Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
Although it may surprise you to hear it from me, I’m not exactly the world’s biggest fan of Tussauds. In general, their brand of thrills, spills and nasty patches of vomit on the floor has never really appealed to my sense of “Wow! That’s so cool!”
For those not “in-the-know”, Tussauds is UK’s largest theme park operator, owning Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures. They also recently purchased Heide Park, Germany, but more on that another day. This fun little featurette concerns my adventures at Chessington’s Media Day, to celebrate the opening of their new family area, Land of the Dragons. There’s also a little bit about my trigger-happy instincts, but we’ll come to that in good time.
It began at about 8:30, when me and the rest of my party (okay, my Dad) began the drive from Basingstoke down to the park, stopping on the way for petrol. I also bought a brownie, if you cared. I believe it was toffee and chocolate, but I wouldn’t like to bet on it. I also got myself a bottle of Diet Coke, which was advertising the current “vote for your favourite film” campaign. Man, I hope “Pretty Woman” wins. But I unnecessarily digress…
The roads were typically clear, and we got to the park at about 9:45, fifteen minutes before they were going to let us media peeps get some ERT on Dragon’s Fury, the new family spinning coaster in Land of the Dragons. So I stepped up to get my VIP media tickets, and in true Tussauds style, nobody had a freakin’ clue what to do! Lucky contestant number one, a cast member at the “Advanced Ticket Collection” booth, told me to go to the main gate, where they would let me through. No such luck. Lucky contestant number two, who was standing by the gate, thought my tickets would be in the ATC booth. Apparently, it seemed, they weren’t. Finally, a press relations worker turned up and found my tickets. Can you guess where they were? Yup, that’s right. The ATC booth.
Still, I eventually got into the park, and proceeded to wave my complimentary pass cockily at any CM that tried to tell me that the general public weren’t allowed in yet. I guess I don’t exactly fit the description of an average reporter type.
HERE COMES THE FURY!
Obviously, the first thing we headed for was Dragon’s Fury. Twice, in fact. Chessington describes this as a “family roller coaster”. Family? I don’t think so. I’ve never seen so many kids blocked from riding an attraction because of height restrictions before this. Not that I’m complaining. Fury is so perfectly crafted that even though you know exactly what’s coming, you can’t help but open your eyes wide with disbelief when you prepare to be shoved down that first drop. It’s a family park, sure, but that didn’t stop grown men from genuinely crying obscenities as the car twisted round, allowing them to “enjoy” the full extent of that huge middle hill in the track…backwards. In fact, it’s because you know what’s coming that something as potentially boring as a brake run can become gloriously horrific. This ride uses the element of fear much more expertly than most coasters. Add to that the fact that your car spins differently depending on the weight on either side, and you’ve got the finest spinning coaster that I have ever ridden. In terms of the track, anyway.
The theming is not so brilliant. It’s pleasant, yeah, but nothing special. Considering that it’s called Dragon’s Fury, I was kind of expecting to see some dragons. How foolish of me. Upon exiting the ride, we noticed a picture of a dragon painted onto one of the towers of the kids play area, but that’s about as far as it went. It’s a shame, because this is definitely the best ride in the park. Given an extra dose of scenery, they’d have a European spinning coaster champion – at least – on their hands. Unfortunately, anyone looking for spectacular theming on this sort of ride is left to go to Phantasialand, for the incredible Winja twins, Fear and Force.
ROARING WITH LAUGHTER...NOT
So those are the good points. But, as you’d expect, there are a couple bad things. The theming, as I previously mentioned, is one. But the other is waaay more irritating. The ride is sponsored by Skips, a brand of crisps, or “potato chips” as you Americans call them. Unfortunately, the manufacturers of Skips appear to have embarked on a mission to send the world insane. While waiting in the queue line, you are bombarded with a selection of “hilarious” comments from Skips’ mascot, Tongue. Tongue, with his oh-so-irritating scouser accent, shouts random crap down the speakers, like he thinks he is a comedian. Let me assure you now: he is most definitely not.
“You know, dragons hate the taste of metal. So maybe if you’re good as gold, the dragons won’t come near you!”
“Ooh! You’ve come the wrong way! There’s a scary fire breathing dragon down here, waiting to spin you into a scary dizzy dimension!”
“Wait a minute, I’m invisible! The dragon can’t burn what he can’t see!” (Roaring) “Oops! He must have heard me!”
“Hey, these must be the dragon’s famous ash trees! Ash trees? Geddit? Oh, please yourself!”
These “jokes” are NOT FUNNY. They must be removed, as they are a violation of human rights. So next time you visit Chessington, please make a complaint with someone – anyone – at the park. A 45 minutes queue is honestly unbearable. Still, at least it’s Tussauds’ first attempt at a back story, as you now know exactly why this furious dragon is so damn pissed off.
BREAKFAST AT CHESSINGTON’S
With my two early rides on Fury satisfactorily complete, I headed off to the other perk of being a media VIP: free breakfast. Never a bad thing. It was a typical corporate buffet thing in the Beanoland marquee. Not great, but at least my sausage roll was alright. The orange juice wasn’t bad either. It took us a while to find it, as we foolishly had walked right past the maps at the entrance, and I’d never been in the marquee before. When we eventually found it, it was filled with families and their screaming brat minors. Err… hang on a minute, I was told this was a media event? We never did find out what was up with that. For a better view of this scenario, check out the picture. And no, I’m not in the picture. This is also where I got my swish Land of the Dragons bag. A special collectors edition, I’m told. We picked up our complimentary Fastracks, too - Fastrack being Tussauds’ Fastpass rip-off. (When it’s working, of course, which isn’t that often.)
