ForPureAdventure’s Top 10 European Dark Rides

Here at #ForPureAdventure we live and breath theme parks, from the little details that make up an immersive environment right through to the rides that leave our hearts pounding, we can’t help but talk about it!

Within the the theme park industry over the last few years we’ve seen a big push towards the inclusion of dark rides (indoor rides) in the world’s top parks. With that in mind, we’ll love to share with you our list of the best that Europe has to offer:

 

#10 Eurosat – Europa Park (Mack Rides)

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Imagine if Disneyland’s Space Mountain & Epcot’s Spaceship Earth had a baby that was into rave parties; what would you get? Europa Park’s Eurosat! A fun ride at non-disney prices!

#9 Crush’s Coaster – Walt Disney Studios (Maurer Sohne)

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A spinning dark coaster that takes you into the depths of the sea; hugely satisfying (if you can handle the infamous wait times).

#8 Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast – Disneyland Park (Sansei Yusoki/Arrow Development)

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An interactive shoot-em-up game that pits you against your co-driver. Featuring the cast of toy story, this ride is a must.

#7 The Twighlight Zone Tower of Terror – Walt Disney Studios (Otis Elevator Comany)

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A combination of some kick-ass theming and CGI  that plays on people’s deathly fears of  elevators. One heck of a memorable ride!

#6 Phantom Manor – Disneyland Park (Vekoma)

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One of the darkest of Disney’s haunted mansion series, phantom manor features all the major highlights while delving deeper than many would dare.

#5 Fata Morgana (1001 Arabian Nights) – The Efteling (Intamin)

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Like the Pirates of the Carebean jacked up on steriods, Fata Morgana is one impressively complex ride.

#4  De Vliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) – The Efteling (Kumbak)

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Is it a water ride? Is it a dark ride? or is it a roller coaster? Could it be all three!? A clever ride with some killer effects!

#3 Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy – Walt Disney Studios

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A trackless dark ride that combines beloved IP,  3D screens, oversized sets & motion simulators. This ride is cutting edge!

#2 Arthur – The Ride – Europa Park (Mack Rides)

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Fabulously immersive, swooping inside, outside, from scene to scene this ride is quality from start to finish

#1 Droomvlucht (Dreamflight) – The Efteling

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Incredibly lush and immersive, Efteling’s ride makes you feel like you’ve awoken from an incredible dream & takes our top spot!

 

 

 

Honorable Mentions: Columbus Dingy’s (Europa Park), Pirates of the Caribbean (Disneyland Park), Duel (Alton Towers), Vogel Rok (The Efteling)

Disappointments: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith (Walt Disney Studios) – rough ride and Star Tours (Disneyland Park) – tired looking technology.

Inclusions: Our list is derrived from the following 7 european parks: Alton Towers (UK), Disneyland Park (France), The Efteling (The Netherlands),  Europa Park (Germany), Parc Asterix (France), PortAventura (Spain), Walt Disney Studios (France). While some of the included rides go both inside and outside, the majority of the time spent on the ride must be inside for it to be considered.

Exceptions: Space Mountain 2 (Out for maintenance)

*Alton Towers (UK), Disneyland Park (France), The Efteling (Netherlands), Europa Park (Germany),  Parc Asterix (France), PortAventura (Spain) & Walt Disney Studios (France)

For Pure Adventure’s Top 10 European Roller Coasters

We are HUGE theme park fans and over the course of 2015 we had the absolute pleasure of visiting a total of 8 theme parks; 7 of which were in Europe.

We rode every ride available to us, which was A LOT, often riding each ride more than once. As such, we have a number of highlights from the theme parks we visited that we would like to share with you.

Today we explore our Top 10 Favourite Roller Coasters In Europe:

10: Thi3teen (Alton Towers, UK) Intamin

THI3TEEN, Alton Towers, UK

THI3TEEN, Alton Towers, UK

Located in the Dark Forest, this creepy roller coaster features the worlds first vertical free fall drop section of track. A fun ride that keeps you guessing!

9: Wodan Timbur Coaster (Europa Park, Germany) Great Coasters International

Wodan Timbur Coaster, Europa Park, Germany

Named after Odin, this ride will put the fear of god back into you. A smooth & scary  ride that will leave you in a state of ecstasy. I screamed at a higher pitch than I knew was possible on this ride (a good sign)!

