As you can probably guess, I’m not a big fan of theme parks. I gather Europa is second-biggest in Europe, after Disney Paris, and it certainly attracts a lot of visitors. I was immediately struck by the efficient way the organisation handled crowds. Cars were filtered into the car park, directed where to park, etc., minimising the amount of faffing*. There was no queueing at the entrance, and our tickets (booked online and printed out) were processed quickly.
Even though we arrived at just past opening time, there were already people on one of the park’s main attractions, the Silver Star, which is very high, and which passes over the car park, so you could hardly not notice it. Once we’d walked quite a distance, there was already a 45-minute queue for the first ride. This is my most profound objection to theme parks. I’m not into adrenaline (and in fact don’t seem to get any such rush, even on the scariest rides), and I really don’t like putting my life in the hands of the low-paid customer-facing workers of an entertainment conglomerate. But leaving that aside, even to take the kids out for a day, I really object to spending 5-6 hours queuing for a total of around 20 minutes of “thrills”.
It was by the end of the day, as we approached Silver Star that the effects of accumulated boredom must have kicked in. I’d already sat out the Blue Fire, which looked too terrifying. It accelerates you to 100 kmh in under 3 seconds, and loops you upside down four times, at up to 3.8G. No. I also sat out the spinning gondolas of the Euro-Mir, which while not as fast as Blue Fire pulled up to 4G and spun you around: the original vomit comet could do no worse.
I’d pondered as much as I wanted to the clever design of the Park, the way they hide the end of the queue from you so that, even though you know it’s going to be a long wait, you don’t get that visual confirmation of just how long it’s going to be. I cracked a few jokes about gas chambers, how could you not? The idea of hiding the end of a queue and processing people efficiently and cynically, in huge numbers, stems from those dark days.
The food, also, was terrible, another sign of deep cynicism and contempt for the captive audience. Why should they bother with decent eats? The whole place had a knock-off Disney feel to it, which I feel is completely unnecessary. Some of us fucking hate Disney, so we don’t need to see the mouse and the mermaid and the princesses in their little daily parade.
I mainly went on the water rides, one of which (Atlantica Supersplash) was truly horrible, plunging you vertically into water from 30m height at 80 kph. I wouldn’t have minded a go on the wooden roller coaster, but the young people weren’t interested in that.
So I was bored, and tired, and wanting to go home with the minimum of fuss, so I joined the queue for the Silver Star, thinking, fuck it, how bad could it be?
Well, it was very, very bad. 130 kmh, ranging from weightlessness to 4G and vertical drops from 73m.
It was the longest three minutes of my life.
That first ride we queued for was just a standard roller coaster in pitch dark, that was its USP. Well, the Silver Star was also in pitch dark, because I had my eyes closed for almost the entire ride. What I find terrifying, apart from the vertical drops the high Gs and the weightlessness, was the idea that I was trusting my life to a harness that was in use all day every day, 20 times every hour, week after week, year after year. It’s already 12 years old. So, let’s say 8 hours a day for 360 days a year, for 12 years: the harness that was holding me in as I was actually weightless has been used nearly seven hundred thousand times. You bet I was scared. The difference between Blue Fire and Silver Star was this. Sitting besides the Blue Fire reading my Kindle and drinking coffee, I could hear constant screaming. There was no screaming on the Silver Star. Just white-faced terror.
*Before we got there, however, someone faffing at the motorway exit caused a shunt, and a tailback on the slip road, which gave me concern. It happened to be one of those fast stretches of German motorway, so pulling out into the inside lane to bypass the crash was tricky, and one of the scariest things I did all day.