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Marhelorpe

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    Marhelorpe reacted to Martin Doyle for a blog entry, Zadra - A review   
    So I was recently lucky enough to head across to Poland to visit Energylandia In Zator. The main reason to visit the park ofcourse was the hotly anticipated new for 2019 RMC Hybrid Zadra. So for this write up, I will be sharing my full thoughts on this well received in the coaster community coaster and where it matches up to my top coasters.
     
    A brief history and background!!
     
    Zadra is Rocky Mountain Constructions second “hyper hybrid" ibox track coaster with the first being my personal number one coaster Steel Vengeance. It is also the third RMC installation on the continent behind Wildfire at Kolmarden and Untamed at Walibi Holland. Zadra is also the very first RMC Ibox track coaster to be a ground up installation. Previously, RMC would use the “topper track” design that features on rides like Lightning Rod and Wildfire for their ground up designs whereas the “Ibox" track design would be used on conversions of pre-existing wooden coasters. So this was the first use of Ibox track for a ground up model. At opening, Zadra would break the records set by Steel Vengeance for the tallest and fastest Hybrid coaster by a whopping 1 FOOT and 1MPH. Zadra will lose the record for fastest when Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa opens (also by 1mph!!) and will see its height record matched by the new Florida hyper hybrid. It will also lose the record it shares with Steel Vengeance for steepest drop (90 degree) on a hybrid when Iron Gwazi opens by 1 degree!! Zadra initially was going to open at the park in 2020. However, as a result of it being completed ahead of schedule, the park was able to open it at the end of August 2019. This is even more impressive given a portion of the structure was blown over in a storm during its construction!!
     
    Heading to Zadra/ Dragon Zone

    Zadra is located at the very back of the park in the new expanded area the park has built into. So on entering Energylandia and walking through what could best be described as a glorified fun fair, you will find an underpass to take you to the other side of the road and into “Dragon zone" (or Dragon Castle) and you will find a new Medieval themed village with a few stores and eateries with Zadra towering above the lot of it on the right hand side. This area is charming enough with its audio (featuring an appearance from Hall Of The Mountain King!!) and the odd show going on. This area also features two family coasters and a kiddy flat ride. To get to the star attraction, you will walk through the entirety of this themed area where you will then find the entrance to Zadra on the right.
     
    The queue!!
     
    There has been a lot of enthusiasts who have visited the park and cried blue murder over the sheer length of Zadras physical queue line and I can now safely say, they are not unjustified in their comments!!. I have ridden many coasters in my time and not once have I found a coaster that has a queue of such a ridiculous length to walk through than what Zadra takes to navigate. Coupled with the fact there are NO short cuts whatsoever to cut off some of the queue, you WILL have to deal with this walk every single time you ride Zadra. This massively hurts the rides reliability unless you are as fit as a fiddle and just enjoy walking for a ridiculous amount of time. The queue takes 7-10 minutes to navigate and I kid you not, equates to half a mile worth of walking when you convert steps into mile. It also does not help when theres a fair few stairs to climb up and down to get to the ride aswell. So yes. I would advise getting fit before heading out to ride this thing However!! Whilst the queue is insanely long, it is relatively aesthetically pleasing on the eye with the medieval style walls in certain places and also allows for some wonderful views of the coaster. So this is a big positive for those who enjoy video taking and photography.
     
    The lockers
     
    So after finally reaching the station buidling for Zadra, you will be faced with the locker area. Energylandia offers a fairly decent locker set up in where you pay around the same as £1 and you are given a wristband for all day lockers. You will scan your wristband and then you will be allocated a locker to store bags and loose belongings in. The lockers are double sided so you will collect your belongings from the other side of the wall on exiting the ride. No belongings are allowed to be left in the station.
     
    Operations/batching
     
    On placing your items in your locker, you will climb the stairs and head to be batched. Zadra (as well as Hyperion) uses a pretty neat loading system where there are four screens which count down the amount of riders who can go through into the station. One screen is for the front row line. Another screen is for single riders and two more screens are for the rest of the train. Once the counter shows theres seats for you, you will go through to board the coaster. A tip if you want the back row. Try to make sure you get yourself in a position where you are in front of the door to the station and as soon as it opens, make a beeline for the back. You can NOT request a row from my experience whilst in the station. Depending on what mood Energylandia are in, they will run it on one or two trains. So if you are wanting the front row, be aware that you will be waiting a long time if they opt to run it on one given the length of the coaster.
     
    Operations on Zadra was very bizarre on my visit. They opened on one train and then when the queue got longer it put a second on but then half an hour later, they took the second off when the queue went back down. Then the real “what the hell!!?” moment came later on where one hour before closing, they swapped trains around which wasted well over 15 minutes of my time. Its also worth noting that if the ride is walk on, they will wait until the train is near full until they send it. So abandon any hope of a “zen ride" on it before going to ride!! A part of me feels the train swap I mentioned earlier was a way of building the queue up a little.
     
    The trains
     
    So after all the effort it took to get to this point, it is now time to head into the nicely styled station of Zadra and board the train. Zadra ofcourse uses the standard RMC trains so you will be greeted with the usual policy of fasten your seatbelt but let the operator put the bar down. Although on my rides, the staff insisted on doing the seatbelt aswell. The trains feature the standard RMC restraints of a lapbar and a pair of shin guards. As I have mentioned previously with my reviews on the other RMC coasters, these restraints cause me personally no bother at all. However, if you are a larger rider or have larger legs then they can cause major discomfort. Its also worth noting that the shinguards on Zadra are slightly thicker than the ones on Untamed and Steel Vengeance. So be aware of this if you found the restraints on those two painful. The operators on my visit also seemed to be hell bent on causing me as much pain as possible. As in, literally slamming the restaint down on me and trying to put it as far down as possible. Compared to how I was treated on Steel Vengeance and Untamed, this left a very sour taste in my mouth. Hopefully in future visits, this wont be the case.
     
    The coaster itself

    After being given the clearance to dispatch, you are on your way!!. The train glides out of the station and dips down to the right before latching onto the loud (the mark of a Hyper Hybrid lift hill!!) 206 foot lift hill. Ascending this hill, you are greeted with some amazing views of the area around you. With the local countryside to the right and front of you and the new Dragon zone area to the left. You also will get some views of the all new Aqualantis area.
     
    The train ascends this lift hill at a quick speed and sooner than you think, you reach the top and hit the 200 plus foot vertical drop!! This drop is a pure and utter stunner!! You are raised out of your seat the whole way down regardless of where you sit and as it drops into the wooden structure, it creates one hell of a head chopper moment. This drop feels exactly the same as that on Steel Vengeance in terms of the physical sensation but given the head chopper at the bottom, this rides drop just about edges that on big Steve!!
     
    Speeding through the woodwork, you will turn slightly to the right over a small speed hill where the camera for your onride photo is to the right. This speed hill is then followed by the highlight of the coaster. At a massive 76mph, you will bank upwards aggressively to the left in a massive turn around before levelling up at the top before plummeting back down to ground level. This element is an amazing combo of intensity and airtime. As you bank upwards, you are right on your side feeling grey out level of force and when you hit the top and drop down you get a beautiful sustainted pop of ejector airtime. This is the absolute show stealer on Zadra. On exiting this element, the train will shoot up into the Zero G Stall and boy is this a cracker of an inversion. You enter and exit the element at a great speed and experience some stunning hangtime. The height of this element also adds to that hangtime sensation massively. The best inversion on the coaster.

     
    Still travelling at a breakneck pace, the train then sharply turns left into its outwards airtime hill which sharply throws riders from right to left before navigating some turns before hitting the massive airtime hill. This airtime hill is utterly brilliant. Going through it offers a good mix of ejector and floater airtime and is a good solid intense moment.
     
    Following this, the train shoots up into its second inversion which is a Zero G Roll in the middle of the wooden structure. It takes this element at a quick pace and coupled with the rider being surrounded with the structure, it is a real disorientating element and offers great headchoppers. Yet another great element.
     
    Speeding out the structure, the train shoots through a double down element which offers two pops of solid ejector which feels like shades of the Untamed and Steel Vengeance airtime. The ride will then race through an S turn which throws the rider around even more before it enters a very fastly taken Zero G Roll before turning to the left and into the very aggressive breaks. Brace yourself for these breaks as you will be lunged right forward into your restraint. Let the speed it hits the breaks at tell you how fast this coaster navigates its 1316 metres of track!!. The ride then heads back into the station and you are free to exit and ride again!!....if you really want to make that walk again that is!!
     
    Overall thoughts

     
    Zadra is incredible. Absolutely incredible.
     
    Whilst I do not think Energylandia is a particularly great park (for now!!) Thanks largely to its glorified fun fair feel, they have absolutely struck gold with Zadra. Zadra is a perfect mix of intensity,airtime,hangtime,speed and transitions. Loads of people have been dismissive of the airtime on Zadra by watching POV videos of it but let me tell you that the airtime on this should not be underestimated. It is not all about the airtime like what Untamed is but my lord it still has some strong moments of it.
     
    What makes Zadra great to me is its use of speed throughout the whole course. It really does not lose any steam from drop to breaks and of anything, it could have gone on much longer if it wanted to with the speed it hits the breaks at. It really is paced wonderfully and has a flawless layout.
     
    Surprisingly, I found the front row of this coaster to be the best row on it. With Untamed and Steel Vengeance, I go for the back but on Zadra, I found the front to be where its at. You still get a good drop there and you feel the speed and airtime very well in the front. The back row however gives one heck of a pull over the drop and over the massive turnaround element. So both rows definitely excel over the other in some regards.
     
    The million pound question when Zadra came around was “is this going to be the Steel Vengeance killer?”. In my own personal opinion, the answer to that is no as Steel Vengeance has all of whats great about Zadra AND Untamed in one package. The extra 30 plus seconds on Steel Vengeance also makes a massive difference to me. It is not a Steel Vengeance killer AND I am even going to say it is not even an Untamed killer in my book. I personally am an airtime guy over intensity and whilst as I mentioned previously that Zadra has some has some real good airtime, it is nowhere near what you get on Steel Vengeance and Untamed. I also feel Untamed takes its inversions better than Zadra as well as having the better airtime. So I just give Untamed the edge over Zadra. If however you love intensity,speed and forces over tons of airtime then Zadra absolutely will be your favourite of the RMC coasters.
     
    The other negative as I mentioned earlier is that the rerideabillity of Zadra is greatly harmed by the excessive length of the queue. Even if you love riding a coaster over and over, its just so hard to motivate yourself to walk all the way back round Zadra to do so.
     
    That being said, Zadra is a stunning coaster and takes its place at number 3 on my top coaster list. It really is a great coaster from start to finish and once again showcases that RMC are the top dog in the coaster industry. Please get yourself out there to ride it whenever you can and you will not be disappointed in this absolute masterpiece.
     
    10/10

     
     
  2. Like
    Marhelorpe reacted to Coaster for a blog entry, Phantasialand Review - October 2018   
    The third and final day of the Pleasure Beach Experience European park event took place at Phantasialand, where we were expecting a 30-minute ERT on Black Mamba and lunch included.
     
    Before I review the park itself, can I just say what incredible treatment we had from their corporate/events team.  Having expected the above, we also got a night time ERT on Taron (joining the hotel guests) followed by 2 PBE group rides, early morning rides on Maus au Chocolat and Chiapas (before the park opened) as well as both cycles on Mystery Castle at the end of the day.  In addition, we were given four fast passes each and of course the lunch, it was truly incredible and the park went above and beyond to make sure we had a good day.
     
    Onto the park itself, I was absolutely blown away by the scale and detail of some of the theming, it puts anything in the UK to absolute shame in that respect; from the dark tone of Klugheim to the vibrant areas elsewhere, and queueing for Talocan felt more like watching a show!  The landscaping, theming and audio truly sets this park apart from anywhere else I’ve ever seen in terms of a themed experience park.
     
    The park was incredibly busy on the Saturday however operations were slick meaning we managed to ride most things, unfortunately River Quest was only using one of the two elevators and the queue moved extremely slowly as a result but apart from that, everything else was run very efficiently and queues were always moving.
     
    Saturday Ride count
    Taron x11 (10 during night time ERT)
    Black Mamba x8 (ERT)
    Chiapas x2
    River Quest x1
    Talocan x1
    Winjas Fear x1
    Winjas Force x1
    Raik x1
    Colorado Adventure x1
    Mystery Castle x1
    Maus Au Chocolat x1
    Geister Rikscha x1
     
    TOTAL: 30
     
    Sunday Ride count (non-event day, in park 10:30 – 4pm)
    Taron x1
    Black Mamba x1
    Raik x1
    Winjas Fear x1
    Colorado Adventure x1
    Talocan x1
    Feng Ju Palace x1
    Temple of the Night Hawk x1
    Hollywood Tour x1
    Wurmling Express x1
    Geister Rikscha x1
     
    TOTAL: 11
     
     
    Onto the rides!
     
    Taron
    Taron is truly an incredible coaster in every respect, from the landscaping, theming through to the coaster itself it’s near-perfection.
     

     
    Entering Klugheim the twisted metal track becomes visible through literal mountains of rockwork, with the audio blaring out, it’s just stunning and features such as the waterfall, launch audio and night-time lighting all add to the experience.
     

     

     
    The queue-line starts well but unfortunately goes through to a poorly-decorated cattlepen area, a shame really as all the work building that immersion into the area is lost the moment you enter that.
     
    Queue aside, you enter the station, board the train and the launch audio kicks in… following a short corner you’re launched forcefully into an overbank, followed by an incredible airtime hill (it looks tame but is crazy!) and a sharp turn then snap to the right; following a few more meandering turns, you’re dropped down into the second launch which is INCREDIBLE.
     

     
    The surrounding walls and nearby theming adds to the sensation of speed as you enter the second launch, and the sound is just amazing… following this you’re thrown up (getting splashed slightly by the waterfall if you’re on the left) and into a fantastic second half; it has all the qualities of the first and more, with closer interactions with the theming, sharper transitions and some very forceful turns.  The only criticism I have is the trim brakes on the final airtime hills.
     

     
    Overall, Taron is an absolutely spectacular roller coaster.  I actually like the fact that it isn’t flat-out intense all the way through, with some of the turns offering breathers before you enter the next section.  The theming is incredible for the most part, audio is fantastic and the coaster holds its own and would be amazing even without everything else.  10/10.
     
    Black Mamba
    A very fun B&M invert, again the theming is incredible and some of the near-misses are terrifying, I’d go as far to say it’s the most effective use of near-miss elements I’ve ever seen on a coaster.
     

     
    I really enjoyed not knowing where the layout was going next due to all the theming, and the spiral section at the end adds a lot to the ride IMO.
     

     
    The queue line and station are very atmospheric, with the station area being in near-darkness until the train enters the station.
     
    Very fun coaster.
     
    Chiapas
    A fantastic log flume, I loved the catchy music and it’s clear the ride system is very smart and manages to do a lot very efficiently.
     

     
    Much like everything else the theming/landscaping is just incredible, walking over the bridge with the drop on one side and the splashdown on the other feels quite surreal with all the decoration.
     

     
    River Quest
    River Quest is absolutely insane, having not done much research my reaction upon exiting the elevator and seeing what followed was basically, what the...?!
     
    Good ride, came off drenched, only downside was the capacity issues.
     
    Winjas Fear and Force
    How haven’t I heard about these before?  They look like standard Maurer spinners in a building on first approach, but caught me completely off guard with all the surprises.  Absolutely excellent coasters.
     

     
    Mystery Castle is absolutely amazing IMO, the queue theming is stunning but the ride itself is just so much fun, without ruining too much I’ll just say it’s become my favourite drop tower ride by a country mile.
     

     
    Talocan is a topspin, but with the added thematics it's transformed into a really good experience; with the audio, fire and water, it feels more like watching a show from off ride!
     

     
    Colorado Adventure is decent enough, the pitch-black section was fun and the capacity excellent.
     

     
    Raik is okay, but much more about the theme than the ride experience itself IMO.
     
    Temple of the Nighthawk – how can you do so little in so much time?
     
    May be an unpopular opinion, but I really enjoyed the dark rides Geister Rikscha and Hollywood Tour – definitely in the “so bad, it’s good” category but IMO parks need rides like this to fill a gap, and they were great examples of how dark rides used to be.
     

     
    Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Phantasialand, from the rides themselves, theming and of course the way the park treated us, it has instantly become my number 2 park.
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     
    Thanks for reading
  3. Like
    Marhelorpe reacted to Coaster for a blog entry, Toverland Review - October 2018   
    The second day of the Pleasure Beach Experience European park trip took place at Toverland, where we had a full day at the park followed by 30 minutes ERT on Fenix, and then a behind the scenes tour of the ride.
     
    Toverland is a lovely theme park located in the Netherlands with lots of nice theming/landscaping, an indoor area of the park and some really unique attractions mixed with a few exceptional coasters.  The park has lots of extra features such as the fountain show, assault courses and it’s clear that they put a lot of effort into the quality of the overall park.
     

     
    The park was quiet during our visit meaning that one train operations was all that was needed – in addition, the queueing areas are all incredibly well presented meaning you never felt like you were waiting around for too long.
     
    Ridecount:
    Fenix x11 (9 on ERT)
    Troy x8
    Dwerlvelwind x2
    Booster Bike x2
    Djengu River x2
    Expedition Zork (log flume) x1
    Maximus’ Blitz Bahn x1
    Toos-Express x1
    Merlin’s Quest x1
    Villa Fiasko x1
     
    TOTAL: 30
     
    Onto the rides!
     
    Fenix
    Approaching the ride’s area, the landscaping is beautifully done with lakes, fountain features and low fences meaning fantastic views of the ride are possible.  As you approach, smaller features (such as a stream running down the path?!) become noticeable, and the effort that has gone into the area becomes evident.  This place is stunning!
     

     

     
    Entering the queue-line you find yourself navigating dimly lit passageways with spiral staircases, tunnels and terrifyingly steep stairs into and out of the station.  There are a few areas once the ride starts that feel incomplete, but I believe the park are planning to add to this over the winter.
     

     

     
    Passing through a mist effect you begin ascending the lift-hill, before taking a turn and entering the first drop.  This felt a lot more forceful than Swarm’s, with there being much more of a “pull-over” at the back despite the shorter trains.  You then enter an excellent airtime hill, diving through a near miss before going up, over and into an incredibly forceful helix.
     

     

     
    Out of the helix you enter a zero-g-roll taken at a ridiculously fast pace, and then dive into the last few turns.
     

     
    Fenix is an incredible coaster, and (IMO) infinitely better than The Swarm.  Where Swarm takes elements slowly and crawls over the top of inversions, Fenix throws you into them at a much faster pace whilst still retaining the smooth nature of a B&M.  This, combined with the incredible landscaping makes Fenix a truly fantastic coaster.  My only criticism would be that it’s fairly short, but even then, it packs a punch so you don’t feel short-changed.
     
     
    Troy
    Oh.  My.  Word.
     
    As someone who holds wooden coasters in very high regard, I was excited to ride Troy but also conscious that I didn’t want to overhype it.  Similar to most rides at Toverland it’s very well presented, with the queue-line and surrounding area offering stunning views of the ride’s imposing structure.
     

     
    Navigating the first corner and lift-hill, views of the ride’s obscene layout come into view, but before you realise you’ve reached the first drop.
     
    Plummeting down the twisting first drop is incredible, and what follows is an extremely fast banked turn, then two minutes of pure joy.  I won’t even try and go through the layout because it’s taken at such a pace that it makes it impossible, but you’re thrown side-to-side, out of your seat on occasion (though airtime isn’t really the focus of the ride) and the station fly-through is awesome.
     

     
    The ride is just utterly relentless from start to finish, yet still manages to retain a sense of comfort whilst throwing you around and really bringing a new meaning to the “out of control” sensation associated with wooden coasters.
     

     
    I think it’s become my new favourite coaster.          
     
    Dwerlvelwind
    A really fun family spinning coaster with some surprising force in places, and the onboard audio is fantastic.  With it being compact I’d say one of these would be perfect for a UK park with limited space, and of course with it being Toverland it was fantastically decorated both inside the station and around the ride’s area.
     

     
    Booster Bike
    A fun coaster, the launch is more forceful than I was expecting and the turns/hills at the end are good fun; also, the unique seating position adds to it.  Probably not quite as good as Velocity, but still good.
     
    Merlin’s Quest was a little bit of a disappointment as it was taken far too slowly, and felt like an ordeal waiting to get back into the station.  With that said, the indoor section is excellently themed though I didn’t appreciate the bugs on the outdoor section!
     
    Maximus’ Blitz Bahn is a unique ride, and a lot of fun.
     
    The rapids were a bit terrifying in a full boat, and the log flume was good (though very weird!)
     

     
    During the behind the scenes tour of Fenix we were treated to a walk along the brake run, as well as a look into the ride’s control panel, a walk round the first turn after the station and a long look into and walk round the maintenance shed (it’s huge!) with the second train in storage – we were only allowed to take pictures on the brake run and in the station.
     

     
     

     

     
    Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Toverland; it’s a lovely family owned park and they clearly put a lot of pride into everything they do.  With investments such as Fenix I think it’s definitely one to watch.  A few more photos below
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     
    Spot anything strange about this picture?
     

     
    Hmm...

     
    There were YouTuber's filming a stunt show of some sort at the park, earlier on in the day they jumped onto our boat on Merlin's quest and then back off again whilst being filmed by the park!
     
    Thanks for reading  
  4. Like
    Marhelorpe reacted to Stuntman707 for a blog entry, Tulleys Shocktober Fest 2018 Review   
    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.
     
    VIXI
    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!
  5. Like
    Marhelorpe reacted to Stuntman707 for a blog entry, First visit to Blackpool review   
    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 Rides
    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.
     

     

     

     


    Conclusion
    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.
     
  6. Like
    Marhelorpe reacted to Coaster for a blog entry, An ICON launches in Blackpool - My Review   
    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. 
  7. Like
    Marhelorpe reacted to Matt Creek for a blog entry, Eye Of The Tiger   
    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.
     


    Conclusion:
    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.
     



  8. Like
    Marhelorpe reacted to Coaster for a blog entry, Why Wicker Man is the best UK coaster since 1996   
    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. 
  9. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from Glitch for a blog entry, Wicker Man - The Truth   
    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.
     

     
    AUDIO
     
    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!
     
    PRE-SHOW
     
    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.
     

     
    STATION
     
    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!
     

     
    RIDE EXPERIENCE
     
    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.
     
    SHOP
     
    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.
     

     
    OTHER POINTS
     
    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:
     

     
    CONCLUSION
     
    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 


  10. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from Robert.W for a blog entry, Wicker Man - The Truth   
    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.
     

     
    AUDIO
     
    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!
     
    PRE-SHOW
     
    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.
     

     
    STATION
     
    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!
     

     
    RIDE EXPERIENCE
     
    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.
     
    SHOP
     
    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.
     

     
    OTHER POINTS
     
    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:
     

     
    CONCLUSION
     
    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 


  11. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from Coaster for a blog entry, Wicker Man - The Truth   
    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.
     

     
    AUDIO
     
    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!
     
    PRE-SHOW
     
    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.
     

     
    STATION
     
    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!
     

     
    RIDE EXPERIENCE
     
    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.
     
    SHOP
     
    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.
     

     
    OTHER POINTS
     
    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:
     

     
    CONCLUSION
     
    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 


  12. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from CharlieN for a blog entry, Wicker Man - The Truth   
    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.
     

     
    AUDIO
     
    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!
     
    PRE-SHOW
     
    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.
     

     
    STATION
     
    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!
     

     
    RIDE EXPERIENCE
     
    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.
     
    SHOP
     
    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.
     

     
    OTHER POINTS
     
    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:
     

     
    CONCLUSION
     
    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 


  13. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from Liam T for a blog entry, Wicker Man - The Truth   
    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.
     

     
    AUDIO
     
    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!
     
    PRE-SHOW
     
    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.
     

     
    STATION
     
    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!
     

     
    RIDE EXPERIENCE
     
    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.
     
    SHOP
     
    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.
     

     
    OTHER POINTS
     
    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:
     

     
    CONCLUSION
     
    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 


  14. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from Mattgwise for a blog entry, Wicker Man - The Truth   
    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.
     

     
    AUDIO
     
    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!
     
    PRE-SHOW
     
    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.
     

     
    STATION
     
    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!
     

     
    RIDE EXPERIENCE
     
    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.
     
    SHOP
     
    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.
     

     
    OTHER POINTS
     
    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:
     

     
    CONCLUSION
     
    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 


  15. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from pluk for a blog entry, Wicker Man - The Truth   
    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.
     

     
    AUDIO
     
    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!
     
    PRE-SHOW
     
    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.
     

     
    STATION
     
    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!
     

     
    RIDE EXPERIENCE
     
    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.
     
    SHOP
     
    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.
     

     
    OTHER POINTS
     
    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:
     

     
    CONCLUSION
     
    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 


  16. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from Matt Creek for a blog entry, Wicker Man - The Truth   
    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.
     

     
    AUDIO
     
    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!
     
    PRE-SHOW
     
    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.
     

     
    STATION
     
    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!
     

     
    RIDE EXPERIENCE
     
    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.
     
    SHOP
     
    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.
     

     
    OTHER POINTS
     
    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:
     

     
    CONCLUSION
     
    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 


  17. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from Stuntman707 for a blog entry, Wicker Man - The Truth   
    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.
     

     
    AUDIO
     
    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!
     
    PRE-SHOW
     
    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.
     

     
    STATION
     
    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!
     

     
    RIDE EXPERIENCE
     
    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.
     
    SHOP
     
    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.
     

     
    OTHER POINTS
     
    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:
     

     
    CONCLUSION
     
    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 


  18. Like
    Marhelorpe reacted to BenC for a blog entry, Something Stupid: Thorpe Half Marathon 2018   
    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?
     
    Absolutely not!
     
    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.
  19. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from pluk for a blog entry, A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest   
    It's no secret to those that know me well that I passionately believe Halloween as a whole is just an overblown annual event which leads to disappointment, scare-less attractions, cringy atmosphere and nothing but annoyance with masses of people flooding the events held everywhere across the country. The problem for me is for over 9 years in a row now between 2008 - 2017, I have only ever managed to attend one event during this entire time of year and that's Thorpe Park's Fright Nights and to be brutally honest, I am now getting tired, bored and frankly sick of the event. 

