15-28th August 2015

Travel, Movieland
Gardaland
Zamperla, Ai Pioppi
Venice, Astoria Village
Mirabilandia
Cimone Adventure Park, Fiabilandia
Pisa, Cavallino Matto
Cinecittà, Fantasiland, ZooMarine
Rome
Rainbow MagicLand
Comma Park, Miragica, ZooSafari
Travel, Etnaland
Etnaland, Travel
Liberty City Fun, Oasi Del Bimbo, Pompei, Travel
Final Thoughts

Day by Day Reports

Day 1 – Travel, Movieland

 

Jan & Mac Rush

The most charitable way to describe Movieland is that it’s an homage to Hollywood studios.  Let’s just say the park borrows liberally from several L.A.-area movie studios, from the “W” on the water tower to the John Rambo show.  Life-size cutouts of movie stars line one of the park’s paths, including one of Marilyn Monroe in her iconic pose with her white dress swirling around her.  Sean Connery is especially attractive in his “I’m too sexy” pose.

The park has three coasters, two gravity and one powered.   Diabolik is a Vekoma Invertigo; for those who like this model coaster, the ride is intense but not terribly painful (granted, the bar is set low). Bronto’O’Ring is a powered coaster created by DAL Amusement Rides.  It’s a typical dragon.  Brontojet is a Schwarzkopf with a circular lift.  It’s short, but peppy.

One of the fun things about going to foreign parks is that the safety instructions listed at the ride entrances have some humorous translations.  Several of the rides at Movieland had faces with one eye bigger than the other, and underneath the words “high emotions”.  The park map/brochure promises that guests will “relieve” the scenes from the best action movies.

Two of the park’s more interesting attractions are Back to the Back Stage, a monorail ride that makes several stops.  A white-haired, slightly manic scientist talks to “Marty” and the riders, urging them to move on.  Magma 2.1 is a Universal Back Lot Tour meets Indiana Jones wild ride.  Guests ride in a giant truck; depending on the specific driver, the ride can be hold-on-or-fall-out wild, or slightly more mild.  On the wild and crazy ride, the truck does a roll-back into water that has already splashed guests from the side.  When the truck goes in butt-end first, water come up from the bottom and soaks riders’ footgear.  One really weird thing—the dialogue is in Spanish.  Whee!

 

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Day 2 – Gardaland

Jan & Mac Rush

Best.  Welcome.  Ever.  Before the park opens, several of the park’s mascots and employees stand on top of the entrance while an anthem plays.  A perky song-and-dance number comes next.  Two large champagne bottles, one on either side of the employees, then pop their corks; streamers fly out over the waiting guests.  Well, I’m ready!

Where to begin about Gardaland?  Well, the walk to the entrance is pretty, as guests stroll though a tunnel filled with twinkling lights.  The park is attractive, with lush landscaping, shade trees, waterfalls, and fountains.  The rides are wonderfully themed.  Near the dive coaster, Oblivion The Black Hole, is a vehicle whose back end is stretched out as it’s being sucked into said black hole.  Blue Tornado, the Vekoma SLC, has, not surprisingly, a blue-and-white colour scheme, with a jet parked on top of the loading station.  A control tower sits nearby.  Even the train station looks like one that might be encountered in a small town in turn-of-the-century America.  And the entrance to the monorail is quite ornate.

Gardaland also contains the ubiquitous American Wild West section, called Rio Bravo.  The Pizzeria Saloon offers, among other pizzas, the Tennessee.  What that has to do with the wild west is anyone’s guess.

The park has a wonderfully whimsical, and very inviting, children’s section.  It has a cartoonish look (similar to Tune Town).  Among the rides is a monorail with happy little airplane trams.

For enthusiasts counting coasters, Gardaland has seven.  Or is it eight?  Fuga Da Atlantide is a water coaster; it’s a personal choice.  The theming on this ride is spectacular—sumptuous, really.  It’s hard to tell what Ramses:  Il Risveglio is from the outside.  It looks like a couple of Egyptian Pharaoh pillars was transplanted to the park.  It’s actually a target shooting ride, though.  To say it’s impressive is an understatement.

This visit was our first to Gardaland, as it’s celebrating its 40th anniversary.  What a great way to celebrate!