8: Baron 1898 (Efteling, The Netherlands) Bolliger & Mabillard

Baron 1898, The Efteling, The Netherlands

Baron 1898, The Efteling, The Netherlands

Jenny & I rode the Baron on its opening day, our wedding anniversary, and were not disappointed. The ride features a unique blend between the legendary thrills & smoothness of a B&M dive coaster + the high quality of theming that the Efteling is known for.

7: Joris en de Draak (Efteling, The Netherlands)  Great Coasters International

Joris en de Draak, The Efteling, The Netherlands

Joris en de Draak, The Efteling, The Netherlands

Also located in The Efteling Joris en de Draak (George and the Dragon in English) is another great example of wooden roller coasters done right. With two tracks and a random winner this dualing coaster is a hit with riders. Watch out for the fire breathing dragon!

6: Sonic Spinball / Spinball Whizzer (Alton Towers – UK)  Maurer

Sonic Spinball/Spinball Whizzer, Alton Towers, UK

Sonic Spinball/Spinball Whizzer, Alton Towers, UK

This ride probably takes the record for the number of times we rode a single coaster; in our case over 8 times. We couldn’t get enough, maybe it was sonic nostalgia, maybe it was the short lines, maybe it was the playful ride demeanour but this often overlooked ride gets our vote! (This ride has since been renamed the Spinball Whizzer)

5: Big Thunder Mountain (Disneyland Park, France) Vekoma

Big Thunder Mountain, Disneyland Park, France

Big Thunder Mountain, Disneyland Park, France

Big Thunder Mountain Rides are found in practically every Disney park but any real theme park fan will tell you that the Paris version is the best. With an added under water sequence & the tight turns this ride had us eager for more.

4: Blue Fire (Europa Park – Germany) Mack Rides 

Blue Fire, Europa Park, Germany

Blue Fire, Europa Park, Germany

This ride packs in the thrills: launch start, loops and dives (through caves) & tops it off with a unique heart rate monitor feature through the hand rails!

3: Air/Galactica (Alton Towers – UK) Bolliger & Mabillard

Air/Galactica, Alton Towers, UK

We rode this ride as Air. After renovations this year & the addition of virtual reality goggles  this ride is now going under the name Galactica, which I am very excited about! (because if this flying ride can earn a #3 spot pre renovations then post renovations would likely bump it up a spot or two further!!) This ride will give you experience to being Superman that you’ll ever find. #amazingride

2: Oziris (Parc Asterix – France) Bolliger & Mabillard

Oziris, Parc Asterix, France

Oziris, Parc Asterix, France

A B&M coaster that feels like ‘best of’ combination of high quality thrills combined with with some excellent Asterix Themeing! This ride was pure pleasure! (& was Jenny’s #1 Spot.)

1: Shambhala (PortAventura – Spain) – Bolliger & Mabillard

Shambhala, PortAventura, Spain

Shambhala, PortAventura, Spain

The fastest and tallest ride in Europe Shambhala still rides like a hot knife through butter! While OzIris was pure pleasure, Shambhala tops it by adding a little terror! (I’m enjoying it a lot more than my face is letting on in the video below)

 

Major Exclusions: Obviously as a list rating top roller coasters this does not include indoor dark rides which we will save for another list; some of the rides listed do have dark ride segments but rides are only counted in my list if the majority of the track is outside. Also as we visited Europa Park over the Christmas period we were unable to ride Silver Star which is highly rated by many. Additionally The Smiler at Alton Towers was closed down for the season after it’s incident earlier that year; we felt completely safe throughout our time at Alton Towers.

Europa Park in Winter (Germany)

For those looking to head off the theme park beaten track (i.e. away from Disney and Universal), Europa Park is the Holy Grail. Europe’s second busiest park (to Disney) and most jam packed full of rides. It’s a one of a kind; producing its own rides through its own company Mack Rides.

