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PortAventura opens Europe's tallest roller coaster


Update : 28/05/12 - 14h26 Published by François Mayné the 22 May 2012, Feature.
The sun of Catalonia was of the party last May 12 at PortAventura in Spain for the grand opening of what is now the Europe's tallest roller coaster : Shambhala. Many officials, VIPs and media were given appointments to attend this important event that marks the theme park's largest investment - €25 million / about $32 million - since its opening in 1995.

NewsParcs was also present and had in particular the opportunity to meet Fernando Aldecoa, CEO of PortAventura Resort, and Luis Valencia, Director of Development and Senior Project Manager for Shambhala.

Three European records

Designed by Swiss manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), Shambhala is a hypercoaster with impressive dimensions -1564 m (5131 ft) long and 76 m (249 ft) high - whose imposing silhouette now totally changes the skyline of the park formerly occupied by another B&M roller coaster, Dragon Khan. Besides the height, Shambhala also owns two other European records with the largest first drop (78 m / 256 ft) and the highest speed (134 kph / 83.3 mph). As for most of the B&M hypercoasters, the ride's layout has the characteristics of an Out & Back and offers to riders a thrilling experience combining height, speed and air-times.

Luis Valencia explains: "The Shambhala project goes well beyond what has been done before at PortAventura. Our goal was to provide visitors with new thrills, creating for them the feeling of flying in the air, hence our choice of a hypercoaster. We then selected Bolliger & Mabillard because it is in our opinion the best manufacturer for this type of attraction. Then we tried to get a ride with a lot of air-times using many camelbacks and some special elements."

Indeed, in addition of 5 camelbacks - the first one being of a height equivalent to a 7-storey building - the designing team decided to intensify even more the air-times through several original figures. Luis Valencia continues "We first built a tunnel down the first drop with a breathtaking effect that we have called "cutting neck" because the riders really have the feeling that they will banging their heads on it! After the first camelback, rather than making a half turn with a classic banked curve, we wanted to highlight a unique element giving the riders the feeling of an inversion: the double helix where the train makes two banked spirals up and down. This is a very impressive part of the ride with headchoppers as well ! Then we placed a speed hill, which is a mini camelback that increases the sensation of speed while delivering a nice air-time. Finally, we installed an artificial lake with a splash effect where the train seems to skim the water on a short straight. It's an incredible visual element which increases the feeling of speed for the riders!"

The design of the Shambhala trains was studied by Bolliger & Mabillard to offer maximum comfort to riders while giving them an important feeling of freedom and fun. Instead of their conventional Hypercoaster cars with rows of four seats, these are here arranged V-shape with two rows of two seats, the ones at the rear of the car being spaced from the centerline. This confuguration allows each riders to have a clearer view on the coaster, all seats being secured by a wide lap bar on which there are two handles to hold itself. Shambhala has 3 of these "panoramic" trains, with for each a capacity of 32 persons (8 cars with 4 seats).

The legend of Shambhala

Shambhala stands in a new themed area of 14,000 sqm (150 670 sqf) built at the back of the Chinese area and connected to Sesamo Aventura. The reflection on the theme was conducted by the PortAventura artistic team headed by creative director Claudio Mazzoli on the base of the roller coaster itself, explains Luis Valencia : "As we had chosen a hypercoaster, we went on the idea that the notion height was a synonym of altitude and mountains. We also wanted to have this notion of adventures which is unique to all our attractions here at PortAventura."

He continues: "Soon we came upon the idea of an expedition to the Himalayas but we did not treat this subject in a conventional manner - with the yeti, for example - in order to favor something more imaginative and have a greater artistic freedom. So we did some research and decided to rely on the legend of Shambhala, a mythical kingdom in Buddhist mythology, a kind of parallel universe to the real world."

This legend is explained to the visitors at the entrance of the area : "Among the ancient myths of Himalaya appears a lost paradise, surrounded by impregnable mountains. For thousands of years different stories were told about this palce beyond Tibet, among the majectic peaks and remote valleys of Central Asia, that persists as an inaccesible paradise. The land was described as heart of happyness and eternal youth. It's a hidden world which seems impossible to access. It's like mirage, it's there and it's not. In his novel, the russian spiritualist Nikolai Roerich speaks about Agharti, name of the Boudhist underground paradise as a seat for the king of the world. According to Roerich, Agharti was related to every continents through secret passages. This place is known as Shambhala."

For the design of the area, the creative team has been inspired by the Kingdom of Bhutan, one of the most remote and unknown country in the world located in the peaks of the Himalayas between India and China. Luis Valencia explains "We did not pretend to copy the architecture or the landscapes of Bhutan, but we used them to design an imaginary universe." The area is so a mix of credible elements such as temples, icons and a mountain village and imaginary elements with statues such as a giant Buddha or even some sort of astronomical chart, all surrounded by rocks sprinkled with white to give visitors the illusion to be at the heart of snowy mountains.

