My second year at Tulleys started off with high hopes following a brilliant event last year. We were fortunate enough that it didn’t rain on our visit however all the queues and plenty of tables are under cover if it had of rained.
The whole event was just as immersive as before with street actors being the first to greet you as they roam around the open areas and even lurk in the bushes!
Before you continue, note that this does contain SPOILERS so avoid reading further if you don’t want to know what happens in the mazes.
On to the haunt reviews in the order we did them:
The Creepy Cottage
We started off with the least scary maze to get us in the mood. It felt similar to last year, had quite a few scares from the actors. The cottage was quite dark and atmospheric in places. Not too scary but the groups were well spaced so we never caught up to another group resulting in good actor interaction. Many of them are chanting gibberish that sounded kind of like Latin which was certainly creepy. Overall a strong Tulleys classic.
The Coven of 13
The Witch themed maze was pretty much the same as last year. It starts off with the inflatable laser room with actors hiding below the lasers. I had a good jump scare from at least one here! The outdoor section was creepy but you could still see the actors coming here like last year. The actors in the cottage were targeting more scared people in our group, if you show fear you will certainly be picked on more! Just coming out of the cottage some, I’d say late teenage boys were properly jump scared by an actor who made them scream and run which was hilarious. The final scene with the caged witch was just as impressive. I’d still like to see some more separation in the outdoor sections but the rest I enjoyed.
Circus of Horrors
A great show which I’ve never seen before. There was a rather camp Vampire as the host who introduced a range of impressive acts; sword balancing, sword swallowing, fire eating, burning limbo, nose drilling, high ribbon acrobatics, contortion, cutting string out a stomach and more. The show was well paced and not too long. I found it very entertaining and in the end, definitely worthy of Tulleys lineup this year.
Twisted Clowns 3D
This maze was one of my top favourites this year. The actors in here are brilliant and highly interactive. Practically everyone in the group was picked out by someone. They’re funny yet sinister, making comments about people coming through. The electronic circus soundtrack and bright UV paint make it such a fun maze too. There are a few funhouse elements such as a shrinking corridor, inflatable corridor and a trommel tunnel. In summary a highly interactive maze.
The Chop Shop
I was fearing this maze the most from last year however I feel like it’s been toned down this year. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s a brutal maze but last year it was overwhelmingly intense. The lights which used to go off for a few seconds that I found horrible in the narrow corridors has been replaced with a constant, slow strobe. The actors don’t get up in your face with the chainsaws either and aim them lower down. As much as it is a bit of a gimmicky maze, it’s still a horrifying experience that I think I could attempt again now it’s not as insane. The blood stained corridors are endless and you’re constantly looking around corners.
The Colony: Dystopia
The epic, extended version of this maze returns stronger than ever this year. Endless fields and pitch black tunnels combined with an army of tribal actors makes this my absolute favourite attraction at Tulleys. There’s a very surreal moment where you leave the fields and enter a completely white container filling with smoke the further in you went. Actors wearing gas masks and bright coloured eyes stopped me and stared directly at me without saying a word. Honestly I thought I was hallucinating at that point and it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a scare maze before. In the fields the actors follow you from behind moving in and out of the shadows. There are lookout points, walkthrough huts, campfires, dark tunnels, a catacomb and the end being the narrow chainsaw corridor on the other side of the farm. Even when there are no actors in certain sections, the completely dark and quiet fields and tunnels keeps you on edge making eventual encounters even more frightening. I can’t praise this maze enough, the scale and layout of it is just epic.
Horrorwood Haunted Hayride
A special attraction only found at Tulleys, it was very enjoyable. Many scenes remained the same as last year with the highlight being the amazing actors jumping on and off the tractor on the way round. The big effects returned too with plenty of fire, a few air cannons and falling platforms. The only thing I missed from last year were the pole dancing nuns. Still a must do at Tulleys as you get to have a nice sit down ride while the actors come to you.
The Cellar: Imprisoned
My other favourite maze at Tulleys has been improved and extended this year. Plenty of animalistic actors jump scare you from hidden corners. A large snake head coming out of the wall at one point was completely unexpected. The new strobed cage maze was brilliant. Very disorientating. Every section of the maze had an actor in there this year.
Tulleys hooded maze was pretty much the same as last year. The bags completely black out your vision and there is clear instruction from staff before you start. you go through the cold wind to an area where actors sneak up and whisper demonic noises in your ear. You go past some flowing water and then into the flamethrower room. Again you can feel the heat from it every time it goes off. A staff member instructs you to remove the hood at the end so you can remove it yourself. Then you exit, or do you? You go through a meat room with hanging bodies and a cage maze with falling barrels. After getting round the actors here, you exit the maze for good. I’m not a huge fan of hooded mazes but this does have elements for your other senses so it doesn’t feel completely pointless. Personally I just don’t find this type of maze as scary.
In conclusion, the event has largely remained up to the same high standard with many improvements made. It was a fun night of entertainment with only just enough time to do everything on offer. Already booked a bounce back to go again!
Day 1 of a three-day event with Pleasure Beach Experience took place at Efteling Theme Park in the Netherlands, where we had an hour’s ERT on Joris en de Draak before park opening as well as a full day at the park. First and foremost, the park was very accommodating to us, and the staff were all excellent and friendly.
With it being my first visit to Efteling I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but I’d probably describe the park as very quirky and unusual. There are a lot of nicely themed attractions and some fun coasters, and I really liked the large spanning lakes, exceptional use of audio and some weird and wacky features around the park.
Operations seemed very good aside from Baron, with multiple trains running and queues moving fast.
Unfortunately, on my visit Bob was closed (to then open a week later – spite!) as were Fata Morgana and Villa Volta.
Joris en de Draak x17 (ERT & a few afternoon rides)
Flying Dutchman x3
Baron 1898 x1
Rogel Vok x1
Carnival Festival x1
Onto the rides!
Joris en de Draak
Joris en de Draak is a fantastic racing wooden coaster with some incredible moments of airtime, strange banking and a very fun layout.
Similar to Wicker Man, the ride’s queue line is landscaped around the ride well with some good viewpoints of the ride and interaction over the lake.
I really enjoyed the racing element of the ride, with the trains breaking off from each other and then joining back side-by-side for the final section of the race. There were some fun interactions throughout the layout, too.
The sweeping turns at both ends of the ride’s layout were great fun and felt very forceful, especially the first one where you dive suddenly to the right-hand-side – brilliant!
Whilst both sides were brilliant I marginally preferred the blue one, due to an insanely brutal airtime hill that seems to appear out of nowhere… absolutely fantastic.
I liked the features the ride has such as the flag announcing the winner, cheering/booing in the station and the flags being draped for the winning train; fun little extras which the park didn’t have to do, but they make the experience better.
Having enjoyed Valkyria I was fairly confident that Baron would at least be a fun coaster, but unfortunately, I just didn’t enjoy it.
The theming is excellent. The way the music outside differs to that inside, the station building, pre-shows and everything else are just incredible, and it’s clear that a lot of detail has been put into the attraction.
Ascending the (incredibly well themed) lift hill with the ghostly singing ringing in your ears, you approach the top. I found the drop was too small to achieve the freefall sensation, and the ride that followed fairly weak; the inversions didn’t feel overly forceful, the helix felt a bit awkward and the airtime hill didn’t produce any airtime.
Baron 1898 is a visually impressive ride and a good themed experience, but that’s as far as it goes for me.
Wow! What a brilliant attraction.
From the incredible theming in the queue to the highly detailed station, the presentation of this ride is superb both internally and externally.
Giving a false sense of security, you deport the harbour and things soon take a turn for the worse… I really liked the use of atmospheric lighting and audio here, and the mist screen effect is so well executed. The indoor section had a few surprises, and the outdoor section was good fun too.
Really enjoyed this, despite it being a fairly short coaster. The inversions were forceful, as were the helix’s, and the entire ride was very smooth (I’m guessing due to the recent re-track). I wasn’t a fan of the vest restraints though, they felt very restrictive when compared with B&M’s version.
Vogel Rok was awesome, a really fun indoor coaster with some interesting visual effects, fun audio and a really good sensation of speed.
Symbolica has a really clever ride system and I enjoyed it, even if I didn’t fully understand what it was about! External presentation is fantastic here also.
Other attractions included Droomvlucht and the Rapids, both of which were done to a very high standard with some surprises. Also, that rapids music is so catchy!
Overall, I really enjoyed Efteling. It’s a big contrast to parks in the UK, and offers something different to any other park I’ve visited. I did feel that one day wasn’t enough to take everything in, as there were a few other attractions I’d have liked to experience. A few more photos below
Thanks for reading
After a week of travelling miles and miles across states and countries it was time to relax. Two years ago my fiancé and I had taken a cruise around the Med and we were instantly hooked. This time we wanted something a bit different and we chose the Alaskan cruise which sets sail from Vancouver. The ship this time is the second in the chain, the Disney Wonder. This is the sister ship to the Disney Magic and whilst sharing a lot of similarities as some minute differences such as Tiannas restaurant instead of a Tangled restaurant and has a different art styling.
Aside from the obvious differences, this one isn't taken in beautiful Mediterranean sunshine. It instead features cold, ice and a lot of rain. Launch day is a very special time on a cruise in general as you start to settle into the ship. You meet your entertainment team, your cabin cleaner, your restaurant team and your dinner friends.
We recognised a few crew members from our first cruise. Entertainment Joe Slow is a wonderfully Northern lass from England, her co host from Wales. That gave us lots of moments where they would make jokes that only English people would get. This made the cruise feel very personal. We also learnt they don't have halloumi in America. What the hell?!
Day one, sailing away day and our first meal was in Animators Palette, a restaurant where the screens around the room change depending on the course of the meal before ending with Sorcerer Mickey dances around the music to Fantasmic music. We got to meet our dinner pals which were a dutch married couple who were on their honeymoon. When marooned in America, with kids and crazy proud patriots all round you, it's quite nice to have some European sensibilities around you. It was like a nice break from the crazy and we got along very well. They turned out to be theme park enthusiasts to boot and were visiting Disneyland, Magic Mountain, Knotts Berry Farm and Walt Disney World before flying back to Amsterdam.
The days at sea are ironically the best days as you get to enjoy all the facilities on board. The views from the ship as we went into Alaska are absolutely spectacular. For all the good that the MEd was, this is something else.
We also met Mickey, Donald and Minnie because.. it's a Disney cruise.
The stops allowed us to get very close to nature. Whether that be the salmon doing their run up the river (which was absolutely amazing) or wild Black bears a few metres away from us or orcas swimming alongside the ship the link with the wild was something I'll never forget.
Alaska is a beautiful state and such a contrast to other states I've done. Whether that be glaciers, waterfalls, forests or beautiful towns that look like they've not changed in decades.
And when it comes to the last day.. well. It's not like a Disney theme park where even if you don't want to leave, you know you can come back. A Disney cruise is something different. The people you share the ship with whether that be the hosts, the people you eat with or the entertainment hosts, that will never be the same. I found it hard to hold back the tears on day 8 because it really is a special week and the idea of not being on the seas, completely relaxed and free with wonderful people is something hard to let go. This for me is probably the purest Disney experience because you are around or near the ship 24/7. And I wouldn't want it any other way. We've already booked our 2019 cruise around the Bahamas and for anyone that wants to holiday a little bit differently, a Disney Cruise is something I wholeheartedly recommend.
Till we meet again
No creds or parks to report on in this blog post, but there'll be a few visitor attraction things. So yeah, still give it a read...
Monday morning came and, for whatever reason, no parks seem to open on Mondays in Poland during off peak (Legendia only opened Friday-Sunday, Energylandia closed on Mondays). So, in an unusual twist for my trips, we planned a full day of non-theme park stuff and culture.
The first stop of the day was Auschwitz, which was just over 30mins away from Legendia. We didn't go for a guided tour, instead opting to tour the area ourselves. I won't really go into any more details, as I don't think I need to explain just how harrowing of an experience that is. We spent a couple of hours there.
We then made the hour long drive into Krakow, where we were going to general touristy stuff, bit of sightseeing, eat at the Hard Rock etc. A bit of research the night before gave us some really interesting-attractions to visit:
Lost Souls Alley - a horror maze / escape room style experience
Krakow Pinball Museum - a 'museum' where, for a small fee, you can play over 40 different pinball machines and classic arcade games as much as you like
After a bit of wandering round, we found a third attraction of interest - Exit Room, an escape room.
We stumbled upon Exit Room whilst trying to find Lost Souls Alley, and decided to book a room. They had 8 to choose from, and we opted to go for the Wolfenstein themed room. Not related to the video game series, bit sharing the same story. You are locked in a room, have an hour to escape, and the way to escape is to find the pieces of a gun to shoot an animatronic Hitler(!). It also started out quite nicely, as we were blindfolded at the start to disorientate us, and one of us was locked in a separate room to escape from as well. We didn't escape, and sadly there was no timer to give us the encouragement, but it was a very well presented escape room, and staff spoke excellent English!
Krakow Pinball Museum
This place is a real fun little gem! For about £8, you get unlimited access to lots of machines and arcade games (some classic, some new). It's a really chilled out, relaxed atmosphere, not busy, etc. Drinks were also cheap as well (everything in Poland is cheap, but in comparison to the rest of a city centre, the drinks were cheap too!). The best part was you were given a wristband, and could pop in and out throughout the day. We really got our money's worth!
It's a little bit geeky, maybe a guilty pleasure for some, but it's definitely something I'd recommend looking into if you're spending the day round there.
Lost Souls Alley
I don't even know where to start with this. This is an experience which will probably stay with me for the rest of my life, and not in a good way. I didn't want to write a dedicated thing about it, but I think I'm going to have to. It requires so much explanation and set up to truly understand what this attraction is, and why it haunts me so much.
So yeah, suffice to say I didn't like this. Standby for more details; I'll link the thread when I've written it...
Krakow was a wonderful city to explore in general though. Lots of pretty buildings, the people were brilliant and the food was ace. The day we visited happened to be the anniversary of the Soviet Union invading Poland in the lead up to WWII (1939), which is also when the country's President and Prime Minister fled the country. There were memorial services throughout the day in various locations, which again were pretty hard hitting.
Another standout feature of Krakow, which sadly I didn't get a decent photo of, was a fire-breathing dragon statue by the river. Completely random, but very cool.
We left Krakow in the evening to go to our nearby hostel, which was very nice and simple. As I've said, it's a wonderful city, and it was nice and different to for me to spend a fully doing non-theme park stuff on a theme park trip...
Coming soon, Energylandia, with it's 10000000 creds, and other random stuff.
It feels like half of the European coaster community has decided to venture over to Poland this month, following the opening of that small coaster Hyperion, and with rapid expansion taking place at the two major Polish parks - Legendia and Energylandia. But how do they actually fair?
We flew to Katowice on a Saturday evening, arriving at our hotel late, giving us the perfect opportunity to arrive at Legendia Sunday morning. Legendia is based in Silesia, an old mining district of the country, and now in the process of truly being redeveloped into a tourism hot spot (indeed, around the area are plenty of mining headframes which have been turned into prettier sites!). With Legendia being bought by a new owner a couple of years back, it's clear the park aim to capitalise on this.
To our surprise, Legendia is very much a city park, literally just based off a main road through the city, and all the surroundings just being standard city stuff. Interestingly, the park operates a one-price ticket system, for 99 zloty (about £20). However, you're only allowed to leave for 15 minutes, and if you want to return after that, you need to buy a new ticket. Clearly a tactic to keep people in the park as long as possible, eat on park, etc. The park also has VERY good opening hours (minimum 10am-8pm, with park gates opening between 9 and 9.30), meaning people can pop in at various hours of the day.
The park opens with a little show, where kids are handed out free sweets and balloons and encouraged to take part, whilst adults are given free fudge!
The park has 4 coasters - two Zyklon Galaxis, a Soqeut looping coaster, and Lech, a new-gen multi-looping Vekoma. The Zyklons are bog standard, with some okay facades, and the Soqeut was closed due to it being rethemed for next year (plus the track looked in HORRID condition). So let's get down to Lech...
