For our last big theme park visit of the year, we took off to Walibi Belgium. Our Halloween visit last year was a complete catastrophe – the park had been full way over its capacity, queues spilled out from the actual queue lines and intermingled with each other, while the haunts turned into polka lines later on in the evening. With a less busy date and fast passes in hand, could Walibi fulfill its promises this year?
Our first maze would be the all new Lumberjack – and an amazing beginning it was. Theming an indoor maze around being in the woods is a daunting task, but the design crew has really pulled off a marvel with this one. Our walkthrough started off very quiet, as any walk through a forest would in fact. We even started wondering whether the actors would be on break, and our unhindered progression caused us to quickly run into the group in front of us. Soon enough though, this little issue was fixed and all hell broke loose. Madmen wielding axes and chains barreled down on us, sometimes three at a time, while the woods got ever darker and fog started creeping in, and seeking refuge in log cabins appeared not to be the safer option. Actors were happy to toy with us, we were cornered time after time, only to be caught again after a feeble attempt at escaping. At one point I was forced to play hide and seek between the trees with one of these lumberjacks, armed with a chainsaw – but once two more showed up behind me I clearly lost the game, and in celebration the evil woodchuck gleefully buried his chainsaw in my leg. The maze had a really impressive length too, my only criticism is that instead of building up to an epic finale, the final corridor featured a photo opportunity with a scare actor, which did take away some of the tension. Nonetheless, an impressive new maze!
With the smell of wood chips fresh in our noses, we continued on to Villa 13. This maze is set in an actual house just a couple of hundred meters outside the park grounds – giving it an extra dose of realism. The fact that you have to open each actual door instead of passing through curtains makes all the difference, entering the next room is so much more tense! Unfortunately, the maze itself is a patch quilt of different, barely connected haunt themes. I found the rooms which featured a more realistic theming (say, the absolutely disgusting kitchen, the hallways, the decent into the basement, …) were by far the most effective, as they make the best use of the haunt being set in an actual house. Other rooms can be less believable due to their theming, and while fun they didn’t work as well in the whole. That could all be forgiven, but in the end the realistic ideas apparently really ran dry, when you encounter a bottomless mirror hallway illusion, and a room with an indoor forest. So, this maze is pretty hit and miss in my opinion, and it lacks a finale set piece. What it does have is the most revolting toilet I’ve ever seen in a haunt, so there’s that.
Asylum was up next, an old manor that was transformed into a laboratory for some fairly creepy experiments. The theming in this maze is really well done, as you start off in stately rooms, dining areas and hallways full of antiquities, before ending up in dark and twisted laboratories, all of them exquisitely detailed and filled with some cool scares. Last year, the finale rooms consisted of an impressive prison dungeon, filled with angry discarded experiments – so we were quite surprised to run into an actual labyrinth by the end. Although the careful theming was thrown completely overboard – this part is solely built with black paneling and illuminated by the occasional strobe effect – it’s cool to see Walibi trying something different, and we were frantically trying to find a way out, encountering another group and some separate stragglers in our attempt. Due to the confusion, our group was split up as well, which should have led to a tense finale. Unfortunately, instead of some aggressive lunatic, I encountered a staff member with a flashlight, who basically escorted me towards the exit. There were a number of chainsaw wielding actors in this maze, but I only saw a flash of one near the very beginning, causing us to dart in the other direction, and another one who arrived just as that one staff member was pointing me towards the exit, leading to a sizzle of a scare. I was basically led by the hand to the finale actor, who still attempted to scare me to a run, but the immersion had been broken a bit too much. Could be I just didn’t get lucky this time, that’s always a bit of a factor in haunted houses – my girlfriend actually did have the proper frenetic dash to the exit after getting lost in the maze on her own. For me, it could have been an amazingly tense finale with a bit of additional fine-tuning and some more actors thrown in, but as it was, it was somewhat disappointing.
