TR: 2006 Ok-coaster-fest Tour
9/19/2006 - 10/1/2006
Note that the photos are video captures from my camcorder.
Part 1 of 4
An Oktoberfest and Germany trip concept was introduced to me by Derek Rx over a year ago. It sounded like a great idea and knowing that I wanted to get to Oktoberfest in Munich sometime this was the perfect opportunity. While Derek ended up only joining the crew for part of the trip, I took the opportunity to expand the trip. Fellow Pittsburgh enthusiasts Dave and Janna were along for the entire trip while Greg joined us for the entire German portion after he toured Berlin. We also met up with some German enthusiasts in Munich led by "Captain" Andy. Despite some travel problems, the trip was full of stellar attractions and good times. The parks and fairs included Vidam Park, Prater Park, Schloss Beck, Movie Park Germany, Oktoberfest, Skyline Park, Cannstatter Volksfest, Europa Park and Holiday Park.
Tuesday, Sept 19 - Depart USA
Dave, Janna and myself headed to Budapest, Hungary to start the trip. Unfortunately the only nonstop flight from the US was out of New York JFK on Delta and we only had 90 minutes to connect. Our plane in Pittsburgh decided to refuel even though we were cleared and didn't need the fuel in the end. We arrived at JFK to see our Budapest flight pulling out without us. We scrambled to find an alternative which would either be a connecting flight or the flight the next day. We were booked on a Delta Flight to Paris CDG with a connection on Malev to Budapest. The only catch was the plane was leaving in 10 minutes so we had to run to the next terminal to get on board. Luckily we made it on but just in time to sit at the gate for 2 hours.
Wednesday, Sept 20 - Arrival in Europe
After an average flight on a Delta plane with no personal entertainment system and crappy overhead TVs, we arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport with a few hours to connect. But CDG is a pretty awful airport and it took us most of the time to get to our concourse and seating area at the gate for the Budapest flight. We were shuffled back and forth between security stations which are right at each gate. We were pretty wiped out at that point.
Our Malev flight was interesting as it was a bit more old school with plenty of amenities. The Hungarian people were so loud on the plane talking to each other as if they all knew each other forever. It was quite festive and the free wine was flowing. One bonus of the shorter flight is that we had outstanding views of the Alps along our route. Eventually we arrived at BUD and we expected that our luggage would not be with us. Our assumption was correct and had to fill out forms to have our luggage sent to our hotel the next day.
We missed our arranged car ride to the city but we opted for the Super Shuttle service. We walked up to the counter and within minutes we were on our way in the van at a fair rate. Hungary definitely had an Eastern European feel but it wasn't as shocking as some may lead you to believe.
We stayed at the Best Western Grand Hungaria Hotel which was near the main train station Keleti Pu. The hotel was big with an ever busy lobby full of tourists. It was simple but a little nicer than I was anticipating. Everything was fine aside from a glitch the next day.
Due to the airline liquid restrictions we were left with no toiletries so we went shopping shortly after arrival. Then we looked for somewhere to eat dinner. After passing by Pizza Hut, Burger King and KFC we found a little bar/restaurant around a corner. Nobody was eating at the time and only a couple were outside having drinks but it looking like a nice little place. Our server only knew a few English words but he did speak German. Dave was our German translator for the trip so he was able to help us order. We all opted for the fish. We all had Gusser beer and Dave was persuaded into trying the local schnapps. Turns out that the fish ended up being some outstanding salmon at a cheap price. It was quite a nice surprise. We even got a complimentary dessert wine. It was a nice start to our true vacation time.
Thursday, Sept 21 - Budapest, Vidam Park and travel to Vienna
We had originally planned to do some Budapest sightseeing on Wednesday but we arrived way too late to see anything. Figuring that we had a few hours we could kill in the morning, we planned on touring the castle district on the Pest side of the city. That way we would have a great view of the Parliament building without getting near it and the rioting that had erupted two days earlier.
We used the Metro to get around the city during the day. Our first stop was across the river in Pest. We had a little trouble getting our bearings but shortly we were headed up to the castle area. Our main destination was Fisherman's Bastion which is a grand, classical viewing area with turrets and columns. Views of Pest and the Danube River were outstanding.
Eventually it was time for us to take the metro to our first park, Vidam Park. The park is on the M1 line and while all of the stations along the way had a great style to them our stop near the park was unremarkable. And to think we were all ready with our cameras when we arrived at the station. But after passing through a park, by a bath house and a circus attraction we spotted the entrance to the park.
We were expecting a pay per ride system but the park had a cheap POP plan instead. It was somewhat warm the day of our visits and we were ready to ditch our coats. Strangely enough the park had a free coat check service we took advantage of.
Our first stop was the Hullamvasut scenic railway. The first thing we noticed were the skinny, open seats on the trains. They reminded me of Dreamland's scenic railway cars but they also had springs so you would bounce up and down. But there were no belts or lapbars. Just a chain across the opening to the side.
The ride starts on railroad tracks before it transitions to wooden track. It has a brakeman in the center of the train. We were surprised to see that a large portion of the ride featured brand new wood supports on new concrete footers. The ride is an old classic but it is certainly being preserved for the future. The only unfortunate aspect of the ride is that it is horribly slow. I bet it would have some punch on the drops if it was run faster. But with it being so slow and having no other unique features aside from the train I'd have to say this is clearly my least favorite scenic railway. I was very glad to pick up this wooden credit but honestly it wasn't the kind of scenic railway experience I was hoping for.
I don't remember the exact order of rides we hit during the trip but I'll review what I can not necessarily in any order. Vidam Park is home to the Looping Star formerly at Dreamland in England. It's a great fit for the park even if it wasn't a new credit for me. Kukomotiv is a Big Apple coaster with Daniel Pinfari advertising on the tunnel. The other coaster ride was the powered Familia Expressz which wasn't bad for a powered coaster.