Lech is mental. The layout features a very steep drop (maybe even beyond vertical, I couldn't really tell), 3 inversions (one going through the station), plenty of airtime, twists, turns, and is partially over water. It flows so well, is incredibly smooth, the airtime is fantastic, and the vest restraints are surprisingly comfortable (and feel almost necessary with the amount of airtime you get!). And, finally, the first drop and inversion is intense. Extremely intense. I greyed out on every ride I did. We did 2 rides back-to-back, and that was a mistake as I felt quite wiped out afterwards. It's at a point where it's arguably too intense, as it put me off wanting to re-ride it too much. Nonetheless, it's still a fantastic ride, a truly brilliant investment (just over 4m euros) and something which has put Vekoma back in people's attentions, and rightly so.
The park's new for 2018 ride is a shooter dark ride. Themed around a house with lots of monsters, where a Basilisk has escaped. Trackless, and a combination of work from ETF, Alterface and Joravision, this is actually something very special. The queue is spectacularly themed. The ride features interactive sets and screens, which is transitions between very well. The shooting aspect isn't the only focus of the ride, with some story driven points too. It is genuinely astounding. There are a couple of minor issues though - it's never really explained that you have to hit targets multiple times before they are destroyed (I only realised this mid-way through my second ride!), and some of the real theming looks quite basic, and thus tacky and out-of-place compared to the other.
Aside from that though, this is a true winner of an attraction, a real gem, and one of my favourite dark rides!
Dragon Riders is bloody mental. I have no idea who designed this ride, how many of these there are in the world, or any general clue really. But I imagine anyone who's thought "this is a good idea" has been on some hardcore drugs.
To try and explain the ride. You sit in your pod, with nothing more than a - rather loose! - lap bar to keep you in. You then start going round in a circle, like you would in a carousel. Your pod then starts to spin / roll continuously. Think of Slammer, but faster, in a smaller radius and for a lot longer. You do this for a while, then go in the other direction. And this lasts for about 3 minutes. Due to the loose lap bar, you bounce around in your seat, getting slammed every single way, and it's just general sickening. And unlike with many spinning rides, this doesn't have a 'warm up' period - it just seems to go straight to max speed!
I felt queasy for a good few hours afterwards. I'm not a huge fan of spinny rides, so I knew it would leave me feeling meh. But with something this insane, you have to try. You may regret it after, but you have to try it.
The rest of the park is pretty average to be honest. They have a log flume / boat ride thing which has terrible throughput, has staff specifically instruct you to brace yourself on the drops so you don't slam into row infront, and is generally a burden to ride, but has decent splashes. There's a few other funfair style rides, run incredibly well, but nothing that stands out.
We ate at one of the newer restaurants by Lech, and the food was decent and well priced (I believe I had a main meal, drink and dessert for about £7.50). And you do get wonderful views of Lech too. Speaking of food though, one thing which really stood out was how they didn't serve any snacks or bottled drinks at any of the shops - they were only at the food places. And the food places had very long queues from 1-5pm. The park, surprisingly, has lots of shops with lots of ride merch though!
Two things really stood out to me with Legendia.
1) This park isn't a full day park. The park was, admittedly, very quiet when we visited, but even when busy, I can't see you needing more than a 10-6 day at the park. Given how the park's ticketing works, this is a bit disappointing, as it means you can't enjoy the park at it's opening and at it's closing (ie - night rides) without either buying two tickets, or having a very boring lull mid-way though the day.
2) Legendia has a future, and a very bright one at that. The park has a fantastic infrastructure and is clearly set up to hold a lot of people (Lech and Basilisk's queues were HUGE too). All the staff we interacted with spoke perfect English (and they even have flags with what languages they can speak on their name badges). They've got a fantastic entrance area. They know who it is they want visiting, and they know how to attract them. The thing that's missing at the moment is quality. Lech and Basilisk fill two very obvious holes, and have done so quickly and reasonably cheaply. A new water ride is coming in 2020 (hard to know what it could be based on the location, but a proper log flume or rapids would suit the park perfectly right now). And with the new ownership, they've clearly got the money to be able to bring in the new, high-quality additions.
So yeah, give this park 5 years, and I have no doubts they'll have a solid line up with some great filler attractions. In 10-12 years time, though, I really do see this having the potential to be one of Europe's most charming, most fun parks - a real gem in the making!
We left the park at 5-6ish in the end, after really dragging out the day. We spent some time exploring Katowice (and sadly, basically nothing was open because the Sunday we visited, EVERYTHING WAS CLOSED), and then got ready for a day of Polish culture...coming to a blog post near you soon...
The final park of the trip is a short skip and a jump from Toronto, Canadas Wonderland is a park boasting 16 rollercoasters and masses of flat rides. Whilst only two of the rollercoasters are really noteworthy, the park is well known for hosting the only Huss Jump 2 in the world as well as owning a Mondial Super Nova and top scan.
So.. first the elephant in the room.
The humongous and previously biggest B&M ever is an intimidating beast. Surrounding the park entrance with its massive hills, Leviathan is one impressive ride. It's easily the parks busiest attraction and the Canadians love it. What about me though? Having done Millennium Force two days previously, what would doing my second giga coaster in two days do?
The problem when you build something to be a country's biggest or most impressive is that you have to do very little with the ride to get the attention. Leviathan has a crippling problem that really bothers me but really what it is a very fast rollercoaster with very little air time. It darts around corners and through tunnels very quickly, the snappy turns being particularly fun. But then it ends. Mako, Silver Star and Raging Bull all have ride content after an MCBR to make the ride feel like it has two parts. The first full of giant hills, the second more smaller hills and helixes. Leviathan enters a break run. It's a massive anti climax after a ride with that much speed just ends with little fanfare. The argument could be made that the ride has done all it has needed and anything else would just be window dressing and just lengthening the ride. Well Fury 325 does exactly that and is well loved because of it. Leviathan feels like a waste of a massive opportunity. We had three rides including a night ride and although the night ride was more like it, it still felt underwhelming.
Luckily there is another ride for a second chance and that is Behemoth.
The main difference between this and Leviathan is the height, the train configuration and ride length. Everything that isn't great about Leviathan features on Behemoth and more. It's a fantastic, air time filled ride. Whilst Levy is all about the speed, this is all about being chucked out of your seat and each hill provides that little burst of it. Of all the hypers I've done, this does the most with its post MCBR section featuring several air time hills and a nice forceful helix. I loved Behemoth because its what a B&M hyper should be all about. It has a great river side setting and does justice to its right length and height. This is without a doubt my favourite hyper coaster from B&M. It had maybe a maximum of a ten minute wait so re-rides were easy and it really delivered.
Vortex is the second arrow suspended on the trip. It doesn't feature two lift hills and its all the better for it as it has a great layout, big swings and properly follows the terrain. The lift hill takes it atop the rocky mountain, the icon of the park, before dropping down the hill into some big helixes that make the car swing pretty violently to the right. It then drives down towards Yukon Striker lake. Whilst a short ride, it delivers a powerful punch. This had the second longest wait of the park for some reason. It has a pretty broad appeal to a lot of people and delivers an interesting and good ride.
What doesn't deliver a good ride is a Volare. This is my first of these horror shows and whilst I don't think they are anywhere near as bad as is made out, they really aren't great attractions. From the torture device restraints to the way the thing just cannot corner properly, instead rattling and jerking left and right, it seems crazy that the have kept this. Right next door is an SLC, this was one of the better ones. I maintain that give these things a good restraint system and they would be fine because I take no issue with the layout.
Hello SLC bunny.
Whilst this park has 16 rollercoasters, a majority are pretty much off the shelf models like SLC's, Boomerangs, Mack wild mouse/powered coasters and the odd one is original. The Mighty Canadian Mine Blaster made sure that even if I wanted children, that would be impossible now. It started off fine but one of its hills just sent the restraint down another click and ouch. Every hill then become a battle not to cry out in horror..
No, what this park really does is flat rides and it is here that makes Canada Wonderland that little bit more well rounded then Cedar Point #controversy
The torture device.
The Submission experience
The blast from the past.
The parks impressive selection has one big downfall in that each ride has a might short cycle. The Mondial supernova for example lasted less then a minute and it barely built up any speed or sensation. I'd actually ridden it in Germany 12 years ago when it was called Air Wolf and there, it was a mightily impressive, intense ride. Here its only okay. The Zamperla ride didn't need to last much longer then a minute as it was weirdly forceless despite holding you upside down for longer then other similar rides. And finally, the Jump2 was just one of the most bizarre ride experiences I've ever done. If I had to describe it, it would be like what would happen if you're moving along merrily in a car and are then shunted suddenly 50/60 feet into the air in a second. It was jerky yet smooth, fast yet slow, short yet tall. I'm not really surprised that Huss only sold one because it's not a solid ride experience. I didn't come off whooping at this amazing ride but I didn't feel disappointed. It is distinctly average and yet none the less I am glad to have ridden it.
We managed to get on all the rollercoasters here and a majority of the unique flat rides so at 9pm, we decided to leave our first Canadian theme park. I recommend a trip here for those that like their theme parks a little bit weird. This is a theme park of variety, where each member of the family gets a lot of ride choice and things to do. Its like the polar opposite of Cedar Point which almost deliberately targets thrill seekers only. With another 16 coasters under my belt, the day was good and our next week was going to be a completely different kettle of fish and one of the most breathtaking and life altering weeks of my life..
Welcome Back (if you didn’t get bored last time).
Previously, I left you with a Cliff hanger on whether we managed to get on Top Thrill Dragster. I’m afraid this is going to be a bit of a disappointment, because we didn’t return to the park. On the second day (at least).
Day 2- A Pointless Day
Although our hotel package included park tickets, these were only valid for three days, so at least one of our days was to be away from the park.
With adverse weather forecasted (and CP having a reputation for closing everything in storms), Tuesday was going to be our non park day.
Ohio is generally less touristy than other American states/cities such as Orlando, New York and Los Angelies. The only major attraction where we were staying was Cedar Point, but there would be other things to do.
One of the first place we visited was Wendy’s. This fast food outlet is quite popular in America and quite a few outlets exist as a result. They haven’t existed in the U.K. now for quite a number of years.
I went for a Chicken Burger meal, which turned out to be remarkably delicious (more than I was expecting). This medium is bigger than a U.K. large indefinitely.
When we finished up, we headed to the Sandusky Mall. The crazy thing about Malls are they a very American concept, however they seem to be a dying breed these days (largely due to people buying online more). Quite a few have closed up in the last few years.
Sandusky Mall is quite small (by American standards), but offered an adequate selection of stores. It was also considerably cleaner than your typical U.K. shopping place. There were quite a few stores there’s from J.C Penney and TJ Maxx.
To say they had a lot of Harry Potter products would be an understatement.
We next went into a Target, which is one of the bigger and more familiar stores in the states to buy lots under one roof. It was a bit like cross between Wilko and the long gone Woolworths.
Later on, we found a smallish horror themed entertainment complex which included a scare maze as part of it’s lineup. Not too bad maze at all, with a decent length and selection of interactive features and theming. Reminded me of a longer version of Creepy Cottage.
Afterwards, we grabbed some Dunkin Donuts (which were ok), we had a little drive around to see what else was here. A fairly impressive water park and a derelict Toys R Us, were some of those sights.
We had a short break back at the hotel, before heading out to Pizza Hut. The garlic bread was delicious, however I’m unsure on my choice of Pizza.
Maybe I didn’t choose wisely.
Day 3- Back In The Park,
The third day away and we returned back to the park.
That morning, it was time to give a US McDonald’s breakfast ago. The Mc Muffin was nice but I prefer the hash browns back home.
After the National anthem, we headed straight back to SV where we had a ride on the back. Even more amazing than the last time, the forces on this ride were insane.
This time, we generally did some re-rides but also went on some of the smaller things too. Millennium was just as amazing on the front row, Rougarou remained an impressive floor-less and Magnum was actually enjoyable. Like really enjoyable that I liked this a lot more.
On our last visit Top Thrill Dragster had been closed, due to launch cable replacements. However thankfully, it was now back up and running.
We managed two goes on this, including one on the front. That launch is certainly impressive! It really does shoot you out of that station with tonnes of acceleration for sure. The views uptop are great too. TTD is probably my favourite accelerator coaster (not launch coaster) and much better than Red Force. Sure it’s just a one trick pony, but that doesn’t detract anything from the ride and what’s it is trying to achieve! Five train operation though is very efficient!
The difference between something like Stealth and TDD compared to something like Taron and Maverick is, rather than delivering a palette of elements, its main intention is to purely just reach key speed and height quickly and efficiently.
Some of the other rides we tried included the S&S shot towers, including my first downwards launch one. Both were definitely amongst the better ones around, but I definitely preferred the one with the downwards launch.
We also did the park’s railway which was great. A long scenic route and traditional steam, featuring a great number of skeleton animatronics too.
There was also a park museum which was both charming and interesting to look around. I love parks that have pride in their past, present and future and is something more parks should do!
We also had another ride on Vengeance, after waiting a while following several shutdowns. We set at the front this time!
That evening we went to the TGI Friday’s in Cedar Point’s Hotel Breakers. The portions were definitely bigger and offered more richly packed burgers. Despite this, I may still prefer the U.K. one, but that may be because I’m more familiar with them here.
We also explored the boardwalk area of Cedar Point shores. Everything was lovely, apart from the bugs, which there were billions of!
Day Four- Returning to Shores
Thursday would mark our third and final visit to the park through our hotel deal (Or Would It!)!
Back to Steel Vengeance we go, followed by another round on Maverick! Operations were definitely slower this time round, which was a pain, but it was still a great ride. Most operations were very good though, least whilst I was there.
We returned to the Smoke House again, this time opting for some Brisket Beef which was delicious. We also snuck in another Magnum ride somewhere in the middle. This is definitely a ride I’ve enjoyed the more I’ve ridden it!
Whilst Doyle went wind sailing, Matt Wise and I tried out the water park Cedar Point Shores. They had quite a interesting selection of slides, including a racing body slide with enclosed parts amongst a raft slide with a steep drop!
One of the craziest rides they had there were those slides where you stand up and then you plummet through a trap door into tie slide below! Honestly one mad but enjoyable ride, and perhaps one of my favourites there. And yes, I did say the ‘Wrong Lever’ speech during my ride, however to not much effect I’m afraid!
Not a bad water park at all I say and definitely one of the better ones I have visited. My only complaints are the lack of changing facilities (which there wasn’t enough of) and the Lazy River being closed!
Now back in the park, we went on some of the other attractions around the Boardwalk side including Max Air and the Wind Seeker. Max Air was great fun, it packed it’s forces and is probably my second favourite afterburner ride after Loki. Can’t say I was a massive fan of the Wind Seeker. Whilst I didn’t hate it, I just found the whole experience overwhelming with strong gusts blowing around whilst at the top. Maybe it’s me!
We revisited Wicked Twister and Gate Keeper once, Swarm has some better elements , but Gate Keeper for is still the better coaster. Raptor was revisited and retains it’s place as my second favourite invert (of four (I need to go on more)).
Valravn was revisited before indulging in the park’s gift shops. I don’t know if it’s me but I just didn’t enjoy this coaster as much as the other major ones here. I certainly enjoyed it more on my second time but it still seems to just lack something. The second half of the ride is probably better IMHO.
The last ride of the day would be Steel Vengeance (shock horror), where we were trying for a night ride! The park closed at 8pm each day we were out there, but it didn’t get dark until around 9pm earliest. Those poor SV staff!
This time we went for the back again and it certainly disappoint. Not to mention it was just about dark enough to be classed as a night ride!
The whole area looks pretty during the night!
That night it was Five Guys Night, where we ordered so close to closing, we had to exit through a fire escape (not the first time I did that on this trip)! Five Guys was ok, but a little bit disappointing, not because the food was bad but it was exactly like the U.K. ones (which is believed to be a direct import).
Least it’s probably better value for money and they have full fat coke (which may well be ditched in the U.K. thanks to Jamie Oliver)!
Day Five- The Final Surprise
Friday marked the final day of the trip after 5.5 days. Once we checked out, we were stuck between doing mini golf and other small things or another third to half day at the park. We chose the latter!
We paid at the hotel reception (which was more than we’d like but could’ve been worse). Off we went!
We headed once again for SV one last time, before getting a few things done. Woodstock Express was one of the last creds to get at the park and I can safely say it’s a very enjoyable young family coaster. That isn’t sarcasm. I promise! We also did Pipe Scream, which is a fun family flat but is definitely not a coaster!
We grabbed an ice cream/smoothie from one of those ‘choose your own toppings’ places. Mine was delicious, but given one of the machines exploded contents over me during dispensing was annoying to say the least!