 

 

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Day 3 – Zamperla, Ai Pioppi

Jan & Mac Rush

Today was one of those days where we went off schedule.  But, like a dark ride that has a catastrophe theme, you know it’ll all work out in the end.  And it did.

Our first stop was Zamperla SPA.  If only.  SPA in Italian is equivalent to INC in the U.S.  Still, the presentations and tour were relaxing and fun.  For those of us who knew Zamperla’s business in general, by the time the presentations were done, we knew just how many types of attractions the company creates, and the steps they take to build a roller coaster.  Oh, and it was refreshing to hear Alberto (the employee in charge of coaster design) admit that the Volare flying coaster was a mistake.

We then took a tour of the factory/assembly buildings.  It was a good news/bad news kind of thing.  The bad news (for us, not the employees involved) was that the workers were on holiday, so there was no activity going on.  The good news for us was that it gave us the opportunity to walk around in places that would have been off limits to us.  The graveyard out in back was kind of sad, though.   A Dumbo elephant was about to be scrapped.  Too bad we couldn’t take him home with us.

Our second stop was Ai Pioppi (pronounced Eye Poppy).  Nestled in a lovely, shaded hillside location, Ai Pioppi is a restaurant where, amazingly, pizza is not on the menu.  But there are some interesting food choices, including snails.  The food was good; one of the dessert choices was “digestive”—no it wasn’t a biscuit, but an alcoholic drink.

The family that owns the restaurant decided to build an amusement park; not an easy undertaking.  It’s more like a playground with roller coasters.  The rides—or in some cases, contraptions—are scattered about in a hilly, tree-lined area.  Many, if not most, of the rides were people-powered and built by the family, making the whole park more interactive.  Ai Pioppi has four coasters, one of which was running when we arrived.  While we were eating lunch, the second coaster was repaired so we could ride it.  The smaller of the two coasters was like a butterfly, but with a single-seat car.  The rider (and sometimes a helper) pushed the car up the hill, got in, let go of the brake, and—GOING DOWN!  Unlike a typical butterfly, though, there was speed bump on the ascent of the opposite hill.  It was great fun and much less scary than it looked.  The larger coaster held six and was operated by one of the family members.  It was basically an oversized butterfly, with some unexpected and laugh-inducing airtime.  What a wonderful, little park!   It’s the kind of place where you leave happy, wanting to come back.  Bravo!

Later in the day we arrived in Venice, where we had enough free time to at least experience a water taxi, some sightseeing, and if we were lucky (and we were), dinner in a small, not-touristy restaurant.

 

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Day 4 – Venice, Astoria Village

Jan & Mac Rush

After a morning of leisure or more sightseeing in Venice, we departed for the first of the two small parks on the day’s schedule.

It’s days like today that can—and do—turn into an unexpected adventure.  When we arrived at Astoria Village (which sounds like a neighborhood in New York City), we discovered that the park was closed until later that evening.  After some negotiations, we were allowed into the park to ride the Wacky Worm.  We also got rides on the frisbee; it’s the kind that Is partially enclosed in a building, so every time the pendulum swings, it feels like it’s going to hit the roof or one of the rafters. Darren’s badge flew off while he was on the ride, landing in a palm tree.  One of the park employees put up some scaffolding and retrieved it for him.  It’s amazing that we went from “the park is closed” to experiencing such wonderful hospitality.

Astoria Village is a children’s park, with several rides besides the coaster and the frisbee.  It looks like it was put together using industrial size Play Doh—very colorful and whimsical.  And it’s near the Adriatic Sea; it’s a short walk to the beach, where we possibly had the slowest meal service ever—about 2 ½ hours total for all of us to get our meals.  The order takers/food servers were overwhelmed by such a large group showing up at once.  Well, at least we could gaze out at the water while we were waiting.  Lovely.

Our next stop was Santa Fe park—or it would have been, if the park were operating.  Also near the Adriatic, the park didn’t open until after 8 p.m., after the crowds had left the beach and were primed for the night life.

Getting to the hotel proved to be a challenge; narrow, crowded streets made it difficult for the bus to maneuver.  And the hotel entrance was along a side street barely wide enough for a small car, plus all the pedestrians and bicycles.  When we finally arrived at the hotel, we discovered that a water pipe had broken and that some of us would be staying at different hotels.  Those of us who stayed at the Hermitage had rooms with a view of the water.  Ahhhhhhh.

