Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lotte World Review

A Sunday in December at Lotte World... a pretty decent afternoon.

The rabbit and I went to Korea’s largest indoor amusement park last weekend, and it’s taken me this long to write about it. I’ve been busy… ish. I just checked the brochure and it says that Lotte World is actually the world’s largest indoor amusement park. I believe them.

Lotte is one of Korea’s largest corporations – along with Hyundai, Samsung, and others I haven’t bothered to look-up at this moment, Lotte forms part of the “Cheabol” – a group of formidable families that was given the keys to economical re-structuring of the country after the Korean War. Not sure if Lotte is the Fannie or the Freddie in this scenario.

I’m not sure if Lotte makes cars or electronics, but they do make delicious Pepero and were savvy enough to create a holiday around said chocolate candy stick. They also sponsor major sports teams (the Busan Lotte Giants being the most notable) and they do well with their amusement park. Samsung runs Everland, Lotte runs Lotte World, and whoever once took care of Seoul Land has probably long ago pulled their sponsorship.

Lotte World is actually divided into two major areas: Magic Island and Lotte World Adventure.

Lotte World Adventure is the indoor portion, and it’s hard to properly describe how big it all is. The pictures I’ve included don't really do it justice do it justice, and the passage-ways along the four floors of the complex are something to behold and can't really be captured properly in pictures. The floor opens up in one section to see down to the lower ice rink level where you can rent skates and do as they do at West Edmonton Mall. Actually, West Edmonton Mall’s Fantasyland (if that’s what it’s still called) is a pretty decent comparison, though certainly not in size or theme – so I guess not a good comparison. Anyway, it’s an indoor theme park.

Magic Island is connected to the indoor area via monorail as well as a pedestrian bridge. In terms of available space, Magic Island is about a third of the size of the indoor area, but it’s got the best thrill rides in the park. While the indoor park has Disneyesque elements, Magic Island really has to work hard to avoid copyright issues. Its central structure (which takes up a sizable portion of the island) is a giant white and blue castle – bigger than Sleeping Beauty’s in California, but much smaller than Cinderella’s in Florida. There is a Snow White Castle, too, which proves that your villain can look exactly the same as its Disney counterpart, so long as the heroine has a different shade of hair and all dwarves - even Dopey - need to shave.

The rabbit and I got into the park with tickets given to her at school as a kind of “thank you” from the Lotte Company to the hard-working teachers of her district. The tickets included admission (usually a 37,000 won commitment if you want all of the rides) as well as 5 attractions each – perfect as we ended-up meeting there in the afternoon, and had enough time to explore a bit before heading to Apgu-jeong for dinner.

I’ll talk about the rides we went on, in the order that we did...

1)Gyro Drop (as the brochure says: “Free-falling from 70 meter height at 100KM per hour.”) This is essentially a giant tower which seems much higher than 70 meters once you’re at the top. Riders sit harnessed with seat-belts and shoulder-restraints around a circular car that moves up the tower. The ascent is slow, and the car rotates maybe one complete revolution before you reach the top. Then, you fall – very fast. The ride mechanism slows you to a comfy crawl at the bottom before you stop. I have to say, I wasn’t expecting to be at all impressed with the ride, but it was probably the most impressive one there.

The rabbit was so brave. She didn’t want to get in line with me at first, but seeing as the line was so short (maybe 5 minutes), I was able to convince her. When it came our turn to get into the seats, she at first refused, then sat beside me. As the ride crew came around to check seat belts etc., she got out of her seat, walked to the gate, and then came back – no less than four times. I’ve never seen anyone so indecisive and stressed. She finally sat down, held my hand, and before we went up, the rider said in Korean that there was a “a lovely couple holding hands who won’t be holding hands when the ride is over.” That made her laugh and put her at ease and we went up.

I have to say – holy shit. Going that high up looking over the park and having your feet dangling (that’s the thing that really unsettles you) and not being able to see the tower that you’re anchored to is quite the rush. The fall is unreal fast – you accelerate like nobody’s business and then it’s all over. Our legs were shaking on the way off the ride and the cute little guy who sat beside us (maybe 7 years old) was flopping-about the loading deck, sprawling on the ground just bursting with the biggest belly laughs. It was a great first ride of the day.

2)Atlantis (as the brochure says: “Ride a boat racing at 72KM per hour.”) That’s kind of a confusing description. The ride is from the Aquatrax company and maybe the best comparison is the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland, though it’s clearly much more.

I’ll start by saying that I had to approach the front of the line adopting my apologetic Canadian posture in order get through – the height restriction is 190cm (used to be 185) and I’m about 193. Not a big deal, but you never know.

The ride is basically a roller-coaster with a water-feature. You’re not going to get wet, but there are places in the ride where you are actually encouraged to reach out along a banked turn to touch water. It is over quickly, but it starts-off very well with ridiculous acceleration up into the first incline and turn into what’s referred to in roller-coaster lingo as a “Top Hat”. The one on Atlantis is indoors which is apparently pretty rare. It surprises the hell out of you and makes for the best portion of the ride, which is also unfortunate as it’s at the beginning.

What makes the experience very cool is the seating position – 8 to a car, seated two to a row, each with your own motorcycle style handlebars which makes you feel a lot more exposed while at the same time being much more secure than simply being in a seat belt with a straight bar to hold onto. The feeling of being encouraged to lean-out with your upper torso on a roller-coaster is a very unique one, and a first for me. Of course, you are both seat-belted and have a lap restraint as well. The remainder of the ride is a collection of fairly fast, but ultimately fairly tame drops and turns. Still, very much worth the 20 minute wait. I think we were very lucky on this day to have such short lines.

