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so what's the point of it being an "indoor park" when many of the slides seem to go outside for a portion.   if it rains, do they close off those slides?

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Hirakata Park

 

Visiting Hirakata Park on the same day as Universal was quite the contrast. One was a heavily attended, major park and the other was a laid back family park with a whole lot of charm. You can probably guess that Hirakata fell into the latter. Even Hirakata’s location has that relaxed feel since the walk from the train station passes through a quiet neighborhood.

 

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We're here!

 

For a smaller park, Hirakata actually has a respectable coaster collection. Heck they have an Intamin woody! Now before you get a woody, keep in mind this isn’t a pre-fab in the ilk of El Toro. Rather it’s a conventional wooden coaster, but it’s a pretty solid one in Elf. You’d think theming a coaster to an elf is perfect for a park with a whimsical theme, but “Elf” is oddly an abbreviation that stands for the “Episode of Little Fairies.”

 

Seeing the Intamin t-bars on a traditional wooden coaster looked really strange, but they left plenty of room for airtime. The coaster isn’t an airtime machine by any stretch of the imagination, but 4-5 of the straight drops had decent pops of air.

 

One negative with the lap bars was that it was easy to smash your knee against the t-bar’s column. That isn’t an issue on Intamin’s ultra-smooth hypers, but it does come into play on a woody. Elf is smooth for the most part, but it has some shuffles like you’d expect from any wooden coaster that isn’t new or at Knoebels. But after my first ride I knew to brace for it and I was able to enjoy the park’s best coaster. 7 out of 10

 

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You're all familiar with Elf on a Shelf. Hirakata has E.L.F. on a Hill.

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It's so strange seeing the Intamin T-bars on a traditional wooden coaster.

 

The park’s largest coaster is Red Falcon and it looks a whole lot more impressive than it actually is. For one, the track is over 4000 feet in length and cruises all over the back half of the park. Plus it’s the park’s tallest coaster. However, I wouldn’t really say the coaster has any drops. As a jumbo-sized jet coaster, any “drop” is more of a ramp.

 

Despite the OSTRs and some interesting looking turns (just watch the POV and you’ll know what I mean), the coaster is actually smooth. In a way it’s too smooth. When the ride finally decides to give riders a pop of airtime, it’s immediately followed by a turn into the brake run. If you go in expecting thrills, you’ll be disappointed. If you go in expecting a high speed monorail with some scenic views, Red Falcon is a solid coaster. 6 out of 10

 

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The turn on elevated ground after the lift reminded me of Superman Krypton Coaster.

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This is about how steep all the drops are.

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Red Falcon travels all over the park.

 

Fantastic Coaster Rowdy has two adjectives in its name. Only one applies. Can you guess which? The drops are profiled very sharply, but they’re taken so slowly that there’s no air. Conversely, the turns are compact as well, but the slow speed helps by mitigating any potential roughness. For uniqueness, I’d take it over most wild mice, but in the grand spectrum it’s not fantastic as the name suggests. It’s more like Decent Coaster Rowdy. 5 out of 10

 

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Replace "Fantastic" with "Decent" and I'm 100% in agreement on the name.

 

Speaking of a wild mouse Decent Coaster Rowdy is better than, look no further than Hirakta’s Crazy Mouse. It looks like a spinning wild mouse. And it has the spinning vehicles. Yet they don’t spin. That’s not even me complaining about weak spinning. This “spinning” wild mouse has the spinning disabled.

 

The first half gives the same ride as usual. Thanks to the rides placement atop a building, the hairpin turns deliver a solid view. And the first drop gives a pop of air too. But the second half just felt weird without any spinning. It’s like watching a movie without the audio or eating fries without salt. You can do it, but it doesn’t feel right. The slow speed negated most discomfort, but the finale with the unbanked ground-level turn gave quite the jolt since the car could no longer rotate to absorb the lateral force. Needless to say I prefer these spinning. 4 out of 10

 

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The only thing crazy about this mouse was the fact that it didn't spin.

 

Last but not least there’s Peekaboo Town. That sounds like the name of a walkthrough or children’s area, but it’s actually the name of their kiddie coaster. Like many kids coasters in Japan, this one only offered one lap. The approach to the drop built up more speed than expected, so I was optimistic I’d actually get some air. Then I remembered I was on a kiddie coaster not at Knoebels and realized how foolish I was. 3 out of 10

 

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Peek-a-boo, I see that kiddie credit over there.

 

The park’s most intense ride is without a doubt Giant Drop Meteor. The placement is sort of odd. Usually you want the drop tower to be the most imposing ride in the park. In a park sparse on thrill rides, it towers over everything but the obligatory colossal Ferris wheel found at every park in Japan pretty much by default. But I was shocked that a park built on a hill placed the drop tower at the base.

 

Unfortunately they were only loading the side facing uphill, which took away somewhat from the ride’s height. However, the drop didn’t suffer in any way. It had some great airtime the whole way down. This was probably the park’s best attraction and I would have ridden it a few more times if it wasn’t suffering from bouts of downtime. I kept seeing a maintenance guy working behind the vehicle. 7 out of 10

 

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I spy an Intamin drop tower.

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The maintenance guy is getting intimate with the Intamin.

 

Washuzan Highland’s cycle monorail was like riding a junky POS along a scenic mountain road without a guardrail. You love the view, but also are secretly terrified. Hirakata’s Cycle Monorail by comparison was like riding a Harley Davidson along a mountain road with a guardrail. The cycles were far easier to pedal and the vehicles were more robust. And it also had a lift hill, so begin the debate- is it a coaster? 6 out of 10

 

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I see a lift hill. Start the "is this a credit" debate.

 

Hirakata also had the obligatory Japanese dark rides. Unfortunately I missed out on some volcano maze and the promiscuously named Naughty Witch’s Labyrinth due to time, but I did sample four of the others.

 

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She sure does look like a naughty witch.

 

Return of the Garg was a shooter almost identical to the one at Cosmoworld. It used the same ride system, had similar physical sets, and contained pointless screens (this isn’t me mocking screens, this is me saying you couldn’t get points shooting the screens). The large targets and laser aim made it pretty easy to rack up an impressive score. 7 out of 10

 

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I didn't realize the garg had ever left.

 

The creatively named Dark Ride was a complete WTF. The building’s architecture is reminiscent of a classical pagoda, but the course passes by several odd monsters, including one of which can only be described as a Marshmallow man. But everything pales in comparison to the finale. The somber tone is broken and the ride becomes a dance party complete with a disco ball and J-pop. That may sound stupid. And it sort of is. But it’s stupid fun. 7 out of 10

 

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The facade should have warned me I was walking into something interesting.

 

On a hot day, the Ice House was a haven. Being from New England, I think I have the authority to evaluate the cold. And this gets a passing mark from me. The house was themed to the inside of an oversized refrigerator and freezer (or maybe we were shrunk?). The theme even included the dank smell of my old fridge. 5 out of 10

 

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Either we're small or Japan has taken super-sized portions to a whole new level.

 

Actually I take back what I said about Dark Ride. It was a WTF, but the true WTF was Legend of Luxor. We went in expecting some kind of walkthrough and were led to a room with sarcophaguses. The operator then gestured towards them. Would the sarcophaguses lead to another room? No, we were instructed to sit in them, put on our headphones, and stick our hands outside a tiny slit on the coffin.

 

The premise alone was creepier than most haunted houses. Then there was a film with 1980s caliber animation and cheap sound effects like Disney’s old Sounds Dangerous attraction. The cheapness shouldn’t have been creepy, but somehow it worked. Each sound was sending chills down my spine. We were confused why we had to stick our hands outside the sarcophagus, but there was a surprise effect that made it apparent.

