The Coaster wars in the UK, 20 years on.
For my first review blog post I thought I would share something a little different.
With the boom in popularity of steel roller coasters in the late 70's and early 80's, Theme parks around the world were vying to out do one another in having the newest, biggest and best. The start of this in the USA was Magnum XL-200, the worlds first hypercoaster.
This then carried on with rides like Millennium force, Top thrill dragster and arguably concluding with Kingda Ka, the (at the time) tallest and fastest rollercoaster in the world, opened in 2005.
In the UK things panned out a little differently.
The Revolution at Blackpool pleasure beach was Europes first looping steel roller coaster. Built in 1979, it is an Arrow shuttle coaster and made waves across the UK.
One year later, a small park with beautiful gardens built around a dilapidated mansion built the Corkscrew. The bright yellow Vekoma Corkscrew put Alton Towers firmly on the map and started off the coaster wars in the UK.
The third park in this particular war was Drayton Manor. At the time they had just started to install bigger rides and gained their first looping roller coaster in 1984. Whilst other parks in the country were opening new rides at the same time, the choice of these three parks to include in my Blog post will soon become clear.
Alton towers, under new management, had been slowly expanding the parks collection of rides. To be a true theme park however, they would need a signature attraction with an underlying theme and backstory. John Wardley started to look at Arrow Pipeline coasters, but was then taken by the new Batman the ride suspended coaster by the Swiss firm Bollinger and Mabillard. This was the Genesis, of Nemesis.
Pleasure Beach Blackpool also wanted to boost attendance, seeing numbers stolen from them by (relatively)nearby Alton Towers. They then began planning the tallest, steepest and second fastest roller coaster in the world. The Big One.
Drayton Manor, like Alton towers, wanted to make its first big investment and first attack on the other UK theme park players and so invested £4 million into a new, state of the art roller coaster and mini land.
The year is 1994. Britains 3 best rollercoasters are opening this year. The final shots across the bow in the UK war of coasters.
Blackpool had the biggest, most spectacular, record breaking hypercoaster. Alton had the first Inverted roller coaster in Europe, but due to the planning restrictions barely has a drop and doesn't get more than 50ft above the ground. Finally Drayton Manor has Europes first stand-up roller coaster, built by Intamin.
20 Years on.
So now, 20 years on, how do they all stack up?
The Shock Wave, Drayton Manor.
Hindsight is 20/20. Stand up roller coasters are uncomfortable and do not allow you to experience the same forces as regular sit down roller coasters. That combined with awkward restraints and slow to load times and you can guess I am not that enamored with this coaster as it stands.
After boarding the trains climb the lift, there is a three stage first drop, the pre drop, a curving banked drop to the left which then straightens and steepens. I like this however there is no perceptible airtime whatsoever. Following the drop is a vertical loop with plenty of hang time, then a zero-G roll (the only heartlined inversion on ANY stand up rollercoaster) which again provides hang time combined with strange rotation dynamics due to the heartline being far above your feet, this is magnified whilst stood in an outside seat. Two corkscrews follow and then a high speed slightly banked run back to the station which is my favorite part of the ride. Being stood up and rushing towards a building where another train is boarding and not having the brakes hit until you are inside the building. It's a fun ending to a ride that was relatively smooth, but short and frankly underwhelming and due to the restraints, uncomfortable.
The Big One, Pleasure Beach Blackpool
The Big One was built to impress, and it does look impressive. Its is an architectural monument, as recognizable as Blackpool Tower, further down the strip. Unfortunately, in many respects this is style over substance.
Leaving the station you climb the 213ft lift hill, offering amazing views of Blackpool and the Irish sea, If you look behind on a clear day you can also see the Lake district. The first drop is interesting, dropping steeply and banking right over to the right, so far infact that it has to bank back to the left midway down the drop. Its fast, and a little rough, but manageable. It then pulls out of the drop and goes up the first hill, but its a shallow incline, followed by a shallow drop at the other side. There is a great sense of speed near the bottom of the hills, but little to no airtime at all. There follows a turn-around, high in the air designed without the aid of computers showing what force there will be. It is hideously overbanked and leaves riders hanging out of the cars doing what seems like 10mph, 100ft above the arcades and fun houses that adorn the rest of the pleasure beach. after a couple more hills and the mid course brake run, there is a helix which starts out slow and builds in speed before a diving drop into a tunnel which has to be the highlight of the ride. The Big One is a good ride, but only because of the lack of Hypercoasters in the UK, compare it to GE-force or Silver star and it is tame and ill thought out in comparison.
Nemesis, ALton Towers
There are many reasons that Nemesis is world class.
The queue wanders down into a hole blasted into the side of the hill (one of the fixes on the building restrictions) there are rivers of 'blood' cascading down around you and coagulating in a lake at the bottom of the hole. Eerie music plays. Not a bad start.
The floor drops and you ascend the lift hill, not straying far from the hillside, a pre-drop and banking drop to the left leads into what seems like a 20ft straight drop which inexplicably gives the train enough energy to fly around a corkscrew. The best helix in the world then follows, high G force, skimming a fence, close to the ground before dropping slightly under a path then climbing up, over the station in a zero-g roll. A wingover then leads to the lowest point of the ride, just above the blood lake where a forceful vertical loop awaits. Another stall turn over the midway then drops down into a tunnel with a lightning quick corkscrew at the end of it. Nemesis is forceful and super smooth. Its themeing is great and it interacts beautifully with the landscape. It really is a masterpiece.