    The event during the 2008/2009 season was excellent with consistent operations, brilliant audio, tons of park-wide decorations, great use of smoke and lighting effects and most of all, every single maze at the time was home-brewed and original, some with inspirations from other IP's such as Se7en for instance. Asylum, Se7en, Curse and Hellgate were awesome! But now however, hardly any of this is prevalent at the event anymore and hasn't been since 2013 when Lionsgate started taking over everything, and now AMC's The Walking Dead. It's gone to the point now that when someone mentions the words 'Fright Nights' to me, all I can picture is long queues, crappy operations, overselling of Fastrack, needless use of IP's, mediocre scare mazes and up-charges everywhere you go. The whole thing now just feels like a giant cash grab and rip off frankly with very little meaning behind it where every year that passes, it's fun-factor is diminishing like a burning flame. Fireworks/bonfire night however does have a meaning and historical relevance behind it in Britain, which is why it's by far my preferred event at the end of each season and I'll never stop requesting Thorpe to bring it back after it's last appearance in 2011.
     
    Now, you might ask by this point why am I talking about Fright Nights when this blog is titled 'A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest'? Well, it's because this review is going to highlight such a stark contrast I experienced between Thorpe's version of a Halloween event and Tulleys, and I feel it's needed to set the premise of this review, because it's important to note at this point after visiting Tulleys on the 21st October 2017, despite Storm Brian interfering with the weather, that night has restored my faith and excitement in these types of events once again. These are words that I honestly thought I would never say!


     
    Similar to my other couple of previous blogs, I warn at the start my reviews are detailed, precise and very long, and this is no exception. So if you're someone who wants to have a quick read, focuses on the main highlights or doesn't want to get bored of reading my analysis by the end of the first paragraph, this isn't for you I'm afraid!


     
    So to begin, I would like to start with my overall first impressions of the event upon walking inside the site and the general atmosphere of the place:
     
    

Initial Impressions and Atmosphere:


     
    I've know Tulleys Farm for as long as I can remember ever since I was just 4 years old during the summer when on the other side of the field the wheat maze was open with other smaller activities, as well as picking your own fruit during June for the strawberries and raspberries. But despite this, the way Tulleys have set up this event made the place almost unrecognisable to me. It turns out that instead of the event being held in the small area near the front where the huts, cafe and fields are it is instead directly behind all of this on a massive open grass field on a gentle slope which I have never ventured onto before until now. So whilst in some places it felt familiar, the majority of it felt as though it was an entirely different site to what it's like during summer!


     
    Upon the entrance next to the grass field for parking, the entrance stands amongst the trees with flames on either side and giant pumpkin scarecrows lit up in orange, filled with smoke, creating a very natural, dominating yet familiar atmosphere to how I've know Tulleys before. Once going under the entrance hut into the ticket booth area, the entire roof is covered with white canopy tents which I appreciated very much as it ensured we didn't get wet whilst waiting to have our bags searched and collect our tickets on the muddy green fields. It reminded me a little at first of Fairford's Royal International Air Tattoo event every July with the way it was all handled, which was organised very well by the staff, so kudos for keeping the system easy, quick and simple with the large number of people at the event.
     
    

Once outside the tent and you've got your tickets/wristband, you are instantly surrounded by lots of attractions, food/drink stalls, stages, rides and seating which I guessed immediately was the centre of the whole event as all of the eight attractions were scattered across the field within equal distance of each other. A small detail I really liked was consistently across the fields there were small fires being lit with burning wood to keep guests warm at night and blend into the whole 'festival feel' of the place. The smell of burning wood in these fields felt comforting and familiar, especially as someone who once was part of the Scouts and went on these camping trips all the time! The audio used across the park wasn't blaring or obtrusive anywhere either and instead was subtle, evenly balanced and played quite a lot of Midnight Syndicate's music both old and new across each area which was a nice touch. After their audio was banished at Thorpe Park starting in 2013 with Lionsgate (grrrrrrr), it was nice to hear it once again. Also, there was tons of smoke everywhere across the place with lots of roaming actors interacting very well with guests which was quite amusing to watch!


     
    The attractions from this centre are situated down either the south or west sides of the field down slopes. To the left of the square you will find The Colony, The Chop Shop, The Cellar and Twisted Clowns. Directly in front you will see the couple of rides the event has which was a Booster ride similar to the one on Brighton pier, and a bouncer similar to the one which can still be at Hastings years ago, as well as on Brighton pier outside the Haunted House which was nice. And lastly, to the right down the hill, Horrorwood Haunted Hayride, Creepy Cottage, VIXI and Coven of 13, as well as the shop, paintball alley and further food and drink stalls.
     
    

It's also worth mentioning that behind you in this centre there is also a stage where a live band is held and plays several chart music hits which was nice, including many which fit in with the Halloween theme. Further down the hill on the right there is another live band too performing for guests. Inside the tents across a few areas, you could buy pumpkins which I presume the farm has grown for guests to purchase at the event, some of which were enormous and very heavy to handle! It's the smaller things with simple decorations like pumpkins that can make a big difference sometimes to the overall feel of an event. It adds to the Halloween theme, unlike Thorpe who still for some reason think little/no decorations = Halloween atmosphere.
     
    

With all of these points taken into consideration, this has a very different vibe and feel to it all compared to what Fright Nights is, and really, I loved it! The whole place felt just like being at a festival with all the canopies for the queues, muddy fields, live music, great theming, large variety of food and drink stalls, the many small campfires everywhere and the consistent feel the place had where nothing seemed to stick out like a sore thumb anywhere. Compared to Fright Nights, the only fair comparison to be made here is that Tulleys clearly know how to create a better atmosphere at night for their customers which is more relevant to Halloween and better organised than Fright Nights has ever been.

    Food & Drink:

    As mentioned above, all of the food and drink available at the farm was available through these temporary food stalls which you typically find at most events similar to this, but the variety and close proximity between them all was quite convenient and was all situated in the centre. Everything from hot drinks, takeaway food, sweet snacks and even a hog roast were available for guests and the variety offered was quite good.

    Although, the prices were a little too much for what I expected to pay. I went to the noodles bar and ordered pulled pork curry noodles and a large spring roll which came to £10.25 altogether without a drink and a regular cup of coffee was £3. So whilst the variety was great and you get large portions, the prices here did feel too high compared to what I would comfortably pay for typically and was the only area where I felt ripped off slightly by the whole event. £3 for a regular Americano was too much! Not surprising, just thought it’s worth noting to those who have yet to visit to be prepared with enough cash in their wallets.

    Operations:

    As a whole, Tulleys demonstrated to me exactly how you should manage events with lots of people going through the attractions. There was only 50 VIP and only 200 Fastrack ticket holders in the entire field that night, which meant the queues for Fastrack were extremely small or non-existent most of the night. Dispatches were fast and frequent for all the mazes, especially for the Haunted Hayride and every bit of effort was made by the staff to keep the queues to a minimal as long as possible throughout the night. When you consider all mazes at Fright Nights in the evening have Fastrack overflowing for all attractions, some of which can actually be longer than the normal queue, this was a really pleasant surprise for me.
     
    If there were a slight niggle I had with the handling of letting people through the mazes, it’s that some of the groups put through each time were quite large, some as much as 20 people at once. And if you are leading the group, if you’re a fast walker through these types of attractions, it’s not uncommon for you to at some point through the maze bump into the group ahead. Whilst it wasn’t a major issue considering all of the attractions were excellent, it did hinder the scare factor a little when too many people are in the same room with you. I wish the dispatches were a little slower when the queues were shorter at the start and end of the evening, but I suppose you get that with any scare maze really.

    Fairground Rides:

    As mentioned above in my initial impressions section, there were just two rides available at the farm in the evening, so with the time available between 5pm - 11pm, I only did the Booster catapult ride which is identical to the one which can be found on Brighton Pier. One ride costs £6 and you get throttled several times both backwards and forwards and at night, it was really great fun and very intense! Plus, despite the wind speeds reaching 42mph gusts in the evening, the ride still ran flawlessly without any problems and didn’t stall at any point as a result (unlike Thorpe who now fear Flying Fish and Banana Boat will stall with just 20mph gusts).

    So if you are planning on visiting this year or maybe next year if these two rides remain, I do recommend trying Booster at night and you’ll have the peace of mind that even if it’s raining or winds reach 42mph, you’ll still find it open.
     
    Scare Attraction Reviews:

    Now onto the best part and that’s with small mini reviews of all eight scare attractions available at the farm. As a whole, I must report the quality, length, amount of fun and scariness in these attractions is far superior to any maze I have done at Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights in the 9 years I have attended the event! All of them were excellent and had their own unique qualities behind them, one of which used a really cool effect which reminded me of a scene from one of my favourite films. Another reason is because every single one of them was original and didn't need an IP to market itself and I'm a big fan of original ideas as it sparks innovation in these types of attraction.

    So to begin, I’d like to start with the ‘least excellent’ one which was Twisted Clowns:

    Twisted Clowns - 6/10

    I should admit at the start clowns as a whole do not scare me one bit and never have done, so before walking through the entrance I wasn’t expecting an enormous scare factor behind it and true enough, it didn’t scare me at all this one sadly.

    You are given at the start 3D glasses which act as a filter to bring out the colours inside on the walls and props present inside and quite a lot of the artwork present popped out quite well, especially with the luminous colours. Throughout the whole of the maze, you wear them and walk through several dark rooms with lots of these UV paintings to fit in with the theme, to which I must point out they are all hand-painted which I really appreciated and admired when inside. Think of the rooms similar to Hocus Pocus at Chessington only with a different theme.

    In addition, actors inside were jumping and appearing all over the place, including one which jumped on a bungee swing from the ceiling which really took me by surprise the first time with how close they hovered over me! Whilst the actors at no point touched guests, they interacted with them brilliantly with lots of props from swings, car horns, wigs and clothing to name a few. The makeup they wore was also nicely done and had popping luminous colours on their faces similar to all the dozens of paintings throughout the maze.

    But as a whole, this just didn’t deliver any real or genuine scares for me sadly, which is a shame because I love 3D mazes like this. However, I will say the quality of the actors jumping all over you with props inside, the amount of work with the paintings which went into this and most of all, the incredibly long length of this maze were the best qualities it offered.
    Other smaller details like a themed safety announcement at the start, to Midnight Syndicate’s audio used inside, to the huge number of actors present did make this a lot of fun to go through.

    I suppose the bigger problem is Big Top at Thorpe whilst might be a lot shorter than this one is ultimately better in lots of ways. Elements such as better audio, better disorientating rooms and a great finale make it better than Twisted Clowns and therefore, this is the only maze Tulleys could do with some improvements on next year I feel and was a little disappointing.

    VIXI - 7/10

    When I discovered this involves you placing a bag over your head to obstruct your view the entire time, the first thing that came to my mind was “Oh no, It’s Tulleys version of that damn awful The Passing maze at Thorpe Park back in 2012!” But after going through it, whilst it did feel very similar The Passing for 3/4 of the maze, the quality of the scares delivered and surprise factor was far superior in comparison and I happened to really like it as a result!

    From the start you must place these black bags over your heads as though you are about to be sent to the gallows for execution and ultimately death, again, very similar to The Passing at the start. But these bags used are with a much thicker material as it is impossible to see through them in any way possible. But once you start the attraction, you must follow the rope on your left side which will guide you through the maze and over all the hurdles for the first 75% of the maze.

    Whilst you can’t see a thing out of these, the interaction and tricks this maze plays on you inside is brilliant. Various sound effects are used everywhere and effects such as smell, wind, water, fire and very uneven surfaces were used. In addition, actors interacted with you from both sides of your ears, so it became quite unsettling at one point with all the effects and actors in play and really got my heart racing being unable to see anything!

    But the best section is towards the end of this experience. The last corner you turn with the bag still on your head is into a room which was very hot inside and within seconds it became apparent why that is. There is one giant flame thrower inside the centre of this room which goes off every few seconds and the noise of it is incredibly loud, so much so that the heat, light and shock made myself and several others scream the fist time it went off! It’s a simple but incredibly effective scare used and you are less than 1m away from the flame, so you can really feel the heat from it.

    Finally, in the last quarter, you are asked to take the bags off your head and give them to a staff member. Now, like The Passing, you are lead to believe this is the end, but oh no, there’s more! You go down this pitch black corridor, turn the corner and you are inside a very dark warehouse with what appears to be burnt bodies of corpses lying on a table and an actor behind it with a giant knife and blowtorch. He instructed us to go down the stairs quickly, only to encounter behind a metal cage even more fire effects, this time less than a metre away which was another excellent jump scare for guests. After that, you zig-zag down the ramps and find yourself outside once again and the experience is over.

    The concept of this maze might sound simple and remind many who did in at the time of The Passing, but the interaction with guests in this one and the effectiveness really pays off and was tons of fun, and was the first maze in probably about 4 years which really got my heart pounding at certain points due to the unknown which awaits ahead due to the fact you can’t see anything. Then to top it all off, the ending finishes the maze perfectly and the use of fire in this maze was executed perfectly and was a great use of the effect. Plus, this was also a very long maze, lasting at around 11 minutes inside according to the timer. Thumbs up overall!

    Creepy Cottage - 7.5/10

    This was the maze I was most familiar with because it has been at this event for years now and I remember a few times during Autumn when visiting Tulleys years ago seeing preperations being made for it in time for October, so was most intrigued to see what it was like inside. Whilst it did have it’s moments of scariness to it, the selling factor behind this was the attention to detail inside and overall creepiness it delivered, which also explains why it’s available for younger kids too during the day. The best way to describe it is imagine walking through a much smaller, cramped and longer version of the haunted house from the play and film ‘The Woman in Black’.

    From the start where you are greeted inside the first room, you are immediately surrounded by lots of theming and details everywhere which hint at it being just like an old historian haunted house, with the furniture, fireplace and props inside with all the cobwebs and candle lights present. As you progress through each room, the corridors and roofing is very small and narrow, so you do feel quite claustrophobic inside and it’s incredibly dark too.

    The atmosphere inside doesn’t feel chaotic like Big Top, Living Nightmare and Saw Alive are. Instead, it has an eerie, cold and creepy feel to it all with very subtle uses of sound effects and music used inside and in every room making it feel very abandoned. It also made me quite tense throughout because you expect something to either appear out of nowhere all of a sudden or an effect scaring you, but as said above, this maze relied purely on feeling unsettled inside than being jump scared.

    The quality of the props and attention to detail was very noticeable with every corner of every corridor and room looked after, from the wallpapers, to the chandeliers and lighting, to the physical objects laying around everywhere and the surface of the flooring and smells inside. One prop particularly caught me out and that was what appeared to be a child’s doll of Chucky. It too me 2 walk through’s to notice it! Plus, towards the end of the maze, you need to walk through a corridor with loads of corn field plants surrounding you, almost as if you are navigating through the maze Tulleys have during summer which was a nice touch.

    The only disappointment was the ending as it just involved a small room with an actor inside surrounded by more props. Nothing seemed to stand out in this room which indicated it as the finale, just another room added at the end simply.

    So whilst it might not be the most scary out of all the mazes, it was certainly the most unsettling and eerie feeling maze with all the actors inside each room dressed to fit the theme of an abandoned cottage from the last century, so it’s good for me!
     
    The Colony - 7.5/10

    This was quite an interesting concept for a maze as it incorporated elements which were both used outside and inside and the overall vibe from this maze is one set back in time to the medieval ages and honestly, a novel which is going to be implemented into a ride next year at Alton Towers. It certainly delivered on scare quality and the length of this thing was mad! On average, it takes between 15-20 minutes to pass through all of it!

    The first corridor you pass through is almost like an abandoned underground mine with the lighting and planks of wood holding the ceiling and walls together and then you instantly go outside onto the field which is guided by very high wooden planks similar to that which you can find in Alton’s new maze ‘The Welcoming’. Whilst I haven’t done it yet, the overall look and feel for the outdoor sections looked similar to this from the pictures looking down at it on the Sky Ride.

    Once navigating your way through outside, you go back inside through these huts and buildings with lots of lighting, audio and smoke effects present, as well as actors hiding in the shadows. From here onwards, you are constantly going inside/outside and it’s an equal balance between the two overall. Some outdoor scenes were really interactive and involved you having to crawl under and through narrow gaps, which was a nice touch you don’t often get with other scare mazes as they tend to be wide and open to pass through many people at once.

    The actors in this maze were excellent. When each approached you, they all spoke in what I can assume is Latin as I couldn’t understand any of what they were saying, but their body language gave hints to what they were trying to communicate with you. By this point, it isn’t necessarily super scary, but unsettling similar to Creepy Cottage.

    When navigating your way up and down the field with indoor and outdoor sections, towards the end, you pass through a corridor which has two pathways and in the centre of these two paths you can take, a chainsaw guy in strobe lights interacts with you, very closely I might add too! After that, you are outside again and the experience is over.

    The best quality of this maze was the length and variety delivered by several different scenes and actors, and it provided a consistent and very enjoyable experience from start to end, especially with the finale. Although, the scares weren’t quite up there to get me really nervous with this one.

    I mention this gave me an impression of Alton’s new coaster for 2018 and considering we now know it’s going to be themed on Wicker Man, this maze kept making me think of that from start to finish. Heck, there’s even a bleedin’ scene with honey bees’ nests hanging from the ceiling you must pass through! Just a fun thought I had with this maze which kept making me think of it, but overall, I really enjoyed this one as it feels to me what Sanctum should have been.
     
    The Cellar - 8/10

    Probably the best way to describe this is imagine Creepy Cottage mixed with The Colony. This was excellent!

    Already the start is nicely done with the safety announcement in the greeting room which was funnily themed and spoken as though it was a witch, and you were passing through their home. After that, you hold each others shoulders and it’s worth noting this is the only maze at the event where you are required to do this. All the others are free-flowing.

    From the start of your journey, the rooms and corridors are incredibly cramped inside with low ceilings and narrow walls and the number of actors present in this maze is the highest out of any of them, which really made the experience quite intense inside.

    Probably the most frightening section for me was at the first walkway which involved the inflatable cushions you must pass through similar to I’m a Celeb near the end just before you climb the hill to go down the slide. Because you are limited by how fast you can move due to it pushing against your legs, it was obvious something was going to jump out of nowhere, and long behold, there was. To the right of this walkway, an enormous and very heavy serpent’s head jumped out of the wall and was big enough to cause me to nearly fall over to the side as a result. It was very heavy and nicely detailed, but my, I personally can’t stand snakes myself and seeing a giant head of it grab my shoulder like that really got to me by that point as it was very unexpected! This is a great element to the maze and took me by complete surprise the first time.

    After that, you navigate your way through various further rooms which had some very narrow walkways and overall, this was extremely dark inside with hardly any lighting visible, just tons of actors hiding in the shadows waiting for the perfect moment to scare you. Some of which had some excellent detail to them all and used several effects which made guest jump, including some very powerful air canons.

    The ending however was a little weak and didn’t stand out from the rest of the maze, but the number of actors used in this maze coupled with the length of the attraction made up for that. The best moment was the giant serpent’s head near the start as it genuinely terrified me the first time!
     
    Coven of 13 - 8.5/10

    Coven of 13 overall was a combination of The Cellar, Creepy Cottage and The Colony as elements from each of these attractions were used throughout, but the best part by far was the start where you need to pass through what I can assume is a deep swamp in the middle of a forest.

    This starting scene where you navigate through the marsh was a great use of smoke, lasers and sound effects as when you passed through the walkways with the inflatable pillows again, there was a layer of mist which helped with the theme of treading through a swamp up to waist level. Probably the best way I can describe this effect is similar to that scene in the first Alien film where John Hurt ventures through a cave with all the eggs and describes a layer of mist above a blue laser effect. When watching it back after trying this maze, it looks identical to that effect used!

    After navigating your way through the swamp scene with actors jumping out and scaring you, you head through more corridors with plants and trees obscuring your path and they are set up in a way which it hides the ceiling and wall panels very effectively, so much so that it definitely felt more like being in a forest that a plain, ordinary corridor.

    You go immediately outside after that and cross into another building which has been themed on a small mini haunted house with some very effective lighting, atmosphere and props used. It did honestly feel just like being inside a mini haunted house as the rooms were a little larger in comparison to Creepy Cottage, bud sadly, the scares in this bit weren’t as effective as a result. However, the attention to detail and quality of the actors made up for this scene, so all is balanced.

    After that, you go outside again and this next section felt the weakest section of the maze. All you do is navigate around a central campfire through different areas around the perimeter of what was the shape of a semi-circle. Each section had it’s own actor in to scare guests, but it felt too open and predictable to deliver any proper good scares sadly, especially when you can see what awaits ahead.

    Finally, you go through inside one last room and that’s what looks like an actor being burnt to the stake in a giant wooden fire and the use of smoke, lighting, heat and audio added to this scene, but like before, just not enough scares here. Also, it’s reminiscent of Wicker Man again and SW8. Sorry! After that, you go outside again and it’s all over.

    Whilst the scares were certainly prevalent throughout the first half of the maze, the 2nd half felt a little tame in comparison unfortunately and fell apart a little. However, the use of effects in that swamp scene at the start were delivered brilliantly and that’s why this is my 3rd favourite attraction as a result.
     
    The Chop Shop - 9/10

    Before trying this I knew it was going to be an intense maze as many have told me it’s the best maze at the event and goodness me, it was certainly the scariest one! The whole theme of rotten meat, blood and flesh makes me feel physically sick, which is why the gluttony scene from Se7en years ago at Thorpe really made me want to vomit when passing through it and I wasn’t expecting anything different here. But what I didn’t expect was the intensity behind this maze which is hidden quite well behind those walls, with the exception of the noises from several chainsaws present.

    The start of the maze isn’t too bad as it’s an exploration through a garage with lots of machinery, equipment, vehicles and tools on shelves everywhere and the lighting is dim, quite reminiscent of scenes from Saw The Ride and the workshops in the Saw films and the actors did a great job at introducing you to their chopping shop. But after this, it gets worse and scarier as a result.

    Once out of the garage, you instantly go through what I can presume is a freezer with lots of frozen meat, including hanging pigs and cows amongst blood everywhere over the floor and walls. Then, an actor breaks through the door in front with a chainsaw and scares the group and this is only just the half-way point!

    From here onwards, it gets even worse because it’s an endless array of zig-zag corridors, rooms and flaps to pass through, all under a constant strobe light. Around several corners, actors are hiding, all with their own chainsaws waiting for you to walk past them. Then, to make it even worse, some rooms have the lights turn off temporarily for about 3 seconds, so you are in complete blackness for a short period of time and all you can hear is the sound of a chainsaw either in front or directly behind you, some of which got as close as 6 inches away from my face! It was truly and honestly terrifying and this lasted for 2/3 of the entire maze, so it became extremely intense at certain parts and got my heart racing the fastest out of any other attraction that night as a result!

    The only advice I can give is do this maze once it is dark outside because the 2nd half has an open roof and if light leaks inside, it can ruin the effect slightly of those dark moments. So if you want a moderate experience, try it before sunset. If you want an extreme one, do it once the sky is completely black. Best maze by far and also the scariest!
     
    Horrorwood Haunted Hayride - 9.5/10

    This was without a doubt the most fun during the entire night and is the best attraction out of everything you will find at this event. It’s very unique, incredibly interactive, long, innovative and ultimately fun. Nothing else out there can be compared to this!

    Whilst it might not have been necessarily scary, the whole idea you are transported through the fields on a tractor ride with various scenes themed to different genres in the movie industry was an excellent idea and was reminiscent of Studio 13 slightly in some areas. Every scene has unique visual and audible effects, the entire ride changes it’s audio depending on what scene you are in and probably the best part was the actors in each scene climb onto the tractor with you and interact with guests using their character. Characters such as clowns, cowboys, hotel butlers, witches, pole-dancing nuns and zombies clambered onto the vehicle through each scene and played their characters perfectly in sync with the audio and movement of the truck. It’s a very consistent and funny experience which I greatly appreciated.

    In addition, each scene had great props and sets used such as falling billboards on guests, flame effects which were incredibly loud and powerful, deaf-defying loud bangs, great uses of audio SFX and lighting used and best of all, the chainsaw people themed on I believe the story of the three little pigs getting extremely close to the guests and even revved the machines against the benches you are sitting on, creating the impression they are cutting through the wood you are sitting on!

    I don’t want to give too much away of what each scene involves for those who have yet to try it, but I very strongly recommend you try this as the must-do attraction of the evening. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed by it one bit!
     
    Conclusion:
     
    So there we are, all my reviews for each attraction, the atmosphere and overall impressions of the event.

    After going to this and leaving the evening, I didn’t in any way feel angry, tired or disappointed like I usually tend to with Fright Nights in recent years. Instead, I felt lively, thrilled and greatly surprised by the whole night because it’s as if I have finally found after 7 years of searching something better and worth it’s value for money compared to what I was typically used to during Halloween and it feels great! Tulleys Shocktober Fest has surprised me hugely with what they offered as I never imagined they were able to pull off such a quality event like this before, especially knowing it for years as a farm with pick-your-own fields and a maze during summer.

    Tulleys has proven if special events are executed very well, it has the ability to change minds of sceptics like me who for years have detested Halloween for all the wrong reasons. In return, I have started to get excited for Halloween once again after this amazing evening I had! The only problem with this however is because Tulleys have set a new bar far higher than any Fright Nights delivered these last 7 years, I am likely going to detest Fright Nights even more now as a result unless there are some radical improvements and changes made to the event which aren’t focused on compromising customer experience for bigger numbers on Merlin’s many dozens of net-profit Excel spreadsheets at their head office.

    Tulleys, like my blog on Liseberg back in May has proved to me again there are places out there which value customer experience above profits, and it's these types of places I appreciate the most. I can happily say I'm absolutely going to attend Shocktober Fest again next year, and likely many years to come now. Well done Tulleys for creating a quality Halloween event for guests.

    It might have taken me several years to finally try it, but my word, the wait was absolutely worth it! 

    Tulleys Shocktober Fest - 8.5/10

    (Some pictures from the event below I took):
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  20. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from Stuntman707 for a blog entry, A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest   
    It's no secret to those that know me well that I passionately believe Halloween as a whole is just an overblown annual event which leads to disappointment, scare-less attractions, cringy atmosphere and nothing but annoyance with masses of people flooding the events held everywhere across the country. The problem for me is for over 9 years in a row now between 2008 - 2017, I have only ever managed to attend one event during this entire time of year and that's Thorpe Park's Fright Nights and to be brutally honest, I am now getting tired, bored and frankly sick of the event. 