 

Turns out I scored 888 and my heart weighed far more than a feather. There are worse ways to die. There definitely are more complex and sophisticated dark rides out there. There are also dark rides with more charm. But few are so screwed up and psychologically terrifying. I openly admit this shouldn’t have been as scary and effective as it was, but having absolutely no clue what we walked into quite possibly helped. 9 out of 10

 

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I was not prepared for what was about to occur.

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Neither was he. And yes, they actually do put you in the sarcophagus.

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I think this means I'm a very bad person.

 

Along with kiddie coasters, I also have a weakness for unique attractions. That is not limited to just adult rides. For that reason, I embarrassingly rode World Derby. Others were more than glad to commemorate my ride for me. Basically take the kiddie whip and replace the vehicles with bobbing horses and that’s World Derby. For some delusional reason I thought it may be exciting, but it was run at appropriately kiddie speeds. 3 out of 10

 

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Photo credit to PeoplemoverMatt for commemorating my sad and pathetic ride.

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This was almost as tempting as World Derby. Almost.

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I did resist the Strawberry Cafe even though that has to be the weirdest name ever for a set of tea cups.

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And this also has to be the weirdest name for a himalaya/flying bobs.

 

Hirakata also had an intriguing looking log flume combining the screaming game from Cosmoworld with safari theming. It had potential to be the best ride in the park. The river rapids was also closed and drained. It was a shame to see both water rides closed on such a warm day, but that’s something to look forward to in a return visit.

 

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Safari animals plus Cosmoworld's screaming game? That sounds like one of the best flumes out there. But unfortunately it was closed.

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As was the river rapids.

 

The park also had a tiny little zoo area. This was probably the most shaded part of the park and had some interesting animals. They had an always entertaining group of mischievous monkeys and the red panda, which is better known as the lesser panda.

 

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Hirakata really was a nice looking park.

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They look like they're up to no good.

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This poor creature is called the lesser panda. That's like being called a lesser human. It's just not right.

 

Hirakata Park really is a hodgepodge of coasters and funky dark rides. Those are neatly packed together with a whole lot of charm and the Intamin drop tower is the bow on top.

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^The water rides were closed for inspection after the earthquake as the epicenter was just a mile or two from the park and those rides needed a closer looking at according to our contact.

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And then you have some parks like Tokyo Dome City that let you do both at the same time!

 

It was really nice seeing all the dark rides. Outside of drop towers, there weren't many flats I rode since the parks had plenty of unique attractions to keep us busy.

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Another awesome report - thank you for posting.

 

The dark rides...just wow. And Octopus Panic has to be up there with one of the best flat ride names out there.

 

Sorry for the double post - got an internal server error and didn't realize that it actually posted the first one. Or I could just say that your report is so awesome that it needed two comments. lol

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Thanks! Japan definitely lived up to its reputation for being quirky. There's no better way to show that than through dark rides in my opinion.

 

Sorry for the double post - got an internal server error and didn't realize that it actually posted the first one. Or I could just say that your report is so awesome that it needed two comments. lol

 

I'll take the compliment.

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Nagashima Spa Land

 

In many ways, Nagashima Spa Land had a similar feel to an American park. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. While the most memorable thing about many Japanese parks are the quirky dark rides and theming, Nagashima Spa Land is a true coaster park. That’s readily apparent as you approach the park. Like Cedar Point, it’s located on a peninsula and has an imposing giga coaster that catches your eye.

 

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Our taxi driver struggled to find the main entrance so I had plenty of time to admire the park's impressive skyline.

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Since the park didn't have a "Main Street" to cover, they just covered the entrance instead.

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How many water slides can you spot?

 

There are three operational notes about Nagashima Spa Land that are worth noting. One, the larger coasters like Steel Dragon 2000 and Acrobat do not offer choice seating. Two, they are very strict about any loose articles going in a storage locker. Three, several attractions closed for a one-time inspection throughout the day. I’m not sure if it was restricted just to the coasters, but we noticed it on Steel Dragon 2000, Ultra Twister, and Wild Mouse.

 

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At first we were terrified another Ultra Twister would be down, but thankfully it was just a routine inspection.

 

Naturally we started with Steel Dragon 2000. I’ve seen this monstrous ride on coaster documentaries over the years and it has always been a bucket list coaster for me. It was certainly an odd but welcome sight seeing the familiar Morgan layout oversized and with B&M trains nonetheless. After storing everything in a locker and being wanded for good measure, I was seated somewhere towards the back.

 

The lift provided absolutely stunning views of the park and peninsula. Those views were only interrupted by the fantastic first drop. Steel Dragon has the trademark ever-increasing steepness of all the Morgan hypers and the result is fantastic floater airtime that lasts even longer than usual. The same occurs on the 252 foot second hill, which stands taller than all but 13 coasters in the world. Let that sink in for a second. The only downside is that the valleys had some really bad jackhammering in most rows.

 

Even the hill into the turnaround is massive; it too stands over 200 feet tall! The turnaround wasn’t particularly forceful, but the drawn out turns was the best part for riders to appreciate Steel Dragon’s once record-breaking speed. A few of the valleys also had a slight vibration to them, but nothing approaching the first two drops.

 

But the ride’s highlight is the finale. After flying over the MCBR and treating backseat riders to some outstanding ejector air, there are 6-7 consecutive bunny hills that offer more of the same. While many out-and-back hypers feel like they peter out at the end, Steel Dragon absolutely hauls over the return hills. I really appreciated the B&M seats here since this could have been quite painful with Morgan's hard seats.

 

Steel Dragon left me breathless. While many of the other gigas focus on speed, Steel Dragon rides more like a traditional hyper and focuses on non-stop airtime. Unfortunately Nagashima Spa Land was only running one train on this coaster. Combined with the extremely long ride and slow loading procedure, the line crawled. Fortunately TPR had ERT after park close since this was definitely a coaster I wanted to reride several times. 9.5 out of 10

 

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I think this is a steel coaster. Just a guess.

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That's a long ways up.

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And what comes up is sure to come down. Unless it's a broken down Windseeker.

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The 2 across B&M trains looked odd, but they were a welcome change to the boxy Morgan vehicles.

 

Steel Dragon 2000 wasn’t even the craziest coaster in the park. That honor goes to Arashi. A free spin? Yes, a free spin. When these things are run to their fullest potential, they’re one of the wildest rides out there. If you haven’t seen TPR’s Arashi video, stop everything that you’re doing, watch it, and be prepared to pick your jaw up off the floor.

 

The moment you crest the lift, all hell breaks loose. The flips were so fast, so furious, and so constant that it was impossible to accurately count how many times we were inverted. But I think it was in the ballpark of 15 flips. And that wasn’t a one-time fluke either. It was also a real treat to be wildly flipping during the raven turns. It gave me flashbacks to my rides on zippers at the county fair. The Joker clones never seem to flip at this point and it’s a real shame.

 

Needless to say, Arashi has ruined the US free spins for me. I thought the free spin at Fiesta Texas was far and away the best with its 5-6 flips. I stand corrected. Don’t get me wrong, the US free spins are still fun rides, but Arashi is truly special with how its operated. 9 out of 10

 

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I think it's impossible to take a picture of Arashi with the vehicle upright.

 

After one crazy flipping ride, I was hopeful the nearby Rock n Roll flat would offer a similarly dizzying ride. It’s one of those hamster wheels in the ilk of Looper at Knoebels, except the rocking is controlled by a motor rather than the rider. The full inversions were taken very slowly and induced some strong hangtime.