Europa Park marked our 8th theme park in the last 8 months. Because of time restrictions we were only able to visit during their Christmas season; a quieter season with many of the rides are closed due to the weather and compensated by decadent Christmas theming. I say compensated but at the time of visit, I wasn’t sure if this would really be the accurate descriptive word as many of the key rides were marked off as closed on the park map; including the silver star, blue fire and all of the water rides. Furthermore, the park had limited opening hours, all and all I was skeptical.

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As it turned out, we had nothing to fear, we finished the day very much satisfied & unsure how one could pack more into one day even if more time and rides were available, largely due to the lack of any lines (the most we waited was 10mins, the rest were walk-on)! We were also pleasantly surprised to find that despite it was marked as closed on the map, blue fire was up and running, a truly world-class launched coaster (which I expand upon below).

Here are a few of our highlights from Europa Park:

 

Blue Fire

Smooth thrills, located in the Iceland area of the park. Themed around a gas plant this ride provides an explosive launch of 0-100km/h in 2.5 second. For a little bonus fun, this ride also comes with a heart rate monitor built into the handles!

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Wodan

I find that old wooden rides have the tendency to become a little uncomfortable, so rarely do I find wooden rides that I’m really into. This rides is one of those exceptions, I am very much into this ride. Also in the Iceland section of the park, the ride is named after the Nordic God ‘Odin’ (but written in Germanic style) any my goodness, its not for the faint of heart, as the name suggests it’ll definitely put the fear of god in you. I personally found myself reaching new surprising new decibels of scream as I made my way around the track.

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Arthur

POV video don’t do this ride and themed area justice. Elaborate, well thought out and fun! You don’t need to have seen the movie to enjoy it! The kingdom of the Invisibles shrinks you down to the size of bug with food, drinks and kids play areas that appropriately play with the theme. The Arthur ride itself move both indoors and out through 7 scenes that incorporate both visual sets, sounds and 4D elements such as vibration water and smells.

 

Eurostat

A mad combination between Disney’s Space Mountain & Disney’s Spaceship Earth, this fun ride with space theme take’s you up a spiral lift, then launches you into space complete with techno music, a bundle of fun!

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Alpenexpress VR-Ride

Our first experience into the world of Virtual Reality technology used on roller coasters and very effective! The simple use of this technology transformed a ride in the twilight years of its life into something original and new, transporting you into a whole another world. I was amazed to see how much the VR messed with my senses, the VR depicted us looping & it actually felt so despite there being no inversions on the ride!

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Bob Sled Run

Like a scene from Cool Runnings, the Europa Park Bob Sled Run ride sends ride carriages down through a series of guided (like bumper rails in 10-pin bowling) twists and turns allowing the weight and momentum to determine the exact path. The uncertainty of it all definitely adds an element of excitement!

 

Further Highlights:

-The park is huge, a total of 16 themed areas!

-The winter chill adds to the high speed roller coaster experience

-Ice Skating and tobogganing available during winter.

-Europa park distributed during a show glasses that visually transform any light-source into snowflakes (as can be seen in our Cologne Christmas Markets Article), these are very cool and now amongst my prized possessions.

-Originality, where else would you see a gaggle of geese wearing bowties being led through the park by a whistle wielding jester.

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-Open fires throughout the park to warm up by (large logs wedged open into quarters and one end with fire in the middle, genius)

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-A poor man’s haunted mansion ride – many of the rides feel inspired by Disney’s greatest  hits albeit at a much more reasonable rate.

 

In conclusion, of the 8 theme parks we’ve visited in the last 8 months, Europa Park is very much near the top, world class; even when its not at its full running capacity. So if you ever get the chance to visit, don’t be dumb, take it!

 

P.s. if you’re curious about how we’d rank the European theme parks we’ve visited, stay tuned! The article is not far away!

PortAventura

For most theme park fans out there the holy grail of theme park involves either a Disney Park or a Universal Studios Park; nothing else comes close. So when said theme park fans are presented with a park formally under ownership and branding of Universal Studios this creates an area of unknown, an unknown for this theme park fan that just had to be investigated!

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PortAdventura (nee Universal’s Port Aventura/Universal Mediterranea) from the outset presents an impressive collection of rides; two B&M roller coasters (arguably the best roller coaster producer in the world), a uniquely themed wing coaster, a dueling wooden coaster, a highly themed drop coaster with tilting seats, 4 water rides and a whole host of different shows on offer. The park is also separated into different areas themed around areas of the world: Mediteranean, Polynesia, China, Mexico, The Far West & finally a Seasame Street themed area for kids.

