One of the drawbacks of a trip such as the one we were on was that the regimented schedule sometimes meant crazy wake-up times. On the morning of our overnight ferry trip we had no choice at all. We had to get up at 4:30, because we were warned that staff would actually enter our room to clean up whether we were ready or not (as promised, they did so to pick up our sheets). As befit our cramped space, the shower was really compact, and not really separated from the rest of the bathroom in any meaningful way. The shower floor was slightly below the rest of the bathroom floor, preventing water from sloshing, but not splashing, so that it was necessary to make sure anything that had to stay dry was well above floor level. The water was very hot and the squeegee provided to clean off the floor was pretty effective.
In keeping with the minimal accommodations, there was no in-room coffee, so I went out to search for some from a café on the restaurant deck. Surprisingly it wasn't open yet though people were already lining up to leave the ship, but I was able to wait only about 10 minutes. As I returned I had to share the elevator with two drunk Scandinavian teens. Scandinavians definitely seem to be into booze, and many were carrying off their duty-free haul as we exited the ship.
The view approaching, and then inside Stockholm, is very beautiful. The water was really still and glassy as we cruised down the channel approaching the city. Toward the end we got a great view of our amusement park of the day, Gröna Lund, right on the waterfront.
We met our coaches outside the terminal and soon were on the road to the park. It seemed a pretty roundabout rout, but since Stockholm is broken up by many waterways, there may have been no more direct land route. Our Swedish coach driver clearly knew the city well, pointing out several sights along the way in a way he had not done in Finland. Eventually we came to the island of Djurgården, which housed several attractions, including a museum. But we were there for Gröna Lund, the amusement park. We only had limited time there, unfortunately; I would have loved to investigate more of Djurgården, or more of Stockholm itself.
Upon arrival we were immediately impressed with the hospitality the park gave us. It turned out they had a good relationship with a prominent ACE member who wasn't on our tour (though she coincidentally happened to be at the park that day) so we got the best treatment of the trip. It began when they ushered us into a building with a little auditorium inside, where they offered us sandwiches and drinks. They also gave us custom tour T-shirts.
To pass some time, we got a presentation by the park's official historian, including a slide show of pictures from all eras of the park's existence. Often such presentations can be dry and boring, but we found this one to be fascinating and really enjoyed it. I thought about buying the presenter's book, but it was in Swedish only! The pictures would have been fascinating to look at, but I just couldn't justify spending money if I couldn't even understand the captions, much less the rest of the text. Nevertheless I was sorely tempted.
Among the high points of the presentation were the earliest pictures of the park, dating back to 1883. It had been opened by a man who already had an amusement establishment in Göteborg. The historian said it featured "mostly naked people dancing".
The park was clearly proud of the number of musical artists they'd hosted over the years. The historian claimed "Everybody but the Rolling Stones has played here", with some justification. Later we'd see a wall featuring photos of the artists there, including the Beatles, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, and many others across decades of musical history. I noticed that The Ark, the band we'd seen in Tampere a few days earlier, was scheduled to play there later in the year. Later in the day we'd see retro Jimi Hendrix shirts for sale and were very tempted by them, but ultimately didn't wind up buying.
One of the more interesting stories was how they fixed the fun house after it burnt down. They wanted to reconstruct it as accurately as possible, but had to build it completely from memory and photos because they had no plans on record. The got some donations from the community, including 5 Kroner from 5 year old child who asked them to use it to buy nails. I'm certainly glad they went to the effort; the fun house is perhaps the best I've ever been on and has many attractions that are hard or impossible to find any more in the US.
Some of the stories from the '70s were the best. One of the slides was of a Miss Nudity contest! The historian also told tales of a man going for the pole sitting record, during which he also drank 92 bottles of whiskey. I believe it may also have been him who said that the Radar coaster (long since gone) was "better than LSD".
After the historical presentation, they discussed their latest project, the new-for-2011 Twister wood roller coaster. Their comment on choosing a manufacturer was, "We liked the Voyage", in reference to another well-regarded coaster by the same manufacturer. I was certainly pleased with this since I liked the Voyage very much too! However, space constraints meant that Voyage's sprawling layout was not in the realm of possibility. Instead, Twister was designed to be almost impossibly compact, intertwining with several other rides. We saw a picture of footers from three different coasters (Twister, Jetline, and Vilda Musen) within feet of each other.
There was one offhand observation made during the presentation that I found most interesting. In the 70's, they were building a new flume, but had trouble when the manufacturer went bankrupt. The bank took over the project and finished it much more cheaply but at the expense of quality of materials and construction. The flume turned out to be a maintenance nightmare and was soon removed. It's one of several cases I've seen in the industry where overattention to cost-cutting has led to bad results.