 

There were two issues. For one, being located right next to Arashi made this seem almost like a kiddie ride. Two, after the first few flips, I was landing square on the crotch nub so it was literally a pain in the butt. Eventually I braced myself to avoid this, but something worth noting for your first ride. Ultimately it’s a decent ride but I’d rather ride Arashi for my flips. 6 out of 10

 

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The kiddie flipping ride.

 

Acrobat is a clone of Orlando’s Manta. I rode Manta quite a bit in March, so it was pretty bizarre seeing a naked clone of the coaster in Japan. Manta definitely has one of the better flyer layouts, so I’m glad they decided to go with the superior coaster rather than the more common Superman: Ultimate Flight.

 

All four inversions are still outstanding, most notably the pretzel loop, and the ride is smooth as glass. And they even copied the signature water jet turn. However, outside of that effect, the coaster is barren. It lacks the lush landscaping, detailed rockwork, and interaction with the pathways that really makes Manta stand out. For this reason, Acrobat can’t match the original, but it’s still a great coaster. 9 out of 10

 

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It looks like Manta. Just take away the rock work.

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But it did have the signature faux splash.

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It should be a rule that every flyer has a pretzel loop.

 

I followed one clone up with another. Except an Arrow Corkscrew is far less exciting. Unlike the previous coasters, Corkscrew did allow for choice seating, and this is something that extended to many of their supporting coasters. I’m not sure if that’s always the case or was just an option since they were walk-ons.

 

As for the ride itself, it was tolerable. I don’t have too many issues with Arrow loopers since my head rests above the restraint, but anyone who isn’t so lucky probably feels like they need Dr. Omalu to check for signs of a concussion. Outside of the nice pop of air in the back, there isn’t much to say about Corkscrew. 4 out of 10

 

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At Canobie, this is a star attraction. At Nagashima Spa Land, it's just another coaster.

 

After seeing a barrier in front of Ultra Twister, we were worried we were going to miss out on the trip’s second and final ultra twister as well. Fortunately it was just undergoing it’s daily inspection and reopened by the early afternoon. Once it reopened, most people on the trip flooded the station, all intrigued by the rare Togo contraption.

 

I hadn’t seen Ultra Twister run prior to riding, so I was completely caught off-guard by the tilt track into the vertical lift. I’ve ridden my fair share of EuroFighters so I’m familiar with vertical lifts, but it was slightly disconcerting having the track go all Escape from Gringotts on a Togo no less.

 

The first drop was incredibly steep, but lacked the crazy air of the other vertical drops I’ve experienced. Ultra Twister compensated with one of the best airtime hills I’ve experienced. Since Ultra Twister had no seatbelts (only coaster in the park without them if I remember correctly) and the OSTR rested a good 6 inches above my lap, I was really floating out of my seat. That’s followed by a wild barrel roll taken so quickly that it induces laterals rather than hangtime.

 

Amazingly Ultra Twister was smooth to this point. Then it reminded me it was a Togo. The brake at the far end was absolutely brutal. It felt like a shopping cart slamming into a brick wall. With my back barely in tact, Ultra Twister plunges backwards into two additional barrel rolls loaded with laterals. We braced for the worst after the MCBR, but the final brake was actually quite smooth.

 

These Ultra Twisters are increasingly rare and it’s a shame. They’re actually really good rides! Between the unique track, amazing airtime moment, and whippy inversions, Ultra Twister I rode this one a few times since I don’t know if and when I’ll ever ride one again. 8 out of 10

 

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A vertical drop on a Togo certainly justifies screaming, although it actually is a really fun ride!

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Why hadn't I heard about this amazing moment of airtime before?

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The nets obscured what would have been cool shots of the inline twists.

 

Nagashima Spa Land copied the German fair circuit (or maybe it was the other way around) and erected two wild mice directly next to each other. The visuals of a dueling wild mouse are actually quite cool as I discovered from Oktoberfest, but unfortunately Nagashima Spa Land was only running the left side for our visit. Maybe they run both sides on busier days?

 

The hairpin turns were solid as always, but the drops were a bit of a letdown. The cars were slowed to a crawl before each and every drop. While it may not be the best mouse out there, it’s still good for a ride. The same cannot be said for some of the country’s other wild mice. 5 out of 10

 

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Credit whores were disappointed only the left side was operational.

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This mouse spun just as much as Hirakata's.

 

Nagashima Spa Land also boasted a nice little Schwarzkopf collection. We started with Looping Star. We got one ride in the back and were surprised by the strong laterals on the first drop. Then again Alpina Bahn did the same thing so it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock for me.

 

The subsequent vertical loop was as intense as always and the rest of the layout consisted of a few fast helices (not overly intense though) and surprise pop of airtime. At a larger park like Nagashima Spa Land, this is a one and done, but this really could star at a smaller park. 7 out of 10

 

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Since I've never been to Frontier City, this was my first looping star.

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Schwarzkopfs are always crowd pleasers.

 

Shuttle Loop also boasts an intense vertical loop, but the highlight is the launch. For an older coaster, it’s surprisingly strong. It’s not Xcelerator or anything, but it’s nothing to scoff at. I wish there were more shuttle loops since they’re fun rides that pack a lot of thrills into a small footprint. 7 out of 10

 

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Shuttle Loop is the closest coaster to the main entrance.

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It's a shame so few of these are left.

 

Another oldie but goodie is the FreeFall. Yes there are taller drop towers out there, including the park’s Space Shot, but few are as terrifying as an Intamin first generation. It really is an uneasy feeling when the cars move in and out of the shaft. I know Orlando’s Tower of Terror is somewhat similar in this regard, but that ride doesn’t have a support structure reminiscent of scaffolding fixing an old building.

 

While short, the drops on these first generation towers are excellent. You drop like an absolute rock and get that great stomach dropping sensation. The return to the station is a bit wonky. I’ve ridden Demon Drop enough that I know to brace myself, but failure to do this would result in a less than comfortable ride. 7 out of 10

 

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You'd think this massive drop tower would be the park's best drop tower.

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But not when you have this thing!

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Just look past the wonky return and you won't be disappointed.

 

And of course I rode the two smaller coasters as well. The Peter Rabbit Coaster was a powered coaster whose best quality was the cute and colorful train. As far as junior coasters go, it was perfectly comfortable for an adult to ride (even more than some of the country’s jet coasters) and tracked smoothly. 3 out of 10

 

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Peter Rabbit may not be the best coaster, but it does look adorable.

 

The Children Coaster was slightly better. Gravity driven, this is one of those Zierer medium tivolis and it’s one of the few rides in the park with any sort of shade. It was a welcome sight after baking in the sun for the entire afternoon. While I do enjoy the larger tivolis for the laterals of the first two drops in the back, the smaller ones simply don’t offer the same thrill. 3 out of 10

 

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Some rare shade at Nagashima Spa Land.

 

Along with the right side of the Wild Mouse, the Jet Coaster was closed. We knew it’d be closed going into the park, but we all got excited when we saw it test cycle a few trains. But that was all she wrote, as the tests were followed by a maintenance worker checking something out underneath the station. The coaster itself didn’t look too special, but it was another rare shaded ride at the park.

 

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We were hopeful Jet Coaster would open after we saw it testing, but it wasn't to be. That screwed up rabbit monorail was open though!

