Sunday, April 18, 2021

Mack Rides: Through the generations

As supplier and operator, Mack Rides and Europa-Park have stood the test of time

article and photos by Kevin Dazey

ABOVE: Europa-Park opened in 1975 by the Mack family to showcase the product portfolio of Mack Rides.

First came Mack Rides, the family owned and operated business dating back to 1780 that eventually became a leading international supplier of roller coasters, water rides, and other amusement standards. More recently, the company opened its own theme park in 1975 – Europa-Park – to double as a showroom for Mack products. The park, situated about 25 miles (40 km) from Mack headquarters in the southwest German town of Rust, quickly met with popular success and has grown into a substantial resort over the years. By attendance, the 2018 TEA/ AECOM Theme Index placed Europa-Park in the Top 25 theme parks worldwide, with 5,720,000 visits for the year.

Europa-Park and members of the Mack family have been the recipients of numerous industry honors, including several Thea Awards from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), IAAPA Brass Ring Awards, Hotelier of the Year in 2020 from AHGZ, several European Star Awards and TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Awards, among others. IAAPA Hall of Fame status was awarded to the late Franz Mack in 2005, and later to Roland Mack in 2016. Roland has also served in the position of IAAPA Chair.

Mack clients can visit Europa-Park to experience a product first- hand, see how it operates in the field and observe guest reactions. “This happens often, we have many park operators from all over the world as guests,” says Noel Ebhart, Europa-Park Corporate Communications. “For Mack Rides, Europa-Park is a great exhibition place.”

The park is also a platform for Mack to test and customize new products and concepts. Maximilian Roeser, Head of Marketing at Mack Rides gives an example. “Our Xtreme Spinning Coaster was tested during the nighttime at Europa-Park; it gave us the opportunity to test a launched inverting coaster with free spinning gondolas. Where else could you do such tests? During the marketing phase and for our sales pitch to Silver Dollar City [the record breaking Time Traveler coaster opened at SDC in March 2018] we had the chance to let our first customers test the ride on Blue Fire [launched coaster] in the park to inform their decisions first-hand.”

Over the years, Mack ventures have branched out beyond ride manufacturing and theme park operations to form additional companies offering specialized creative services. “As a relatively large amusement park we plan attractions (Mack Solutions) and digital content (MackMedia) ourselves,” explains Ebhart. “This requires resources in the form of employees and their experience. This is what we have in Europa-Park; small parks do not and that’s why we offer this service. Together with the attractions of Mack Rides we are able to offer complex theming areas from a single source.”

The one-stop-shop model was further expanded in 2018 with the launch of Tacumeon Rides which pairs Mack Rides hardware with content from the company’s media divisions. “With Tacumeon Rides we launched a great brand in the market of media-based attractions,” says Roeser. “Together with Mack Animation and MackNext we are able to create the content, the ride system, and therefore the whole attraction as a turn-key project.”

Growth of Europa-Park

Europa-Park has watched visitor numbers steadily rise in recent times as the annual count approaches six million guests. Maintaining quality in essential areas is part of the formula for the park’s success. “We strongly focus on cleanliness, quality, and details,” says Ebhart. “For example, in the European themed areas there is not only accurate architecture incorporated, but typical dishes of a particular country can be sampled as well. All of this would not work without our 4,450 employees. They work with great joy and motivation every day to provide visitors with a perfect experience.”

Ride queues are one of the areas where employee dedication to guest satisfaction really stands out. The load/unload efficiency and short dispatch times we witnessed during our recent visit were very apparent. Interestingly, guests will not find any sort of skip-the-line pass here. Per Ebhart, “In Europa-Park there is only the regular queue and a single-rider access. Every guest gets the same experience. We have very high passing in our queues, as they are maintained at 100 percent. We are proud of that.”

Commitment from leadership to determine where and how to enhance the guest experience has led to recent significant additions inside and outside the park. Europa-Park opened its sixth on-site hotel in May 2019 adjacent to the park’s most ambitious project to date, the Rulantica waterpark which opened in November of the same year.