    The event during the 2008/2009 season was excellent with consistent operations, brilliant audio, tons of park-wide decorations, great use of smoke and lighting effects and most of all, every single maze at the time was home-brewed and original, some with inspirations from other IP's such as Se7en for instance. Asylum, Se7en, Curse and Hellgate were awesome! But now however, hardly any of this is prevalent at the event anymore and hasn't been since 2013 when Lionsgate started taking over everything, and now AMC's The Walking Dead. It's gone to the point now that when someone mentions the words 'Fright Nights' to me, all I can picture is long queues, crappy operations, overselling of Fastrack, needless use of IP's, mediocre scare mazes and up-charges everywhere you go. The whole thing now just feels like a giant cash grab and rip off frankly with very little meaning behind it where every year that passes, it's fun-factor is diminishing like a burning flame. Fireworks/bonfire night however does have a meaning and historical relevance behind it in Britain, which is why it's by far my preferred event at the end of each season and I'll never stop requesting Thorpe to bring it back after it's last appearance in 2011.
     
    Now, you might ask by this point why am I talking about Fright Nights when this blog is titled 'A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest'? Well, it's because this review is going to highlight such a stark contrast I experienced between Thorpe's version of a Halloween event and Tulleys, and I feel it's needed to set the premise of this review, because it's important to note at this point after visiting Tulleys on the 21st October 2017, despite Storm Brian interfering with the weather, that night has restored my faith and excitement in these types of events once again. These are words that I honestly thought I would never say!


     
    Similar to my other couple of previous blogs, I warn at the start my reviews are detailed, precise and very long, and this is no exception. So if you're someone who wants to have a quick read, focuses on the main highlights or doesn't want to get bored of reading my analysis by the end of the first paragraph, this isn't for you I'm afraid!


     
    So to begin, I would like to start with my overall first impressions of the event upon walking inside the site and the general atmosphere of the place:
     
    

Initial Impressions and Atmosphere:


     
    I've know Tulleys Farm for as long as I can remember ever since I was just 4 years old during the summer when on the other side of the field the wheat maze was open with other smaller activities, as well as picking your own fruit during June for the strawberries and raspberries. But despite this, the way Tulleys have set up this event made the place almost unrecognisable to me. It turns out that instead of the event being held in the small area near the front where the huts, cafe and fields are it is instead directly behind all of this on a massive open grass field on a gentle slope which I have never ventured onto before until now. So whilst in some places it felt familiar, the majority of it felt as though it was an entirely different site to what it's like during summer!


     
    Upon the entrance next to the grass field for parking, the entrance stands amongst the trees with flames on either side and giant pumpkin scarecrows lit up in orange, filled with smoke, creating a very natural, dominating yet familiar atmosphere to how I've know Tulleys before. Once going under the entrance hut into the ticket booth area, the entire roof is covered with white canopy tents which I appreciated very much as it ensured we didn't get wet whilst waiting to have our bags searched and collect our tickets on the muddy green fields. It reminded me a little at first of Fairford's Royal International Air Tattoo event every July with the way it was all handled, which was organised very well by the staff, so kudos for keeping the system easy, quick and simple with the large number of people at the event.
     
    

Once outside the tent and you've got your tickets/wristband, you are instantly surrounded by lots of attractions, food/drink stalls, stages, rides and seating which I guessed immediately was the centre of the whole event as all of the eight attractions were scattered across the field within equal distance of each other. A small detail I really liked was consistently across the fields there were small fires being lit with burning wood to keep guests warm at night and blend into the whole 'festival feel' of the place. The smell of burning wood in these fields felt comforting and familiar, especially as someone who once was part of the Scouts and went on these camping trips all the time! The audio used across the park wasn't blaring or obtrusive anywhere either and instead was subtle, evenly balanced and played quite a lot of Midnight Syndicate's music both old and new across each area which was a nice touch. After their audio was banished at Thorpe Park starting in 2013 with Lionsgate (grrrrrrr), it was nice to hear it once again. Also, there was tons of smoke everywhere across the place with lots of roaming actors interacting very well with guests which was quite amusing to watch!


     
    The attractions from this centre are situated down either the south or west sides of the field down slopes. To the left of the square you will find The Colony, The Chop Shop, The Cellar and Twisted Clowns. Directly in front you will see the couple of rides the event has which was a Booster ride similar to the one on Brighton pier, and a bouncer similar to the one which can still be at Hastings years ago, as well as on Brighton pier outside the Haunted House which was nice. And lastly, to the right down the hill, Horrorwood Haunted Hayride, Creepy Cottage, VIXI and Coven of 13, as well as the shop, paintball alley and further food and drink stalls.
     
    

It's also worth mentioning that behind you in this centre there is also a stage where a live band is held and plays several chart music hits which was nice, including many which fit in with the Halloween theme. Further down the hill on the right there is another live band too performing for guests. Inside the tents across a few areas, you could buy pumpkins which I presume the farm has grown for guests to purchase at the event, some of which were enormous and very heavy to handle! It's the smaller things with simple decorations like pumpkins that can make a big difference sometimes to the overall feel of an event. It adds to the Halloween theme, unlike Thorpe who still for some reason think little/no decorations = Halloween atmosphere.
     
    

With all of these points taken into consideration, this has a very different vibe and feel to it all compared to what Fright Nights is, and really, I loved it! The whole place felt just like being at a festival with all the canopies for the queues, muddy fields, live music, great theming, large variety of food and drink stalls, the many small campfires everywhere and the consistent feel the place had where nothing seemed to stick out like a sore thumb anywhere. Compared to Fright Nights, the only fair comparison to be made here is that Tulleys clearly know how to create a better atmosphere at night for their customers which is more relevant to Halloween and better organised than Fright Nights has ever been.

    Food & Drink:

    As mentioned above, all of the food and drink available at the farm was available through these temporary food stalls which you typically find at most events similar to this, but the variety and close proximity between them all was quite convenient and was all situated in the centre. Everything from hot drinks, takeaway food, sweet snacks and even a hog roast were available for guests and the variety offered was quite good.

    Although, the prices were a little too much for what I expected to pay. I went to the noodles bar and ordered pulled pork curry noodles and a large spring roll which came to £10.25 altogether without a drink and a regular cup of coffee was £3. So whilst the variety was great and you get large portions, the prices here did feel too high compared to what I would comfortably pay for typically and was the only area where I felt ripped off slightly by the whole event. £3 for a regular Americano was too much! Not surprising, just thought it’s worth noting to those who have yet to visit to be prepared with enough cash in their wallets.

    Operations:

    As a whole, Tulleys demonstrated to me exactly how you should manage events with lots of people going through the attractions. There was only 50 VIP and only 200 Fastrack ticket holders in the entire field that night, which meant the queues for Fastrack were extremely small or non-existent most of the night. Dispatches were fast and frequent for all the mazes, especially for the Haunted Hayride and every bit of effort was made by the staff to keep the queues to a minimal as long as possible throughout the night. When you consider all mazes at Fright Nights in the evening have Fastrack overflowing for all attractions, some of which can actually be longer than the normal queue, this was a really pleasant surprise for me.
     
    If there were a slight niggle I had with the handling of letting people through the mazes, it’s that some of the groups put through each time were quite large, some as much as 20 people at once. And if you are leading the group, if you’re a fast walker through these types of attractions, it’s not uncommon for you to at some point through the maze bump into the group ahead. Whilst it wasn’t a major issue considering all of the attractions were excellent, it did hinder the scare factor a little when too many people are in the same room with you. I wish the dispatches were a little slower when the queues were shorter at the start and end of the evening, but I suppose you get that with any scare maze really.

    Fairground Rides:

    As mentioned above in my initial impressions section, there were just two rides available at the farm in the evening, so with the time available between 5pm - 11pm, I only did the Booster catapult ride which is identical to the one which can be found on Brighton Pier. One ride costs £6 and you get throttled several times both backwards and forwards and at night, it was really great fun and very intense! Plus, despite the wind speeds reaching 42mph gusts in the evening, the ride still ran flawlessly without any problems and didn’t stall at any point as a result (unlike Thorpe who now fear Flying Fish and Banana Boat will stall with just 20mph gusts).

    So if you are planning on visiting this year or maybe next year if these two rides remain, I do recommend trying Booster at night and you’ll have the peace of mind that even if it’s raining or winds reach 42mph, you’ll still find it open.
     
    Scare Attraction Reviews:

    Now onto the best part and that’s with small mini reviews of all eight scare attractions available at the farm. As a whole, I must report the quality, length, amount of fun and scariness in these attractions is far superior to any maze I have done at Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights in the 9 years I have attended the event! All of them were excellent and had their own unique qualities behind them, one of which used a really cool effect which reminded me of a scene from one of my favourite films. Another reason is because every single one of them was original and didn't need an IP to market itself and I'm a big fan of original ideas as it sparks innovation in these types of attraction.

    So to begin, I’d like to start with the ‘least excellent’ one which was Twisted Clowns:

    Twisted Clowns - 6/10

    I should admit at the start clowns as a whole do not scare me one bit and never have done, so before walking through the entrance I wasn’t expecting an enormous scare factor behind it and true enough, it didn’t scare me at all this one sadly.

    You are given at the start 3D glasses which act as a filter to bring out the colours inside on the walls and props present inside and quite a lot of the artwork present popped out quite well, especially with the luminous colours. Throughout the whole of the maze, you wear them and walk through several dark rooms with lots of these UV paintings to fit in with the theme, to which I must point out they are all hand-painted which I really appreciated and admired when inside. Think of the rooms similar to Hocus Pocus at Chessington only with a different theme.

    In addition, actors inside were jumping and appearing all over the place, including one which jumped on a bungee swing from the ceiling which really took me by surprise the first time with how close they hovered over me! Whilst the actors at no point touched guests, they interacted with them brilliantly with lots of props from swings, car horns, wigs and clothing to name a few. The makeup they wore was also nicely done and had popping luminous colours on their faces similar to all the dozens of paintings throughout the maze.

    But as a whole, this just didn’t deliver any real or genuine scares for me sadly, which is a shame because I love 3D mazes like this. However, I will say the quality of the actors jumping all over you with props inside, the amount of work with the paintings which went into this and most of all, the incredibly long length of this maze were the best qualities it offered.
    Other smaller details like a themed safety announcement at the start, to Midnight Syndicate’s audio used inside, to the huge number of actors present did make this a lot of fun to go through.

    I suppose the bigger problem is Big Top at Thorpe whilst might be a lot shorter than this one is ultimately better in lots of ways. Elements such as better audio, better disorientating rooms and a great finale make it better than Twisted Clowns and therefore, this is the only maze Tulleys could do with some improvements on next year I feel and was a little disappointing.

    VIXI - 7/10

    When I discovered this involves you placing a bag over your head to obstruct your view the entire time, the first thing that came to my mind was “Oh no, It’s Tulleys version of that damn awful The Passing maze at Thorpe Park back in 2012!” But after going through it, whilst it did feel very similar The Passing for 3/4 of the maze, the quality of the scares delivered and surprise factor was far superior in comparison and I happened to really like it as a result!

    From the start you must place these black bags over your heads as though you are about to be sent to the gallows for execution and ultimately death, again, very similar to The Passing at the start. But these bags used are with a much thicker material as it is impossible to see through them in any way possible. But once you start the attraction, you must follow the rope on your left side which will guide you through the maze and over all the hurdles for the first 75% of the maze.

    Whilst you can’t see a thing out of these, the interaction and tricks this maze plays on you inside is brilliant. Various sound effects are used everywhere and effects such as smell, wind, water, fire and very uneven surfaces were used. In addition, actors interacted with you from both sides of your ears, so it became quite unsettling at one point with all the effects and actors in play and really got my heart racing being unable to see anything!

    But the best section is towards the end of this experience. The last corner you turn with the bag still on your head is into a room which was very hot inside and within seconds it became apparent why that is. There is one giant flame thrower inside the centre of this room which goes off every few seconds and the noise of it is incredibly loud, so much so that the heat, light and shock made myself and several others scream the fist time it went off! It’s a simple but incredibly effective scare used and you are less than 1m away from the flame, so you can really feel the heat from it.

    Finally, in the last quarter, you are asked to take the bags off your head and give them to a staff member. Now, like The Passing, you are lead to believe this is the end, but oh no, there’s more! You go down this pitch black corridor, turn the corner and you are inside a very dark warehouse with what appears to be burnt bodies of corpses lying on a table and an actor behind it with a giant knife and blowtorch. He instructed us to go down the stairs quickly, only to encounter behind a metal cage even more fire effects, this time less than a metre away which was another excellent jump scare for guests. After that, you zig-zag down the ramps and find yourself outside once again and the experience is over.

    The concept of this maze might sound simple and remind many who did in at the time of The Passing, but the interaction with guests in this one and the effectiveness really pays off and was tons of fun, and was the first maze in probably about 4 years which really got my heart pounding at certain points due to the unknown which awaits ahead due to the fact you can’t see anything. Then to top it all off, the ending finishes the maze perfectly and the use of fire in this maze was executed perfectly and was a great use of the effect. Plus, this was also a very long maze, lasting at around 11 minutes inside according to the timer. Thumbs up overall!

    Creepy Cottage - 7.5/10

    This was the maze I was most familiar with because it has been at this event for years now and I remember a few times during Autumn when visiting Tulleys years ago seeing preperations being made for it in time for October, so was most intrigued to see what it was like inside. Whilst it did have it’s moments of scariness to it, the selling factor behind this was the attention to detail inside and overall creepiness it delivered, which also explains why it’s available for younger kids too during the day. The best way to describe it is imagine walking through a much smaller, cramped and longer version of the haunted house from the play and film ‘The Woman in Black’.

    From the start where you are greeted inside the first room, you are immediately surrounded by lots of theming and details everywhere which hint at it being just like an old historian haunted house, with the furniture, fireplace and props inside with all the cobwebs and candle lights present. As you progress through each room, the corridors and roofing is very small and narrow, so you do feel quite claustrophobic inside and it’s incredibly dark too.

    The atmosphere inside doesn’t feel chaotic like Big Top, Living Nightmare and Saw Alive are. Instead, it has an eerie, cold and creepy feel to it all with very subtle uses of sound effects and music used inside and in every room making it feel very abandoned. It also made me quite tense throughout because you expect something to either appear out of nowhere all of a sudden or an effect scaring you, but as said above, this maze relied purely on feeling unsettled inside than being jump scared.

    The quality of the props and attention to detail was very noticeable with every corner of every corridor and room looked after, from the wallpapers, to the chandeliers and lighting, to the physical objects laying around everywhere and the surface of the flooring and smells inside. One prop particularly caught me out and that was what appeared to be a child’s doll of Chucky. It too me 2 walk through’s to notice it! Plus, towards the end of the maze, you need to walk through a corridor with loads of corn field plants surrounding you, almost as if you are navigating through the maze Tulleys have during summer which was a nice touch.

    The only disappointment was the ending as it just involved a small room with an actor inside surrounded by more props. Nothing seemed to stand out in this room which indicated it as the finale, just another room added at the end simply.

    So whilst it might not be the most scary out of all the mazes, it was certainly the most unsettling and eerie feeling maze with all the actors inside each room dressed to fit the theme of an abandoned cottage from the last century, so it’s good for me!
     
    The Colony - 7.5/10

    This was quite an interesting concept for a maze as it incorporated elements which were both used outside and inside and the overall vibe from this maze is one set back in time to the medieval ages and honestly, a novel which is going to be implemented into a ride next year at Alton Towers. It certainly delivered on scare quality and the length of this thing was mad! On average, it takes between 15-20 minutes to pass through all of it!

    The first corridor you pass through is almost like an abandoned underground mine with the lighting and planks of wood holding the ceiling and walls together and then you instantly go outside onto the field which is guided by very high wooden planks similar to that which you can find in Alton’s new maze ‘The Welcoming’. Whilst I haven’t done it yet, the overall look and feel for the outdoor sections looked similar to this from the pictures looking down at it on the Sky Ride.

    Once navigating your way through outside, you go back inside through these huts and buildings with lots of lighting, audio and smoke effects present, as well as actors hiding in the shadows. From here onwards, you are constantly going inside/outside and it’s an equal balance between the two overall. Some outdoor scenes were really interactive and involved you having to crawl under and through narrow gaps, which was a nice touch you don’t often get with other scare mazes as they tend to be wide and open to pass through many people at once.

    The actors in this maze were excellent. When each approached you, they all spoke in what I can assume is Latin as I couldn’t understand any of what they were saying, but their body language gave hints to what they were trying to communicate with you. By this point, it isn’t necessarily super scary, but unsettling similar to Creepy Cottage.

    When navigating your way up and down the field with indoor and outdoor sections, towards the end, you pass through a corridor which has two pathways and in the centre of these two paths you can take, a chainsaw guy in strobe lights interacts with you, very closely I might add too! After that, you are outside again and the experience is over.

    The best quality of this maze was the length and variety delivered by several different scenes and actors, and it provided a consistent and very enjoyable experience from start to end, especially with the finale. Although, the scares weren’t quite up there to get me really nervous with this one.

    I mention this gave me an impression of Alton’s new coaster for 2018 and considering we now know it’s going to be themed on Wicker Man, this maze kept making me think of that from start to finish. Heck, there’s even a bleedin’ scene with honey bees’ nests hanging from the ceiling you must pass through! Just a fun thought I had with this maze which kept making me think of it, but overall, I really enjoyed this one as it feels to me what Sanctum should have been.
     
    The Cellar - 8/10

    Probably the best way to describe this is imagine Creepy Cottage mixed with The Colony. This was excellent!

    Already the start is nicely done with the safety announcement in the greeting room which was funnily themed and spoken as though it was a witch, and you were passing through their home. After that, you hold each others shoulders and it’s worth noting this is the only maze at the event where you are required to do this. All the others are free-flowing.

    From the start of your journey, the rooms and corridors are incredibly cramped inside with low ceilings and narrow walls and the number of actors present in this maze is the highest out of any of them, which really made the experience quite intense inside.

    Probably the most frightening section for me was at the first walkway which involved the inflatable cushions you must pass through similar to I’m a Celeb near the end just before you climb the hill to go down the slide. Because you are limited by how fast you can move due to it pushing against your legs, it was obvious something was going to jump out of nowhere, and long behold, there was. To the right of this walkway, an enormous and very heavy serpent’s head jumped out of the wall and was big enough to cause me to nearly fall over to the side as a result. It was very heavy and nicely detailed, but my, I personally can’t stand snakes myself and seeing a giant head of it grab my shoulder like that really got to me by that point as it was very unexpected! This is a great element to the maze and took me by complete surprise the first time.

    After that, you navigate your way through various further rooms which had some very narrow walkways and overall, this was extremely dark inside with hardly any lighting visible, just tons of actors hiding in the shadows waiting for the perfect moment to scare you. Some of which had some excellent detail to them all and used several effects which made guest jump, including some very powerful air canons.

    The ending however was a little weak and didn’t stand out from the rest of the maze, but the number of actors used in this maze coupled with the length of the attraction made up for that. The best moment was the giant serpent’s head near the start as it genuinely terrified me the first time!
     
    Coven of 13 - 8.5/10

    Coven of 13 overall was a combination of The Cellar, Creepy Cottage and The Colony as elements from each of these attractions were used throughout, but the best part by far was the start where you need to pass through what I can assume is a deep swamp in the middle of a forest.

    This starting scene where you navigate through the marsh was a great use of smoke, lasers and sound effects as when you passed through the walkways with the inflatable pillows again, there was a layer of mist which helped with the theme of treading through a swamp up to waist level. Probably the best way I can describe this effect is similar to that scene in the first Alien film where John Hurt ventures through a cave with all the eggs and describes a layer of mist above a blue laser effect. When watching it back after trying this maze, it looks identical to that effect used!

    After navigating your way through the swamp scene with actors jumping out and scaring you, you head through more corridors with plants and trees obscuring your path and they are set up in a way which it hides the ceiling and wall panels very effectively, so much so that it definitely felt more like being in a forest that a plain, ordinary corridor.

    You go immediately outside after that and cross into another building which has been themed on a small mini haunted house with some very effective lighting, atmosphere and props used. It did honestly feel just like being inside a mini haunted house as the rooms were a little larger in comparison to Creepy Cottage, bud sadly, the scares in this bit weren’t as effective as a result. However, the attention to detail and quality of the actors made up for this scene, so all is balanced.

    After that, you go outside again and this next section felt the weakest section of the maze. All you do is navigate around a central campfire through different areas around the perimeter of what was the shape of a semi-circle. Each section had it’s own actor in to scare guests, but it felt too open and predictable to deliver any proper good scares sadly, especially when you can see what awaits ahead.

    Finally, you go through inside one last room and that’s what looks like an actor being burnt to the stake in a giant wooden fire and the use of smoke, lighting, heat and audio added to this scene, but like before, just not enough scares here. Also, it’s reminiscent of Wicker Man again and SW8. Sorry! After that, you go outside again and it’s all over.

    Whilst the scares were certainly prevalent throughout the first half of the maze, the 2nd half felt a little tame in comparison unfortunately and fell apart a little. However, the use of effects in that swamp scene at the start were delivered brilliantly and that’s why this is my 3rd favourite attraction as a result.
     
    The Chop Shop - 9/10

    Before trying this I knew it was going to be an intense maze as many have told me it’s the best maze at the event and goodness me, it was certainly the scariest one! The whole theme of rotten meat, blood and flesh makes me feel physically sick, which is why the gluttony scene from Se7en years ago at Thorpe really made me want to vomit when passing through it and I wasn’t expecting anything different here. But what I didn’t expect was the intensity behind this maze which is hidden quite well behind those walls, with the exception of the noises from several chainsaws present.

    The start of the maze isn’t too bad as it’s an exploration through a garage with lots of machinery, equipment, vehicles and tools on shelves everywhere and the lighting is dim, quite reminiscent of scenes from Saw The Ride and the workshops in the Saw films and the actors did a great job at introducing you to their chopping shop. But after this, it gets worse and scarier as a result.

    Once out of the garage, you instantly go through what I can presume is a freezer with lots of frozen meat, including hanging pigs and cows amongst blood everywhere over the floor and walls. Then, an actor breaks through the door in front with a chainsaw and scares the group and this is only just the half-way point!

    From here onwards, it gets even worse because it’s an endless array of zig-zag corridors, rooms and flaps to pass through, all under a constant strobe light. Around several corners, actors are hiding, all with their own chainsaws waiting for you to walk past them. Then, to make it even worse, some rooms have the lights turn off temporarily for about 3 seconds, so you are in complete blackness for a short period of time and all you can hear is the sound of a chainsaw either in front or directly behind you, some of which got as close as 6 inches away from my face! It was truly and honestly terrifying and this lasted for 2/3 of the entire maze, so it became extremely intense at certain parts and got my heart racing the fastest out of any other attraction that night as a result!

    The only advice I can give is do this maze once it is dark outside because the 2nd half has an open roof and if light leaks inside, it can ruin the effect slightly of those dark moments. So if you want a moderate experience, try it before sunset. If you want an extreme one, do it once the sky is completely black. Best maze by far and also the scariest!
     
    Horrorwood Haunted Hayride - 9.5/10

    This was without a doubt the most fun during the entire night and is the best attraction out of everything you will find at this event. It’s very unique, incredibly interactive, long, innovative and ultimately fun. Nothing else out there can be compared to this!

    Whilst it might not have been necessarily scary, the whole idea you are transported through the fields on a tractor ride with various scenes themed to different genres in the movie industry was an excellent idea and was reminiscent of Studio 13 slightly in some areas. Every scene has unique visual and audible effects, the entire ride changes it’s audio depending on what scene you are in and probably the best part was the actors in each scene climb onto the tractor with you and interact with guests using their character. Characters such as clowns, cowboys, hotel butlers, witches, pole-dancing nuns and zombies clambered onto the vehicle through each scene and played their characters perfectly in sync with the audio and movement of the truck. It’s a very consistent and funny experience which I greatly appreciated.

    In addition, each scene had great props and sets used such as falling billboards on guests, flame effects which were incredibly loud and powerful, deaf-defying loud bangs, great uses of audio SFX and lighting used and best of all, the chainsaw people themed on I believe the story of the three little pigs getting extremely close to the guests and even revved the machines against the benches you are sitting on, creating the impression they are cutting through the wood you are sitting on!

    I don’t want to give too much away of what each scene involves for those who have yet to try it, but I very strongly recommend you try this as the must-do attraction of the evening. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed by it one bit!
     
    Conclusion:
     
    So there we are, all my reviews for each attraction, the atmosphere and overall impressions of the event.

    After going to this and leaving the evening, I didn’t in any way feel angry, tired or disappointed like I usually tend to with Fright Nights in recent years. Instead, I felt lively, thrilled and greatly surprised by the whole night because it’s as if I have finally found after 7 years of searching something better and worth it’s value for money compared to what I was typically used to during Halloween and it feels great! Tulleys Shocktober Fest has surprised me hugely with what they offered as I never imagined they were able to pull off such a quality event like this before, especially knowing it for years as a farm with pick-your-own fields and a maze during summer.

    Tulleys has proven if special events are executed very well, it has the ability to change minds of sceptics like me who for years have detested Halloween for all the wrong reasons. In return, I have started to get excited for Halloween once again after this amazing evening I had! The only problem with this however is because Tulleys have set a new bar far higher than any Fright Nights delivered these last 7 years, I am likely going to detest Fright Nights even more now as a result unless there are some radical improvements and changes made to the event which aren’t focused on compromising customer experience for bigger numbers on Merlin’s many dozens of net-profit Excel spreadsheets at their head office.

    Tulleys, like my blog on Liseberg back in May has proved to me again there are places out there which value customer experience above profits, and it's these types of places I appreciate the most. I can happily say I'm absolutely going to attend Shocktober Fest again next year, and likely many years to come now. Well done Tulleys for creating a quality Halloween event for guests.

    It might have taken me several years to finally try it, but my word, the wait was absolutely worth it! 

    Tulleys Shocktober Fest - 8.5/10

    (Some pictures from the event below I took):
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  21. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from MilesK for a blog entry, A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest   
    It's no secret to those that know me well that I passionately believe Halloween as a whole is just an overblown annual event which leads to disappointment, scare-less attractions, cringy atmosphere and nothing but annoyance with masses of people flooding the events held everywhere across the country. The problem for me is for over 9 years in a row now between 2008 - 2017, I have only ever managed to attend one event during this entire time of year and that's Thorpe Park's Fright Nights and to be brutally honest, I am now getting tired, bored and frankly sick of the event. 