When the presentation ended, there was still a bit of time before they could open the rides for us. They distributed the T-shirts and we headed out into the park for a short tour. We were shown how many of the buildings dated to the early history of the park, some of them now used as offices. We also learned that the pedestrian bridge connecting the two halves of the park had a name, the "Bridge of Bliss", reachable by the "Spanish Stairs". One thing I had noticed on our earlier trip was a display of photographs of roller coasters around the world. I had been particularly amused by the photo of a wood coaster called Shivering Timbers. It had been so highly regarded that at one point there was a fake group called the "Church of Shivering Timbers" or COST, which even got a mention on their sign. The demise of Shivering Timbers' reputation is represented by the fact that that sign was now gone; the ride had been replaced by something else.
Not only was the park generous with the presentation, the food, and the T-shirts, they also gave us early ride time on no fewer than 4 of their coasters. Because of our rather limited time at the park, this was really helpful and most appreciated. As soon as they were ready to open we went to get our first rides.
We began with what thought would be the least popular coaster, Vilda Musen. Having ridden it before we knew it was still worthwhile. The operator was very enthusiastic, perhaps happy to see some customers.
As you might guess, the English name would be "Wild Mouse". Most wild mouse style rides focus almost exclusively on hairpin turns with minimal and mostly short drops, but Vilda Musen was better balanced. Its involved layout included several thrilling drops and intertwined at its far end with another coaster, Jetline. We rode it twice and would have happily done so more if we didn't feel like we had to move on to other things.
Our next coaster was the appropriately-named Insane, a ride similar to Ukko at Linnanmäki, but taller and longer. The single cars, which could flip freely, went through a vertical maze-like layout with very sharp turns and places where the track undercut itself. Riders could board facing forwards or backwards (at least initially; during the ride things got randomized with all the flipping going on). Usually they'd make sure to balance the two sides, but we were told that for our ride time they'd let us ride unbalanced. In theory this should have led to more flipping, but on our ride we just wound up looking face down most of the time. It wasn't very pleasant and gave Janna a headache. My feeling about insane was about what I'd expected to feel about the smaller rides such as Ukko, somewhat crazy but not a lot of fun. However I'd wound up liking Ukko and its like quite a bit, so this is a case where "bigger is not better" in my opinion.
Having gotten the first two coasters out of the way early, we headed toward the two we wanted to spend the most time on, their older, but still premier steel coaster, Jetline, and their new wood coaster Twister. On the way we ran into our friends Mike and Chris, who had taken the opposite strategy and done the other two coasters first. They were already impressed and called Gröna Lund a "kickass park".
As for ourselves we continued on to Jetline. It's an interesting coaster, with a compact twisting layout similar to many fair coasters in Europe, but unlike many of those, it does not go upside down. I have always been as much a fan of fundamental coaster thrills such as hills and turns as I have of loops anyway, so this was no drawback as far as I was concerned. Moreover, non-looping coasters are likelier to have more comfortable lap restraints rather than over the shoulder restraints, and I always prefer this. Thus I anticipated a good ride from Jetline and got it, in the very front seat. However, that was the only ride we were able to get that day on it. We lined up for the back, which we expected to have the most potent ride, but Jetline went down before we could get on, and we never saw it operate again that day. It was a shame, because I really enjoyed the speedy, sometimes intense ride, and was looking forward to "power riding" a bit. Jetline can serve many people quickly, and hence even on a crowded day with a long line, you can get a ride quickly. When the park got crowded later, it would have been nice to have been able to get through a fast-moving line. Moreover, the people who would have been in Jetline's line probably made other lines longer.
For the moment, we went on to Twister, located on a boardwalk section right next to the waterfront. The area between it and Jetline had been rethemed with a kind of 50's diner look, but I preferred the boardwalk. Twister is an unusual ride in several ways. It is manufactured by a company called The Gravity Group, and is among the first to run with their in-house "Timberliner" trains. It was the first opportunity I'd had to try the Timberliners and compare them to other coaster trains I'd been on.
Twister is also rather diminutive in size, closer to what one would expect from a junior coaster, but it was supposed to be high in thrills. It accomplished this by packing its layout into a very tight space, with a lot of twists and turns and very small hills. Its name was quite justified, and indeed with every dispatch the operator told us "You are going for one really twisty ride" with relish.
Happily Twister lived up to its potential. If anything it exceeded my expectations. Its compact layout was intense and unpredictable. It had all the forces I could have expected--including upward "airtime"--often changing directions several times in a very short space. The tight layout also contributed to a lot of close passes with other parts of the track, in addition to other narrow clearances with Jetline. The trains were very comfortable, and the restraints that came down from the side rather than the front were not overly restrictive and allowed larger riders easily. It was a very thrilling ride, but easily reridden (particularly with no line). The one minor complaint that I had was that the pacing seemed a bit uneven; the short lift hill height meant that even a short hill could slow the train down more than on a larger coaster, but this complaint was minor. We ultimately got 10 rides and could have stayed longer except that we had to visit other parts of the park.