 

White Cyclone was also closed, but I don’t think any enthusiast will complain considering what’s coming next year. I saw a little bit of royal blue track reminiscent of Twisted Cyclone, but that was it. Because of the massive support structure and RMC’s track record, I’m all but certain RMC White Cyclone has the potential to be one of the world’s best coasters when it opens.

 

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Enthusiasts will also be coming in 2019 spring.

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There hasn't been too much work so far, but this structure has a lot of potential for RMCing.

 

Beyond the coasters, the park also boasted an impressive flat ride collection. Due to time constraints, I barely experienced any of them, but some of the more notable ones include a massive S&S space shot, a rare suspended flying carpet, a Huss giant frisbee, a star flyer, and one of the largest swinging ships you’ll ever see. The latter is the all the funnier considering the normal sized swinging ship is located next door.

 

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I was definitely intrigued by the suspended flying carpet, but those who rode it weren't overly impressed.

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How did I go to Japan and fail to ride any of the giant frisbees?

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For reference, that tiny swinging ship in the center of the photo is normal sized. That shows how gargantuan the other one is.

 

One non-coaster I did experience was the Haunted House. As I’ve said before, the Japanese love their haunted walkthroughs. This one was longer than most, but it lacked any live scare actors. Instead it compensated with some really detailed scenes. None of the scenes were particularly scary, but the attraction nailed the atmosphere well. 7 out of 10

 

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The obligatory Japanese dark ride.

 

Robb and Elissa recommended the inconspicuously named Park Restaurant as well during the visit and it didn’t disappoint. I ordered a steak (I mean how often can you say that at a park) and it was pretty good. It can’t beat a dedicated steakhouse or anything, but it sure beats the chicken tenders and fries I get at Six Flags.

 

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I'm certainly not getting this at a Six Flags.

 

The day culminated with awesome filming sessions on Acrobat, Steel Dragon 2000, and Arashi. I learned just how painful it is to ride a B&M flyer on a full bladder, especially when you’re waiting on the brake run, so I made sure to correct that before moving onto Steel Dragon and Arashi.

 

The filming session afforded everyone the opportunity to choose our seats on Steel Dragon 2000, which was a welcome perk. It enabled me to ride in both the front and back cars. Oddly enough, the smoothest row was the very back. While the other rows had the aforementioned vibration at the valleys of the first few drops, it was glass smooth in the very back. Combined with the extra floater air on those two drops as well, it was hands down (or up?) my favorite seat on the coaster.

 

The day ended with Arashi and this is where that crazy TPR video was born. Seeing the reactions of first-time riders was priceless. Heck, seeing the reactions of repeat riders was awesome too since almost everyone was coming off laughing. It’s impossible to explain just how much this coaster wrecks your equilibrium, but it does it in the most entertaining way possible.

 

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When a giga isn't a park's most intense coaster, you know you have a truly crazy ride.

 

Nagashima Spa Land was one of the most anticipated coasters of the trip and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Steel Dragon 2000 was as good as I could have hoped and the supporting cast of coasters and flats really makes this a destination for thrill seekers. I’d be hard pressed to visit Japan and skip out on this park.

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I had no idea that there was any way to "tweak" the spinning abilities of an S&S Free Spin, but I have wondered a few times why some of the newer ones seem to only get 2-3 flips on some rides and I've always chalked it up to weight distribution. Arashi looks awesome.

 

Great report, really love the photos and now I'm anticipating SD2K way more than I ever was.

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Another excellent report! Steel Dragon 2000 is defenitely on my bucket list. The park seems to have a very good line-up, and RMC White Cyclone will make it - if not already - world class.

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Awesome report! I can't wait to see what RMC does with White Cyclone, like you said there is lots of potential there.

 

Thanks! In terms of the coaster being renovated, I think the only two that had better layouts may have been Mean Streak and New Texas Giant. I salivate at the prospect of RMC using all 5500+ feet of track again.

 

I had no idea that there was any way to "tweak" the spinning abilities of an S&S Free Spin, but I have wondered a few times why some of the newer ones seem to only get 2-3 flips on some rides and I've always chalked it up to weight distribution. Arashi looks awesome.

 

Great report, really love the photos and now I'm anticipating SD2K way more than I ever was.

 

Thanks! For the American free spins, I haven't noticed much of a difference if I ride alone or with others, so I honestly don't think weight is all that big of a factor. It definitely is on the ZacSpins though.

 

I think it's all about those magnetic fins. It's sort of odd since there are two of SFNE's that are guaranteed to induce flips, but one of them almost seems to inhibit flipping.

 

Another excellent report! Steel Dragon 2000 is defenitely on my bucket list. The park seems to have a very good line-up, and RMC White Cyclone will make it - if not already - world class.

 

Thanks! This really is a case of the rich getting richer. You can already make a compelling argument that Nagashima Spaland has Japan's best coaster collection, so this tips them over the edge.

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Parque Espana

 

A Spanish themed park in Japan? You bet! At first it seems odd that a Spanish themed park is located in Japan, but is it really any odder than the Brazilian themed park we visited earlier on the trip? While Washuzan Highland’s theme didn’t extend beyond a few flags and a samba show, Parque Espana went all out. The park is an absolute beauty and really does a good job transporting you to another place.

 

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As you can tell, the sun was dominating at hide and go seek today.

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I may be in Japan, but this really does look like it belongs in Spain.

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The whole park simply looked, as they'd say in Spain, excelente!

 

To say the weather forecast was grim was an understatement. Basically it was non-stop, unrelenting rain for the entirety of our visit. Outside of Disney and Universal, Parque Espana probably had the most indoor attractions of any park on the trip. So there was plenty to do. The only issue was that the park’s star attraction, Pyrenees, was outdoors.

 

They also had a pretty cool looking mine train in Gran Montserrat that was also closed due to the rain, but that coaster wasn’t the reason for TPR members performing an anti-rain dance. We were told Pyrenees would reopen if, and only if, the rain completely stopped. We just crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

 

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Would we get on Pyrenees? We just needed an anti-rain dance and some help from Robb.

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The mine train was also allergic to the rain.

 

The park did offer one indoor coaster that was unaffected by Mother Nature. The official name is Steampunk Coaster Iron Bull, but look at that sign and tell me what you see. Basically everyone agreed that it said “Tronbutt”

 

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Does that look like Iron Bull or Tronbutt?

 

Going in, I knew little about this coaster other than the fact the previous iteration was a seriously screwed up and uncomfortable attraction. I braced for the worst, but the coaster bit wasn’t all that bad. Those who rode the former incarnation noted that Tronbutt was no longer pitch black on the inside, which enabled everyone to brace for the jerky transitions.

 

But the highlight was the complete WTF of the show sequence. Halfway through the attraction, you come to a grinding halt. Now I don’t know Japanese (and I don’t think that’d help), but I believe we were melted down in a furnace. The sequence culminates in a blast of smoke and you start rolling out, only to be immediately braked. Well that was a buzzkill. Moments later we restarted and went up a lift hill. There was a tiny bit of coaster left, but the sequence’s placement and execution was strange.

 

In the event the rain persisted through the afternoon, we were offered Tronbutt as a replacement for the Pyrenees film session. Tronbutt is definitely a flawed coaster. The coaster bits while tolerable don’t offer too much in terms of thrills. But the show sequence is so odd that it’s simply stupid, laughable fun. 5 out of 10

 

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I don't exactly know what transpired in there, but at least it was dry.

 

Since there wasn’t the star attraction to distract us, we hit almost every attraction in the park. That started with Castillo de Xavier. The most impressive thing about the attraction was the exterior. Now I love a good Disney castle as it’s straight out of fairy tales. Instead this castle payed homage to the historical castles found throughout Europe. The inside was basically a massive art museum. Admittedly I’m not an art person, but if you are, this would definitely be an E-ticket attraction for you. 5 out of 10

 

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What's in the castle?

