NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
Every amusement park enthusiast has a home park. In my case, that’s Europa-Park. I have had an annual pass for this German theme park since 2006 and I usually visit Europa-Park 4 or 5 times a year. The disadvantage of Europa-Park is its location: the travel time between the park and my hometown is at least 5 hours. Wouldn’t it be better to search for a home park closer to home? While checking Google Maps, I actually notice that there’s a fairly large amusement park at a mere 45 kilometers from my front door. The park features 8 roller coasters, 4 water attractions and a world-class ride that has been themed to King Kong. Could this place become my new home park? I’d like to give it a fair chance. After all, this would make my life easier and a lot cheaper.
As I mentioned here, here and here: a Bobbejaanland annual pass is an incredibly good buy. It doesn’t only guarantee free admission to all Parques Reunidos parks, but it also provides decent discounts on dozens of other day attractions. Thanks to my past trips to Madrid and Movie Park Germany, the return on investment is already big. But wouldn’t it be strange to have an annual pass for Bobbejaanland without visiting Bobbejaanland itself? That’s why I visited that amusement park near Antwerp twice during the summer months. The circumstances were similar during both visits: it was quite hot and crowds were light. Best possible conditions for a theme park visit, if you ask me.
Always walk towards the back of the park in the morning. This is the trick I recommend in most trip reports, but it’s less effective at Bobbejaanland. The park has a (bad) habit of opening the rides in different stages. As a result, early birds may encounter closed gates at Oki Doki or Dream Catcher. That’s why we started our day in Adventure Valley, a jungle-themed zone in the centre of the park.
The area’s most iconic attraction is Revolution, an indoor coaster that opened back in 1989. Revolution is a well-known ride for Belgian amusement park fans. Still, Bobbejaanland has regularly changed its decoration and name in the past. The most recent transition took place in 2016: the park implemented a virtual reality version with the name Mount Mara. Don’t panic if you prefer not to use VR glasses, because Revolution can still be ridden in its original form. I definitely have a preference for the original experience, but please don’t expect a huge thrill. The coaster has a rather monotonous layout (it’s literally an eternal turn to the left) and it’s everything but sensational. However, Revolution evokes such a nostalgic feeling that I actually find it a quite pleasant experience. A unique one as well: it’s uncommon to see a coaster train with 30 cars, isn’t it?
Let’s build a soaking water ride indoors, so that our guests are able to enjoy it during rainy days. Was this the philosophy when Bobbejaanland ordered Banana Battle? I don’t know, but I’m not a fan of this Splash Battle. It looks cheap and the acoustics within the hall are terrible. Yet, Banana Battle isn’t necessarily the most worthless attraction of Adventure Valley, as there are two competitors. Firstly there’s King Kong – a flat ride which looks nice, but is extremely boring – and secondly there’s Forbidden Caves. Admittedly… this attraction has proven that Bobbejaanland is perfectly able to add great theming to its attractions. The queue looks elaborate and the atmosphere is good. However, the actual 3D experience this Immersive Tunnel creates, is far from amazing. The graphics are terrible and the story line remains unclear, even for Dutch-speaking visitors. What a shame.
Bobbejaanland has removed quite a few rides during the past decades. One of them is Bobby Drop. This water slide was closed for good in 2008, but Bobbejaanland made up for it by opening a brand-new roller coaster nearby. And that’s undoubtedly the best ride in Adventure Valley. It’s called Naga Bay and it’s a spinning roller coaster manufactured by Maurer Rides. These Germans also built Winjas at Phantasialand and Tarántula at Parque de Atracciones, but this Flemish version feels considerably less intense. The frequent use of brakes results in a controlled experience, but that doesn’t really bother me. Naga Bay is actually an excellent family roller coaster which provides a smooth, enjoyable ride. I only regret the fact that they didn’t put more effort in the adventurous theme, as the ride looks rather uninspiring.
Bobbejaanland used to be a Belgian version of Dollywood. The park is named after Bobbejaan Schoepen, a famous Belgian country singer. As a result, the park is still known as a country-style amusement park. This typical atmosphere can best be felt at the park’s cowboy village. Unfortunately, the top attraction of that cowboy village isn’t a wooden roller coaster or a mine train ride: we must settle with a rapid river. It’s called El Rio and it used to have 3 unique features: a Ferris wheel that carried the boats upwards, a soaking drop and an impressive whirlpool. Unfortunately, that Ferris wheel and the drop were removed a few years ago. This means that El Rio has become a rather boring rafting ride and chances of getting wet are limited. If you’re searching for a great rapid river, it may be a better idea to travel to Efteling or Europa-Park.
