July of the year 1975 was a golden month for European amusement park enthusiasts. On 12th July, Europa-Park opened its gates in the German town of Rust. The Italian Gardaland premiered on 19th July and Walibi Waver was inaugurated one week later. Three totally different parks in totally different regions, but they have one thing in common: they started small, but they all became leading theme parks. Although Walibi may seem a bit smaller than Europa-Park or Gardaland, that Belgian park was a trendsetter in the European amusement park business during the 80s and 90s. Walibi presented lots of unique, innovative attractions during those golden decades.
Unfortunately, Walibi has also known a darker period. Six Flags invested plenty of money in 2001 and a beautiful dark ride opened just two years later, but things seemed to slow down dramatically afterwards. The original name and the kangaroo returned without much publicity and the park had lots of problems with Vertigo, a new rollercoaster concept. In short: Walibi seemed to become a little less glorious year after year. Was this the end of an era? No, fortunately it wasn’t. In 2017, Walibi Belgium announced that they would invest more than 100 million euros in new rides and themed areas. Consider this as Walibi Belgium’s Renaissance and that rebirth is currently in full swing. Let’s check it out with our own eyes.
Due to traffic jams, we arrive a little later than expected. That doesn’t seem a big problem, as we expect an uncrowded day anyway. That seems to be correct: the parking lot is nearly empty when we arrive at approximately 11 AM. It’s also very quiet in the park’s Main Street, a pleasant area that’s mainly characterised by bright colours and exotic touches.
We decide to start our day at the backside of the park. This always felt like it was a forgotten area within Walibi. Even after the addition of Challenge of Tutankhamon, the general public didn’t seem to find their way here. However, that recently changed thanks to of Exotic World. In fact, this new themed zone is the epicentre of Walibi’s current expansions. It will be home to the tallest and fastest rollercoaster of the Benelux soon, but Exotic World already got a rollercoaster addition last year. It’s called Tiki-Waka and this is a family rollercoaster manufactured by Gerstlauer. Their coasters usually aren’t that extraordinary. But honestly, when it comes to family rollercoasters, Gerstlauer does an excellent job. That’s not different in this case. Tiki-Waka is a nice family ride and the vehicles fly over the tracks with an incredible smoothness. Although this definitely isn’t the ultimate sensation, I actually think it’s one of my rollercoasters at Walibi. This is partly due to the theme, because the Polynesian decoration looks fresh and elaborate. That station building is actually so pretty that it would perfectly fit within a Disney theme park. Nice job, Walibi.
Is there any logical connection between Polynesia and Egypt? You wouldn’t think so at first glance. Nevertheless, Walibi did some effort to fit Challenge of Tutankhamon‘s facade within Exotic World. Actually, even without those changes I wouldn’t complain about the clash between both themes. Challenge of Tutankhamon is just too good to say anything bad about it. During this interactive tour, we have to eliminate tons of Egyptian creeps with laser guns. If our score is sufficiently high, we’re even granted admission to a beautiful treasure room at the end. No other Belgian dark ride creates such a wonderful experience like this one. So don’t miss Challenge or Tutankhamon, even though its location is a bit remote.
Nick isn’t the biggest water ride lover and I wouldn’t define myself as a water enthusiast either. However, we do make exceptions if temperature rises above 25 degrees and that’s the case today. After our expensive but delicious lunch, we decide to ride Flash Back. This log flume is completely different from most other versions when it comes to theming. This ride isn’t themed to a sawmill or the Far West, but to a rejuvenation machine. That’s a very nice idea, but the attraction could also use a rejuvenation cure itself. Most decorative elements look old and although Flash Back has already undergone quite a few renovations, the current state of the attraction is rather questionable. That’s a pity, because this attraction remains fantastic in terms of hardware. It’s got a long layout and the last descent is pretty good. According to some rumours, Flash Back will get a major overhaul next year. Let’s hope that this is true.