Park Highlights:

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For Jenny and I, the big draw card was Shambhala, a 2012 B&M Hyper coaster that holds the record for being the tallest (78meter drop) and fastest (134 km/h (83 mph)) roller coaster in Europe. This did not disappoint; Its literally the best roller coaster we’ve ever ridden! We rode it twice, once in the morning and again after dark both times we experienced an extremely smooth ride full of genuine thrill and face morphing speed. Best of all we had no idea that a video would be available for purchase after the ride which records your reactions throughout the whole ride, having not known about this prior to the ride our video came out hilariously candid! (I’m enjoying it a lot more than my face lets on)

 

Moving on from Shambhala we checked out the famous Dragon Khan; one of the two original rides from the park’s opening, another B&M ride that constantly gets rated highly among theme park fans. It was a pretty good ride, lots of creative flips and turns in there & considering its 20 years old, exceptional. However it is starting to show signs of some needed maintenance as a couple of turns came out a little rougher than they were meant to. Perhaps a lack of maintenance is a byproduct of Universal’s leaving?

Another highlight came in the form of Hurakan Condor, an Intamin drop ride famous for its high level of theme and ride variety; depending on which side you ride you could ride in regular seats, tilt seats or floorless standing. The ride itself drops you 86 meters and generates some decent speed (115km/h). Drop rides scare me the most but also tend to be some of my favorites (for this fact) when done well; Hurakan Condor definitely falls into this category!

Finally Templo Del Fuego (Temple of Fire) made for an excellent walkthrough attraction. Despite some initial delay over some technical difficulties we really enjoyed this attraction. The show revolves around following an Indiana Jones type character into a hidden temple and paying the consequences for touching that which should not be touched, filled with fire, pyrotechnics and surprises, this show is worth the wait!

Now while we really enjoyed our time at PortAventura, there were some definitely some areas for improvement;

Rough Rides:

Many of the rides were fairly rough rides including both Furius Baco a winged Intamin coaster themed on a haywire grape picking machine, which I was initially really excited to try, and Stampida a dueling wooden roller coaster; both key attractions that I felt disappointed by.

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Maintenance:

It’s the little things really such as when you ride Riding the Tutuki Splash ride, a splash ride that’s themed around being launched out of an active volcano, you can tell when you reach the top that the volcano at one point worked shooting out mist and steam to complete the illusion. Without the volcano working the ride is a little bit average & from I can see from POV YouTube videos this has been left not working for at least the last 5 years. Its not a big thing, but it would make a big difference.

Line Jumpers & Smokers:

I’m not sure why it was but the day we visited we encountered a disproportionately high proportion of line jumpers and in-line smokers (park guests are allowed to smoke anywhere in the park other than in line). Again small things but when it happens repetitively it can get a little on your nerves.

Final Conclusions:

PortAventura has some real gems, a number of world class rides, decent theming a number of on-site hotels and future expansion plans with next year’s European debut of Ferrari World. The park is undeniably world class…but is it Disney/Universal class? Close, I think with a higher level of maintenance on its rides and on-ride effects it definitely could be. Is it worth visiting though? Absolutely and when you do, send me your Shambhala on ride video, I want to see your reactions!

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Paris (Walt Disney Studios Paris)

Top 3 High and Lowlights of Walt Disney Studios

Having been away from a Disney park for 13 years my wife and I decided to ignore Robert’s (from theme park insider) advice (sorry Robert) a make a day out of visiting Walt Disney Studios Paris. We were glad we did, with a better E-Ticket line up than its sister park Disneyland Park Paris we had a great day!

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Below I have compiled my own list of Top 3 High and Lowlights when visiting Walt Disney Studios Paris (with fresh Disney Eyes).

Let’s start with the highlights!

  • CineMagique

This one came as a complete surprise to me and is unique to Walt Disney Studios Paris! This celebration of Cinema Magic brings movies to life, elegantly blending together movies and reality with just about as much humour and heartfelt that you can handle. Prepare for a wild ride, this 25 min show references a full 60 films with precision!