Our top priority was the Fun House (Lustige Huset in Swedish). We'd considered it the best of its class on our 2004 trip, so we were most eager to try it again, even above the remaining coasters in the park. By the time we got there, there was already a long line, mostly of ACE members from our tour.
Of all the fun houses we visited on the trip, this was probably the most physically challenging (part of why we liked it so much!). The hardest part is the moving steps at the beginning. If one knows the trick, they are not hard at all, but most people don't. It's easy to wind up with their legs moving in all directions the steps keep moving beneath you. I was able to use the trick to get to the top of the stairs with no trouble but many others had difficulty. An operator has to keep a sharp eye out and stop the stairs if anybody looks like they're in such trouble they might fall.
Inside, there were a lot of other tricks, almost the entire set of fun house stunts one could think of and some that I hadn't seen elsewhere such as a slanted rubber belt on rollers to bump your way down on. One room (nautically themed) had a floor that rose and feel in a wavelike motion. By standing on the middle one could get a distinct sensation of airtime. At the end was a nice slide. They had an interesting loading mechanism. We would load on a level chute, which could then be tilted by the operator to dump us onto the slide. I can't remember every element of this fun house by any means, but it was very extensive, and well worth any wait.
Nearby was a mild water ride called Karlekstunneln, more or less like an old Tunnel of Love. I remembered having found it very charming in 2004, but had missed filming it. The line had been too long to ride again, so I was eager give it another try and document it on film this time.
In the end Karlekstunneln was fun enough but I couldn't quite see why I liked it so much on the first trip. There were depictions of elves and fairies (some naked, one of many "you wouldn't see this in the US" moments on the trip) as I remembered, but specific elements seemed to differ from my recollections. One of the moments I recalled was a diorama depicting dwarves forging hearts. Heat lamps above had even made it feel like we were in an actual forge. The heat lamps and forge were still there, but it no longer appeared they were forging hearts. All in all I enjoyed the ride well enough for a cute scenic water ride, but it didn't strike me in the same way as it had before.
After this it was on to another coaster. There were three left to ride, and though we didn't do them all at once, I might as well describe them all. The first, and by far the most interesting, was called Kvasten, which I believe means "witch". The train was suspended below the track, but geared for a younger set without a high thrill quotient. Nevertheless, they put a lot of care into the theming of the ride; the station was very well done, with dramatic music and laughter. In the middle of the course we passed a dead tree statue with an impressive fire effect. All in all it was a really fun ride, and I'd gladly have ridden again but for the lines. Also noteworthy is how comfortable the seats and restraints were; something that is not always true for such suspended rides.
The two other coasters were less significant. One, Tuff-Tuff Tåget (which I believe is the equivalent of "Choo-Choo Train") was just a series of switchbacks with barely any descent at all; about the minimum that could possibly be considered a coaster. The other, Nyckelpigan ("Ladybug"), was a simple oval kiddie coaster. The line was always long. We visited several times to see if it would get shorter, but eventually just waited it out, simply for the "credit".
Gröna Lund has several other interesting non-coaster attractions. One was a hall of mirrors called Skrattkameran. It was more extensive than just about any other hall of mirrors I've ever seen, with long rows of distorted mirrors of all sorts. The best by far was a concave circular mirror. Depending on the angle you looked at it, you could look like you were upside down, or had a huge head. You could also see other peoples' reflections in various distorted ways. I'm surprised more parks don't use this attraction; it was more entertaining than most.
One of our most anticipated rides was called Blå Tåget or Blue Train (I learned that day that I had been mispronouncing its name for a long time; it was pronounced something like "Blow Towget"). It was a highly-regarded haunted dark ride with a lot of scares and thrills, and was worth quite a wait in line. In fact, the line itself was somewhat entertaining, due to the decorations in the waiting area reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch. There was an animated dragon-like creature with fiery eyes (and nostrils) suspended from the ceiling and breathing steam. But if it was the most impressive themed element it was probably the least surreal. Among the oddest were a guy with a peg leg and a fist emerging from his ear, and another guy impaled by one of the building's own columns. Most disturbing of all may have been a creature, whether bird or reptilian I'm not sure, that was quite clearly female.