Bobbejaanland’s Far West area also contains two roller coasters, but these are just as uninspiring as the rapid river. The first one is called Speedy Bob and it’s a classic Wild Mouse. This coaster type is characterized by its endless series of hairpin turns and honestly, these rides are never truly legendary. Speedy Bob used to be special because of its double track and the duelling element. Unfortunately, the other half got removed in 2008 and the empty space is currently overgrown by weeds.
And then there’s Dream Catcher, a Suspended Coaster built by Vekoma. This coaster used to feature brightly coloured airplane vehicles instead of the usual Vekoma trains and that was a very recognizable sight. Still, Bobbejaanland decided to remove those aircraft in 2005 and the ride was fitted with a Native American theme. The current theme is a better match for Bobbejaanland’s country atmosphere, but I actually don’t like the ride that much. The colour scheme is downright horrible and the lay-out feels simple. In fact, Dream Catcher is just a monotonous series of weak turns and helices. That creates a boring ride and it’s rather shaky as well. Perhaps I’m too negative, because the general public seems to love Dream Catcher a lot. It often has long queues and unfortunately, it’s in a 1-train operation most of the time.
Both in June and in August I visited Bobbejaanland with people around my age. And as a twenty-something year old, Kinderland isn’t exactly the place to be. This indoor play area looks good, but the attractions are solely focused on toddlers. However, the nearby Oki Doki was a must-do for my coaster bingo-loving friends. This Junior Coaster was part of a big expansion in 2004 and it provided more action in the backside of the park. The ride is smooth and the first drop delivers significantly more punch than you’d expect from such a kiddie coaster. Although the ride itself is great, there’s also bad news: Oki Doki isn’t themed at all. The train design suggests that they wanted a circus theme, but that clearly didn’t happen. The station is simple and there are lots of hideous noise barriers next to the tracks. Let’s all hope that Efteling will do a better job with its future circus roller coaster. I’m pretty sure they will, actually.
Banana Battle isn’t the only indoor water ride the park has to offer. There’s also Indiana River, an indoor log flume. That concept is quite unique and Bobbejaanland did a wonderful job with this ride’s theming. The loading area, for example, is located in the middle of a jungle-like environment and the track travels past a number of mysterious scenes. It’s definitely not on Disney level and you may notice that Indiana River is getting older, but all in all I consider this as an excellent dark ride. The 3 drops – the first one is pretty wet, so be prepared – also provide great fun. In short: Indiana River shouldn’t be missed during a Bobbejaanland visit and that’s especially true during these hot summer days.
Bobbejaanland is one of the very few amusement parks with more than one log flume. Just a few steps from Indiana River, you’ll find Wild Water Slide. This ride is 11 years older than the indoor version, but it’s just as popular. That lead to queues of approximately 30 minutes during my past two visits. Is Wild Water Slide worth a 30-minute wait? I don’t think so. Although I can appreciate the long ride and its two descents, I think that the ride looks very dated. Especially those fake rocks look like they should’ve been replaced decades ago. I understand that the ride is 40 years old, but a thorough renovation is necessary.
It always seems a good idea to combine a Mack Powered Coaster with a water ride. They did this at Europa-Park, at Heide Park, at Alton Towers and… at Bobbejaanland. In the year 2000, they built Bob Express‘ tracks above the existing Wild Water Slide. The result is wonderful because the interaction between both rides is quite nice. Besides, Bob Express surprised me in a very positive way. The station looks good and the ride proves that Powered Coasters shouldn’t necessarily be tame. This coaster reaches surprisingly high speeds and some of the curves provide unexpected G-forces. I don’t want to claim that Bob Express is the ride of your life, but don’t underestimate this cute-looking train.
It’s always special to read American or Asian trip reports about our local amusement parks. I still remember what Americans had to say about El Paso Special: they called it the most politically incorrect dark ride of all time. And indeed, this ride enables you to shoot innocent Mexicans. Señor Trump would definitely tweet about The Greatest Ride Ever Built and Bobbejaanland seems to agree: they aren’t planning any anti-racist adjustments for the time being. Still, this interactive dark ride could use an update. The lighting is very simple, the scenes look dated and the audio-animatronics (unintentionally) seem to be meant for an antique haunted house.
Unless your name is Donald Trump, a ride on El Paso Special is everything but sensational. What a shame. Still, sensation may be found at the park’s newest theme zone: Land of Legends. The area opened in late June 2019 and it contains 3 attractions. Two of those rides aren’t new, though. Typhoon and Sledgehammer have been at the park for 15 years now. The entrance to both attractions was shifted to a new square, which is dominated by a huge statue. This statue doesn’t look that great, but at least it’s nice to notice that Bobbejaanland does an effort to provide theming. Luckily, the Stonehenge-like rock formations (which are the entrances to the different rides) look a lot better.
