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As much as we'd like to, we simply don't get to ride and review every single ride in Europe. So, at the risk of sounding like work-shy freeloaders, we'd like you to help.

If you see a European ride that we haven't yet reviewed, and you can muster up the words to do the ride justice (whether good or bad), add your review by filling in the form.

Read our readers' contributions below to get an idea of what we're after.

Footnote: Thanks very much to Kris for the suggestion, and helping get the idea off the ground with the excellent reviews below.

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Droomvlucht, EftelingGo...
Houdini's Magical House, BellewaerdeGo...
Python, EftelingGo...
Trauma Towers, Pleasure Beach BlackpoolGo...

Trauma Towers

Now Blackpool Pleasure Beach has never really taken an interest in theming. They have tried with various attraction eg Valhalla but they never seem to get it right. Fortunately for BPB, they don't really need to theme. It is home to the worst ride names in the world eg Bling, Roller Coaster, Pepsi Max Big One, Ice Blast. But the rides tackiness and lack of theme works in their favour. 

Where as Ice Blast in Alton Towers would be burned by the enthusiasts. Now BPB have taken note of this and only try to theme a ride once in a while. The best example of this is coincidentally the ride this review is written about. The ride of which I am talking about is Trauma Towers. It sits in the middle of BPB nice theming yet many people do not realise it's existence.

The ride started life as two separate rides, The Haunted Hotel and Tagada. The Haunted Hotel was built in 1980. The ride was a walk-through attraction featuring many scary scenes. The Tagada was a spinning bowl type of ride where people sat on the inner rim of the bowl. The bowl would spin around whilst hydraulics under the bowl would cause the bowl to jump. 

Although the Haunted Hotel was nothing special Tagada was my first favourite spinning ride so you can imagine my shock when I visited the park in 1998 to see that Tagada was gone and replaced with what looked like an extension to the haunted hotel ride. I was furious. I knew that neither rides were very popular but it puzzled me why they would get rid of one unpopular ride and keep the other. I visited a year later and saw the new building of Trauma Towers. I again assumed it was a longer walk through so I didn't ride. For years I visited the park and just walked past remembering the good times.

Then in 2004 I wanted to ride the Trauma Towers. I just thought that I should ride what replace my beloved Tagada. And I am lucky I did as I soon found out that Trauma Towers is a combination of both rides that has received a good theming.

The building outside it themed as a hotel which is clearly old. The building is starting to sag. All around there are creepy statues and uneven windows. On the right hand side of the front of the building lies the entrance topped with a 'Trauma Towers' sign. The entrance is just a reception in the hotel which is brilliantly themed. It is very realistic whilst everything looks decrepit but in a good way.

What is quite shocking is that there is no designated queue area. You just form a line. This is very trusting of BPB as you would think there would be a lot of queue jumpers but surprisingly there aren't. You are let in in groups of 30 or so through a metal door. This is the walk-through part of the ride. In this part there are various scenes. The best include a woman in a bath if acid, a weird scene with a snooker table. There are also physical elements such as sponge flooring and one part where there is a pool of water on the floor with a plank going over it! This part of the ride is good fun with some scary and odd themes and elements that will shock the first time rider.

 After these scenes you will come into a library. You may have to wait here but sometimes you go straight thorough. The wait can sometimes be quite long and there is nothing to keep you entertained in the room. This is really bad planning but it doesn't really make it a worse ride as it does help to build up the anticipation. 

You then go into another room and you will have to wait here. It is a corridor that ends with a door that is like the one off old lifts. As everybody has to wait here there is something to look at. To the left there is a normal woman playing a piano. But look in the mirror and see her gruesome face. The wait here isn't too long and there is something to look at which is a vast improvement on the last room. As you wait you can hear a creepy voice saying that your place is being set at the dining room.

Then the door opens...A member of staff dressed as a butler greets you which is a very nice touch. You then enter the room which i very nicely themed. There are various titbits around the room such as suits of armour. Then in the middle of the room is the Tagada bowl. The middle of the bowl has a dinner table which is very nicely themed with various plates and cutlery. (Which has been stuck down!)

