The Tobu Zoo Park opened its doors for the 80th anniversary of the Tobu Railway in 1981. Five years earlier, the operating company Tobu Leisure Planning Co., Ltd. was founded, which still operates the park today as a 100% subsidiary of the Tobu Group. A mixture of amusement park and zoo was selected prior to the park’s opening, with these being built separately at the eastern and western ends of the park. In 1990, the Tobu Zoo Park was expanded to include the Tobu Super Pool water park near the western entrance.
Coming from Tokyo you can take the Tobu Railway. From the Tobu-Dobutsu-koen station there is a shuttle bus to the eastern entrance of Tobu Zoo Park at regular intervals, but the park itself can also be reached easily by a short walk. If you enter the park from this entrance, you immediately find yourself at a lake, which you can also explore with pedal boats. This is the starting point for the internal bus line Animal Boo Boo and the park railway Tayno-No-Megumi.
If you follow the paths, you immediately find yourself in Liberty Land, a loose collection of rides along a slightly wider Mainstreet. Next to a merry-go-round, a small children’s ride, a pedal track and a music express there are two walkthroughs and two roller coasters.
The interactive mirror maze Galaxy Walkers makes the beginning, in which you can save the world on two different missions. Not far from here, the ladybird ride Tentomushi makes its rounds on the figure eight-shaped course of the well-known Zierer roller coaster. As usual this is great fun for young and old.
The highlight in this area is the Kawasemi roller coaster. Built on the site of the former Mount Rocky Coaster, the ride uses most of the existing foundations – some modified to withstand the existing forces – for an extremely dynamic ride.
As soon as you take a seat in the train, the journey starts immediately with the rapid climb to the top of the lift hill. In a 69° steep drop the train shoots towards the ground. The 31 m difference in altitude is soon overcome and the train is on its way at a top speed of 85 km/h. With a wonderfully pronounced pressure you now speed through a curve close to the ground with a 78° cross slope, before you take a rather steep and 22 m high turn just below the lift hill. On the following 20 m high airtime hill you are lifted out of your seat by negative forces in a beautiful floating airtime. After another curve close to the ground, a series of very wild turns follows. Here you change the direction of travel three times in fast intervals with simultaneous ejector airtime. This is followed by another curve, adjoining two straight airtime hills. In a turn similar to a Bavarian curve, you then approach the station, whereupon the adventurous journey soon comes to an end.
Interestingly, I liked Kawasemi much better than its European counterpart Piraten in the Danish amusement park Djurs Sommerland, which is just slightly younger. What I hardly liked back then, in extremely adverse weather conditions, was really a lot of fun here. So much so, in fact, that I was always happy to get in. The turns, the airtime and the available pacing make the trip very entertaining and invite you to several repetitions, preferably without interruption. This is also possible without any problems, as the way from the exit to the entrance of the ride is wonderfully short.
Should you be able to tear yourself away from the ride at any time, a visit to the neighbouring scary labyrinth of the Event Plaza is a good idea. A trip in the Monorail Airlift Sky Fish Express is a little less nerve-racking. The nice ride far above the paths of the park even serves as a means of transport within the amusement park Tobu Zoo Park.
Shortly afterwards, we land in Heartful Town, the third stage of the Heartful Land theme. While the park that has already been explored may seem rather run-down, the children’s area, which was completely renovated in 2014, has a much more positive appearance. There are numerous typical Japanese children’s rides as well as the Diggy & Daggy’s Tram Coaster roller coaster.
The roller coaster built by Hoei Sangyo is characterised by an oval-shaped layout with a central downward helix, very similar to the dragon roller coasters of the manufacturer Zamperla. Spraying mist during the passage of the supporting structure adds a little extra value to the ride, but otherwise the Diggy & Daggy’s Tram Coaster is a nice children’s coaster for the youngest park guests.
As mentioned at the beginning, Tobu Zoo Park is a mixture of a leisure park and a zoo, which is why it is called Hybrid Leisure Land. The zoo itself consists to a large extent of far too small enclosures without any attempt at species-appropriate animal husbandry. The Monkey World is a very bad place, where the individual monkey species are displayed without any mercy in far too narrow cages.
The same applies also to the enclosures of most big cats (with exception of the lion enclosure), the elephants and the brown bears. I don’t expect any immensely large enclosures like in the English amusement park Flamingo Land, but surely the size of a German inner city zoo can be reached. Interestingly, the Hirakata Park with its few animal enclosures shows that this can also be taken for granted in Japan. And so the impression of the park becomes increasingly distorted the longer you stay in the zoo.
Nevertheless, there are also rays of hope in the zoo, which hardly matters anymore. The rhesus monkey mountain is large enough, the aviary with native animal species is very nicely designed and the savannah landscape with gazelles, giraffes and zebras is similar to that in Erlebnis-Zoo Hannover. So there is a lot of potential to run a magnificent zoo; but in the current state I advise everyone not to set foot in here.
The Heartful Farm, which was the first stage of the Heartful Lands, is worth a visit. This beautifully landscaped farm area houses the tractor ride Piggy’s Tokotoko, the Horn’s Farm Railway and the Emma’s Cheese Windmill Ferris Wheel. The latter was built in 2013 and allowed a smooth transition between the old and new wheel. Remarkably, two giant wheels stood in the park for one season. The new wheel has air conditioning on each individual gondola, a sound system and wheelchair access.
After passing the Heartful Garden, a large botanical garden, the way leads us into the Pleasure Land. Next to a telecombat and a very nice wave swinger featuring water fountains (very similar to Monkey Swinger in the English amusement park Chessington – World of Adventures) there is the 3D cinema UFO Dome, in which a typical Japanese horror movie was shown this season. Interestingly, this cinema is actually a motion simulator made by Intamin. The installation is still operated in the tried and tested way, even the pre-show is used – only the movements of the two-seater gondolas during the main film are missing.
The main attraction of this area is the wooden roller coaster Regina. With a total length of 1330m and a height of 37m, this is a real colossus to explore. Since most of the ride was built on a concrete foundation above a larger lake area, the roller coaster within the park is known as the Wooden Water Coaster. But don’t worry, you can only get wet if it rains during your ride.
After climbing the stairs to the station, the Intamin train is ready to be boarded by the willing passengers. A short time later the train is dispatched and we leave the station in a short drop towards the lift hill. When we reach the top, we immediately cross the hilltop and plunge down the First Drop. Without shake, rattle, but with quite a lot of roll, we race with 90 km/h through the first valley and immediately up the first hill. The ascent is quite steep at first, but then it bends off into a rather flat ramp; which results in an interesting interplay of forces. In a wide 180° left turn we keep the gradient angle of the ramp, whereby the next drop is initiated surprisingly fast. After the next powerful valley follows a beautifully designed camelback. This is followed by another ascent, which also leads to a wide turn. This time, however, the descent starts at the summit crossing. The train now runs rapidly along the front side of the track, before we master the ascent into the block brake of the track in a double-up.
Without any deceleration we leave the brake into a 500° right leading downwards helix. Quite quickly we increase speed and decrease altitude. With a pronounced speed we climb a short incline at the rear end of the layout just below the first turn. In a right turn we promptly follow the same curve. Consequently, parallel to the first drop, we plunge to the ground one more time and make our way to the other side of the track in a series of steadily rising hills. One last dip and some short hops later we reach the braking track. Across the transfer track and another turning curve we return to the station.
Regina is a first class wooden roller coaster with absolutely remarkable ride characteristics, as the track is completely smooth. There is really nothing to claim here, the ride is good. The layout doesn’t offer big airtime moments or even remarkably wild manoeuvres, but the layout has a nice flow over a really long distance.
The Tobu Zoo Park is a very good amusement park and a terrible zoo at the same time. The park can be placed in the midfield, as a successful mixture of animal and amusement park can be experienced in many other places in a much better quality. The improvements in the zoo give at least hope, even if the experience for the park visitor stands above animal welfare. The innovations in the amusement park are all worth seeing and indicate a promising future for the park.
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