During consumption, we noticed the ‘soon to be removed’ Witches Wheel Ride suddenly and strangely lower back to ground earlier than normal. Suddenly we noticed the lack of audio and realised the park had experienced a power cut!
Annoying to say the least, but it was interesting to see how quiet and different the park felt in those few moments. It was amazing how relaxed a lot of guests seemed to be about it, whereas back home they would be up in arms!
Around an hour later everything was getting back and running, so we went on Sky Hawk again first and then did the park’s Rapids. This thing was crazy, wet and wild! They have waterfalls that almost cover your whole body!
The boats were large although strangely they weren’t running many. They have spotters here too!
We headed over to Gemini Red, where we lost again but least we got the cred! It may not be the best coaster out there but it’s definitely a fun ride and seems quirky in a number of ways!
Our last ride (as random it is) was to be Iron Dragon, which was a little better than our first go but still nothing spectacular. One day I hope to ride Ninja, Vortex and/or Bat, hopefully all three.
Corkscrew was our last ride of the trip, followed by another ice cream/ smoothie before returning to the car and departing Cedar Point once and for all. On this visit anyway!
A visit to Wendy’s marked the last States meal. We returned the hire car immediately after and took the bus to the terminal. Security and departures was generally hassle free time round. For two of at least. Poor Doyle.
We boarded plane one (of two) thankfully to no delays and probably the nicest of our flights. Our flight back was perhaps the worst but it was still acceptable!
The Ending Point:
Some say Cedar Point is the holy grail of theme parks! Not only is it arguably one of the best in the world but boasts many of the best coasters in the world!
For me, Cedar Point is currently my second favourite park (number one amusement park), largely down to it’s vast impressive collection of rides (especially coasters), amongst mostly very good operations and their park seems generally well kept. Most areas look immaculate and it seems they jet wash the paths frequently!
One must remember that CP is a completely different type of park than say Disney or Efteling. It’s not trying to create immersive lands and attractions, but deliver generally impressive rides. This isn’t to say they don’t have places of charm. The western areas around Professor Delbert’s and near Steel Vengeanve are beautiful.
If thrilling, tall and fast white knuckle rides this is definitely the park for you! If you are more into immersive experience attractions over rides with impressive layouts, it’s definitely still a park worth seeing though as there’s plenty to see and discover here!
Although fairly short, this trip to America was highly enjoyable, not just as Cedar Point is concerned, but everything from the food to cultural differences. Who knows when I’ll go state side again? Maybe 2-3 years hopefully if things go to plan.
One things for sure, I won’t be forgetting this adventure anytime soon!
**Walks off into sunset**
Liseberg caught my attention in 2014 with the launch of Helix, and has since been very much on my agenda to visit. With it being my first non-UK park, there were high expectations and I was extremely excited to visit.
Firstly, looking at the park itself, it’s absolutely beautiful. The location in Gothenburg is amazing and I like the fact that many of the rides are built into the hillside, whilst also entwining between each other; it’s very Blackpool-on-a-hill ish. Helix has a fantastic presence and I really like the way it entwines between Lisebergbanan, the log flume and various other rides. In turn, Valkyria stands out and the view looking down from the top of the hill is fantastic.
Another thing that struck me was that the park must have a fantastic landscaping team; the gardens were all spotless, as were the buildings, queuelines and surrounding areas. It really puts UK parks to shame in terms of presentation.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the operations at the park after hearing great things. Helix runs three trains but has terribly slow dispatch times, it was stacked on all three trains every time I was on the ride and/or watching from elsewhere in the park. I feel a lot of this is caused by the (unnecessary) seatbelts, as Icon at Blackpool doesn’t really have this problem. In addition, operations on Valkyria were equally slow with the ride stacking all 3 cars on almost every occasion.
On a more positive note, Lisebergbanan is a fantastic queue shifter, as are the Flume Ride and Rapids. Furthermore, the park was extremely busy on Saturday and Sunday, and I feel the park held together well with minimal breakdowns and generally a well organised feel, even if some of the throughputs were lower than I would have hoped for.
Finally, before looking at the rides, catering let the park down massively in my opinion. The Max burger outlets all had queues out of their pens, meaning we ended up queueing 45 minutes for “fast food” – the other more upmarket options are pricey but the wait times are generally lower.
Onto the rides!
Approaching the ride, it has an intimidating presence with fantastic landscaping allowing you to get really close to the ride’s drop, and a forced-perspective of the ride station at the top of the steps. The queueline is standard cattle pen for the most part, but there are some theming elements throughout and the theme music plays.
Inside the station, two faux fire plinths create a fantastic effect, as does a projection of a Valkyrie on the wall at the far end. The music plays louder in here, and the atmosphere is very dramatic.
Onto the ride itself, the fast lift hill is followed by a wide turn with fantastic views of Gothenburg and the surrounding rides at Liseberg. You’re slowed down before the holding break is used; I found it holds you for significantly longer than Oblivion, and the views over Liseberg are followed by a sudden plunge into a mist-filled tunnel. The effect is very good here, as the angle you enter the tunnel mean it acts as a head-chopper; at night, the mist is lit in blue which adds further to the effect.
Following the drop, you enter an Immelmann before taking a fast-right-hand turn into a zero-g-roll. I found the roll provided a strange sensation, as it’s taken much faster than most yet feels as if you “float” through it. The turns which follow are fun, with a small moment of airtime offered depending where you are sat. Following this, I found the final heartline roll to offer another floaty-sensation.
My verdict on Valkyria is that it’s a very fun and floaty coaster, but lacks high levels of G-Force. Whilst I prefer Oblivion’s first drop due to the restraints, and longer tunnel, I feel that Valkyria is a much better attraction with it being a full-length coaster, and the theming is solid.
Helix was the main reason for my visit to Liseberg, and with a similar ride being introduced to the UK it was finally time to go and ride its main inspiration.
I find the ride’s presence around Liseberg absolutely stunning, it feels like it’s carved into the hillside and fits in perfectly around the park’s other attractions, whilst also maintaining a stature of its own. At night, it looks phenomenal with the light only coming from the ride’s trains.
Entering the queueline, the ride’s soundtrack immediately becomes audible as you navigate (or queue!) through a high-tech feeling metallic queueline. It reminded me of a classy version of G-Force’s queueline, but MUCH better.
The ride’s station is fairly standard, but the ceiling dispatch lighting adds a lot; especially once night falls. The theme music plays loudly in here, but is sadly interrupted by the seatbelt announcement each time the train loads.
Dropping out of the station into the first inversion, some hangtime is experienced before turning into the first launch. With a small burst of acceleration, you are thrown into a zero-g-roll, then a turn/airtime hill before entering the next two inversions. I found the ride picked up some good force here, to then throw you into the airtime hill. I didn’t experience much airtime here, however the sensation on the next zero-g-roll felt oddly jerky, as if the train is constantly catching up with itself; I think this is due to the track profile, but I actually really liked it!
The next section was my favourite of the ride, as you are thrown into a mini-airtime hill before entering a “helix” with extremely high g-forces experienced! The turn that follows this was very weak by comparison, though the tunnel makes it more fun I guess.
Entering the second launch, you enter the ride’s tallest inversion. I found this quite weak, and much prefer Icon’s Immelmann as you experience a lot of airtime coming down from it; whereas on Helix, you turn whilst inverted meaning there isn’t any. After exiting this you are thrown into a huge airtime hill, which produces fantastic ejector on the back row. Entering another high-g turn, you navigate some S-turns before entering the final heartline roll, which had some amazing hangtime.
Overall, I found that Helix is a very good, solid coaster with a decent length. With that said, I don’t rate it as highly as many others do.
Balder was much anticipated by myself, being a fan of wooden coasters. The ride’s queueline is a horrible mess of mesh and cattle pen but putting that aside, it’s a really awesome ride.
I was surprised with how steep (and fast!) the lift hill is, and much like the other rides at Liseberg, fantastic views are offered. The first drop is fantastic and provides some fantastic airtime, a trend that continues throughout the ride.
The bulk of the ride’s layout is made up of airtime hills taken very quickly, meaning that there’s insane ejector in almost every hill. A particular highlight for me was the hill taken fully in a tunnel, as it feels like you’re being thrown up towards the ceiling. In addition, there are a huge number of VERY close head choppers throughout the layout, which combined with being thrown out of your seat at the same time genuinely made me feel uneasy!
Overall, Balder is a fantastic wooden coaster. It’s much smoother than other woodies I’ve ridden, but the airtime is sublime. The ride experience improves massively at night, with the tunnel providing a moment of pitch-darkness.
With that said, I did find it very formulaic and the layout feels methodical as opposed to out-of-control, making it an entirely different experience to rides like Megafobia. It’s great fun, but I couldn’t help feeling on the last few hills, “it’d be great if the ride did something different now.”
Lisebergbanan is a fantastic coaster which makes use of the terrain, much like Helix. A lengthy ride is experienced, with plenty of force on the corners. I also loved the three turns taking you down the hillside through the tunnel, though the brake run is brutal! The ride station is one of the best I’ve ever seen, as is the ride’s capacity.
Atmosfear is a brilliant drop tower, whilst not as forceful as some the views are impressive and the height fantastic, and I liked the fact that the drop feels much longer than similar drop towers.
Loki is an incredible flat ride, and may be my new favourite (was previously Slammer at Thorpe). The ride’s restraints mean that incredible airtime is offered, as well as a huge amount of force on the way down. Close interactions with Balder also improve this.
The biggest surprise of the visit for me was Mechanica. I absolutely adored Bling at Blackpool, like I remembered it being amazing. But Mechanica was (to put it as politely as possible), utter rubbish. We had two rides on it and only experienced one good moment, the rest was awkward shuffling from side to side and aimlessly swinging. The noise it makes is amazing though.
Flume ride is amazing, my absolute favourite log flume. It’s taken at a very fast speed, and the hillside location makes for stunning interactions with the coasters. I found the last two drops to be a lot of fun, with just the right level of wetness to be fun but not stupidly wet. Similarly, the rapids were also brilliant fun, and it was nice to see that they still use all their water features unlike UK ones.
Overall, I found Liseberg to be a really nice amusement park. It’s clear that they prioritise quality in everything they do, with the rides all being comfortable, well presented and fun. A very easy abroad park to do for the first one, too. A few more photos below
(As if you havent had enough of Cedar Point already)
So this woody has a problem in that there's a part of the ride that travels past the bins and it absolutely stinks. Other then that this is a surprisingly fast and brutal wooden coaster and it took us a little bit by surprise. It had two trains running and never had a queue. I like.
This was pretty standard actually and apart from doing its thing over the pathway and has sentimental value, it's just another rollercoaster at the park and hasn't too much going for it these days.
Look at my photo skills.
I don't really understand this ride. It didn't seem to be very reliable on my visit and for a ride that makes a point of it being a racing coaster, it must be the worst racing coaster out there. The thing doesn't are as the right hand side will always have the advantage. It's also a hybrid coaster but it was pretty unmemorable.
This ride is brilliant. My only experience with Arrow hypers is The Big One which is in my opinion, an absolutely atrocious attraction. No air time, painful, shuddery and rides terribly. But Magnum, my god is absolutely fantastic. I can imagine riding this thing in 1989 and being blown away by just how much air time features throughout the ride. Oddly, the majority of the ride is outside the park and can barely be seen as you stroll around the midway. The ride is strangely themed to almost like a space ship (but obviously not) and features a huge drop and a journey towards the adventure park. But on the ride as you come back towards the station the ride throws air time hill after air time at you and it just feels insane. My first ride I was kind of in pain from just how much ejector you get. The second time I was fully aware and I adored it. So yeah I loved it, my fiancé loved it and I wished I'd ridden more. Alas, too much to do.
The next big ride is ages away in Old Town (or whatever its called) and too start off with...
WARNING, A LENGTHIER REVIEW
When it comes to Intamin, they are either brilliant (Taron, Juvelen, iSpeed) or monstrous (Cheetah Hunt, Tornado). With Maverick, back in its opening year and it had an inversion removed due to being too forceful, I had my reservations with how rideable this thing was going to be. Since opening its had some restraint modifications to make it more comfortable to ride and with its mini look but explosive layout, this ride has developed a somewhat cult following among enthusiasts. And I'm happy to say I am a fan.
The queue line is quite scenic for Cedar Point, going around a small lake and into a small shedded area before going into the station. I like how each train has a different colour and a different name. In the station, two trains are loaded at a time. We always chose the second train and I think it has a slight drawkback. When the trains are dispatched, the first will go straight into the launch lift hill but the second waits at the bottom. Problem is you have nothing to look at so you just sit (like in the picture) waiting for the ride to do something. But once it gets going this ride doesn't disappoint. From snappy inversions, huge air time hills with bucket loads of air time and a great little speed run through the lake with water blasters going off, this has something for everyone and is a real crowd pleaser.
What I like about rides like Maverick, Icon, Taron, Juvelen is that the launch is only part of the experience, a faster lift hill if you will. You're not supposed to get off these rides beaming about how fast you accelerated but how the whole things come together. Maverick is a winner because it brings together everything that is good about Intamin. They don't always get it right but when they do, they really nail it. My only hope is that more open across Europe as they are such great, enjoyable rides.
Ah RMC. Back in your earlier days whilst Theme Park Review were raving and singing your praises, I think a lot weren't too sure about the odd blocky track, the strange stall turns, the way the ride seems to throw riders around with all the grace of a bucking bronco. But over time, as more and more opened, whether completely new like Wildfire at Kolmarden or refurbishments of older rides, each has opened to massive praise. Steel Vengeance is without a doubt their biggest project. Not only did they change the universally hated Mean Streak but the created one of their longest and craziest rides. How does it really compare to other rollercoasters when to be honest there's very few like it.
From the moment the train is dispatched, even before the lift hill there's air time which bodes well. What follows the lift hill is what feels like the most out of control experience felt on a rollercoaster. From the banked air time hills, the zero g rolls that felt like they come from nowhere in the layout, the way the train dives through the structure feels incredible. The zero-g stall, the small air time hills into the break run.
When it comes to B&M's and you ride, you can remember the layout quite easily, it's simple to describe the feelings through each hill or inversion. When it comes to Steel Vengeance, that feels impossible. Especially on the ride when you're flying past wooden beams or over the top of hills, trying to process the experience feels like a trivial exercise in over-analysing. It's just damn good.
My only complaint is the restraints, particularly around the legs aren't great. I don't know if its a height thing because it only seems to effect a few people. But its a minor complaint in what I think is one of the best rides built in the last ten years. Sure, I prefer Gatekeeper as I personally enjoy that ride more. But I don't underestimate the technical skills and know how that went into modifying, building and designing Steel Vengeance.
Go and ride, simple as.
And so with all that, the Cedar Point experience was over. And was it worth it. Without a doubt yes. Maverick, Still Vengeance, Gatekeeper, Millennium Force and Raptor make the visit more then worthwhile. This is such a strong line up and it's only part of the offering. I know there is a load of people who like to pit CP against Magic Mountain and knowing I have been to two of the sought after US parks feels pretty awesome. I personally prefer CP but Magic Mountain is still a top theme park; I'd go there for Tatsu.
The next stop is Canadas Wonderland so see you then. And thanks for reading.
America! It’s somewhere I have wanted to go and visit since I can remember.
I had always dreamt of visiting here, since seeing it in films, television and more. The style and the culture.
Recently that dream became a reality, thanks to a great opportunity with some great mates. Bringing not only a chance to visit the states but one of it’s most iconic parks Cedar Point.
Now you’ve probably already read Mark9’s informative trips from here, so a different scope should be required. In my reviews I will not only mention of Cedar Point, but my full experience of the States, being my first trip outside of Europe as of 2018.
Day 0/ Sunday- Going West
Wise and I parked up at Gatwick’s long stay before joining the transfer to the terminal. After uniting with Doyle, we were good to go beginning our long descent to America!
After devouring a Spoons brunch, we hopped onboard our first of two flights with Icelandic air, who despite being relatively unknown proved to be better than expected; the engines were loud though. Like very loud!
This would be my first long haul flight (having previously flown 2 HR 40 max on short haul). I expected a long, boring and tiring flight, but it wasn’t as bad, thanks to some on flight entertainment. Dead pool and Isle Of Dogs were amongst my choices with the odd Fawlty Towers episode.