The ride itself had been redesigned since our earlier trip. I had not found the earlier incarnation to be as good as rumored, so I was curious to see how much they'd improved it. I was pleased with what I found. The cars had effects in the seats, such as making buzzing noises and poking riders in the back. These were timed well to coincide with the things we saw as we passed through the ride. The track (much more modern-looking than the previous track) had some effects, including tilting and a few rises and falls. We once went through a rotating tunnel made to look like a fire, and there was a later fire effect too. One of the stunts retained from the previous ride was a rack of dishes made to look like it would fall on us near the end. Whether it was the upgrade or some other reason, I was more impressed by Blå Tåget this time than I had been before. I would gladly have ridden again, but a long line and our short time at the park precluded it.
The park was generous enough to provide us with a sit-down meal at a restaurant called Tyrol. We were a bit early, and got first choice of seats in the dimly lit room. They had various drinks set out for us to take from baskets on the tables, including beer. I had a bottle of Spendrups lager.
The drinks were self service (including opening the bottles), but we got full service thereafter, starting with hard rolls. They came with a spread that tasted like cream cheese with paprika atop it. There were three choices of main dish; we'd been asked what we'd wanted during the presentation earlier. I chose salmon, which seemed wise when the salmon dishes were brought out first (the other two were pork and a vegetarian burger; the pork was the most popular option but it was served particularly late). It came with a potato salad with what I thought to be a mild curry flavor. It was a pretty decent meal, though for some reason the portions on Janna's and my plates were smaller than others we saw. It was certainly better than we could have gotten from a stand in the park (though Gröna Lund also has several very nice restaurants).
The best thing about the meal, however, was the announcement that we were going to be given an hour more at the park than had been originally scheduled. We were enjoying it greatly and would have been very sorry to leave prematurely. In fact, we never found out if there was going to be a dessert, as we skipped back to the park to take as much advantage of the extra time as we could. However, since the first thing we did was get ice cream, we still got a kind of dessert. I had mine with chocolate sprinkles, which were very crunchy. It was at this stand that I noticed that the employees wore flag pins to indicate what languages they spoke; which I thought a very clever system.
In the end, much of our extra time got eaten up anyway, much of it by the Nyckelpigan line. On a less wasteful note, we also got into a conversation with an employee of the company that had created Twister.
The only attraction we did manage to get in addition to the aforementioned ones was Spökhuset, a walk-through haunted house. Ordinarily it was an extra charge, but it seemed to be included with our tour. We could already tell that it would be a good one when we saw one of the characters (oddly dressed in a powder wig) staring down at the crowd menacingly from a balcony. However, we had the misfortune of being behind a girl who managed to attract all the live actors' scares. She was even scared by an animatron who alternated between weeping and banging at the cage that held him.
That was about what we were able to accomplish in our extra hour. Jetline was still down, Blå Tåget was also down, and Twister had a very long line. All we could do was to walk along the boardwalk area for a while before heading back to the coaches. Extra hour or not, it felt all too early to be leaving. Nevertheless, in spite of this and the crowds that developed in the afternoon, Gröna Lund was a very satisfying experience. I always like parks that pack many attractions in a small space, piling one up on the other, and Gröna Lund is very much like that. It also has a fantastic selection of rides for a park of its footprint, and more than just coasters. It reminds me of another of my favorite parks, Blackpool Pleasure Beach in England, in a smaller package.
We were staying overnight in Karlstad, Sweden. While leaving Stockholm we passed through a neighborhood we'd stayed in on our prior trip. I was surprised it looked so familiar after what had been a very short visit. We also passed an old and a new stadium but otherwise didn't get to see much of the city, unfortunately.
We had a break during the coach ride, but as before it wasn't much of a rest stop. At least there were actual bathrooms here unlike the time we just pulled off the side of the road. To tide myself over until we reached town I got a candy bar called "Daim". The bus driver described it as being "Cola" dipped in chocolate, but clearly he meant something different by that word than I would have. It seemed more to be like a Heath bar. Janna got marzipan dipped in chocolate but found it quite disappointing.
We were staying at another Scandic that evening. This one seemed a bit better than the one before; it even had towel warmers and a window that we actually could open, though still no in-room coffee. Once settled in, we joined our friends to go out seeking dinner. The hotel had a restaurant, but we decided it was too expensive. However, Karlstad seemed a bit sleepy, at least that evening, and the best we could find was a place called the Alpine Pizzeria. In addition to their odd specialty pizzas (such as one with bananas) they had Middle Eastern cuisine, and I eventually got "Falafel med bröd". It was pretty good, though the sauce seemed to lose its flavor toward the end.
The proprietor wasn't very easy to speak to, one of the few people we encountered who didn't speak English fluently. Nor did he seem to be all that friendly. I suspect he had been about to close up before our large group arrived. He warmed to us when we requested he put the women's World Cup championship game on the TV and he saw us rooting for our team.
This post is one in a series. For the other installments, see: