Gigahertz, gigawatt, gigabyte, gigaflop... "Giga" is a silly sound. It's so close to "giggle." Or "gaga." If a word starts with "giga," I can't take it very seriously. Except when it's in front of "coaster," different ball of wax entirely.
(Had Hard Rock Park survived, I'd have lobbied for them to build a 300-footer and call it Lady Giga.)
Outside of the Universal and Disney properties, Nagashima Spaland would turn out to be the most Western of the parks we hit on this trip. If you visit and think "Japan's Cedar Point," you'll be in good company; that was my reaction, and it is shared by many others. Spaland is very much a Japanese amusement park, but there are more than a couple of spots where you could convince yourself, if only for a second, that you were in Sandusky instead of Kuwana.
Head and shoulders above Spaland's numerous Cedar Point-esque attractions is Steel Dragon 2000, one of only four giga-coasters in the world (until Fury 325 opens for bidness in 2015) and the only one outside of North America. And the only one built by Morgan Manufacturing. And the only one with two-across Bolliger & Mabillard trains (brand new, just in time for our visit!) Annnnd the only one that is still a significant record-holder as the longest coaster in the world. I could be wrong on this last factoid, but I think SD2K also remains the most expensive unthemed roller coaster ever built, with a price tag north of $50 million.
Steel Dragon was a blast. It's a big, fast, smooth giga-coaster – what's not to like? Spaland's quirkier, Japanese-flavored attractions were more memorable, though, like the sincerely depraved Ultra-Twister. And their haunted house? The pre-show alone is worth the price of admission.
We had a slightly truncated day at this park, as we had to catch a flight to Sapporo late that afternoon. But the weather was beautiful, the crowds were light, and we had no trouble grabbing the available credits.
Here we are gathered outside before the park opened to the public. We arrived early to help out with tapings for a cable channel show on international roller coasters and other things of that nature.
Big wooden coaster, big wheel, big Shoot the Chutes deal, a big, flat expanse with a wide-open blue-sky backdrop... It's totally Cedar Point, right?
Truly, Spaland is a park I would strongly recommend to any homesick American, although the idea of being homesick for America while in Japan is incomprehensible to me.
The plan for the morning included ERT on both Steel Dragon 2000 and White Cyclone, which was a fine plan indeed because the film crew setting up their equipment at Steel Dragon took longer than anyone would have preferred.
Did you know that Japan has six native species of palm trees?
Here's Robb, who knows a thing or two about putting cameras on a roller coaster, doing his best to help move things along. Check out the snazzy lead car on the new Beemers!
For the Steel Dragon taping, they only needed one full train of riders on standby, so Elissa led the rest of us over to White Cyclone, Japan's largest woodie and still one of the largest of its kind anywhere.
It's a monumentally beautiful thing, and man, does the park keep it looking cherry. I don't think I've ever seen a photo of this ride when it wasn't showroom-clean, and it sparkled the day we were there. I wish I'd gone up in the Ferris wheel to get some shots from above.
Gotta hand it to Spaland for the undoubtedly tremendous expense it takes to paint this sucker from top to bottom. They called it "WHITE Cyclone" and they are committed to that promise, because that's the honorable thing to do.
You will note that it is not called "Awesome Fun-To-Ride Cyclone."
By the time we made our way back to Steel Dragon, it was All Systems Go; hooray!
Who's excited?! DAN'S EXCITED!! I can't compare this new custom rolling stock to the original Morgan trains, but I'm 99.99973% certain that they are a major improvement, aesthetically and ergonomically. Bolliger & Mabillard do trains better than anyone else, Eye Em Aich Oh.
Time Machine To-Do List Item No. 453: Go back to 1982, form a hair metal band, call it "Steel Dragon 2000," and totally steal this logo, because it is so perfect.
Did you know that Steel Dragon's meganormous lift hill has two chains (because it's so meganormous)? One loop for the lower half and one for the upper half. I think – again, don't make a bar bet on it – that's another one-of-a-kind feature.