After that, we ventured further into the park and entered Virus Z1. Last year, I had a lot of fun in this one – although being one of the free, less high-end mazes, it had featured some really lively actors who would attack from different levels – I still remember one in particular, who smashed the wooden weapon he was wielding to bits right in front of us. Although the theming is very standard, industrial hallways, containers and crates, with a band of ravenous infected crawling about it had been rather effective. This year was off to a decent start as well, but soon enough we started bumping into the group ahead of us. Well, these things happen, an imposing actor held us back for a while and was thus able to restore the flow. When I caught sight of a gasmask-wearing actor who was aggressively dragging a frightened girl trying to escape back into the maze, I couldn’t wait to encounter him. Unfortunately, our experience was cut short after a group in front got too freaked out and refused to continue. The massive pileup that was the consequence eventually caused security to come check out the problem and lead everyone through to the end, without any actors in sight. Too bad.
Our last proper maze would be Project Invazion, an army base taken over by aliens. After the last couple of hitches in the mazes, we hoped this one would run a bit more smoothly. As the second free maze, it was really cool to see the design team really went all out with this one. We entered rooms filled with huge fluorescent alien eggs, we clambered through sci-fi hallways and green strobes blinded us as otherworldly creatures emerged from dark corners. A slide led us down to a low crawl-through corridor with flashing emergency lights, and eventually we escaped through a beautifully lighted wind tunnel, all very cinematic. This maze, although there are a good number of jumps, relies a bit less on being scary, but the entire atmosphere is so much fun, it nails the sci-fi kitsch – and I just had a blast going through.
Next to the Halloween mazes, Walibi offered more scary entertainment. A lazy river ride was rethemed with toxic barrels, and although quite tame during the day, it might be more atmospheric at night. I’d like to see the couple of actors in this ride be a bit more lively and aggressive too, but I think we did this ride during the children-friendly hours, so hey, maybe they wake up at night. The 4D cinema played a scary movie for the occasion, a fast-paced run through a haunted house which was one of the most effective and thrilling 4D experiences I have ever seen – you know all the tricks they’ll pull, but it’s a perfect movie for it. A kid’s maze, Walibi’s secret, was brightly neon coloured and featured some distorted hallways, an upside down room and some more fun ideas. Finally, there was the Blood Bar, located on a small island in the middle of Walibi’s central lake, with bartending zombies ready to serve up some drinks.
The verdict? I’m not sure. With their regular rides in operation next to the different scare attractions, there’s loads to be done for sure. It’s interesting to see this Halloween event next to the one by its sister park, Walibi Holland. This last one really goes all out with the decorations, the entire park is concealed under a thick layer of fog, mazes are incredibly themed with impeccable detail and the multitude of scare zones make sure you’re never safe. The mazes in Holland were super polished and felt like a well-oiled machine, with scares of the startle and reset variety, heavily scripted but executed very effectively in collaboration with the rich theming. Walibi Belgium on the other hand feels a bit lackluster sometimes, the intentions are certainly there, but sometimes the execution falls short. The theming and general atmosphere in the park is a lot more basic, and I encountered a good number of problems in the haunts – especially when talking about crowd management and flowthrough, even in mazes that hardly had any queues. Importantly however, Walibi seems to have listened to criticism, we encountered some devices or moments in the different mazes where actors were able to disrupt the flow of people, in order to preserve the spacing between groups. It’s good for a start, and the actors did their best to turn this mini-wait into a scary moment, although the system could use some more fine-tuning in the future. On a performance level, I believe the actors in Walibi Belgium are given far greater freedom than their Dutch colleagues, who’ll jump out and have to get right back to their starting position. The general feel in Walibi Belgium is a lot more organic and unscripted, which is to be commended. When it works, it is genuinely terrifying, like our experience in Lumberjack where we had some amazing interactions with the actors – it felt like something no one other than us would experience in the exact same way, a bit rough around the edges, but unique. But obviously, circumstances need to be just right and you need to get lucky, as this approach can sometimes lead to mediocre walkthroughs. So how to conclude this? Was it fun? Hell yeah. Is there room for improvement? Most certainly. Would I recommend it? I do – but never on a busy day, and even then the park’s Halloween event attracts big crowds. Fast pass recommended.