We had plenty of time to visit Santa Fe and several other small parks/fairs.  The coasters were all powered.  But what’s the saying?  It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.  Yep, it was definitely the journey.  The collective energy was invigorating.  Si!

 

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Day 5 – Mirabilandia

NEED REPORTS.
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Day 6 – Cimone Adventure Park, Fiabilandia

Jan & Mac Rush

When we visit a park for the first time, the inevitable question is:  will we have enough time?  (Yeah, we sometimes ask if it’s too much time; rarely is the answer, yes.)

Fiabilandia was one those parks where we could have spent more time.  Part of the problem was that ride openings were staggered; one of the park’s coasters opened at 10:30 a.m.; the other two at 11.  The entrance sign at each ride had its opening time.  Most of us missed riding il Castello di Mago Merlino (Merlin’s Castle, which opened at 10 a.m. and had a fairly long line at the start).  Nicely themed outside, it looked like a ride you’d see at a Disney park.  Il Lago del Sogno (Dream Lake) was a pretty, Japanese-themed boat ride in which guests float in dragon-shaped boats, past large, colorful, spinning parasols and into a large dragon’s mouth.  Leaning pots that spay water turn off just as the boat floats past.  It’s very well done.

La Valle degli Gnomi (Gnome Valley) is a long, meandering Big Apple coaster.  The ride is mild.  The theming is cute—large, colorful flowers open and close, and the train passes through two side-by-side apples.  How sweet!

SpaceMouse is a spinning coaster.  ‘Nuff said.

La MIniera d’Oro (the Old West Gold Mine) is a mine train, but like the Big Apple, it’s long and meandering, without any steep drops.  The ore-car-shaped train goes past waterfalls and mining-themed scenes and equipment.  The coaster is in the ever-present western-themed section.  Inside Fort Laramie, the audio-animatronic sheriff looks around, says something menacing, and shoots.  If a guest happens to be standing near a sensor, the lawman shoots in that general direction, and water sprays on the unsuspecting person.   It would have been a hoot if the sheriff growled the words like Clint Eastwood did in his spaghetti westerns.

Fiabilandia has a variety of rides and attractions, including a paddle wheeler that takes passengers across the lake in the middle of the park.  In the park map, the number of rain drops next to each of the water rides indicate how wet—or soaked—guests might get.  Several of the rides listed also have “frowny” faces next to them; kids might find those rides scary.

This park is definitely worth a return visit.

On the way to Pisa, we took a detour.  A major detour.  As the bus climbed up the mountainside, it became increasingly apparent that at our destination was an alpine coaster.  Yes!  As the coach snaked up the switchback roads, everyone got out of the way.  People gawked.  The view was magnificent, breathtaking, impressive…well, you get the drift.  Riders got split into groups—fast, medium, slow.   The crazy, let ‘er rip people went first; for the most part, the plan worked.  A meal followed.  It turns out the cashier at  the restaurant spent time in Massachusetts, and in his words, “A week at Mc Donald’s in New York City.”  Okay.

What goes up must come down, as the cliché goes.  As the bus started its downward journey, the hairpin turns were short and sharp.  We leaned left, we leaned right, we leaned left.  The view on the way down was just as beautiful.  It took longer to get to the hotel than expected, but, man, was the journey worth it.
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Day 7 – Pisa, Cavallino Matto

Jan & Mac Rush

The Leaning Tower of Pisa.  We’ve seen travelogues about it; it’s featured in movies; who knows how many postcards of it have been collected or mailed.  Nothing prepares you to see it in person.  What we generally don’t see is that the tower is just one building in Plaza del Duomo.  A massive cathedral, a converted opera house, the remains of a fort-like wall are all part of this complex.

In the tower, there’s in interior, circular stone staircase that leads up to the bell tower.  You can’t just walk up at your leisure, though; like many tourist attractions, you need tickets to enter, and you’re given a specific time.  The steps, not surprisingly, have worn down over time, making them a bit slippery in spots.  And yes, you can tell the tower is leaning by the height of the steps—well, and the fact that you’re also leaning.  Wow, just wow.

On these trips we have to be able to shift gears quickly.  We went from admiring on of Italy’s most identifiable, historical, and architectural wonders to enjoying a small and adorable family-oriented amusement park. For a small park

Cavallino Matto has five roller coasters, Including a TOGO standup relocated from Canada’s Wonderland, Freestyle.  It sported a fresh coat of paint, so it looked nice at least.

The park has two Wacky Worm-type rides, both of which have Speedy Gonzalez’s face on the front.  The back ends differ.  The last car on Speedy Gonzales has a curved tail, while Toppo Zorro’s sports striped shorts.  Oh, and instead of a Big Apple theme, it’s more like Big Cheese.  Both coasters are longer than a typical Wacky Worm.

Wild Mine is a Mouse Coaster with a mine theme.  Surprise! (Or not.)

The park’s other large coaster is Project 1, an L&T Systems compact coaster.  It’s reasonably smooth.

Among the park’s other attractions are a short zip line; a log ride; a drop tower, called Shocking Tower (how descriptive!); and Pazzo West, a motorized pony ride

What a wonderful small park!

There was one other park on the day’s schedule, Mattera Luna Park, that we skipped.  Trying to contact the park was futile.  Besides, it gave us more time at Cavallino Matto.  Can’t complain about that.

The ride to Rome was supposed to take three hours; it took only four.  Not bad!  From past experience, one hour is nothing.  We’re in the same hotel for the next three days.  It’ll start feeling like home by the time we leave.

 

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Day 8 – Cinecittà, Fantasiland, ZooMarine

Jan & Mac Rush

Not to jinx the park, but Cinecitta World may be the Hard Rock Theme Park of Italy.  You’d expect at least a small crowd on Saturday, but the park was basically empty.  Oh, and it doesn’t help that Italian parks have the propensity to close rides during the day—not because they’re broken.  They just shut down for an hour.  It makes no sense, at least to us.

The park is fairly new, and a work in progress.  It’s not ride-intensive, but its three coasters (two, if you don’t count water coasters) are all really good and have excellent theming.  Altair is an Intamin with 10 inversions.  The ride runs a bit rough but the inversions are smooth.  Getting flipped over four times in a row can be dizzying, though.  It has a starship theme; the loading station is enclosed in a massive space vehicle.  Impressive!

The water coaster, Aktium, has a Roman gladiator theme and features two drops.  The final one forces a storm surge of water over the barrier and onto those brave (or crazy) enough to stand in its path.

Darkmare is an enclosed coaster that takes its riders through an “inferno”, with a variety of evil spirits.  At one point the train stops, leaving us wondering if it was going to roll back or plunge forward.  Turns out, neither.  The train drops vertically; obviously not enough to injure passengers, but just enough to cause exclamations, some of which are not family friendly.

Since Cinecitta World is movie themed, there are some themed areas and buildings that resemble sound stages.  The main street looks like New York City, circa 1920s.  There’s a small western town; only the jail was open.  One of the sound stages housed Cinecitram, a 3D attraction.  The trams rocked but didn’t move, and it was difficult to understand the theming—first it was space themed.  The tram then apparently went underwater and passed sea creatures.  Huh?

For the few members of the general public who were at Cinecitta World, the main attractions were the fountains.  One was a wall of water with large beach balls inside.  Kids were splashing around and laughing.  Others were strolling though water arches.

The park is building a new attraction for the 2016 season.  Let’s hope it helps bring in more people.  It’s a nice park that deserves some attention.

There’s no nice way to say this about our second stop, at Zoo Marine:   there was waaaay too much exposed flesh there.  Most of the guests were wearing bathing suits, which in some cases barely covered them.  We felt overdressed in shorts and T-shirts.  It was just weird to see people getting on roller coasters wearing Speedos and flip-flops.

Zoo Marine is a cross between an amusement park and SeaWorld.  The park has the usual shows:  dolphins, sea lions, birds, and others.  One of Zoo Marine’s two coasters is a Schwarzkopf gem, Vertigo, with a single loop.  The coaster moved multiple times before it settled in at Zoo Marine.  Squalotto is a Wacky Worm, one of many we’ve ridden on this trip.