Everybody takes their seats on the inside of the bowl. There are no restraints which does shock first time riders but you don't need one. The gates close and the paths so the bowl peel away. The room darkens and the bowl starts to spin. The bowl does gain quite a lot of speed but unfortunately nothing compared to the days of Tagada. When the bowl reaches full speed various elements start such as a gargoyle that spreads its wings and bats that fly across the room. Another nice effect is some water that drips from the roof. And then the real fun begins when hydraulics push up the bowl causing it to bounce.

This is a very good feature which really brings the fun element to the ride. The ride then mixes the bouncing and other elements until the ride slows and stops. The ride is of a very good length as its not short but doesn't make you sick or dizzy. Everyone then exits the opposite side of the bowl, down the corridor and out back to the park.

Now after my first ride I was so shocked that it was Tagada I was speechless. I of course ran back on. At the end of that day I had ridden Trauma Towers 17 times. If I would have written a review then I would have given it full marks. Two years on I still love the ride but I have been more open minded and have realised a few flaws of the ride. The theming is great and the main tagada ride is fun but there are two problems.

The first is that the library waiting room does nothing to entertain and sometimes you are kept there for quite a long time. By long time I mean 7-8 minutes but it feels as if you're queuing half way through the ride. This does ruin the ride as up to this point you can forget that you are riding a ride but having to queue again brings you back. The second waiting room isn't bad because you have something to look at and they say that they are setting a place for you at the dinner table. This brings you back to the whole hotel idea. Something like this in the library room would really improve the ride. The other flaw is that the Tagada part of the ride is considerably slower. It is still fast but not a patch on what is used to be. This isn't a severe problem though as the on-ride theming, which they didn't have on the original Tagada, does distract you.

So overall I am very happy. BPB have combined 2 unpopular rides, added great themeing and made a masterpiece that brings in the crowds. Good job Blackpool.

Good Points:

1. A good dark ride that has an unusual ending compared to average dark rides.
2. Very good
3. The end spinning ride is a ride that everyone will enjoy
4. The end spinning ride is very unique ride that is in no other theme park in the UK

Bad Points

1. A wait in a boring room ruins the feel of the hotel persona and reminds you that you are on a ride.
2. The end spinning ride is not as fast as it used to be.


Droomvlucht, Efteling

Ride type: dark ride
Theme: fairies, gnomes, trolls, fairytale world
Limitations: not for people with a handicap (due to safety reasons)

If you are a Dark Ride fan, you must have heard about Droomvlucht. Added in 1993, this ride is now very "hot" on the Web. Try its name in any search engine, and you will find lots of reviews stating that the ride is of exceptional quality. In fact, only a few weeks ago, I discovered very big words on a site:

"Until some years ago, there used to be a sort of contest between theme parks. Every time a park built a new dark ride, another park would take the challenge to build an even better one. However, since Droomvlucht appeared, most parks have given up the idea, for this ride cannot be perfected."

So, the question is up: does Droomvlucht really deserve its high name?

The ride is right across Villa Volta. A huge wall, decorated with lots of green life, is the place to be. So under the gothic-like arc you pass, through the waiting queue. A stage is built near the building, decorated with a flower swing. This is where, on top days, a fairy (who magically enlarged herself) will perform. This is great for the young kiddies, as she greets them and sings fairy songs. Near the station entrance, there's also a video wall with clips from these songs. But enough about that, let's get to the ride! Each small wagon offers place to 2

or 3 visitors. Watch your have to get in while they are moving, AND you have to step on the rolling floor to do so! But fortunately, the park staff lends a hand. Let's go!

Once you're off the floor (the ride is "inverted"), you move slowly up and forward. Once you reach a scene, your wagon turns automatically sideways, so the best view is guaranteed. And there it is: a marvellous landscape, with castles nearly at the skyline. Huge rocks fill the foreground, with real nebula separating them! And that's not all: you actually can smell the stone dust. But on you go, through the darkness, to the next scene.

