best
examples of animatronics outside Disney, and even if you don’t
understand what he’s saying, his realism is quite spell bounding and
will simply mesmerise you.
first pre-show is an acquired taste. It is very understated and
doesn’t go for showy grandeur, and in fact, aside the sign which drops
into view, there’s absolutely nothing of note to look at relying
completely on audio. It is effective at establishing the plot, though,
although I cannot imagine it having the re-ride value of the cinema
pre-show on Hex.
second pre-show explains more about the legend behind Villa Volta. From
the mouth of Hugo and not incensed villagers this casts the story in a
different light. While by the end of the first pre-show Hugo is painted
as a remorseless villain, by the end of the second it is hard not to
pity this now weak and pathetic man.
main show is beautiful and wouldn’t appear out of place on a tour of
Buckingham Palace with expensive candelabras and vases of flowers
leaving no corner undecorated. While the ride is moving though you will
find your eye wandering less than it perhaps could do. Underneath the
gondola is a wonderful opportunity to reveal some spectacular surprise,
yet on Villa Volta the wooden floor abruptly drops away to a black and
white checked marble-design floor.
programme used on Villa Volta is ever so slightly different to the usual
one used on Mad Houses. While there are exceptions to the rule (Feng Ju
Palace), Villa Volta’s doesn’t have the dramatic pause where the
room is suspended upside-down, so the brief moment where the figure
underneath the floor is revealed is wasted for all but the very most
the cries of the regular reader, why exactly did we give Villa Volta a
five out of five last time? While this is clearly a complete and utter
outrage, consider this; when the review was written Villa Volta was
honestly without compare. In the years before Hex, our only comparison
was Drayton Manor’s Haunting.
above all, Villa Volta is a good ride. The attention to detail, the
quality and depth of theming and musical score are befitting of any
Disney park. It is just in the face of increased competition that Villa
Volta fares less well than it did when it opened.
short, Villa Volta is a wonderful ride, but compared to the very best,
it just doesn’t have that Hex factor.
15 May 2005
▪ Amazing quality of theming
▪ Based on a true story
▪ Looks beautiful, especially the main show
▪ Superb sound track
▪ With a lot of dialogue, re-ride value is limited
▪ Limited in terms of special effects
▪ Not as atmospheric as some mad houses