Enjoying its first full season under the ownership of the Spanish-based, private equity-backed Parques Reunidos group, Mirabilandia remains one of Italy’s most popular amusement parks and has just opened Raratonga, a Polynesian-themed water ride (pictured) perfect for the summer. Park World called ahead of the big Assumption Day holiday in August.
While drop towers and rollercoasters top the list at many parks, at Mirabilanda it is the Eurowheel that dominates the skyline. And it is in the immediate shadow of this 90-metre construction from Pax that Raratonga has been located, replacing the Katapult (by Schwarzkopf).
Raratonga is the first compact Splash Battle by 3DBA/Preston & Barbieri, manufactured roughly 150km away at Barbieri’s premises in Reggio Emilia. It’s one of several attractions from the same supplier at Mirabilandia. In recent years, for example, they have also opened Flying Arturo, a jet ride, and a dinosaur egg-themed monorail.
The close co-operation between the park and manufacturer was explained until recently by the fact that they shared the same owner, Giancarlo Casoli. But Casoli stepped down at Mirabilandia last season when he and partner Gottlieb Loeffelhardt (of Phantasialand in Germany) sold out to Parques Reunidos.
Now in the managing director’s chair is former finance director Claudio Bertozzi, who has been at the park since it started in 1992, and before Casoli’s 1997-2006 reign. Raratonga, he says, was chosen because it appealed on a number of levels, but not necessarily because of any historical ties.
“We chose the ride firstly because of the target market, families with children, secondly because it is interactive and thirdly because of the cost, it was not so expensive. We had earlier analysed the Splash Battle, but the cost was a little high for us and the dimensions were too big for the area we had. What we have got is basically a prototype ride.”
The park won’t confirm the investment it has made in Raratonga, but Bertozzi does tells us that the ride system actually only accounts for around 30% of the total attraction budget, the rest spent in-house on theming characterised by Poylnesian figures, masks and a giant water-spouting volcano.
Raratonga is the first Splash Battle to feature a cable/tow boat drive system, and so has no track visible above the water. Passengers sit up to four-abreast in the boats and travel around the perimeter of the volcano in an almost oval-like 66-metre long circuit. As they go, they fire water cannons at targets on the side of the volcano to trigger various effects, and can also shoot at other riders as they turn the corners.
“The surprising aspect of the ride is the interactivity,” notes Bertozzi. “The customers prefer to hit not the targets but the other people in the boats. When the ride first opened we had only half the boats working and I was not satisfied with the dynamic of the ride because I do not think the fixed targets are enough, especially for the teenagers.”
Since July 27, however, Raratonga has been operating with a full 12 boats, offering an hourly capacity of over 600 and bringing that boat-to-boat interaction to the fore. Each of the newly-designed boats features one water cannon per rider, and these too were supplied by Preston & Barbieri (earlier Splash Battles were equipped by cannons by Watertoys).
Because the riders shoot inwards at all times, there’s no danger that passing guests are going to get splashed, but even so the park isn’t taking any chances and they are shielded by a wooden fence that circles the approximately 30 x 22 metre attraction. Likewise there are no external water cannons for spectators to shoot at riders. It’s a different attitude to those parks in Northern Europe where the guests are, dare we say it, a little more hardy, and relish the opportunity to get wet, whether or not they are riding.
“As with all water rides, when you have bad weather or in the evenings, the attendance decreases,” confirms Bertozzi, “but if you take into consideration a day like today, all the water rides have a queue of over one hour and it becomes a highlight of the visit. At the beginning of June we had really good weather and I wish the attraction had opened earlier because it would have been very useful for our park.”
It was 33ºC when Park World visited in August, and large crowds were enjoying the park and its facilities, but holding on to guests in temperatures like these hasn’t always been as straightforward as it sounds for Mirabilandia. Located outside the town of Ravenna, near Rimini and its stunning coastline, it wasn’t uncommon for the park to loose trade to the sea until it opened the Mirabilandia Beach waterpark in 2004. Now on hot days guests can be seen flowing freely between park and waterpark in their swimming costumes.
A nominal €8 charge is made for entry to Mirabilandia Beach, or €5 for children. “At the seaside it costs €8 just for a sunbed,” Bertozzi points out, “here they get a sunbed, towels, plus plenty of humour, so they are not really paying for entrance at all.”
He says the waterpark was also added to give guests an alternative option when they return as part of Mirabilandia’s “second day free” offer, and that further waterpark expansion is likely for 2008 (along with an interactive dark ride).
Families wishing to extend their visit with an overnight stay can sleep at the park – if they have a caravan. Mirabilandia’s own campsite is located right by the main entrance, but it does not yet have a hotel. Parques Reunidos is currently “analysing the possibilities” says Bertozzi, as well as considering an expansion to the caravan park.
More accommodation, and better access, would help the park, he is in no doubt. Mirabilanida has been Italy’s number two park now for some time, but its attendance last season of 1.7 million was little more than half that of Gardaland, which soared ahead with 3.1 million.
“The tourism infrastructure here is a little outdated,” Bertozzi believes. “The hotels are a little bit old, and while the highways may have been updated in the last 20 years, Italy is still poorly connected from East to West.”
The park’s general manager knows his performance is under scrutiny from the park’s new owners, but doesn’t feel under pressure to deliver double digit growth (and maybe smash the 2 million attendance barrier?) overnight, at least not until guests have a hotel to spend the night.
“Of course changes have been made, because we have passed from an independent owner to a multinational company. However, we had good teachers in the previous owner and the Spanish company have let us go on and manage the park like before. All they have asked is that we keep them informed on how we are doing.”
With thanks to Laura Liverani for translation