NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
It’s September… ugh. Summer is coming to an end and days are getting shorter. It means going back to work or back to school for many people, so it’s generally one of the most hated months of the year. But I don’t hate it… quite the contrary. I actually think of it as the nicest time for theme park visits. You get to escape the August crowds, you avoid the extremely popular Halloween season and there’s still a good chance of warm weather. For me, those are valid reasons to spend my days off riding roller coasters. And why not head to one of Europe’s nicest amusement parks? Our destination is sunny Brühl and the theme park that turned this city into a top tourist destination: Phantasialand.
I visit Phantasialand quite regularly. Thanks to my Europa-Park annual pass, I get free access once a year. This saves a good amount of money: a low season ticket for this park costs 49.50 euros nowadays. That’s a steep price, but Phantasialand is one of those few European amusement parks which is definitely worth it. The park has opened some crazy new attractions over the past fifteen years and it requires a lot of money to build them. In 2019, the park is building a brand new area. Vekoma is working hard on the world’s first flying launched coaster and it will be the world’s longest flying coaster as well. The ride will undoubtedly be fantastic and it’s being integrated in a Steampunk zone called Rookburgh. Unfortunately, that’s all I can tell you right now. Phantasialand is releasing little information about Rookburgh, so we’ll just have to wait until 2020 to discover it all. To be continued in a new trip report next year.
Right next to Rookburgh lies Fantasy, an area that’s focused on nature and fairy-tale creatures. The centre of this area is Wuze Town, a huge indoor complex that was presented in 2002. That was an important year for the German amusement park industry. Legoland Germany opened its gates and Europa-Park inaugurated the continent’s tallest and fastest roller coaster. Still, Phantasialand didn’t fail to impress. Thanks to its fabulous setting and two unique family roller coasters, Wuze Town was a hit. I still remember how enchanted I felt when I first walked in.
Today, more than 15 years later, Wuze Town is one of the most recognizable sights at Phantasialand. It’s a beautiful area with nice details, but a big upgrade wouldn’t hurt. This is noticeable during a ride on Winja’s Fear or Winja’s Force, the spinning coasters that wind through the building. The queue and the station feel cramped, while parts of the coasters travel through ugly backstage areas. That’s very unfortunate, especially because the ride experience itself is excellent in both cases. Winjas are relatively long coasters, they contain unique special effects and their combined capacity is more than acceptable. By the way: New Year’s Eve is the best time to ride these two beauties. On December 31st, Wuze Town is transformed into one huge dance floor and cocktails are being served throughout the area. Definitely worth a try.
Winja’s Fear & Force aren’t the only rides which become more fun after a drink or two. Hollywood Tour is also considerably better if you’re slightly tipsy. This dark ride can be found in a totally deserted corner of the Fantasy area and that’s actually a good thing. This boat tour through film sets opened in 1990, but it seems as if the attraction is at least 20 years older. The animatronics look horrible, the sound system fails and the film theme doesn’t fit in the area at all. Fortunately, Phantasialand has been improving many areas during previous years and they don’t mind scrapping older attractions in this process. Can I nominate Hollywood Tour as the next target? Thank you.
Hollywood Tour’s direct neighbour isn’t exactly great either. I’m talking about Virtual Reality roller coaster Crazy Bats, which was presented to the public in June 2019. This novelty uses the tracks of the former Temple of the Night Hawk, perhaps the most boring indoor coaster in the Western Hemisphere. Until last year, it treated guests to a 4-minute ride through total darkness. It was a worthless attraction and change was necessary. Yet, Crazy Bats isn’t exactly the thing I had in mind. The story about three playful bats isn’t connected to the Fantasy area. Furthermore, both the logo and the station look like they’ve been designed by a child. Unfortunately, I can’t judge about the actual ride experience. Jeroen and I both get defective VR goggles, so we stare at a blue screen during the entire ride. This caused the ride to be just as boring as Temple of the Night Hawk. Unfortunately.
Phantasialand hasn’t often screwed things up in recent times. The only young attraction which feels like a huge failure is called Wakobato. This interactive boat trip takes place on a picturesque lake and it looks pretty cute from a distance. In reality, however, it’s a boring tour with hardly anything to see or do. Our fellow passengers clearly find it just as boring as we do: they stop playing the meaningless interactive game after two attempts.
Fantasy has everything to be a fantastic area, but there’s room for improvement. During this visit, I actually experience the adjacent Berlin area as a nicer place. The flowers are in full bloom, the music is fun, there’s quite a lot of entertainment and Berlin is also home to a pleasant dark ride. Maus au Chocolat opened in 2011 and it was Phantasialand’s answer to the wildly popular Toy Story Mania at Disney theme parks. The good news: Phantasialand exceeded Toy Story Mania’s theming level with greatest ease and the attraction is a lot better in terms of story telling. The bad news: Maus au Chocolat’s interactive game is considerably less fun than the Disney version. You literally play the same game 7 times, which becomes rather boring near the end. The cake factory theme deserves praise, but I undoubtedly prefer Toy Story Mania when it comes to fun.