Kastely or Magic Castle was the park's funhouse. I wasn't expecting much but it is home to one of the most unique elements I've seen in a funhouse. It's a little round seat like a stool that starts spinning madly when you sit on it. It tossed me to the ground easily the first time but after I knew what it did I was able to stay on longer. One guy was able to stay on the entire time by keeping his legs up. This stool was at the end of a table that had two vibrating chairs and two chairs which popped up and threw you out of them. It was quite a unique setup. There were some other typical funhouse elements but none stuck out in my memory as much as the various chairs.
The park has four dark attractions. Mesecsonak is an old mill type boat ride which run under Hullamvasut. There were a few fairy tale scenes along the course. Viharvasut is one of the traditional dark rides. The one funny thing that stuck out was the room with the huge, low budget Spiderman in it. The other dark ride is the Szellemvasut and I honestly don't remember much about it. The last dark attraction is the Barlangvasut cave railway. It was historically themed although the station didn't match the theme as it had a dragon among other things.
Korhinta is the park's very interesting carousel. I've seen a few like this where there are no poles holding up the horses. The horses were lined up towards the outside and the swung back and forth. There were also gondolas and a little boat.
As for flat rides the park has a whip called the Kanyargo. It looks much like a Mangels whip but I think it is an imitation. The Hernyo caterpillar ride was partially dismantled which was a slight disappointment. The only other attraction we took in was the Panoramakerek Ferris wheel which had very simple, open seats. The park is also home to a Zamperla tower ride, Break Dance, Condor, Rockin' Tug and Top Spin.
While our park visit was over we still had a hectic day in front of us although we didn't know quite how hectic things were going to get. We had some time to kill before catching our train to Vienna so we ate dinner at a somewhat grand looking restaurant in the train station. It was hardly upscale but it was a bit of a throwback to the days when train travel was how the elite traveled. The entire Keleti pu station was architecturally impressive as well.
After dinner we returned to the Grand Hotel Hungaria to pick up our luggage. We arrived to find that the hotel had rejected our luggage from the airline since we checked out even though we discussed it with them and gave them our lost luggage form. They wouldn't even give us back our form. We had two hours before our train left and luckily the one desk clerk arranged a cab for us so we could run out to the airport and pick up our luggage. Our cabbie did a nice job and our journey took 1 hour round trip but it did cost us 50 euro. There was a bit of confusion at the airport but we eventually found our luggage and made it back in plenty of time to catch our train.
We were booked on a night train to Vienna since that was the only train of the evening. It was only a 2.5 hour trip, not all night like the trip to Munich would be. Since the only reservations I could book were couchette sleeper berths I did that, not knowing of nor wanting to depend on unreserved seating. Unfortunately we ran into a crazy German lady who flipped out on us becauase we were going to be in her compartment. We really would have preferred seats in the first place so we found the open seating area and managed to get three seats together. We weren't about to put up with that crazy lady even though we had paid a good price for those reserved spots. I'm not sure what she expected in a second class, six berth compartment. We figured her ploy was to scare everyone away so she could have the compartment to herself.
During the trip we had to get our passports stamped and checked by guards from both Hungary and then Austria. In much of Europe where I've visited this hasn't been necessary but it shows the old school nature of an Eastern European country like Hungary. The borders are not as open as they were for Austria and Germany. Eventually we arrived in Vienna at Wien Westbanhof. We were staying nearby at the Golden Tulip President Wien. Unfortunately we had a bit of a tough time finding the place even though it was close to the station. The maps we had for hotels were very general. Luckily the hotel was fairly nice. It was quite stylish even though it had authentic 1970s decor.
Friday, Sept 22 - Prater Park in Vienna and travel to Salzburg
In the morning we woke up in our hotel room to find that we actually had a balcony and a great view of Vienna. Unfortunately we didn't have time to do any sightseeing in Vienna as we wanted to get to Prater Park early. Our train to Salzburg was leaving a bit earlier than we had hoped.
Since we didn't want to waste time we used luggage fluffy, fluffy bunnies filled with medicine and goo at the train station. We also validated our Eurail Austria-Germany passes while in the station. Then we took the metro to Prater.
Before the park opened we took a ride on the famous Reisenrad Ferris Wheel. This wheel is a symbol of Vienna and survived being bombed in World War II. Today only half of the large compartments are used on the wheel but they are more than sufficient. The ride has a large, modern entry plaza with a museum. The ride itself offers great views of the park and all of Vienna. It's a must for those visiting Prater.
Slowly but surely most park attractions started opening up with the rides closest to the Reisenrad opening first. We picked up the Reverchon Dizzy Mouse coaster first and the reasonably rideable Pinfari Super 8er Bahn next. We looked around to see what was open and not much was initially.
All rides had to be paid for at the ride entrance as there were no wristbands or even general tickets to use. Because of this we didn't ride absolutely everything (our time was limited anyway) and we picked our spots. Prater is a bit odd in that it feels very much like a carnival but it also has a grand feel to it. It is certainly a huge park with many attractions. But it also has many features that would fit into a park like Tivoli more than a fair.
Early on we rode a dark ride but there are so many attractions at Prater that it is easy to get them confused. I believe the first dark ride we rode was the Geister Schloss (Ghost Castle). It was a typical dark ride but the best thing was when the car went through the final doors to the exit platform the ride op was there holding a scary mask in your face. That really made the ride. I believe there were two Geister Bahn rides (Ghost Train). The one with the mountain look to it was really old school and the better choice. The stunts were in your face and moved out of the way by the car bumping into them. I recall a jumping tiger effect that was really cool. Although not all of the attractions were open there were plenty of dark attractions and fun houses at Prater.
As for funhouses, I think we did the Magic Dreamland multi level carnival style fun house although the Super Top Dance was nearby and very similar. Whatever one we did it was full of devices that the operator could control. Calypso was a more traditional style fun hose with a mirror maze at the end. It was fairly average.