Three hours later we arrived at Reykjavik Iceland, where we literally changed to our connecting flight immediately. This plane was even better than the first apart from one of our screens being broken, which was unacceptable.
Another five and a bit hours later , we finally landed at Cleveland Ohio. This was it, I was finally in America! Not after customs though.
The American custom process is much stricter and complex than the European one ( pre-Brexit at least). You are asked a number of questions upon arrival. Although the staff seemed friendly enough all instructions must be obeyed! This did take longer than first hoped.
Another security check took place before we were finally out. A quick bus to our hire car company commenced before we were finally on the way once we chose our vehicle.
It was interesting to note the differences on American roads. From yellow traffic lights and lack of roundabouts. Even the cars were different in many respects. Red indicators? No front number plates? All here in America.
We finally arrived at our hotel for the trip, Cedar Point’s Express Hotel. Although simple it was clean, tidy and welcoming.
Ride pictures above the beds is such a nice touch!
McDonald’s was our first stateside meal (conveniently located across the road from the hotel). The burger was certainly more tasty amongst a bigger portion and unlimited refills (a common measure in US eateries).
Day 1/ Monday- The Magnificent Seven-teen
Despite the long flight, I managed to wake up bright and early. Then again, I was still running on UK time so, 6am Cleveland time would equate to 11am in London.
Monday would be the first of three full days to visit Cedar Point.
Home of seventeen coasters (eighteen including both of Gemini’s track), the park boasts the second highest coaster count in the world. Least until a few years time when Energylandia will probably top it all.
The park features it’s own road/highway which may be the only major access route to the park. The views of the ride skyline make it what is arguably one of the most beautiful and impressive theme park views around!
They didn’t lie about it being a roller coast.
We parked up and arrived promptly. One of the advantages of staying at Cedar Point property is being allowed to enter for early ride time, one hour before main opening.
After playing the Star Spangled Banner, we made our way to our first attraction of the day, Steel Vengeance (the patriotism there is impressive).
New for 2018, this RMC replaced the ageing Mean Streak coaster, taking it’s layout and making it better.
The hype for this ride was unreal. I know I shouldn’t judge an attraction before riding, but I was unbelievably excited to experience this!
Such a beauty! Watching this ride going around it’s circuit!
So, how was Steel Vengeance you ask?
Absolutely Incredible! The ride is impressively tall, fast and packed with airtime (both floater and ejector) and hangtime amongst a lengthy ride duration.
I came off this ride immediately knowing it to be my number one coaster, and that was just from a middle row ride!
Cedar Point may not be specialists when it comes to turning, but SV definitely had some (if you look hard enough). From it’s styled lighting and story boards. They even feature different dispatch announcements for each train (Chess, Blackjack and Digger).
This was my first RMC, so fingers crossed I haven’t set the bar too high already and don’t appreciate others as a result.
My only criticism is naturally their ‘no phone in queue line’ policy, where phones must be put in a locker prior to riding. They even had undercover staff in the queue looking for anyone who snuck their phone in! There was also a security/police personnel at the entrance in case of abusive guests.
Things aside, Steel Vengeance is an incredible ride and worth tracking out for alone (amongst Cedar Point’s other amazing rides).
Maverick was the second ride of our trip. This intamin blitz coaster opened in 2007 replacing the former flume ride. I really like how they have preserved the old station and reused it as Maverick’s queue even if it is just your average cattle-pen.
Maverick really surprised me. Whilst I’d heard great things about this coaster, this thing literally wowed me! From it’s tight intense transitions, landscaping down to it’s hidden launch which was just amazing.
This ride for me narrowly beats Taron due to it’s variety of elements. And turnsurprise launch. There is also a back story to this attraction too.
We had a bite to eat next at this Smokehouse place. We all had spicy sausage, chips and a muffin.
It looked a lot more delicious than this photo suggests,
I like the details on these presumably old posters and signs.
Millennium Force was number three. The hype this coaster gets is absolutely insane, so I was concerned it would be overrated (given it’s mixed reception from enthusiasts).
I queued (ages) with an open mind trying not to think of how much I might like the ride.
Millennium Force surprised me! Often ranked very highly on coaster polls I was greatly satisfied this ride turned out to be just as good (if not better) from what I was expecting.
From it’s 300 ft plus cable lift hill, the ride delivers in plenty ways. There is definitely plenty of force as this coaster flies around it’s circuit. There is also plenty of interaction a lot more airtime than I was expecting too. Who said it was forceless?
I honestly came off shaken, in a good way which is why Millennium Force gets fifth place in my top 10 (speaking in September 2018).
N.B the gap between the 2-7 on my coaster ratings is pretty minuscule.
Having done what are arguably the three biggest (and best) rides at the park it was time for something comparatively smaller, Iron Dragon.
Opening in 1987, this Arrow suspended coaster is one of just five that remain operating (once 10). It’s also the oldest to remain operating (fourth one made).
The ride wasn’t anything remarkable, although I suppose it is one of the older ones of it’s type. Least I’ve now managed to one with the old Cars I guess.
Rougarou was next. This B&M coaster used to be a stand up but was converted to a floorless a few years ago.
I was pleasantly surprised with this ride. Like really surprised! The pacing and momentum through those inversions and helixes was superb. Truly an underrated coaster here and everything Dragon Khan should’ve been.
We headed east next to Gate Keeper, however it was down so we did Wicked Twister instead. This was a pleasant surprise and definitely a lot better than expected. The feeling of those launches and seeing the track top above was one crazy feeling!
Blue Streak followed, which was first and last wooden cred of the trip. This ride was pleasantly fun and reminded me of Big Dipper and Nick Streak at Blackpool. At 54 it is also one of the oldest coasters too.
We headed back to Gate Keeper which was now running which would by my second B&M Wing Rider.
Apart from the view onto the car park, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, from it’s selection of elements to the interactions near the entrance and theming elements! A better ride than Swarm in some areas but not in others.
We took the Sky Ride down to the entrance to experience Raptor. Not the Towers one. This version is an absolute classic and similar to the ones the first Magic Kingdom park’s used to have. They offered pleasant views of the park and peninsula. A shame Drayton spited theirs!
Raptor opened in 1994 (the same year as Nemesis) which is also a B&M invert.
It was hear we also experienced our first ‘in line shutdown’. No P.A announcement but they managed to get the ride up again pretty quickly in around 10 minutes. The amount of people leaving the line without appearing disgruntled was remarkable. They certainly seem more relaxed out here!
We managed front row on Raptor which turned out to be an impressive invert. It was a bit like Inferno but bigger and better. Some of those inversions really pull force and put you off guard, especially that reverse inline.
Currently my second favourite of four inverts (just four?) and favourite B&M in this park!
We grabbed another of many soft drink refills from the Coadter’s Diner before making a move to the further North Coasters in this park. The amount of free style refill and drinks choices out here is remarkable and offers considerably better choices than back home. Jamie Oliver is one of many reasons why the UK doesn’t get nice things anymore!
We did Corkscrew, another of several Arrow coasters at the park. Despite its age I found it surprisingly enjoyable.
Magnum XL was our next ride. In 1988 This beast was the tallest coaster in the world at 205ft tall, until it’s slightly taller sister the Big One stole it!
I found my first ride on the Magnum noticeably jerky and uncomfortable almost to the point I proffered The Big One. It’s a good job I didn’t just do it once! It’s still popular too.
Gemini followed. This is an interesting attraction in that it’s a racing coaster that looks like a woodie in places but is actually a steel coaster. It’s height implies it’s a thrill coaster, but it mostly rides as a thrilling family ride.
Whilst Gemini may not have the frills and excitement as other coasters at the park, it perfectly serves it’s purpose as a fun and exciting ride. The racing element here likely helps enhance this factor.
After Gemini we raced over (pun intended) to Cedar Creek Mine Ride, the final of C’s Arrow quintet. This is the second oldest coaster operating at the park, which you can tell from old fashioned restraints style which are manually functioned by ride staff. It also occupies one of the larger footprints too.
Aside from it’s historical significance, there isn’t anything remarkable about this ride as nothing really sticks out for it. Least the location is nice though. Still beats El Diablo.
We took a quick break from our coaster and soft drink hoarding by going on Sky Hawk, the park’s S&S Sky Swing. This was honestly tonnes of fun and swings much higher and longer than Rush indefinitely.
Valravn would serve as our final ride and Cred of day one. We joined the queue just before it closed and spent most of the time chatting an American family who seemed quite friendly; I found most people during my trip out there friendly.
Timing it right (when staff asked for a three), we finally boarded what would be our final B&M we hadn’t done at the park.
Although Wise and Martin seemed to like it, I came off feeling like something was missing. Like key wow factor moment. It probably didn’t help being asked to randomly swap seats with another rider.
Despite it’s height, the drop felt empty and I think the reason for this is largely down to the lack interaction. Whilst CP isn’t a park that specialise in theming, they could have at least added a tunnel or something as that alone would already be a noticeable improvement both to the ride in appearance and experience.
Don’t get me wrong it’s not a terrible coaster (far from it). But I just feel I csme off it feeling a little disappointed and wanting more and preferring Oblivion to it despite being a longer ride. I think the second half is generally better on this one! Least Yukon Striker actually has an impressive first drop!
Now your probably thinking I’m missing out on an important ride here. Something that you can’t help but notice really impacts the park’s ride selection and skyline. The answer Unfortunate is No. we didn’t go on Woodstock Express on day one!
Oh, and Top Thrill Dragster was down due to some cable replacing work, so looks like we’ve been spited a Cred here. Or have we?
End Of Part One
I'm going to go via the park layout when talking about the rides here, its easier then trying to remember the order (Millennium Force will be the exception).
Ah Cedar Point. Ever since I first got properly into rides in 2003, seeing the Top Thrill Dragster documentary on Ch4 (I think), I've been endeavouring to get out there but things stopped me. But no more. The first thing that surprised me really was the park layout. The front of the park is absolutely loaded with attractions, Raptor is right on the midway for example and sandwiched in next to it is Valravn. Rougarou and Millennium Force being just a stone throw away. But then Maverick and Steel Vengeance are a good fifteen minutes walk right at the back of the park and in-between that is only really Top Thrill Dragster. People will hate me for this potentially but the park has zero atmosphere. I guess this comes from preferring theme parks to amusement parks, every single ride is just completely silent, the only sound coming from bored Cedar Point staff asking you if you enjoyed your ride or the ride itself. Its bizarre, even Six Flags rides have music around them. But not here. I also think their fastpass system absolutely wrecks the place. Basically, the basic package is around $79 and this is al the high throughput rides like Raptor, Rougarou and Gatekeeper. But if you buy the $99 package you get all the low throughput stuff like Steel Vengance, Maverick, TTD and Force. It's no surprise that Raptor is going around with a 5 minute queue, whilst the lower capacity rides have 30-60 minute queues. It's an oddly unbalanced place.
Anywho..... with that out of the way..
With any ride at Cedar Point, there's always an expectation especially as this is one of the most talked about theme parks in the world. With GK, its always come across as a very average ride, some saying the Swarm is better. I don't care if I am an exception to the rule though and I absolutely loved Gatekeeper. I thought it was the perfect wing rider with near misses that actually work, a large sprawling layout that does the wing rider concept justice, no awkward shuffling of the trains through transitions and no effects that are turned off to safe money. It looks gorgeous sweeping over the entrance to the park and never ran less then three trains keeping queues to a minimum. It was a big surprise and even my fiancé liked it (and he hates all wing riders).
This is no exaggeration. Raptor is an absolute beast and one of the most intense inverters out there. It took me a little bit by surprise as I was expecting a tamed down version of Monster at Walygator, but no trims on here, just a pure thrill ride that is not for the faint hearted. My favourite part was the final helix which whips you into the break run. I also loved the loud roar from the ride, it's absolutely ferocious and B&M certainly don't make them like this anymore. It also looks wonderful in its colour scheme.
This was something of a disappointment for me. To be honest its completely pointless at Cedar Point. Steel Vengence, Maverick and TTD already do pretty much this ride but do far more interesting things. Valravn just feels like a bog standard dive machine but it was always busy and suffered a lot of downtime during my visit. It may (have been) be the tallest, longest dive machine but for my money, Baron1898 and Oblivion are far superior rides and in a park like CP, with many tall rides, Valravn is a bit of a let down.
Iron Dragon is next up, this was an ok suspended but it doesn't really seem to do much with its concept. It doesn't really swing much and when it feels like its about to get going, a lift hill appears or a break run. What was nice to see was how busy this ride was. It always had a 15 minute queue.
Another orange B&M (seriously, why are the B&M's at the front of the park?), this time the former stand up coaster now floorless coaster Rourgarou. This ride is pretty odd, its former Mantis state making a very abstract floorless coaster. More positives stand in that it always ran three trains so queues were at a minimum and its a very fast ride with another very loud old school B&M roar. What it isn't though is smooth, the trains do tend to knock you about a bit. For my money, Raptor is a far superior ride, I do think Rouragou's first drop is a bit of a guilty pleasure though.
So this ended up (by careful planning) being my 300th coaster credit. I think it was a rather apt choice. I have a love/hate relationship with Intamin at the best of times and I am glad to see MF really impressed. I like that its a coaster built purely to show off some speed. It's not really an air time ride like most gigas/hypers are, its purely to show off some height at great speed. We only rode on the back row for our rides but I thought it was a fantastic ride. I particularly liked the two tunnels which the ride speeds through.
And onto the final ride of this part.
Top Thrill Dragster
Intamin acceleators are really not my thing. Whilst you get this really impressive launch, the ride rarely ever carries that momentum on for long. Kanonen was probably the best for having an interesting layout and Rita/Desert Racer try their best, the majority are simple letting their impressive speed make up for lacking rides. Top Thrill Dragster is very much one of those rides that impresses with speed but feels completely unmemorable to me. Controversial maybe, but I much prefer a ride like Maverick, Icon or iSpeed which have far more then just an 8 second ride. The launch is fantastic, don't get me wrong but if I'm going to be queuing an hour (plus with rollbacks and breakdowns may I add), then there are much better choices at CP to waste your time waiting for. No point in hitting 420 foot if you only have a second to really appreciate it. I think I may be in the minority for this but its been 15 years since Dragster opened and rollercoasters have moved on from just being record breakers and nothing else.
Cedar Point. Magic Mountain. Islands of Adventure. When you think of American theme parks, these three really are the gold standard when it comes to Uk enthusiast interest. And for good reason CP and MM have a tonne of rollercoasters, IOA is a goldmine for theme lovers (if you can ignore the sheds). It sometimes amazes me just how many US parks fall completely under the radar like SF over Georgia, or Carrowinds or the park I'll be reviewing, Six Flags Great America. This is no run of the mill Six Flags park, housing the worlds first B&M rollercoaster (Iron Wolf), the worlds first B&M inverter and the one B&M wing rider in the Six Flags chain not to mention the RMC or intamin coasters.
First thing to really cover though, Six Flags is expensive. $22 for parking and $15 for a slice of pizza. Geez.
Now thats out of the way, let us begin.
X Flight opened around the same time as The Swarm and the two feel pretty similar. One of my biggest bug bears with the wing riders though is its use of effects. Up until Gatekeeper (oh I'll get to you later), all four wing riders I've done, rely massively on water or fire or mist and all four fall short because they either have nothing on at all or only a handful of effects. It's kind of frustrating knowing what the ride should be and what its actually doing. X Flight though, is safe, middle of the road B&M. We got the first ride of the day on front row left and it didn't feel like anything mind-blowing. A decent ride experience for sure, but if you want a good example, try Flug at Heide.
We turned our attention to Demon, an arrow looper. American parks have a lot of these old school style Arrow rides and I can't hide it, I kind of love them. Knowing they were designed with pencil and paper and sure they've been outclassed massively, they are still fun (if jerky) rides. This ride was adapted from its initial layout as well, two extra vertical loops added to compliment the two corkscrews.
Next, Raging Bull the only hyper twister that B&M have really ever built and I'm not sure why as this is a great ride. It's long, has air time, lots of force, an unconventional layout and the ride team were operationally perfect. I only wish we had ridden it more in a variety of seats as it was enjoyable and fun.
We made our way to Viper, a wooden coaster which is the mirror image of the Cyclone at Coney Island. I liked this but I took no photos of it because I'm a lazy bum.