    The event during the 2008/2009 season was excellent with consistent operations, brilliant audio, tons of park-wide decorations, great use of smoke and lighting effects and most of all, every single maze at the time was home-brewed and original, some with inspirations from other IP's such as Se7en for instance. Asylum, Se7en, Curse and Hellgate were awesome! But now however, hardly any of this is prevalent at the event anymore and hasn't been since 2013 when Lionsgate started taking over everything, and now AMC's The Walking Dead. It's gone to the point now that when someone mentions the words 'Fright Nights' to me, all I can picture is long queues, crappy operations, overselling of Fastrack, needless use of IP's, mediocre scare mazes and up-charges everywhere you go. The whole thing now just feels like a giant cash grab and rip off frankly with very little meaning behind it where every year that passes, it's fun-factor is diminishing like a burning flame. Fireworks/bonfire night however does have a meaning and historical relevance behind it in Britain, which is why it's by far my preferred event at the end of each season and I'll never stop requesting Thorpe to bring it back after it's last appearance in 2011.
     
    Now, you might ask by this point why am I talking about Fright Nights when this blog is titled 'A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest'? Well, it's because this review is going to highlight such a stark contrast I experienced between Thorpe's version of a Halloween event and Tulleys, and I feel it's needed to set the premise of this review, because it's important to note at this point after visiting Tulleys on the 21st October 2017, despite Storm Brian interfering with the weather, that night has restored my faith and excitement in these types of events once again. These are words that I honestly thought I would never say!


     
    Similar to my other couple of previous blogs, I warn at the start my reviews are detailed, precise and very long, and this is no exception. So if you're someone who wants to have a quick read, focuses on the main highlights or doesn't want to get bored of reading my analysis by the end of the first paragraph, this isn't for you I'm afraid!


     
    So to begin, I would like to start with my overall first impressions of the event upon walking inside the site and the general atmosphere of the place:
     
    

Initial Impressions and Atmosphere:


     
    I've know Tulleys Farm for as long as I can remember ever since I was just 4 years old during the summer when on the other side of the field the wheat maze was open with other smaller activities, as well as picking your own fruit during June for the strawberries and raspberries. But despite this, the way Tulleys have set up this event made the place almost unrecognisable to me. It turns out that instead of the event being held in the small area near the front where the huts, cafe and fields are it is instead directly behind all of this on a massive open grass field on a gentle slope which I have never ventured onto before until now. So whilst in some places it felt familiar, the majority of it felt as though it was an entirely different site to what it's like during summer!


     
    Upon the entrance next to the grass field for parking, the entrance stands amongst the trees with flames on either side and giant pumpkin scarecrows lit up in orange, filled with smoke, creating a very natural, dominating yet familiar atmosphere to how I've know Tulleys before. Once going under the entrance hut into the ticket booth area, the entire roof is covered with white canopy tents which I appreciated very much as it ensured we didn't get wet whilst waiting to have our bags searched and collect our tickets on the muddy green fields. It reminded me a little at first of Fairford's Royal International Air Tattoo event every July with the way it was all handled, which was organised very well by the staff, so kudos for keeping the system easy, quick and simple with the large number of people at the event.
     
    

Once outside the tent and you've got your tickets/wristband, you are instantly surrounded by lots of attractions, food/drink stalls, stages, rides and seating which I guessed immediately was the centre of the whole event as all of the eight attractions were scattered across the field within equal distance of each other. A small detail I really liked was consistently across the fields there were small fires being lit with burning wood to keep guests warm at night and blend into the whole 'festival feel' of the place. The smell of burning wood in these fields felt comforting and familiar, especially as someone who once was part of the Scouts and went on these camping trips all the time! The audio used across the park wasn't blaring or obtrusive anywhere either and instead was subtle, evenly balanced and played quite a lot of Midnight Syndicate's music both old and new across each area which was a nice touch. After their audio was banished at Thorpe Park starting in 2013 with Lionsgate (grrrrrrr), it was nice to hear it once again. Also, there was tons of smoke everywhere across the place with lots of roaming actors interacting very well with guests which was quite amusing to watch!


     
    The attractions from this centre are situated down either the south or west sides of the field down slopes. To the left of the square you will find The Colony, The Chop Shop, The Cellar and Twisted Clowns. Directly in front you will see the couple of rides the event has which was a Booster ride similar to the one on Brighton pier, and a bouncer similar to the one which can still be at Hastings years ago, as well as on Brighton pier outside the Haunted House which was nice. And lastly, to the right down the hill, Horrorwood Haunted Hayride, Creepy Cottage, VIXI and Coven of 13, as well as the shop, paintball alley and further food and drink stalls.
     
    

It's also worth mentioning that behind you in this centre there is also a stage where a live band is held and plays several chart music hits which was nice, including many which fit in with the Halloween theme. Further down the hill on the right there is another live band too performing for guests. Inside the tents across a few areas, you could buy pumpkins which I presume the farm has grown for guests to purchase at the event, some of which were enormous and very heavy to handle! It's the smaller things with simple decorations like pumpkins that can make a big difference sometimes to the overall feel of an event. It adds to the Halloween theme, unlike Thorpe who still for some reason think little/no decorations = Halloween atmosphere.
     
    

With all of these points taken into consideration, this has a very different vibe and feel to it all compared to what Fright Nights is, and really, I loved it! The whole place felt just like being at a festival with all the canopies for the queues, muddy fields, live music, great theming, large variety of food and drink stalls, the many small campfires everywhere and the consistent feel the place had where nothing seemed to stick out like a sore thumb anywhere. Compared to Fright Nights, the only fair comparison to be made here is that Tulleys clearly know how to create a better atmosphere at night for their customers which is more relevant to Halloween and better organised than Fright Nights has ever been.

    Food & Drink:

    As mentioned above, all of the food and drink available at the farm was available through these temporary food stalls which you typically find at most events similar to this, but the variety and close proximity between them all was quite convenient and was all situated in the centre. Everything from hot drinks, takeaway food, sweet snacks and even a hog roast were available for guests and the variety offered was quite good.

    Although, the prices were a little too much for what I expected to pay. I went to the noodles bar and ordered pulled pork curry noodles and a large spring roll which came to £10.25 altogether without a drink and a regular cup of coffee was £3. So whilst the variety was great and you get large portions, the prices here did feel too high compared to what I would comfortably pay for typically and was the only area where I felt ripped off slightly by the whole event. £3 for a regular Americano was too much! Not surprising, just thought it’s worth noting to those who have yet to visit to be prepared with enough cash in their wallets.

    Operations:

    As a whole, Tulleys demonstrated to me exactly how you should manage events with lots of people going through the attractions. There was only 50 VIP and only 200 Fastrack ticket holders in the entire field that night, which meant the queues for Fastrack were extremely small or non-existent most of the night. Dispatches were fast and frequent for all the mazes, especially for the Haunted Hayride and every bit of effort was made by the staff to keep the queues to a minimal as long as possible throughout the night. When you consider all mazes at Fright Nights in the evening have Fastrack overflowing for all attractions, some of which can actually be longer than the normal queue, this was a really pleasant surprise for me.
     
    If there were a slight niggle I had with the handling of letting people through the mazes, it’s that some of the groups put through each time were quite large, some as much as 20 people at once. And if you are leading the group, if you’re a fast walker through these types of attractions, it’s not uncommon for you to at some point through the maze bump into the group ahead. Whilst it wasn’t a major issue considering all of the attractions were excellent, it did hinder the scare factor a little when too many people are in the same room with you. I wish the dispatches were a little slower when the queues were shorter at the start and end of the evening, but I suppose you get that with any scare maze really.

    Fairground Rides:

    As mentioned above in my initial impressions section, there were just two rides available at the farm in the evening, so with the time available between 5pm - 11pm, I only did the Booster catapult ride which is identical to the one which can be found on Brighton Pier. One ride costs £6 and you get throttled several times both backwards and forwards and at night, it was really great fun and very intense! Plus, despite the wind speeds reaching 42mph gusts in the evening, the ride still ran flawlessly without any problems and didn’t stall at any point as a result (unlike Thorpe who now fear Flying Fish and Banana Boat will stall with just 20mph gusts).

    So if you are planning on visiting this year or maybe next year if these two rides remain, I do recommend trying Booster at night and you’ll have the peace of mind that even if it’s raining or winds reach 42mph, you’ll still find it open.
     
    Scare Attraction Reviews:

    Now onto the best part and that’s with small mini reviews of all eight scare attractions available at the farm. As a whole, I must report the quality, length, amount of fun and scariness in these attractions is far superior to any maze I have done at Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights in the 9 years I have attended the event! All of them were excellent and had their own unique qualities behind them, one of which used a really cool effect which reminded me of a scene from one of my favourite films. Another reason is because every single one of them was original and didn't need an IP to market itself and I'm a big fan of original ideas as it sparks innovation in these types of attraction.

    So to begin, I’d like to start with the ‘least excellent’ one which was Twisted Clowns:

    Twisted Clowns - 6/10

    I should admit at the start clowns as a whole do not scare me one bit and never have done, so before walking through the entrance I wasn’t expecting an enormous scare factor behind it and true enough, it didn’t scare me at all this one sadly.

    You are given at the start 3D glasses which act as a filter to bring out the colours inside on the walls and props present inside and quite a lot of the artwork present popped out quite well, especially with the luminous colours. Throughout the whole of the maze, you wear them and walk through several dark rooms with lots of these UV paintings to fit in with the theme, to which I must point out they are all hand-painted which I really appreciated and admired when inside. Think of the rooms similar to Hocus Pocus at Chessington only with a different theme.

    In addition, actors inside were jumping and appearing all over the place, including one which jumped on a bungee swing from the ceiling which really took me by surprise the first time with how close they hovered over me! Whilst the actors at no point touched guests, they interacted with them brilliantly with lots of props from swings, car horns, wigs and clothing to name a few. The makeup they wore was also nicely done and had popping luminous colours on their faces similar to all the dozens of paintings throughout the maze.

    But as a whole, this just didn’t deliver any real or genuine scares for me sadly, which is a shame because I love 3D mazes like this. However, I will say the quality of the actors jumping all over you with props inside, the amount of work with the paintings which went into this and most of all, the incredibly long length of this maze were the best qualities it offered.
    Other smaller details like a themed safety announcement at the start, to Midnight Syndicate’s audio used inside, to the huge number of actors present did make this a lot of fun to go through.

    I suppose the bigger problem is Big Top at Thorpe whilst might be a lot shorter than this one is ultimately better in lots of ways. Elements such as better audio, better disorientating rooms and a great finale make it better than Twisted Clowns and therefore, this is the only maze Tulleys could do with some improvements on next year I feel and was a little disappointing.

    VIXI - 7/10

    When I discovered this involves you placing a bag over your head to obstruct your view the entire time, the first thing that came to my mind was “Oh no, It’s Tulleys version of that damn awful The Passing maze at Thorpe Park back in 2012!” But after going through it, whilst it did feel very similar The Passing for 3/4 of the maze, the quality of the scares delivered and surprise factor was far superior in comparison and I happened to really like it as a result!

    From the start you must place these black bags over your heads as though you are about to be sent to the gallows for execution and ultimately death, again, very similar to The Passing at the start. But these bags used are with a much thicker material as it is impossible to see through them in any way possible. But once you start the attraction, you must follow the rope on your left side which will guide you through the maze and over all the hurdles for the first 75% of the maze.

    Whilst you can’t see a thing out of these, the interaction and tricks this maze plays on you inside is brilliant. Various sound effects are used everywhere and effects such as smell, wind, water, fire and very uneven surfaces were used. In addition, actors interacted with you from both sides of your ears, so it became quite unsettling at one point with all the effects and actors in play and really got my heart racing being unable to see anything!

    But the best section is towards the end of this experience. The last corner you turn with the bag still on your head is into a room which was very hot inside and within seconds it became apparent why that is. There is one giant flame thrower inside the centre of this room which goes off every few seconds and the noise of it is incredibly loud, so much so that the heat, light and shock made myself and several others scream the fist time it went off! It’s a simple but incredibly effective scare used and you are less than 1m away from the flame, so you can really feel the heat from it.

    Finally, in the last quarter, you are asked to take the bags off your head and give them to a staff member. Now, like The Passing, you are lead to believe this is the end, but oh no, there’s more! You go down this pitch black corridor, turn the corner and you are inside a very dark warehouse with what appears to be burnt bodies of corpses lying on a table and an actor behind it with a giant knife and blowtorch. He instructed us to go down the stairs quickly, only to encounter behind a metal cage even more fire effects, this time less than a metre away which was another excellent jump scare for guests. After that, you zig-zag down the ramps and find yourself outside once again and the experience is over.

    The concept of this maze might sound simple and remind many who did in at the time of The Passing, but the interaction with guests in this one and the effectiveness really pays off and was tons of fun, and was the first maze in probably about 4 years which really got my heart pounding at certain points due to the unknown which awaits ahead due to the fact you can’t see anything. Then to top it all off, the ending finishes the maze perfectly and the use of fire in this maze was executed perfectly and was a great use of the effect. Plus, this was also a very long maze, lasting at around 11 minutes inside according to the timer. Thumbs up overall!

    Creepy Cottage - 7.5/10

    This was the maze I was most familiar with because it has been at this event for years now and I remember a few times during Autumn when visiting Tulleys years ago seeing preperations being made for it in time for October, so was most intrigued to see what it was like inside. Whilst it did have it’s moments of scariness to it, the selling factor behind this was the attention to detail inside and overall creepiness it delivered, which also explains why it’s available for younger kids too during the day. The best way to describe it is imagine walking through a much smaller, cramped and longer version of the haunted house from the play and film ‘The Woman in Black’.

    From the start where you are greeted inside the first room, you are immediately surrounded by lots of theming and details everywhere which hint at it being just like an old historian haunted house, with the furniture, fireplace and props inside with all the cobwebs and candle lights present. As you progress through each room, the corridors and roofing is very small and narrow, so you do feel quite claustrophobic inside and it’s incredibly dark too.

    The atmosphere inside doesn’t feel chaotic like Big Top, Living Nightmare and Saw Alive are. Instead, it has an eerie, cold and creepy feel to it all with very subtle uses of sound effects and music used inside and in every room making it feel very abandoned. It also made me quite tense throughout because you expect something to either appear out of nowhere all of a sudden or an effect scaring you, but as said above, this maze relied purely on feeling unsettled inside than being jump scared.

    The quality of the props and attention to detail was very noticeable with every corner of every corridor and room looked after, from the wallpapers, to the chandeliers and lighting, to the physical objects laying around everywhere and the surface of the flooring and smells inside. One prop particularly caught me out and that was what appeared to be a child’s doll of Chucky. It too me 2 walk through’s to notice it! Plus, towards the end of the maze, you need to walk through a corridor with loads of corn field plants surrounding you, almost as if you are navigating through the maze Tulleys have during summer which was a nice touch.

    The only disappointment was the ending as it just involved a small room with an actor inside surrounded by more props. Nothing seemed to stand out in this room which indicated it as the finale, just another room added at the end simply.

    So whilst it might not be the most scary out of all the mazes, it was certainly the most unsettling and eerie feeling maze with all the actors inside each room dressed to fit the theme of an abandoned cottage from the last century, so it’s good for me!
     
    The Colony - 7.5/10

    This was quite an interesting concept for a maze as it incorporated elements which were both used outside and inside and the overall vibe from this maze is one set back in time to the medieval ages and honestly, a novel which is going to be implemented into a ride next year at Alton Towers. It certainly delivered on scare quality and the length of this thing was mad! On average, it takes between 15-20 minutes to pass through all of it!

    The first corridor you pass through is almost like an abandoned underground mine with the lighting and planks of wood holding the ceiling and walls together and then you instantly go outside onto the field which is guided by very high wooden planks similar to that which you can find in Alton’s new maze ‘The Welcoming’. Whilst I haven’t done it yet, the overall look and feel for the outdoor sections looked similar to this from the pictures looking down at it on the Sky Ride.

    Once navigating your way through outside, you go back inside through these huts and buildings with lots of lighting, audio and smoke effects present, as well as actors hiding in the shadows. From here onwards, you are constantly going inside/outside and it’s an equal balance between the two overall. Some outdoor scenes were really interactive and involved you having to crawl under and through narrow gaps, which was a nice touch you don’t often get with other scare mazes as they tend to be wide and open to pass through many people at once.

    The actors in this maze were excellent. When each approached you, they all spoke in what I can assume is Latin as I couldn’t understand any of what they were saying, but their body language gave hints to what they were trying to communicate with you. By this point, it isn’t necessarily super scary, but unsettling similar to Creepy Cottage.

    When navigating your way up and down the field with indoor and outdoor sections, towards the end, you pass through a corridor which has two pathways and in the centre of these two paths you can take, a chainsaw guy in strobe lights interacts with you, very closely I might add too! After that, you are outside again and the experience is over.

    The best quality of this maze was the length and variety delivered by several different scenes and actors, and it provided a consistent and very enjoyable experience from start to end, especially with the finale. Although, the scares weren’t quite up there to get me really nervous with this one.

    I mention this gave me an impression of Alton’s new coaster for 2018 and considering we now know it’s going to be themed on Wicker Man, this maze kept making me think of that from start to finish. Heck, there’s even a bleedin’ scene with honey bees’ nests hanging from the ceiling you must pass through! Just a fun thought I had with this maze which kept making me think of it, but overall, I really enjoyed this one as it feels to me what Sanctum should have been.
     
    The Cellar - 8/10

    Probably the best way to describe this is imagine Creepy Cottage mixed with The Colony. This was excellent!

    Already the start is nicely done with the safety announcement in the greeting room which was funnily themed and spoken as though it was a witch, and you were passing through their home. After that, you hold each others shoulders and it’s worth noting this is the only maze at the event where you are required to do this. All the others are free-flowing.

    From the start of your journey, the rooms and corridors are incredibly cramped inside with low ceilings and narrow walls and the number of actors present in this maze is the highest out of any of them, which really made the experience quite intense inside.

    Probably the most frightening section for me was at the first walkway which involved the inflatable cushions you must pass through similar to I’m a Celeb near the end just before you climb the hill to go down the slide. Because you are limited by how fast you can move due to it pushing against your legs, it was obvious something was going to jump out of nowhere, and long behold, there was. To the right of this walkway, an enormous and very heavy serpent’s head jumped out of the wall and was big enough to cause me to nearly fall over to the side as a result. It was very heavy and nicely detailed, but my, I personally can’t stand snakes myself and seeing a giant head of it grab my shoulder like that really got to me by that point as it was very unexpected! This is a great element to the maze and took me by complete surprise the first time.

    After that, you navigate your way through various further rooms which had some very narrow walkways and overall, this was extremely dark inside with hardly any lighting visible, just tons of actors hiding in the shadows waiting for the perfect moment to scare you. Some of which had some excellent detail to them all and used several effects which made guest jump, including some very powerful air canons.

    The ending however was a little weak and didn’t stand out from the rest of the maze, but the number of actors used in this maze coupled with the length of the attraction made up for that. The best moment was the giant serpent’s head near the start as it genuinely terrified me the first time!
     
    Coven of 13 - 8.5/10

    Coven of 13 overall was a combination of The Cellar, Creepy Cottage and The Colony as elements from each of these attractions were used throughout, but the best part by far was the start where you need to pass through what I can assume is a deep swamp in the middle of a forest.

    This starting scene where you navigate through the marsh was a great use of smoke, lasers and sound effects as when you passed through the walkways with the inflatable pillows again, there was a layer of mist which helped with the theme of treading through a swamp up to waist level. Probably the best way I can describe this effect is similar to that scene in the first Alien film where John Hurt ventures through a cave with all the eggs and describes a layer of mist above a blue laser effect. When watching it back after trying this maze, it looks identical to that effect used!

    After navigating your way through the swamp scene with actors jumping out and scaring you, you head through more corridors with plants and trees obscuring your path and they are set up in a way which it hides the ceiling and wall panels very effectively, so much so that it definitely felt more like being in a forest that a plain, ordinary corridor.

    You go immediately outside after that and cross into another building which has been themed on a small mini haunted house with some very effective lighting, atmosphere and props used. It did honestly feel just like being inside a mini haunted house as the rooms were a little larger in comparison to Creepy Cottage, bud sadly, the scares in this bit weren’t as effective as a result. However, the attention to detail and quality of the actors made up for this scene, so all is balanced.

    After that, you go outside again and this next section felt the weakest section of the maze. All you do is navigate around a central campfire through different areas around the perimeter of what was the shape of a semi-circle. Each section had it’s own actor in to scare guests, but it felt too open and predictable to deliver any proper good scares sadly, especially when you can see what awaits ahead.

    Finally, you go through inside one last room and that’s what looks like an actor being burnt to the stake in a giant wooden fire and the use of smoke, lighting, heat and audio added to this scene, but like before, just not enough scares here. Also, it’s reminiscent of Wicker Man again and SW8. Sorry! After that, you go outside again and it’s all over.

    Whilst the scares were certainly prevalent throughout the first half of the maze, the 2nd half felt a little tame in comparison unfortunately and fell apart a little. However, the use of effects in that swamp scene at the start were delivered brilliantly and that’s why this is my 3rd favourite attraction as a result.
     
    The Chop Shop - 9/10

    Before trying this I knew it was going to be an intense maze as many have told me it’s the best maze at the event and goodness me, it was certainly the scariest one! The whole theme of rotten meat, blood and flesh makes me feel physically sick, which is why the gluttony scene from Se7en years ago at Thorpe really made me want to vomit when passing through it and I wasn’t expecting anything different here. But what I didn’t expect was the intensity behind this maze which is hidden quite well behind those walls, with the exception of the noises from several chainsaws present.

    The start of the maze isn’t too bad as it’s an exploration through a garage with lots of machinery, equipment, vehicles and tools on shelves everywhere and the lighting is dim, quite reminiscent of scenes from Saw The Ride and the workshops in the Saw films and the actors did a great job at introducing you to their chopping shop. But after this, it gets worse and scarier as a result.

    Once out of the garage, you instantly go through what I can presume is a freezer with lots of frozen meat, including hanging pigs and cows amongst blood everywhere over the floor and walls. Then, an actor breaks through the door in front with a chainsaw and scares the group and this is only just the half-way point!

    From here onwards, it gets even worse because it’s an endless array of zig-zag corridors, rooms and flaps to pass through, all under a constant strobe light. Around several corners, actors are hiding, all with their own chainsaws waiting for you to walk past them. Then, to make it even worse, some rooms have the lights turn off temporarily for about 3 seconds, so you are in complete blackness for a short period of time and all you can hear is the sound of a chainsaw either in front or directly behind you, some of which got as close as 6 inches away from my face! It was truly and honestly terrifying and this lasted for 2/3 of the entire maze, so it became extremely intense at certain parts and got my heart racing the fastest out of any other attraction that night as a result!

    The only advice I can give is do this maze once it is dark outside because the 2nd half has an open roof and if light leaks inside, it can ruin the effect slightly of those dark moments. So if you want a moderate experience, try it before sunset. If you want an extreme one, do it once the sky is completely black. Best maze by far and also the scariest!
     
    Horrorwood Haunted Hayride - 9.5/10

    This was without a doubt the most fun during the entire night and is the best attraction out of everything you will find at this event. It’s very unique, incredibly interactive, long, innovative and ultimately fun. Nothing else out there can be compared to this!

    Whilst it might not have been necessarily scary, the whole idea you are transported through the fields on a tractor ride with various scenes themed to different genres in the movie industry was an excellent idea and was reminiscent of Studio 13 slightly in some areas. Every scene has unique visual and audible effects, the entire ride changes it’s audio depending on what scene you are in and probably the best part was the actors in each scene climb onto the tractor with you and interact with guests using their character. Characters such as clowns, cowboys, hotel butlers, witches, pole-dancing nuns and zombies clambered onto the vehicle through each scene and played their characters perfectly in sync with the audio and movement of the truck. It’s a very consistent and funny experience which I greatly appreciated.

    In addition, each scene had great props and sets used such as falling billboards on guests, flame effects which were incredibly loud and powerful, deaf-defying loud bangs, great uses of audio SFX and lighting used and best of all, the chainsaw people themed on I believe the story of the three little pigs getting extremely close to the guests and even revved the machines against the benches you are sitting on, creating the impression they are cutting through the wood you are sitting on!

    I don’t want to give too much away of what each scene involves for those who have yet to try it, but I very strongly recommend you try this as the must-do attraction of the evening. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed by it one bit!
     
    Conclusion:
     
    So there we are, all my reviews for each attraction, the atmosphere and overall impressions of the event.

    After going to this and leaving the evening, I didn’t in any way feel angry, tired or disappointed like I usually tend to with Fright Nights in recent years. Instead, I felt lively, thrilled and greatly surprised by the whole night because it’s as if I have finally found after 7 years of searching something better and worth it’s value for money compared to what I was typically used to during Halloween and it feels great! Tulleys Shocktober Fest has surprised me hugely with what they offered as I never imagined they were able to pull off such a quality event like this before, especially knowing it for years as a farm with pick-your-own fields and a maze during summer.

    Tulleys has proven if special events are executed very well, it has the ability to change minds of sceptics like me who for years have detested Halloween for all the wrong reasons. In return, I have started to get excited for Halloween once again after this amazing evening I had! The only problem with this however is because Tulleys have set a new bar far higher than any Fright Nights delivered these last 7 years, I am likely going to detest Fright Nights even more now as a result unless there are some radical improvements and changes made to the event which aren’t focused on compromising customer experience for bigger numbers on Merlin’s many dozens of net-profit Excel spreadsheets at their head office.

    Tulleys, like my blog on Liseberg back in May has proved to me again there are places out there which value customer experience above profits, and it's these types of places I appreciate the most. I can happily say I'm absolutely going to attend Shocktober Fest again next year, and likely many years to come now. Well done Tulleys for creating a quality Halloween event for guests.

    It might have taken me several years to finally try it, but my word, the wait was absolutely worth it! 

    Tulleys Shocktober Fest - 8.5/10

    (Some pictures from the event below I took):
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  22. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from Mattgwise for a blog entry, A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest   
    It's no secret to those that know me well that I passionately believe Halloween as a whole is just an overblown annual event which leads to disappointment, scare-less attractions, cringy atmosphere and nothing but annoyance with masses of people flooding the events held everywhere across the country. The problem for me is for over 9 years in a row now between 2008 - 2017, I have only ever managed to attend one event during this entire time of year and that's Thorpe Park's Fright Nights and to be brutally honest, I am now getting tired, bored and frankly sick of the event. 