Flash Back was manufactured by Mack Rides in 1995 and these Germans were allowed to build yet another water ride twenty years later. In 2016, Walibi Belgium presented a world novelty called Pulsar, a Power Splash. What makes this attraction unique is its combination of forward and backward launches with a refreshing splash at the end. It requires a fairly complex technique and strict timing, but the result is stunning. Pulsar is a real treat for both spectators and passengers. The station building looks great and IMAscore composed an impressive soundtrack exclusively for Pulsar. The actual ride is short, but surprisingly intense. Those three launches feel much more powerful than they look and the final splash is literally gigantic. As a result, it’s possible to conclude your ride on Pulsar completely soaked. Nevertheless, we discover that the third row is a pretty safe place to remain mostly dry. Awesome attraction.
Let’s ride Walibi Belgium’s oldest rollercoaster still in operation today: Psyké Underground. This ride has had two other names in the past and one thing is very clear: with every name change, an extra piece of the rails was covered. Psyké Underground should be the last name according to that philosophy, because this classic from 1982 is a totally indoor experience nowadays. Luckily, renovations didn’t make this attraction worse. The darkness is disorienting and Walibi added some nice lighting effects as well. Besides, Psyké Underground is still smooth and the backward loop creates a bizarre sense of adrenaline. That’s why I like this attraction a lot, but please Walibi… do something about that Chernobyl-like queue.
Allow me to explain the term coaster bingo. This is the title rollercoaster enthusiasts assign themselves when they’ve ridden every (existing) rollercoaster at a certain amusement park. The number of times you rode a certain coaster isn’t important and the size of those coasters doesn’t matter either. That means that you also need to ride kiddie coasters if you want a coaster bingo and guess what… Walibi’s newest attraction is such a small-scale coaster. Fun Pilot opened just three weeks ago and it actually still smells of fresh paint. The station and the queue are quite attractive thanks to their cartoonish decor and it even reminds us of the style of The Barnstormer at Magic Kingdom. The ride itself isn’t that special, but it’s wonderfully smooth and rather fast for beginners. Great addition to Walibi’s children’s area, if you ask me.
Mad houses aren’t that common in America or Asia, but they are in Europe. Efteling’s Villa Volta was the first and remains one of the best examples worldwide, but Walibi also also built a version in 2001. It’s called Paleis Van De Geest (The Genie’s Palace) and I’m a big fan. The pre-show is visually entertaining and the actual ride features fantastic music and good theming. The only disadvantage in this disorienting attraction is the forced use of bilingualism. It’s nice that they want to please both Flemish and Walloon visitors, but this unfortunately results in chaotic narration during the entire ride.
Welcome to Karma World, the newest themed area at Walibi Belgium. In reality, this is a conversion of an existing zone, but still a very good one. Karma World is based on the spirit and exoticism of Bollywood and it’s a whole lot better than the former Ali Baba Land. The area’s most popular attraction, however, didn’t receive a big makeover. Radja River was fitted with a new entrance, but everything else remained unchanged. That’s not necessarily bad. This is one of Europe’s largest rapid rivers and it also has one of the most spectacular finales on such a ride. Right before the final lifthill, boats pass under a set fountains, a tunnel of water and they then crash into a huge tidal wave. This series of water effects ensured that I exited the ride soaked, just like my 11 fellow passengers.
Karma World is the place to be if you’re searching for a good water ride, but legendary rollercoasters aren’t on offer here. Cobra, a standard Boomerang, is the only coaster you’ll find. Originally, a much larger version of this attraction was planned, but it was eventually sent to Parque Warner in Spain. That’s a shame, but it’s also a good reason to travel to Madrid from time to time.