The park is home to the famous Liliputbahn train. We rode it early on to try to get an idea of where things were since the park was so big. We opted just to stop at the first stop rather than do a round trip, not really knowing much about where that stop may be. We passed by the Hochschaubahn wooden coaster and the Schweizerhaus restaurant but we were let off at a station somewhat far from them out in the city park. Unfortunately I think the train went way out into the woods of the park and was probably the highlight of that train ride.
We worked our way back to the Hochschaubahn which is a more family sized scenic railway with very cool mountain theming and a little beer garden underneath it. I wasn't expecting much from this ride but we all found it much more entertaining than the Hullamvasut at Vidam Park. From the mountain scenery to the squirting trolls it was a great ride.
As for other coasters, the park has a Boomerang which was down for a paint job. The Volare had a horrible first turn but then wasn't too offensive after that. Mega Blitz is a great Vekoma coaster with tandem seating. It felt much like a bobsled experience. The Maurer Sohne Wilde Maus is a solid version of that style of ride. While we could not ride it, the children's Auto BergBahn was fascinating to watch. I'm not sure if I'd count it as a wooden coaster but it's certainly a close call. It's a car ride with many coaster like characteristics.
For lunch we ate at the famous Schweizerhaus. While we didn't get the pork knuckle, which easily feeds two people, we did get the kartoffelpuffer potato cakes along with some original Budweiser Budvar. This is not a Busch beer and it is extremely strong. After half a glass we were feeling the beer. For our meal we all had bratwurst.
A controversial ride at the park is the Ponykarussel. It's a pony driven carousel as you could probably guess. We didn't ride it but we were trying to film people riding it. It wasn't a popular ride. One classic ride that wasn't open was the Wiener Rutsche slide. It was in bad shape and was surely closed due to its poor condition.
We only rode three thrill rides. First was the Moser Extasy. We thought it would be more like a Twin Flip or Extreme but it spent too much time upside down and it made me a little sick. But the Star Flyer was amazing. This model had single seats and it was fast and high. Luckily the Budweiser Budvar calmed our nerves a bit. But our favorite flat ride was the Tagada. If you're not familiar with this ride it is a circle with bench seats around the center. There are no restraints. The ride spins and bounces around and your body flops around with the ride. The operator was daring the riders to stand up. We didn't do this because we didn't know the language but it was fun to watch the others try to stand. I was content to get tossed all around the seat.
There's plenty more at Prater that we didn't get to experience. It's quite expensive so it's not like the average visitor does everything anyway. But we left the park feeling quite satisfied with our visit. The time had come to head back to the train station to get ready to head to Salzburg for the night.
At the station we picked up some bread, cheese and bottled drinks at a market for our train ride. Our Austrian train was definitely a step up from the Hungarian train. It was nice to have a reserved seat with a table. Upon arrival in Salzburg we were once again very confused by where our nearby hotel was located. After some looking I asked a cab driver and he got us going in the right direction. We stayed at the Best Western Hotel Zum Hirschen. I think we all really liked this hotel and we just had to watch the 24 hour Sound of Music channel. We also had a Mozart candy on our pillows.
The Parliament in Budapest from Fisherman's Bastion. Luckily you can't see the rioting.
Entrance to Vidam Park in Budapest.
A view from Hullamvasut at Vidam Park.
Vidam is also home to the Looping Star which used to be at Dreamland in Margate.
Here I am before getting tossed off of the spinning stool in the Kastely funhouse.
The carousel at Vidam is unusual but very beautiful.
Entrance to Prater with the Reisenrad.
View from the scenic Hochschaubahn at Prater.
The famous Liliputbahn train at Prater.
Prater has several dark rides including the Geister Schloss.
Mega Blitz isn't a bobsled but it feels like one.
The Tagada is crazy. Check out the girls getting tossed around.
The Star Flyer is awesome.
If you ever visit Prater the is *the* place to eat.
Our Salzburg hotel had a great buffet in the morning. We had possibly the best bacon ever along with some excellent, strong coffee and even free champagne. Aside from the hotel being comfortable it was an overall pleasant place to stay.
We had a late morning train since it was a travel day for us so we took a very quick tour of Salzburg. We were located close to the River Salzach which has the magnificent backdrop of the Alps. It really was a beautiful town. We also took a look at the Mirabell Gardens. We ran into a bike race in town. People were hanging around for a while to see the finish. As we were walking to the train station we heard the roar and we pulled out our cameras. We caught the cyclists passing us right at that moment. It was funny because people were there waiting all morning for the race and within a minute we saw it all in front of us.
We first had to take a train from Salzburg to Munich and then another train on to Essen. I recall in the Salzburg train station seeing a guy with super short shorts and a guy with an Italian Stallion shirt. Funny stuff. But arriving in Munich at the train station was a treat. We saw all kinds of people arriving in lederhosen and traditional dress to go to Oktoberfest. The atmosphere was festive and it got us excited about our trip back on Tuesday.
From Munich we took a fast ICE train towards our final destination of Essen. All was well until Duisburg where everyone exited. Huh? There was some kind of disruption on the tracks up that way and we had to scramble to get on a packed regional train for the last 20 minutes to Essen. Taxi was the best option for us upon arrival to get to the modern Welcome Hotel in Essen. There we met up with Greg for the first time. We headed over to a shopping area and we had dinner at a Spanish style outdoor bistro. We had a nice meal outside but the town really didn't feel authentically German. It was too commercial for my tastes.
Sunday, Sept 24 - Schloss Beck, Movie Park Germany and travel to Phantasialand
In the morning we headed to the train station to head up to Feldhausen which is home to two parks at the same station. The first park is a kiddie park with a schloss or castle in the center. That would be Schloss Beck. The only reason we did this park is because it was near Movie Park Germany but it easily turned out to be the highlight of the day. Along with a family coaster called Familienachterbahn it was full of self operated rides which I think were mostly from the company Heege Freizeittchnik. Strangely, they didn't have the Butterfly coaster from that company but they had just about everything else.