    The event during the 2008/2009 season was excellent with consistent operations, brilliant audio, tons of park-wide decorations, great use of smoke and lighting effects and most of all, every single maze at the time was home-brewed and original, some with inspirations from other IP's such as Se7en for instance. Asylum, Se7en, Curse and Hellgate were awesome! But now however, hardly any of this is prevalent at the event anymore and hasn't been since 2013 when Lionsgate started taking over everything, and now AMC's The Walking Dead. It's gone to the point now that when someone mentions the words 'Fright Nights' to me, all I can picture is long queues, crappy operations, overselling of Fastrack, needless use of IP's, mediocre scare mazes and up-charges everywhere you go. The whole thing now just feels like a giant cash grab and rip off frankly with very little meaning behind it where every year that passes, it's fun-factor is diminishing like a burning flame. Fireworks/bonfire night however does have a meaning and historical relevance behind it in Britain, which is why it's by far my preferred event at the end of each season and I'll never stop requesting Thorpe to bring it back after it's last appearance in 2011.
     
    Now, you might ask by this point why am I talking about Fright Nights when this blog is titled 'A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest'? Well, it's because this review is going to highlight such a stark contrast I experienced between Thorpe's version of a Halloween event and Tulleys, and I feel it's needed to set the premise of this review, because it's important to note at this point after visiting Tulleys on the 21st October 2017, despite Storm Brian interfering with the weather, that night has restored my faith and excitement in these types of events once again. These are words that I honestly thought I would never say!


     
    Similar to my other couple of previous blogs, I warn at the start my reviews are detailed, precise and very long, and this is no exception. So if you're someone who wants to have a quick read, focuses on the main highlights or doesn't want to get bored of reading my analysis by the end of the first paragraph, this isn't for you I'm afraid!


     
    So to begin, I would like to start with my overall first impressions of the event upon walking inside the site and the general atmosphere of the place:
     
    

Initial Impressions and Atmosphere:


     
    I've know Tulleys Farm for as long as I can remember ever since I was just 4 years old during the summer when on the other side of the field the wheat maze was open with other smaller activities, as well as picking your own fruit during June for the strawberries and raspberries. But despite this, the way Tulleys have set up this event made the place almost unrecognisable to me. It turns out that instead of the event being held in the small area near the front where the huts, cafe and fields are it is instead directly behind all of this on a massive open grass field on a gentle slope which I have never ventured onto before until now. So whilst in some places it felt familiar, the majority of it felt as though it was an entirely different site to what it's like during summer!


     
    Upon the entrance next to the grass field for parking, the entrance stands amongst the trees with flames on either side and giant pumpkin scarecrows lit up in orange, filled with smoke, creating a very natural, dominating yet familiar atmosphere to how I've know Tulleys before. Once going under the entrance hut into the ticket booth area, the entire roof is covered with white canopy tents which I appreciated very much as it ensured we didn't get wet whilst waiting to have our bags searched and collect our tickets on the muddy green fields. It reminded me a little at first of Fairford's Royal International Air Tattoo event every July with the way it was all handled, which was organised very well by the staff, so kudos for keeping the system easy, quick and simple with the large number of people at the event.
     
    

Once outside the tent and you've got your tickets/wristband, you are instantly surrounded by lots of attractions, food/drink stalls, stages, rides and seating which I guessed immediately was the centre of the whole event as all of the eight attractions were scattered across the field within equal distance of each other. A small detail I really liked was consistently across the fields there were small fires being lit with burning wood to keep guests warm at night and blend into the whole 'festival feel' of the place. The smell of burning wood in these fields felt comforting and familiar, especially as someone who once was part of the Scouts and went on these camping trips all the time! The audio used across the park wasn't blaring or obtrusive anywhere either and instead was subtle, evenly balanced and played quite a lot of Midnight Syndicate's music both old and new across each area which was a nice touch. After their audio was banished at Thorpe Park starting in 2013 with Lionsgate (grrrrrrr), it was nice to hear it once again. Also, there was tons of smoke everywhere across the place with lots of roaming actors interacting very well with guests which was quite amusing to watch!


     
    The attractions from this centre are situated down either the south or west sides of the field down slopes. To the left of the square you will find The Colony, The Chop Shop, The Cellar and Twisted Clowns. Directly in front you will see the couple of rides the event has which was a Booster ride similar to the one on Brighton pier, and a bouncer similar to the one which can still be at Hastings years ago, as well as on Brighton pier outside the Haunted House which was nice. And lastly, to the right down the hill, Horrorwood Haunted Hayride, Creepy Cottage, VIXI and Coven of 13, as well as the shop, paintball alley and further food and drink stalls.
     
    

It's also worth mentioning that behind you in this centre there is also a stage where a live band is held and plays several chart music hits which was nice, including many which fit in with the Halloween theme. Further down the hill on the right there is another live band too performing for guests. Inside the tents across a few areas, you could buy pumpkins which I presume the farm has grown for guests to purchase at the event, some of which were enormous and very heavy to handle! It's the smaller things with simple decorations like pumpkins that can make a big difference sometimes to the overall feel of an event. It adds to the Halloween theme, unlike Thorpe who still for some reason think little/no decorations = Halloween atmosphere.
     
    

With all of these points taken into consideration, this has a very different vibe and feel to it all compared to what Fright Nights is, and really, I loved it! The whole place felt just like being at a festival with all the canopies for the queues, muddy fields, live music, great theming, large variety of food and drink stalls, the many small campfires everywhere and the consistent feel the place had where nothing seemed to stick out like a sore thumb anywhere. Compared to Fright Nights, the only fair comparison to be made here is that Tulleys clearly know how to create a better atmosphere at night for their customers which is more relevant to Halloween and better organised than Fright Nights has ever been.

    Food & Drink:

    As mentioned above, all of the food and drink available at the farm was available through these temporary food stalls which you typically find at most events similar to this, but the variety and close proximity between them all was quite convenient and was all situated in the centre. Everything from hot drinks, takeaway food, sweet snacks and even a hog roast were available for guests and the variety offered was quite good.

    Although, the prices were a little too much for what I expected to pay. I went to the noodles bar and ordered pulled pork curry noodles and a large spring roll which came to £10.25 altogether without a drink and a regular cup of coffee was £3. So whilst the variety was great and you get large portions, the prices here did feel too high compared to what I would comfortably pay for typically and was the only area where I felt ripped off slightly by the whole event. £3 for a regular Americano was too much! Not surprising, just thought it’s worth noting to those who have yet to visit to be prepared with enough cash in their wallets.

    Operations:

    As a whole, Tulleys demonstrated to me exactly how you should manage events with lots of people going through the attractions. There was only 50 VIP and only 200 Fastrack ticket holders in the entire field that night, which meant the queues for Fastrack were extremely small or non-existent most of the night. Dispatches were fast and frequent for all the mazes, especially for the Haunted Hayride and every bit of effort was made by the staff to keep the queues to a minimal as long as possible throughout the night. When you consider all mazes at Fright Nights in the evening have Fastrack overflowing for all attractions, some of which can actually be longer than the normal queue, this was a really pleasant surprise for me.
     
    If there were a slight niggle I had with the handling of letting people through the mazes, it’s that some of the groups put through each time were quite large, some as much as 20 people at once. And if you are leading the group, if you’re a fast walker through these types of attractions, it’s not uncommon for you to at some point through the maze bump into the group ahead. Whilst it wasn’t a major issue considering all of the attractions were excellent, it did hinder the scare factor a little when too many people are in the same room with you. I wish the dispatches were a little slower when the queues were shorter at the start and end of the evening, but I suppose you get that with any scare maze really.

    Fairground Rides:

    As mentioned above in my initial impressions section, there were just two rides available at the farm in the evening, so with the time available between 5pm - 11pm, I only did the Booster catapult ride which is identical to the one which can be found on Brighton Pier. One ride costs £6 and you get throttled several times both backwards and forwards and at night, it was really great fun and very intense! Plus, despite the wind speeds reaching 42mph gusts in the evening, the ride still ran flawlessly without any problems and didn’t stall at any point as a result (unlike Thorpe who now fear Flying Fish and Banana Boat will stall with just 20mph gusts).

    So if you are planning on visiting this year or maybe next year if these two rides remain, I do recommend trying Booster at night and you’ll have the peace of mind that even if it’s raining or winds reach 42mph, you’ll still find it open.
     
    Scare Attraction Reviews:

    Now onto the best part and that’s with small mini reviews of all eight scare attractions available at the farm. As a whole, I must report the quality, length, amount of fun and scariness in these attractions is far superior to any maze I have done at Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights in the 9 years I have attended the event! All of them were excellent and had their own unique qualities behind them, one of which used a really cool effect which reminded me of a scene from one of my favourite films. Another reason is because every single one of them was original and didn't need an IP to market itself and I'm a big fan of original ideas as it sparks innovation in these types of attraction.

    So to begin, I’d like to start with the ‘least excellent’ one which was Twisted Clowns:

    Twisted Clowns - 6/10

    I should admit at the start clowns as a whole do not scare me one bit and never have done, so before walking through the entrance I wasn’t expecting an enormous scare factor behind it and true enough, it didn’t scare me at all this one sadly.

    You are given at the start 3D glasses which act as a filter to bring out the colours inside on the walls and props present inside and quite a lot of the artwork present popped out quite well, especially with the luminous colours. Throughout the whole of the maze, you wear them and walk through several dark rooms with lots of these UV paintings to fit in with the theme, to which I must point out they are all hand-painted which I really appreciated and admired when inside. Think of the rooms similar to Hocus Pocus at Chessington only with a different theme.

    In addition, actors inside were jumping and appearing all over the place, including one which jumped on a bungee swing from the ceiling which really took me by surprise the first time with how close they hovered over me! Whilst the actors at no point touched guests, they interacted with them brilliantly with lots of props from swings, car horns, wigs and clothing to name a few. The makeup they wore was also nicely done and had popping luminous colours on their faces similar to all the dozens of paintings throughout the maze.

    But as a whole, this just didn’t deliver any real or genuine scares for me sadly, which is a shame because I love 3D mazes like this. However, I will say the quality of the actors jumping all over you with props inside, the amount of work with the paintings which went into this and most of all, the incredibly long length of this maze were the best qualities it offered.
    Other smaller details like a themed safety announcement at the start, to Midnight Syndicate’s audio used inside, to the huge number of actors present did make this a lot of fun to go through.

    I suppose the bigger problem is Big Top at Thorpe whilst might be a lot shorter than this one is ultimately better in lots of ways. Elements such as better audio, better disorientating rooms and a great finale make it better than Twisted Clowns and therefore, this is the only maze Tulleys could do with some improvements on next year I feel and was a little disappointing.

    VIXI - 7/10

    When I discovered this involves you placing a bag over your head to obstruct your view the entire time, the first thing that came to my mind was “Oh no, It’s Tulleys version of that damn awful The Passing maze at Thorpe Park back in 2012!” But after going through it, whilst it did feel very similar The Passing for 3/4 of the maze, the quality of the scares delivered and surprise factor was far superior in comparison and I happened to really like it as a result!

    From the start you must place these black bags over your heads as though you are about to be sent to the gallows for execution and ultimately death, again, very similar to The Passing at the start. But these bags used are with a much thicker material as it is impossible to see through them in any way possible. But once you start the attraction, you must follow the rope on your left side which will guide you through the maze and over all the hurdles for the first 75% of the maze.

    Whilst you can’t see a thing out of these, the interaction and tricks this maze plays on you inside is brilliant. Various sound effects are used everywhere and effects such as smell, wind, water, fire and very uneven surfaces were used. In addition, actors interacted with you from both sides of your ears, so it became quite unsettling at one point with all the effects and actors in play and really got my heart racing being unable to see anything!

    But the best section is towards the end of this experience. The last corner you turn with the bag still on your head is into a room which was very hot inside and within seconds it became apparent why that is. There is one giant flame thrower inside the centre of this room which goes off every few seconds and the noise of it is incredibly loud, so much so that the heat, light and shock made myself and several others scream the fist time it went off! It’s a simple but incredibly effective scare used and you are less than 1m away from the flame, so you can really feel the heat from it.

    Finally, in the last quarter, you are asked to take the bags off your head and give them to a staff member. Now, like The Passing, you are lead to believe this is the end, but oh no, there’s more! You go down this pitch black corridor, turn the corner and you are inside a very dark warehouse with what appears to be burnt bodies of corpses lying on a table and an actor behind it with a giant knife and blowtorch. He instructed us to go down the stairs quickly, only to encounter behind a metal cage even more fire effects, this time less than a metre away which was another excellent jump scare for guests. After that, you zig-zag down the ramps and find yourself outside once again and the experience is over.

    The concept of this maze might sound simple and remind many who did in at the time of The Passing, but the interaction with guests in this one and the effectiveness really pays off and was tons of fun, and was the first maze in probably about 4 years which really got my heart pounding at certain points due to the unknown which awaits ahead due to the fact you can’t see anything. Then to top it all off, the ending finishes the maze perfectly and the use of fire in this maze was executed perfectly and was a great use of the effect. Plus, this was also a very long maze, lasting at around 11 minutes inside according to the timer. Thumbs up overall!

    Creepy Cottage - 7.5/10

    This was the maze I was most familiar with because it has been at this event for years now and I remember a few times during Autumn when visiting Tulleys years ago seeing preperations being made for it in time for October, so was most intrigued to see what it was like inside. Whilst it did have it’s moments of scariness to it, the selling factor behind this was the attention to detail inside and overall creepiness it delivered, which also explains why it’s available for younger kids too during the day. The best way to describe it is imagine walking through a much smaller, cramped and longer version of the haunted house from the play and film ‘The Woman in Black’.

    From the start where you are greeted inside the first room, you are immediately surrounded by lots of theming and details everywhere which hint at it being just like an old historian haunted house, with the furniture, fireplace and props inside with all the cobwebs and candle lights present. As you progress through each room, the corridors and roofing is very small and narrow, so you do feel quite claustrophobic inside and it’s incredibly dark too.

    The atmosphere inside doesn’t feel chaotic like Big Top, Living Nightmare and Saw Alive are. Instead, it has an eerie, cold and creepy feel to it all with very subtle uses of sound effects and music used inside and in every room making it feel very abandoned. It also made me quite tense throughout because you expect something to either appear out of nowhere all of a sudden or an effect scaring you, but as said above, this maze relied purely on feeling unsettled inside than being jump scared.

    The quality of the props and attention to detail was very noticeable with every corner of every corridor and room looked after, from the wallpapers, to the chandeliers and lighting, to the physical objects laying around everywhere and the surface of the flooring and smells inside. One prop particularly caught me out and that was what appeared to be a child’s doll of Chucky. It too me 2 walk through’s to notice it! Plus, towards the end of the maze, you need to walk through a corridor with loads of corn field plants surrounding you, almost as if you are navigating through the maze Tulleys have during summer which was a nice touch.

    The only disappointment was the ending as it just involved a small room with an actor inside surrounded by more props. Nothing seemed to stand out in this room which indicated it as the finale, just another room added at the end simply.

    So whilst it might not be the most scary out of all the mazes, it was certainly the most unsettling and eerie feeling maze with all the actors inside each room dressed to fit the theme of an abandoned cottage from the last century, so it’s good for me!
     
    The Colony - 7.5/10

    This was quite an interesting concept for a maze as it incorporated elements which were both used outside and inside and the overall vibe from this maze is one set back in time to the medieval ages and honestly, a novel which is going to be implemented into a ride next year at Alton Towers. It certainly delivered on scare quality and the length of this thing was mad! On average, it takes between 15-20 minutes to pass through all of it!

    The first corridor you pass through is almost like an abandoned underground mine with the lighting and planks of wood holding the ceiling and walls together and then you instantly go outside onto the field which is guided by very high wooden planks similar to that which you can find in Alton’s new maze ‘The Welcoming’. Whilst I haven’t done it yet, the overall look and feel for the outdoor sections looked similar to this from the pictures looking down at it on the Sky Ride.

    Once navigating your way through outside, you go back inside through these huts and buildings with lots of lighting, audio and smoke effects present, as well as actors hiding in the shadows. From here onwards, you are constantly going inside/outside and it’s an equal balance between the two overall. Some outdoor scenes were really interactive and involved you having to crawl under and through narrow gaps, which was a nice touch you don’t often get with other scare mazes as they tend to be wide and open to pass through many people at once.

    The actors in this maze were excellent. When each approached you, they all spoke in what I can assume is Latin as I couldn’t understand any of what they were saying, but their body language gave hints to what they were trying to communicate with you. By this point, it isn’t necessarily super scary, but unsettling similar to Creepy Cottage.

    When navigating your way up and down the field with indoor and outdoor sections, towards the end, you pass through a corridor which has two pathways and in the centre of these two paths you can take, a chainsaw guy in strobe lights interacts with you, very closely I might add too! After that, you are outside again and the experience is over.

    The best quality of this maze was the length and variety delivered by several different scenes and actors, and it provided a consistent and very enjoyable experience from start to end, especially with the finale. Although, the scares weren’t quite up there to get me really nervous with this one.

    I mention this gave me an impression of Alton’s new coaster for 2018 and considering we now know it’s going to be themed on Wicker Man, this maze kept making me think of that from start to finish. Heck, there’s even a bleedin’ scene with honey bees’ nests hanging from the ceiling you must pass through! Just a fun thought I had with this maze which kept making me think of it, but overall, I really enjoyed this one as it feels to me what Sanctum should have been.
     
    The Cellar - 8/10

    Probably the best way to describe this is imagine Creepy Cottage mixed with The Colony. This was excellent!

    Already the start is nicely done with the safety announcement in the greeting room which was funnily themed and spoken as though it was a witch, and you were passing through their home. After that, you hold each others shoulders and it’s worth noting this is the only maze at the event where you are required to do this. All the others are free-flowing.

    From the start of your journey, the rooms and corridors are incredibly cramped inside with low ceilings and narrow walls and the number of actors present in this maze is the highest out of any of them, which really made the experience quite intense inside.

    Probably the most frightening section for me was at the first walkway which involved the inflatable cushions you must pass through similar to I’m a Celeb near the end just before you climb the hill to go down the slide. Because you are limited by how fast you can move due to it pushing against your legs, it was obvious something was going to jump out of nowhere, and long behold, there was. To the right of this walkway, an enormous and very heavy serpent’s head jumped out of the wall and was big enough to cause me to nearly fall over to the side as a result. It was very heavy and nicely detailed, but my, I personally can’t stand snakes myself and seeing a giant head of it grab my shoulder like that really got to me by that point as it was very unexpected! This is a great element to the maze and took me by complete surprise the first time.

    After that, you navigate your way through various further rooms which had some very narrow walkways and overall, this was extremely dark inside with hardly any lighting visible, just tons of actors hiding in the shadows waiting for the perfect moment to scare you. Some of which had some excellent detail to them all and used several effects which made guest jump, including some very powerful air canons.

    The ending however was a little weak and didn’t stand out from the rest of the maze, but the number of actors used in this maze coupled with the length of the attraction made up for that. The best moment was the giant serpent’s head near the start as it genuinely terrified me the first time!
     
    Coven of 13 - 8.5/10

    Coven of 13 overall was a combination of The Cellar, Creepy Cottage and The Colony as elements from each of these attractions were used throughout, but the best part by far was the start where you need to pass through what I can assume is a deep swamp in the middle of a forest.

    This starting scene where you navigate through the marsh was a great use of smoke, lasers and sound effects as when you passed through the walkways with the inflatable pillows again, there was a layer of mist which helped with the theme of treading through a swamp up to waist level. Probably the best way I can describe this effect is similar to that scene in the first Alien film where John Hurt ventures through a cave with all the eggs and describes a layer of mist above a blue laser effect. When watching it back after trying this maze, it looks identical to that effect used!

    After navigating your way through the swamp scene with actors jumping out and scaring you, you head through more corridors with plants and trees obscuring your path and they are set up in a way which it hides the ceiling and wall panels very effectively, so much so that it definitely felt more like being in a forest that a plain, ordinary corridor.

    You go immediately outside after that and cross into another building which has been themed on a small mini haunted house with some very effective lighting, atmosphere and props used. It did honestly feel just like being inside a mini haunted house as the rooms were a little larger in comparison to Creepy Cottage, bud sadly, the scares in this bit weren’t as effective as a result. However, the attention to detail and quality of the actors made up for this scene, so all is balanced.

    After that, you go outside again and this next section felt the weakest section of the maze. All you do is navigate around a central campfire through different areas around the perimeter of what was the shape of a semi-circle. Each section had it’s own actor in to scare guests, but it felt too open and predictable to deliver any proper good scares sadly, especially when you can see what awaits ahead.

    Finally, you go through inside one last room and that’s what looks like an actor being burnt to the stake in a giant wooden fire and the use of smoke, lighting, heat and audio added to this scene, but like before, just not enough scares here. Also, it’s reminiscent of Wicker Man again and SW8. Sorry! After that, you go outside again and it’s all over.

    Whilst the scares were certainly prevalent throughout the first half of the maze, the 2nd half felt a little tame in comparison unfortunately and fell apart a little. However, the use of effects in that swamp scene at the start were delivered brilliantly and that’s why this is my 3rd favourite attraction as a result.
     
    The Chop Shop - 9/10

    Before trying this I knew it was going to be an intense maze as many have told me it’s the best maze at the event and goodness me, it was certainly the scariest one! The whole theme of rotten meat, blood and flesh makes me feel physically sick, which is why the gluttony scene from Se7en years ago at Thorpe really made me want to vomit when passing through it and I wasn’t expecting anything different here. But what I didn’t expect was the intensity behind this maze which is hidden quite well behind those walls, with the exception of the noises from several chainsaws present.

    The start of the maze isn’t too bad as it’s an exploration through a garage with lots of machinery, equipment, vehicles and tools on shelves everywhere and the lighting is dim, quite reminiscent of scenes from Saw The Ride and the workshops in the Saw films and the actors did a great job at introducing you to their chopping shop. But after this, it gets worse and scarier as a result.

    Once out of the garage, you instantly go through what I can presume is a freezer with lots of frozen meat, including hanging pigs and cows amongst blood everywhere over the floor and walls. Then, an actor breaks through the door in front with a chainsaw and scares the group and this is only just the half-way point!

    From here onwards, it gets even worse because it’s an endless array of zig-zag corridors, rooms and flaps to pass through, all under a constant strobe light. Around several corners, actors are hiding, all with their own chainsaws waiting for you to walk past them. Then, to make it even worse, some rooms have the lights turn off temporarily for about 3 seconds, so you are in complete blackness for a short period of time and all you can hear is the sound of a chainsaw either in front or directly behind you, some of which got as close as 6 inches away from my face! It was truly and honestly terrifying and this lasted for 2/3 of the entire maze, so it became extremely intense at certain parts and got my heart racing the fastest out of any other attraction that night as a result!

    The only advice I can give is do this maze once it is dark outside because the 2nd half has an open roof and if light leaks inside, it can ruin the effect slightly of those dark moments. So if you want a moderate experience, try it before sunset. If you want an extreme one, do it once the sky is completely black. Best maze by far and also the scariest!
     
    Horrorwood Haunted Hayride - 9.5/10

    This was without a doubt the most fun during the entire night and is the best attraction out of everything you will find at this event. It’s very unique, incredibly interactive, long, innovative and ultimately fun. Nothing else out there can be compared to this!

    Whilst it might not have been necessarily scary, the whole idea you are transported through the fields on a tractor ride with various scenes themed to different genres in the movie industry was an excellent idea and was reminiscent of Studio 13 slightly in some areas. Every scene has unique visual and audible effects, the entire ride changes it’s audio depending on what scene you are in and probably the best part was the actors in each scene climb onto the tractor with you and interact with guests using their character. Characters such as clowns, cowboys, hotel butlers, witches, pole-dancing nuns and zombies clambered onto the vehicle through each scene and played their characters perfectly in sync with the audio and movement of the truck. It’s a very consistent and funny experience which I greatly appreciated.

    In addition, each scene had great props and sets used such as falling billboards on guests, flame effects which were incredibly loud and powerful, deaf-defying loud bangs, great uses of audio SFX and lighting used and best of all, the chainsaw people themed on I believe the story of the three little pigs getting extremely close to the guests and even revved the machines against the benches you are sitting on, creating the impression they are cutting through the wood you are sitting on!

    I don’t want to give too much away of what each scene involves for those who have yet to try it, but I very strongly recommend you try this as the must-do attraction of the evening. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed by it one bit!
     
    Conclusion:
     
    So there we are, all my reviews for each attraction, the atmosphere and overall impressions of the event.

    After going to this and leaving the evening, I didn’t in any way feel angry, tired or disappointed like I usually tend to with Fright Nights in recent years. Instead, I felt lively, thrilled and greatly surprised by the whole night because it’s as if I have finally found after 7 years of searching something better and worth it’s value for money compared to what I was typically used to during Halloween and it feels great! Tulleys Shocktober Fest has surprised me hugely with what they offered as I never imagined they were able to pull off such a quality event like this before, especially knowing it for years as a farm with pick-your-own fields and a maze during summer.

    Tulleys has proven if special events are executed very well, it has the ability to change minds of sceptics like me who for years have detested Halloween for all the wrong reasons. In return, I have started to get excited for Halloween once again after this amazing evening I had! The only problem with this however is because Tulleys have set a new bar far higher than any Fright Nights delivered these last 7 years, I am likely going to detest Fright Nights even more now as a result unless there are some radical improvements and changes made to the event which aren’t focused on compromising customer experience for bigger numbers on Merlin’s many dozens of net-profit Excel spreadsheets at their head office.

    Tulleys, like my blog on Liseberg back in May has proved to me again there are places out there which value customer experience above profits, and it's these types of places I appreciate the most. I can happily say I'm absolutely going to attend Shocktober Fest again next year, and likely many years to come now. Well done Tulleys for creating a quality Halloween event for guests.

    It might have taken me several years to finally try it, but my word, the wait was absolutely worth it! 

    Tulleys Shocktober Fest - 8.5/10

    (Some pictures from the event below I took):
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  23. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from Martin Doyle for a blog entry, A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest   
    It's no secret to those that know me well that I passionately believe Halloween as a whole is just an overblown annual event which leads to disappointment, scare-less attractions, cringy atmosphere and nothing but annoyance with masses of people flooding the events held everywhere across the country. The problem for me is for over 9 years in a row now between 2008 - 2017, I have only ever managed to attend one event during this entire time of year and that's Thorpe Park's Fright Nights and to be brutally honest, I am now getting tired, bored and frankly sick of the event. 

