À chacun son WAA!! While I’m looking for the book by Dominique Fallon to entertain you with some lively facts about the entry of Avenirland in France, you can already be amused about the great phonetic cry from Walibi Rhône-Alpes. Eddy Meeùs, founder of the Belgian amusement park Walibi and exclusive distributor of waterskiing facilities in Belgium, was offered a share in the French amusement park Avenirland near Les Avenières in 1981. This rather small amusement park near Lyon offered since 1979 a small collection of rides from Mack and Soquet in a – not necessarily matching the name – western setting. Meeùs and a French amusement ride manufacturer first took over 40% of the shares, before they each owned 50% just two years later. Differences of opinion between the two parties led to Meeùs holding all the shares by the end of 1985.
1986 saw the opening of Aqualibi, the first water park in the group. Although there were already plans to build a swimming pool in Wavre in 1975, these were never realised due to a lack of funds. Ten years later Dominique Fallon visited the Duinrell amusement park with its brand new Tikibad, and the idea for the Aqualibi water park was born in Belgium. Eddy Meeùs himself could only be convinced of the idea in January 1986. After that, everything actually happened very quickly. Both Aqualibis opened in a tight time frame, although the French water park would only be open during the summer months due to its location and therefore was rather sparse compared to the Belgian Aqualibi – which at the time was the status quo for water parks in Belgium.
Two years later the park received its first large roller coaster, the Boomerang. However, the lack of visitors almost meant the end for the amusement park. The park had an image problem and Dominique Fallon had the solution. The Walibi brand was known throughout France through extensive advertising on the Luxembourg radio station RTL – although the advertising was always aimed at the Francophone Belgians – and the new rapid river, the Radja River, was on everyone’s lips. So Avenirland was to get its own Radja River, and the park was to be renamed Walibi Rhône-Alpes. Within one year the number of visitors increased from 250000 to 450000.
The 1990s were characterised by the rapid growth of the Walibi Group, while Walibi Rhône-Alpes stagnated somewhat in terms of visitor numbers. In 1997, a large part of the group was sold to Premier Parks (with the exception of the two Brussels attractions Mini Europe and Océade which were henceforth managed by Thierry Meeùs). During the Six Flags era, the number of visitors stabilised again at 400,000. This was followed in 2004 by the takeover by Star Parks, a chain of theme parks created by Palamon Capital Partners. In 2006, it was sold to Grévin & Cie, the current theme park division of Compagnie des Alpes.
From then on, Paris had the say and the first action was the massive expansion of the Aqualibi water park. It also received a new name with L’île aux Pirates. In 2011, the park’s biggest innovation followed, when the cuddly kangaroo was given its own universe and was then given a much more modern appearance. As a result, the water park also regained its original name. Large parts of Walibi Rhône-Alpes were redesigned and were now based on the leitmotif around the two fictional bands WAB and The SkunX. Even if the overall reorientation was only short-lived, it was groundbreaking.
Nowadays, the decision-making power on the orientation of the amusement park is no longer exclusively in Paris, which allows the individual parks to develop according to their own needs. The fact that a new attraction has been offered every year in Rhône-Alpes for the past seven years is a very interesting development. Not every park is able to perfectly adapt its novelties to the themed area in question.
So it is hardly surprising that I was absolutely thrilled by the park right after entering the newly created entrance area. Walibi Rhône-Alpes is downright stylish, which is also due to the newly created Festival City themed area with its Rockin’ Tug Dock n Roll and Vertical Swing Hurricane, as well as the park’s 4D cinema. Unfortunately, the chain flyer was still under construction at the time of the visit; I liked the design idea with the multitude of fans very much.
For dramaturgical reasons, we are now moving counter-clockwise through Walibi Rhône-Alpes. We will soon come across the original principal area of the park, the actual western town. Nowadays, this area is of course very colourful to match the look of Morvan’s, L’Hermenier’s and Wuyes’ comic strip. The area boasts a wide variety of restaurants and family rides, including a merry-go-round, a vintage car ride and a bumper car, as well as two faster rides. The first of these is the Mack Rides Calypso Bamba, which offered a solid, albeit monotonous, ride and, at almost 40 years of age, is still able to thrill the family crowd.