Next ride was Superman Ultimate Flight which sported a 30 minute queue (so far we'd walked onto everything). This again, is super safe B&M and whilst the pretzel loop is as good as is found on Manta and Tatsu, the rest of the layout is a big underwhelming. It's better then Galatica if only for the pretzel loop but if you don't like the pretzel, there probably isn't much for you here.
With Batman: The ride closed we decided to head to Goliath, our first ever RMC. I opted for front row and what we found is a masterclass in rollercoaster design, with one problem; it's too short. The ride experience is only thirty seconds long if that but its a damn awesome ride. I was beginning to see the hype but it would be the next day where I came to really feel what RMC are capable off.
For now though, it was V2, one of those terrible Intamin launch impulse things and if you decide to read my Cedar Point blog, I'll save you time. These things kind of suck. If its walk on they are almost acceptable, but I've done three different versions now and they all kinda stink. It's okay though because next ride up was....
It was Batman time. A little bit of history, I've previously done two of these rides and been underwhelmed each time. The 7 row version in Spain wasn't great and backwards at Magic Mountain just wasn't much fun. Finally it was time for the real deal, the first ever B&M inverter.
It was awesome. It has theme, it is intense, it is snappy, it wastes no time at any point in the layout, its fresh coat of paint looks spectacular, it was just fantastic. 26 years on and it runs like an absolute dream. This Batman deserves all the praise regardless of the 11 other versions there are. This is the real deal.
With our minds blown, we had lunch (very expensive) and had a ride on the Dark Knight, an outstandingly themed Mack wild mouse. We then tried to ride Whizzer but that was a no go, went to ride Raging Bull, got in the seat then got asked to get out of the seats and back behind the loading gates. Turned out their had been a park wide power cut and nothing was operational. We took a lap of the park, seeing what was going on but decided to cut our losses and head off. We missed out on a few rollercoasters unfortunately but maybe we'll head back one day. It's a short drive from Chicago and a is a severely overlooked theme parks.
Six Flags in general is a bit of a dark horse. I've heard awful things in the past but with the three I've visted there's been good operations and friendly staff (not in a Cedar point 'how was your ride' kind of way either). I look forward to my next Six Flags park visit.
Vialand is Turkey's best theme park and Located in Istanbul,Turkey.After little refurbish Vialand renamed to "İsfanbul Theme Park".
(My personal idea is Vialand should make something new because they have only one coaster and they haven't done anything new since 2012..)
Here is some attractions:
Nefeskesen: 110 km/h in 3 seconds.
Viking: 49 Feet super-soaking splash experience.
Adalet Kulesi: 164 Feet Drop Tower
Çılgın Nehir: 700 Meters long water ride
And Vialand Has 23 more attractions.
If You want to visit http://isfanbul.com/
My first experience of Blackpool started off before I had even arrived. Driving into the seaside town, the first thing you're greeted by are miles of banners for Icon. Blackpool is first and foremost a tourism hotspot and the Pleasure Beach is very much at the centre of this town. My first impressions of the promenade are not entirely positive. The street is quite tacky; donut stalls, arcades, casinos and pink horse rides are found along length of the street. The amazing views out to sea and sandy beaches redeem it somewhat.
On my first day at the Pleasure Beach, I was pleasently surprised. There was no lengthy wait to get in yet the park was thriving with guests on Saturday. This continued with relatively short queues compared to rival UK parks. What I love most about BPB and what has driven me to visit are the unique rides and layout the park has. All of the coasters are intertwined within one another in a way like no other park I've visited before.
The park maintains a diverse range of attractions with something for everyone to enjoy. Paired with very strong transport links, this makes BPB a great place to visit for anyone.
Presentation & Service
The park has a uniquely historical charm. I will say the main ticket office is quite grand inside, the staff here are well presented in classic suits. The office and the entrance were well staffed with more than enough people to handle larger crowds. Most of the staff in the park were cheerful apart from a few which can really make or break good a day out for guests. Fountains, fountains and more fountains were everywhere in this park. in the floor, on the coasters, ride areas, paths and are an attraction within their own right with a nice little show every 30 mins.
Food & Drink
Many of the Bars and the new Coasters restaurant have a modern, tasteful and clean look to them which I really liked. Most of them even served champagne. There were of course the standard fast food outlets too found at any park. We ate at the Coasters restaurant on the first day and I was very pleased with the quality and the price of the menu. I thought it was excellent value and I really hope to see more of this standard of food with similar affordable pricing at the park in the future.
The Pleasure Beach has a number of historical rides with by far the best one for me being River Caves. This indoor boat ride feels untouched, all the effects and scenery still look to be in working order. There are no gimmicks, just gentle background music, some narration and great atmospheric sets that the boats sail through. It's just a really nice boat ride.
Grand National is by far the worst historical ride at the park. This is a duelling wooden coaster that bounces and partially derails around the corners. It's set through a beautiful workshop behind Valhalla with tufts of grass growing through the tracks. The Big Dipper and the Velvet Streak are much better wooden coasters for their age.
Steeplechase is the most unique and rare coaster at BPB being the only ride of it's kind still operating in the world. It consists of three horse shaped vehicles running on vertical track rails. The track moves freely over the terrain with minimal support structures and has the ability to tilt the horse vehicles around the bends by offsetting the lower rail.
Forming part of the Blackpool skyline, The Big One is the second Hypercoaster I've ever been on and the tallest in the UK at just over 200ft high. The Hill and first half of the ride are the real highlights, you can see all of Blackpool at the top! The first airtime hills as of any hypercoaster are breathtaking and unlike any other coaster experience. The lower half of the ride feels more like a shopping trolley in a carpark however with a very jerky ride. A real shame that the station is literally a warehouse. No attempt at theming was made at all and frankly I've seen better industrial units. It's still worth riding for the experience.
Infusion is highly regarded amongst many as a terrible ride. The theme of the ride is simple yet so dynamic with water jets crossing streams between the twisted steel, it almost looks like an engineering water sculpture. I want to end the negative hype and say that the ride is not as rough as people say it is. It's not smooth either but I've been on worse. I would ride it again if I returned.
Revolution was a strange coaster for me. The station is at the top of the ride. As there are no airgates, there's a constant safety announcement on loop along with the original yet dated claim that it will be "the most thrilling ride of your life". It's a shuttle that sends you round a loop forwards and backwards, the backwards part being more nauseous than thrilling. The best thing about Revolution is the classic Arrow loop support structure.
Notably the best dark ride at BPB is Wallace & Gromit's Thrill-o-matic. Each scene is beautifully crafted to look just like the films. The voice overs, audio, lighting, everything is spot on and the ride has a decent length. It's charming, funny, northern and colourful. "I've got patent pending on that", "You'll be hearing from my solicitor about this!", "Cheeese" 😄The ride cars are like giant slippers which is just fantastic. It brings back childhood memories for me too, For me it's easily the best dark ride in the UK.
My gosh where do I start with Valhalla? It is an epic boat ride experience. The sets are impressive and the drops are brutally soaking wet. I started by submerging my shoes in a half filled boat. The flames were impressive, the steam was intense, the ice scene was frosty. It's really a one of a kind boat ride. A must do at BPB.
The first Mack coaster at BPB; a bobsled called Avalanche twists and turns between Revolution and Icon. The station and surrounding area feel as close to Euopa Park at Blackpool as you can get. The Swiss music and chalet really have a similar atmosphere. Avalanche itself however is much better than it's Europa Park cousin. It has fast, snaking turns that pick up speed ending in two intense helix turns towards the bottom.
Finally the newest Mack coaster, Icon is by far the best ride at the park. I'm still in a dilemma about where it ranks in my all time favourites as it is that good. Frankly I was overjoyed when I found out Pleasure Beach were building a Mack megacoaster in the UK. I loved Blue Fire at Europa Park and this is no exception.
Mack launches are not entirely linear. The best way to describe it is like being pushed on a swing, it starts rolling and then builds up the momentum. If you expect an Intamin style launch, you will be disappointed. The airtime hills, swaying turns and punchy acceleration made it such a smooth and enjoyable ride. Riding on the front row, you get a very floaty and fun ride. On the back row, the ride is the most intense with forceful positive G's and sharp, quick pops of airtime. The momentum of the ride doesn't end until the last turn as the second launch takes you up and over probably the best designed immelman I've ever seen.
The theme is minimal yet exremely well presented. The music is dramatic and catchy. The seats are open yet comfy, the OH restraints feel like lap bars and they swing down and spring up making dispatch lightning fast. The Mack bag flaps are convenient yet secure. It eats through the queue line so even waiting for the brand new ride is quick. All I can say is BPB have got something really special here. Overall, Icon is just a fantastic attraction. I think it's the best new coaster we have had in the UK this year and the one I've most been looking forward to.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach is a very well rounded, affordable park which is easy to get to with plenty of staff on hand and is home to several unique experiences in the UK. The very reasonable entry price along with the new ride Icon really gives main rival Merlin parks a run for their money this year. It also helps BPB that their operations are much better than Merlin's have been this year in general. I'd definately return just to ride Icon again but I'd stay for the charm of the undeniably british family run park.
The Wickerman marks a noticeable and remarkable change from previous Secret Weapon coasters. Not only does it aim more towards older families (over thrill-seekers) but it doesn’t feature a ground breaking element (if one can excuse their previous claims. It’s made out of wood too by the way. This review contains spoilers.
Now enthusiasts, fans and the like have been wanting a wooden roller coaster at Towers for years. Previously with little success, until now. Cross Valley was cancelled and for years, Wooden coasters were deemed unmarketable. It perhaps doesn’t help the majority of U.K. park goers only have Blackpool and Stampida (at a push) as notable comparisons to wooden coasters.
As time passed, the idea of a Woodie gradually warmed up. Attraction designer John Wardley had always wanted a Wooden coaster at Towers. A Wallace and Gromit themed coaster was just one of many ideas.
Years later and the concept for the then labelled SW8 was announced and met with mixed reviews. Many were let down and concerned by the ride’s apparent small and mundane layout, whilst others were concerned of the ride’s theme.
Construction progressed and again marked a remarkable difference from previous SW projects. Whilst the others were somewhat more secretive, the park in this case almost wanted more to know of what was to arrive. Windows, posters and video teasers frequently appeared, giving visitors what this future attraction may deliver.
After numerous unfortunate weather delays (which seems to be a recurring issue with SW rides), Wickerman opened to the general public. Aside from it’s reliability it was met with mostly positive reviews and some saying it was the best thing at the resort to date.
Being the first Woodie in the U.K. since 1996 and at a Merlin park, many could regard the ride as highly successful. But how? The ride doesn’t feature a notable world’s first?
The Wickerman does not need a world’s first element, the ride is a complete package. An experience.
It all begins from the moment you enter the queue line entrance, welcomes by a sign that is effective and blends in without being too garish or generic. There may be Pirate attractions around the corner, but the ride fits in almost like it has always belonged there.
One may argue, too many newer attractions uphold bland and repotive queue lines, frequently resorting to ‘the cattle-pen’ layout. Not Wickerman.
The ride’s queue gradually progresses up hill, managing to showcase the ride whilst seeming to head away from it only to become nearer. This queue line style is reminiscent of Tussauds designed rides such as Nemesis and Colossus. The noticeable theming such as buntings and different zoned audio in places, is a welcoming addition.
As we become nearer, we reach a baggage hold and then enter into the pre-show room. The show isn’t the longest but delivers a short but sweet delivery into setting the scene and storyline.
We now enter the station itself, where the pens (gates) await to open taking the next riders onto the train. The thematic announcements, lighting and styles combine nicely to the already impressive setting and atmosphere.
The ride takes a slight drop out of the station through a 180 curve and we pass with some speed before reaching the lift hill after another 180 turn. It’s not the tallest by any means but still looks impressive height wise.
We then enter another curved drop (this time enclosed) before we gradually drop. The ride from here features numerous hills, helixes and turns as the train races around the circuit. Several times interacting with the impressive Wicker statue (filled with smoke and fire effects). It’s not the longest, fastest or tallest but makes for one exciting ride.
The ride ends after a final small banked curve and enters the first of two break runs. Numerous times smoke and light effects activate, as the train slowly returns to the station through an enclosed tunnel, the third one in total.
The ride’s trains are immaculately themed, replicating a Wickerhead and can carry upto 24 riders per train. There are three in total resulting in a theoretical throughout of just over 950 people an hour, which isn’t a bad throughout.
The shop is also surprisingly well themed (and looks even better in person). It features plenty of Wickerman merchandise, from your usual T-shirts, trains and keychains to the more unusual Wicker models and wood pieces.
How does it stand amongst other Woodies?
Balder has airtime, Wodan has theming with relentless pacing and Joris has the fun racing elements with niche features.
The Wicker feels like a complete experience attraction and feels like it takes some elements from these. The ride’s first drop features some surprisingly good airtime (especially towards the back), there’s some great theming and impressively forceful areas within the attraction too.
One could argue it weakens towards the end a little. However it still offers a highly enjoyable layout. John Wardley is said to have made some improvements to the first drop of the ride.
As it currently stands, the ride is now my favourite Wooden coaster in the U.K. and joint second favourite in Alton Towers. It may be the most immersive attraction to open in the U.K. since Hex.
Honestly speaking, the ride would not look out of place if it was located in Efteling or Phantasialand.
Unfortunately this is where these comparisons end. 2018 for Towers is a high-end investment year and the park should be in top form. If only this was the case.
The park still continue to face operational cuts
as parent company Merlin see the park as struggling despite numbers gradually returning. This has resulted in mothballed kiosks, staggered openings, reduced hours and deductions to capacity. Even baggage holds have disappeared.
On my second day visiting, four of the main coasters broke down simultaneously, resulting in longer queues and complaints. Whilst this could have been an unfortunate coincidence, it does question whether there have been further staff reductions. I don’t recall witnessing this on previous visits. Not to this level anyway.
It was also a 4pm close, which felt too early as lots of people were still around after 5pm. The Rapids also seemed short of boats and the monorail no longer allows people on the platform unless the train has stopped. This has reduced the capacity significantly.
Europa Park have managed to reopen their rapids after a major fire and relocate most of the food offering. Meanwhile at Towers, we still have Toadstall and Sub-Terra closed after 2-3 seasons and food outlets remaining closed on super-peak days.
I understand both parks have different structures, but it is disappointing that Towers is being financially starved and limited in such a year. Just to please faceless shareholders, turn an even bigger profit and build Legoland clones.
I do also worry how Wickerman will age after it’s first couple of seasons, especially considering Merlin aren’t known for great upkeep.
Will the baggage hold still exist? What state the pre show holds? How re-rideable will it be? The state of The Smiler, does not hold much reassurance. The ride looks rather grotty and many effects remain broken. Just one effect is still working in the projection room. I’d like Towers and Merlin to prove me wrong with Wickerman.
Right, I think it’s time to go back to the positives. The conservatories and Pagoda look competitively better after their restorations. Duel seems a noticeable improvement in most areas, whilst there is still room for improvement, it is believed to be a working project. The staff also seemed particularly friendly too.
Wickerman is an excellent coaster and will hopefully pave the way for great things in the U.K. all Towers need to do is maintain and look after it. All we need is for Merlin to give Towers more budget and put them off budget cuts.
Nine Out Of Ten
A cryptic wheel cover and demolition of a bridge, followed by markings on the ground. A pIt of concrete footers. Then a coaster. Even after watching the project for well over two years, it feels surreal standing next to the twisted metal track of Icon and seeing the trains swish around what was previously a lake.
Visible from many locations within the park, Icon makes its presence known simply by being there. It may not be tall, but in terms of land covered it’s HUGE. First impressions heading up the ramp seeing the Immelman looming up ahead are impressive, but the approach from the ride entrance side is the money shot. It’s such an impressive sight with the huge entrance structure, glorious soundtrack playing and the smart gold trains whizzing around you and other rides at the park.
The queue line is fantastically landscaped with amazing vantage points to watch the ride, and whilst relatively short manages to catch various sections of the ride’s amazing soundtrack. It really is sublime standing there, hearing the launch audio, and seeing a train full of excited riders slowly exit the station before the train is hurled through swirling mist and into the tunnel.
Yes, they have finished the fence now!
Decorated in style, the ride features various elements of theming such as a garden with named posts of those involved in the project, a small water feature, mist effects and a nice entrance area/viewing platform. Given that Pleasure Beach is an amusement park at heart, I have to give them credit for putting so much effort into the overall experience of Icon, it has really paid off and creates a unique atmosphere around the ride.