It’s not difficult to rank Land of Legends’ three attractions according to quality. If you want to save the best experience for last, there’s one simple rule: go from right to left. The far right gate leads you to Typhoon, the least interesting ride. This Gerstlauer Eurofighter replaced the beloved Looping Star in 2004. Fans mourned, but the general public immediately loved Typhoon. That’s not surprising: thanks to its beyond-vertical drop and a total of 4 inversions, Typhoon looks downright impressive. Still, I’m not able to enjoy one single second of this coaster. The restraints are uncomfortable, the vertical lift hill feels horrible, the ride contains weird G-forces and it’s not exactly smooth either. Besides, a recent paint job can’t hide the fact that Typhoon doesn’t have any theming at all. No, this definitely isn’t my favourite attraction.
Fortunately, the second gate leads to a remarkably nicer experience. This is the entrance to Sledge Hammer, a Giant Frisbee manufactured by Huss. As the name suggests, everything about this attraction is big. It can seat 50 people, the top speed is 100 km/h and passengers reach a maximum height of almost 45 metres. These rotating, swinging flat rides are generally not my cup of tea, but I gladly make an exception for Sledge Hammer. Because of its short ride time, this attraction is actually much less nauseating than it looks.
The path at the exit of Sledge Hammer provides an awesome view of the area’s third and final ride. I’m talking about Fury, an attraction that opened only two months ago. Fury is a Triple Launch Coaster built by the German manufacturer Gerstlauer. That’s indeed the constructor that tortured us with Typhoon, so I’m rather sceptical. Fortunately, Gerstlauer appears to have made significant progress over the past 15 years: all of Typhoon’s main issues were solved here. The vertical lift hill was replaced by a powerful acceleration and unlike Typhoon’s tight elements, Fury has some great inversions. In addition, I’d like to mention Fury’s smoothness and the train design. These trains feature comfortable lap bars and a unique gimmick: an onboard voting system. Yes, that’s right: they integrated vote buttons in the lap bars. These give passengers the choice between a forward and a backward ride. The majority of votes determines which direction the train will travel. Fortunately, there’s need to worry if you aren’t keen on backward inversions. There’s a separate that guarantees a forward ride.
Is Fury the best roller coaster in the Benelux? No, some of Toverland‘s and Walibi Holland‘s coasters are considerably better. But when you ask me if Fury is the best roller coaster in Belgium, I’d definitely answer yes. Thanks to its smooth course, the comfortable seats and the powerful inversions, Fury is the greatest ride in our country to date. Yet, there’s still room for improvement, especially when it comes to theming. The queue and the station are nice, but some extra rocks or castle walls could definitely make this ride more exciting. Besides, I miss a walkway underneath Fury’s tracks. The ride is hardly visible from Land of Legends’ central square. There is a viewpoint at the exit of Sledge Hammer, but this place feels rather cramped. It’s a shame that Bobbejaanland made the coaster virtually invisible to spectators. Fury is an impressive machine, so it should definitely play a bigger visual role.
Bobbejaanland, Het Plezantste Land (Bobbejaanland, The Most Fun Land). I’m sure Kim Jong-un is jealous about this slogan, but is it correct? Well… I have to admit that Bobbejaanland did make a good impression. I once knew this as an amusement park with rude staff members, dated rides and a lack of theming. Fortunately, my most recent experiences were different. Staff are considerably more friendly nowadays and the park is in a good shape. Of course, there are some exceptions. Banana Battle’s hall, for example, remains a terrible-looking place. Furthermore, the Kinderland exterior could use a coat of paint and the log flume’s rocks look like they could collapse any day now. These things are unfortunate, but I don’t think that it bothers the general public. If I try to think as an occasional amusement park visitor, Bobbejaanland is actually a great place. There are a lot of roller coasters, lots of water rides, plenty of children’s attractions and the atmosphere in the park is okay. Bobbejaanland doesn’t perform at the level of Europa-Park or Efteling, but that’s not necessary at all.
Buying a Bobbejaanland annual pass was one of the best decisions I’ve made last year. It saved me a lot of money during our trip to Madrid, I rediscovered Movie Park Germany for free and I’ve ridden Bobbejaanland’s newest eye catcher several times. However, I don’t think that I’ll do it all again in 2020. Parque Warner was disappointing, Parque de Atracciones lacks a great coaster, Movie Park should optimize its operations and Bobbejaanland is… well, Bobbejaanland. It’s a fun place for a visit every 5 years or so, but it’s not exactly close to amusement park perfection. So yes, I enjoyed. But still, there’s little chance that Bobbejaanland will ever become my new home park.