We stopped at Fantasiland earlier in the day, only to find it didn’t open until the evening, which was no longer surprising.  We went back there after our time at Zoo Marine.  Like many of the small parks we visited, Fantasiland was more like a fair than a park.  As small as it is, though, it has two coasters.  The bigger one is a Pinfari.  The sign above it simply says Roller Coaster, but according to RCDB, it’s Montagne Russe.  It has a space theme.  Bassotto, the smaller one—and yet another Wacky Worm—is pretty descriptive.  The train has a droopy dog face on the front; the poor guy looks like he has a toothache.

Fantasiland is one of many parks that displays Disney characters with impunity—in this case oversized versions of Mickey and Donald are posed along the road leading into the park. Their faces show up inside the park as well.

 

 

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Day 9 – Rome

NEED REPORTS.
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Day 10 – Rainbow MagicLand

Jan & Mac Rush

We visited just one park today—Rainbow Magic Land.  The park’s logo makes it look like it’s going to be a family-oriented park with cute little rides, but that initial impression was wrong.

Rainbow Magic Land is not a theme park, but the rides are individually, and wonderfully themed. And it boasts five roller coasters.  The largest is Shock, a Maurer creation.  Single, six-passenger-seat cars are launched.  After the first drop, the car twists upward one way, levels off, and then twists downward in the opposite direction.  The ride is smooth and intense.  The area around it, for lack of a better description, is Steam Punk.

Cagliostro, the park’s second Maurer, is a spinning model.  (Ours didn’t spin much.)  The coaster is mostly enclosed, popping outside briefly.  The ride inside is dark, with very little to look at.  The queue is really, really dark, and maze-like.  The area outside the building is much more interesting, in an M. C. Escher-like way, including weird characters and melting clocks.

Rainbow Magic Land also has two Vekoma coasters.  Bombo is a junior coaster.  L’Olandese Volante is a mine train that doesn’t look like one.  The train looks like some mythical flying creature.

Amerigo, located in the kiddie section, is a Big Apple.

Among the park’s other attractions is a 5D target shooting ride, a Splash Battle, and a 4D movie, and a theater.  Maison Houdini is a haunted swing.  After the preshow, the doors usually open right into the swing area.  On this swing, guests are herded into a large, dark elevator that seems to descend very slowly.  It’s disorienting and just a bit scary.

Rainbow Magic Land is a nice park.  And it was reasonably busy.  Busy is not a word that we’ve used much to describe parks on this trip.

After we left the park, we had about a four-and-a-half-hour drive to our next destination.  We’re spending two nights at this hotel.

 

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Day 11 – Comma Park, Miragica, ZooSafari

Jan & Mac Rush

Some Italian parks have a queue process that is efficient (and cynically, replaces a human ride attendant).  At a certain point in the queue is a turnstile with red and green lights on it, and a screen above it.  When the light is red, the turnstile is locked, and “ALT” shows on the screen.  When it’s time to allow riders into the station, the green light goes on, and on the screen numbers count down.  When the number reaches zero, the turnstile automatically locks again.

The two parks we visited today were very different in character.  The first park was Miragica, a smaller sister park to Rainbow Magic World.  Some of us thought that the weathered look of some attractions at Rainbow Magic World was intentional.  When we entered Miragica, it was apparent that the problem was lack of maintenance.  It was, to use an American term, looking a little ragged.

Miragica has two coasters, an Intamin launched coaster, Senzafiato; and Spaccatempo, a Zamperla mouse coaster.  Both are short and performed as expected.  Among the park’s other attractions are a drop tower; a carousel; an unusual rapids ride that soaked some riders and left others dry; and a log ride.  Attraction opening times were staggered; it was frustrating to walk up to a ride, only to find it wouldn’t begin operating for an hour or so.  What a waste of time!

One of the really weird attractions was Scatolamagica, a 5D movie whose water effect didn’t work, and whose movie was chopped in spots.  It had an abrupt, and not very happy, ending.

Miragica is a nice park that would be better if it just received care and attention.

Zoosafari, on the other hand, was a much nicer, if somewhat hilly, park.  The complex consists of a zoo and a separate amusement park.  This park, surprisingly, has five roller coasters, from a newer Gerstlauer Euro Fighter to a vintage Zyklon.

At the top of the hill is Euro Fighter. It’s a coaster model that some of us like; others, not so much.  The ride is short, and reasonably smooth.  An escalator takes you up the last stretch of hill, although you can walk it as well.  A Big Wheel is nearby, offering some excellent views of the rest of the park and the valley below.