I really should have gone up in the wheel. From high above, you can see the rivers and sea that border the park (one more pointedly Cedar Point-like characteristic). "Nagashima" actually means "long island."
So I'd recommend a ride on Steel Dragon for the views alone. They are sweet. Fleeting, but sweet.
And you cannot knock that first drop. Even though its 65-degree angle of descent is way off Millennium Force's 80-degree plunge, it's plenty steep enough.
Of course, aerodynamic concerns are very important on a ride that hits 95 miles per hour, but if there was a little more "dragon" going on in the lead car, I'd be even happier with the new trains.
Even if it was just painted on, make it look a little more like a "Divine Demon-Dragon Gaiking" sort of thing. Seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. Anyway, look at that drop; that is one titanic mofo. I will cop to having a moment at the bottom of this first blisteringly fast dive: "I am riding a giga-coaster in Japan."
It may not be the most aggressive roller coaster in its weight class, but you gotta love that the Dragon's second hill is 252 feet tall. That's impressive. And the third hill, the one pictured above, that dumps you into the knot of turns at the far end? It's 210 feet tall, higher than some hypercoasters ever get.
The run through these sweeping curves is very pleasant; if you are looking for black-out G-forces, you will be disappointed.
Still, they are a nice contrast to the trip home, which is a solid progression of Morgan-style bunny hops.
Do I sound less enthusiastic than you might expect? I don't wish to undersell Steel Dragon 2000; it's really great, I swear.
The problem is, the next coaster I rode made me forget all about Steel Dragon 2000. That next coaster was the Ultra-Twister.
Look at this train. It says, "I'm bad for you. I'm dangerous. You might as well be climbing into a garbage disposal. You're dog meat, pal."
The whole of Ultra-Twister is actually one big visual statement urging you to go do something else. The main vertical tower, the track, the supports, the dead-end rear tower, it looks more like a fracking rig than an amusement ride, even when you tart it up in pretty colors (nice try, Spaland).
And we should know better anyway. WE know that Togo created the Ultra-Twister. "Yes, I would very much like a hard kick in the groin. Where do I get in line?"
Seriously, why am I doing this? Stupid, stupid, stupid....
Hey, that first drop, intense, but in the same voting district as "fun!"
So far, so good! Still breathing, no visible scars or bruises... yet!
A nice little hill, just like you'd find on a roller coaster that wasn't designed by sociopaths! Wheeee!
Then we hit the first Ultra Twist. Good lord.
Up on the rear tilting platform, there's a moment to catch your breath before the vehicle – KERCHUNK! – unceremoniously slams into the brakes...
...and then gets dumped down and backwards into the lower set of Ultra Twists.
It's preposterous. See for yourself in the amazing PG-13-rated TPR video immediately following.
Back in the day, Premier Rides and Togo struck a partnership of sorts and had considered building LIM-launched Ultra Twisters. Can you imagine?
As balls-out wild as Spaland's Ultra-Twister was, we would ride something even more berserk in a couple of days; stay tuned.
After a quick head-orifice check – no hemorrhaging or cerebrospinal fluid leakage, yay! – I joined a group that were on their way to the bobkarts, another ride you won't find anywhere in the States.
These kooky little electric-powered vehicles zip through what appear to be repurposed playground slides.
And they are exactly what I'd expect from Japan: a sleeker, more elegant version of traditionally noisy, rumble-bumbly, gas-powered go-karts.
The bobkarts do bring the thrill of go-karts down a notch or two, but that was perfectly acceptable right after riding Ultra-Twister...
...and the course has these wavy bits, which were keen.
Plus, you can swoop up into the turns a smidge, if you really mash the throttle.
We didn't ride the Chutes, but these are always entertaining to watch in action.
You know what I'd love to try someday? Mating a "World of Color" style fountain show with one of these things. Impractical perhaps, but I'd sure love to ride and look at something like that...
There is no shortage of flat rides at this park, and a ton of them are pendulum rides (for real, it's kind of weird how many there are). Here's a standard Frisbee, one I stay away from. Behind the Frisbee, you can see Spaland's pair of Wild Mice (built about six years before Animal Kingdom had the idea).
