Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News


The 1km wooden wonder

Troy at Toverland near Venlo in Holland is a landmark ride for both operator and manufacturer. Transforming the profile of a park that began life as an indoor attraction, the 1km-plus long wooden coaster is also one of the largest constructions ever for Great Coasters International (GCI), and only its second in Europe. A ride that might seem at odds with Toverland’s family focus has in fact been a long time dream for park owner Jean Gelissen. Here Jean’s sister, Toverland director Caroline Maessen, explains why Troy is helping the park provide a more balanced offering, putting it on course to smash the half-million attendance barrier for the first time.

It was in 1996 that my brother Jean asked me into his office at the building firm of which he was a director. He told me that he was planning to do something totally different, something in recreation. One of his great visions was to build a wooden coaster, but people told us you can’t start with a woodie and nothing else.

So we began with Land of Toos, phase I of our indoor park, in 2001 and added the Magic Forest three years later. Then in 2005 we said: “OK, what is next?’ The time had come to build Jean’s dream, a woodie.

In our research, we rode several wooden coasters across the world. We liked Wildcat at Celebration City, Missouri, the most, so got in contact with Great Coasters, who invited us to do Thunderhead at Dollywood, which we found very exciting. Then, last September, I drove to Finland to ride the Thunderbird at Power Park together with my technical man and prove for one time, “do Great Coasters make great coasters?” The ride was smaller than what we have ended up doing here at Toverland but it was excellent quality and we were sure that we would choose Great Coasters and signed the contract.

The ride wasn’t difficult to build, the land we had was very flat, the difficulty was that the construction time was a little short, and also we had a bad winter, but overall it was a very smooth building period and GCI were very professional people. We had also already dealt with [European agent] Dirk Engelhardt on several things, and we like him a lot.

What we want to achieve with Troy is to tell people that Toverland is a serious park, we aren’t the little starter park anymore and we want to make an impression. When you ask people which parks have a woodie they reply Efteling and Walibi, only the big parks. Now with Troy we have a ride with an aura.

Everyone likes to look at a wooden coaster because of its architecture and its beauty. For us it was also about creating a balance because we have these two big halls of steel and we thought it would be good to build something out of a natural material like wood alongside them. I am proud of those buildings because that has always been our unique selling point, but now when you arrive at Toverland that is not all you see.

We also looked at our environment. We are in an unbelievably beautiful landscape, there are woods, there are fields, and so we thought it would be good to profit from these natural surroundings. We started in the Magic Forest with a lot of wood, we have a lot of wood and water outside, and we see that people like that theme and we will go with this in our next phases too.

Troy is the first part of a new outdoor area of the park. At the end of 2006 we brought in a landscape architect. He looked into the legend of Troy, he watched the film I think 30 times, and incorporated all those elements into the new area. I am very proud of the landscape we have created, we used the most expensive wood, but people feel the quality. When you ask people what they think of when they hear Troy they all say a wooden horse, so that is what you see by the coaster. We have also created a nice area to sit, when the weather is nice it is little a bit like being in Turkey!

Troy has a big capacity compared to other attractions in Toverland. On a busy day, which for us is about 6,000 guests, the waiting time at Troy is not more than half an hour, the queue goes very fast with two trains. There are more guests going on Troy than Booster Bike, our Vekoma launch coaster, but that is logical because it is new and also children of 1.2 metres can go on it, instead of 1.4 metres for Booster Bike. Now maybe half our guests are here just to do coasters!

This summer all our marketing has been “Troy, Troy, Troy,” so I can imagine that a lot of people don’t realise at this moment that the indoor section is so big. Although about 65% of the park is now outdoor, when you look at attraction capacity there is much more indoor, which helps us play it safe in bad weather. When the weather changes, our communication changes and then we focus on the indoor again.

Even with bad weather at the start of the summer, we are still doing fairy well this season. What is special here is that when it rains we still have very good days. Last year when it was very warm and sunny we did OK, but not as good as when it was raining! But now with all the outdoor attractions it is turning, when it very good weather, the attendance is the same, we’ve made it stable. I am a very lucky woman; we always said we want to be a park that doesn’t rely on the weather!

Last year we had 420,000 guests and with Troy we want to get at least 10% more – 465,000 – that’s also the minimum we need to cover our expenses. Knock on wood, because you never know what is going to happen, at this moment it looks as though we are going to reach easily more than 500,000.

But we will stay with the indoor focus at Toverland because more and more people are beginning to realise there is one park in Holland that is open every day throughout the winter. Such messages take time to achieve, and we don’t want to loose that.

Before the season started we already began talking about plans for the third hall, and we have such beautiful ideas I am very excited. And yes …Jean still has some dreams to come. The next dream, but I can’t tell you when, is a B&M coaster. That is what he would like. We go with our feelings here, and so far it has been good for us.

Caroline Maessen was talking to Owen Ralph

Troy – the ride

Themed around the legend of Troy, the ancient Turkish city of the same name famous for its Trojan horse, Troy the ride is Toverland’s single most expensive attraction to date, representing a €6,500 investment.

The wooden coaster is 1,040-metres-long and features many thrilling elements including a 35-metre left-angled first drop, banked turns, S-curves and a station fly through roughly two thirds of the way through the ride. This latter element gives waiting riders a taste of Troy’s power as the 24-seater ‘Millennium Flyer’ train, maximum speed 90km/h, whizzes through the loading area at ceiling level.

Up to two trains are used, with a separate unloading area available for peak periods. Around 850 guests an hour can be accommodated, and the ride lasts 1 minutes and 50 seconds.

And what is park director Caroline Maessen’s personal highlight? “There are two parts of the ride I like best,” she says. “I like the first drop a lot, and then I like the fly through the station and the surprise of what is still to come.”

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