    The event during the 2008/2009 season was excellent with consistent operations, brilliant audio, tons of park-wide decorations, great use of smoke and lighting effects and most of all, every single maze at the time was home-brewed and original, some with inspirations from other IP's such as Se7en for instance. Asylum, Se7en, Curse and Hellgate were awesome! But now however, hardly any of this is prevalent at the event anymore and hasn't been since 2013 when Lionsgate started taking over everything, and now AMC's The Walking Dead. It's gone to the point now that when someone mentions the words 'Fright Nights' to me, all I can picture is long queues, crappy operations, overselling of Fastrack, needless use of IP's, mediocre scare mazes and up-charges everywhere you go. The whole thing now just feels like a giant cash grab and rip off frankly with very little meaning behind it where every year that passes, it's fun-factor is diminishing like a burning flame. Fireworks/bonfire night however does have a meaning and historical relevance behind it in Britain, which is why it's by far my preferred event at the end of each season and I'll never stop requesting Thorpe to bring it back after it's last appearance in 2011.
     
    Now, you might ask by this point why am I talking about Fright Nights when this blog is titled 'A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest'? Well, it's because this review is going to highlight such a stark contrast I experienced between Thorpe's version of a Halloween event and Tulleys, and I feel it's needed to set the premise of this review, because it's important to note at this point after visiting Tulleys on the 21st October 2017, despite Storm Brian interfering with the weather, that night has restored my faith and excitement in these types of events once again. These are words that I honestly thought I would never say!


     
    Similar to my other couple of previous blogs, I warn at the start my reviews are detailed, precise and very long, and this is no exception. So if you're someone who wants to have a quick read, focuses on the main highlights or doesn't want to get bored of reading my analysis by the end of the first paragraph, this isn't for you I'm afraid!


     
    So to begin, I would like to start with my overall first impressions of the event upon walking inside the site and the general atmosphere of the place:
     
    

Initial Impressions and Atmosphere:


     
    I've know Tulleys Farm for as long as I can remember ever since I was just 4 years old during the summer when on the other side of the field the wheat maze was open with other smaller activities, as well as picking your own fruit during June for the strawberries and raspberries. But despite this, the way Tulleys have set up this event made the place almost unrecognisable to me. It turns out that instead of the event being held in the small area near the front where the huts, cafe and fields are it is instead directly behind all of this on a massive open grass field on a gentle slope which I have never ventured onto before until now. So whilst in some places it felt familiar, the majority of it felt as though it was an entirely different site to what it's like during summer!


     
    Upon the entrance next to the grass field for parking, the entrance stands amongst the trees with flames on either side and giant pumpkin scarecrows lit up in orange, filled with smoke, creating a very natural, dominating yet familiar atmosphere to how I've know Tulleys before. Once going under the entrance hut into the ticket booth area, the entire roof is covered with white canopy tents which I appreciated very much as it ensured we didn't get wet whilst waiting to have our bags searched and collect our tickets on the muddy green fields. It reminded me a little at first of Fairford's Royal International Air Tattoo event every July with the way it was all handled, which was organised very well by the staff, so kudos for keeping the system easy, quick and simple with the large number of people at the event.
     
    

Once outside the tent and you've got your tickets/wristband, you are instantly surrounded by lots of attractions, food/drink stalls, stages, rides and seating which I guessed immediately was the centre of the whole event as all of the eight attractions were scattered across the field within equal distance of each other. A small detail I really liked was consistently across the fields there were small fires being lit with burning wood to keep guests warm at night and blend into the whole 'festival feel' of the place. The smell of burning wood in these fields felt comforting and familiar, especially as someone who once was part of the Scouts and went on these camping trips all the time! The audio used across the park wasn't blaring or obtrusive anywhere either and instead was subtle, evenly balanced and played quite a lot of Midnight Syndicate's music both old and new across each area which was a nice touch. After their audio was banished at Thorpe Park starting in 2013 with Lionsgate (grrrrrrr), it was nice to hear it once again. Also, there was tons of smoke everywhere across the place with lots of roaming actors interacting very well with guests which was quite amusing to watch!


     
    The attractions from this centre are situated down either the south or west sides of the field down slopes. To the left of the square you will find The Colony, The Chop Shop, The Cellar and Twisted Clowns. Directly in front you will see the couple of rides the event has which was a Booster ride similar to the one on Brighton pier, and a bouncer similar to the one which can still be at Hastings years ago, as well as on Brighton pier outside the Haunted House which was nice. And lastly, to the right down the hill, Horrorwood Haunted Hayride, Creepy Cottage, VIXI and Coven of 13, as well as the shop, paintball alley and further food and drink stalls.
     
    

It's also worth mentioning that behind you in this centre there is also a stage where a live band is held and plays several chart music hits which was nice, including many which fit in with the Halloween theme. Further down the hill on the right there is another live band too performing for guests. Inside the tents across a few areas, you could buy pumpkins which I presume the farm has grown for guests to purchase at the event, some of which were enormous and very heavy to handle! It's the smaller things with simple decorations like pumpkins that can make a big difference sometimes to the overall feel of an event. It adds to the Halloween theme, unlike Thorpe who still for some reason think little/no decorations = Halloween atmosphere.
     
    

With all of these points taken into consideration, this has a very different vibe and feel to it all compared to what Fright Nights is, and really, I loved it! The whole place felt just like being at a festival with all the canopies for the queues, muddy fields, live music, great theming, large variety of food and drink stalls, the many small campfires everywhere and the consistent feel the place had where nothing seemed to stick out like a sore thumb anywhere. Compared to Fright Nights, the only fair comparison to be made here is that Tulleys clearly know how to create a better atmosphere at night for their customers which is more relevant to Halloween and better organised than Fright Nights has ever been.

    Food & Drink:

    As mentioned above, all of the food and drink available at the farm was available through these temporary food stalls which you typically find at most events similar to this, but the variety and close proximity between them all was quite convenient and was all situated in the centre. Everything from hot drinks, takeaway food, sweet snacks and even a hog roast were available for guests and the variety offered was quite good.

    Although, the prices were a little too much for what I expected to pay. I went to the noodles bar and ordered pulled pork curry noodles and a large spring roll which came to £10.25 altogether without a drink and a regular cup of coffee was £3. So whilst the variety was great and you get large portions, the prices here did feel too high compared to what I would comfortably pay for typically and was the only area where I felt ripped off slightly by the whole event. £3 for a regular Americano was too much! Not surprising, just thought it’s worth noting to those who have yet to visit to be prepared with enough cash in their wallets.

    Operations:

    As a whole, Tulleys demonstrated to me exactly how you should manage events with lots of people going through the attractions. There was only 50 VIP and only 200 Fastrack ticket holders in the entire field that night, which meant the queues for Fastrack were extremely small or non-existent most of the night. Dispatches were fast and frequent for all the mazes, especially for the Haunted Hayride and every bit of effort was made by the staff to keep the queues to a minimal as long as possible throughout the night. When you consider all mazes at Fright Nights in the evening have Fastrack overflowing for all attractions, some of which can actually be longer than the normal queue, this was a really pleasant surprise for me.
     
    If there were a slight niggle I had with the handling of letting people through the mazes, it’s that some of the groups put through each time were quite large, some as much as 20 people at once. And if you are leading the group, if you’re a fast walker through these types of attractions, it’s not uncommon for you to at some point through the maze bump into the group ahead. Whilst it wasn’t a major issue considering all of the attractions were excellent, it did hinder the scare factor a little when too many people are in the same room with you. I wish the dispatches were a little slower when the queues were shorter at the start and end of the evening, but I suppose you get that with any scare maze really.

    Fairground Rides:

    As mentioned above in my initial impressions section, there were just two rides available at the farm in the evening, so with the time available between 5pm - 11pm, I only did the Booster catapult ride which is identical to the one which can be found on Brighton Pier. One ride costs £6 and you get throttled several times both backwards and forwards and at night, it was really great fun and very intense! Plus, despite the wind speeds reaching 42mph gusts in the evening, the ride still ran flawlessly without any problems and didn’t stall at any point as a result (unlike Thorpe who now fear Flying Fish and Banana Boat will stall with just 20mph gusts).

    So if you are planning on visiting this year or maybe next year if these two rides remain, I do recommend trying Booster at night and you’ll have the peace of mind that even if it’s raining or winds reach 42mph, you’ll still find it open.
     
    Scare Attraction Reviews:

    Now onto the best part and that’s with small mini reviews of all eight scare attractions available at the farm. As a whole, I must report the quality, length, amount of fun and scariness in these attractions is far superior to any maze I have done at Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights in the 9 years I have attended the event! All of them were excellent and had their own unique qualities behind them, one of which used a really cool effect which reminded me of a scene from one of my favourite films. Another reason is because every single one of them was original and didn't need an IP to market itself and I'm a big fan of original ideas as it sparks innovation in these types of attraction.

    So to begin, I’d like to start with the ‘least excellent’ one which was Twisted Clowns:

    Twisted Clowns - 6/10

    I should admit at the start clowns as a whole do not scare me one bit and never have done, so before walking through the entrance I wasn’t expecting an enormous scare factor behind it and true enough, it didn’t scare me at all this one sadly.

    You are given at the start 3D glasses which act as a filter to bring out the colours inside on the walls and props present inside and quite a lot of the artwork present popped out quite well, especially with the luminous colours. Throughout the whole of the maze, you wear them and walk through several dark rooms with lots of these UV paintings to fit in with the theme, to which I must point out they are all hand-painted which I really appreciated and admired when inside. Think of the rooms similar to Hocus Pocus at Chessington only with a different theme.

    In addition, actors inside were jumping and appearing all over the place, including one which jumped on a bungee swing from the ceiling which really took me by surprise the first time with how close they hovered over me! Whilst the actors at no point touched guests, they interacted with them brilliantly with lots of props from swings, car horns, wigs and clothing to name a few. The makeup they wore was also nicely done and had popping luminous colours on their faces similar to all the dozens of paintings throughout the maze.

    But as a whole, this just didn’t deliver any real or genuine scares for me sadly, which is a shame because I love 3D mazes like this. However, I will say the quality of the actors jumping all over you with props inside, the amount of work with the paintings which went into this and most of all, the incredibly long length of this maze were the best qualities it offered.
    Other smaller details like a themed safety announcement at the start, to Midnight Syndicate’s audio used inside, to the huge number of actors present did make this a lot of fun to go through.

    I suppose the bigger problem is Big Top at Thorpe whilst might be a lot shorter than this one is ultimately better in lots of ways. Elements such as better audio, better disorientating rooms and a great finale make it better than Twisted Clowns and therefore, this is the only maze Tulleys could do with some improvements on next year I feel and was a little disappointing.

    VIXI - 7/10

    When I discovered this involves you placing a bag over your head to obstruct your view the entire time, the first thing that came to my mind was “Oh no, It’s Tulleys version of that damn awful The Passing maze at Thorpe Park back in 2012!” But after going through it, whilst it did feel very similar The Passing for 3/4 of the maze, the quality of the scares delivered and surprise factor was far superior in comparison and I happened to really like it as a result!

    From the start you must place these black bags over your heads as though you are about to be sent to the gallows for execution and ultimately death, again, very similar to The Passing at the start. But these bags used are with a much thicker material as it is impossible to see through them in any way possible. But once you start the attraction, you must follow the rope on your left side which will guide you through the maze and over all the hurdles for the first 75% of the maze.

    Whilst you can’t see a thing out of these, the interaction and tricks this maze plays on you inside is brilliant. Various sound effects are used everywhere and effects such as smell, wind, water, fire and very uneven surfaces were used. In addition, actors interacted with you from both sides of your ears, so it became quite unsettling at one point with all the effects and actors in play and really got my heart racing being unable to see anything!

    But the best section is towards the end of this experience. The last corner you turn with the bag still on your head is into a room which was very hot inside and within seconds it became apparent why that is. There is one giant flame thrower inside the centre of this room which goes off every few seconds and the noise of it is incredibly loud, so much so that the heat, light and shock made myself and several others scream the fist time it went off! It’s a simple but incredibly effective scare used and you are less than 1m away from the flame, so you can really feel the heat from it.

    Finally, in the last quarter, you are asked to take the bags off your head and give them to a staff member. Now, like The Passing, you are lead to believe this is the end, but oh no, there’s more! You go down this pitch black corridor, turn the corner and you are inside a very dark warehouse with what appears to be burnt bodies of corpses lying on a table and an actor behind it with a giant knife and blowtorch. He instructed us to go down the stairs quickly, only to encounter behind a metal cage even more fire effects, this time less than a metre away which was another excellent jump scare for guests. After that, you zig-zag down the ramps and find yourself outside once again and the experience is over.

    The concept of this maze might sound simple and remind many who did in at the time of The Passing, but the interaction with guests in this one and the effectiveness really pays off and was tons of fun, and was the first maze in probably about 4 years which really got my heart pounding at certain points due to the unknown which awaits ahead due to the fact you can’t see anything. Then to top it all off, the ending finishes the maze perfectly and the use of fire in this maze was executed perfectly and was a great use of the effect. Plus, this was also a very long maze, lasting at around 11 minutes inside according to the timer. Thumbs up overall!

    Creepy Cottage - 7.5/10

    This was the maze I was most familiar with because it has been at this event for years now and I remember a few times during Autumn when visiting Tulleys years ago seeing preperations being made for it in time for October, so was most intrigued to see what it was like inside. Whilst it did have it’s moments of scariness to it, the selling factor behind this was the attention to detail inside and overall creepiness it delivered, which also explains why it’s available for younger kids too during the day. The best way to describe it is imagine walking through a much smaller, cramped and longer version of the haunted house from the play and film ‘The Woman in Black’.

    From the start where you are greeted inside the first room, you are immediately surrounded by lots of theming and details everywhere which hint at it being just like an old historian haunted house, with the furniture, fireplace and props inside with all the cobwebs and candle lights present. As you progress through each room, the corridors and roofing is very small and narrow, so you do feel quite claustrophobic inside and it’s incredibly dark too.

    The atmosphere inside doesn’t feel chaotic like Big Top, Living Nightmare and Saw Alive are. Instead, it has an eerie, cold and creepy feel to it all with very subtle uses of sound effects and music used inside and in every room making it feel very abandoned. It also made me quite tense throughout because you expect something to either appear out of nowhere all of a sudden or an effect scaring you, but as said above, this maze relied purely on feeling unsettled inside than being jump scared.

    The quality of the props and attention to detail was very noticeable with every corner of every corridor and room looked after, from the wallpapers, to the chandeliers and lighting, to the physical objects laying around everywhere and the surface of the flooring and smells inside. One prop particularly caught me out and that was what appeared to be a child’s doll of Chucky. It too me 2 walk through’s to notice it! Plus, towards the end of the maze, you need to walk through a corridor with loads of corn field plants surrounding you, almost as if you are navigating through the maze Tulleys have during summer which was a nice touch.

    The only disappointment was the ending as it just involved a small room with an actor inside surrounded by more props. Nothing seemed to stand out in this room which indicated it as the finale, just another room added at the end simply.

    So whilst it might not be the most scary out of all the mazes, it was certainly the most unsettling and eerie feeling maze with all the actors inside each room dressed to fit the theme of an abandoned cottage from the last century, so it’s good for me!
     
    The Colony - 7.5/10

    This was quite an interesting concept for a maze as it incorporated elements which were both used outside and inside and the overall vibe from this maze is one set back in time to the medieval ages and honestly, a novel which is going to be implemented into a ride next year at Alton Towers. It certainly delivered on scare quality and the length of this thing was mad! On average, it takes between 15-20 minutes to pass through all of it!

    The first corridor you pass through is almost like an abandoned underground mine with the lighting and planks of wood holding the ceiling and walls together and then you instantly go outside onto the field which is guided by very high wooden planks similar to that which you can find in Alton’s new maze ‘The Welcoming’. Whilst I haven’t done it yet, the overall look and feel for the outdoor sections looked similar to this from the pictures looking down at it on the Sky Ride.

    Once navigating your way through outside, you go back inside through these huts and buildings with lots of lighting, audio and smoke effects present, as well as actors hiding in the shadows. From here onwards, you are constantly going inside/outside and it’s an equal balance between the two overall. Some outdoor scenes were really interactive and involved you having to crawl under and through narrow gaps, which was a nice touch you don’t often get with other scare mazes as they tend to be wide and open to pass through many people at once.

    The actors in this maze were excellent. When each approached you, they all spoke in what I can assume is Latin as I couldn’t understand any of what they were saying, but their body language gave hints to what they were trying to communicate with you. By this point, it isn’t necessarily super scary, but unsettling similar to Creepy Cottage.

    When navigating your way up and down the field with indoor and outdoor sections, towards the end, you pass through a corridor which has two pathways and in the centre of these two paths you can take, a chainsaw guy in strobe lights interacts with you, very closely I might add too! After that, you are outside again and the experience is over.

    The best quality of this maze was the length and variety delivered by several different scenes and actors, and it provided a consistent and very enjoyable experience from start to end, especially with the finale. Although, the scares weren’t quite up there to get me really nervous with this one.

    I mention this gave me an impression of Alton’s new coaster for 2018 and considering we now know it’s going to be themed on Wicker Man, this maze kept making me think of that from start to finish. Heck, there’s even a bleedin’ scene with honey bees’ nests hanging from the ceiling you must pass through! Just a fun thought I had with this maze which kept making me think of it, but overall, I really enjoyed this one as it feels to me what Sanctum should have been.
     
    The Cellar - 8/10

    Probably the best way to describe this is imagine Creepy Cottage mixed with The Colony. This was excellent!

    Already the start is nicely done with the safety announcement in the greeting room which was funnily themed and spoken as though it was a witch, and you were passing through their home. After that, you hold each others shoulders and it’s worth noting this is the only maze at the event where you are required to do this. All the others are free-flowing.

    From the start of your journey, the rooms and corridors are incredibly cramped inside with low ceilings and narrow walls and the number of actors present in this maze is the highest out of any of them, which really made the experience quite intense inside.

    Probably the most frightening section for me was at the first walkway which involved the inflatable cushions you must pass through similar to I’m a Celeb near the end just before you climb the hill to go down the slide. Because you are limited by how fast you can move due to it pushing against your legs, it was obvious something was going to jump out of nowhere, and long behold, there was. To the right of this walkway, an enormous and very heavy serpent’s head jumped out of the wall and was big enough to cause me to nearly fall over to the side as a result. It was very heavy and nicely detailed, but my, I personally can’t stand snakes myself and seeing a giant head of it grab my shoulder like that really got to me by that point as it was very unexpected! This is a great element to the maze and took me by complete surprise the first time.

    After that, you navigate your way through various further rooms which had some very narrow walkways and overall, this was extremely dark inside with hardly any lighting visible, just tons of actors hiding in the shadows waiting for the perfect moment to scare you. Some of which had some excellent detail to them all and used several effects which made guest jump, including some very powerful air canons.

    The ending however was a little weak and didn’t stand out from the rest of the maze, but the number of actors used in this maze coupled with the length of the attraction made up for that. The best moment was the giant serpent’s head near the start as it genuinely terrified me the first time!
     
    Coven of 13 - 8.5/10

    Coven of 13 overall was a combination of The Cellar, Creepy Cottage and The Colony as elements from each of these attractions were used throughout, but the best part by far was the start where you need to pass through what I can assume is a deep swamp in the middle of a forest.

    This starting scene where you navigate through the marsh was a great use of smoke, lasers and sound effects as when you passed through the walkways with the inflatable pillows again, there was a layer of mist which helped with the theme of treading through a swamp up to waist level. Probably the best way I can describe this effect is similar to that scene in the first Alien film where John Hurt ventures through a cave with all the eggs and describes a layer of mist above a blue laser effect. When watching it back after trying this maze, it looks identical to that effect used!

    After navigating your way through the swamp scene with actors jumping out and scaring you, you head through more corridors with plants and trees obscuring your path and they are set up in a way which it hides the ceiling and wall panels very effectively, so much so that it definitely felt more like being in a forest that a plain, ordinary corridor.

    You go immediately outside after that and cross into another building which has been themed on a small mini haunted house with some very effective lighting, atmosphere and props used. It did honestly feel just like being inside a mini haunted house as the rooms were a little larger in comparison to Creepy Cottage, bud sadly, the scares in this bit weren’t as effective as a result. However, the attention to detail and quality of the actors made up for this scene, so all is balanced.

    After that, you go outside again and this next section felt the weakest section of the maze. All you do is navigate around a central campfire through different areas around the perimeter of what was the shape of a semi-circle. Each section had it’s own actor in to scare guests, but it felt too open and predictable to deliver any proper good scares sadly, especially when you can see what awaits ahead.

    Finally, you go through inside one last room and that’s what looks like an actor being burnt to the stake in a giant wooden fire and the use of smoke, lighting, heat and audio added to this scene, but like before, just not enough scares here. Also, it’s reminiscent of Wicker Man again and SW8. Sorry! After that, you go outside again and it’s all over.

    Whilst the scares were certainly prevalent throughout the first half of the maze, the 2nd half felt a little tame in comparison unfortunately and fell apart a little. However, the use of effects in that swamp scene at the start were delivered brilliantly and that’s why this is my 3rd favourite attraction as a result.
     
    The Chop Shop - 9/10

    Before trying this I knew it was going to be an intense maze as many have told me it’s the best maze at the event and goodness me, it was certainly the scariest one! The whole theme of rotten meat, blood and flesh makes me feel physically sick, which is why the gluttony scene from Se7en years ago at Thorpe really made me want to vomit when passing through it and I wasn’t expecting anything different here. But what I didn’t expect was the intensity behind this maze which is hidden quite well behind those walls, with the exception of the noises from several chainsaws present.

    The start of the maze isn’t too bad as it’s an exploration through a garage with lots of machinery, equipment, vehicles and tools on shelves everywhere and the lighting is dim, quite reminiscent of scenes from Saw The Ride and the workshops in the Saw films and the actors did a great job at introducing you to their chopping shop. But after this, it gets worse and scarier as a result.

    Once out of the garage, you instantly go through what I can presume is a freezer with lots of frozen meat, including hanging pigs and cows amongst blood everywhere over the floor and walls. Then, an actor breaks through the door in front with a chainsaw and scares the group and this is only just the half-way point!

    From here onwards, it gets even worse because it’s an endless array of zig-zag corridors, rooms and flaps to pass through, all under a constant strobe light. Around several corners, actors are hiding, all with their own chainsaws waiting for you to walk past them. Then, to make it even worse, some rooms have the lights turn off temporarily for about 3 seconds, so you are in complete blackness for a short period of time and all you can hear is the sound of a chainsaw either in front or directly behind you, some of which got as close as 6 inches away from my face! It was truly and honestly terrifying and this lasted for 2/3 of the entire maze, so it became extremely intense at certain parts and got my heart racing the fastest out of any other attraction that night as a result!

    The only advice I can give is do this maze once it is dark outside because the 2nd half has an open roof and if light leaks inside, it can ruin the effect slightly of those dark moments. So if you want a moderate experience, try it before sunset. If you want an extreme one, do it once the sky is completely black. Best maze by far and also the scariest!
     
    Horrorwood Haunted Hayride - 9.5/10

    This was without a doubt the most fun during the entire night and is the best attraction out of everything you will find at this event. It’s very unique, incredibly interactive, long, innovative and ultimately fun. Nothing else out there can be compared to this!

    Whilst it might not have been necessarily scary, the whole idea you are transported through the fields on a tractor ride with various scenes themed to different genres in the movie industry was an excellent idea and was reminiscent of Studio 13 slightly in some areas. Every scene has unique visual and audible effects, the entire ride changes it’s audio depending on what scene you are in and probably the best part was the actors in each scene climb onto the tractor with you and interact with guests using their character. Characters such as clowns, cowboys, hotel butlers, witches, pole-dancing nuns and zombies clambered onto the vehicle through each scene and played their characters perfectly in sync with the audio and movement of the truck. It’s a very consistent and funny experience which I greatly appreciated.

    In addition, each scene had great props and sets used such as falling billboards on guests, flame effects which were incredibly loud and powerful, deaf-defying loud bangs, great uses of audio SFX and lighting used and best of all, the chainsaw people themed on I believe the story of the three little pigs getting extremely close to the guests and even revved the machines against the benches you are sitting on, creating the impression they are cutting through the wood you are sitting on!

    I don’t want to give too much away of what each scene involves for those who have yet to try it, but I very strongly recommend you try this as the must-do attraction of the evening. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed by it one bit!
     
    Conclusion:
     
    So there we are, all my reviews for each attraction, the atmosphere and overall impressions of the event.

    After going to this and leaving the evening, I didn’t in any way feel angry, tired or disappointed like I usually tend to with Fright Nights in recent years. Instead, I felt lively, thrilled and greatly surprised by the whole night because it’s as if I have finally found after 7 years of searching something better and worth it’s value for money compared to what I was typically used to during Halloween and it feels great! Tulleys Shocktober Fest has surprised me hugely with what they offered as I never imagined they were able to pull off such a quality event like this before, especially knowing it for years as a farm with pick-your-own fields and a maze during summer.

    Tulleys has proven if special events are executed very well, it has the ability to change minds of sceptics like me who for years have detested Halloween for all the wrong reasons. In return, I have started to get excited for Halloween once again after this amazing evening I had! The only problem with this however is because Tulleys have set a new bar far higher than any Fright Nights delivered these last 7 years, I am likely going to detest Fright Nights even more now as a result unless there are some radical improvements and changes made to the event which aren’t focused on compromising customer experience for bigger numbers on Merlin’s many dozens of net-profit Excel spreadsheets at their head office.

    Tulleys, like my blog on Liseberg back in May has proved to me again there are places out there which value customer experience above profits, and it's these types of places I appreciate the most. I can happily say I'm absolutely going to attend Shocktober Fest again next year, and likely many years to come now. Well done Tulleys for creating a quality Halloween event for guests.

    It might have taken me several years to finally try it, but my word, the wait was absolutely worth it! 

    Tulleys Shocktober Fest - 8.5/10

    (Some pictures from the event below I took):
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  24. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from JoshuaA for a blog entry, A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest   
    It's no secret to those that know me well that I passionately believe Halloween as a whole is just an overblown annual event which leads to disappointment, scare-less attractions, cringy atmosphere and nothing but annoyance with masses of people flooding the events held everywhere across the country. The problem for me is for over 9 years in a row now between 2008 - 2017, I have only ever managed to attend one event during this entire time of year and that's Thorpe Park's Fright Nights and to be brutally honest, I am now getting tired, bored and frankly sick of the event. 

