Phantasialand is known for creating immersive themed worlds and one-of-a-kind attractions that transport guests to another place. Its latest, the steampunk and aviation-themed Rookburgh, soft-launched this autumn.
The image you see in the background, Phantasialand’s ‘key visual’ for Rookburgh, is an artist’s impression. Yet take away the zeppelins flying overhead and most of it could be real. That’s how detailed and immersive the new themed world is. The official opening will take place in 2021.
Already the F.L.Y. flying launch coaster, which weaves its way over, under, in and around the new land, has won a European Star Award. The Vekoma ride is joined by a themed hotel, restaurant, fast food outlet and candy workshop – all seamlessly integrated.
Guests get a taste of what’s to come the moment they arrive at the park. The factory-like facade of Hotel Charles Lindbergh is to the immediate left of the park’s main gate.
Existing themed worlds like Fantasy, Mystery, Klugheim, Mexico, China Town and Deep In Africa evoke far away or fantastical lands. Rookburgh, on the other hand, reflects the industrial heritage of the Ruhr region in which Phantasialand is located and celebrates the birth of human flight. Combine this with a layer of steampunk chic, and the result is an aspirational destination in the heart of the park.
Rookburgh – a self-contained themed world
In normal years, Phantasialand, based in Brühl, Germany, attracts around 2 million guests. However, there were limits on capacity this season due to COVID-19. So, the first visit to Rookburgh felt like a particularly exclusive experience for park guests – or ‘Rookburghers’ as they become, once they cross the threshold.
“The vision of our owner and managing director, Robert Löffelhardt, was to create a theme world that is truly self-contained,” say Phantasialand officials. “A world into which one can completely immerse oneself by day or night.”
Rookburgh replaces the Race for Atlantis simulator attraction that closed in 2016. Fully enclosed on all four sides, it serves as an extension of the 1920s Berlin themed street that visitors stroll through on entry to Phantasialand. Guests enter via a canopy/tunnel sandwiched between two buildings. A second entrance from the Fantasy world was shut off. This allows for a one group in/one group out system.
Guests have previously had a taste of steampunk in The Magic Rose – Spirit of Light evening show. This took place during previous Wintertraum seasons at Phantasialand. Now Rookburgh takes the retro-futuristic theme to new levels.
“The pulse of Rookburgh is more penetrating and intense than golden Berlin, but the two belong together. We wanted to create a world in which industrial tones and the theme of aviation were central, while innovative yet charmingly old-fashioned characteristics of steampunk shaped the design and spirit,” said the park.
Putting the steam into steampunk
Rookburgh’s industrial landscape is home to golden ornaments and instruments of flight. It’s a world of explorers and adventurers, of aeronauts and free spirits, but also workers and craftsmen.
“The steam from steampunk is present everywhere, but also the freedom and inventive spirit associated with the movement,” says Phantasialand.
The new themed world is atmospheric, with smoky chimneys and fog hanging in the alleys. Here, Rookburghers can reach for the sky on the marvellous machine named F.L.Y. With almost 1.3km of track, the Vekoma construction is the longest flying coaster in the world, beating B&M’s Flying Dinosaur at Universal Studios Japan.
According to the ride’s Dutch designer, F.L.Y. features 100 crossovers, packed into a tight 100 x 75-metre footprint. There are several interactions with park guests, queuing riders and hotel guests. In addition, it also has some hidden underground section. This includes some dark ride sequences.
Whether it’s the roller coaster, hotel, food & beverage outlets or countless theming objects, a lot has been crammed into Rookburgh. Lighting effects create a totally different, but inviting, ambience after dark.
But how big is the themed world? “In square metres? Pretty small. In cubic metres? Surprisingly vast. As for the exact numbers, we like to keep some little secrets.”
F.L.Y. – a next-generation flying coaster experience
Although Vekoma has built flying coasters in the past, F.L.Y. represents a new generation of ride experiences. Not just because of the two launch elements, the train design or the smoother ride experience, but because of the unique loading position.
“The flying coaster has always had a very challenging ride position, with lots of room for improvement,” says Vekoma sales manager, Stefan Holtman.
“Our goal together with Phantasialand was to create a pure flying sensation with the best possible passenger experience. While we were testing the flying and lying position on a mock-up in our factory, the idea was born to turn the vehicles 90 degrees and back [to] the track. With F.L.Y, we have created a total flying experience like never seen before in the world.”
‘Pilots’ board the attraction in a seated position, and are secured by restraint vests and additional leg supports. The seats are turned laterally from the reclining to flying position in a very fluid movement just before the first launch. Tilted 15 degrees away from the track, passengers enjoy a better forward view than if they were simply parallel to it.”
Flying free in Rookburgh
In total, F.L.Y. has four trains, each accommodating 20 riders (10 rows of two). There are also wide gaps between each pair of seats. This means riders enjoy a relatively unobstructed view of the action as they race at speeds of up to 80km/h. The hourly capacity is 1,400.
“F.L.Y’s layout was designed with an uncompromising focus on the sensation of flight,” says Holtman. “This meant a high degree of variation in forces and countless direction changes. Sections where riders are pushed in the vest are always followed by an airtime hill or a rollover element where they experience zero-G. This keeps the experience unpredictable and thrilling, but accessible to all visitors – a journey rather than a ride.”
