European Road Trip 2023 - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

It's been a few weeks now since Sam and I got back from our European road trip, and as such we've had some time to reflect on what was a pretty hectic week. For Sam it was the longest holiday he's had since he visited Orlando in 2019, and for me it was a chance to get back to some parks I hadn't visited in a long, long time whilst tagging on some favs (I'm sure Phantasialand are sick of the sight of me at this point!) Also, having done a couple of big US trips in 2022 and with the pandemic in 2021 and 2020 I hadn't done a big Euro road trip in...I can't actually recall, so it was something I was super excited for as trips like that are basically how I cut my teeth as an enthusiast all those years ago. 

As with any trip, we had our ups, our downs, our WOW moments and our what the fuck moments. As for me this wasn't a trip riding anything shiny and new, I thought I'd use my end of year format to pull my thoughts together, and will be checking in with Sam whilst I write this to get his thoughts too along the way, as as mentioned we both approached this trip from very different perspective. So, let's get stuck in!

As mentioned, for me this trip was about revisiting parks I hadn't been to in a while, so as such not a ton of new coasters to add to the count, a measly +1 for me in the form of Colossos - Kampf der Giganten at Heide Park. I'd ridden this in its original form waaay back in 2009 for the first time and I remember loving it, then immediately riding El Toro a few months later and having it blow my socks off. I think the retrack is fun - it's extremely floaty and smooth so if you like B&M hypers you will enjoy this. I do think it loses a little 'oomph' towards the end but that's distracted slightly by the big ol' monster guy that I dubbed Kolossal Klaus (unless somebody let's me know his actual name?) But yes, I liked it, it was fun and made even better by the fact that it was walk-on for us the entire time so we got plenty of rerides.

Sam was treated to a healthy +27, including his 250th coaster which when we counted backwards once we were home turned out to be the Toos Express at Toverland. It's my opinion that 'milestone' coasters should be as dumb as possible so I think this fits the bill. Also sidenote, the Toos Express has the most insanely lightning fast ops we've ever seen - the team were consistently dispatching trains in under 20 seconds, it was quite something to behold. 

0 for me, as mentioned. 

4 new parks for Sam - Phantasialand was the only park he'd been to before which is one of the reasons why I was so excited to go on this trip with him.

For me, obviously it's Taron, but that's the boring answer and y'all saw that coming a mile off. Ignoring Taron (as much as it pains me to), Flucht von Novgorod. I fell in love with this whippet of a Gerstlauer Eurofighter when I first rode it in 2009 and it still kicks so much ass all these years later. That launch kills me every single time, and the theming sets it all of perfectly. It's a perfect coaster in my opinion and whilst I've absolutely ridden bigger and better since, I cannot fault Flucht von Novgorod. It's the full package for sure. 

For Sam, it was F.L.Y. (I thought this might be the case). He says it's a Top 5, full package coaster that completely blew him away and it's the only flying coaster he's ridden that he actually enjoyed. And the fact that it's located inside Rookburgh which he fell in love with too.

I always have to ignore the kiddie coasters for this question because I don't think it makes for a fair comparison. Thinking about this is actually really hard to choose as honestly, we rode a bunch of really great coasters on this trip. If I had to pick I would probably say maybe MP Express or whatever the park was calling it that week. I know Bandit is *right there* but for me Bandit is awful in a fun way, whereas MP Express is just hateful. Obviously I rode it for Sam as he needed the +1 but my god, it's bad. 

Sam agrees that the SLC was bad, but wanted to give an honorable mention to Bobbahn at Heide Park. Personally I didn't find it that bad but that might have been because I was distracted laughing at Sam's reaction to the thing the whole way round - he made it VERY clear he was not having a good time, which is only made funnier by the fact that the thing is SO SO long. 

For me, Flug der Damonen. I last visited Heide Park in 2017 and had a really terrible ride on this coaster, which was such a shame because I love me a B&M wing coaster, plus it's spooky! But yh, back then it was juddery as hell and really uncomfortable to ride. I'm not sure what they've done to it but it is glass smooth now, really intense in all the right places and just a unique and fun layout. Plus, it's spooky!

Sam's biggest surprise was Heide Park in general. He said that because you never really hear people raving about the place he went in with really low expectations that were completely blown out of the water. Sam adores Europa Park so I had an inkling he would love Heide Park as it's full of all those charming, German theme park things like the beautiful Bavarian architecture and quirky theming.