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It was a museum that would give art buffs a stiffy.

 

Enthusiasts can have heated debates about the world’s best coaster. Do you prefer the ejector air of Expedition GeForce or the relentless speed of Millennium Force? But there’s one debate you cannot have- the world’s best escalator. Parque Espana has that locked down.

 

The infamous escalator was everything I dreamed it would be. It was long, boasted an impressive light show, and played an infectious tune that you just couldn’t get out of your head. The amount of lights is absolutely gratuitous, but it’s impossible not to smile at the absurdity of it. If you have never seen the video of this amazing escalator, definitely check out TPR’s old video. It truly is a sight to behold.

 

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Most rides don't even have a lighting package this elaborate.

 

The back half of the park used to boast an impressive boat ride called Adventure Lagoon. It’s impossible not to notice this hulking show building that I presume this attraction used to occupy. Instead, the lagoon is now home to Feliz Cruise. The boat ride had basically every single water effect you can imagine (geysers, sprinkers, waterfalls, etc) and some miniatures like Disneyland’s Storybook Cruise. 6 out of 10

 

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I really wanted to type Feliz Cruz.

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That is a massive show building! RIP Adventure Lagoon.

 

Choquy’s Mystery House was an odd fun house. It started with a well-executed spinning tunnel, gravity-defying crooked room, and wacky mirrors, but that quickly devolved into a gallery of paintings of this random bunny in different outfits. I presume this bunny is Choquy? 5 out of 10

 

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Mirror mirror on the wall. Who is the fairest of them all?

 

Whenever a park boasts something similar to a Disney ride and actually pulls it off well, I hesitate to call it a rip-off. Don Quixote’s Magical Flight is another instance of this as it’s a ripoff of Peter Pan’s Flight. However, I actually think it’s a better ride than Peter Pan.

 

You ride in the familiar suspended pirate ships and even fly over a city in the finale, but the rest of the attraction has more up-to-date and detailed animatronics than Peter Pan. If this attraction weren’t located in the very back of the park, I definitely would have ridden it more often. 8 out of 10

 

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It'd be impossible to have a Spanish park without Don Quixote.

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It's like Peter Pan's Flight. Except without the hour line and more up-to-date animatronics.

 

One of the dark ride’s closer to the front of the park was the Nutcracker. In many ways, this was the Cliff’s Notes version of the famous Christmas story. The entire attraction featured the familiar tunes and rather than relying on detailed animatronics, the attraction uses a dazzling array of Christmas lights to draw your eye. It’s a unique style for a dark ride, but I do prefer the traditional sets. 6 out of 10

 

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Christmas in June?

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Good thing they built the ride before Disney developed their Nutcracker movie.

 

Another odd attraction at the park was Alice in Wonderland. I was expecting a Disney dark ride ripoff a la the version at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, but instead we were treated to a weird walkthrough. At the start, we were given a magic wand and gathered the experience would be something close to MagiQuest.

 

I haven’t seen Alice in Wonderland in a while, but I don’t recall the film covering time travel, ghosts, or gargoyles. Yet this attraction featured all three prominently. The finale had us battling off fiends with a variety of explosions and then we were required to cast a spell to open the exit door. Failure to do so would have rendered us prisoners in the labyrinth for all eternity. It was definitely aimed towards kids, but as a big kid at heart, it was an enjoyable walkthrough. 6 out of 10

 

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Or maybe Parque Espana simply doesn't care what Disney owns.

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Avada Kedavra, Abra Kadabra, let's go 88 miles per hour and see some serious doo doo.

 

Parque Espana is one of those rare parks home to multiple shooting dark rides. We started with the lesser of the two in Circus Adventure. The park has a really vibrant indoor kids area themed to a circus and the anchor attraction is this suspended shooting monorail where you take aim to targets fixed on the building’s back wall. It really is odd seeing a shooter this exposed.

 

It’s also pretty odd how close you are to the targets. The ride felt analogous to sitting inches from a TV screen. For this reason, the targets felt considerably larger. It also made the attraction more difficult than anticipated since you had less time to react and hit each target. It’s not the best shooter in the world, but it was a creative use of space. 6 out of 10

 

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This is definitely one of the oddest shooters out there.

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And it's not just because this fella is on the roof of the building.

 

Battala del Alcazar was the superior shooter. The ride used the familiar Senyo ride system seen at Cosmoworld and Hirakata, but it was much better executed. This one eliminated the pointless 3D screens and instead went all in on the physical sets. There were countless targets to take aim at and some impressive animatronics such as a dragon that I’d estimate to be at least 30 feet in height.

 

One of the little touches I love on shooters is for targets to have different point values. Alcazar achieves this by placing some bonus targets on the attraction. These targets have a bluish hue and were typically located in the back of a scene. Hitting this target would open a door and reveal several bonus targets that increased my score at an exponential rate. With the main coasters closed, this was the attraction I rode the most. 8 out of 10

 

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As ominous as this looked, would you believe they were playing upbeat music?

 

There was another coaster open. Credit whores could sleep safe and sound knowing the Kiddy Montserrat had no problem speeding (at like 15 mph) through the rain. I of course gave it a whirl and it was strong for a kiddie coaster. The seats were comfortable and the final helix was a bit better than expected. Still, I preferred to ride the indoor attractions. 3 out of 10

 

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At least one of the outdoor coasters was operating.

 

Or I preferred to ride the outdoor attractions that were supposed to get us wet. While the mine train was closed, the log flume sharing the same mountain was open in Splash Montserrat. The mountain alone was impressive, but fake rockwork was adorned along the entire length of the trough. It was a small touch, but one that showed the park’s attention to detail.

 

The drops were just ok and the ride itself didn’t get us any wetter (but Mother Nature sure did), but it was still one of the park’s best attractions, particularly on a day when we couldn’t park ourselves on Pyrenees or Gran Montserrat. 7 out of 10

 

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Splash Montserrat didn't have much of a splash.

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But it did have the montserrat (mountain).

 

With time to burn before filming, we hit three random attractions. The first was a high-energy kids character show that taught us the alphabet. It also showed me that the park has a million mascots. 6 out of 10

 

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I learned my alphabet all over again.

 

The second was a decent tea cup attraction themed to tomatoes. The cups followed the figure 8 layout of a PTC crazy daisy, except these cups could be manually spun. The only issue there was that the constant changes of direction negated the user-propelled spinning. Still, it did help me get a few extra spins over the course of the ride. 5 out of 10

 

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These are probably the oddest themed tea cups I've ever seen.

 

Third, we also rode the park’s Train. It more or less circled the main ride area and didn’t offer any views we hadn’t already gotten, but it was relaxing and protected from the rain.

 

Speaking of the rain, it did appear to be letting up. Optimistically, we parked ourselves by the entrance of Pyrenees hoping for a miracle. Just as it appeared the rain would stop and we saw specks of blue poking through the clouds, the rain picked right back up and squashed our hopes. Well…I guess we’d be filming Tronbutt.

 

But not so fast! Robb was able to get Pyrenees open for TPR for filming at the end of the day; this is one of the many reasons why TPR trips are worth every penny. The forecast showed the rain stopping right at park close. As long as we didn’t mind potentially being covered in grease, the park was willing to open the awesome looking B&M for us. Soiling an outfit was the least of our concerns.

 

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All the enthusiasts rejoice!

