Vive La Différence !
French attractions are innovating and renovating in order to please their audiences through new rides, shows, accommodations, and technology. Here are some of the venues with high hopes for the future.
More Than OK
Mathijs Bembom and his family have harnessed classic attractions and taught them new tricks at OK Corral in Cuges-les-Pins, France.
The park reflects a lifetime’s knowledge. The Bembom family founded and still own OK Corral, having previously owned Dreamland Margate, Attractiepark Slagharen, and Loudoun Castle, among others.
“ Visitors can also stay in “five-star” teepees and chuckwagons.
“We always try to say, ‘What can we do for people that will make it that little bit better?’ We want to do something extra at OK Corral that you can’t see anywhere else,” says Bembom. “It’s a challenge, trying to do something different from our competition and colleagues. Also, everything has to go with our Wild West theme.”
Last year, OK Corral came up with “Pioneer,” a horse-and-wagon roller coaster. “Pioneer” offers two different experiences on one track. “It is a ride that has never been built before,” says Bembom. “On one train, you have two different carriages. You can ride on a horse, or you can sit on a chuckwagon.”
“Pioneer” is a “spectacular” attraction the whole family can ride, says Bembom. “But it’s still exciting. When you sit on the front horses, you are free to wiggle around; you can move your legs and arms,” he says. The Zierer ride features a specially designed seat restraint system. “Pioneer’s” design ensures it is accessible for people with disabilities. “We are a family park, so we are looking for rides that everybody can go on together as a family,” Bembom says.
OK Corral also has “Gold Rush” (Gerstlauer Amusement Rides), a junior boomerang-style coaster with a difference. One of Bembom’s sons had the idea to close the top of the ride, which means riders can race around the circuit, as well as experience the usual forward/backward run. “It’s still the only one in the world like it,” says Bembom.
According to Bembom, the family pioneered overnight accommodations in the park. “We were the first amusement park in France to have sleeping arrangements,” he says. OK Corral sleeps 500 people a night. By the end of the year, the park will have 12 new log cabins, each with its own Wild West theme and private facilities. Visitors can also stay in “five-star” teepees and chuckwagons. A new birds of prey center is also opening.
As a family-owned park, OK Corral has a key advantage. “If we say this afternoon, ‘Tomorrow we’ll buy that,’ we can do it,” says Bembom. Future plans are likely to include a water attraction, although not a water park. Bembom also strives to keep wait times to a minimum. “We have some very busy days, especially during Halloween, but all the other days you will wait 20 minutes maximum.” Attendances are growing steadily, and the park attracts around 400,000 visitors a year.
The family is mindful of sustainability. OK Corral is in a very dry, wooded area. The park is totally reliant on its own water supply, pumping every liter of water from five wells in the park. “We do everything in our power to use the least water possible,” adds Bembom. The team has installed taps and toilets that reduce water consumption. The park has an active recycling program and sources supplies from the shortest distance possible.
Bembom believes in investing in “big improvements to give the clients the best quality.” Shows are a key part of the OK Corral experience. “When people come to the park, it’s not one show that gets repeated five times a day; you have five different shows per day. And those shows are changed every year.”
One thing is certain with Mathijs Bembom, he can always deliver surprises. He once gave a horse to Formula One driver Alan Jones in the ’80s and ended up sponsoring the driver’s comeback from retirement. Right now, though, Bembom’s priorities are to increase OK Corral’s horsepower and “to give customers what they pay for.”
Revitalizing Walygator Parc
Regeneration is underway at Walygator Parc in Maizières-les-Metz, France. This year, for its 30th anniversary, the park opened a Far West-themed zone. The theming adds coherence and story to an area of the park that already includes the “Sheriff Academy” attraction and the Saloon restaurant.
Owner Aspro Parks hopes the addition will continue to increase attendance. Walygator Parc received 280,000 visitors last year and is targeting 300,000 in 2019, according to the park’s communications officer, Mélanie Zaïd. The Far West zone is part of Aspro Parks’ plan to bring “immersive, thematic universes” into Walygator Parc.
The park is enjoying a period of stability under the Spanish leisure group after a series of ownership changes. Walygator Parc was known as Big Bang Schtroumpf (Smurf) when it opened in 1989. After it became part of the Walibi group in 1991, the name changed to Walibi Schtroumpf and later Walibi Lorraine. Premier Parks Inc./Six Flags came next, followed by Star Parks/Palamon, and then a number of different investors. Walygator Parc got its current name in 2007. Aspro Ocio (now Aspro Parks) bought the park in 2016.
“The clear message is “Rejoignez-nous”—join us!