Entering the station, the soundtrack hits you like a ton of bricks and does a great job of building the hype - alongside the class decoration, lighting and mirrors, it’s one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever felt inside a coaster station.
But… is it any good to ride?
The excitement builds as you dispatch from the station, with the launch audio gradually getting louder before launching you towards the mist-filled tunnel with “IIIIIIIIIICON” ringing in your ears.
Flying through the misty tunnel, an almost dream-like moment of obscured vision is followed by entering the top hat element completely disorientated, before cresting the hill and being treated to one of the best airtime moments I have ever known on a coaster. On the back, you crest the hill slowly before being thrown out of your seat on the way down, whilst there is some ejector as you crest on the front.
Diving through the garden for the first time, you enter the inclined loop before swerving to the left, right, then diving underneath Steeplechase and Big Dipper. Whilst I didn’t feel the near-misses on-ride as much as I expected, it’s an engineering masterpiece to fit the track there and the S-turns provide some fun forces before you are taken back over Steeplechase into what I found to be one of the best elements of the ride.
The heart-line roll offers a completely different sensation to the beginning of the ride, creating a stark contrast. From fast-paced ground hugging turns, you are taken into some ridiculously comfortable hang-time – the amazing Mack restraints are really used to their potential here, allowing you to hang freely (but comfortably) for a second before “catching” you and throwing you into two small and sudden moments of airtime. Leading you back through the tunnel of mist, I found the two small airtime hills followed by the second launch to be a highlight of the ride.
With the station and surroundings a blur as you fly past them, you enter the Immelman. It’s quite something seeing The Big One essentially turn-over, and the element is a lot of fun at the front – at the back, it’s quite simply one of the most insane moments on any coaster. You’re taken from ascending what feels like the start of a loop to hang-time, then ridiculous “sideways-airtime” as you come down the drop, before being thrown into a steeply banked Stengel dive and then into the turn. This is one of the perfectly executed moments of Icon.
Coming out of the over-bank and into the airtime hill, you are thrown yet again out of your seat before twisting onto your side into a tight helix. I found the force to be decent here, with a good view of the theming if you’re sat on the left-hand side of the train. Forcing you out of your seat yet again, you twist over to the right to take a majestic dive over the ride’s entrance area before entering yet another unique element.
Wonky-airtime. Yep, Icon has it. You’re taken into an off-banked airtime hill, giving the impression that you’re going to be thrown into the totem poles (a fantastic throwback to the park’s past for those who remember, btw!) before meandering into the high-five element and slithering back into the brake run. The high-five element felt quite weak to me; it’s very clever and a true engineering feat, but it didn’t have the impact or sensation I thought it would as a ride experience… although with the Icon exit music becoming audible as the train hits the brake run, I soon forgot about that!
After my initial rides on Icon I was unsure but having let the coaster properly warm up, it has become a firm favourite. To me, it’s the definition of a perfect coaster; it’s long, has a number of unique elements, isn’t inversion focused (yet still has two perfectly placed and impactful inversions in the layout) and the airtime is second-to-none. Every element serves a purpose, and the ride is taken so comfortably yet isn’t afraid to throw you around. The decoration is excellent, and the soundtrack is pure bliss; easily some of the best audio I have ever heard at a theme park, The Notable Stranger has done an excellent job.
My concerns going forward are the maintenance of audio systems, and effects; the train lighting and mist has already proved unreliable, and the ride has only just been open a week. Pleasure Beach are historically not the best with keeping audio systems in check, but I hope Icon changes this trend.
Thanks for reading, a few more photos below
Icon is incredible, and offers something that the UK has been missing for some time. Pure quality.
Chessington. It is arguably one of the most iconic and notable tourist attractions in the United Kingdom and naturally enriched in facts and history.
Opening it’s doors in 1931, Chessington Zoo was born and was once the largest private zoo in England as a result. Years passed by and Pearsons brought up the zoo. When the 1980’s arrived, the zoo was believed to be in decline and Tussauds (part of Pearsons) had the challenge of rejuvenating the attraction to a new generation.
Special effects designer John Wardley was one of the key people working on this project, which would transform the failing attraction into one of first proper theme parks in the U.K. In 1987, the attraction reopened as Chessington and was believed to be successful. Built on a relatively low budget, some of the park’s attractions included the powered coaster Runaway Train, cult classic dark ride ‘The Fifth Dimension’ and tradition logflume, Dragon River. It is the latter we shall focus on here (with good reasons to follow).
During it’s early years, the Dragon River was richly themed, from it’s giant Buddha, Dragon tunnel and rock work, which dominated the ride’s lifthills and surrounding area. It’s Asian architectural design and landscaping perhaps once regarded the ride as one of most richly themed attractions out there. Some say the water was even dyed once to further enhance it’s then mystic theme. Years later it would became renamed as Dragon Falls.
(Above) The ride during days of past when theming was complete. N.B not my photo (Theme Uk)
As the years passed, the theme park continued to grow and progress, however Dragon Falls through time became neglected and poorly looked after. In 2005, a large proportion of theming and rockwork was removed but not replaced, leaving the second lift and other surrounding areas to be exposed and naked from their former theming. By the time 2013 further theming was removed, including the rock faces on the main drop and remaining rock work on lift one. Once again, these were not replaced, likely down to being condemned and sufficient budgets not being provided.
Around this time, the ride was threadbare of theming on the most part, with the once grand drop area looking like this:
Compared to what it had once been, the general state of the ride was bleak, empty and something of an embarrassment. A once themed attraction striped threadbare of it’s once grand and striking appearance. The tunnel was also chopped in half, making a barely dark experience around a ‘back of house’ location. For five seasons, the ride continued to operate in this delapidated state. Apart from a safety upgrade, only the Buddha, Dragon and station received modest touchups. As nice they were, this didn’t do much to help a ride in a shadow of it’s past.
Then in 2017, plans came afoot to refresh the ride and surrounding area including Dragon Falls, which would be given a retheme with new features. Joining alongside a brand new Amur tiger exhibit, the ride would form part of a refreshed area Land Of The Tigers. Though not without it’s fault, this would be the biggest overhaul on the attraction during it’s 31 years of existence.
whilst zombies and flames invaded other Merlin attractions, Chessington was busy finishing off it’s Tiger area. Eight months after the closure of the original area, Land Of The Tigers opened to the public. Aside the new enclosures, Chessington’s flume was somewhat reborn with a new identity known as Tiger Rock.
The new updates drop area for the ride looks tigerrific
One of the biggest updates to the attraction is the brand new Tiger rockwork element, which the boats pass under during the final drop. This offers a great new element of excitement and interaction both on and off ride, looking much better than the previous eyesore in the previous years from the ride.
One of the best updates (from a personal perspective) is the station. There is a lot more atmosphere in there now, from it’s new soundtrack to the new artwork and lighting displayed on the side walls. I really like how they’ve kept the oriental theming and enhanced it with things such as lanterns. There’s also a cool tiger effect that activates every couple of minutes too, which is an interesting feature.
The exterior updates look nice enough too.
Whilst not without it’s faults, Tiger Rock joins the theme park and zoo are one. As long as the enclosures meet sufficient requirements, this may be the best way forward for much of Chessington, by becoming immersed in rides complimented by animal experiences. The tunnel features are an original touch, but the fences aren’t the most attractive.
The project has seen changes I like a lot, but others not so much. The tunnel after lift 1 epitomises this. The inside is finally back to it’s original length at long last, accompanied by some random effects/models which really complements the experience. However, the exterior looks hideous, ugly and out of place. Whilst a brightly coloured Dragon would never fit within the new theme, they could’ve done more from the hideous mess that awaits there now.
Lift two still doesn’t look great especially without any theming. The added fencing on the side makes it look somewhat worse, but is to probably prevent injury from those less able to remain seated. A limited budget from Merlin likely prevented ‘non safety’ enhancement on this section in the first place, which is a shame really.
The picsolve unit has been moved, and creating a new ride shop. A small one there too I should point out.
Lift one looks a little nicer with the new decorations.
Land Of The Tigers has breathed some new life into area and Flume ride, giving it a fresh identity on the whole as Tiger Rock. Whilst not without it’s flaws, the retheme can be seen as a much needed upgrade, from it’s stunning station to the impressive new theming on the main drop. It’s a shame some areas couldn’t have seen more work, such as theming on lift two and tunnel exterior, however I doubt they were offered enough budget to carry those out sadly.
Whilst it’s no Chiapas (and was never supposed to be), I like most of what they’ve done which is probably now my favourite U.K. flume ride, which isn’t difficult to be fair. It may not look as good compared to it’s early years, but is much better than the ones between it.
Seven Out Of Ten.
Wicker Man. I think it’s fair to say that I had very mixed feelings during the construction and build-up process for this ride. Whilst I was happy to see a new wooden coaster finally grace the UK line-up, I had reservations about how good it would be; there weren’t any huge drops in the layout, so would it pick up enough speed to be thrilling?
On approaching the ride, the excitement builds from the moment you see the hugely impressive Wicker Man structure and entrance signage come into view with the music droning in the background. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing – it’s such a compelling sight, nothing looks out of place and everything just ‘works’.
Moving into the queue-line, the design is fantastic with so many vantage points for the ride – small items of theming are expertly placed creating brilliant photo opportunities. Throughout queuing there are many good places to watch the coaster from, and it’s so pleasing to see that everyone seems to be enjoying it. I really like how the smoke effect is pulled around the corner by the train after exiting the second tunnel, in particular. Being surrounded by the roar of a wooden coaster combined with the soundtrack, theming and screams of joy is really something quite special.
Onto the preshow, I enjoyed this and found it delivers a lot in a short space of time. The transition is clever and the show lasts just long enough to stay interesting whilst not becoming a burden after a few rides. I found the theatrics and changes in atmosphere particularly impressive, however it was a shame on one of the rides I had that the automatic doors at the back of the room kept opening. Exiting into the station, the lighting and dispatch/unload audio keeps the theme consistent and is very impressive.
With the thematic elements done to a very high standard, how well would the coaster itself hold up? After five rides on two separate occasions, I absolutely love it.
Dispatching out of the station, the pre-lift section is very Nemesis Inferno-esque (with the mist-filled tunnel) and sets the scene for the ride very well. Ascending the lift hill, the views of the ride are excellent and the audio helps to build anticipation throughout.
The first corner and drop help to build up the speed, and the tunnel adds a level of disorientation, as you exit already facing the ground. The section that follows is truly sublime; after going over the second hill in the tunnel, you emerge blinded from the light to be thrown (yes, THROWN) first to the right, then to the left and into a ground-hugging turn. This is my absolute favourite section of the ride; the forces are much better than I expected and the transition from right-to-left is just so much fun.
Diving through the Wicker Man structure and up into the turnaround, this offers a nice view of the queue-line and theming structure before hitting the two small bumps (which are much better than they look!) and then plunging to the right through the structure into yet another fantastic and unexpected sideways-banked drop.
I found that the flat corner goes a long way to making the ride feel longer, as it gives you time to process the elements you’ve been through before heading into the next section. The straight drop which follows provides a nice feeling of weightlessness, however on the back row at the end of a rainy day there was some incredible airtime there! Following this is a sharp right-hand-turn through the structure, before turning left under the lift-hill and into the brake run leaving the clank of the lift chain ringing in your ears.
After some time to think it through, I can say in full confidence that Wicker Man is genuinely one of the best roller coasters I have ever ridden. Firstly, it’s the first time Alton have delivered a fully complete theme under Merlin, with no obvious corners cut and nothing looks out of place. I could nit-pick, but it's the best we've had in the UK for years - so I won't. The coaster itself is great fun and is a superb example of a wooden coaster.
Combined, it’s a masterpiece.
My only concerns going forward are the reliability issues the ride is currently having, and maintenance of effects. The fire, smoke and audio add a lot to the overall experience, and with the fire already broken, I only hope that Alton can manage to maintain them to a high standard.
Thanks for reading, a few more photos below.
Wicker Man = AMAZING.
Okay I know its only April but fu** you I'm writing this review.
So the London Bridge and Tombs is an attraction that has always been on my radar- whether it be the rave reviews from Scaretour or walking past it when the Dungeons was down the road.
So after a trek down to London I thought I might as well experience it for myself- does it compare to The Dungeons?
(apologies for these straight outta snapchat photos )
The London Bridge Experience
So after a somewhat overly long intro video- you are ushered into the London Bridge Experience.
Overall I found this experience to overall be well themed, well acted, well scripted, and educational- but sadly I feel like a lot of scenes and rooms lacked the crescendo or 'oomph' that the Dungeons has.
For example there is a scene in a pub here which the landlord discusses a bunch of murders which references Jack The Ripper. You then hear a scream to which you are ushered out of the pub by the landlord to find a corpse. But then after you see the bloody mannequin- you abruptly move on to the next scene.
This scene in particular had a lot of tension and it constantly felt like something big or Dungeons esque would happen- but it doesn't.
I felt like they really could of added some more dramatic reveal to seeing the bloody mannequin too- we really just walked past it.
This was a issue for many scenes- in particular 'the fight verses the Romans' scene had a great script and seemed to be building up to something jumpy- but then it just kinda fizzled out and next minute we were on the next scene..
I do have to give credit for some scenes within the experience though- there is a huge scare involving a large moving animatronic that made me jump out of my skin towards the beginning of the experience.
I also really enjoyed the incredibly disorientating spinning tunnel towards the end- it was even worse than the one at Tulleys!
I think London Bridge with some more special effects could easily match the Dungeons- but for now I think it really lacks the 'oompth' and the finales of The Dungeon's scenes.
Despite that though- the theming is brilliant and perhaps even greater than The Dungeons. The acting was also top class and the groups were much more intimate than the 30+ groups that The Dungeons has.
After nearly throwing up from the spinning tunnel you are warned about the intense scare attraction that awaits you- after a photo opportunity and a intro video, you enter the lifts..
This lift scene built up tension perfectly and the lift had some nice special effects to make it feel like you were actually going down!
Once out of the lifts, you form a conga line and you enter the main maze.
The main maze itself was nicely themed and had a huge variety of scenes.
A hospital, a Chop Shop style room, a prison style room, and even a clown section- you name it, its in The Tombs.
The maze overall has tonnes of variety within its long layout- I never quite knew what the next room would bring.
The acting was brilliant throughout, with actors using various hiding spaces to come out of nowhere or harass us.
My only problem was there was quite a few rooms that were sparse on actors- but the theming and animatronics kinda made up for it.
Overall The Tombs was a long and varied scare attraction that I think really made the trip worth it.
Overall I think The London Bridge Experience and Tombs are both well themed and acted experiences- though if you want a educational and witty trip back in time I think The Dungeon's is a much more polished and superior experience- though if you want to get sh** scared then The Tombs makes the trip down to Tooley Street more than worth it.
The groups in both The Bridge and The Tombs are also much more intimate so you don't have to deal with the overcrowding that The Dungeons has.
Anyway sorry for the six month early post
So, I figured I may as well give a bit more insight about my views on The Walking Dead - The Ride.
I know plenty of people have pretty much written it off already, and it's almost trendy to hate the idea, but I do think it's worth going into this with an open mind. The overall experience is good, well themed, and does justice to what the ride and building was designed to achieve.
The entrance portal is nice. It is standard run down Thorpe style, but it is still good. The queue is, again, standard Thorpe in that it's "how much queue can we fit in one space", with just little nuggets of theming - in the way of themed signage and Easter Eggs to the show - to go with it. There's no extensions or anything, so on quiet days, you will have to walk through the whole thing, which is a pain.. Audio in the area is nice and creepy, and the watchtower looks alright to be fair.
Bag room is now outside the building, and is clearly unfinished at the moment. Hopefully it can be themed up, especially to the standard of the inside of the ride. After that, groups of 20 (so 2 trains worth) get batched into pre-show. The pre-show is extremely basic - a minute long video featuring a character talking to you, encouraging you to make your way through the building because we're under attack. It's well done, and I don't think it will get tedious during re-riding, but I feel like they could have done more here. Some big special effect, to give you the personal reason to get moving, rather than some guy on a screen telling you...
The walkway to the station is exceptionally well themed. You go through different areas of 'the safe zone', and as you go through them, audio is triggered saying how those zones are under attack, encouraging you to keep moving. The tone is perfect here, and really sets up the experience well.