 

The first drop had that old-school B&M kick to it and the subsequent vertical loop had me seeing grey. That’s followed by the signature element on any invert, the zero-G roll, and Pyrenees didn’t disappoint. This one was every bit as good as Montu’s. Then came another great vertical loop. In many ways Pyrenees was reminiscent of a Batman the Ride on the steroids that jacked Bane up to superhuman size.

 

Then came the cobra roll. For whatever reason, cobra rolls are either incredibly intense or smooth and forceless. There’s no happy medium. Fortunately Pyrenees is firmly in the former. The snap is really violent (in a good way). I just had to lean forward to avoid bashing my head, but that just made the element even more disorienting.

 

That was followed by the most intriguing element, a ridiculously tight upwards helix that threads the vertical loop. The visuals and uniqueness alone were impressive, but it was also every bit as forceful as it looked. It reminded me of the leg-numbing forces of Silver Bullet’s final helix. Mock that coaster all you want, but that final helix is actually pretty intense.

 

The transition off the brake run is incredibly tight and abrupt, so this is another point I wisely leaned my head forwards. Then came a snappy corkscrew and an odd finale. Pyrenees travels down this gradual ramp that feels more in place on a jet coaster. However, you feel a surprising amount of speed as you dip into a trench and then fly over a sneaky airtime hill.

 

Pyrenees really is one of the best inverts in the world and I’m very thankful we had the opportunity to ride it. The only inverts I’d consider better are Nemesis and Montu, and it isn’t too far behind since it’s only a smidge less forceful. Along with the forceful ride, it’s remarkably smooth with only the two aforementioned spots having any hints of headbanging if you don’t lean forwards. 9.5 out of 10

 

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Pyrenees was a supersized Batman the Ride, which basically means it was amazing.

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The helix threading the loop looked really cool.

 

Parque Espana really is a beautiful park. It’s a shame some of the beauty was dampened by the unrelenting rain, but the park compensated by offering an extensive range of indoor attractions. But the star among coaster enthusiasts will always be Pyrenees. That really is a standout attraction.

 

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And I'll leave you with the only picture containing a blue sky.

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Legoland Japan

 

Until last November I was a Legoland virgin. Despite my childhood love of Legos, I had a difficult time sucking myself away from the Orlando or Southern California parks. Then there’s the Discovery Center in Somerville, but they have the Chuck E. Cheese rule to keep out single adults. But I finally spent a half day at the Florida park and outside of bad weather and some lengthy queues, had an enjoyable visit.

 

With almost 2.5 weeks in Japan, I had less of an issue sacrificing a day at Legoland Japan. The approach to the park was like a bizarro, more kid-friendly CityWalk. Visitors are funneled past restaurants, shops, and arcades until they see the unmistakable, multicolored brick design of the Legoland Hotel adjacent to the park’s main entrance.

 

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It says Maker's Pier, but all I can think of is CityWalk.

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I just missed it, but that dragon breathes smoke.

 

We arrived about a half hour prior to opening and it was immediately apparent this would be one of the busiest park days of the trip. There was already a sizable line of excited kids queuing with their parents. This was a bit concerning since one of the downsides of the Florida park was the shockingly low capacity of many attractions and Japan had several attractions in common.

 

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Considering how early we arrived, it looks like it may be a bit busy.

 

One of the biggest differences from Legoland Florida was the size of the park. In terms of acreage, Legoland Japan is almost 1/8 in size to the Florida park and it certainly feels as such. While that does limit the park’s availability to expand and caused the park to quickly feel more crowded, it did have an auxiliary benefit.

 

The Florida park’s themed areas look fantastic, but some of the walkways between these areas are relatively barren. In Japan, there isn’t a single dead spot. Everywhere you look, there’s a beautiful Lego facade or character figure ripe for family photo ops. This is easily the better looking park in my opinion.

 

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Just look at this level of detail.

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Everything is awesome when you're at Legoland Japan.

 

We figured we could either rope drop the coasters and queue for the dark rides or vice-versa. We went with the former as we figured the latter would be more likely to have covered and/or themed queues. Did we start with the Dragon? Of course not. Us credit whores started with Dragon’s Apprentice. At least we can joke that it was technically unique.

 

It was a variant of the all-too-familiar Zamperla kiddie coaster. Per RCDB, this one is identical other than the absence of the “airtime bump before the turnaround prior to the station.” Since the Zamperla kiddie coaster isn’t exactly an airtime machine, I didn’t notice its exclusion. I did however notice the adorable dragon figure and castle in the center of the helix. And it seemed slightly smoother too. 3 out of 10

 

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I had to rope drop a coaster.

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To my defense, it was technically customized.

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See? No airtime hump.

 

The longest queue I had at the Florida park was for their Dragon coaster. I actually enjoyed the little roller skater, primarily because of the dark ride segment, but the one train operations and lengthy ride time resulted in a painfully slow moving line. That’s why I was shocked and ecstatic to see two trains and no line for Legoland Japan’s Dragon. Maybe I should have started with the dark rides…

 

The indoor section seemed almost identical to Florida’s and that isn’t a bad thing. However, the coaster was markedly better. The first drop was longer than expected and a few of the helixes actually had some force to them. We’re not talking I305 or anything, but it was a really smooth and enjoyable coaster.

 

Dragon was a pleasant surprise and I much prefer this to Florida’s extended roller skater. I know Japan’s technically is an off-the-shelf design too, but it’s considerably more exciting and it was unique for me. Having a medieval Lego dark ride would be good on its own, so tacking on a decent coaster too is a nice bonus. 7 out of 10

 

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It's hard to tell, but there are two coasters in this photo. They're just next to each other with the same color scheme.

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The coaster bit actually had some solid helices.

 

Due to time constraints, I skipped Florida’s Rescue Academy. That wasn’t going to happen again at the Japan park. It would have been criminal to skip out on such a signature Legoland attraction. I hesitate to call this a ride since it feels more like a game or a workout. For those unfamiliar, you power a little firetruck similar to a mine cart down a track and put out a small fire by rigorously pumping.

 

The two of us scoped out our competition. We were outnumbered. But we had a major advantage, we were both legal to drive somewhere other than the Legoland Driving School. For that reason, we crushed the competition. It was fun anyways, but it’s extra fun to win. 7 out of 10

 

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First place!

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Speaking of the driving academy, people here didn't mistake a stop sign for a yield sign.

 

Next came the two dark rides and we finally caught up to the crowds, as both Lost Kingdom Adventure and Submarine Adventure were posting half hour waits. One of the coolest things about Legoland parks is that they have building stations in the queue line for the little ones while parents wait in line. It’s obviously fitting for Legoland, but this is an incredibly cool addition I wish more parks had.

 

Lost Kingdom Adventure was my personal favorite attraction at the park. It was pretty short, but the stylistic 3D Lego targets all looked fantastic and I always appreciate a dark ride with targets worth different amounts. The one odd thing is that the vehicles had a toggle for spinning yet it didn’t do anything. I’d say my vehicle was broken, but I didn’t notice anyone else spinning either. 8 out of 10

 

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Without Ninjago, this was my favorite ride in the park.

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They look ready for their adventure.

 

Submarine Adventure was not what I was expecting, and I mean that in a good way. I was expecting a cute little dark ride past Lego sculptures of fish, octopi, and whatever else you’d find in the ocean. What I wasn’t expecting was a tour through a full-fledged aquarium. The fish were diverse and plentiful, which resulted in a really cool ride. 8 out of 10

 

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Following in the footsteps of Captain Nemo.