  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

An unbeatable classic! The ride is exceptional and the French cast members pull it off excellently making it all the more memorable! We ended up riding it 3 times back to back we loved it so much!

  • Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquee de Remi

I was really excited ride the new motion-based 3D trackless darkride, it didn’t disappoint, its very clever and enjoyable! The ride elegantly blends set and screen to the point where they are almost indistinguishable from each other, its high paced and fun for the whole family!

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Lowlights:

  • Eating Options

For travellers on a budget like my wife and I the options were very minimal. The park offers 3 budget restaurants but on the day we visited (in the peak of summer) one was closed for the day and a second closed early, leaving us with just 1 option. We weren’t to keen to revisit the 1 budget restaurant. We thought we might go check out Bistrot Chez Remy but again with budgets in mind we couldn’t afford one of the set menus on offer but did notice an à la carte dessert menu that we could afford and so made a booking. Unfortunately this was probably the most sour experience we had in all of the whole trip as we were rudely informed that we’d misunderstood their use of “à la carte” as you could only order these in addition to their set menus. Perhaps this is normal for Disney restaurants but it certainly wasn’t obvious to us, embarrassed we left the restaurant and instead decided to eat later at the Disney villiage (this was our only negative encounter with the Parisian Disney Staff)

  • Vanilla Themeing

I know its meant to be backlot/movie production themed but I just felt the general park theming was a little vanilla for Disney, the different lands being a little indistinguishable and little rashly assembled. Certainly not the immersive wonderland that many Disney fans have come to love.

  • Crush Coaster Wait Times

While the Crush Coaster (again unique to Walt Disney studios) is a pretty fun dark ride the wait times were pretty tough, seldom dropping below an hour the whole day with no fast pass available. It’s a ride aimed at kids with a line that exceeds any kids attention span (even patient adults will struggle). The only other option was single rider, which only shaved off 10mins off the group ride line.

While the park is smaller, we quite happily made a day of it and enjoyed ourselves immensely. After a 13hour marathon effort at Disneyland Park the day before we were quite happy to have a shorter second day. Its small, but packs a punch, don’t discount it!

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Paris (Top 3 High and Lowlights of Disneyland Paris)

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It’s probably obvious because I’m writing this but I am a big theme park fanboy! Living in isolated New Zealand however has meant that it has been far too long since I last visited a Disney Park (13 years!) So travelling through Europe with my wife this year we relished at the opportunity to visit Disneyland Paris (& Walt Disney Studios). Below I have compiled my top 3 Highlights & Lowlights of our recent drip to Disneyland Park Paris from the perspective of a theme park fanboy with fresh Disney eyes

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Let start with the Lowlights:

  • Wifi

Disneyland Paris is one of the biggest attractions in Europe, garnering over 14 million visitors annually, many of whom travel across international lines to visit like my wife & I. For us internationals on roaming, we depend on wifi so for the life of me, I can’t understand Disney’s strategy in promoting the use of their app to check wait times throughout the park without providing adequate coverage to do so.

  • Odd Eating Times

Being theme park fans my wife and I arrived early and avoided rush hour meal times. We assumed that the dining venues would be open for the duration of the park. We assumed wrong. Arriving hungry we were surprised to see most of the dining venues wouldn’t open for a good hour after the park opened. We found the same with dinner, with an 11pm close time we assumed the eating venues would stay open late, when we went to find food around 8pm however we were really surprised to find practically all but the pricey fine dining restaurants to be closed!

  • Indiana Jones: The Temple of Peril

I remember riding the LA Indiana Jones ride as a kid and LOVING it, so the opportunity to ride another Indiana Jones themed ride was pretty exciting. This was our longest wait of the day, 45mins so anticipation was high, unfortunately our anticipation was not met! We found the ride to be quite jerky, the tight loop really stained my neck and the shoulder restraints played ping pong with my wife’s head, unfortunately it’s not quite up to Disney’s usual high standard in my opinion.

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Now that we’ve got that out of the way, there is actually a LOT to celebrate, Disney has produced a really high quality park, full of life, magic and quality rides. I found it really hard to narrow it down but here is my top 3 for the day!

