Albert Johnston Award sets Ben on a rollercoaster journey
Ben Finlay-McDougall, the 2020-2021 winner of the Albert Johnston Award, embarked on an action-packed trip around Europe as he visited a host of theme parks across the continent.
Ben’s initial proposal was to visit Japan but he had to revise his plans due to the country’s ongoing closure for international tourism following the Covid pandemic.
His journey started with a Eurostar service to Paris before he boarded a regional train down to Mulhouse, close to the German border. A further two train journeys, with a change in the Swiss city of Basel, saw him reach the first stop of his expedition – Europa Park in Rust, Germany.
Europa Park is the most visited European theme park outside of Disneyland Paris and it was hosting the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Winter Summit. During his time in Rust, Ben learnt more about the park’s new fine dining experience, Eatrenalin, and got an exclusive look behind the scenes at the park’s new water park, Rulantica.
A visit to Phantasialand near Cologne gave Ben the opportunity to experience two of the best themed lands in the world – Klugheim, home to an Intamin LSM double launched rollercoaster known as Taron, and Rookburgh, home to the world’s first launched flying rollercoaster, F.L.Y. Ben noted: “Both lands showed off a level of detailed storytelling and immersion that I had not seen before.”
Dublin was next up on the schedule as he visited Tayto Park in Kilbrew. The park is based on the Irish potato crisp brand Tayto and Ben took the opportunity to experience the Cú Chulainn Coaster, a Gravity Group wooden rollercoaster that opened back in 2015.
In the Dutch city of Eindhoven, Ben headed to Attractiepark Toverland to ride Troy, a Great Coasters International (GCI) wooden rollercoaster, and have a behind-the-scenes look at the new area, Avalon – home of Fenix, a Bolliger and Mabillard winged coaster.
The next day took Ben onto Efteling, known as one of the world’s best and oldest theme parks. The park is rumoured to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Disneyland and Ben was thrilled to visit a host of unique attractions such as the Fairy Tale Forest, designed by Anton Pieck, and the 35-million-euro dark ride, Symbolica, the most expensive project in the park.
Poland was next, one of the growing theme park destinations in Europe. Legendia in Katowice allowed the traveller to experience the Lech Coaster, which is the biggest rollercoaster in central-eastern Europe. Zator’s Energylandia is branded as the new European coaster capital and the rapidly developing park has created 52 rides since opening in 2014. Just before the pandemic hit, Zadra, a Rocky Mountain Construction hybrid wooden rollercoaster, opened and is now regarded as one of the best rollercoasters in the world.
The next stage of the trip took Ben to Gothenburg in Sweden to the amusement park Liseberg for a Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) SATE event. The meeting gave Ben an insight into how the park is preparing for the opening of the Luna coaster and how it has developed since the addition of steel rollercoaster Helix back in 2014. This visit also gave him a behind-the-scenes look at multiple development projects coming to the park in the coming years, including a new hotel, water park and Volvo experience.
A mix of train and plane saw Ben arrive at Kolmardenn Zoo which, in 2016, opened Wildfire – a RMC topper-track wooden coaster. He then headed down to Copenhagen to visit the oldest amusement park in the world, Bakken, which opened in 1583! Boasting free admission, the park is home to Tornado, a unique Intimin launched indoor spinning coaster.
The next day Ben attended Tivoli Gardens, which is the most visited amusement park in Scandinavia. The park includes Rutschebann, opened in 1914, a ride with an operator that sits in the middle of the train with a pull break to ensure the train does not gain too much speed.
After taking the overnight bus from Denmark to Berlin, the next stop was Tropical Islands – famous for being housed within a former airship hanger on the former Brand-Briesen Airfield – the largest free-standing hall in the world. The concept of the park is to incorporate a water park and the largest indoor rainforest in the world.
The penultimate part of the trip took Ben to Tenerife to experience one of the world’s best water parks, Siam Park. Built on a hill so the slides can follow the natural terrain, the park is famed for its Dragon Slide and Tower of Power which sees riders plunge through a shark tank.
The final stage of Ben’s impressive journey saw him travel to Belgium’s Plopsaland de Panne to experience Ride to Happiness by electronic music festival Tomorrowland. The steel launched spinning rollercoaster is the second Xtreme Spinning Coaster from Mack Rides and opened in July 2021.
Ben concluded: “This trip has been a fantastic opportunity to experience some of Europe’s best themed attractions, whilst building a network all over the continent, leading me into a strong position to develop my career within this industry.
“I would like to thank everyone involved with the Albert Johnston Award for giving me this opportunity.”