The Berlin zone further consists of a stunning wave swinger, a beautiful carousel, two cute children’s attractions and Das Verrückte Hotel Tartüff. This fun house is a bit hidden, but you should definitely pay a visit to it. After all, it’s unique that a fun house is themed in such an elaborate way.
Getting from Berlin to Africa requires at least a 3-hour flight in real life. At Phantasialand, however, both area’s are connected with a bridge. Phantasia’s Deep in Africa section consists of bongo music, tropical vegetation and a world-class roller coaster. Thanks to a recent renovation project, the African rock formations and buildings once again look convincing. The zone is small and lacks an extra attraction, but it’s nothing less than stunning.
I mentioned a roller coaster in the previous paragraph. That’s of course Black Mamba, an Inverted Coaster which was built by Swiss coaster gods Bolliger & Mabillard in 2006. Black Mamba has received outstanding reviews ever since and it’s easy to understand why. Black Mamba’s not just stunning, but it also provides an excellent ride. This B&M is intense, a number of brilliant near misses have been integrated and it retains high speeds until the end. It’s a pity that the queue for the front row is usually long, because that’s the very best position to experience Black Mamba. That’s why I often opt for the next best thing, which is the last row. The ride actually seems substantially more intense in the back seats. Great roller coaster.
Germans are entertainment lovers and German theme parks know this. Europa-Park has 8 permanent shows and Phantasialand’s offerings are just as extensive. And although I usually don’t like shows outside of Disney theme parks, we almost always try to visit at least one performance. This time we opt for Jump. This stunt show takes place in the huge Silverado Theater, which is located in the Mexican themed area. The show contains fun BMX tricks and the trampoline boys look great (not only because of their jumping skills). Yet, Jump’s most legendary elements are actually the loud techno music and the hilariously bad English announcements. Anyway… relaxing for half an hour is nice during a busy theme park day, so I actually enjoyed this show a lot.
Phantasialand has a thing with extremely long roller coasters. The park is currently working on the world’s longest flying coaster, but 3 of the existing roller coasters already surpass the 1-kilometre mark. One of those rides is Colorado Adventure, which is located between the mountains of the Mexican zone. The length of this mine train ride is a plus, but I actually don’t like it that much. Colorado Adventure has weird G-forces and the decoration looks messy. Although the tracks recently underwent a successful paint job, Colorado Adventure still lacks the strong identity that most other Phantasia coasters have. A large-scale reorganization of this park section could change that.
A large part of the Mexican area was already redesigned in 2013 and 2014. This was necessary due to the addition of Chiapas, an ultramodern log flume. And Chiapas – DIE Wasserbahn, as it is officially named, is without a doubt one of the most beautiful rides at Phantasialand. Its location was once home to an old-fashioned double log flume. Today, however, it’s my favourite part of the park. Thanks to the numerous waterfalls, the dazzling Mexican facades and the upbeat soundtrack, this really doesn’t feel like Germany. Chiapas makes me believe that I’ve actually just arrived in Mexico.
I admit that I’m a theme park nerd who regularly listens to attraction soundtracks. The German company IMAscore is therefore a common name in my iTunes list. The most played song in that list is called Aufbruch ins Unerwartete, the song that’s played at Chiapas’ loading station. This music keeps giving me goose bumps and it makes me long for a ride on this brilliant log flume. It’s not just the music that’s fantastic; the layout and the theming are also amazing. Besides, Chiapas doesn’t make me soaked, but it delivers just enough refreshment for a beautiful Indian Summer (or should I say Mexican Summer?) day. In short… Chiapas is close to absolute perfection. It’s just a pity that the seats are so tight and uncomfortable.
Talocan is another Mexican themed ride with a magical soundtrack. This Top Spin was opened in 2007 and that’s not earth-shattering. This type of attraction was already present at many of the world’s amusement parks at that time. Still, no park had ever created such a stunning theme for a Top Spin. Talocan is integrated in an impressive building, while lots of fire and water effects were added. The result is a visual masterpiece. Talocan often has noticeably more spectators than passengers. The intense twists and turns seem to look frightening to many, but the entertaining show constantly attracts dozens of spectators.
Seeing 4 continents in one day is super easy at Phantasialand. And after visiting Europe, Africa and Central-America, we now end up in Asia. In China, to be exact. This area looks great, but it’s mainly focused on hospitality. The Ling Bao Hotel, for example, is beautiful and Restaurant Mandschu is a hidden gem, but the attractions are noticeably less interesting. Geister Rikscha is a doom buggie dark ride with hopelessly dated scenes, while Feng Ju Palace turns out to be a rather poor Vekoma Mad House. Both attractions rarely ever have a notable queue and that doesn’t come as a surprise to me.
