Bellewaerde Park is a theme park near the Belgian city of Ieper. This place is especially known for its war memorials, which attract lots of English tourists. That’s probably the reason why Bellewaerde was packed with British people during our visit on 8th August 2018. The park was very crowded anyway. Interestingly, Bellewaerde stopped annual pass sales in May due to the enormous popularity. But why is this park so popular? What’s the secret of Bellewaerde Park’s success?
One thing is sure: you shouldn’t come here if you’re looking for coaster thrills. The park’s signature coaster is… a Boomerang. Yes, I’m serious. The only thrilling, loopy coaster is a standard Vekoma Boomerang. Admittedly: the ride opened in 1984 and this was actually the very first Boomerang to open for public. It’s just sad that no other thrill coaster has been opened during the following 34 years. However, in 2013 Bellewaerde added a quite surprising family rollercoaster called Huracan. This indoor Zierer replaced the Los Piratas dark ride, one of the few classic dark rides Belgium has ever had. And although I miss the atmosphere of Los Piratas, Huracan was the perfect addition for Bellewaerde. It features a nicely themed station and a beautiful dark ride section, followed by a smooth and pretty fast coaster ride. Huracan is by far my favourite ride at this park.
Water rides are exactly what you need during a hot summer day. And Bellewaerde has a quite extensive selection: the park offers an old school (rather short) log flume, a boat slide, a beautiful spillwater and a rapid river at the Indian section. Bengal Rapid River is without a doubt the most popular water ride, with a wait time of up to 90 minutes during our visit. We didn’t enter the queue because of this extremely long line, but I have to admit that the ride looks stunning. Exotic vegetation and Indian temples create a very good atmosphere and the actual rapid river seems fun.
You could describe Bellewaerde as the Belgian version of Busch Gardens Tampa or Kolmården; this park combines amusement park rides with zoo sections. Bellewaerde invested a lot in its animal exhibits over the past decades, so they look quite nice. You won’t find an enormous number of animals here, but it’s a nice touch and it distinguishes Bellewaerde from other Belgian theme parks. The most unique animal exhibit can be found in the Indian themed area. Here, you can see tigers from up-close while riding the Bengal Express. This train ride travels straight through the tiger plains. This can be fun if the tigers are active, but they seem to be sleeping most of the time. Also noteworthy is Bengal Express’ rather low capacity, which may result in a long queue.
The park’s newest ride is called Dawson Duel and it should be described as a Mountain-Coaster-Without-Mountain. Think of it as a duelling Alpine Coaster which was placed on normal coaster supports. That sounds special, but I actually didn’t like this ride that much. It’s a very short experience, you aren’t able to control the vehicle’s speed and the capacity is ridiculously low. That resulted in a 60-minute queue, which is way too long for a ride this simple. I really liked the Mountain-Coasters I’ve ridden in Todtnau and Pigeon Forge, but Dawson Duel doesn’t even come close. And let’s be honest: Mountain-Coasters should only be built on actual mountains, right?
Bellewaerde Park is a nice place for families and I understand why the park is so popular. A combined zoo and attraction park is pretty unique to Belgian standards and the overall theming level is good. Especially the Mexican and the Canadian themed areas look beautiful and they offer a wide variety of family-friendly rides. But to me, that’s also the park’s weak point: Bellewaerde really lacks a good thrill ride. They have a Boomerang, a disappointing shot & drop ride and a Topple Tower, but that’s about it. This park could use a spectacular launched rollercoaster or a big wooden coaster. Unfortunately, their current family-friendly course has proven to be successfull, so I’m not sure whether my prayers will be answered soon. We’ll see…