We started our trip by finding a walkthru attraction in the basement of the schloss. It had a few coin op scenes. Inside the schloss were several animated scenes along with some proper home decorations and settings.
The most fun attractions were the Nautic Jets. Essentially you have a boat and you're pulled up a slope. After the boat is released you slide down and hit a jump which makes you and the boat go airborne until you land in a pond of water. It's so much fun. Other rides included the odd Luna Loop (looping circular ride), Skydive ride across the creek, a racing fun slide along with a very steep fun slide. They even had a self serve ice cream machine. Luckily we visited the park early because the crowd built up quickly. It was soon time to hike over to the theme park.
Movie Park Germany had a Universal Studios feel at the entrance area but a cheap Six Flags feel elsewhere. It wasn't an ugly park but it lacked much of a feeling to it. It wasn't inspiring and the coasters were mostly weak. Unfortunately the coolest looking coaster, Cop Car Chase, was down and is apparently set to be removed.
Since the Bandit had not opened yet we opted to ride MP-Xpress first. The is the SLC formerly known as both FX and Eraser. It was a typically horrible SLC. Eventually Bandit opened. It ran one train until we were next in line when the second train was added. This ride looks like SFGAm Viper and Aska but it has Premier trains and doesn't do much. I didn't find it painful, just weak and annoying. There was a smell of manure in the air around the ride so we said it both smelled and rode like shit.
On the other side of the park we rode the nicely themed Rocket Rider Rollercoaster which is a family coaster. Nearby is the Mad Manor mouse coaster from Mack. This ride had great capacity and ran about as well as the mouse at Hersheypark. The only other ride we had time for was the Ice Age Adventure boat ride. It was a quality attraction was a cool coaster like section to it.
After our visit we hopped on the train back to Essen to pick up our luggage and head to the hotel at Phantasialand. Unfortunately the train problems in the area continued as our ICE train never showed up. We noticed people packing on to an earlier ICE train and we obviously didn't understand the German announcements. I believe we settled for a busy regional train to Dusseldorf which wasn't very nice for luggage. At Dusseldorf we took a local train to Bruhl. We were going to miss our van to the Hotel PhantAsia but luckily Derek was already there so we used Greg's cell phone to call Derek and have him reschedule our van. Luckily it was there at Bruhl waiting to pick us up when we arrived.
Our driver was a bit upset at the slow traffic in the construction zone on the autobahn. When things cleared up he floored it and went over 160 kph (or 100 mph). I don't think I've ever gone that fast in an automobile. We soon arrived at the awesome looking, Chinese style Hotel Phantasia where we met up with Derek. The rooms were very nice but not overwhelmingly themed. For dinner we ate at the Lu Chi restaurant at the hotel. I didn't know what to think when our waitress broke out into song with the Carpenter's "We've Only Just Begun." It was totally bizarre.
Monday, Sept 25 - Phantasialand
After our breakfast buffet we headed into the park. In general the park had some extremely well themed aspects but it all seemed disjointed. The flow from one theme to the next was completely abrupt and the layout of the park was odd. I felt the park was very good but not an absolute must the next time I am in Germany.
Derek visited some of the park the previous day so he knew his way around. Our first stop was Colorado Adventure which is an excellent Vekoma mine train. It's also known as the Michael Jackson Thrill Ride according to the sign. It's almost like a Schwarzkopf ride it's that good. We found that the back was great but the front was a bit too rough.
After our ride we headed "Deep in Africa" to ride Black Mamba. We opted for the back row to see what this puppy could do. While the theming may exceed Nemesis in some ways and the beginning is very strong I still think Nemesis is quite a bit better. But Black Mamba is still a great ride. The station is extensively themed and is right up there with Dueling Dragons though it lacks the fully themed indoor queue. The lift features a large structure with bones inside. The curving first drop takes your stomach and it leads to a vertical loop complete with a viewing area inside the loop. It's followed by a very effective zero-G roll then a junior Immelmann around a rock. All of this happens as the entire coaster is sunk into several trenches much like Nemesis or Montu. After this my memory is fuzzy as there are helices, two wing overs and a few S curves to end the ride down in the trenches. I recall that while some of S curves could have used another inversion in their place, much of the track was downward and picked up speed which was a decent way to end the ride.
Overall I felt the ride had outstanding visuals and theming. The beginning is very solid and powerful. The middle was OK and near the end the ride faded a bit with too many S turns. But the final turns did pick up some good speed to end the ride on a positive. While the front seat was nice for the visuals the back had the better ride and strangely the visuals in back were great because you felt more surrounded by the trenches. Overall the ride doesn't match the intensity of Nemesis but it's a nice mix of Nemesis style and more of a Dueling Dragons caliber ride.
Temple of the Night Hawk was the park's indoor coaster. It reminded me a bit of Vogel Rok at Efteling but without the soundtrack. It only really had some bird holograms and three lift hills. The ride was too long for what it did in complete darkness.
Winjas is the well known indoor dueling spinning coaster with Force and Fear tracks. The tracks are slightly different but mostly the same in concept. The ride started with an elevator lift to the top. From there several big drops and curves are encountered before a somewhat more typical wild mouse section. This leads to a huge helix in the middle of the building. The best trick of Winjas is the lift and tilt of the track which feels like you are going to be dropped but you continue on the course. Near the end of the ride there is a weird track lowering that had everyone asking each other if they noticed that. Yes, it definitely happened. Winjas is quite a good ride and we used our one hotel exit pass to reride it since it wasn't valid on Black Mamba.
The park has many dark attractions. Feng Ju Palace is a modern haunted swing. Geister Riksha is the park's take on the Haunted Mansion. Hollywood Tour was an odd boat ride with a big drop. The Silbermine is a mine train style dark ride. Gondelbahn 1001 Nacht is half dark ride and half scenic ride. While not a dark ride the park also had the Casa Magnetica tilt house tour. The Mystery Castle was an excellent indoor tower ride in the dark. Rather than just drop you it bounced you up and down inside a huge tower, much like Tower of Terror. It was excellent.