This one is a forest. With very brightly coloured spots, the effect of a sunset is created. You move smoothly round the sene, some 3 m above the ground. Cute little deer and some fairies, moving their heads and arms catch your attention. In the next scene, inside the forest, above a flower bed, these creatures return. Here you see the real fairy world: singing fairies sitting side by side on a branch, another fairy patting a unicorn, a green gnome taking a waterfall shower, a hanging fairy house, made of flowers... and once again, you smell the

scene (flowers!). By this time, it has become hard to hear the relaxing music because of the children's "ooohhhh"'s and "aaaaahhhhh"'s. You pass a lovely (and VERY realistic) fairy queen, and the funny fairy King, Oberon. With his big smile and even bigger flower hat, he waves at the visitors.

Again, you enter a dark tunnel, this time with lots of coloured light dots on the wall. The walls are bent, so it looks like you're in a real cave. These lights continue at the next scene, a completely darkened night view. The moon is shining, and castles and towers float everywhere.

Another tunnel awaits you, and again you are moving upwards. But this time, no lights but dew, right on your face! Are you ready for the big climax?

Welcome to the swamp forest, where the trolls live. But even they look cute and friendly.

What goes up, must come down, and now is the time. You enter a downward spiral, with the seats turned to the middle: trees encircling a small pond. While you move at a steady pace (the speed is kept rather low, so the children wouldn't get frightened), you notice it is actually raining in this part!

Once you're back down, some troll puppets say goodbye as you move through a dew nebula, back into the station. You can either have a sandwich lunch at the bar, or buy some merchandise in the shop as you leave the ride.

The same qualities that made Efteling famous are not hard to find on Droomvlucht. Each and every scene is beautifully made, every detail is decorated. Loads of spots bring even more colour on the ride. The puppets are made as cute as can be. Fairies, gnomes, animals and trolls make eye contact, making the visitors participate in the action.

In these times, more and more dark rides use special effects. DroomVlucht displays stuff like rain, nebula, perfume... they all add to the fairytale world.

The waiting queue isn't even that long, though it may look so. Last summer, I spent 40 minutes in it (about 75% of the queue was filled), which is acceptable for a top day.

A huge feather in the park's cap is the fact that the ride seems to be 100% child-friendly. You see, yours truly is very sensible for that. If I notice scary things in a ride, such like hard noises, fake explosions, scary/oversized puppets, ... I will be the first one to notice (and start complaining in articles like this one). But here, I must confess I just couldn't find any scary stuff at all.

However, the perfect dark ride doesn't exist. The "carriage parking" in front of the building is right next to the path - not very safe. You can't see how long the waiting queue is, until you're about half in it (and by then it's too late). And it's not easy, even with help, to get into the ride in time, over a moving floor.

Last but not least, people with a handicap are not allowed. Okay, I understand, it's for safety reasons. But what's very confusing to yours truly, is the vague policy Efteling has on "less valid" (as they call them) people.

I mean, are people with a mental handicap allowed? Or does this only apply for people in a wheelchair?

Yours truly is slightly autistic. Does that mean I'm not allowed in?

Okay, I'm probably seeing this too big because I spend a lot of time with people with a handicap and have a handicap myself, but I wish Efteling would be a little less vague in this.

So how about the big question - does Droomvlucht really deserve all these words of praise? In my view, it does. It is so child-friendly, so highly detailed, so relaxing that you actually tend to slide out of the ride, rather than stepping out of it. This is a total experience, which Efteling is known for: you see, hear and even smell the ride.

Can this ride be surpassed? Surely. I already said it... the perfect ride doesn't exist. However, I feel that whoever wants to build an even better ride than this, will have a hard task at hand. A very, VERY hard task indeed, for this one really deserves its five stars!

Good Points:

- A wonderful experience for children
- Cute and relaxing atmosphere
- Lots of special effects
- Lots of park staff to help people get in and out
- Live animation and video wall on top days
- Sandwich bar at ride exit

Bad Points:

- Children can slide under the waiting queue fences, and lose their parents (it happened during my visit)
- Even with help, it is not easy to step in and out of the ride in time
- Prams can be stolen from their "parking lot"
- The exit of the attraction goes through a shop


Houdini's Magical House, Bellewaerde

Ride type: mad house
Limitations/restrictions: you must be at least 90 cm tall. Between 90 and 120 cm must be escorted by an adult.
Parental Guidance: loud noises and "upside down"-illusion might frighten children.