Concept-art of Shambhala entrance areaConcept-art of the main building (queue)Concept-art of Shambala entrance areaConcept-art of the stationConcept-art of Shambhala areaConcept-art of the station

Concept-art of Shambhala's portalConcept-art of some imaginary statuesConcept-art of the snackConcept-art of the on-rides pictures shop

The whole Shambhala area has been also designed to give visitors the opportunity to approach and walk under the ride in order to enjoy unique points of views including the first drop and the splashdown which is probably the most popular place for pictures! Luis Valencia adds that everything has been done to immerse the visitors in another world : "Shambhala is not only an attraction, it is a new immersive atmosphere for our visitors. There are the roller coaster, the decorations, the background music, Dragon Khan... and plenty of things to see for those who stay on land! It's very visual and I think we are the first to offer a hypercoaster as impressive together with a themed area so big and elaborated. We wanted something unique and I think that's the case!"

Our opinion

As might be expected, Shambhala keeps its promises and complements perfectly the already diverse offer of PortAventura.

Visually, the attraction is truly amazing and its silhouette emerges as the new symbol of the park. The layout of the ride is original and we especially enjoyed the first part with the first drop, the tunnel, the first camelback, the double helix, the speed hill, the second camelback and the splash. The second part is a little quieter, probably because the construction space was a bit cramped, but it still retains a very big interest in being particularly fun with 3 other camelbacks. The B&M trains are extremely comfortable and the V configuration a real plus for the feeling of freedom.

The themed area has been beautifully designed and the views offered on the ride are worth seeing, particularly with the splash zone and the first drop, not to mention the presence of Dragon Khan which is still very impressive. The whole area is really dynamic especially when two trains are riding simultaneously which happened quite a few times when we were there! Moreover, Shambhala area now allows visitors to reach China from the Polynesian area (via Sesamo Aventura) in a manner faster than before. We note also the original on-ride photo and the opportunity to purchase its own on-ride video.

Only downsides, however, the absence of a shop and the lack of interest of the queue where visitors only make round trips while the park could have imagined something more original in connection with the legend of Shambhala.

Shambhala is the new highlight of PortAventura, a guarantee of its future development and its repositioning as a major theme park in Europe.

Shambhala : a motor for the growth of PortAventura Resort

Shambhala is part of a major development plan led by the two main shareholders of PortAventura Resort - Investindustrial and Caixa Bank - with a willingness to make it a major tourist destination in Europe but also worldwide with its water park, four themed hotels (2000 rooms in total) and a convention center. The main foreign markets targeted by the destination are the United Kingdom, France and Russia (whose number of tourists has risen steadily in recent years) but management now wants to go further as explains Fernando Aldecoa, PortAventura Resort CEO : "One of the keys to success of PortAventura Resort, this is internationalization. In 2011, 30% of our visitors came from abroad while the figure was only 13% in 1995. The first objective of Shambhala for us is to be recognized as a world-class destination and entertainment leader in Europe while the second is to attract more foreign visitors, starting with Germany, Benelux and Italy. We will increase our offer and our level of quality while continuing our efforts to develop these markets that will sustain the growth of our business."

After a period of difficulties that moved the resort away from the place of second theme park destination in Europe far behind Europa-Park with a fall to 3.2 million visitors in 2010, PortAventura has regained its former glory last season, thanks to the opening of the kids zone Sesamo Aventura.

For a budget of €15 million (about $19 million), the gamble paid off because attendance has exploded half a million to 3.7 million visitors while Spain is still plunged into a deep economic crisis. The resort can now hope to reach again the symbolic figure of 4 million visitors in 2012 with Shambhala. The family audience (with children under 12 years) is now the one that is most preferred by the management because the visit rate of this group rose from 42% in 1995 to 77% in 2011, up 5% from 2010 . Finally, the number of overnight stays in hotels is constantly increasing from 227,000 in 2009 to 297,000 in 2011. Fernando Aldecoa adds "Although the economic situation in Europe and Spain remains uncertain, we are optimistic for the future. As of today, we note that bookings are up 10% while Shambhala should enable us to attract even more people than in 2011!"

With over €675 million (about $872 million) investment since its opening, PortAventura added huge additions every two years since 2005 with the drop tower Huracan Condor followed by the launch coaster Furius Baco in 2007, the Gold River Hotel Resort in 2009 and Sesamo Aventura in 2011. The management wishes to pursue this strategy in the future to ensure its growth and reputation as Fernando Aldecoa states : "Our goal is to open a big addition every 3 years because we want our customers to repeat their visits. We want to go to diversity, innovation and also to offer smaller additions each season."

Shambhala is indeed well advertised as the gateway for future expansions that will be developed in the coming years... This is an opportunity to consider the future with optimism and great interest!

Interview conducted by François Mayné on May 11, 2012
Many thanks to PortAventura Resort
Written by François Mayné François Mayné Publishing Director » Contact Us
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PortAventura Park (Amusement park)
Spain Site : www.portaventura.es

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