As for tamer rides, we rode the scenic Walzertraum boat ride through a garden. We also rode the double decker carousel and the classic Phantasialand Jet monorail.
We had lunch at Hacienda Don Pedro and unfortunately it was the only meal during the trip I didn't like. I didn't quite get what I expected from the tacos. Later that evening we dined at the Bamboo buffet which is the only other choice at the hotel. But it was quite good. That evening we hung out at the Dragon Bar atop the hotel. It had a great, comfortable decor and a commanding view of the park.
We had some time to tour scenic Salzburg.
We arrived early at Schloss Beck.
Here's the park's coaster, Familienachterbahn.
Greg goes airborne on the Nautic Jet.
Dave & Janna try the Luna Loop.
Dave on the Skydive.
Good thing Derek wasn't around this crazy playground.
Across the parking lot is Movie Park Germany.
The park has entertainment like the Blues Brothers act.
MP-Express is the crappy SLC.
Bandit is the crappy woodie.
At least Mad Manor is a decent mouse coaster.
The Rocket Rider wasn't too bad either.
Moving on to the Hotel PhantAsia and Phantasialand.
Is this a kiddie ride?
No kiddie ride here. Colorado is more like a Schwarzkopf than a regular mine train.
Phantasialand has some great scenery.
Here's a shot of the garden boat ride.
Black Mamba, the excellent new B&M inverted coaster.
Not to be overshadowed by Black Mamba is the indoor spinning Winjas coaster.
Knight Derek, a TPR Superstar, welcomes you to the Mystery Castle drop ride.
Tuesday, Sept 26 - Travel to Munich and Oktoberfest
After taking the shuttle to Bruhl train station we took a quick train ride to Cologne to wait for our connection to Munich. Derek ran out of the station to celebrate his return to the Koln Cathedral, a place he hated so much the last time. He ran over to McDonalds and into the Cathedral. I'd visited the impressive Cathedral before and needed to stay with the luggage but Greg was able to take a quick look around for the first time.
For our train trip we had the front cabin of the ICE train with glass panels between us and the conductor. It was kind of like the front of the Disney World monorail. 4.5 hours later we were in Munich where we met up with our German hosts led by the Captain, Andy. We stopped by the Hotel Mirabell to check in and drop off our bags. We then headed back out into the rain to the Theresienwiese, home of Oktoberfest in Munich.
The scene was totally amazing. So many rides, people, lights, sounds, food and drinks. We all had our cameras out trying to catch as much as possible as we headed to ride the coasters. Unfortunately we knew we wouldn't have time to ride more than a handful of attractions. Some had plans to ride after the beer tent but that certainly wasn't going to work out.
Our first stop was Olympia Looping, the Barth/Schwarzkopf coaster which has five loops which look like the Olympic ringy dingy ding-a-ling dings. It's probably the most notable traveling coaster touring today. The ride had such a presence for me. It looks so cool. Unfortunately with the rain they could only run one train and that caused some line jumping. I knew I would need to stake my territory but this was ridiculous. Eventually I did get the back seat. While the others were not impressed with the ride, I thought it was better than some reviews led me to believe. I can't say it's better than Thriller/Texas Tornado but I thought it was a great, thrilling ride even with the accordion horsecollars.
Next up was Star World, an indoor coaster with a train of spinning cars. I figured this ride was going to be mostly a show. It was quite a show but it was also a great coaster. Most of our crew said it was the best coaster experience at Oktoberfest. It has some decent drops and good spinning along with space theming inside. It features sounds, lasers and at the end a huge, unexpected blast of fire. Whoa! It was a great ride.
Not far away was Eurostar, a portable inverted coaster from Giovanola. I'd heard that this ride was really nasty but while it was rough it didn't bang my head around. Plus it is quite amazing as far as having four inversions in such a tight area. I'll give it credit for being one of a kind.
Our final coaster rides were on the mirror image Wilde Maus coasters. These Maurer Sohne installations were dispatched in order for them to race and duel. It had tremendous capacity for a mouse along with a rough and tumble ride. I wanted to take in one crazy flat ride before heading to the beer tent. I chose the Skater which is a Top Scan. It's easily one of the craziest flats I've been on and the best Top Scan I've been on. But the Germans told us that the craziest flat rides were found in the Netherlands.
The time had come to go to the Lowenbrau tent for our Oktoberfest experience. I have to give Andy and his crew all of the credit for setting us up here. This was a true, traditional beer tent and I didn't see any other Americans in the place. They were all at the Hofbrau tent from what I understand. We would never have been able to make the reservations, figure out what table, understand the customs and order everything without the help of our German hosts.
Stepping into the fest hall was amazing. 5,000 people all eating, drinking and singing. Included in our reservation was half a chicken at 2 liters of beer (two huge mugs). We started with a beer, Oktoberfest style beer with a higher percentage of alcohol. In my mind I thought 2 beers would be hard to finish. We gave a toast in German style, Prost! Once we got started the smooth beer went down quickly. I can see why they sell those huge soft pretzels. We all have one of them. We then had our half chicken. It was easily the best chicken I've ever had. Meanwhile the band was playing and we were situated at a table in the middle of it all. The next beer came and we were all getting pretty buzzed. The locals started dancing and singing on the benches and tables.
The festivities were rolling along full steam. Plenty of fun songs were played that we sung along to. They even did some of our favorite things that we learned at the BGW Fest Haus. It was almost surreal. Derek was ahead of us by a liter of beer and the last beer we all had courtesy of our German friends really did us in. But Derek was the one who took a dive over the table and was pretty much out of it at that point. We all knew we were done, well before the tent closed. No more riding. We were just trying to haul Derek back to the hotel. But we were all pretty much finished. Janna pleaded to go back but I had to lie to her so she would stay at the hotel. Somehow I was able to at least buy a Lowenbrau shirt at the gift shop before we left.