The ride itself is themed to a 'transit system' in the safe zone, and is being used to transport you to safety. It's clever, and gives you a reason to be on the ride. From there, it is just X, with special effects, and I don't think that can be stressed enough. I really hope that people have ended up being ignorant the OTT "it's the scariest thing ever" marketing approach, or are able to just look past it, else it sets the ride up to fail. In saying that, the special effects that are there are good, and really do enhance the ride experience. There aren't any animatronics, just zombie mannequins (which aren't the greatest, but to a casual rider will more than do the job). There's also screens, smoke, audio and lighting effects, all of which are used very well. The one stop during the ride is a real highlight actually, fitting in with the story perfectly, and just being a lot of fun!
The ride ends with us still being under attack; everywhere in the safe zone is overrun with zombies. The post-ride experience happens, in the form of a loud noise, and is...just a bit naff? There's terrible noise bleed from there to the waiting bit before the station, so if you've been unfortunate with timings, it does spoil it somewhat. There is more to it, but I believe that tweaks were still being made, so I don't know what to say / expect from that for now. There is a lot of potential there, but it needs a bit more direction.
So yeah, to round it all up...
+Fantastically themed experience
+A fun ride experience, with good special effects
+An experience that stays true to what the original X:\No Way Out aimed to do
+A cohesive story which is easy to understand
-Pre-show could do with a bit more oompf
-Post-show needs a bit of clarity / more direction
But before I go - One final thought.
I like this, I won't deny that. I also liked X. I haven't decided whether I like this more than X or not, but that's neither here nor there for now. Personally, I think X is the better thing for Thorpe now; it had potential to be a fun ride which was accessible to all.
I can't help but wonder what Thorpe could have done with X if they had the budget this had. Or even half the budget. They really could have created an attraction where you rode "on a wave of light (and sound)", went through tunnels of light, etc. I imagine that having the trains 'chase' lit up track, with lasers and smoke effects around, along with an extended original soundtrack would have been more than possible, along with some fun lighting effects in the entrance and exit walkways. I reckon I'd have loved that, as would a large majority of people.
The Worst GCI in modern history. Wicker Man will be **** we all know it. Doesn't look very interesting, not very fast at all.
Just three ways Wicker Man has been described over the closed season on this forum. There's a wealth of material, of people lining up to give the first modern woodie in the UK in 22 years a good kicking. The point where coaster enthusiasts have already ruled themselves judge, jury and executioner on a ride way before anyone had even had the chance to ride. Here we are a good two weeks later from the preview event and I think there's proverbial egg on peoples faces. I remained quietly optimistic, keeping expectations in check. What I expected was a well paced, fun, mildly thrilling family wooden ride and that's exactly what I got. I knew this wasn't going to be Wodan, it wouldn't be the airtime machine that Megafobia or Tonnerre De Zeus are. But what I did get was the best rollercoaster Merlin have ever built..
Now before you decry my last sentence as hyperbolic nonsense, understand something. I love a thrilling rollercoaster but what I really love is an inventive, interactive, original layout. I love getting on a ride, hearing the people around me screaming, loving every moment, hitting the break run and then shouts of amazement, the joy that emanates from the riders. Hit the break run on Nemesis, Inferno, Swarm, Oblivion and you hear nothing, just complete silence. It's just another steel rollercoaster going through the motions. But for the first time in a long while I heard something from a UK ride. People love the Wicker Man. They can't believe that such an old looking ride (bare with me) can deliver thrills, excitement on such a scale. Europeans and Americans are used to the thrill of a wooden rollercoaster but the UK has forgotten that wooden rollercoasters are more then a match to their steel counterparts. For me, this is the first time that Merlin have hit the nail on the head and got it right.
So why is it so good?
To start off with, I like how little of it you can see from around the resort. There was a lot of discussion around Alton's limitations and how they get around them and Wicker Man is another example of that. The way the ride seems to work on several different levels to gather pace and momentum is right out of the Nemesis/Smiler handbook, the way the ride descends to the bottom of the Flume lake, or the oddity of the lift hill, the way the ride dips through the Wicker Man structure three times, each time getting more and more intense or the way the compact layout eeks out the ride length perfectly. The queue line which features very few switchbacks and naturally uses the terrain to get you close to the structure or the balcony which overlooks the majority of the ride giving great photo opportunities. The mercifully brief pre-show which I thought was perfect for the ride, telling us the story without getting bogged down in details. At its core, this is a very simple story on a pretty basic woodie but the ride is more then the sum of its parts. The soundtrack which I really like slowly builds up in drama the further into the queue you go. This feels like the kind of ride that you couldn't get anywhere else, tapping into legend in the same way that Hex does. This is right out of the Towers rule book and is all the more stronger for it.
At the moment the rides biggest issues are operational. The park hasn't really got to grips with how to run it yet with very slow dispatches and numerous breakdowns. It only ran for two hours on my visit (didn't help that Nemesis was down all day, curse you Towers) and when Wicker Man was running trains didn't seem to go out very quickly. I don't think the way rows are labelled is very clear in the station either, the darkness and moodiness of the station means people can't see the numbers hanging above their heads and numerous times people were just wondering back and forth lost. If you've ever ridden a GCI woodie you know what to expect here from the Millennium flyer trains. They are comfortable enough to ride in whilst durable enough to take it when you go slamming from side to side on the rides cornering. I won't cover the ride in too much detail as frankly it differs massively from front to back but what I will say is that when this thing beds in, those back row seats are going to be absolutely fantastic. Our first ride was row 5 and then onto row 8 and the difference was staggering.
I have two main worries. The first is the effects. Lets face it, Merlin are hit and miss with this and as you can see from the Smiler most of it no longer works. No sprayers, no screens, no car wash. The effects on Wicker Man tell a story far more then the Smiler and the danger of the Wicker Man structure having no fire or smoke must be pretty high; I'd be surprised if they still work by June. That's ignoring all the smoke effects before the lift hill, on the first drop tunnel, in the break run. If Towers want this ride to continue to have the positive reaction it currently has, it is essential they stay on top of this. That being said, I think the strong layout helps but on an effects driven ride, that can only do so much. My second concern is the rides longevity. Wooden coasters aren't steel coasters, they need consistent maintenance to keep them from getting too rough, too shaky, too unbearable. I question whether Merlin can give this ride the love it needs five years, ten years down the line. Based on their track record with Colossos for example, they let that go SBNO for two years. I don't want to see that happen with Wicker Man, in my view it's the closest to perfection Merlin can ever get.
So its safe to say, I'm a big fan of the Wicker Man and I call it a triumph for the UK industry. When people were lining up to rip it to shreds, I stayed positive and optimistic and whilst I don't want to say I told you so, I told you so. My biggest hope that comes out of this wooden ride though is that parks like Paultons, Drayton, Flamingoland, hell even Thorpe and Chessington look at what can be done with a ride like this and build their own. The wooden ride genre is big in America, China, all across Europe and yet here, they are seen as dangerous and unsafe. Telling people I work with that I was going to Towers to ride a wooden rollercoaster, they thought it was a disaster waiting to happen. I can only hope that the Wicker Mans success leads to more and more and who knows what that could lead to.
Thans for reading and as for a score, Wicker Man is a solid 8/10. I can't wait to get back up there.
Next time I'll be Enthusiastic Icon.
When it comes to reviewing something, I try to be as honest, straight-talking and truthful as I can to the reader because above anything else, integrity to me is the most appreciated value I admire in someone when I am seeking for advice with their opinions. That way, if I decide to pluck down my own money, time and effort on something, I can be assured there is nothing being kept hidden when trying the product myself and therefore, trust can be built.
I believe this first paragraph needs to be put at the very start of this review because after trying Wicker Man for the first time, I want to be as honest as I possibly can in what you are about to read. There are presently a lot of exaggerated claims, promises and expectations being thrown around about this coaster at the moment by various people and I refuse to fall into this category, so everything below is exactly what it is with no filter in place, for good and bad.
Now onto the ride itself. I’ve been moderately quiet during the construction of Wicker Man these last several months despite the constant updates, advertising, drone footage and leaked name ages before, primarily because time and time again, I have stupidly built false promises and expectations with a lot of Merlin’s recent investments these last several years. Promises which inside I knew they couldn’t deliver but still believed in nonetheless and as a result, I have been scarred by it all and have a real grudge against the majority of Merlin attractions that have been built across the parks from 2014 onwards. To be blunt, I approached Wicker Man with a pessimistic view from the day it was announced until the day I finally rode it.
Wooden coasters for me are something special; special in a way that cannot be described easily. Because despite not having fancy elements, being the fastest or tallest or the most amazing coasters out there, they tend to be underestimated a lot of the time and can really surprise you with how great they are. I’ll never forget that first ride on Megafobia at Oakwood, Wales back in 2010 where it left be stunned. Also quite recently sitting on the back row of Balder at Liseberg, Sweden in 2017 and being shocked and amazed by the extreme forces you go through, especially down the first drop after the lift hill. It certainly is an amazing feeling!
So whilst I was pessimistic given Merlin’s track record for the last 4 years, coupled with their management of special effects, I was secretly all this time really excited to try Wicker Man and didn’t want to jump to any conclusions too quickly and then regret what I said all the time before trying it (e.g. - Derren Brown’s Ghost Train). I simply didn’t fall for any of it this time and approached the coaster with an open mind for a change.
But my word, I’m really glad I did that now, as this coaster has been quite a surprise!
To begin this thorough and in-depth review, I’d like to begin with the setting and scenery of the attraction which will be the first thing every person sees upon experiencing this ride:
APPEARANCE AND SETTING:
When I was at the park’s fireworks display last year and finally saw the majority of the track constructed, I can’t lie, but it did look quite impressively large and dominant through those window fences. However, when seeing it fully constructed and running, the thing looks wonderful!
Everything about this ride looks brilliant. The track is moulded against the landscape very well, the rumbling sound of the trains really dominates the area similar to Nemesis, the audio sounds superb and there was a huge amount of buzz and excitement flowing through the entire area on it’s opening ceremony day. Another nice touch was seeing a wooden coaster fresh, because I’m so used to seeing wooden coasters where the wood has faded into a dull, grey colour that it was nice seeing it all looking and even smelling fresh and yellow for once! As silly as this sounds, it made a nice change for once.
The entrance plaza and queue line is nicely routed, landscaped and constructed too. Seeing loads of fire beacons filling the plaza with real fire used, coupled with the nicely themed entrance and bizarre-looking vegetation to match the rest of the ride’s theme made the whole area feel more permanent, complete and designed well, unlike the ugly-as-heck-yellow-box-of-an-entrance The Smiler uses. A small touch I liked in the queue were the little bits of theming present used for lighting and signs as you progress nearer and nearer to the station. Unlike the typical laminated, dull-as-anything printed signs we see so often across other rides across Merlin, these were all shaped and sculpted to match the theme, which was a nice detail I appreciate the team for doing. Also, having a queue line for the most part which is linear and doesn’t have endless cattle pens like Smiler and Rita was another touch I appreciated, plus, the queue oddly seemed wider too compared to most other rides.
For the landscaping, this is a mixed bag. Whilst some areas surrounding the coaster have clearly been worked on with new plants and turf mats installed, others have not and look as though they are still in the middle of being constructed with dirt and soil everywhere. Also, something I wished the team did before opening this ride was to clean the concrete supports holding the track in place because they were filthy all over and looked quite off-putting, especially in contrast to the freshly installed wood for the track. If the park can clean these concrete supports using a jet washer as well as laying down turf or giving the remaining sections of the area some green grass, I believe it will neaten the overall profile and presentation of the ride, since it was a bit mixed in several places and could have looked better. Just a smaller detail compared to everything else, but an important one regardless.
THE WICKER MAN EFFIGY
Always knew from the moment the name was announced back in January 2018 this figure of the Wicker Man himself would be the centre of all attention and man, I can see why after finally seeing it in-person as it looks really lovely! The scale of this effigy is huge and very nicely themed and detailed, so much so that I would put it up there with something we would expect to see at Phantasialand. OK, I know that might be an over-exageration here, but that’s what I gathered after witnessing it for the first time.
The wood looks genuine even though it isn’t, especially around the shoulders, the shape and design of the two-faced head looks impressive and the attention-to-detail used even for the small holes the train passes through three times was looked after which was a nice surprise. Plus the amount of mist (yes, water mist, not smoke) used really filled the inside of the figure and the holes through him, which was especially great when passing through on the train! Also, I loved how there were audio effects used every time a train passes through which sync with the real fire effects.
Probably the best thing about this effigy is when you are passing through the second time after making the banked u-turn, because the position of the track which passes straight through his chest is perfect! The brief view you get when passing straight through the centre of his chest is ideal, especially coupled with the mist and fire effects used on the shoulders. It captures your attention and is a really effective head-chopper effect, especially with the small bump present in the track just before passing through. Very effective and convincing effect used!
However, I have to admit, whilst it looks pretty when you see it in real-life, it will not be as impressive up-close as opposed to a distance of at least 20m I theorise. The reason for this is because those fire effects used inside the figure are actually just TV screens playing a loop of some generic flame behind a black background used when filming, plus, the resolution of these displays are not that great because up-close, you can see the pixels used and cameras can pick up some artificial flickering from them, similar to when filming Thorpe Park’s entrance screen on any smartphone or camera.
Another detail that aggravated me was the size and position of the fire used on the shoulders, because when standing on the ground, you barely even see the fire used when they are lit normally, but it’s only when they are enlarged in size whenever a train passes through you can see them properly for only a few brief seconds. Not a major issues, but be aware the flame effects might not be as impressive in real life compared to what they look through promotional videos and pictures.
But besides from that, the effigy is a really nicely and detailed piece of theming which I welcome being there for the coaster and can really enhance the experience, even though it has some flaws when seeing it up-close.
When it comes to hearing audio on an attraction, to me, this is absolutely crucial to get right as it’s a very effective piece of theming to any ride regardless of how small or big it might be, plus, it gives it an atmosphere and defines it’s character. Rides like Chiapas, Taron, Helix and The Smiler I simply wouldn’t love as much if it weren’t for their audio in all honesty, so the audio on Wicker Man had to be loud, dominant and catchy for me to appreciate as a whole much more and thankfully, this is the case!
This is probably the biggest secret weapon of the coaster, because I noticed across all areas of the ride from the plaza/entrance, start of the queue line, end of the queue line, baggage/pre-show room, station and track sections there were various different pieces of audio playing from the lovely guys at IMAscore.
Upon seeing the effigy around the entrance and plaza, the first track you hear sounds very happy and charming similar to Klugheim village at Phantasialand, which gives the impression to riders the whole ride itself has a welcoming theme to it all, but as you progress through the queue, you begin to notice the tune, pitch and instruments used changes and the closer you get to the station the darker it begins to sound as you get ever-closer to the baggage room. After walking through the entire queue, I am certain it’s done in a similar way to Big Top’s audio where there are at least 3 variations of the same 30 minute track, only each one has a darker and more unsettling theme to it.
It’s once you are inside the building itself the more vocal sections of the audio are used similar to the snippets found online. Drums are used, the tune changes and a more honestly scary-sounding track plays inside the buildings amongst the darkened rooms. In the station especially where whilst the audio is lower in volume compared to outside, that coupled with the burning wood effect creates a really unsettling theme inside as though something bad is about to happen.
A really excellent thing the park have taken advantage of is in the badge waiting room for the pre-show and station, the doors and train dispatch have themed audio playing alongside the use of lighting, which creates a really exciting atmosphere for riders and builds up a lot of anticipation! When the train dispatches, a loud roar of drums starts and the lighting in the station begins to change and flicker, similarly to how the dispatch looks on Nemesis Inferno and Black Mamba, only this time, much more effectively I would say! Same for when a train arrives back into the station too which has is timed to when the train stops on the brake run and people disembark.
Just in case that wasn’t enough, even the darkened waiting tunnels once the ride finishes have themed audio matched with smoke and light effects inside, which means even the wait caused by the stacking of the trains is looked after which I thought was great! Also, the lift hill has timed audio with the train too, making the excitement and anticipation even greater for the rider!
But in summary, Alton Towers and IMAscore have done a fabulous job with the audio management for this ride and should be commended for their efforts. Excellent job!