Within Europa-Park the flying theater Voletarium debuted in 2017 while 2018 brought a Jim Button (Jim Knopf) themed family train ride and a reimagining of the Eurosat roller coaster to become the Eurosat – CanCan Coaster. Late 2019 brought a new dark ride in the Scandanavian section of the park named Snorri Touren that explores the mythology of Rulantica.

“The Mack family invests continuously, year after year, in new attractions or the hotel resort,” says Ebhart. “As a result there is always something new to experience. We have many repeat visitors – 80 percent are returning while 20 percent are first- visitors.”

WODAN – Timburcoaster, one of two roller coasters in the Iceland themed area.
The mix

Europa-Park boasts 18 unique themed lands, most featuring a specific European country. This was not part of the initial park concept but was slowly implemented starting in 1982. Two of the exceptions to the country-themed areas include Grimm’s Enchanted Forest dedicated to stories by the Brothers Grimm while another explores the world of Arthur and the Invisibles franchise.

Attractions based on licensed intellectual property are fairly new to the park and are helping to drive attendance, strategically applied. Ebhart says, “In recent years, some brands have joined Europa-Park since well-known brands are a good marketing tool. Arthur for example is a very popular film series in France, almost every child is familiar with it. With this attraction [applied to a Mack inverted powered coaster] we were able to significantly increase our visitor numbers from France. The same applies to Paddington Bear and England. However, we also try to create our own brands. Alpha Mods P.D., a brand of car toys, was developed by MackMedia last year and can now be experienced in the park on Alpenexpress Coastiality.”

The first on-site hotel opened at Europa-Park in 1995 propelling it from a regional theme park to a full-fledged, destination resort. This was a natural result of the park’s continued increases in offerings over the years, which led to longer guest stays which led to the need for overnight accommodations. As it currently stands, the resort complex consists of the original theme park, six on-site hotels, a camping resort, and the recently opened, highly detailed Rulantica indoor/outdoor waterpark. Rulantica will extend operations to year-round for the first time in Europa- Park’s history.

The hospitality component has brought about the ability to host events and conferences of all types, a notion the company has dubbed “Confertainment.” Ebhart says, “We have over 1,300 events a year, ranging from a birthday party of 20 guests, up to large events with over 5,000 guests,” says Ebhart. “Our advantage is the combination of conference facilities and the hotel resorts with 5,800 beds at one place. This is unique in Germany and convinces many customers, as they do not have to search around for different hotels. We can offer a lot with our departments: catering, event technology, and shows.”

Mack the manufacturer

Mack Rides is well established as a top ride developer thanks to a wide-ranging product line, a reputation for safety and quality, and a customer-focused approach. Company reps like to say that Mack rides makes people smile. Best known for roller coasters, the company also produces log flumes, interactive boat rides, tea cup rides, and classics such as the Music Express spinning ride (ubiquitous in the industry). When asked which Mack product deserves more attention, Roeser named dark rides: “We have a high-capacity product with an endless system. Many operators demand a high throughput and we are very happy that our product is certainly one with the top numbers in this segment. We think that together with multimedia elements and great scenery, you can get an outstanding attraction.”

All Mack rides are still built in the same town where their story began so long ago. The Waldkirch, Germany factory produces all major ride components including track along with necessary items for ride vehicles such as frames, bodies, restraint hardware, and seating. Fabricating as much as possible in-house supports tighter process control and more time to deal with any unexpected issues. “We found ourselves in the position to invest in new CNC milling machines to bring more components from our own departments,” says Roeser. “We included a strict testing and manufacturing protocol to produce these components with the highest quality aspects.” When suppliers are necessary for items not manufactured by Mack, most can be found within the region; coincidentally electronic components are sourced from a vendor located next to the factory.

Safety, collaboration and servicing

Consider quality, safety, and uncompromising reliability as fundamentals of a successful manufacturing company, especially one building attractions to endure the rigorous service requirements of the attractions business.