They are both right out of Mack's catalog, nothing unique about them at all. Note the expressions of unbridled exuberance. I don't even remember if I got both sides properly "credited." Whatevs.
BUMMED that the first-gen Intamin Freefall was closed, but the deep, rich cobalt blue paint job with the bright white and yellow accents looked dynamite.
Bummed that the park's Jet Coaster was closed, too. (Another Togo product!)
It appeared to be at least partially hidden in the woods, so I was even more intrigued. Great reason to come back to Spaland some day.
Not so bummed that the Corkscrew was closed. Doesn't it look familiar, though? White supports with blue rails? It's almost like Spaland and Cedar Point are official "sister parks" or something.
I did not get the suspended monorail credit, so I'll be back to try this out some day, too.
This was lunch. SO GOOD. If Cedar Point offers anything close to this, I haven't found it yet.
The mighty Aurora wheel, just a hair under 300 feet tall. Also to be experienced my next visit.
Here's another swinger, the Space Shuttle, which we did ride. I handle these much better than the boats that don't go all the way over the top, for some odd reason. Maybe the gallons of blood pooling in my skull offsets the nausea just so.
Schwarzkopf fans will be driven mad with envy to know that Spaland has two of Anton's classic models, and both were open while we were there. First, there's the Looping Star, the only one in Asia.
Such great rides... My first was the Jet Scream, when it opened at Six Flags Over Mid-America in 1981. Anyone else remember "Commander Jet Scream?"
Spaland also boasts the Shuttle Loop, a Flywheel-powered model from 1980. I suppose this would be an ideal spot to take a dig at Magic Mountain... you know why... but I'll let it go this time.
For so long I tried to get a shot of a Dragon train going down its first hill just as a Shuttle Loop train was inverting.
That would have been rad... next time, maybe.
Cedar Point one-ups Spaland with its four-banger Power Tower, but S&S rides are always welcome, no matter how many legs they have.
What Cedar Point doesn't have – what no other park in the universe has, rightly so – are THREE swinging boats, right next to one another. Nobody needs that many swinging boats. Nobody.
The Giant Frisbee, however, I could understand any park having, like, ten of these. They are so badass.
This is the twin to Cedar Point's maXair, which turned me on to these monsters a few years ago.
Oh, how I wish Magic Mountain would put a Giant Frisbee somewhere high up on their property... or anywhere they had the space for one, really.
Spaland's kiddie area is really well done, bright and colorful, and so clean you could drop food anywhere, pick it right up, and eat it without worry. There's a credit here, the Peter Rabbit Coaster, which is very cute, and bless the Japanese for treating this classic Beatrix Potter character with that kind of respect. For god knows what reason, I did not take a picture of the Peter Rabbit Coaster, but I did snap the barking doggie going in a circle ride, because now I'm a little obsessed with them.
And the teeny kiddie flume, adorbs.
We found only one dark attraction at Spaland, this walk-through. Inside, it was more moody than scary, but I recall a lot of beheadings, so add a gold star for that. If you choose not to go in, hang around outside and watch what happens when the upper-floor shoji screens start sliding open.
I would imagine that this grotesquely surreal presentation sets up the story. We didn't spend any time in Spaland's souvenir shops; someone please tell me you can get this floating, disembodied tri-clops head on a t-shirt, or baseball cap, or keyring, or anything. So awesome, plus look at all the freaky dolls, or whatever the hell they are, underneath!
Then the scary witch lady comes. Standing ovation.
"POWDERED TOAST MAAAAAAAAAAN!"
Bye, Spaland, bye, Peter Rabbit! (I had all those small, green hardbound books as a kid; Potter's illustrations are outstanding.)
Behold a completely pointless shot of the pre-board area as we waited for our flight to Sapporo. You would not believe how easy and stress-free it was to check in, get through security, and make our way to the gate. Japan pwnership, per usual.
Thanks for being patient with me while I move forward ever so glacially with this trip report. It's half-way done! And trust me when I say that the big Disney finale will be the talk of the nursing home.
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