The main attraction in this area is the Skunx Tower, which at the time was placed in the park by Premier Parks as the Totem Infernal. This 57m high launch freefall tower from S&S Power does what a freefall tower from the company in the Space Shot programme does and takes you to the top of the park with a good dose of speed. Once there, however, something happens that you would never expect and you are transported to the shoulder restraints. Airtime olé! Needless to say that you get out of the ride with a big grin on your face and if the queue at such a tower wasn’t always so long, you’d get back on board in no time. A great tower that you should not miss!
Following the paths, we cross the tracks of the park railway and have a look at the water park Aqualibi from the outside. It was not in operation at that time of the year and also the interesting looking slide Coursaire was located on a site next to the water park. Actually I always wanted to go to Walibi Rhône-Alpes to test the park and the water park, but now I was a bit too early. But that doesn’t matter, because the water park will be massively extended in the near future in order to entertain the guests as an independent water park just like in Wavre. I am very interested in the tube slide with the constantly narrowing curve diameter.
Directly opposite the entrance to the pool is the modern log flume Bambooz River by Interlink and Soquet. Built in 2012, this ride was the first new attraction since the rebranding. The ride stands around relatively naked in the area, but is impressively adorned by larger steel sculptures. The ride features two shots of different heights, with the smaller one also featuring a double downhill run. Both are wet. In fact, the Bambooz River can really soak you, which is great and desirable. Unfortunately, however, you are not allowed to do any of the water rides in the French CDA parks on your own, which is why I only left it at one ride, which seems strange, especially on the next ride on our park tour.
We are now embarking on a French classic, the Tam Tam Tour or Tam Tam Aventure, as the eternally long boat trip is called after its transformation. As I know the ride from Walibi Aquitaine – today’s Walibi Sud-Ouest – I was very curious to see whether the ride would drive you crazy with the monotonous croaking of countless frogs. It turned out differently. Very much so, in fact.
Since I was not allowed to go alone in the boat, but was the only one far and wide at visiting time, I was allowed to wait a little bit for other passengers. It was a good thing that within a few minutes a big crowd of girls passed by at a bachelor party. There was singing, trumpeting and of course drumming, after all there are drums built into the boats especially for that purpose. Actually, you are supposed to drum in the appropriate rhythm to the built-in film scenes – but nobody really does that. The trip itself has a great visual impact, the scenes are really creative and funny. The narrator is also highly ironic. This is really a lot of fun and gives the old boat trip a right to exist.
Speaking of the right to exist, let’s now move on to the Coccinelle. Since 1992, this classic ladybird coaster in its largest version has been entertaining park guests from Walibi Rhône-Alpes. As always, the roller coaster with the layout of a side-by-side double eight knew how to convince, but unfortunately the track was only used for a single lap. This is of course a bit of a pity, after all these rides are predestined for a multiple lap operation.
I spent an unexpectedly long time at the Mini Ferme, a small domestic animal zoo. It is vividly designed and yet surprisingly spacious. It’s amazing how many French family parks have such an area, the Mini Ferme here in Walibi Rhône-Alpes is one of the most beautiful examples and is especially suitable for families with small children to spend the time or at least to use the time until the next wet side story. Les plongeurs de l’extrême offer a great and absolutely worth seeing Acapulco Cliff Diver Show.
Let’s now turn to the Radja River rapid river, which has belonged to the Explorer Adventure theme area since the construction of the MonORrail – at least parts of which run above it – and has been called Gold River ever since. In contrast to the original from Belgium, the Radja River is a Soquet product with eight seats per boat. However, the trip through the rapids is quite leisurely and without a major highlight.
On the other hand, I was quite taken with the monorail running above it. This monorail, also made by Soquet, scores with unusual insights into the park’s Vekoma Boomerang, as well as with a terrific smoothness. A truly great ride.
Past the park’s large amphitheatre, which is only used in the summer months, the attraction now moves more and more towards the Timber wooden roller coaster! But before that, we dedicate ourselves to Le Galion, after all we are in France. This HUSS swing ship would not be worth mentioning if the seats were not separated by seat dividers, so that even small children can ride on each seat absolutely safely. As these seat dividers were never used on a Pirat, I was quite astonished.