Wednesday, Sept 27 - Skyline Park, bonus Oktoberfest and travel to Stuttgart
After a long recovery effort in the morning we were off to Skyline Park. We had noticed that our connections were very tight and missing the connection on the way back would really mess up our train reservations to Stuttgart. We decided that we would need to leave Skyline Park early, leaving us only 2 hours there. The positive that came out of that is that if we did make our tight connection we would have extra time to return to Oktoberfest for some more riding.
So we took the train from Munich to Buchloe where we connected to Rammingen, a completely remote train platform in a cornfield. We could see the park from the platform but the signs pointed us to a path in a cornfield we would need to use to walk about 1 km to the park. It was like something out of Field of Dreams. If you build the Sky Wheel they will come.
Luckily we figured that Skyline could be conquered in two hours if we hurried. We did miss a few things but we got all of the coaster credits and a few other rides. The entrance of the park is notable because of a coaster sculpture and the hidden door that opened for you to get into the park after paying in the guest relations office.
Our first stop was the Achterbahn which is a Wildcat coaster. Pretty standard ride. Next we headed over to the original Maurer Sohne X-Car coaster, Sky Wheel. It was quite interesting and it was also a decent ride. The two circuit cycle was enough for us though. Across the way was the unique Sky Rider coaster. This is a Caprio ride. It was like a Batflyer but with four seats around a circle. We all agreed it was our favorite coaster in the park. The park also had a pair of Heege Freizeittechnik Butterfly coasters back to back. One was not working but at least the other one was and we got the credit. I was only going to count one of them since they seemed to have two right next to other for capacity reasons.
Skyline Express is a ride which is like a double Bayern Kurve type ride with ICE train themed cars. It was a good ride. We skipped the bumper car go-karts due to the lines but Greg and Dave did ride the Nautic Jet while I was finding some popcorn for lunch. No time for the restaurant.
We headed back to the train platform followed by groups of school students. We made it back to Buchloe in time to catch our train to Munich since that train was slightly delayed. So we had about 2 hours to enjoy Oktoberfest some more and get some souvenirs.
Our first stop was the Tagada. Greg rode since he hadn't been on one before. He can't drink beer due to the gluten so he was in good shape to ride. I was still a bit weary so I just filmed him riding. Dave and Janna had some bratwurst nearby.
My first ride of the day with the group was a dark ride, Shocker I believe. While it had many cars they only sent one at a time so the line was slow. The cars had cages over them which allow the stunts to hit into the cars. It was quite an in your face dark ride because of the cages.
Next I wanted to ride Olympia Looping again. It was only running one train but the wait was only one train so we got through the line quickly. We all wanted to ride Star World again. Something seemed to be missing this time but it could be the initial wow factor was missing the second time around. Time was running short so we headed back to the Lowenbrau tent to buy some shirts and I stopped at a gift stand nearby for some official Oktoberfest goods.
I had enough time at the train station to grab a bratwurst for the train trip to Stuttgart. After 2.5 hours on the ICE train we arrived in Stuttgart. We stayed at the InterCity Hotel which was part of the historic train station itself. It was nice not to have to search the area to find our hotel.
Thursday, Sept 28 - Cannstatter Volksfest and travel to Europa Park (with preview visit)
The InterCity Hotel was the only hotel on our trip that did not include breakfast. We didn't want to pay for it so we just went down to the train station and ate at a food court to save on breakfast. Greg and I found a cheap Internet terminal so I finally checked my e-mail that morning for the first time during the trip.
Due to our need to travel to Europa Park and the limited bus service, our time at the Cannstatter Volksfest, the second largest beer festival in Germany, was limited to only two hours first thing in the morning. At around 10:30 AM we took the S-Bahn to the fairgrounds and had enough time to walk much of the grounds to see what the fair had to offer. Alpina Bahn was our primary goal. We thought we might find an indoor coaster but instead found an unexpected Mack Wilde Maus. That coaster opened up at 11 AM and we took turns riding and filming each other riding.
The classic Schwarzkopf Alpina Bahn didn't look like it would be opening until 12 noon so we looked around some more. We ran into a few teams of horses in front of their respective fest halls. It looked like they were going to pull the beer wagon for a parade although we never saw the parade start. But it was interesting to see the horses on display. We also were able to view the famous fruit column.
Eventually 12 noon rolled around and we took our rides on Alpina Bahn. The ride has no inversions, just plenty of swoops and curves. The back was fun but the front had some airtime on the second hill. It's the type of ride you'd love to have ERT on. Also of note is the well themed entrance with an alpine look and several bears.
We took a ride on the reisenrad (Ferris wheel) which is apparently the largest portable wheel in the world. Our last ride was the Daemonium dark ride that looked really cool on the outside. Unfortunately it was pretty lame on the inside. On the way out of the fair Greg grabbed some fish and the rest of us had some bratwurst on rolls.
We had to take three trains and then a local bus to get to Europa Park. Stuttgart to Karlsrhue to Offenburg to Ringsheim and then bus to the Hotel El Andauluz where we were staying.
Hotel El Andaluz is the oldest hotel in the Europa Park resort but it worked well for us. I really like the Spanish feel and the courtyards. The Catillo Alcazar and Colosseo were more expensive but we were able to take advantage of their amenities anyway. There's not doubt that the Colosseo plaza is amazing.
Since we checked in just before 5 PM we were offered free entry to the park for the last hour. We couldn't resist. This visit would allow us to have an even less stressful day the next day. Greg was new to the park and needed all of the credits but all of us wanted to ride just about everything. The closest coaster to the resort entrance was the new Atlantica Supersplash water coaster in the Portugal section. This is a shoot-the-chutes style water coaster that features turntables, a backwards section and large drop and speed bump. The oceanic theming of the ride is great.