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I'm sure Nemo's sub was just as bright and also constructed of Legos.

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I totally expected the Lego figures. I wasn't expecting the real fish too.

 

We had built up a bit of an appetite, so we pounced on the pizza and pasta buffet. The spread was pretty similar to what I had encountered at the Incredible Pizza Company, except the food tasted a bit better. I’d say it was pretty average pizza and pasta overall, but very good for a buffet.

 

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So much pizza to choose from! I skipped the tuna and corn though.

 

With attraction waits swelling, it was time to visit Miniland. It was really cool to see locations specific to Japan. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but the most interesting thing (for me at least) was comparing the Dontonbori I had visited days before to the model. I think Legoland nailed it. They even had the non-functional Ferris Wheel (that zany rectangular wheel was unfortunately down while we were in Dontonbori).

 

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Dontonbori is basically the child of New York City and Venice.

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How do you think they did?

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This Ferris Wheel may look fictional...

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But it's real. It just hasn't run much since its inception.

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While on the topic of Dontonbori, they also have this weird rock wall built on the structure of an Intamin drop tower that was built on a building.

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Tokyo!

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Look at this beautiful and clear shot of Mt. Fuji. I should have gotten this view while at Fuji-Q, but the clouds had other plans in mind.

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I love how the Observation Tower looks part of the city.

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At least I can say I got to witness baseball in Japan. Sort of.

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And they had a random theme park too with a few rides running.

 

For our last attraction, we decided to view the park from above on their Observation Tower. We probably had to wait 3 or so cycles for the colorful tower. The cycle was relatively short, but it was really neat seeing Legoland from above. From there, you can really see just how compact the park is, so it’s impressive how many themed areas they were able to cram into the park. As a bonus, the park is right on the water as well. 8 out of 10

 

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Time for a bird's eye view of Brickland.

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This bridge is quite the backdrop for the park. It's massive (the bridge that is).

 

Until I have kids, Legoland will never be a full day park. They just don’t have the thrill rides I’m looking for and I completely understand why they don’t. However, it’s an enjoyable park to visit despite the crowds. I really do like the theming and they have some solid dark rides.

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Higashiyama Zoo

 

I'm going to begin by saying that I'm sure Higashiyama Zoo has a nice selection of animals. However, I didn't see a single one. After finishing up early at Legoland, Robb recommended that we check out this nearby zoo. If it's talked about on TPR, it's almost a guarantee they have a coaster, and in this case they had three.

 

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Only a coaster enthusiast would visit a zoo and not see a single animal.

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A SoCal connection.

 

The zoo admission was surprisingly cheap. As a bonus, for 100 extra yen (or $1) we could add a visit to the nearby Higashiyama Sky Tower. We immediately suspected the rides were an additional upcharge and we were correct. And it totally makes sense since the rides are in a completely different area than the zoo. Honestly, you wouldn't have any idea you were at a zoo otherwise outside of the main entrance saying so.

 

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Washuzan Highland trained me well for these stairs.

 

Our first stop was the zoo’s most unique ride and arguably one of the oddest coasters (if you consider it one) in the world- Slope Shooter. The only way I can describe it is imagine driving a go kart down a well paved version of Lombard Street (that super windy road in San Francisco). The vehicles were certainly a tight fit, but it was well worth it for this quirky ride. And the oddities started right from the get go as the workers manually push the car to the lift.

 

The turns look impossibly tight and we were terrified it'd be an uncomfortable experience, but fortunately it was really smooth. The turns did however provide some nice laterals. And then there's a surprise ramp (I really hesitate to call it a drop) midway through to boot. If a manual start wasn't enough, all that stops you from flying through the station is the operator. It's nothing special in terms ot thrills, but it's a decently fun ride and I can't think of anything else out there quite like it. 6 out of 10

 

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Out of control soapbox derby car or coaster? You can choose what you call it, but it's fun either way.

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It may look like the car will t-bone the wall.

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But it smoothly navigates the turns.

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Those tires serve as trim brakes.

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These three staff members manually brake the ride. And I'm not talking about a giant level a la the Coney Island Cyclone either. They literally grab onto the car and pull it to a stop.

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One last shot courtesy of the Sky Tower (sorry for the sun).

 

The next stop was a far more familiar type of coaster, particularly for anyone who has frequented Japan. And that would be the Jet Coaster. It didn't appear overly tall at first glance, but the coaster is built on a hill and uses the terrain decently well to pick up speed. Pressed for time, we only got one ride in the back.

 

The first drop was a rather boring curved drop, but the second drop actually had a really good pop of airtime. Then the coaster meandered around as jet coasters tend to do before traversing two hills at the very end that gave some tiny pops of air. The cars were some of the most cramped I've seen for an adult coaster, but outside of that, the coaster was comfortable and smooth. 6 out of 10

 

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Jet Coaster has a modest looking lift.

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But it's built on a hill and uses the terrain pretty well.

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The amusement section really is isolated from the rest of the zoo.

 

And completing the trifecta of terrain coasters is the Bear Coaster. That sounds all big and mighty, but this is more of a teddy bear. This is a pretty slow and uneventful powered coaster, but it is smooth and has a unique layout thanks to the terrain. It's just a shame it doesn't go any faster than an antique car. 2 out of 10

 

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The kiddie coaster also used the terrain. I can't say it used it well though.

 

With only 10 minutes left, I had a tricky decision whether or not I'd reride a coaster or try one of their walkthroughs. But then I saw an odd flat in the distance that rendered the question moot in Flower Storm. This flat can best be described as the child of a scrambler and paratrooper, or a four armed offshoot of my beloved Venture Rides Cobra. The cycle was short and the speed wasn't anything to write home about, but there was at least some solid swinging by the vehicles. I'm glad I gave it a whirl for its uniqueness, but not sure I'll rush back in line if I ever visit again. 6 out of 10

 

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9 months prior a scrambler and paratrooper met at a bar...

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They also had some of your typical flats, but I didn't have time for those.

 

The zoo had officially closed by this point, so we exited through the main entrance to visit the Higashiyama Sky Tower. This skyscraper is quite the sight. For one, it's massive. 440 feet is plenty impressive on its own, but it's also perched on top of a hill. Second, the extremely modern architecture looks like something out of a futuristic sci-fi film. It's a stark contrast to the zoo’s older buildings and rides.

 

The sun wasn't paying me any favors as I tried photographing the zoo from above, but I was able to admire the view of the nearby cities (Toyota, Nagoya). The observation deck offered 360 degree views of the area. It also felt extremely weird to find that the elevator was self-operated with no security. The only other tower with a similar set-up is Knoxville's iconic Sunsphere.

 

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I can't believe this was only an extra dollar to add on.

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We went 440 feet up to the observation deck.

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From there, you could see the zoo.

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I think this is Toyota?

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I believe this is the Nagoya Dome based on the resemblance to the structure at Miniland.

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And being Japan you can of course see a massive Ferris Wheel off in the distance.

 

The Higashiyama Zoo was the perfect way to spend the afternoon. I'm sure animal lovers could make a full day of the zoo, but coaster enthusiasts can knock it out in less than an hour, especially since lines weren't an issue for us even on a sunny and beautiful weekend day.

 

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This wasn't at the park, but I found a Garrett's at the train station and it made me very happy.

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Hamanako Pal Pal

 

Hamanako Pal Pal may sound like the name of a children’s toy, but it’s actually an amusement park. It’s one of Japan’s smaller ones, but they do have some noteworthy attractions- dark rides and Togos that look like death machines but are somehow quite fun.