There used to be a time when magicians surrounded themself with an aura of mystery and respect. Rather than being the sympathetic and humorous talker like David Copperfield and friends, they would perform all their illusions like today's doctors do their work, sometimes not speaking a single word during their shows.

Harry Houdini was such a man. He worked very hard, not only to perform, but also to maintain this "gimmick" of a serious, somewhat scary man of magic and mystery. His well-known quest to understand and communicate with the dead only supported his status. But he passed away without finding the answers he was so desperately searching for...

Belgium may be small, but Houdini deemed this country worthy of being a home to him. If you don't believe me, just visit Bellewaerde Park, because his house mysteriously appeared in 1999. Right next to the Wiener Walz, barely a minute from the main square.

It's a huge building, with a nice balcony on the second floor. Small windows, nicely embedded in white stone, break through the light brown walls. A clock is built on top of the front entrance, in a baroque-like style. The good news is that the mechanism is still working. The bad news is, the hands move in the wrong direction, probably because of the magic inside the house... Green tiles cover the roof of both the house and the balcony, and iron fences give the house the finishing touch. Two identical stone statues of Houdini, handcuffed from head to toe (with metal chains!), mark the front door.

Anxious to visit a house once belonging to the greatest escape artist the world has ever known, you go through the front door. With a warmly orange wallpaper, small chandeliers in art nouveau style (like Charles Rennie McIntosh did in the UK) and a huge mirror, the hall is actually very cosy. However, wooden fences keep you away from the mirror, and lead you to the left, which is... back outside.

With the house on your right and a similar small wall on your left, the waiting queue has started. Slowly but surely, you move toward another entrance door near the far end of the house. Under a small wooden roof (covered by, again, green tiles), the waiting queue moves typically back-and-forth. And then you hear the noises. Loud, deep screams. What's going on in there? The dark forces of magic and mystery? or are they just Having a party?

Finally, it's your turn, and you can join others inside for the...


Wowee... they made a museum in Houdini's house! The stuff that is being displayed here, is a dream for every fan of magic arts. Take the safe, for example. standing on a wooden box and wrapped in chains, this typically old-fashioned safe was just one of Houdini's top acts. And now we're on those top acts anyway... wait 'till you see this: the famous water torture cell! The front glass is (fakely) smashed, as a reminder to Houdini's act (two lovely assistants, dressed as firemen, uh, firewomen, would stand next to the cell during Houdini's act. They held an axe, in case something would go wrong... at the end of the act, they would raise their axes simultaneously as if they were to break the glass, and then Houdini would appear.). A third cage (an enlarged version of a shark cage) rounds up the trio.

Across the room, you can see Houdini's bookshelves. Some books are on it (duh!), but also handcuffs, keys, strange orbs, creepy statues, even some ropes and a pulley... exactly what you could expect from Houdini. Between the shelves and the escape objects, a fireplace with an iron protection grid is built.

Houdini's portrait above the fireplace adds the finishing touch to this well-decorated room. On the floor, tiles are laid in a square pattern. And there's wood everywhere, dark wood, with neo-classical decorations. In vertical planks, lines like those of Greek columns are cut out. Some of those "columns" even have column heads! Houdini certainly had a fine taste.

Between all that wood, the wallpaper is visible. Blue/green and orange vertical stripes make up the pattern. The fireplace, however, has a blue pattern with yellow squares. The lamps on the walls, shaped like candles, provide the (sparse) light in the room. This room must have been very nice to live in, but time has taken its toll... the wood has become even darker than it already was, and spider webs are everywhere. I mean, these aren't webs any more. These are spider BUNGALOWS, if you ask me.

The outside doors are closed, and a warm and friendly ladies' voice welcomes you in Houdini's house, "the house of the world's greatest magician and escape artist ever." The lights go down, and a screen appears on the fireplace, completely covering Houdini's portrait. See that old-fashioned film projector, hanging above your head? While the friendly lady, obviously your guide in this visit, explains that Houdini used to perform magic tricks for the children in his neighbourhood, a movie starts playing on the screen.

"This footage is old, and damaged at some points, but it shows how well Houdini performed, even at his early ages" the guide explains. The footage shows like an early Laurel and Hardy slapstick, with a jolly piano melody as the only sound.