I only had one previous ride on Euro Mir, the unique spinning coaster at the park. Since the line was very short we rode it twice in our bonus visit. While the show in the lift hill seemed a bit off, the total ride experience was better than I remembered. I think Euro Mir is the best thrill ride at the park. To me it is the ride that seems to symbolize Europa Park best.
Before dinner we explored the hotels and dining options. We opted to stay at the El Andaluz and eat at the Restaurant Don Quichotte. We recalled a good meal there during the 2002 ECO trip. We also enjoyed the Bar El Circo at the hotel out in the courtyard in the evening.
The sign says it all.
Olympia Looping is an integral part of Oktoberfest.
Star World was an amazing experience.
Euro Star was rough but still pretty cool.
The massive, busy rides midway.
Mirror image Wilde Maus coasters.
Skater is an outstanding Top Scan.
Greg gets tossed around the Tagada.
Time for the Lowenbrau tent!
The tent holds around 5,000 people.
"Beer Boy" gets started.
Mmm, giant pretzels.
Double mmm, chicken.
Andy is having fun.
More German Coasterfriends having fun.
Everyone is standing on the benches singing and dancing.
Janna, singing and dancing.
Derek starts getting sloppy.
A true Oktoberfest rookie, but weren't we all (the Americans at least).
We opted to get a bit of extra sleep on Friday rather then enter the park early as a resort guest. Only a limited area was open and it wouldn't help us with the lower capacity rides anyway. No problem as the park wasn't too busy but we did make our first stops two lower capacity rides. Matterhorn Blitz, a Mack mouse with a unique elevator lift and a Fly style layout, was first. Luckily our wait was short. Next we headed to the big pumpkin that concealed Euro Sat. The line was a bit long but not bad. This ride is popular early in the day and later on we noticed it was walk on. This Space Mountain knock off didn't seem either as impressive or rough as I recall. But I do prefer the Spaceship Earth look over the gigantic pumpkin look.
We rode Silver Star next. This ride did absolutely nothing in 2002 so the improvement it showed this year was appreciated. The first drop was decent and the ride had some floatage in a number of spots. With Raging Bull being so disappointing recently I think Silver Star may now edge it. The ride went from being an almost insulting B&M to an enjoyable ride.
Nearby is a favorite ride of mine, the Schweizer Bobbahn bobsled. This ride is similar in footprint to the Avalanche at PKD except the Europa version has a big dip and seems more impressive overall. Plus the Swiss themed village the ride sits in is outstanding. It's hard for me to convey just how detailed the theming at this park is so realize that I'm not skipping the details but only an actual visit to the park would do it total justice.
We headed to Greece to ride the new Mack Young Star coaster, Pegasus. The ride had possibly the longest line in the park as the new attraction due to only having one train. I liked the themed trains and the archaeological dig site theming. The ride is fairly large for a family coaster and it is amazingly fast. I'd love to see more of these.
Also in Greece is the Poseidon water coaster. I skipped it because I didn't want to risk getting wet. Greg and Dave rode and they were lucky the guys dropping euros into the spraying dolphin stopped before their boat passed. But the ride has some very photogenic areas.
A new attraction this year is a Football Scooter bumper car ride to commemorate the World Cup in Germany in 2006. The ride did feature a soccer ball and goals but it wasn't quite as cool as I expected since the ball always got stuck. When we rode I was able to get the ball moving and I scored a goal.
Europa Park is a Mack Gmbh showplace and it has a nice little museum in the Italy section. The same section is also home to two dark rides on opposite ends of the spectrum. Ciao Bambini is a cute family dark ride while Geister Schloss is a very good Haunted Mansion style ride.
On to some scenic rides, we headed to France and rode the Euro Tower for some overhead views of the park. Nearby is the Elf ride in bordering Germany which is a boat ride through a garden of elves. Back in France is the Puppet ride which is another scenic garden boat ride. After seeing the scenery we had a good lunch at Taverna Mykonos in Greece.
We later took a stroll through England and Adventureland to get to Austria and the excellent Alpenblitz powered coaster. The ride goes through the World of Diamonds attraction's mountain along with the flume ride. Inside the mountain fire erupts when the train passes. The World of Diamonds is an interesting walk through where you can see the theming inside the mountain as trains and boats pass through. It's another very cool feature of Europa Park that you don't find at other parks.
Spain is home to the El Andaluz hotel and it is one of my favorite themed areas of the park as far as looks go. We rode the Columbus Dinghy boat themed flat ride as it is one of Dave's favorites. From Spain we headed on to Scandinavia to explore. It's a cozy little village where we found the Andersen’s Fairy Tale Tower and the not so impressive Sunken City Vineta attraction which took about 10 seconds to walk through.
Holland is another nice little village which is home to the excellent Pirates of Batavia boat ride. This is a take on the Pirates of the Carribean with it's own unique flare.
It was now time for a few rerides. First was Euro Mir followed by two on Silver Star at Greg's request. To finish up our visit we explored the gardens around the Schloss (Castle) and the rest of the Germany area. We also did a little shopping before jumping on the EP Express monorail to the resort station in Spain.
For dinner we ate at the Medeci a la carte restaurant at the Colosseo. It was another good choice for us as we weren't interested in the buffets. While Europa Park didn't stick out to me on our trip schedule it ended up being a very significant and memorable part of our trip.
Saturday, Sept 30 - Holiday Park and travel to Frankfurt
We had an early wake up call on Saturday in order to catch the appropriate buses and train to get to Holiday Park at a reasonable hour. First we had to catch the local SBG bus which luckily was right on time. The park does have a shuttle service they don't seem to advertise very well but it was expensive enough that we didn't bother with it. Since the buses were more frequent to Herbolzheim train station we headed there instead of Ringsheim station. We arrived early and found that there was an earlier train to Offenburg so we jumped on that train so we could have a wider connection time. The one thing that stuck out is that we ran into a group of college fraternity type guys continuing their party on the train.