 

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Instead of having a covered "Main Street", Pal Pal just has an indoor hub.

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And it includes a bunch of awesome IP based games.

 

We decided to work our way up to the Mega Coaster by first starting with the Mini Coaster. Basically the coaster looks like a mouse, except the hairpin turns are replaced with standard turns. It was smoother than expected and one hill had a tiny bit of air, but outside of that it didn’t offer too much in terms of thrills. 4 out of 10

 

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This looked like a wild mouse minus the hairpin turns if that makes sense.

 

Mega Coaster looks like a hybrid of Manhattan Express and Great Adventure’s Viper. Those are two comps that do not bode well for a coaster. The single ride operator was incredibly enthusiastic. He was checking wristbands, checking restraints, taking our photos, and thanking us for riding. The latter raised our level of concern to code red.

 

But somehow this Togo doesn’t kill you! The turns were a bit bumpy, but even with the accordion restraints, the ride never was a headbanger. The first drop is pretty solid; it has no air but it’s parabolically shaped and gives a nice stomach dropping sensation. But the highlights and smoothest parts of the coaster were the two inversions.

 

The dive loop really whips the train through it and the final “heartline” roll probably isn’t perfectly heartlined because Togo, but it does have some nice hangtime. Then the final helix almost seemed like Togo wanted to hit 90 degrees, but bailed out right before. Wait did I just enjoy a Togo looper? I think I did. It’s a hodgepodge of elements that Togo has butchered on other coasters, but somehow the sum of the parts works pretty well here. 7 out of 10

 

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It looks like we'll be pulling 4 Gs.

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The Togo gods showed mercy today.

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Even this wonky inversion somehow didn't hurt!

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I can't believe it combined the bad parts of Manhattan Express...

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and the bad parts of Great Adventure's Viper to be a good ride.

 

If one Togo death machine wasn’t enough, meet Wild Storm. Basically it’s the illegitimate child of a paratrooper and an enterprise. It begins as an oversized paratrooper. But the swinging just keeps ramping up in intensity, eventually going beyond 90 degrees! That’s terrifying on its own, but especially cool when the counterswing has a sneaky footchopper with the ride’s scaffolding.

 

Just when you start to question if the structure was meant to handle these kinds of stresses, the seats lock in place and you get a series of inversions. It’s basically a slower version of the Zamperla Endeavors. It’s definitely a wonky ride, but it’s a thrilling cross of two increasingly rare flats. 9 out of 10

 

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This may look like an innocent paratrooper, but look how much those cars are swinging.

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Then the cars lock and complete full inversions.

 

The thermometer was just a smidge above 90 degrees, so the Log Flume was a must. Thankfully the park was deserted since they ran even less logs than Lake Compounce and I didn’t think that was possible. I counted two. Fortunately this is one of those rare Hopkins super flumes like Daredevil Falls, so at least the logs seated 8 people.

 

The layout was more involved than expected. The flume was built on a hillside and included three tiny dips and a tunnel in route to the climactic final plunge. The final plunge was pretty large and even had a pop of air in the back to boot. The flume had everything I wanted plus one unwanted thing, splash shields. I was actually hoping to get wet on such a hot day, but it wasn’t to be. Still it was easily one of the park’s best rides. 8 out of 10

 

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Pal Pal's flume was much more expansive than expected.

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And this would have gotten us wet too if it weren't for those meddling shields.

 

There was one last credit in the Jungle Mouse. The coaster looks like it was built out of toothpicks a la those old Herschell mad mice. But unlike the Herschell versions that look sketchy and ride fairly smoothly, this one felt like I was riding on square wheels. The result was a slow, bumpy jaunt that I had no desire to reride. 2 out of 10

 

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Now I know what enthusiasts mean when they say something has square wheels.

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Does he look amused?

 

Do you know those wooden Chinese puzzle boxes? Hamanako Pal Pal basically has the living embodiment of one in the Three-Dimensional Maze. The goal is to collect three stamps. The maze is a 4-5 story wooden box that’s 90% mental and 10% physical. For a family park, the maze was pretty challenging.

 

The correct route involved a series of sliding doors, crawls, and climbs over bungee cords. I’ve done a few of these mazes at FECs, but this is the first I’ve done that spanned multiple stories. It took me almost 15 minutes as there was a seemingly endless amount of dead ends. Unlike mirror mazes where completion feels like a birthright, I actually felt accomplished completing this one. 9 out of 10

 

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I sure am glad smoking isn't allowed in this all wooden building.

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The goal is to collect 3 stamps. Sounds easy, but it's actually quite hard!

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There are all sorts of random obstacles like this.

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Hidden Mickey?

 

Pal Pal also boasted an impressive collection of dark rides for a smaller park. Unfortunately I was turned away from the Haunted House for not knowing Japanese, but that wasn’t an issue on the other three.

 

Pirates Adventure was one of those Desperados shooters that are popping up pretty frequently. The aim felt a little off on this one, but since I was the only rider, it was easy to compensate. It’s a pet peeve of mine that shooters have some type of aiming mechanism and Pirates Adventure satisfies that with a numbered pointer. As much as I love physical set dark rides, I have to admit the screen based ones are sometimes superior. 7 out of 10

 

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This is a very well dressed up Desperados type shooter.

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For whatever reason, I kept think this guy reminded me of SpongeBob's Patchy the Pirate.

 

An example of a shooter Pirates Adventure was superior to was located next door. Dragon Fighter was a shooter with physical sets much like the one at Cosmworld. Except this one was way too short. I think it had a total of three scenes. Still it looked nice and is worth a ride. 6 out of 10

 

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Whoever makes this shooter is making a killing in Japan.

 

Last but not least there was Palpal Stadium. I had no clue the ride even existed prior to my visit and only rode it after hearing the park had (what could only be described by others on the trip) a low budget version of Toy Story Mania. I was intrigued and came out pleasantly surprised.

 

I don’t quite think Toy Story Mania is the right comparison since it’s not really a shooter. Instead you have a single button. You mash that button to compete in four games- 100 meter dash, hurdles, swimming race, and space race. The design is cartoony and kid-friendly, but admittedly I lost to a computer. If you talk to Ricky Bobby, it’s only fun if you win. But I still had fun coming in second since it was such a weird and interactive ride. 8 out of 10

 

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99% of interactive dark rides use guns. Not this one.

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Instead you strategically mash this button to jump, swim, and run your way to first place.

 

The area with Palpal Stadium had a large chunk of the parks flat rides. Most were pretty standard such as a Ferris Wheel (of course supersized for Japan), Carousel, and Pirate Ship, but they also had a modestly sized parachute tower that appeared much larger because of its location atop the hill.

 

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For the park index.

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I ran out of time, but the scenic views from this cable car are something I plan to experience next time.

 

While Hamanako Pal Pal isn’t quite in Japan’s top tier of parks, it definitely has enough unique attractions to warrant a visit. You have some solid dark rides, a neat flume, a wild flat, and one large coaster. And beyond the rides, you also have a picturesque setting, a huge arcade, and some of the nicest employees you’ll find anywhere.

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I have always been fascinated with the look of those "roll caged heartline rolls", but never got to experience one.

 

A little late to the party, but Pyrenees looks like bae. I love how it starts as "giant BTR", then has all those extra elements added in. As a huge B&M Invert fan, this one is absolutely goals for me whenever I make it to Japan. The snappy cobra roll has me longing for Ice Dragon.

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Excellent update! I really enjoy exploring these different quirky Japanese parks.

 

It is great to hear that there is a good "Manhattan Express" out there. Who would have thought?

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