A teenage Houdini, along with his younger brother, parks a large chest in front of the stairs of a local house (in these days, it was very common to put stairs outside your house, since the front door was usually not at floor level). About three, four children have gathered, eager to know what these brothers are up to. Only one adult, sitting on the stairs, reading his newspaper, is present. Apparently, he's not very happy with those noisy kids starting some silly play right in front of him, but he keeps on reading nevertheless. In the meantime, the brothers have already presented themselves to their friends, and Houdini's little brother invites a cute small girl to tie his wrists with a small rope. Soon, he has climbed in the chest, and it's up to Houdini himself.

Houdini pulls out a blanket. With one leap he's on the chest. He waves to the kids one more time, tosses his hat in the hands of the small girl, and then he pulls up the blanket in front of him, rendering himself invisible for his spectators. At this point, even the man on the stairs looks up, before once again trying to read his newspaper.

About TWO seconds after that, the blanket drops... standing on the chest is not Houdini, but his younger brother! He jumps of the chest to reveal its contents. You've guessed it, Houdini himself is now tied up in the chest. They have done the metamorphosis illusion, and they did it flawlessly! The camera zooms in on the man on the stairs, who is completely puzzled. Even though he was sitting BEHIND the whole scene (and thus should have seen how they did it), he obviously didn't see anything unusual. What a triumph for these two young men! Houdini greets the applauding children, then turns to his brother, smiling and shaking his hand. And then it happens.

Suddenly, Houdini's smiling head turns towards the camera, his face turned into an evil look. The camera zooms in on his eye. The tape starts melting, starting from Houdini's eye, as if someone poured some liquid acid on the screen. An evil laugh sounds through the room. All this happens in a small second, and it literally scares you out of your boots. The atmosphere is set!

The guide, seemingly untouched by these events, invites you to the next room, where Houdini will perform his greatest trick ever - his return from the unknown.

While the lights are flashing, you can here the rolling thunder. Then, a strange voice starts talking...

"I am Houdini. Nothing on earth can stop me..."

On both sides of the fireplace, a door to the next room has opened. Go ahead, pass through them... you will soon be in the...


This is it, the highlight of your museum visit. You have entered a large room, with two rows of seats on each side. The two long walls have two high windows each, but don't bother trying to look through them... even though the long curtains are opened, the blinds are down. The windows have those same wooden "Greek column-striped" ornaments, in fact, the whole room is covered in that dark wood, from the floor to about a meter under the ceiling.

From there on, a classic wallpaper finishes the wall. Have you seen the roof window? Instead of a flat ceiling, left and right of the ceiling are going up towards each other, and the roof window doesn't change that movement. The guide invites you to take a seat. "Welcome. Please come in. A wonderful event is about to take place."

So there you are, resting your body on one of these large wooden benches, facing the middle of the room. Between the two seat rows is nothing, except the wooden floor. Against the small walls, the woodwork continues. One oval mirror is hanging on each wall, and a creepy-looking gargoyle statue is placed on top of the woodwork. Some small lamps are on each wall. Houdini's portrait is hanging between the windows. And everything in this room looks old, with webs everywhere.

A simple lap bar is closed. Seat protection? It looks more like they want to be sure that you won't get out of your seat... why? There is obviously no Houdini curiosity to steal in this room!

Once again, the guide's voice welcomes you - but before she can even finish her sentence, an evil laughter is going through the room... This time, even the guide seems to be thrown off her game. She continues trying to deliver her lines, but you can hear the insecure trembling of her voice. The lights dim, and suddenly, the mirrors have changed.

Instead of the mirror glass, each mirror now shows a huge key. You are locked inside this room! Eh... hello, Houdini? YOU are supposed to be the escape artist, not your guests...

The mysterious magician, with a sinister tone in his voice, takes over from the guide: "... I am the only one who has the keys..." It seems you're on your own, now.

This news shocks you, it shocks your whole body, in fact. You feel like you move downward, and those strange butterflies in your belly seem to say the same thing. But clearly, as you can see, you haven't moved at all. A quick look at the faces of your fellow visitors proves that your're not the only one who feels that way. Houdini has you in his grip. Everybody is in his grip...