Fun Pilot in’t the only new attraction in 2019. The biggest novelty can be found in Karma World, on the location of the former Palace of Ali Baba. This dark ride was closed in 2001 and its building was mainly used for temporary Halloween mazes since that time. Since this year, however, there’s finally a new (and definitive) attraction. It’s called Popcorn Revenge and this is an interactive dark ride with laser guns. But ehm, wait a minute… Isn’t that the same as Challenge or Tutankhamon? Yes, it is. Even the round-shaped vehicles and the trackless ride system are identical. Popcorn Revenge is screen-based and the story has nothing to do with Egypt, but it’s a fact that the added value of this novelty is limited. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a lovely attraction, the cinema theming is original and it provides great fun. But is Popcorn Revenge really the attraction Walibi needed? No, I don’t think so.
Let’s ride a rollercoaster which was made in Holland: Vampire. This inverted rollercoaster is located in a somewhat remote location, but it’s popular nevertheless. That’s probably because the general public still considers this as an impressive rollercoaster. Just like most other Vekoma SLCs, it reaches speeds of up to 80 km/h and there’s a total of five inversions. Yet it doesn’t impress me and that’s mainly due to its brutal roughness. The trains are pretty shaky and the over the shoulder restraints just aren’t comfortable at all. Vampire isn’t the world’s most painful rollercoaster (my nominations go to Trombi and Time Warp) but it’s far from great.
Dark creatures are popular at Walibi Belgium. In addition to the Egyptian Seth and the vampire, you can also have a meet-up with a Werewolf here. But if you’re planning on doing so, please take the necessary precautions. Those precautions include loads of medicine that can cure a headache… you’ll need it. It’s a fact that wooden rollercoasters are generally somewhat rougher than steel rides, but Werewolf is just too painful to be enjoyable. In addition, lap bars close so tightly that I have to experience most of the ride in a pretty uncomfortable position. And as if that’s not enough, there’s even more bad news to report: since the demolition of Walibi’s ferris wheel, it has become incredibly difficult to take nice pictures of this rollercoaster. Werewolf remains a crowd pleaser and queues are often considerable, but I think it’s worthless in its current state. What about an RMC treatment like the one Robin Hood at Walibi Holland got?
Did you know that Walibi was once home to various Belgian cartoon heroes? One of them was Lucky Luke, a cowboy which lent his name to the park’s Far West village: Lucky Luke City. And although Walibi lost this license, the top attractions in this zone remind us of the past. These include Dalton Terror (an 80-metre free fall tower that’s out of order all day long) and Calamity Mine. This mine train coaster is clearly inspired by Disney’s Big Thunder Mountain, but it’s considerably smaller. It’s got 800 metres of track and the top speed is approximately 50 km/h. Despite those limited figures, Calamity Mine is an excellent family rollercoaster which pleases the whole family. You once again shouldn’t expect the smoothest ride, but I don’t find that disturbing in this case. By the way: there are twenty-six seats in the train, but only four of them are occupied during our ride. I adore the low season.
We plan another exotic race with Tiki-Waka and we’re paying a second visit to Tutankhamon, but we then decide to exit the park. It was a very quiet day, which means that it’s possible to see the park within a few hours. Despite this rather short visit, I had a lot of fun today. In fact, this was my best Walibi visit ever. I’ve been to Walibi regularly during the past two decades and the park rarely made a good impression. This has always been the best Belgian park in terms of rides, but the general atmosphere was sometimes sad (or even hostile) and theming wasn’t the park’s big strength. In recent years, however, Walibi Belgium is fixing these two issues. New theme areas such as Karma World and Exotic World are looking amazing and staff are the best I’ve encountered in a very long time. No really, the quality of crew members is high enough to compete with the American and Japanese Disney resorts. Both in terms of customer focus and language skills, Walibi may be very proud of its current workforce.
Non-existent queues obviously played a role in my positive judgement, but I’m pretty sure that you’ll also get a great experience during the busier summer months. So what I’m actually trying to say is: go to Walibi Belgium. After a period of unsuccessful name changes and strange decisions, this Belgian park is completely back on track. Honestly, today’s Walibi may even be the strongest version since that Saturday in the summer of 1975.