    The event during the 2008/2009 season was excellent with consistent operations, brilliant audio, tons of park-wide decorations, great use of smoke and lighting effects and most of all, every single maze at the time was home-brewed and original, some with inspirations from other IP's such as Se7en for instance. Asylum, Se7en, Curse and Hellgate were awesome! But now however, hardly any of this is prevalent at the event anymore and hasn't been since 2013 when Lionsgate started taking over everything, and now AMC's The Walking Dead. It's gone to the point now that when someone mentions the words 'Fright Nights' to me, all I can picture is long queues, crappy operations, overselling of Fastrack, needless use of IP's, mediocre scare mazes and up-charges everywhere you go. The whole thing now just feels like a giant cash grab and rip off frankly with very little meaning behind it where every year that passes, it's fun-factor is diminishing like a burning flame. Fireworks/bonfire night however does have a meaning and historical relevance behind it in Britain, which is why it's by far my preferred event at the end of each season and I'll never stop requesting Thorpe to bring it back after it's last appearance in 2011.
     
    Now, you might ask by this point why am I talking about Fright Nights when this blog is titled 'A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest'? Well, it's because this review is going to highlight such a stark contrast I experienced between Thorpe's version of a Halloween event and Tulleys, and I feel it's needed to set the premise of this review, because it's important to note at this point after visiting Tulleys on the 21st October 2017, despite Storm Brian interfering with the weather, that night has restored my faith and excitement in these types of events once again. These are words that I honestly thought I would never say!


     
    Similar to my other couple of previous blogs, I warn at the start my reviews are detailed, precise and very long, and this is no exception. So if you're someone who wants to have a quick read, focuses on the main highlights or doesn't want to get bored of reading my analysis by the end of the first paragraph, this isn't for you I'm afraid!


     
    So to begin, I would like to start with my overall first impressions of the event upon walking inside the site and the general atmosphere of the place:
     
    

Initial Impressions and Atmosphere:


     
    I've know Tulleys Farm for as long as I can remember ever since I was just 4 years old during the summer when on the other side of the field the wheat maze was open with other smaller activities, as well as picking your own fruit during June for the strawberries and raspberries. But despite this, the way Tulleys have set up this event made the place almost unrecognisable to me. It turns out that instead of the event being held in the small area near the front where the huts, cafe and fields are it is instead directly behind all of this on a massive open grass field on a gentle slope which I have never ventured onto before until now. So whilst in some places it felt familiar, the majority of it felt as though it was an entirely different site to what it's like during summer!


     
    Upon the entrance next to the grass field for parking, the entrance stands amongst the trees with flames on either side and giant pumpkin scarecrows lit up in orange, filled with smoke, creating a very natural, dominating yet familiar atmosphere to how I've know Tulleys before. Once going under the entrance hut into the ticket booth area, the entire roof is covered with white canopy tents which I appreciated very much as it ensured we didn't get wet whilst waiting to have our bags searched and collect our tickets on the muddy green fields. It reminded me a little at first of Fairford's Royal International Air Tattoo event every July with the way it was all handled, which was organised very well by the staff, so kudos for keeping the system easy, quick and simple with the large number of people at the event.
     
    

Once outside the tent and you've got your tickets/wristband, you are instantly surrounded by lots of attractions, food/drink stalls, stages, rides and seating which I guessed immediately was the centre of the whole event as all of the eight attractions were scattered across the field within equal distance of each other. A small detail I really liked was consistently across the fields there were small fires being lit with burning wood to keep guests warm at night and blend into the whole 'festival feel' of the place. The smell of burning wood in these fields felt comforting and familiar, especially as someone who once was part of the Scouts and went on these camping trips all the time! The audio used across the park wasn't blaring or obtrusive anywhere either and instead was subtle, evenly balanced and played quite a lot of Midnight Syndicate's music both old and new across each area which was a nice touch. After their audio was banished at Thorpe Park starting in 2013 with Lionsgate (grrrrrrr), it was nice to hear it once again. Also, there was tons of smoke everywhere across the place with lots of roaming actors interacting very well with guests which was quite amusing to watch!


     
    The attractions from this centre are situated down either the south or west sides of the field down slopes. To the left of the square you will find The Colony, The Chop Shop, The Cellar and Twisted Clowns. Directly in front you will see the couple of rides the event has which was a Booster ride similar to the one on Brighton pier, and a bouncer similar to the one which can still be at Hastings years ago, as well as on Brighton pier outside the Haunted House which was nice. And lastly, to the right down the hill, Horrorwood Haunted Hayride, Creepy Cottage, VIXI and Coven of 13, as well as the shop, paintball alley and further food and drink stalls.
     
    

It's also worth mentioning that behind you in this centre there is also a stage where a live band is held and plays several chart music hits which was nice, including many which fit in with the Halloween theme. Further down the hill on the right there is another live band too performing for guests. Inside the tents across a few areas, you could buy pumpkins which I presume the farm has grown for guests to purchase at the event, some of which were enormous and very heavy to handle! It's the smaller things with simple decorations like pumpkins that can make a big difference sometimes to the overall feel of an event. It adds to the Halloween theme, unlike Thorpe who still for some reason think little/no decorations = Halloween atmosphere.
     
    

With all of these points taken into consideration, this has a very different vibe and feel to it all compared to what Fright Nights is, and really, I loved it! The whole place felt just like being at a festival with all the canopies for the queues, muddy fields, live music, great theming, large variety of food and drink stalls, the many small campfires everywhere and the consistent feel the place had where nothing seemed to stick out like a sore thumb anywhere. Compared to Fright Nights, the only fair comparison to be made here is that Tulleys clearly know how to create a better atmosphere at night for their customers which is more relevant to Halloween and better organised than Fright Nights has ever been.

    Food & Drink:

    As mentioned above, all of the food and drink available at the farm was available through these temporary food stalls which you typically find at most events similar to this, but the variety and close proximity between them all was quite convenient and was all situated in the centre. Everything from hot drinks, takeaway food, sweet snacks and even a hog roast were available for guests and the variety offered was quite good.

    Although, the prices were a little too much for what I expected to pay. I went to the noodles bar and ordered pulled pork curry noodles and a large spring roll which came to £10.25 altogether without a drink and a regular cup of coffee was £3. So whilst the variety was great and you get large portions, the prices here did feel too high compared to what I would comfortably pay for typically and was the only area where I felt ripped off slightly by the whole event. £3 for a regular Americano was too much! Not surprising, just thought it’s worth noting to those who have yet to visit to be prepared with enough cash in their wallets.

    Operations:

    As a whole, Tulleys demonstrated to me exactly how you should manage events with lots of people going through the attractions. There was only 50 VIP and only 200 Fastrack ticket holders in the entire field that night, which meant the queues for Fastrack were extremely small or non-existent most of the night. Dispatches were fast and frequent for all the mazes, especially for the Haunted Hayride and every bit of effort was made by the staff to keep the queues to a minimal as long as possible throughout the night. When you consider all mazes at Fright Nights in the evening have Fastrack overflowing for all attractions, some of which can actually be longer than the normal queue, this was a really pleasant surprise for me.
     
    If there were a slight niggle I had with the handling of letting people through the mazes, it’s that some of the groups put through each time were quite large, some as much as 20 people at once. And if you are leading the group, if you’re a fast walker through these types of attractions, it’s not uncommon for you to at some point through the maze bump into the group ahead. Whilst it wasn’t a major issue considering all of the attractions were excellent, it did hinder the scare factor a little when too many people are in the same room with you. I wish the dispatches were a little slower when the queues were shorter at the start and end of the evening, but I suppose you get that with any scare maze really.

    Fairground Rides:

    As mentioned above in my initial impressions section, there were just two rides available at the farm in the evening, so with the time available between 5pm - 11pm, I only did the Booster catapult ride which is identical to the one which can be found on Brighton Pier. One ride costs £6 and you get throttled several times both backwards and forwards and at night, it was really great fun and very intense! Plus, despite the wind speeds reaching 42mph gusts in the evening, the ride still ran flawlessly without any problems and didn’t stall at any point as a result (unlike Thorpe who now fear Flying Fish and Banana Boat will stall with just 20mph gusts).

    So if you are planning on visiting this year or maybe next year if these two rides remain, I do recommend trying Booster at night and you’ll have the peace of mind that even if it’s raining or winds reach 42mph, you’ll still find it open.
     
    Scare Attraction Reviews:

    Now onto the best part and that’s with small mini reviews of all eight scare attractions available at the farm. As a whole, I must report the quality, length, amount of fun and scariness in these attractions is far superior to any maze I have done at Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights in the 9 years I have attended the event! All of them were excellent and had their own unique qualities behind them, one of which used a really cool effect which reminded me of a scene from one of my favourite films. Another reason is because every single one of them was original and didn't need an IP to market itself and I'm a big fan of original ideas as it sparks innovation in these types of attraction.

    So to begin, I’d like to start with the ‘least excellent’ one which was Twisted Clowns:

    Twisted Clowns - 6/10

    I should admit at the start clowns as a whole do not scare me one bit and never have done, so before walking through the entrance I wasn’t expecting an enormous scare factor behind it and true enough, it didn’t scare me at all this one sadly.

    You are given at the start 3D glasses which act as a filter to bring out the colours inside on the walls and props present inside and quite a lot of the artwork present popped out quite well, especially with the luminous colours. Throughout the whole of the maze, you wear them and walk through several dark rooms with lots of these UV paintings to fit in with the theme, to which I must point out they are all hand-painted which I really appreciated and admired when inside. Think of the rooms similar to Hocus Pocus at Chessington only with a different theme.

    In addition, actors inside were jumping and appearing all over the place, including one which jumped on a bungee swing from the ceiling which really took me by surprise the first time with how close they hovered over me! Whilst the actors at no point touched guests, they interacted with them brilliantly with lots of props from swings, car horns, wigs and clothing to name a few. The makeup they wore was also nicely done and had popping luminous colours on their faces similar to all the dozens of paintings throughout the maze.

    But as a whole, this just didn’t deliver any real or genuine scares for me sadly, which is a shame because I love 3D mazes like this. However, I will say the quality of the actors jumping all over you with props inside, the amount of work with the paintings which went into this and most of all, the incredibly long length of this maze were the best qualities it offered.
    Other smaller details like a themed safety announcement at the start, to Midnight Syndicate’s audio used inside, to the huge number of actors present did make this a lot of fun to go through.

    I suppose the bigger problem is Big Top at Thorpe whilst might be a lot shorter than this one is ultimately better in lots of ways. Elements such as better audio, better disorientating rooms and a great finale make it better than Twisted Clowns and therefore, this is the only maze Tulleys could do with some improvements on next year I feel and was a little disappointing.

    VIXI - 7/10

    When I discovered this involves you placing a bag over your head to obstruct your view the entire time, the first thing that came to my mind was “Oh no, It’s Tulleys version of that damn awful The Passing maze at Thorpe Park back in 2012!” But after going through it, whilst it did feel very similar The Passing for 3/4 of the maze, the quality of the scares delivered and surprise factor was far superior in comparison and I happened to really like it as a result!

    From the start you must place these black bags over your heads as though you are about to be sent to the gallows for execution and ultimately death, again, very similar to The Passing at the start. But these bags used are with a much thicker material as it is impossible to see through them in any way possible. But once you start the attraction, you must follow the rope on your left side which will guide you through the maze and over all the hurdles for the first 75% of the maze.

    Whilst you can’t see a thing out of these, the interaction and tricks this maze plays on you inside is brilliant. Various sound effects are used everywhere and effects such as smell, wind, water, fire and very uneven surfaces were used. In addition, actors interacted with you from both sides of your ears, so it became quite unsettling at one point with all the effects and actors in play and really got my heart racing being unable to see anything!

    But the best section is towards the end of this experience. The last corner you turn with the bag still on your head is into a room which was very hot inside and within seconds it became apparent why that is. There is one giant flame thrower inside the centre of this room which goes off every few seconds and the noise of it is incredibly loud, so much so that the heat, light and shock made myself and several others scream the fist time it went off! It’s a simple but incredibly effective scare used and you are less than 1m away from the flame, so you can really feel the heat from it.

    Finally, in the last quarter, you are asked to take the bags off your head and give them to a staff member. Now, like The Passing, you are lead to believe this is the end, but oh no, there’s more! You go down this pitch black corridor, turn the corner and you are inside a very dark warehouse with what appears to be burnt bodies of corpses lying on a table and an actor behind it with a giant knife and blowtorch. He instructed us to go down the stairs quickly, only to encounter behind a metal cage even more fire effects, this time less than a metre away which was another excellent jump scare for guests. After that, you zig-zag down the ramps and find yourself outside once again and the experience is over.

    The concept of this maze might sound simple and remind many who did in at the time of The Passing, but the interaction with guests in this one and the effectiveness really pays off and was tons of fun, and was the first maze in probably about 4 years which really got my heart pounding at certain points due to the unknown which awaits ahead due to the fact you can’t see anything. Then to top it all off, the ending finishes the maze perfectly and the use of fire in this maze was executed perfectly and was a great use of the effect. Plus, this was also a very long maze, lasting at around 11 minutes inside according to the timer. Thumbs up overall!

    Creepy Cottage - 7.5/10

    This was the maze I was most familiar with because it has been at this event for years now and I remember a few times during Autumn when visiting Tulleys years ago seeing preperations being made for it in time for October, so was most intrigued to see what it was like inside. Whilst it did have it’s moments of scariness to it, the selling factor behind this was the attention to detail inside and overall creepiness it delivered, which also explains why it’s available for younger kids too during the day. The best way to describe it is imagine walking through a much smaller, cramped and longer version of the haunted house from the play and film ‘The Woman in Black’.

    From the start where you are greeted inside the first room, you are immediately surrounded by lots of theming and details everywhere which hint at it being just like an old historian haunted house, with the furniture, fireplace and props inside with all the cobwebs and candle lights present. As you progress through each room, the corridors and roofing is very small and narrow, so you do feel quite claustrophobic inside and it’s incredibly dark too.

    The atmosphere inside doesn’t feel chaotic like Big Top, Living Nightmare and Saw Alive are. Instead, it has an eerie, cold and creepy feel to it all with very subtle uses of sound effects and music used inside and in every room making it feel very abandoned. It also made me quite tense throughout because you expect something to either appear out of nowhere all of a sudden or an effect scaring you, but as said above, this maze relied purely on feeling unsettled inside than being jump scared.

    The quality of the props and attention to detail was very noticeable with every corner of every corridor and room looked after, from the wallpapers, to the chandeliers and lighting, to the physical objects laying around everywhere and the surface of the flooring and smells inside. One prop particularly caught me out and that was what appeared to be a child’s doll of Chucky. It too me 2 walk through’s to notice it! Plus, towards the end of the maze, you need to walk through a corridor with loads of corn field plants surrounding you, almost as if you are navigating through the maze Tulleys have during summer which was a nice touch.

    The only disappointment was the ending as it just involved a small room with an actor inside surrounded by more props. Nothing seemed to stand out in this room which indicated it as the finale, just another room added at the end simply.

    So whilst it might not be the most scary out of all the mazes, it was certainly the most unsettling and eerie feeling maze with all the actors inside each room dressed to fit the theme of an abandoned cottage from the last century, so it’s good for me!
     
    The Colony - 7.5/10

    This was quite an interesting concept for a maze as it incorporated elements which were both used outside and inside and the overall vibe from this maze is one set back in time to the medieval ages and honestly, a novel which is going to be implemented into a ride next year at Alton Towers. It certainly delivered on scare quality and the length of this thing was mad! On average, it takes between 15-20 minutes to pass through all of it!

    The first corridor you pass through is almost like an abandoned underground mine with the lighting and planks of wood holding the ceiling and walls together and then you instantly go outside onto the field which is guided by very high wooden planks similar to that which you can find in Alton’s new maze ‘The Welcoming’. Whilst I haven’t done it yet, the overall look and feel for the outdoor sections looked similar to this from the pictures looking down at it on the Sky Ride.

    Once navigating your way through outside, you go back inside through these huts and buildings with lots of lighting, audio and smoke effects present, as well as actors hiding in the shadows. From here onwards, you are constantly going inside/outside and it’s an equal balance between the two overall. Some outdoor scenes were really interactive and involved you having to crawl under and through narrow gaps, which was a nice touch you don’t often get with other scare mazes as they tend to be wide and open to pass through many people at once.

    The actors in this maze were excellent. When each approached you, they all spoke in what I can assume is Latin as I couldn’t understand any of what they were saying, but their body language gave hints to what they were trying to communicate with you. By this point, it isn’t necessarily super scary, but unsettling similar to Creepy Cottage.

    When navigating your way up and down the field with indoor and outdoor sections, towards the end, you pass through a corridor which has two pathways and in the centre of these two paths you can take, a chainsaw guy in strobe lights interacts with you, very closely I might add too! After that, you are outside again and the experience is over.

    The best quality of this maze was the length and variety delivered by several different scenes and actors, and it provided a consistent and very enjoyable experience from start to end, especially with the finale. Although, the scares weren’t quite up there to get me really nervous with this one.

    I mention this gave me an impression of Alton’s new coaster for 2018 and considering we now know it’s going to be themed on Wicker Man, this maze kept making me think of that from start to finish. Heck, there’s even a bleedin’ scene with honey bees’ nests hanging from the ceiling you must pass through! Just a fun thought I had with this maze which kept making me think of it, but overall, I really enjoyed this one as it feels to me what Sanctum should have been.
     
    The Cellar - 8/10

    Probably the best way to describe this is imagine Creepy Cottage mixed with The Colony. This was excellent!

    Already the start is nicely done with the safety announcement in the greeting room which was funnily themed and spoken as though it was a witch, and you were passing through their home. After that, you hold each others shoulders and it’s worth noting this is the only maze at the event where you are required to do this. All the others are free-flowing.

    From the start of your journey, the rooms and corridors are incredibly cramped inside with low ceilings and narrow walls and the number of actors present in this maze is the highest out of any of them, which really made the experience quite intense inside.

    Probably the most frightening section for me was at the first walkway which involved the inflatable cushions you must pass through similar to I’m a Celeb near the end just before you climb the hill to go down the slide. Because you are limited by how fast you can move due to it pushing against your legs, it was obvious something was going to jump out of nowhere, and long behold, there was. To the right of this walkway, an enormous and very heavy serpent’s head jumped out of the wall and was big enough to cause me to nearly fall over to the side as a result. It was very heavy and nicely detailed, but my, I personally can’t stand snakes myself and seeing a giant head of it grab my shoulder like that really got to me by that point as it was very unexpected! This is a great element to the maze and took me by complete surprise the first time.

    After that, you navigate your way through various further rooms which had some very narrow walkways and overall, this was extremely dark inside with hardly any lighting visible, just tons of actors hiding in the shadows waiting for the perfect moment to scare you. Some of which had some excellent detail to them all and used several effects which made guest jump, including some very powerful air canons.

    The ending however was a little weak and didn’t stand out from the rest of the maze, but the number of actors used in this maze coupled with the length of the attraction made up for that. The best moment was the giant serpent’s head near the start as it genuinely terrified me the first time!
     
    Coven of 13 - 8.5/10

    Coven of 13 overall was a combination of The Cellar, Creepy Cottage and The Colony as elements from each of these attractions were used throughout, but the best part by far was the start where you need to pass through what I can assume is a deep swamp in the middle of a forest.

    This starting scene where you navigate through the marsh was a great use of smoke, lasers and sound effects as when you passed through the walkways with the inflatable pillows again, there was a layer of mist which helped with the theme of treading through a swamp up to waist level. Probably the best way I can describe this effect is similar to that scene in the first Alien film where John Hurt ventures through a cave with all the eggs and describes a layer of mist above a blue laser effect. When watching it back after trying this maze, it looks identical to that effect used!

    After navigating your way through the swamp scene with actors jumping out and scaring you, you head through more corridors with plants and trees obscuring your path and they are set up in a way which it hides the ceiling and wall panels very effectively, so much so that it definitely felt more like being in a forest that a plain, ordinary corridor.

    You go immediately outside after that and cross into another building which has been themed on a small mini haunted house with some very effective lighting, atmosphere and props used. It did honestly feel just like being inside a mini haunted house as the rooms were a little larger in comparison to Creepy Cottage, bud sadly, the scares in this bit weren’t as effective as a result. However, the attention to detail and quality of the actors made up for this scene, so all is balanced.

    After that, you go outside again and this next section felt the weakest section of the maze. All you do is navigate around a central campfire through different areas around the perimeter of what was the shape of a semi-circle. Each section had it’s own actor in to scare guests, but it felt too open and predictable to deliver any proper good scares sadly, especially when you can see what awaits ahead.

    Finally, you go through inside one last room and that’s what looks like an actor being burnt to the stake in a giant wooden fire and the use of smoke, lighting, heat and audio added to this scene, but like before, just not enough scares here. Also, it’s reminiscent of Wicker Man again and SW8. Sorry! After that, you go outside again and it’s all over.

    Whilst the scares were certainly prevalent throughout the first half of the maze, the 2nd half felt a little tame in comparison unfortunately and fell apart a little. However, the use of effects in that swamp scene at the start were delivered brilliantly and that’s why this is my 3rd favourite attraction as a result.
     
    The Chop Shop - 9/10

    Before trying this I knew it was going to be an intense maze as many have told me it’s the best maze at the event and goodness me, it was certainly the scariest one! The whole theme of rotten meat, blood and flesh makes me feel physically sick, which is why the gluttony scene from Se7en years ago at Thorpe really made me want to vomit when passing through it and I wasn’t expecting anything different here. But what I didn’t expect was the intensity behind this maze which is hidden quite well behind those walls, with the exception of the noises from several chainsaws present.

    The start of the maze isn’t too bad as it’s an exploration through a garage with lots of machinery, equipment, vehicles and tools on shelves everywhere and the lighting is dim, quite reminiscent of scenes from Saw The Ride and the workshops in the Saw films and the actors did a great job at introducing you to their chopping shop. But after this, it gets worse and scarier as a result.

    Once out of the garage, you instantly go through what I can presume is a freezer with lots of frozen meat, including hanging pigs and cows amongst blood everywhere over the floor and walls. Then, an actor breaks through the door in front with a chainsaw and scares the group and this is only just the half-way point!

    From here onwards, it gets even worse because it’s an endless array of zig-zag corridors, rooms and flaps to pass through, all under a constant strobe light. Around several corners, actors are hiding, all with their own chainsaws waiting for you to walk past them. Then, to make it even worse, some rooms have the lights turn off temporarily for about 3 seconds, so you are in complete blackness for a short period of time and all you can hear is the sound of a chainsaw either in front or directly behind you, some of which got as close as 6 inches away from my face! It was truly and honestly terrifying and this lasted for 2/3 of the entire maze, so it became extremely intense at certain parts and got my heart racing the fastest out of any other attraction that night as a result!

    The only advice I can give is do this maze once it is dark outside because the 2nd half has an open roof and if light leaks inside, it can ruin the effect slightly of those dark moments. So if you want a moderate experience, try it before sunset. If you want an extreme one, do it once the sky is completely black. Best maze by far and also the scariest!
     
    Horrorwood Haunted Hayride - 9.5/10

    This was without a doubt the most fun during the entire night and is the best attraction out of everything you will find at this event. It’s very unique, incredibly interactive, long, innovative and ultimately fun. Nothing else out there can be compared to this!

    Whilst it might not have been necessarily scary, the whole idea you are transported through the fields on a tractor ride with various scenes themed to different genres in the movie industry was an excellent idea and was reminiscent of Studio 13 slightly in some areas. Every scene has unique visual and audible effects, the entire ride changes it’s audio depending on what scene you are in and probably the best part was the actors in each scene climb onto the tractor with you and interact with guests using their character. Characters such as clowns, cowboys, hotel butlers, witches, pole-dancing nuns and zombies clambered onto the vehicle through each scene and played their characters perfectly in sync with the audio and movement of the truck. It’s a very consistent and funny experience which I greatly appreciated.

    In addition, each scene had great props and sets used such as falling billboards on guests, flame effects which were incredibly loud and powerful, deaf-defying loud bangs, great uses of audio SFX and lighting used and best of all, the chainsaw people themed on I believe the story of the three little pigs getting extremely close to the guests and even revved the machines against the benches you are sitting on, creating the impression they are cutting through the wood you are sitting on!

    I don’t want to give too much away of what each scene involves for those who have yet to try it, but I very strongly recommend you try this as the must-do attraction of the evening. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed by it one bit!
     
    Conclusion:
     
    So there we are, all my reviews for each attraction, the atmosphere and overall impressions of the event.

    After going to this and leaving the evening, I didn’t in any way feel angry, tired or disappointed like I usually tend to with Fright Nights in recent years. Instead, I felt lively, thrilled and greatly surprised by the whole night because it’s as if I have finally found after 7 years of searching something better and worth it’s value for money compared to what I was typically used to during Halloween and it feels great! Tulleys Shocktober Fest has surprised me hugely with what they offered as I never imagined they were able to pull off such a quality event like this before, especially knowing it for years as a farm with pick-your-own fields and a maze during summer.

    Tulleys has proven if special events are executed very well, it has the ability to change minds of sceptics like me who for years have detested Halloween for all the wrong reasons. In return, I have started to get excited for Halloween once again after this amazing evening I had! The only problem with this however is because Tulleys have set a new bar far higher than any Fright Nights delivered these last 7 years, I am likely going to detest Fright Nights even more now as a result unless there are some radical improvements and changes made to the event which aren’t focused on compromising customer experience for bigger numbers on Merlin’s many dozens of net-profit Excel spreadsheets at their head office.

    Tulleys, like my blog on Liseberg back in May has proved to me again there are places out there which value customer experience above profits, and it's these types of places I appreciate the most. I can happily say I'm absolutely going to attend Shocktober Fest again next year, and likely many years to come now. Well done Tulleys for creating a quality Halloween event for guests.

    It might have taken me several years to finally try it, but my word, the wait was absolutely worth it! 