“It’s going down, I’m yelling timber! You better move, you better dance”. Someone must have liked the song by Pitbull quite a bit, because the exclamation Timber! was certainly not known to any Frenchman before. So it’s all the nicer to have a Montagne russe en bois with lots of timbres in the park. The manufacturer of this beauty is the American Gravity Group, the founders of which were previously responsible for numerous works by Custom Coaster International, or CCI for short. For some time now, the company has been building mainly smaller wooden roller coasters, which makes them especially interesting for small to medium-sized amusement parks. So it’s no wonder that Walibi Rhône-Alpes took up the business back then.
The wild ride in the short trains starts quite quickly with the ascent of the only 17m high lift hill. After a tight turning curve, the train rushes down mercilessly over the far too narrow hilltop, accompanied by appropriate music. With plenty of airtime we complete the first drop of the ride as well as the following hill, which is quite close to the ground. After a short bend to the left we wind our way up over three tops, once in one direction and then inclined in the other direction, and are torn out of our seats every time. In a right-hand bend close to the ground we approach the park boundary, shoot over a very flat hill once more and turn around. Below the third hilltop we now perform a wild and airy turning manoeuvre. Just after that we make another turn and fly over a hill shortly after. A series of smaller hills follows immediately after a right turn, whereby the speed is reduced a little in a trim brake. Before you know it you reach the braking distance of the ride and the short and wild ride comes to an end.
Timber! is an extraordinarily great roller coaster, which has been fantastically staged and scores with its extremely powerful ride. If you compare the ride of the roller coaster with the wooden roller coasters of the manufacturer GCI which are better known in this country, Gravity Group’s ride here is quite a statement. Unfortunately there is one small detail on the ride that spoils the fun a bit and that are the trains! Timberliners may be justified, especially since they allow smaller children to ride safely. But what on earth are the blinkers on the sides of the train for? I’ll let the manufacturer get away with the stupid construction of the stirrups, because they are actually only clumsy, but the blinkers are very restrictive. You just don’t sit comfortably. Nevertheless, a good ride – but not my highlight because of the trains used.
Passing the Zamperla Barnyard Volt-O-Vent we are now heading for the Wild Mouse Woodstock Express. This Italian mouse coaster construction from the house of Zamperla offers a similar ride pleasure as the rides from L&T Systems, but with a small, but extremely fine difference right at the beginning of the ride. While the other mice escort their passengers in a right-hand bend into the lift hill of the ride, the Zamperla Mouse shoots out of the station on a short gradient before the lift makes a big noise. As I already knew this behaviour from Walibi Sud-Ouest, I was accordingly riding by and supported myself from the backrest until the moment in question. This was followed by an absolutely butter-soft ride, for which I was always happy to get in line.
Passing the boat slide Surf Music, we now go to the last roller coaster of the park and my personal favourite: the Vekoma Boomerang EqWalizer. Now you might ask yourself, why of all things a Boomerang should be better than a crazy and extremely powerful wooden roller coaster. The answer is simple: The train.
Vekoma Boomerangs are per se extremely funny roller coasters, which can easily convince on both forward and reverse ride through cobra roll and looping; as long as they ride well and at least that is what they are good for in Europe. Of course there are better roller coasters, but when a Boomerang suddenly comes along without shoulder restraints, you have to be in a pretty good position to compete against such a ride. The unusually high level of freedom on the Sunkid trains is a great benefit for the ride and makes you hungry for repeat rides. And here in the park you don’t have to pay 5€ every time like on the Vienna Prater. However, I also have some minor points of criticism regarding the EqWalizer, which at least partly concern the ride, but do not diminish its quality. For example, getting into the second row of seats in a car is an extremely tight procedure, which could certainly be optimised with a slightly different lap bar shape. Altogether a great coaster!
Walibi Rhône-Alpes was – as the last remaining Walibi Park – on my bucket list for quite some time now and fortunately, thanks to the upcoming novelties, it has been back on the list for quite some time. The park has a great charm and convinces with its really coherent overall concept. The park also has a very pleasant audience, which further strengthens the family park character. It was also nice to meet the bachelor party troop again and again, who really thanked me every time for the ride with them on Tam Tam Aventure. In any case, I couldn’t have imagined a better start for my roller coaster trip, although the Yukon Quad roller coaster celebrated its premiere in Le Pal on the same day, but we’ll look at it in the next review.
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