Bolliger & Mabillard has been responsible for some of the most innovative and popular rollercoaster designs in the world, and any new additions to its line-up of coaster models are eagerly anticipated by fans. This year, their gaze has turned to Italy's Gardaland, which has installed the world's first B&M Wing Rider coaster, Raptor, in time for the 2011 season.
Located in Castelnuovo del Garda (a short train ride from Verona to Peschiera) and overlooking beautiful Lago di Guarda, Gardaland first opened its doors in 1975. Back in the day this amusement park was first of its kind in Italy and relatively small compared to amusement parks in other parts of the world (at the time it was only 90,000 square meters). But the founder Livio Furini visited Disneyland and was so impressed he wanted to create something similar in the area. Other amusement parks have opened in the area since (mostly notably Movieland and Parco Natura Viva) but Gardaland is still popular with the crowds (it receives over 3 million visitors each year).
First of a kind
The park's latest rollercoaster, Raptor, is the prototype of B&M's Wing Rider model. It is a €20 million addition to Gardaland and the work on the design started in 2009, with the track finally being completed in December of 2010.
Raptor has taken over the space that was previously occupied by Tunga the Apeman and spreads out over 16,000 square meters. It is the seventh rollercoaster to be added to Gardaland's already respectable repertoire of over 40 rides and it boasts the title of the first winged rollercoaster in Italy, as well as being the first attempt at the format by B&M. Compared to its older counterparts Raptor is new, shiny, dare we say it sexy and promises much – but does it deliver?
Changing the landscape
Raptor dominates Gardaland's landscape - in fact the top of the coaster can be seen even from the parking lot. As visitors walk towards the middle of the park it is apparent that the rollercoaster is nearby you can either hear people screaming their heads off or see feet dangling from above you. There is a protective mesh net in the areas where the ride flies right above your head but it is a bit unnerving nonetheless.
The picture above was taken from the nearby Flying Island (that goes up 50 meters and offers beautiful views of both the park and Lago di Guarda) and gives a better idea just how big of a construction Raptor really is.
Proceed with caution
The ride's theming starts in the perimeter area and right next to the Rio Bravo Village. One second it is Wild West everywhere, while the next wire fence and signs reading 'Caution! Keep out!' give a taste of what is about to come. As far as the theme goes the designers outdid themselves – it is as if Jurassic Park and Half Life mated and Raptor was the result.
One half expects to bump into Dr. Gordon Freeman going about his business. The overall theme is that of an abandoned lab and it does feel like one has accidentally walked into an abandoned lab in Half Life – all concrete, steel fences topped with wire and exposed piping, the only thing missing is a blinking fluorescent light (and crowbar for protection from the monsters that might crawl out of the swamp).
The waiting area is consistent with the overall theme – at the entrance into the queue area (that resembles a cage on first inspection) there is a test seat available for visitors to try out before taking the ride. There are certain height limitations – anyone under 140 centimeters and anyone over 195 centimeters in theory should not be permitted on the ride.
The seat is deep and feels secure, yet the restraints are not overly constrictive (although more broad-shouldered visitors could object to that). To be perfectly honest going on the ride did take some guts – the first drop immediately after lift hill is long. And steep. Discomfort was not aided at all by constant warnings through the stereo system (in both English and Italian) that people with certain medical preconditions should steer clear. The warnings are interspersed with 'music of doom' (no better way to describe it). But annoying as that might get after a while, it does add to the overall effect.
Taking to the skies
The loading area is again consistent with the theme – all concrete, with splashes of military green and with huge orange machine guns above the visitors' heads and to the sides. And the sign on the wall just before the ride takes off that says contamination area is a nice touch. The train sits 2 people per row, 14 on each side and 28 altogether. Visitors are loaded from both left and right and once you are all securely buckled up, off you go!
The train goes up to the top of the lift hill rather fast but do not count on being there long. There is no way to enjoy the view as one second it is all tops of trees and other rollercoasters in the distance while the next the train is hurled towards the ground.
The first drop is fast and intense, and makes the stomach stick to the spine (or hide behind it, it is difficult to tell which). Just when it seems it is ok to breathe in again during a short fly-over, visitors are soon hanging upside down during a horseshoe. What follows is another drop (on a smaller scale this time) closely followed by Zero-G-roll (drawn out and a bit uncomfortable), pretty swift left turn and another inversion (flat spin this time).
Next, the ride goes into right banked turn, then left turn and over a swamp-like area and under a bridge (the bridge you go under is situated right under the viewing area). This is where you will get more or less soaked (depending where you sit, but both sides of the train will get their turn in getting splashed).
With the speed of the ride and jets of water coming at the train there is no time to admire the swamp area but the attention to detail is apparent here as well. The exposed earth with bits of shrubbery here and there, the water and the steam do make the swamp appear real, as if it was there all along and the ride was added as an afterthought.
Once you shoot out of under the bridge there is another in-line roll to look forward to. The inversions can be a bit intense, but what makes Raptor that much more interesting is all the head and foot choppers on the way in the shape of the scenery situated very close to the track – for example, a tree split in half and the ruined watch tower.
Not only are you dangling upside down and every which way but you will pull up your legs by reflex or duck your head and pray and hope you do not lose it because everything seems so damn close. When observing from the viewing area one has to admire the design team – after riding and seeing the train go through the split tree time and time again, it is still difficult to suspend disbelief that there is a way it will manage to squeeze through.
Two side-notes that might be of interest to the first time visitors - personal belongings such as backpacks and purses can be left at the entrance to the queuing area (mobiles and other filming equipment is not allowed and if by any chance something is lost, at the end of the day all lost items are collected by the staff). There are lockers available as well but not many people seem to use them.
Even though there was a rush at the entrance when the park opened the queues for Raptor were not long. Taking into consideration that it was April and the weather refused to co-operate for most part of afternoon (sporadic showers every hour or so) it is safe to presume queues might be longer during the summer season. There is an option of splashing €15 for the Adrenaline express ticket. The ticket includes going ahead of queue for energy rides – Raptor, Fuga da Atlantide, Colorado Boat, Sequoia Adventure, Top Spin, Space Vertigo, Magic Mountain (twice) and Blue Tornado (twice). Our experienced tour guide advised that Adrenaline Express tickets are not value for money even during the summer months, with crowds thinning out later in the day.
Much like it has dominated Gardaland's promotional materials for 2011 Raptor dominates the central part of the park. Whichever way you go you will either hear screams, watch people whizz by over your head or see parts of Raptor's structure. But believe it or not Raptor meshes well with the rest of the park's attractions and though imposing it is not obtrusive.
The theming is consistent and the attention to detail – from the ride's perimeter area and queue area to the loading station and the ride itself – is a pleasure to behold. Even if one rides Raptor a number of times and walks around a few times more, there are still details you might have missed on first inspection. Other thrill rides like Mammoth and Blue Tornado still draw the crowds (if queue lines were anything to go by) but in Raptor they have gained a more than worthy competitor.
The ride itself is fast and smooth. Certain elements like inversions are combined seamlessly and in our opinion adding extra elements would not create a better or more exhilarating experience. But the beauty of Raptor is in the details and how they all fit together to create an adrenaline experience that is exciting from start to finish.
Raptor is not only new and shiny. Raptor is intense, thrilling and packs a punch. It will make you scream yourself hoarse. It will make your legs wobble and rearrange your internal organs (or make it feel that way at least). The adrenaline rush and the buzz of the ride will take a while to subside. But above all Raptor is fun. And isn't that the whole point of truly great rollercoaster?
You can see more photos of Gardaland's latest addition in our Raptor gallery. You can also add your own review and rating of the ride.
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