    Tulleys Shocktober Fest - 8.5/10

    (Some pictures from the event below I took):
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  25. Like
    Marhelorpe got a reaction from Mer for a blog entry, A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest   
    It's no secret to those that know me well that I passionately believe Halloween as a whole is just an overblown annual event which leads to disappointment, scare-less attractions, cringy atmosphere and nothing but annoyance with masses of people flooding the events held everywhere across the country. The problem for me is for over 9 years in a row now between 2008 - 2017, I have only ever managed to attend one event during this entire time of year and that's Thorpe Park's Fright Nights and to be brutally honest, I am now getting tired, bored and frankly sick of the event. 

    The event during the 2008/2009 season was excellent with consistent operations, brilliant audio, tons of park-wide decorations, great use of smoke and lighting effects and most of all, every single maze at the time was home-brewed and original, some with inspirations from other IP's such as Se7en for instance. Asylum, Se7en, Curse and Hellgate were awesome! But now however, hardly any of this is prevalent at the event anymore and hasn't been since 2013 when Lionsgate started taking over everything, and now AMC's The Walking Dead. It's gone to the point now that when someone mentions the words 'Fright Nights' to me, all I can picture is long queues, crappy operations, overselling of Fastrack, needless use of IP's, mediocre scare mazes and up-charges everywhere you go. The whole thing now just feels like a giant cash grab and rip off frankly with very little meaning behind it where every year that passes, it's fun-factor is diminishing like a burning flame. Fireworks/bonfire night however does have a meaning and historical relevance behind it in Britain, which is why it's by far my preferred event at the end of each season and I'll never stop requesting Thorpe to bring it back after it's last appearance in 2011.
     
    Now, you might ask by this point why am I talking about Fright Nights when this blog is titled 'A Newbie's Trip to Tulleys Shocktober Fest'? Well, it's because this review is going to highlight such a stark contrast I experienced between Thorpe's version of a Halloween event and Tulleys, and I feel it's needed to set the premise of this review, because it's important to note at this point after visiting Tulleys on the 21st October 2017, despite Storm Brian interfering with the weather, that night has restored my faith and excitement in these types of events once again. These are words that I honestly thought I would never say!


     
    Similar to my other couple of previous blogs, I warn at the start my reviews are detailed, precise and very long, and this is no exception. So if you're someone who wants to have a quick read, focuses on the main highlights or doesn't want to get bored of reading my analysis by the end of the first paragraph, this isn't for you I'm afraid!


     
    So to begin, I would like to start with my overall first impressions of the event upon walking inside the site and the general atmosphere of the place:
     
    

Initial Impressions and Atmosphere:


     
    I've know Tulleys Farm for as long as I can remember ever since I was just 4 years old during the summer when on the other side of the field the wheat maze was open with other smaller activities, as well as picking your own fruit during June for the strawberries and raspberries. But despite this, the way Tulleys have set up this event made the place almost unrecognisable to me. It turns out that instead of the event being held in the small area near the front where the huts, cafe and fields are it is instead directly behind all of this on a massive open grass field on a gentle slope which I have never ventured onto before until now. So whilst in some places it felt familiar, the majority of it felt as though it was an entirely different site to what it's like during summer!


     
    Upon the entrance next to the grass field for parking, the entrance stands amongst the trees with flames on either side and giant pumpkin scarecrows lit up in orange, filled with smoke, creating a very natural, dominating yet familiar atmosphere to how I've know Tulleys before. Once going under the entrance hut into the ticket booth area, the entire roof is covered with white canopy tents which I appreciated very much as it ensured we didn't get wet whilst waiting to have our bags searched and collect our tickets on the muddy green fields. It reminded me a little at first of Fairford's Royal International Air Tattoo event every July with the way it was all handled, which was organised very well by the staff, so kudos for keeping the system easy, quick and simple with the large number of people at the event.
     
    

Once outside the tent and you've got your tickets/wristband, you are instantly surrounded by lots of attractions, food/drink stalls, stages, rides and seating which I guessed immediately was the centre of the whole event as all of the eight attractions were scattered across the field within equal distance of each other. A small detail I really liked was consistently across the fields there were small fires being lit with burning wood to keep guests warm at night and blend into the whole 'festival feel' of the place. The smell of burning wood in these fields felt comforting and familiar, especially as someone who once was part of the Scouts and went on these camping trips all the time! The audio used across the park wasn't blaring or obtrusive anywhere either and instead was subtle, evenly balanced and played quite a lot of Midnight Syndicate's music both old and new across each area which was a nice touch. After their audio was banished at Thorpe Park starting in 2013 with Lionsgate (grrrrrrr), it was nice to hear it once again. Also, there was tons of smoke everywhere across the place with lots of roaming actors interacting very well with guests which was quite amusing to watch!


     
    The attractions from this centre are situated down either the south or west sides of the field down slopes. To the left of the square you will find The Colony, The Chop Shop, The Cellar and Twisted Clowns. Directly in front you will see the couple of rides the event has which was a Booster ride similar to the one on Brighton pier, and a bouncer similar to the one which can still be at Hastings years ago, as well as on Brighton pier outside the Haunted House which was nice. And lastly, to the right down the hill, Horrorwood Haunted Hayride, Creepy Cottage, VIXI and Coven of 13, as well as the shop, paintball alley and further food and drink stalls.
     
    

It's also worth mentioning that behind you in this centre there is also a stage where a live band is held and plays several chart music hits which was nice, including many which fit in with the Halloween theme. Further down the hill on the right there is another live band too performing for guests. Inside the tents across a few areas, you could buy pumpkins which I presume the farm has grown for guests to purchase at the event, some of which were enormous and very heavy to handle! It's the smaller things with simple decorations like pumpkins that can make a big difference sometimes to the overall feel of an event. It adds to the Halloween theme, unlike Thorpe who still for some reason think little/no decorations = Halloween atmosphere.
     
    

With all of these points taken into consideration, this has a very different vibe and feel to it all compared to what Fright Nights is, and really, I loved it! The whole place felt just like being at a festival with all the canopies for the queues, muddy fields, live music, great theming, large variety of food and drink stalls, the many small campfires everywhere and the consistent feel the place had where nothing seemed to stick out like a sore thumb anywhere. Compared to Fright Nights, the only fair comparison to be made here is that Tulleys clearly know how to create a better atmosphere at night for their customers which is more relevant to Halloween and better organised than Fright Nights has ever been.

    Food & Drink:

    As mentioned above, all of the food and drink available at the farm was available through these temporary food stalls which you typically find at most events similar to this, but the variety and close proximity between them all was quite convenient and was all situated in the centre. Everything from hot drinks, takeaway food, sweet snacks and even a hog roast were available for guests and the variety offered was quite good.

    Although, the prices were a little too much for what I expected to pay. I went to the noodles bar and ordered pulled pork curry noodles and a large spring roll which came to £10.25 altogether without a drink and a regular cup of coffee was £3. So whilst the variety was great and you get large portions, the prices here did feel too high compared to what I would comfortably pay for typically and was the only area where I felt ripped off slightly by the whole event. £3 for a regular Americano was too much! Not surprising, just thought it’s worth noting to those who have yet to visit to be prepared with enough cash in their wallets.

    Operations:

    As a whole, Tulleys demonstrated to me exactly how you should manage events with lots of people going through the attractions. There was only 50 VIP and only 200 Fastrack ticket holders in the entire field that night, which meant the queues for Fastrack were extremely small or non-existent most of the night. Dispatches were fast and frequent for all the mazes, especially for the Haunted Hayride and every bit of effort was made by the staff to keep the queues to a minimal as long as possible throughout the night. When you consider all mazes at Fright Nights in the evening have Fastrack overflowing for all attractions, some of which can actually be longer than the normal queue, this was a really pleasant surprise for me.
     
    If there were a slight niggle I had with the handling of letting people through the mazes, it’s that some of the groups put through each time were quite large, some as much as 20 people at once. And if you are leading the group, if you’re a fast walker through these types of attractions, it’s not uncommon for you to at some point through the maze bump into the group ahead. Whilst it wasn’t a major issue considering all of the attractions were excellent, it did hinder the scare factor a little when too many people are in the same room with you. I wish the dispatches were a little slower when the queues were shorter at the start and end of the evening, but I suppose you get that with any scare maze really.

    Fairground Rides:

    As mentioned above in my initial impressions section, there were just two rides available at the farm in the evening, so with the time available between 5pm - 11pm, I only did the Booster catapult ride which is identical to the one which can be found on Brighton Pier. One ride costs £6 and you get throttled several times both backwards and forwards and at night, it was really great fun and very intense! Plus, despite the wind speeds reaching 42mph gusts in the evening, the ride still ran flawlessly without any problems and didn’t stall at any point as a result (unlike Thorpe who now fear Flying Fish and Banana Boat will stall with just 20mph gusts).

    So if you are planning on visiting this year or maybe next year if these two rides remain, I do recommend trying Booster at night and you’ll have the peace of mind that even if it’s raining or winds reach 42mph, you’ll still find it open.
     
    Scare Attraction Reviews:

    Now onto the best part and that’s with small mini reviews of all eight scare attractions available at the farm. As a whole, I must report the quality, length, amount of fun and scariness in these attractions is far superior to any maze I have done at Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights in the 9 years I have attended the event! All of them were excellent and had their own unique qualities behind them, one of which used a really cool effect which reminded me of a scene from one of my favourite films. Another reason is because every single one of them was original and didn't need an IP to market itself and I'm a big fan of original ideas as it sparks innovation in these types of attraction.

    So to begin, I’d like to start with the ‘least excellent’ one which was Twisted Clowns:

    Twisted Clowns - 6/10

    I should admit at the start clowns as a whole do not scare me one bit and never have done, so before walking through the entrance I wasn’t expecting an enormous scare factor behind it and true enough, it didn’t scare me at all this one sadly.

    You are given at the start 3D glasses which act as a filter to bring out the colours inside on the walls and props present inside and quite a lot of the artwork present popped out quite well, especially with the luminous colours. Throughout the whole of the maze, you wear them and walk through several dark rooms with lots of these UV paintings to fit in with the theme, to which I must point out they are all hand-painted which I really appreciated and admired when inside. Think of the rooms similar to Hocus Pocus at Chessington only with a different theme.

    In addition, actors inside were jumping and appearing all over the place, including one which jumped on a bungee swing from the ceiling which really took me by surprise the first time with how close they hovered over me! Whilst the actors at no point touched guests, they interacted with them brilliantly with lots of props from swings, car horns, wigs and clothing to name a few. The makeup they wore was also nicely done and had popping luminous colours on their faces similar to all the dozens of paintings throughout the maze.

    But as a whole, this just didn’t deliver any real or genuine scares for me sadly, which is a shame because I love 3D mazes like this. However, I will say the quality of the actors jumping all over you with props inside, the amount of work with the paintings which went into this and most of all, the incredibly long length of this maze were the best qualities it offered.
    Other smaller details like a themed safety announcement at the start, to Midnight Syndicate’s audio used inside, to the huge number of actors present did make this a lot of fun to go through.

    I suppose the bigger problem is Big Top at Thorpe whilst might be a lot shorter than this one is ultimately better in lots of ways. Elements such as better audio, better disorientating rooms and a great finale make it better than Twisted Clowns and therefore, this is the only maze Tulleys could do with some improvements on next year I feel and was a little disappointing.

    VIXI - 7/10

    When I discovered this involves you placing a bag over your head to obstruct your view the entire time, the first thing that came to my mind was “Oh no, It’s Tulleys version of that damn awful The Passing maze at Thorpe Park back in 2012!” But after going through it, whilst it did feel very similar The Passing for 3/4 of the maze, the quality of the scares delivered and surprise factor was far superior in comparison and I happened to really like it as a result!

    From the start you must place these black bags over your heads as though you are about to be sent to the gallows for execution and ultimately death, again, very similar to The Passing at the start. But these bags used are with a much thicker material as it is impossible to see through them in any way possible. But once you start the attraction, you must follow the rope on your left side which will guide you through the maze and over all the hurdles for the first 75% of the maze.

    Whilst you can’t see a thing out of these, the interaction and tricks this maze plays on you inside is brilliant. Various sound effects are used everywhere and effects such as smell, wind, water, fire and very uneven surfaces were used. In addition, actors interacted with you from both sides of your ears, so it became quite unsettling at one point with all the effects and actors in play and really got my heart racing being unable to see anything!

    But the best section is towards the end of this experience. The last corner you turn with the bag still on your head is into a room which was very hot inside and within seconds it became apparent why that is. There is one giant flame thrower inside the centre of this room which goes off every few seconds and the noise of it is incredibly loud, so much so that the heat, light and shock made myself and several others scream the fist time it went off! It’s a simple but incredibly effective scare used and you are less than 1m away from the flame, so you can really feel the heat from it.

    Finally, in the last quarter, you are asked to take the bags off your head and give them to a staff member. Now, like The Passing, you are lead to believe this is the end, but oh no, there’s more! You go down this pitch black corridor, turn the corner and you are inside a very dark warehouse with what appears to be burnt bodies of corpses lying on a table and an actor behind it with a giant knife and blowtorch. He instructed us to go down the stairs quickly, only to encounter behind a metal cage even more fire effects, this time less than a metre away which was another excellent jump scare for guests. After that, you zig-zag down the ramps and find yourself outside once again and the experience is over.

    The concept of this maze might sound simple and remind many who did in at the time of The Passing, but the interaction with guests in this one and the effectiveness really pays off and was tons of fun, and was the first maze in probably about 4 years which really got my heart pounding at certain points due to the unknown which awaits ahead due to the fact you can’t see anything. Then to top it all off, the ending finishes the maze perfectly and the use of fire in this maze was executed perfectly and was a great use of the effect. Plus, this was also a very long maze, lasting at around 11 minutes inside according to the timer. Thumbs up overall!

    Creepy Cottage - 7.5/10

    This was the maze I was most familiar with because it has been at this event for years now and I remember a few times during Autumn when visiting Tulleys years ago seeing preperations being made for it in time for October, so was most intrigued to see what it was like inside. Whilst it did have it’s moments of scariness to it, the selling factor behind this was the attention to detail inside and overall creepiness it delivered, which also explains why it’s available for younger kids too during the day. The best way to describe it is imagine walking through a much smaller, cramped and longer version of the haunted house from the play and film ‘The Woman in Black’.

    From the start where you are greeted inside the first room, you are immediately surrounded by lots of theming and details everywhere which hint at it being just like an old historian haunted house, with the furniture, fireplace and props inside with all the cobwebs and candle lights present. As you progress through each room, the corridors and roofing is very small and narrow, so you do feel quite claustrophobic inside and it’s incredibly dark too.

    The atmosphere inside doesn’t feel chaotic like Big Top, Living Nightmare and Saw Alive are. Instead, it has an eerie, cold and creepy feel to it all with very subtle uses of sound effects and music used inside and in every room making it feel very abandoned. It also made me quite tense throughout because you expect something to either appear out of nowhere all of a sudden or an effect scaring you, but as said above, this maze relied purely on feeling unsettled inside than being jump scared.

    The quality of the props and attention to detail was very noticeable with every corner of every corridor and room looked after, from the wallpapers, to the chandeliers and lighting, to the physical objects laying around everywhere and the surface of the flooring and smells inside. One prop particularly caught me out and that was what appeared to be a child’s doll of Chucky. It too me 2 walk through’s to notice it! Plus, towards the end of the maze, you need to walk through a corridor with loads of corn field plants surrounding you, almost as if you are navigating through the maze Tulleys have during summer which was a nice touch.

    The only disappointment was the ending as it just involved a small room with an actor inside surrounded by more props. Nothing seemed to stand out in this room which indicated it as the finale, just another room added at the end simply.

    So whilst it might not be the most scary out of all the mazes, it was certainly the most unsettling and eerie feeling maze with all the actors inside each room dressed to fit the theme of an abandoned cottage from the last century, so it’s good for me!
     
    The Colony - 7.5/10

    This was quite an interesting concept for a maze as it incorporated elements which were both used outside and inside and the overall vibe from this maze is one set back in time to the medieval ages and honestly, a novel which is going to be implemented into a ride next year at Alton Towers. It certainly delivered on scare quality and the length of this thing was mad! On average, it takes between 15-20 minutes to pass through all of it!

    The first corridor you pass through is almost like an abandoned underground mine with the lighting and planks of wood holding the ceiling and walls together and then you instantly go outside onto the field which is guided by very high wooden planks similar to that which you can find in Alton’s new maze ‘The Welcoming’. Whilst I haven’t done it yet, the overall look and feel for the outdoor sections looked similar to this from the pictures looking down at it on the Sky Ride.

    Once navigating your way through outside, you go back inside through these huts and buildings with lots of lighting, audio and smoke effects present, as well as actors hiding in the shadows. From here onwards, you are constantly going inside/outside and it’s an equal balance between the two overall. Some outdoor scenes were really interactive and involved you having to crawl under and through narrow gaps, which was a nice touch you don’t often get with other scare mazes as they tend to be wide and open to pass through many people at once.

    The actors in this maze were excellent. When each approached you, they all spoke in what I can assume is Latin as I couldn’t understand any of what they were saying, but their body language gave hints to what they were trying to communicate with you. By this point, it isn’t necessarily super scary, but unsettling similar to Creepy Cottage.

    When navigating your way up and down the field with indoor and outdoor sections, towards the end, you pass through a corridor which has two pathways and in the centre of these two paths you can take, a chainsaw guy in strobe lights interacts with you, very closely I might add too! After that, you are outside again and the experience is over.

    The best quality of this maze was the length and variety delivered by several different scenes and actors, and it provided a consistent and very enjoyable experience from start to end, especially with the finale. Although, the scares weren’t quite up there to get me really nervous with this one.

    I mention this gave me an impression of Alton’s new coaster for 2018 and considering we now know it’s going to be themed on Wicker Man, this maze kept making me think of that from start to finish. Heck, there’s even a bleedin’ scene with honey bees’ nests hanging from the ceiling you must pass through! Just a fun thought I had with this maze which kept making me think of it, but overall, I really enjoyed this one as it feels to me what Sanctum should have been.
     
    The Cellar - 8/10

    Probably the best way to describe this is imagine Creepy Cottage mixed with The Colony. This was excellent!

    Already the start is nicely done with the safety announcement in the greeting room which was funnily themed and spoken as though it was a witch, and you were passing through their home. After that, you hold each others shoulders and it’s worth noting this is the only maze at the event where you are required to do this. All the others are free-flowing.

    From the start of your journey, the rooms and corridors are incredibly cramped inside with low ceilings and narrow walls and the number of actors present in this maze is the highest out of any of them, which really made the experience quite intense inside.

    Probably the most frightening section for me was at the first walkway which involved the inflatable cushions you must pass through similar to I’m a Celeb near the end just before you climb the hill to go down the slide. Because you are limited by how fast you can move due to it pushing against your legs, it was obvious something was going to jump out of nowhere, and long behold, there was. To the right of this walkway, an enormous and very heavy serpent’s head jumped out of the wall and was big enough to cause me to nearly fall over to the side as a result. It was very heavy and nicely detailed, but my, I personally can’t stand snakes myself and seeing a giant head of it grab my shoulder like that really got to me by that point as it was very unexpected! This is a great element to the maze and took me by complete surprise the first time.

    After that, you navigate your way through various further rooms which had some very narrow walkways and overall, this was extremely dark inside with hardly any lighting visible, just tons of actors hiding in the shadows waiting for the perfect moment to scare you. Some of which had some excellent detail to them all and used several effects which made guest jump, including some very powerful air canons.

    The ending however was a little weak and didn’t stand out from the rest of the maze, but the number of actors used in this maze coupled with the length of the attraction made up for that. The best moment was the giant serpent’s head near the start as it genuinely terrified me the first time!
     
    Coven of 13 - 8.5/10

    Coven of 13 overall was a combination of The Cellar, Creepy Cottage and The Colony as elements from each of these attractions were used throughout, but the best part by far was the start where you need to pass through what I can assume is a deep swamp in the middle of a forest.

    This starting scene where you navigate through the marsh was a great use of smoke, lasers and sound effects as when you passed through the walkways with the inflatable pillows again, there was a layer of mist which helped with the theme of treading through a swamp up to waist level. Probably the best way I can describe this effect is similar to that scene in the first Alien film where John Hurt ventures through a cave with all the eggs and describes a layer of mist above a blue laser effect. When watching it back after trying this maze, it looks identical to that effect used!

    After navigating your way through the swamp scene with actors jumping out and scaring you, you head through more corridors with plants and trees obscuring your path and they are set up in a way which it hides the ceiling and wall panels very effectively, so much so that it definitely felt more like being in a forest that a plain, ordinary corridor.

    You go immediately outside after that and cross into another building which has been themed on a small mini haunted house with some very effective lighting, atmosphere and props used. It did honestly feel just like being inside a mini haunted house as the rooms were a little larger in comparison to Creepy Cottage, bud sadly, the scares in this bit weren’t as effective as a result. However, the attention to detail and quality of the actors made up for this scene, so all is balanced.

    After that, you go outside again and this next section felt the weakest section of the maze. All you do is navigate around a central campfire through different areas around the perimeter of what was the shape of a semi-circle. Each section had it’s own actor in to scare guests, but it felt too open and predictable to deliver any proper good scares sadly, especially when you can see what awaits ahead.

    Finally, you go through inside one last room and that’s what looks like an actor being burnt to the stake in a giant wooden fire and the use of smoke, lighting, heat and audio added to this scene, but like before, just not enough scares here. Also, it’s reminiscent of Wicker Man again and SW8. Sorry! After that, you go outside again and it’s all over.

    Whilst the scares were certainly prevalent throughout the first half of the maze, the 2nd half felt a little tame in comparison unfortunately and fell apart a little. However, the use of effects in that swamp scene at the start were delivered brilliantly and that’s why this is my 3rd favourite attraction as a result.
     
    The Chop Shop - 9/10

    Before trying this I knew it was going to be an intense maze as many have told me it’s the best maze at the event and goodness me, it was certainly the scariest one! The whole theme of rotten meat, blood and flesh makes me feel physically sick, which is why the gluttony scene from Se7en years ago at Thorpe really made me want to vomit when passing through it and I wasn’t expecting anything different here. But what I didn’t expect was the intensity behind this maze which is hidden quite well behind those walls, with the exception of the noises from several chainsaws present.

    The start of the maze isn’t too bad as it’s an exploration through a garage with lots of machinery, equipment, vehicles and tools on shelves everywhere and the lighting is dim, quite reminiscent of scenes from Saw The Ride and the workshops in the Saw films and the actors did a great job at introducing you to their chopping shop. But after this, it gets worse and scarier as a result.

    Once out of the garage, you instantly go through what I can presume is a freezer with lots of frozen meat, including hanging pigs and cows amongst blood everywhere over the floor and walls. Then, an actor breaks through the door in front with a chainsaw and scares the group and this is only just the half-way point!

    From here onwards, it gets even worse because it’s an endless array of zig-zag corridors, rooms and flaps to pass through, all under a constant strobe light. Around several corners, actors are hiding, all with their own chainsaws waiting for you to walk past them. Then, to make it even worse, some rooms have the lights turn off temporarily for about 3 seconds, so you are in complete blackness for a short period of time and all you can hear is the sound of a chainsaw either in front or directly behind you, some of which got as close as 6 inches away from my face! It was truly and honestly terrifying and this lasted for 2/3 of the entire maze, so it became extremely intense at certain parts and got my heart racing the fastest out of any other attraction that night as a result!

    The only advice I can give is do this maze once it is dark outside because the 2nd half has an open roof and if light leaks inside, it can ruin the effect slightly of those dark moments. So if you want a moderate experience, try it before sunset. If you want an extreme one, do it once the sky is completely black. Best maze by far and also the scariest!
     
    Horrorwood Haunted Hayride - 9.5/10

    This was without a doubt the most fun during the entire night and is the best attraction out of everything you will find at this event. It’s very unique, incredibly interactive, long, innovative and ultimately fun. Nothing else out there can be compared to this!

    Whilst it might not have been necessarily scary, the whole idea you are transported through the fields on a tractor ride with various scenes themed to different genres in the movie industry was an excellent idea and was reminiscent of Studio 13 slightly in some areas. Every scene has unique visual and audible effects, the entire ride changes it’s audio depending on what scene you are in and probably the best part was the actors in each scene climb onto the tractor with you and interact with guests using their character. Characters such as clowns, cowboys, hotel butlers, witches, pole-dancing nuns and zombies clambered onto the vehicle through each scene and played their characters perfectly in sync with the audio and movement of the truck. It’s a very consistent and funny experience which I greatly appreciated.

    In addition, each scene had great props and sets used such as falling billboards on guests, flame effects which were incredibly loud and powerful, deaf-defying loud bangs, great uses of audio SFX and lighting used and best of all, the chainsaw people themed on I believe the story of the three little pigs getting extremely close to the guests and even revved the machines against the benches you are sitting on, creating the impression they are cutting through the wood you are sitting on!

    I don’t want to give too much away of what each scene involves for those who have yet to try it, but I very strongly recommend you try this as the must-do attraction of the evening. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed by it one bit!
     
    Conclusion:
     
    So there we are, all my reviews for each attraction, the atmosphere and overall impressions of the event.

    After going to this and leaving the evening, I didn’t in any way feel angry, tired or disappointed like I usually tend to with Fright Nights in recent years. Instead, I felt lively, thrilled and greatly surprised by the whole night because it’s as if I have finally found after 7 years of searching something better and worth it’s value for money compared to what I was typically used to during Halloween and it feels great! Tulleys Shocktober Fest has surprised me hugely with what they offered as I never imagined they were able to pull off such a quality event like this before, especially knowing it for years as a farm with pick-your-own fields and a maze during summer.

    Tulleys has proven if special events are executed very well, it has the ability to change minds of sceptics like me who for years have detested Halloween for all the wrong reasons. In return, I have started to get excited for Halloween once again after this amazing evening I had! The only problem with this however is because Tulleys have set a new bar far higher than any Fright Nights delivered these last 7 years, I am likely going to detest Fright Nights even more now as a result unless there are some radical improvements and changes made to the event which aren’t focused on compromising customer experience for bigger numbers on Merlin’s many dozens of net-profit Excel spreadsheets at their head office.

    Tulleys, like my blog on Liseberg back in May has proved to me again there are places out there which value customer experience above profits, and it's these types of places I appreciate the most. I can happily say I'm absolutely going to attend Shocktober Fest again next year, and likely many years to come now. Well done Tulleys for creating a quality Halloween event for guests.

    It might have taken me several years to finally try it, but my word, the wait was absolutely worth it! 

    Tulleys Shocktober Fest - 8.5/10

    (Some pictures from the event below I took):
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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