“They are investing a lot in order to have better security for the visitor and the most beautiful park,” says Zaïd. Once the park’s infrastructure and themed areas are sorted, “we will go on to give visitors new rides.”
The investments are designed to improve the park’s image. “We are listening to what our visitors want and making changes in order to please them,” she says.
Next year will see the launch of a new themed indoor zone. Inspired by the tales of Peter Pan, it will occupy an existing building in the park’s pirate zone. The attraction will help the park to weatherproof its business. “We want to welcome our visitors throughout the year and offer an extended opening after November,” says Zaïd.
For 2019, there is a new circus-style “Crazy Show” and a busy events program. The goal is to give local guests fresh reasons to visit. “We have an Easter egg hunt, a treasure hunt, an American Week in July, a Summer Week in August, and Halloween in October. People come to the park a lot during the year, so we try to give them something else every time they visit,” says Zaïd. Rising season-pass sales suggest the strategy is working.
Marketing and communications are helping to spread the word. Across France, parks are all “trying to stay close to their customers, be innovative, and give the best image of their parks. We are doing the same thing,” says Zaïd. “It’s very important to prove to visitors that our park exists and that it has changed.”
As well as targeting French families, Walygator Parc wants to keep reaching guests from nearby Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. The clear message is, “Rejoignez-nous”—join us!
Watching le Jardin Grow
Jardin d’Acclimatation, the first-ever amusement and leisure park in France, relaunched in June 2018 after a major makeover. The park opened in 1860, during the time of Napoleon III, as a symbol of modern Paris. After a 60-million-euro investment program, the park hopes to regain the crown as one of the top three theme parks in France.
The Parisian park is run by French luxury group LVMH, in partnership with Compagnie des Alpes (CdA). LVMH has a 25-year concession to operate the park from the city of Paris. Jardin d’Acclimatation received more than 1.85 million visitors in 2018. This equaled the park’s second-best performance, in spite of a delayed opening and protests in France that made it impossible to access the property at times.
“Authenticity and excellence, that is what our loyal visitors wanted.”
For Marc-Antoine Jamet, Jardin d’Acclimatation CEO, “This performance validates the choices made with our partner CdA; the ‘steampunk’ theming proposed by the park designer Thierry Rétif; the compatibility between respect for tradition and the need for modernization; the restoration of our green spaces and heritage; and the upscaling of services (notably in terms of customer service, events, and food and beverage). Authenticity and excellence, that is what our loyal visitors wanted.”
A “Wild Immersion” virtual reality attraction premiered in 2019. Developed in partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute, the experience takes visitors on a tour into a virtual wildlife reserve. Viewers find themselves face to face with animals from the Amazon rainforest, pandas in Asia, whale sharks in Oceania, and African elephants. There are six films lasting 12 minutes each.
The renewed park has more than 40 attractions. Companies that contributed include Gerstlauer, Zierer, Zamperla, Technical Park, Concept 1900, Soquet, Reverchon, and Alterface. Guests can also explore the 18 hectares of gardens, which feature 500 animals (honoring the park’s zoo origins) and 12 dining venues.
Jamet says he believes Jardin d’Acclimatation is now in a position to attract regional, national, and international audiences. “We are well on track to reach 2.5 million visitors in 2020,” he says.
Atelier des Lumières ripped up the museum rulebook at its debut in April 2018, drenching its interiors with dazzling digital displays of artists’ masterpieces. Created by Culturespaces, the immersive digital art center in Paris drew 1.2 million visitors to its inaugural Gustav Klimt exhibition in 2018.
Atelier des Lumières allows visitors to literally step into the art, making it a favorite with the Instagram generation. The ease with which the digital exhibitions can be renewed is evident in 2019. Visitors can discover a variety of new shows including “Van Gogh, Starry Night.” This visual and musical production explores Vincent van Gogh’s life and work. Visitors will be able to see the brushstrokes that brought “Sunflowers” to life and the expressive “Starry
Night,” among artworks drawn from the artist’s career.
The “immersive exhibition evokes van Gogh’s highly emotional, chaotic, and poetic inner world and highlights the constant interplay of light and shade,” according to Atelier des Lumières. The effect is achieved using Culturespaces’ AMIEX (Art & Music Immersive Experience) system. Atelier des Lumières incorporates 140 video projectors and spatialized sound.
From Oct. 18 to 24, the attraction will host its first Immersive Art Festival, inviting 11 art teams from around the world to present their digital creations. Spectators will be able to choose the winner via their smartphones.
Funworld Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the attractions industry in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Contact her at [email protected]