A chilly, gray day with the threat of a downpour probably isn’t the type of weather you envision for a day at an amusement park. But, as we happily discovered, overcast weather can work in your favor by keeping the crowds down.
Walibi Belgium park in Wavre is the place to go to indulge the roller-coaster lover in you. If you’re a teen or adult rider who doesn’t care for this type of ride, you might be hard pressed to find enough to keep the grin plastered to your face, but you still won’t regret your day out.
The obvious starting point is an old wooden behemoth called the “Loup Garou,” or Werewolf. The 25-minute wait for this roller coaster was the longest of the day.
A few tips: If you’re angling for a front- row seat, stay to the right as the line divides in two. If any old seat will do, note the peculiarity of the queuing system, and simply ease your way up to the turnstile with the least number of waiting riders. Pass the wait by watching the Werewolf’s wooden structure shake and shudder as the wagon approaches its second big dip — it only adds to the thrill.
Next in need of conquering is the Cobra, a loop coaster with tracks that, rather than making a closed circuit, follow a loopy course that ends near where it began — and then goes back over the course. After boarding, you are lifted backward to higher- than-anticipated heights before being sent barreling through your starting position and through a couple of loops and a twist to the opposite end of the tracks, from where you repeat the route — backward.
Beware the stomach-dropping moment of the last stretch of your forward ascent when you wonder if and when track and tread will click together. Anticipate at least a little nausea.
Our third coaster was the Turbine, which remained pretty much a mystery prior to boarding due to its predominantly enclosed structure (save for two dauntingly steep dead-end tracks jutting out from both sides).
Yes, there is a loop in there, and yes, it is a tight one. If you’ve ever wondered how it would feel to be fired out of a slingshot, this coaster comes close to providing a clue. One drawback is the wait for the ride: Albeit moderate, it takes place in a completely unadorned and dimly lit hall.
The last coaster, the Vampire, is an inverted coaster ride (the kind where your legs dangle) that’s slick and fast and offers the added security of a safety belt you click into place. While I trust those automatically locking hydraulic restraints are going to hold me in place, I find the old-fashioned click of the buckle strangely reassuring.
If coasters aren’t your thing, the park offers attractions such as spinning swings, rotating boats, a free-fall tower, an interactive Egyptian-themed ride that presents targets to shoot at, log boats and a rapids ride. A SpongeBob 4-D underwater show is offered in French and Dutch. An entire area, the Walibi Folies, is dedicated to the youngest set, and there’s a water park, Aqualibi, that has an additional entry fee.
The verdict on Walibi’s coasters? While there’s a great variety, none meets my current gold standard of coasters in Europe, Europa-Park’s Silver Star. But in terms of waiting times, park cleanliness, cost of concessions and general good behavior of park attendees, Walibi, the park’s cute little kangaroo mascot, and the park itself get a high-five.
On the QT
Directions: Wavre is less than a 30- minute drive from Brussels. Take A-4 (E411) south to Exit 6 Walibi-Wavre and follow signs south to the park. From Mons, take A-15 (E19-E42) to the intersection with A-4 and drive north to the Wavre exit.
Times: The park is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Friday, and until 10 p.m. on Saturday in July and August. Starting in September, it will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends and on a few other days; it closes for the season the first week of November and reopens at the end of March.
Prices: Admission is 30 euros for adults, 26 euros for children ages 3-11; younger are free. According to SHAPE Trips and Tours Web site, Department of Defense ID and Access Card holders of all nationalities can purchase day passes for 25 euros. Parking costs 6 euros.
Food: Snack food at the park was overpriced but not exorbitant. You can have your hand stamped, exit the park, go to your car and have a little picnic, then re-enter. The parking lot is conveniently close to the entrance.
Information: The park’s Web site is www.walibi.be. It has a calendar with specific opening times.