While a choir starts singing short staccatoes, you feel some movement again. This time, it's real. The whole floor is swinging, along with the two wooden panels on the small walls. You move up to about half way across the window, then the swinging movement brings you down below the floor... Houdini is having a great time, while his "audience" starts getting scared. Again, you go up, this time all the way up, you're touching the ceiling! And suddenly, you notice what was lying under the floor all the time: that same evil eye you saw on the preshow footage! It covers the whole ground surface, keeping its magic look focused on everybody! Suddenly, the gargoyle statues are lit, and they look creepier than ever...

Another huge swing takes you on the low end of the opposing wall, keeping you "glued" in a 90 degrees-position. What the... oh my gosh, this can't be happening...

While Houdini continues his laughter, you swing gently down again, up to the wall behind you... and, upside down, across the ceiling... down across the opposite wall... and on the ground again. You just have made a full circle, without falling down! Cries of fear emit from the victims of this sadistic wizard, but that doesn't stop him. You make another full circle, in the opposite direction, while Houdini enjoys himself with a loud "Wheeeeeeeee!!!!!!!".

A crack of thunder. Flashes of light. For the third time, you swing across the ceiling, with Houdini's evil eye staring almost through you... and on the ceiling you stay! The lights go out, only the small walls (still with those eerie gargoyles!) are lit now... and the key appears in the mirror again.

Even the guide is now scared to death, and she starts begging the dungeon keeper for mercy. "Houdini, the keys, PLEASE GIVE US THE KEYS!!" But Houdini just keeps on laughing. "Ha ha ha... this illusion has become a NIGHTMARE!!!!"

The lamps all flash in turn, while thunder cracks again. No way out, you're trapped in an impossible position... farewell... you'll never get out from here...

While the lamps are still flashing, you suddenly notice that you're moving again. Slowly, the lights come back to normal, and so are you. Houdini's laughing has ceased, and you are back in normal position. The music changes to a calm violin melody.

Thank Heavens. This bad dream has finally ended. But wait... there's Houdini's voice again:

"What you thought you were seeing, was not what it seemed to be... that is... illusion!"

WHAT? Was all of this just a trick? Is Houdini just going to let everybody go, after all that dark magic? He is. Slowly, the bars raise, the doors open. You're free. But long after you have left the house, you will still be thinking...

Was it all just a trick?

You have made two full circles across the ceiling. The third time, you were even sticking to the ceiling, for about twenty seconds! With only a lap bar as protection, you obviously should have fallen down immediately on all three occasions!

Does this mean you actually didn't go upside down at all? But you have seen it happen with your own eyes! And you even felt it, in your tummy!

How did he do that?

And how on earth could he made you feel tipsy even before you moved at all?

Slowly, you march towards the exit. That Houdini... wow. He really IS the greatest magician of all time.


Is this what will go through your mind after you had a ride in Houdini's Magical House? I don't think so, unless this was your very first mad house ride ever. But that's not very likely these days, because mad houses are appearing about everywhere (even teenie weenie Belgium already has two of 'em!). This results in the fact that the mechanism behind a mad house is not THAT secret anymore... I assume you already know how it is done (if you don't want to know, you should skip this part and go immediately for the "Good points/Bad points"-section.)

Okay, a really well-made mad house will leave you wondering how on earth they did it. But after a visit to Houdini, I sincerely doubt this will happen to you.

So it's a bad attraction, right? No, that's not what I mean, Bellewaerde's mad house certainly has some big guns aboard. The gimmick, for example. It is certainly the best gimmick you can have for a mad house, since it puts the focus on the illusion itself. And it does so in a superb preshow. Nicely decorated, footage which really looks like it was filmed decades ago, great atmosphere. From the moment Houdini's spirit makes its big entrance, the spooky atmosphere grabs you by your throat and doesn't let go. 

Houdini's evil look, the burning of the film, the moving and bubbling of the escape objects... superb. Great. The preshow rocks, no doubt about it. The preshow promises a lot of good stuff. However... it's the mainshow that actually has to deliver it, and that's where Houdini's weakness lies...

