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“Batavia is back and Europa-Park is complete,” said managing partner Thomas Mack at the relaunch of one of the German venue’s most enduringly popular attractions. But what happened in the two years the dark ride was out of action following a devastating fire? This is the story of the return of Piraten (Pirates) in Batavia.
After entertaining Europa-Park guests for 31 years, the iconic Pirates in Batavia in the park’s Holland area suffered severe damage on May 26, 2018. Not even the 1.8 million litres of water that flowed through the ride could stop the fire devastating both it and the main thoroughfare of the nearby Scandinavia area.
It didn’t take long for Europa-Park’s owners, the Mack family, to take decisive action. “For Roland Mack, it was pretty clear straight away that we would rebuild the Pirate ride as a reminder of the old ride,” says Pascal Heinzelmann, Art Director at Mack Next, the design and masterplanning arm of the park.
Faithful to the original, Scandinavia reopened to the public last summer. As guests ate fish dishes and ice cream from the themed street’s restaurants and shops, teams below prepared not one but two dark rides. These add to Europa-Park’s already impressive collection of storytelling attractions. From Arthur The Ride and Abenteuer Atlantis to Madame Freudenreich Curiosités, Piccolo Mondo and the Geisterschloss ghost train, there is a dark ride to suit all tastes.
A park that believes in dark rides
The relaunch of Pirates of Batavia this July was preceded last October by the debut of Snorri Touren beneath Scandinavia. Although they are accessed via different ‘countries’, only a wall divides the two ride buildings.
Since both were constructed at the same time as each other and also Rulantica, the execution of Snorri Touren was outsourced to Jora Vision. This particular attraction features a unique storyline designed to whet guests’ appetite for Rulantica water world at Europa-Park Resort, Snorri being its cheeky octopus mascot. Mack Rides supplied the vehicles and track.
Pirates in Batavia now features a new ride system from Mack, albeit very similar to the original from the same manufacturer. The attraction was designed by Mack Next with support from various other Mack companies and a team of external suppliers.
The ride’s location in ‘Holland’ is explained by the fact that Batavia, the city now known as Jakarta, Indonesia, was once the capital of old Dutch East Indies. That link remains. However, the attraction now features a different, more enlightened focus.
In search of a story
“Pirates in Batavia changed a lot over 30 years, but it never had an overall storyline,” says Heinzelmann. “It was more like a museum that reflected the conflict between West and East. For me, it was important we don’t concentrate on colonialism. Of course, it happened, but I don’t think a theme park is the forum to discuss such a serious topic.”
The Swiss-born designer, whose previous credits include Europa-Park’s CanCan Coaster, Traumatica Horror Nights and work on external projects like Dreamwood Park in Russia, says the focus of the new Pirates storyline is adventure. “What we have also tried to do is show the beautiful side of Indonesian culture.”
Heinzelmann says that the original version of the ride was “A homage to [Disney’s] Pirates of the Caribbean”. In rebuilding it, “We didn’t want to copy anything. We wanted it to be creative enough on its own merit. That was a challenge because there were so many emotions attached to the old ride.”
Now, a new adventure awaits. Europa-Park guests are invited to accompany adventurer Bartholomeus van Robbemond on a voyage in search of the Fire Tiger, the mystical dagger of Batavia. Legend has it that whoever owns the dagger is invulnerable. However, finding the Fire Tiger won’t all be plain sailing. At every step of the way, Van Robbermond’s enemy Cortez does his best to stop the adventurer in his tracks.
Original Indonesian props (and a hidden drop)
During the approximately eight-minute and 333-metre long voyage, passengers float through nine highly detailed scenes populated by 125 animated figures. Eight were rescued from the queue line of the original attraction. In addition to pirates and residents of Batavia, guests glide past crocodiles, snakes and monkeys. The ride also features over 8 tonnes of authentic props imported from Indonesia.
Passengers board the attraction on an upper level of the building. With its 17 x 16-seater boats, the rebooted ride provides an hourly capacity of around 1,800 (not allowing for social distancing limits).
One notable feature that has been retained from the former version is a drop just after the first turn. Since the lift is hidden from the public (the boats climb by conveyor to loading level backstage after passengers have disembarked), this comes as a surprise to those who haven’t ridden before.
The rest of the ride is then at ground level, with boats sailing at a speed of 0.6 metres per second (2.16km/h) – slow enough to take in all that scenery.
“We use the drop as a tool in the first scene to explain the transition from The Netherlands to Indonesia,” says Heinzelmann. “There is a storm, it goes black, there is fog, mist, we hear thunder and see lightning strike before us. Then we wake up in a canyon in 18th Century Indonesia.”
The new Pirates in Batavia – scene by scene
Heinzelmann summarises the rest of the ride: “Van Robbemond made it, but not in one piece. His ship has crashed and Cortez has got the map to help find the dagger. We go through this very charming old stilt village, a bit of a fantasy take on Indonesian tribes.”
“In the third scene, we go into this big battle. This is reminiscent of the old Batavia battle, with the ship and the fort. The pirates know that the jungle temple is on the other side with the dagger. There we see van Robbemond captured by Cortez, who makes him walk the plank.”
“In the next scene, we are in Batavia and see van Robbemond in prison. Cortez’s monkey sidekick is playing with the key in front of him. We tried to twist it a little. But for Roland Mack, it was very important that we bring this scene back. Until now, Van Robbemond is always the underdog. Now, we see him escaping.”