The company finished the track production as far back as 2018, allowing for test rides on site last year. But construction was far from easy.
“It has been one of the most complex building sites we have ever experienced,” says Holtman. “The biggest challenge was the compact construction site and the many underground layers of the ride. This meant that we had to construct in a special sequence.
“First, the deepest underground track parts were constructed in order to put floor levels on top. Also, we had to build our way out of the pit in order to get the cranes and heavy equipment out.”
It was challenging, says Holtman, to accommodate the ride’s station, two launch sections, brake sections, transfer tables and storage spurs within such an extreme track density and a clearance envelope of 3.6m.
“The next challenge was designing a support structure to hold all this spaghetti in the air. There were some huge column spans due to the many crossings and obstacles in the area.”
But there was an ‘elephant in the room’ when it came to construction, says Holtman. “Last but not least, there is also a hotel in the middle of the ride. This created another obstacle.”
Nevertheless, he praises Phantasialand for accommodating the hotel along with a restaurant, shops, viewing plazas, walkways, queue lines and extensive theming around the ride. “Their creative team did an excellent job.”
Vekoma in fact began working with Phantasialand on the concept for F.L.Y. as far back as 2014. Previously the manufacturer supplied the park’s Crazy Bats inverted coaster (1988) and the Colorado Adventure mine train (1996). Most recently, in 2016, it also provided the Raik family boomerang coaster in Klugheim.
“Such a close co-operation is rare in the development of a roller coaster,” says our source at the park. “Hardly any other company is involved as intensively as Phantasialand.
F.L.Y. should become a flying coaster on which the dream of flying becomes true
“As always, we didn’t want to create an ‘off-the-shelf’ attraction. F.L.Y. should become a flying coaster on which the dream of flying becomes true. This required a completely new seating system, new technology and a special track layout. Vekoma accepted the challenge. No matter how challenging our requirements in the development process may be sometimes, they knew the result could be something outstanding.”
Just as the family-owned park never reveals the budget for major new attractions, Phantasialand does not often announce opening dates ahead of time. Bespoke themed worlds like Rookburgh or Klugheim are ready when they are ready.
“When visiting Rookburgh it becomes clear pretty fast that every single bit of room is already used. There is absolutely no way you can fit another attraction,” park officials tell us.
Eat, sleep, ride, repeat
Rookburghers can take time out at a variety of themed eateries. The Uhrwerk restaurant offers home-made dishes from around the world, including pasta and burgers. The sandwich shop Zum Kohleschipper provides hearty snacks with juicy dressings. And at Emilie’s Chocoladen & Candy Werkstatt, park-goers can enjoy sweets, confectionery and hand-scooped chocolate.
But only residents of Hotel Charles Lindbergh can kick back with a craft beer or a cocktail at the exclusive Bar 1919. This is one of several perks available when guests book an experience package that also includes breakfast and 3-course dinner at Uhrwerk, two-day park passes with express F.L.Y. access and enrolment to the Explorers’ Society. Prices start at €295 per person per night.
The hotel takes its name from the American aviator who became the first person to complete a solo transatlantic flight (from Long Island, New York, to a field outside Paris). Accommodation is provided in the form of 106 themed aeronaut cabins – or ‘Luftfahrer Kabinen’.
According to the Rookburgh storyline, the rooms at Hotel Charles Lindbergh belong to Lieutenant Meyerhopper, Flight Engineer Festerzieher and Skipper Pilot Burberry. When these pilots are away on home leave, they allow Phantasialand guests the use of their cabins.
Each small but well-formed sleeping space comes equipped with two beds, luggage space and a private bathroom. The themed cabins don’t have windows. However, guests can wander the hotel balconies and walkways for unparalleled flying coaster views.
Rookburgh – turning guests into explorers
“The complete immersion – which was our declared goal with Rookburgh – is felt so intensely by the guests,” say Phantasialand officials.
“From the very beginning, they have described themselves as ‘explorers’ who ‘adventure’ through Rookburgh. In their social media reports, blogs and personal feedback, guests become ‘pilots’ who ‘fly’ – they do not ‘ride’ the coaster. That our ideas and stories of Rookburgh would be felt and ‘lived’ this way was our hope.”
Ultimately, the park has been pleased with the way in which visitors understand the new land is about more than just a roller coaster ride.
“Many guests talk first about their experiences with the delights in the restaurant Uhrwerk. Or their astonishment about the design of the world. Or their experiences in the Hotel Charles Lindbergh before their flight with F.L.Y.”
“The fact that our theme world is an overall experience – in which hotel, coaster, design and enjoyment merge completely with each other – works so well. Our guests literally become ‘Rookburghers’. That inspires us every day, and we love it!”
Federal coronavirus restrictions came into force in November and were then extended until January. Therefore, Phantasialand has been unable to host its usual Wintertraum season this year. In spring 2021, explorers will once again be able to explore the steam-filled passageways of Rookburgh. Here, they will enjoy a flight and experience like no other.
Images courtesy of Phantasialand and Vekoma