Do you know the joke about that tourist walking in a small town, very surprised to see a strange statue featuring some high, heroic general? He turns to a villager and says: "This is truly a strange position you have put the general in... like he is crouching, or something like that!"

The villager responds: "I know it looks funny, but at the time the sculpture artists had finished the general, they discovered that there was not enough bronze left to create his horse."

This is how I feel about Houdini's Magical House. It starts great (except from the lack of sound isolation, causing you to hear the mainshows' screaming and laughing while you are waiting in the queue), but the mainshow could have been much better.

It has its good points, though. The idea of introducing a "fake audience" in the story is pure gold. As a visitor, you can't always tell who is screaming: the other people on the ride, of the sound tape. This surely adds to the already creepy sphere.

Also, Houdini's House will sometimes turn your attention explicitly to the arms of the swing (by putting the spots on those gargoyle statues and on the mirrors containing the keys). You won't see this very often in other mad houses. And the story, of course. It has a splendid intro, continues in a logical and interesting way, and results into a cool climax - the guide begging for the keys, while the room is turned upside down. And after this, you are treated to a wonderful "coup de théatre": Houdini admitting he was only joking, learning you a valuable lesson in the process - that you shouldn't allow yourself to be fooled in this way... Again, which mad house would ever be so "stupid" to actually give away the fact that it's only an illusion?

Okay, if all this is done so well, why am I insisting that it could have been even better?

First of all, the illusion itself. The lack of decoration in the mainshow definitely works against it. In my view, the more you decorate the mainshow, the bigger the impact the illusion will have on your guests.

If there's nothing in the room, it is not hard to discover the fact that the room is rotating around you. But with lots of stuff, visitors are less likened to believe this. Is the room spinning? No, that can't be it, just look at all those decorations and furniture! They would have to fix everything to the room! Surely they wouldn't go THAT far!

(Some people complain about the Evil Eye on the floor as well, stating that the illusion would be bigger if they made it look like earth, ground, ... I must confess I don't dislike the eye. During the show it is occasionally lit, and since you remember it as Houdini's evil eye, it does add to the creepyness of the show. No, they should decorate the room itself, not the bottom.)

Another problem that pops up is the ride itself. It lasts four minutes, which is rather long, compared to its competitors. But the longer time frame doesn't mean that you get some extra swings.

Primo: after the bars have come down, it lasts about forty seconds before any movement is made (and even then, it's an "invisible" swing, since the room moves exactly the same way). For forty LONG seconds, there's only the talking of the guide, interrupted by Houdini's laughter.

Secundo: the end of the ride. As soon as the room has turned back into its normal position and Houdini starts his "coup de théatre", the ride is over. But they keep the bars closed for another forty seconds... Okay, after your very first ride, you might need this time to fully recover from the ride, but I guess I don't have to explain that this lowers the re-ride value, do I?

One last point: you can look through the roof window. That sounds good at first, but unfortunately you can see the cross-beam joists of the construction through it...

Houdini's Magical House was your humble servant's very first mad house experience. When I got back home, some hours later, I already knew how the illusion was performed. Would I have known it if I had been in Villa Volta first? I sincerely doubt it.

If you've never been in a mad house before, you'll think very high of Houdini's Magical House. In terms of gimmick and atmosphere it is surely one of the best, if not THE best. But the mainshow has some big flaws in it, making it an underdog compared to other (more recent) mad houses.

Good points:

* One of the best mad house gimmicks ever
* Creepy atmosphere
* Amazing preshow
* Great storyline
* Nice light effects
* Screaming audience adds to the sphere

Bad points:

* The illusion is not as good as it could have been, mainly due to the sparse mainshow decoration
* Only in Dutch and French
* "Dead moments" in the mainshow reduce re-ride value
* No sound isolation
* Is that height restriction really necessary?


Python, Efteling

Believe it or not, but in 1981 the prospect of a looping coaster in Efteling was not exactly welcomed with open arms. While park fans feared for the loss of Efteling's unique style, environmental committees protested against the noise such a thing would generate. But Efteling wouldn't change plans, and Vekoma built... the Python.