We both agree that this was our first Heide Park day. Our second day was awesome too, don't get me wrong (plus we were graced with the presence of the fabulous Jack!) but the first day was just oozing with that excitement of exploring a new park for the first time - for Sam this was of course the case but for me I got to experience it through his reactions to everything which was such a treat. The park was really low crowds meaning we got tons of rerides on everything we wanted to and could take the day at a really chilled out pace, taking in all the silly little car rides and enjoying some German beers along the way. 

This was also the day we checked into the incredible Heide Park Abenteuerhotel - in my opinion Merlin's best themed accommodation. This was my third visit to this hotel and Sam's first - we headed in around 5PM and had a few drinks in the awesomely themed bar, enjoyed the fun splash pool (complete with slides, grotto, fountains and spa) and tucked into a really good buffet dinner (that has unlimited beer & wine might I add). Honestly, no notes on this place, it's incredible and I wouldn't stay anywhere else when visiting Heide Park.

Knowing Sam is a bit of a hamburger connoisseur I insisted we eat at Uhrwerk because I wanted to see his reaction to the burgers, and I inadvertently ended up having what is probably the best chicken burger I've ever eaten. Because I'm terrible I can't remember what it was called, but it was a chicken breast with goats cheese, sundried tomatoes and cucumber on a brioche bun and good lord I haven't stopped thinking about it. I may even try and recreate it for myself this week because it was absolutely glorious. 

Sam says Heide Park buffet, which I've already gushed about above. His favourite was the meat - I think on the first night we went it was steak and pork and we had about three plate's worth!

We are planning on doing a sit-down video about this because we had some pretty terrible luck on this trip - but in a nutshell on the Wednesday afternoon as we were about to board Van Helsing's Factory for our second ride we got a notification to say that our flight home had been cancelled. Ah, crap. We ended up leaving the park earlier than we otherwise would have because we now knew we had to spend our evening sorting out a plan to get home, which obviously sucked as Movie Park Germany is one of my favs and I would've loved a few more rides on the Studio Tour and Star Trek. 

We then high-tailed it across the border to our accommodation in the beautiful town of Meijel, about 15 mins away from Toverland, and set about making a plan. Unfortunately German airport security strikes meant that all flights from Germany airports in the surrounding area were cancelled, so we had to book an EasyJet flight out of Amsterdam, which would be fine if we were just having to travel from Meijel to Amsterdam however our initial plan was to do Toverland, drive back across the border to Cologne Bonn airport, drop the car off and fly home that evening. 

Because we still had to drop the hire car off, staying in the Netherlands wasn't an option. Instead we enjoyed our day at Toverland, drove to Cologne Bonn that evening as planned and stayed in the Moxy at the airport with a plan to travel to Amsterdam at 10AM the next day by train, spend a few hours in the city and fly home from Schipol. 

Which would have been great except there were also train strikes, meaning our 10AM train was delayed until midday (and we spent an anxious morning wondering if it would show up at all). This meant we missed all connecting trains, had to get an Uber across the border because the train strikes meant no cross-border trains, a quick two hour stopover in Amsterdam before finally getting back to Manchester 24-hours and £600+ later. Balls.

After being slightly miffed at the fact that Fenix at Toverland was down for our visit after previously stating it would be open, I was at least pleased to see that Merlin's Quest, the parks boat ride with a beautiful dark ride section, was still operational. Sam and I had a boat to ourselves and the outdoor section was so tranquil and peaceful - exactly what we needed after the frantic evening we'd had trying to figure out how the hell we were going to get home. Then the doors to the magic cave opened and I was hit with a wall of smells and sounds and twinkling lights and magical animatronics and I basically lost it. Very rarely do I get overwhelmed by a ride like that, but this one got me good. It's only short, but it's an absolutely breathtaking dark ride sequence and I cannot recall ever having such a visceral reaction to a ride. It was really magical. 

For Sam, his is more reflective. As we no longer had a flight to catch, we had a little more time than expected between leaving Toverland and heading back to Cologne Bonn airport for the evening so we stopped in a place I'd always wanted to visit - Wuppertal, to see their famout suspended monorail. We found a fantastic spot to stand and wait for the trains to fly overhead right as the sun was setting, and Sam says he just stood there and everything we'd experienced that week all hit him in that moment. It's nice to be able to take moments like that to appreciate a trip - on longer ones like this it's easy to fall into a sense of repitition so I'm really pleased he was able to let the week wash over him like that. 


It certainly was a wild one - between beautiful resort hotels, some of Europe's best coasters, some heartbreaking coaster spite and one hell of a journey home this will certainly be one to remember for me. And as always I can't wait for the next one!

Have you been on a theme park road trip like this? What would be your dream park line-up to do across a week in Europe? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to have a chat!

Talk later xoxo,