Mack Rides has paid close attention to these areas; the company was certified to ISO 9001 in 2002, the international standard for a quality management system that a manufacturer can obtain through implementing processes and procedures.

To ensure meeting global safety standards, Mack enlisted the help of Roman Hauer based on his experience at TÜV SÜD, an organization dealing with testing, auditing, and certification. At TÜV SÜD Hauer would inspect and approve rides before they went into operations. “Safety is our highest priority whenever we work on our rides, and Roman Hauer is an expert in this field,” says Roeser. “From the very beginning of our projects we can implement different points of view in regard to safety that make it easier during the project. With more and more strict standards it was key to have a dedicated safety expert on the team.”

Mack has collaborated with universities on several occasions. Recently, Mack Rides partnered with Pforzheim University – students contributed ideas that could be applied to the trains used on Europa Park’s Blue Fire launched coaster. Roeser gave other examples. “We had a design contest to find the best ergonomic shaped seats possible for a roller coaster without shoulder restraints; this became sort of standard in our portfolio. On VR Coaster we partnered with Prof. Thomas Wagner from the University of Kaiserslautern. In his class he wanted to develop a VR product that can be used on roller coasters and thrill rides. Today VR Coaster is the top supplier for these kinds of attractions, holding several patents on this kind of ride.” (MackMedia along with VR Coaster were the first to bring virtual reality to a roller coaster in 2015 which was subsequently adopted at numerous other parks around the world.)

The Mack Services division was created to cover operator needs for the lifespan of a given ride. “Our customers have the great opportunity to get a broad base of knowledge from us, as we are both operator and manufacturer and benefit on a daily basis from the experience of Europa-Park’s maintenance and operations teams,” says Roeser.

Services include sending staff to commission new rides for providing training on operations and maintenance and offering improved components on older rides to meet the latest safety standards (think updated control systems or restraints to name a few). Older rides with newer parts or retrofits make it possible to refresh and extend the operating life of an aging but popular ride. “We recently had the chance to retrofit several boats of a water coaster with new, much smaller restraint mechanisms that also allow smaller children to ride this attraction,” says Roser. “Therefore we not only had new boats but also the benefit of a new target group for this attraction.”

Customers can also benefit from ride inspections performed by Mack Rides’ specialists to ensure compliance with the latest safety standards. A routine inspection paired with training sessions helps certified maintenance staff stay up to date while Mack gains insight that its engineers can use for continuous improvement.

Family and future

Today Mack Rides and Europa-Park remain under control of the Mack family as the seventh and eighth generations lead the way in a continuous and successful run. A long-term view with continued emphasis on quality supports the likelihood that manufacturer, park, and surrounding brands will continue to endure for generations.

The park’s rebuilt Pirates of Batavia is expected to open in July 2020

Europa-Park opens its 46th season in 2020 with the much- anticipated reappearance of a favorite dark ride lost to a fire in 2018. “We are already building a big attraction for the summer of 2020; the Pirates of Batavia is returning,” says Ebhart. “This is the boat trip, which unfortunately burned down. We are currently rebuilding, nicer and better than before.”

2020 also brings signature Mack roller coasters and other rides to the U.K., Australia, Netherlands, and the United States to name a few. “Of course Mack Rides is also developing new ideas currently – but which of them actually are going to be on the market we will have to see,” says Roeser. • • •

Author Kevin Dazey with Mack Rides’ Maximilian Roeser

Kevin Dazey ([email protected]) works in R&D at a manufacturing company and has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Wright State University. He writes for InPark about ride engineering and theme park operations. He enjoys hearing the design stories behind the rides along with all the technical details. Kevin is an active member of American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) and an avid vehicle hobbyist.

COVID-19 update

The operational information for Europa-park and Mack Rides has been subject to change due to the pandemic.

The Europa-Park resort reopened on May 29th, 2020. Mack Rides is reporting all departments operating at normal capacity while adapting to keep employees safe. Of special note is Mack Rides’ eagerness to donate face masks and protective gear following a call from local health officials seeking those critical supplies.

As always the latest status updates can be found on the park’s website and social media outlets.

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