In contrast to Feng Ju Palace and Geister Riskscha, River Quest is notorious because of its long queues. This rapid river is at the location where Gebirgsbahn and Grand Canyon Bahn used to be. Both of these coasters were lost in 2001 due to an enormous fire. River Quest emerged as some sort of quick replacement. Unfortunately, the appearance of the attraction always made clear that it had to be opened as fast as possible. Last year, however, it finally underwent some much needed TLC. As a result, River Quest now finally looks like it truly belongs at the park’s Mystery zone. And the visitors… they love it. Thanks to a vertical elevator, 3 soaking drops and an impressive whirlpool, River Quest is one of Europe’s most spectacular water rides. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most soaking rides as well. River Quest is just too wet for a day like this one, so we decide to skip it. It’s a pleasure to watch those guests getting wet, though.
If you’re interested in reading about my experiences with an indoor free fall ride, I’ll have to disappoint you in this report. Mystery Castle is an impressive ride and that applies both to the exterior and the interior. But I just don’t like the ride experience at all. We therefore don’t visit this spooky castle, but we immediately head to Klugheim. This is the most recent addition to the Mystery area and without a doubt the most exciting one. Klugheim is a medieval village surrounded by huge rock formations. The atmosphere on the village square is pleasant, there are lots of things to see and the smell of fresh Flammkuchen is delicious. Yet, for many visitors the cosiness of Klugheim isn’t important at all. Most people come here for roller coaster kicks in the first place.
Klugheim is home to a roller coaster that’s considered to be one of the best on Earth. That’s obviously not Raik. This Vekoma Junior Boomerang Coaster has been cleverly integrated and it’s surprisingly fast, but it’s everything but legendary. I certainly wouldn’t queue more than 15 minutes to ride it, as Raik lacks the exceptional Phantasia touch in my eyes.
I already mentioned the wonderful music that IMAscore has composed for Chiapas and Talocan. Well, these musical geniuses have also created an impressive soundtrack for Klugheim. Yet, my favourite Klugheim sound isn’t one of those IMAscore tracks. No, it’s the shrieking sound produced by Taron‘s both launches. When I hear this, I know that roller coaster perfection is nearby. Unfortunately, this perfection often starts with a considerable queue. Taron remains extremely popular three years after its grand opening, so waiting times of over 60 minutes aren’t exceptional during weekends and holiday periods. Fortunately it’s a lot less busy today. In the afternoon, the wait for Taron varies between 10 and 25 minutes, which is a pretty good deal for such a world-class coaster.
Lots of things have been said and written about Taron. And usually, it’s all positive. I don’t want to be the negative loser, so here comes a super positive review. Typical roller coasters often have one major weakness: they start in a powerful way, but they become less convincing towards the end. Multi-launch coasters avoid that problem. That also applies to Taron. The first part is amusing, but not overly intense. The second acceleration, however, manages to raise the thrill level considerably. Intamin really performs at its very best after that second launch. The train reaches a high speed, the transitions are intense and I experience heavy G-forces. Especially during the late afternoon and evening, Taron seems to be going wild. So even if you’re a little underwhelmed after a morning ride, be sure to give it a second chance later during the day. Thanks to its smoothness, the powerful launches and the wonderful integration in Klugheim, Taron is one of the best roller coasters on the planet. In Europe, this beauty may even be my favourite one.
We enjoy the sun while relaxing on the Berlin square, we undertake another boat expedition through Mexico and we re-experience the perfection of Taron a few times. Even during this calm visit (the only notable queues can be found at Crazy Bats and Taron), Phantasialand is a full-day experience. This used to be different in the past. My opinion about this park has changed dramatically in recent years. I used to consider Phantasialand as a messy park. The contrast between old and modern rides was immense and I just couldn’t appreciate the park’s chaotic layout.
Phantasialand has completely reinvented itself during the past 15 years, though. The park has changed beyond recognition and the quality of the attractions has risen rapidly. Many recent additions even belong to the world top within their genre. I’m thinking of Black Mamba, Talocan, the sublime Chiapas and the beast called Taron. It looks like Rookburgh’s flying coaster will be just as breathtaking, so the future looks bright. Of course, Phantasialand still has its flaws. Certain parts of the park look dated, the Mystery entrance is horrible and some staff members could use some hospitality training. Perhaps this could be fixed in the near future? We’ll see.
If you read one of my previous travel reports about Phantasialand, you’ll notice that the park didn’t blow my mind in the past. But times are changing. Very few European theme parks have such a bright vision towards the future as this park in Brühl. Nowadays, I’m even proud about the fact that Phantasialand is just a 2 hours’ drive from my hometown. So Vielen Dank and Tschüss, Phantasialand. Hope to see you again soon.