I’ll keep this brief without giving away any spoilers for the viewer, but this was quite a nice addition made. The inside is shaped like a dome tent with pieces of theming all over the walls and flooring with a big projector screen right above you in front. All this scene does is give a little insight as to what the Wicker Man is, how it works and preparing you for what awaits ahead such as “The time has come for the wicker man to rise!”. The audio was nice and loud, the picture was sharp and the video was 60fps which was lovely to see.
However, I have to be honest here, this scene felt unneeded and superfluous and didn’t really add much to the experience at all, mostly because of how short it was to watch. Heck, it’s only just over a minute long. To me, this seemed more like another batching room to help reduce the number of people in the station, nothing much more.
A nice touch, but a needless one.
If you were to ask me “What is your favourite station for any coaster?”, I would have to give it to Wicker Man here. The station is great!
Unlike a lot I’ve been through, this one did not feel crammed or overcrowded inside as the platforms on each side of the track were nicely spaced out with plenty of room to move around whilst waiting/disembarking the carriage for a start. The next part being the lighting used inside as it wasn’t too bright or dull, but instead, nicely orange/red filtered, themed and lit perfectly inside to match the rest of the ride.
Also, I always look for details on the ceiling and walls for a station so that the entire room is consistently themed, unlike Thirteen with black cloth everywhere and Galactica with industrial machinery everywhere. In Wicker Man’s case, both of these areas have been attended to and look really nice with the wooden beams, themed drapes and flickering lighting on the walls for a fire effect. Glad finally to see a station where all areas have been looked after for once, yay!
But to summarise, the station for Wicker Man is really well done and everything about it is perfect from the lighting, to the audio, to the theming and the consistency. Excellent work here!
Now onto the best part finally and goodness me, this was surprising! My first ride was incredibly lucky because I was allocated the very back two seats of the train on my first go and couldn’t be happier as it’s always the best. xD
The trains themselves look great, neat and fully detailed all over and they are quite comfy to sit in too. Haven never ridden a GCI woodie before, I was expecting something really uncomfortable such as Tomahawk, Stampida and even Balder to some degree, but the seating was wide, spacious and relaxing. I could easily move my feet and legs around a bit when on the train and didn’t in anyway feel cramped or pinned down in the restraint, meaning it was a really comfortable ride from start to finish. Quite pleasantly surprised by the comfort of those seats.
Once dispatched and the train immediately turns right under the building, you go through a massive jet of smoke (smoke, not mist this time) filled with lots of red lighting and sound effects of wood burning. It must be said, the amount of smoke which fills this room as you turn to exit the lift hill was huge and obscured your vision for the briefest of moments. Quite liked this actually and hope it stays!
Once ascending the lift hill, the audio as mentioned earlier plays through the speakers and whilst you get a lovely view to the right of what awaits, I did find the lift hill incredibly slow which killed the great pace the ride had at the start exiting the station at a surprising speed. That coupled with the absolutely stupid bend on that lift hill made it worse. I’m probably the only person who has a problem with that bend on the lift hill as whilst it was needed due to the design of the layout, to me, that should have been designed better as it frankly looks dumb, especially when you climb it.
But once you reach the top where the tunnel lies, everything begins finally. What I didn’t expect on the back row was that left turn before the drop was declined slightly and as a result, was whipped round that corner incredibly fast which took me by great surprise! And even though the first drop is quite small, the airtime you get at the back going down it is quite big and was a great start to the ride!
Next was the bunny hop into the second tunnel and the S-bend which follows after and this was by far the best section. Because not only are you whipped again over the second hill, but because the S-bend goes downhill the whole way, you pick up some seriously high speeds down this section and the banking of the track can whip you around a fair bit on the back row! Not uncomfortably so, but enough to make the sudden changes in orientation a lot of fun with even more airtime moments! Without doubt the best section of the layout here.
Once passing through the effigy and performing the u-turn back through again, the speed does slow down a moderate amount here noticeably, but not enough to kill the pace thankfully. The bend is nicely shaped and isn’t too extreme for the riders until you reach the small hump as you race through the effigy again everything becomes faster once more. The small drop as you exit the 2nd pass-through of the figure has a bit of a noticeable jolt similar to Smiler’s 12th inversion, though nothing unpleasant, it just gives another small dose of airtime to the rider!
From here onwards when the ride continues to make turns, smaller drops and twists, the train does slow down, but it still keeps a strong pace from start to end with more airtime hills and strong forces exerted on riders. Probably the weakest section of the layout is the flat and slow 180 degree turn you make just before dropping back down and passing through the figure again. To me, if this was banked or had a small dip in the middle similar to the way both of Smiler’s turns work for both lift hills, this could have made it a little more interesting.
Soon later, you reach the final brake run and the main section of the ride is over.
Something I need to mention is regardless of where you sit on the train, be prepared to get a little wet from the mist effects used in the effigy, especially when you pass through the holes. Apart from the mist, water is dripping from the jets used and will drip on you as a result, especially when you go through the 3rd hole. Nothing too major, but enough to notice!
You enter the darkened tunnels again with themed audio and more smoke effects before getting back to the station and disembarking to leave for the exit. The ride is now over.
If I’m to summarise the experience in one word, it would be “WOW!” Sure, it’s not a Megafobia or Balder killer, but compared to how it looks and what it’s actually like riding, this coaster has some serious surprises to it, the least being the several moments of airtime you get sitting at the back over various parts of the course! This coupled with the comfort of the trains made this a really fun and exciting coaster to try, even though the layout isn’t amazing. The pace is constant after the lift hill, it feels faster than what the statistics say, the interactions with the scenery and effigy are great and it’s just intense enough to allow those as little as 1.2m onto the ride without it being too much for them. Plus, even though the coaster has a few jerky moments that throw you around a bit, it wasn’t rough at all anywhere and didn’t try breaking the rider’s back like Stampida does.
Again, the theming continues here too and the shop looks really nice too! Loads of detailed theming everywhere similar to DBGT’s one with theming across all the flooring, walls and ceiling and some of the merchandise was pretty nice. There was a hand-made figure of the Wicker Man available in the shop too, but for £3,000? Nuuuuuuuu thanks.
Here are some other points worth mentioning when you try it:
• There is a baggage hold for this ride staffed by workers, but I thought Alton were eliminating all of them……? Very confused…
• If all three queues are full, the ratio will be 1:1:1 for main, fastback and disabled, so the waits can get incredibly and frustratingly slow at times.
• Be aware the lift hill is incredibly noisy when you stand underneath it.
• The shop is routed, so it may be difficult or cumbersome to reach one side of the shop to the other.
• When this ride breaks down, be prepared to wait a fairly long time. Over an hour was spent sending the trains round when it broke down with full and empty trains going round constantly. I believe the ride was experiencing weight issues, hence why 3/4 rows were running round empty all afternoon.
• The on-ride photo camera is at the bottom of the first tunnel drop straight after the lift hill.
• Be aware there is a major design flaw with placing the camera here. Honestly shocked nobody has picked this up yet, but the smoke in the 2nd tunnel if blown in front of the camera can make your on-ride photo look very strange with a weird ghost effect. Below is this issue me and Martin ran into, so you have a 50:50 chance of this appearing. Didn’t appreciate this after waiting 2+ hours and making it our only ride on it that day:
If you have read all of what I’ve put above, you probably most likely realise by now despite going in with low expectations, pessimism and serious doubts given Merlin’s recent track record, this ride has honestly surprised me on a level I haven’t witnessed before. It’s surprised my because during all the construction stages, apparent rumours the first drop was re-profiled by John Wardey, negative stabs from enthusiasts and the constant, vacuous marketing WORLD FIRST claims I was seeing for this thing, Wicker Man has delivered on being what I can only describe as a superb family coaster. It really is!
Whilst I still have some doubts and questions of the theme behind this ride for a family coaster, especially if one has seen the films or does research behind the whole sacrificial belief behind it, the park have done a superb job with theming the ride as a whole and must be given credit for it. The smallest of details have been looked at, especially in the station, the audio matches it perfectly and everything feels complete and not half-finished like Smiler still does today.
But my biggest concern is regarding the special effects used. Whilst for now they might all be working great with no flaws whatsoever, I seriously and honestly cannot see this lasting too long. It won’t be long before the sprayed mist on the effigy starts to degrade similar to The Marmaliser’s The Giggler leg, or 1+ of the screens displaying a flame inside breaking, or even one of the fires on the shoulders breaking. I might be sounding paranoid here, but for a coaster that for the most part lives on the promise of the effects working on this figure, that is incredibly risky of Merlin/Alton. Hopefully I’m proven wrong over time, but I still think eventually they will begin to break one bit at a time.
But besides that, if the park can get the coaster to run perfectly with no hiccups regarding the operations and technical faults it has, maintain all the effects to a working standard every day beyond 2018, they could be onto a real winner here.
Already I say this is their best family coaster without a doubt at the park, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying this is the best coaster in the country like some YouTubers and vloggers have said. It’s still loads of fun regardless and is a solid addition, but all I’ll say is don’t expect anything amazing here. Instead, expect to be surprised by it and really enjoy it for what it offers because it executes at being a fun, enjoyable woodie really well!
Just to add a little more to this review, besides from the masses of pictures above, below is a short video showing many off-ride views, including a naughty sneak of the pre-show. Don't worry, that section is only 5 seconds long!
So in summary, Wicker Man to me is a solid addition to Alton Towers, deserves credit for all the teams who put it together and should go down really well with it’s target audience. Heck, if it gets a 3 hour queue just from one day, I can only begin to imagine how big they’re going to get this summer!
Wicker Man - 8 / 10
Something Stupid: Thorpe Half Marathon 2018
How far would you go, as an enthusiast, to build your collection of Theme Park tat?
Take out a Wonga loan to cover the cost?
Break up with your long term partner so you can free up some space?
How about run a half marathon to earn it...?
Well, last Sunday saw me do Something Stupid as I found myself running the 21 kilometres of the 2018 Thorpe Half Marathon, all in an attempt to nab the jazzy coaster-themed medal bestowed upon those who manage to get over the finish line.
And here for you, dear reader, is how I got on...
Thorpe Half Marathon 2018
The Thorpe Half is now in its second year, having enjoyed a successful - if wet - debut in 2017. Unfortunately as it's held in February, the park is closed, so the only real connection to Thorpe Park is that it starts and ends in the car park; there's no sprinting past Stealth and dashing around Depth Charge. What it does have to offer however is a pleasant run through the Surrey countryside, along a relatively flat-profile road-closed course - perfect for those chasing a personal best.
I was, it must be said, not chasing a personal best. I was just in it for the medal.
So, first things first. Sunday 25th February 2018 was cold. Bloody cold. The event organisers recommended that participants arrived at the car park by 07:45am, to allow good time before the race started at 09:00am. At 07:45am on Sunday 25th February in the Thorpe Park car park, the mercury was touching -1 degrees C.
But this hadn't deterred anyone! Indeed, the car park was busier than the average in-season Saturday when I arrived, and the place was buzzing with excited, committed runners. Many of whom seemed happy to be out in nothing more than vests, lycra, and shorts. In -1 degrees.
At this point I must admit that I took a large gulp and wondered what on earth I was doing here - and this wouldn't be the last time this particular thought crossed my mind.
It's also worth saying that I wasn't prepared for doing this. At all.
The fault is squarely mine, but I had done such minimal training beforehand that it doesn't even really merit the name "training". Since I booked a place at the event back in November, I had managed a grand total of two 3 mile runs on the roads around my house. Two. And on one of those I very nearly threw up at the end of it.
I am not a runner. I don't especially enjoy it, so, at best this was going to be a struggle. But there was only one way to get that medal...!
At this point I decided I'd take my mind off the impending challenge by having a nose around the site.
First up was a mosey on over to the park entrance - which looked very bare without an actual sign there! Does this happen every season, or might we be about to get a new sign design? And whilst they're at it, the paintwork could do with a good looking over too...
Alas I was allowed to go no further, because this sign had both red writing and underlining - doubly authoritative.
Thanks to my trusty zoom lens though, I could peek in a little closer...
...but there wasn't really much to see.
The Annual Pass building seemed to be getting a good dose of TLC though. Looked like it was having a new roof fitted, given the scaffolding.
Given the red underlined signs everywhere, it was pretty clear that the toilets by the entrance were out of bounds and out of action.
So bring on the portaloos!
Unfortunately, you can never have enough portaloos, and in this case, there weren't enough portaloos. Queueing is par for the course at any Theme Park, but queueing in sub zero temperatures is even less fun.
A quick look over the back of the bogs revealed very little of interest - although Zodiac standing stationary in a half-upright position looked quite strange! There was no visible work being done to X / WDTR.
However, it is photos such as this one that make me think how lucky we are to have a park as pretty as Thorpe in our country.
Thorpe Park is rarely praised for looking good. But with bright blue skies and deep blue lakes top-and-tailing it, it can't be denied that this is a sweet view. Reminded me strangely of a (very) mini Cedar Point...
OK - back to the action. The event organisers had done a great job with the central runners' village area, which contained a Cookie Bar, Coffee Stall, Massage Beds, Medal Engraving, a bunch of running-related retailers...
...and a stage!
Pictured here are the Epsom Rock Choir, who were singing with gusto despite the bitter cold. Did I mention that it was cold?
08:45am. Nearly game time. I got changed into my kit, which naturally featured a vintage Thorpe t shirt, and made my way over to the start area.
There were nearly 2,000 runners taking part in today's race, including many that had been bussed in by their local running group for the event.
The "why am I here?" thought flickered across my mind once more.
And we were off!
The route took us past the annual pass building, down towards the car park entrance, and off to the left.
Geek Photo #1 - the Protecting The Magic sign.
Do you know the Six Spells for Safety?
The route continued to track along the Staines Road, through the backstage areas of the park. Lots of industrial-looking buildings and infrastructure.
And then, behold! Geek Photo #2 - I spy nostalgia!
These look to me as if they've been saved from Chief Ranger's Carousel (RIP), which is great. But what will the park do with them?! Hopefully not leave them to rot...
OK, back to the race. The course had kicked us out of the Thorpe Park grounds at around 1 mile, on to Norlands Lane, then Coldharbour Lane, past Thorpe Farm (RIP), and up to the Thorpe Bypass.
At this point, my lack of fitness was really kicking in. The Sunday morning jolly at the Theme Park had suddenly turned very real, and I was wheezing after just 2 miles.
What didn't help was this section of the course, which involved running half a mile up one half of the road, only to turn around and run straight back down the other half. Sigh.
On the plus side, some great views of the M25. Oof.
But to be fair, much of the route was through very pleasant countryside, and if I'd been more fit it might have even been enjoyable.
As it was, it was a real mental effort to keep my head down, and keep moving. Just keep going. One step in front of the other. The coldness issue dropped away after 4 miles, because my body was generating so much heat.
I was overtaken plenty of times, and I had to just walk up anything resembling an incline. Spotify was a massive help.
The breakthrough for me came at about mile 10, where I realised that I'd made it around 75% of the course and that finishing was achievable!
At mile 12, I could start to see the tops of some of the rides peek over the skyline - wow. Never have I been more motivated by seeing the crest of Tidal Wave's lift hill!
My legs were properly turning to jelly, and the last pushes were really stop / start. But with a view like this, and the end in sight, I forced myself to go for a sprint finish for the last few hundred yards.
I threw myself over the finish line and doubled over, my chest burning and my legs on fire.
I'd done it!
2 hours, 1 minute, and 17 seconds of running later, and I'd completed the Thorpe Half.
And what was all this endeavour for?
Another addition to my collection of Theme Park tat! But what an addition it is.
Genuine blood, sweat and tears went into getting it, so I suspect it will remain amongst the more treasured of all the tat in my possession. It's a good looking, weighty medal and I'm proud to have earned it!
So, will I be running the Thorpe Half again next year to add another medal to my collection?
Immediately after the race my legs seized up to such an extent that I almost couldn't drive home. In the days following the event, my muscles were so sore that walking - anywhere - was a very real problem. And I later found I'd sprained my left foot along the course, and one of the toenails on my right foot had filled with blood and fallen off. Yuck. And did I mention the nipple chafing?
These injuries are, of course, preventable. As I said at the top of the piece, my running the Thorpe Half was Stupid. I certainly don't recommend following my lead and just running a Half Marathon in freezing temperatures with no prior training whatsoever in order to obtain a coaster-themed medal.
However, for those in better shape (or with a greater commitment to training) than I... it was a very well organised event. Why not give next year's a go?
Thanks for reading! Comments very welcome below.