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Highlights:

  • Disney Dreams

Having just spent 2 nights earlier being blown away by watching the Bastille day fireworks off the Eiffel tower I was actually worried that the Disney Dreams fireworks and light show much be a bit of a let down. I couldn’t be more wrong! For the second time in two days I found myself saying “this is the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen!” I give it a 12 out of 10, the way they have managed to link together heartfelt movie scenes, lights, songs, lasers, fire and fireworks together is mind-blowing. I came away glowing, it’s a must see!

  • Big Thunder Mountain

While the queue could use a little work (some fans & some in-line entertainment – the lines get really big) the ride itself in my opinion is perfect! So quick, so smooth, great turns and some great dark ride moments as you ride your way under the lake.

  • Staff

Reading the discussion boards of theme park insider before arriving, I was very aware that the French staff has a reputation for at times being a little complacent and unhelpful. Which made me really pleasantly surprised to find that the staff we’re in fact very helpful. Given not 100% of the staff could understanding my English Speaking Kiwi accent but all made an effort and we came away very pleased, collectively the staff add real magic to the park!

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Also notable mentions to Phantom Manor, Pirates of the Caribbean & Alice’s Labyrinth which in our opinion were all exceptional attractions!

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*Note that Space Mountain 2 and Les Mysteres du Nautilus were down for maintenance on the day we arrived so these two attractions have been left out of consideration.

Ride Review: Efteling’s Baron 1898 (As featured on themeparkinsider.com)

Wednesday marked the day that The Efteling’s new roller coaster Baron 1898 opened! We were there to celebrate the occasion and as we do on the side, report back to Theme Park Insider.

Arriving at 9:30am we got in 30 minutes before the 10am opening time, using the “Ticket Extra” deal. At this point, only a fraction of the car park was filled. Once in we ran through the park in hopes of getting an early spot. We quickly realised however that they’d gated off the wing of the park containing the Baron ride (we suspect this was just for today). These inner gates only opened at 10am followed by a mass run of squealing Baron fans (us included), reminiscent of scenes from Jurassic World running away from the from the raptors!

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After funneling into the lines (single rider or group), which have been well built up since the creation of the promo videos, halfway along you are given the option of either selecting a front row seat with a longer line or 2nd/3rd row seats at half the time (with the initial single-rider line being the fastest of all the options). Being the first part of the day most selected the front row, creating opportunities for people near the entrance of the queues to jump a rail into the 2nd and 3rd row positions.

Once we were in the line it took a good while before the rides officially began operating, sending a number of test rides around the circuit, a couple of these had quarter-filled groups filling the seats. We believe the initial small groups were a mixture of park staff and radio competition winners which was cool.

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Rides officially began running consistently at 10:20am, nearly a full hour after we entered. Once they were running they were running at 18 people (three rows of six) approximately every 1 minute and 33 seconds.

The theming really begins once you enter the building, where in the first room you are presented with the story. A mining baron appears in black and white on a projector screen explaining that he’s seeking to find fortune and he’s sending you, his miners to go and get the gold! The projection is interrupted by some “white women” (i.e. ghosts) who are the guardians of the gold. Articles in the room begin shaking, lights start flickering and the baron encourages you to not to be put off but to push on!

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In the next room you meet the baron, an impressive, full-sized animatronic who gives you further instructions. Then the doors open to the ride itself.

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You hop on the ride, they check your restraints, giving the all clear, the ride moves forward through mist where you encounter the white women once more who tell you (in Dutch only) that you were warned and therefore you shall now face the consequences. Things begin shaking and moving before you move on and up the tower. At the this point comes the climax of the ride where you reach the top of the tower and pause, just before plunging vertically in to a white wall of mist at the entrance of the mine below. This is followed by a rapid series of twists and turns along the rest of the track (outside).

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The ride itself though reasonably short packs in a lot of thrills and is very smooth. It’s a lot more fun than I’d been preparing myself for. We came off buzzing! Can’t recommend this ride more!

Once we left the ride we were given a souvenir CD, containing a remixed single of the rides sound track, very cool. We also saw that the line had grown significantly, extending far beyond the ride lines, over two hours in wait! The Efteling has really done itself proud with this one!