In between two of Japan’s biggest cities (Tokyo & Osaka) lies the country’s biggest amusement park, Nagashima Spa Land. It’s so massive that since I was there last, they’ve opened two more roller-coasters, The Bat (a flying roller-coaster), and Arashi (free-spinning roller-coaster) and to top it off, works are already underway on revitalising their wooden roller-coaster, White Cyclone, with world renowned designers RMC poised to to turn an ageing relic into a thoroughbred monster.
But all of this still pales in comparison to the park’s flagship ride, Steel Dragon, which at 2,479 metres, is the world’s longest roller-coaster, and at a cost of over 50 million US, it’s also one of the most expensive. If you’re travelling between Osaka and Tokyo on the shinkansen and you fancy a unique stop-over, or you just want bragging rights from braving the world’s longest coaster (one that’s also perched smack bang on a giant fault line on the side of the ocean,) then the visit to Nagashima Spa Land is for you.
All Shinkansens between Tokyo & Osaka (including those on the super-fast Nozomi Shinkansen) stop in at Nagoya Station, which is where you’ll need to jump off and trade your bullet train speeds for a much slower bus that’ll drop you right at the front gate of the park. It’s not the most obvious connection on the planet – when you jump off your Shinkansen, head for the Sakura-dori side of Nagoya Station and turn right, where you’ll stumble upon the Meitetsu Bus Centre a few hundred metres up.
If you’re like me and want to travel south (I ended up in Shima Spain Village / Parque Espana the day after) you may end up spending a few extra dollars on taxis and busses to make it work – unlike Tokyo Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Japan, Nagashima Spa Land isn’t exactly near, well, anything. That being said, if you want to take a few days off and enjoy what Nagashima Spa Land’s resort has to offer, then there’s more than enough to do, especially with Legoland now open nearby.
Must-Do #1 – Steel Dragon
Naturally, the big ticket item for making the journey out to Nagashima Spa Land is to conquer Steel Dragon. In recent years, the park has gotten an industry titan designer (B&M) to craft new trains that took what was a bit of a snooze-fest beyond the first drop into something that’s now insanely fun from start to finish. Simply put – the old trains really sucked – you were well covered from all sides and any sense of speed or height was lost. The new trains though? The best way to describe it is exposed – you’re up higher and in individual seats, making the entire experience much more raw.
As for the experience itself – Steel Dragon is not at all the most technologically sophisticated or refined (the original designer’s solution to getting trains up its giant, long lift hill was to to just whack on two clunky old chains back to back instead of something far more sophisticated like a cable lift) but what it lacks in design it makes up for in brute strength. At 153k/ph, it’s no slouch when it comes to speed, and at 97m tall, it dominates the park from one end to the other.
Steel Dragon is worth the ticket price alone – while it’s not one of the highest rated roller-coasters on the planet, it sure as hell is one of the most fun, and something you’ll enjoy over and over again without much pain or agony.
Must Do #2 – Ultra Twister
Unlike other parks who tend to retire older coasters (especially when they’re in the road of something new and fancy) Nagashima Spa Land has done an incredibly commendable effort at retaining some real classics that are hard to come by these days.
This largely makes Nagashima Spa Land such a fun and awesome day – the park is basically a giant showcase for all things rides, big & small, past & present. How many other parks honestly have three pirate ships next to each other? It’s strange but awesome in a uniquely quirky Japanese way. As for the roller-coasters specifically, there’s a few worth the mentioning, namely the Ultra Twister.
This coaster in particular is a dying breed and these days are only found in Japan. Whilst vertical drops and barrel rolls are a common affair today, Ultra Twister was rocking being a total nut-job with relative ease since the early 90’s.
Must Do #3 – Everything else, seriously
As I mentioned above, there’s just so much to conquer – there’s old school Schwarzkopf designed roller-coasters like the Star Loop or the Shuttle Loop that launch using flywheels to just old school terrifying stuff like the Free Fall ride. Sure, it’s only 30 metres tall, but the fact that it’s a first generation drop ride (that’s two generations older than something like the Giant Drop at Dreamworld) and is 100% mechanical makes it bloody terrifying. Knowing that you’re about to drop, hearing gears whirring and loud “ka-chunks” was more than enough to put me on edge.
Wait, where’s White Cyclone!?
As much as i’d like to include the park’s absolutely giant wooden roller-coaster in the must do list, as aforementioned it’s now known as Hakugei, a re-imagined and totally badass wooden-steel hybrid coaster. Whilst White Cyclone was no slouch, it’s new track layout gives new life to the ride and allow it to do things no wooden roller-coaster should be able to do (think barrel roll drops and crazy twists.)
Should I go?
If you’re into roller-coasters, this park is a must. There’s only a handful of other parks that have this many rides – it’s the Cedar Point of Japan. You get so much bang for buck. In my mind that makes Nagashima Spa Land an under-rated nugget, at least to tourists. For locals, this park is a regularly visited destination, especially during summer. That’s where i’d express caution – if you’re visiting during the warmer months when the water-park’s open and the park is at capacity then visiting on a week-day is an absolute must. For those visiting off-peak in the colder months like myself however will find a quiet park that’s cheap, hearty and a ton of fun.