Montagne Russe is the Zyklon.  It’s not the tallest or fastest coaster, but its short turns and quick drops still make it an intense, and sometimes scary, coaster.

Two Fabbri coasters are represented at Zoosafari.  One is Mirage Rosso, a three-abreast inverted coaster.  Let’s just say it’s not the smoothest coaster around.  Spinning Mouse is self-explanatory.  As if we hadn’t already ridden enough Big Apple/Wacky Worm Coasters to last us a life time, Zoosafari offered one more, Bruco Miniottovante .  Two hand-lettered signs near the queue stated children only; after some negotiations, we got to ride.

One of the park’s unusual attractions is Castello Incantato, a dark ride.  The cars look like elaborate sleighs with sloping backs and a heart cutout in the back.  They look like they were designed for lovers to have some privacy.  The ride itself, though, contains the usual depictions of souls in agony.  Nothing says love like taking your significant other on a ride through a house of gore!

Zoosafari also has some animal exhibits and a dolphin show.  It’s a fun park where you’ll get some exercise getting to some of the rides.  Eating gelato was a nice reward for all that hard work.

On the way back to the hotel, we got a bonus credit on yet another Big Apple, at Gomma, a small park in Bari, where we stayed.  How many more Wacky Worms are there yet to ride?  No, we don’t want to know the answer to that.

 

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Day 12 – Travel, Etnaland

NEED REPORTS.
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Day 13 – Etnaland, Travel

NEED REPORTS.
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Day 14 – Liberty City Fun, Oasi Del Bimbo, Pompei, Travel

NEED REPORTS.
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Final Thoughts

Some final thoughts on parks in Italy.   We (especially in the U.S.) are used to predictable—and rigid—parks.  The boarding process is often too slow; overzealous ride attendants slam down safety restraints.  Before and after being seated, we’re told what to do.  Italian parks are more, well, casual.  There’s no “Stand behind the yellow line!”  No visual scan.  Riders get in, the attendant checks the restraint once, if at all, and off we go.  If you’re sensitive to cigarette smoke, be careful; in some cases, the whole park is essentially a designated smoking section.  And park patrons bring their dogs with them.  No, the dogs can’t ride.  Judging by the body language of some of those hapless pooches, it’s probably better they don’t.

The biggest problem with the parks we visited was that they all opened at different times.  Staggered ride openings were a source of frustration as well; sometimes a non-coaster attraction looked interesting, but didn’t open until after we had to leave.  Too bad, really.

Three parks were on today’s schedule, but as a group we made it to two of them.  The other one, Arcolandia, opened too late for whole group to visit before the club flight left (although some of us not on that flight went there to ride yet another Big Apple called Bruco Mela).

Oasi del Bimbo (yes, some members were making jokes about the last name of the park), is a small park, not much bigger than a Family Fun Center.  Its powered coaster, Gold Mine, circles the park.  It feels more like a monorail, but the theming is cute.  Liberty City Fun is also like an FFC, with attractions both inside and out.  One of its indoor rides is scaled down bumper cars.  It was so funny to watch normally sweet and nice ECC members turn into demons behind the wheel.  Liberty City, like many small parks on this trip, borrowed liberally from Disney by painting certain characters on beams near the ceiling.  Superheroes and Teletubbies (remember them?) were also depicted.

The park’s powered coaster has a really weird name:  Ben 10 Alien Dragoon.  For a small coaster, that’s a big mouthful.  It’s a dragon coaster; maybe someone was spelling challenged.

Shark Trip, an SBF creation, is a kiddie coaster with a shark-themed train.

Sometimes not following a schedule creates some pleasant surprises and interesting opportunities.  Today brought a really, really good one:  a trip to Pompeii.  Our tour guide, who sounded much like Topol in the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof, took us on a two-hour tour of this well-known historical site.  It’s an understatement to say this place is immense.  You could probably wander through it for a couple of days and still not see all of it.  This city of 15,000 inhabitants had similar class structures that contemporary societies do (nothing much has changed, has it?), with all the same vices, including brothels.  The citizens of this city were buried under the ash that erupted from Mt. Vesuvius; it was their misfortune that the wind blew in their direction.

To sum up:  What an amazing trip!  That is all.

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