A quick look at both the coaster and the waiting queue is enough to understand that these people actually had a point. First of all, there is absolutely no theming at all. Piraña has its Aztec temples, Bob Sleigh has at least an alpine-like station, but Python has as good as nothing, a breach of style indeed. (Only the train contains some very basic theming - a touch of black paint, in a snakeskin-like pattern). Secondly, the only thing that separates Python from the outside world is a fence, so noise has to be an issue. However, it's the ride we are interested in, so let's begin.

The entrance is rather small and if it hadn't been for the sign, it would be hardly visible between those big trees. By the way, those same trees make it impossible to see how long the queue is, so you'll just have to hope for the best and jump in. After passing underneath the lift hill, you start the zig-zag to the station. It's not even a long way, but the queue advances rather slowly, and you'll probably wait longer than you hoped for. Slowly but surely, you advance towards the station - a simple wooden building, outfitted with telly screens for some basic entertainment. They show the same images of other attractions over and over again, with a M&M's commercial freely included. This is not Efteling in its usual form, and it won't be the last surprise.

Eventually, you finally make it into the station, where you are pre-sorted behind metal gates. The idea is a fast loading/unloading procedure of course, and theoretically it works. But in real life...

As you see "your" train arriving into the station, it becomes painfully clear why the queue advances rather slowly. The train comes to a full stop before the station, and there is a small delay between the train arrival and the actual unloading moment. Okay, it is not that bad, but as soon as the people start leaving the ride, the procedure is slowed down again. By something very funny, actually.

Some people get stuck in the train.

Apparently, you have to pull the harness down a little, to free yourself. Don't expect those protections to lift by themselves, if you do - as most people do - you'll slow the whole thing down, making you an easy pray for the next visitors, who obviously can't wait to get in. Anyway, once the seven red cars of the train are filled with 28 park guests, the protections are checked one more time, and finally, you're off.

The train goes down one or two feet, then makes a 180-degree turn in a slow pace before going up the lift hill. It is at this moment you can notice the houses that are built almost under the coaster, and you wonder what it would be like, to hear the Python about 3000 times a day... don't worry. Think all you want, in your comfortable seat, for in some moments, you'll have other things on your mind.

On top of the hill, the train slowly makes a second 180-degree turn, only "dropping" about three feet, giving you plenty of time to wave at the pretty boys/girls in the waiting queue below. After that, the track drops. Now it begins.

With each and every passenger screaming, the coaster dives into the deep. Up again, straight into the first looping. Another looping immediately after. Flashing camera. A 180-degree-turn, with the track tilted 90 degrees so the G-forces can't throw the train of the tracks. No time to rest. Corkscrew looping. Second corkscrew looping. Time to loose some speed. Triple helix, but not the usual downward spiral: first you take the middle helix, then the bottom helix, and suddenly you go up again, into the top helix. A final right turn, before the brakes do their work.

Slowly, Python crawls back into the station. And you can guess what happened with yours truly.

I got stuck into the train.

Uh... as soon as you manage to free yourself, you can buy your picture while passing the exit. Thank you for flying Python Airlines!

The ride itself is far from bad. As soon as you go off the initial ramp, you get four inversions, a horizontal U-turn and a triple helix in rapid succession. No fancy stuff - this is straight in-your-face-action, and it gets the job done very well. The first thing I thought of as soon as I could think straight again was: "I think some of my organs are left ont the track..."

However, there is a serious price to pay, as well. You'll have to go through a long waiting queue, and there's no theming at all. But if you like coasters, I think you'll find it worth the trouble.

"Python" was Europe's very first steel looping coaster. Try this icon, and get a feeling of nostalgic from the days when a looping coaster was the biggest attraction a park could offer!

Good points:

- Comfortable seats
- Intense and action-packed ride
- Action photo available
- The walking path passes underneath the U-turn, so wanderers can position themselves under it and get a unique view of the coaster (and the screaming people in it!)
- Has "monument value": Europe's very first steel coaster, the very first looping coaster in Europe.

Bad points:

- Lacks the true Efteling-style
- Fast pace means a shorter ride
- Bars can "trap" guests
- Slow-moving waiting queue
- The only way to know how long the waiting queue is, is joining it...


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