For a decent POV video, check out this link - though you'll want to turn the volume down to avoid the horrible Blondie dance remix.

And that was it for Magic Island. There are a handful of attractions there, including a “Gyro Swing” which we didn’t go on – the individual vomit shields being a bit of a detractor. On a day like the day we went, you could probably do all of the attractions on Magic Island in about 3 hours – max. On a busy day, that might be the line-up for Atlantis.

3) Jungle Adventure (as the brochure says: “Take a journey in the white waters of the jungle”) This was a very tame but charming circular raft ride. It is accessed in the indoor section of the park, and to get to the entrance, one has to follow a series of escalators and cave passages – many of which are lined with tiny shops and restaurants. It felt like a mall, but a cool mall. Anyway…

The ride itself was decent. Your usual floating through jungle-scapes, phosphorescent giant hallucinogenic mushroom caves, and racist animatronics depictions of natives trying to fillet you with spears. Disney is really no different in that regard.
To be honest, I don’t remember too much about the rides features, I was just enjoying floating through indoor chasms of cheesy glee with my rabbit, and I was happy that it met her suggested criteria of a ride that was “more comfortable” after the relative thrills and spills of the first two. It was also so cool to be doing a raft ride indoors.

4) Pharaoh’s Fury (as the brochure says: “Take a journey to find Pharaoh’s hidden treasures.”) This was by far our longest line (about an hour), and my biggest disappointment. The ride is basically a poor-man’s Indiana Jones Adventure – complete with jeep-like vehicles on hydraulics.

The theme is, of course, Egyptian, and here I have to hand it to Lotte World for at least getting the line-up right. The queue takes guests (and I thought I had shrugged the Disney influence) through something very similar to the Disney’s Indy ride. You begin in a museum with Egyptian artifacts displayed behind velvet rope, then into a curator’s office, then through a crumbling hole in the wall and through a series of excavated tombs. Very cool and very top-notch.

Sadly, the ride itself leaves a lot to be desired. The jeeps move much less realistically than they do in California and the segments on the inside are really not much more than what you’d see on the previously mentioned jungle attraction. The track you’re on is mostly visible in the larger rooms and any atmosphere of the ride is lost when you pop-out high above the indoor portion of the park, with all of its blinking and tweeting sweetness.

It’s a shame, because it still appears that a lot was spent on this ride. Its mountain casing forms pretty much the entire East wall of the indoor park and provides a solid theme. I have no idea how realistic it is to conceive of replacing the ride with another indoor coaster, but I can’t see the ride surviving too long – despite the lines on the day I went. Thematically, they have something, but it’s lost pretty soon after you board the transports. I’m sure there’s a better way to use that space – big mistake spending that 50 million… in my opinion.

5) The Adventures of Sinbad (as the brochure says: “Follow Sinbad on an underground adventure.”) That’s pretty straight and to-the-point. Nice. This was our last ride of the day and we were happy to pretty much walk on.

This is basically Pirates of the Caribbean, only with Sinbad – that, and an animatronic Cyclops gnawing on stringy human foot flesh. That, and a room filled with animated rotting corpses – a tad scarier than anything they’d allow at Disney.

What can I say about Sinbad? It was “comfortable”, and it was nice to float down into caverns filled with musty water and dry ice. For those in-the-know, you know I am earnest when I say this.

But, I’m just not impressed anymore with animatronics. And please don’t think I’m picking on Lotte World here – Disney doesn’t always get it right either. I remember one particularly horrendous Ellen Degeneres animatronic at EPCOT Centre that was scary enough to turn Anne Heche straight. Animatronic people are convincing only if they are standing in the Hall of Presidents and nodding in-turn.

Still, some cool dragon stuff, and a neat bit with a genie toward the end.

And that was my riding experience at Lotte World. Reading over this, it seems maybe a few shades more negative than I had meant it to come-out.

Overall, my experience at Lotte World was a great one. It was decked-out beyond belief for Christmas and that added a great deal to the park’s already considerable appeal. I'll admitted it - I was charmed right out of my socks. It was honestly the best day to go – decorated for the holidays, short lines (aside from Pharaoh’s Fury) and lots of opportunities for me to get all Christmassy and giddy with my rabbit who was happy to be showing me around the park for the first time. Very glad I went.

I don’t want to get into an Everland/Lotte World comparison, but I’ll suggest this blog I came across tonight. Though I didn’t check-out the parade or shows at Lotte World, I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t compare to what Everland has to offer. On the right day, with the sun shining, there are fewer things that make me happier than rounding that first turn before the drop on the T-Express.

Next time I visit Lotte World, I want to try the following, just because the brochure has me sold:

1) Drunken Basket – “Spinning basket in the air that holds up to 108 people.”

2) Ball Battle – “Strange, but fun experience in a party filled with balls.”

3) Boong Boong Car – “ Magical Tour on spinning car into the candy and cookie’s forest.”

4) Crazy Bumper Car – “Crash into other cars for fun.”

5) Happy Picnic – “Let’s go on a picnic with little cars and trains.”

6) Eureka – “Eureka! You just invented a flying car!”

7) Speedy Gonzales – “Grab a burger, ride on Conquistador.”

8) Ghost House – “Scary experience as a cat jumps into a house on a stormy day where objects move around on their own.”

Merry Christmas, Lotte World!

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