“We end up in the jungle with van Robbemond finally facing off Cortez. He triumphs over Cortez and finally gets back the map to find the treasure in the jungle camp. We then celebrate in the next scene with fireworks projection-mapped onto the temple.”
“In the final scene, we see van Robbemond holding the dagger, thanking us for joining him. He tells us that he has met a group of adventurers, with whom he can found the Adventure Club of Europe.”
The Adventure Club of Europe
How deeply they become immersed in the experience will vary from rider to rider, says Heinzelmann. “Layer one is just immersing ourselves in nice surroundings. Layer two is ‘Let’s find the dagger with von Robbermonnd’. And then we have all these side stories and characters that build on top of everything else.”
Like the new Batavia storyline, the Adventure Club of Europe was conceived by designer Chris Lange during his time at Mack Solutions. First introduced in the flying theatre Voletarium, it offers an umbrella storyline that has been weaved through all new Europa-Park attractions since 2017. Fans of the park will have fun spotting the ‘Easter eggs’ in Pirates of Batavia.
For example, “In the waiting line, we have a barrel that is shaking and you hear a knock,” says Heinzelmann. “In the guests’ imagination it could be Snorri [from Snorri Touren and Rulantica] in there; who knows. Little things like that provide a connection between the rides and attractions, even though they are set in different times.”
This autumn, the first volume of an Adventure Club of Europe novel series will be published by Coppenrath. The story of Batavia plays an important role in the first book.
No themed queue line this season
Visitors can further immersive themselves in the Pirates in Batavia story in an Indonesian-themed ice show in Europa-Park’s ice arena, or by seeing the short film Departure for Batavia in the 4D Magic Cinema. They can even taste Batavia as they dine in the Indonesian restaurant Bamboe Baai, which overlooks the dark ride.
Guests cannot yet fully appreciate the many scenic touches in the ride’s queue line this season. In response to COVID-19 restrictions, screening has been put up in this area, which riders pass through after queueing up outside.
Heinzelmann says: “I think the waiting line turned out beautifully. We added a medieval brewery scene. In a way, it’s like the first scene of the ride, but very distinct and different; you are not yet in Indonesia. I am glad that guests can go in the ride already. However, it will be even better when this year is over and you do not have to wear a mask.”
Rebuilding Pirates in Batavia
Coronavirus caused minimal disruption to the ride’s reconstruction says Heinzelmann.
“The opening was planned internally for an earlier date. The virus affected our timetable a little, but way less than I feared it would. Most of the companies that were on-site could keep on working [during lockdown]. I was working 50 per cent. So we kept the momentum. In some ways, I would say it was less stressful than other construction sites because it was very calm in the park.”
“One of the biggest challenges was also the ride system. We were trying to tell a story in 2020 with a ride system that is basically from the 1980s. It was very difficult to time some of the scenes because boats might group together at the end of the ride.
“We have scenes that are triggered but then loop, so the boat behind can see if it gets stuck. Some scenes we had to loop completely. Yet we script it in such a way that it’s entertaining even if we repeat the same information four times.”
Lights, music, attraction!
Extensive use has been made of lighting effects within the attraction, says Heinzelmann. “We have a beautiful, huge projection that enlarges the canyon scene. But it’s not enough just to put people in front of a screen. We have also tried to play with the foreground, mid-ground and background. We used projection mapping on some of the rock work. And we use shadow projection to enrich the cities and villages.”
To get a rider’s eye view of the scenes during construction, when there was no water in the channels, the creative team used a chair that replicated the height of the boats (0.8m).
“If the chair was not there, we would just jump up and use a phone to see the sightlines from the guest’s perspective,” says Heinzelmann. “Walking around the construction site, you have to imagine the sounds, lights and movement. Those things that really make everything come to life. The music is beautiful and really brings it all together.”
A full soundtrack for Pirates in Batavia
The former Pirates in Batavia had one just piece of music that played throughout the attraction. Now, there is a full soundtrack, composed by T-Rex Classics of Berlin. Inspired by the original, it transitions smoothly from scene to scene, arousing different emotions in riders as they go through.
Mack Solutions was responsible for much of the ride’s decoration, except for the battle scene, which was produced by Jora Vision. Universal Rocks painted and decorated the stilt village, as well as doing a lot of cement work throughout the attraction. Artificial trees and foliage were provided by TreeLocate from the UK.
Mack Animation and MackMedia provided projection mapping, animation and other digital content. Show control and programming came courtesy of Kraftwerk Living Technologies. Various local companies worked on the project too.
The project used three different vendors for the animatronics: Garner Holt Productions, LifeFormations and Hofmann.
“Of course not every figure has 50 movements,” says Heinzelmann. “We have a focal point in each scene, where we went all-in with high-end animatronics with analogue movements and facial expressions. Then you have more subtle movement for some of the other characters.”
One figure that had to be right was the animatronic of Roland Mack. He makes a cameo appearance as a magician in one of the scenes. Unveiled to its subject only two days before the ride reopened to the public, the Europa-Park founder’s inclusion in the attraction came as a late 70th birthday gift from his children, Michael, Thomas and Ann-Kathrin.
For dark ride fans, Europa-Park is the gift that keeps giving.