From Offenburg we took an ICE train to Mannheim where we stored our luggage. From Mannheim we took a local S-Bahn train to Hassloch station. Unfortunately our connection for the Holiday Park bus was very tight. If we missed it the next bus was an hour later. We rushed to the bus station without tickets to find the bus pulling up. Luckily the bus driver sold us tickets because I'm not sure they usually do that. He checked that we had train passes so that helped us. Within 20 minutes we arrived at Holiday Park.
Holiday Park is truly the Knoebels of Germany. It has a wooded and rustic feel although Holiday Park has a few major, mostly newer rides while Knoebels has many old rides.
Expedition Ge Force is clearly the reason we visited the park. It is my #2 steel coaster and this visit solidified that ranking. We were a bit concerned with the one train operation but most of our waits were about 20-25 minutes. Our first ride wasn't quite up to par but the second ride definitely was. On the second ride the first trim brake barely made a sound after a first ride where it hit hard. The last trim was about normal.
To compare EGF to Superman in New England, EGF has the best first drop in the universe, has better curves and has a better flow overall. Superman has more airtime hills with overall stronger airtime. But EGF does have its share of good airtime hills plus a crazy directional change hill.
I was thinking we'd have more than four EGF rides during the day after getting two rides early. But we did want to enjoy the rest of the park. Our first stop was Holly Snacks for some lunch. We proceeded onto Burg Falkenstien which is a well themed dark ride, infamous for the scene where the one mannequin pulls down her top. We proceeded onto the Super Wirbel for Greg's credit. The park has a new lighthouse themed Star Flyer. This model had two seats rather than one like we saw at Prater. The ride was about as good although the cycle at Holiday Park was a bit short.
We took a different path back to EGF in order to do a quick photo shoot of the ride. We finished with two more EGF rides. All of our rides were in the back car. I wouldn't have minded a front car ride but the extra queue for that car only made the wait extra long.
We had to catch a 16:45 bus back to Hassloch station so our visit was a bit short. A few days earlier we noticed a problem with our proposed schedule as we would have skipped stopping at Mannheim station to pick up our luggage with our scheduled option. So with our backup schedules and the schedules posted at the stations we came up with a backup plan. While in Stuttgart we picked up an extra train reservation so we were set to go from Mannheim on to Frankfurt.
We arrived in Frankfurt and luckily as we exited the station we quickly found the National Hotel. This hotel had old charm but it was very much up to date. It was a nice place to end our trip. Janna had been fairly sick for a few days but I was glad that she felt up to joining us in the low key hotel bar for some time to reflect on the trip.
Sunday, Oct 1 - Return to USA
We had to catch an S-Bahn to the airport in the morning. Unfortunately I let our timing slip a bit and we had to opt for a train about 20 minutes later than would have been ideal. In turn we entered our numerous long lines a bit late and we really did cut things closer than any of us would have wanted. We had 2.5 hours at the Frankfurt airport and that wasn't really enough for comfort. The check in line was long, the passport control and first security gate was average but the gate security with full pat downs was slow. It didn't help that they shut down the one screening area when we were next in line. Like CDG in Paris, FRA in Frankfurt is a pain of an airport to deal with.
The Delta flight to Cincinnati was pretty much on time. The only problem is that upon arrival about six other international flights arrived at the same time. Luggage, passport control, customs and the security line were all crowded and delayed. Thus we missed our connection to Pittsburgh. And to think Delta rescheduled us here so we could make our connection. All I know that is in the future I will do what I can to have at least 2 hour connection time for international connections. I can also say that I have no interest in flying Delta overseas again. Their in flight entertainment sucked compared to other airlines. Having to connect at a place like JFK is a mess and arriving at Cincinnati is miserable. I can't imagine Atlanta is any better. Even though IAD in Washington for United was bad for me in the past I'd rather go back there. I've had great success with Continental in Newark and I'd rather try Northwest in Detroit or US Airways in Charlotte.
After we knew we missed our flight we saw that there was another Pittsburgh flight on the board in another 2.5 hours. We found a Delta counter and an enthusiastic employee hurried to grab us the last three seats on the plane...in first class. So we killed some time, ate dinner at Max & Ermas and had a comfortable hop over to Pittsburgh in first class. We were worried about our luggage showing up in Pittsburgh (time and hassle wise rather than actually needing all of our dirty laundry) but our luggage did show up thankfully.
In all the trip was excellent despite some travel woes. If I had to do it again I'd cut down on the back tracking and stay longer at some hotels and may day trips. But we were locked into some hotels that didn't allow for more efficient travel so we made due. But we had some great park visits, some good cultural encounters and some quality meals. It was absolutely great to meet up with the German "Coaster Friends" in Munich. They helped us out more than we could have anticipated. When they come to America I'll make sure to meet up with them.
El Andaluz was our hotel at Europa Park.
The hotel is in the beautiful Spain section of the park.
Atlantica Supersplash was a new attraction for all of us.
Euro Mir is in my mind the signature coaster of Europa Park.
The unusual lift section of Matterhorn Blitz.
Schweizer Bobbahn is one of my favorite rides at the park.
Eurosat disguised as a giant pumpkin.
Silver Star dominates the skyline.
Pegasus is the new family coaster.
The Poseidon water coaster.
Here are the football scooters.
Pirates of Batavia is possibly the best dark ride in the park.
A great thing about Europa is that you're sure to run into roaming live entertainment. Here's a parade.
Here's just one garden of the park. You could fill a book with all of the details of the park.
On to Holiday Park.
This is what it's all about.
Probably the greatest drop in the universe.
Airtime hill of Expedition Ge Force.
EGF has great curves too.
The infamous Burg Falkenstein dark ride.
The Lighthouse is a fun Star Flyer.
Last and certainly least is Super (Gerbil) Wirbel.
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