It was after this that I discovered Chessington’s innovative way to keep guests hands clean when the water system breaks in the toilets… drinking water. How typical of Tussauds.
It was 10:40 by this point, and we had an 11:00 appointment for Vampire, so we spent ten minutes on Seastorm. It’s kinda like Dumbo, but on land. It’s also laughably tame, but fun for a quick diversion. So at eleven, along with all the other incredibly irritating families from the breakfast event, we queued in the Fastrack queue for Vampire. It took the staff ten minutes to actually get around to letting us into the Fastrack queue, but once we were in, we only had to wait another ten minutes to get on. Still, twenty minutes is way too long for a Fastrack queue, especially as it probably would have been quicker just to get in the normal line. (We had been subject to the same problem for our second time on Fury, coincidentally.)
First off, let’s get one thing straight. The Vampire isn’t exactly the sort of ride that’s going to be pulling in the thrill junkies. Sure, it’s a nice little suspended coaster that lasts a surprisingly long time, considering it is in such a small area of the park. It also throws riders’ legs dangerously close to nearby trees and shrubs. Unfortunately, even my Dad – who generally hates roller coasters – commented on how tame it is. Nonetheless, it’s definitely one of the must-do rides of Chessington, if only for the great station building, featuring a hunched vampire playing an organ. Classy.
The biggest and easiest improvement that could be made to the Vampire would be to add some theming to the small building the trains pass through before returning to the station. You wait there to unload if there is still another train in the station, but absolutely no attempt has been made to make this bit interesting. It’s probably the biggest anti-climax to a ride that I think I’ve ever experienced. Even more annoyingly, it would be incredibly easy to put something in here. Ideally, I’d like to see the return of the rock and roll skeletons that were used in the old Terror Tomb ride that stood where Tomb Blaster is now. They would not only provide a bit of light humourous entertainment while we are waiting to pass into the station, but would also be a way of having music in the background, even if the music was hideously out of date.
Our next Fastrack allocation was Dragon’s Fury at 12:00, which gave us a 30-minute time slot to fill, so we headed over to Tomb Blaster, an interactive dark ride shooter. This time, instead of facing off against aliens and such, your targets are scarabs, snakes, and other bizarre Egyptian bad guys, like the giant sphinx that awaits you at the finale. Personally, I think it’s pretty good, but everyone else I’ve been with rates it as mediocre-at-best. Sure, it’s no Men In Black, but it’s still a lot of fun, and has a great soundtrack. Or maybe I just enjoy it so much because I always manage to beat everyone else in our “convoy”. Sigh. It’s a burden being so talented…
After our third ride on Dragon’s Fury, we decided to get some of the smaller rides done, starting with Rattlesnake. It’s surprisingly well themed for a Wild Mouse coaster, as it dives and turns throughout a lively Mexican village. However, the ‘Snake is also painful, and has a lame track. As is usual with Wild Mouse rides, it starts with a series of quick turns, but this one makes you feel like you’re about to fly off the edge. It’s clever, but painful when you get smacked into the sides of the cars.
I had forgotten how slow the Rattlesnake was, but there is no way on Earth that I could have forgotten the Runaway Train’s tortoise imitation. Still, it has a vaguely interesting cave section, and made me long for Thorpe Park’s now-removed Flying Fish ride. (Anyone wanna tell me how stupid I am for missing that?) Anyway, once we had ridden that, it was time for our 1 o’clock Dragon Falls adventure. I was told that much had changed since last year. Unfortunately, it hadn’t. Same log flume as I had ridden in previous years, but it was still pretty cool. The finale through two giant statues for the final splashdown is still great, and makes the fairly small drop seem far more impressive. At least there’s a lot of theming consistent throughout the ride…hear that Thorpe Park?
We next tackled Hocus Pocus Hall. I honestly believe that Tussauds forgot to put the ride at the end of this elaborate queue line. After a bunch of carnival Haunted House style tricks and a mildly amusing mirror maze, the attraction just ends. That’s it. The sooner Tussauds dump something at the end of this, the better. Heck, a gift shop would be a welcome improvement.
Lunch at KFC. There isn’t really a whole lot to say about this. I think I had a burger that was, surprisingly, filled with chicken. Duh. If things had been different, we might have gone to the Greedy Goblin BBQ. It’s good food, but is slow to order and too expensive. Fortunately, you can always rely on the Colonel, and his team of staff with a combined grasp of the English language that amounts to about the same as a three year old.
Another round of Tomb Blaster was next. This time I was sitting on the other side of the carriage, and I realised how unfairly placed the targets are. Literally, everything is on the right hand side, so anyone sitting on the left as I was, barely had I chance. I still managed to win, but only just. A thought occurred to me upon exiting, though. Why doesn’t Chessington offer a half price ride photo or key ring to the person who wins from their convoy, which usually contains about 40 people? They’d still make plenty of money off of it, and I’d have been more tempted to purchase proof of my excellence. I guess the world will just have to take my word for it, for now.
We ended the day, as usual, with a trip through Doctor Burp’s Bubble Works. Seated in River Rapids boats, Burp’s is actually a tame indoor ride that attempts to prove that Tussauds can pull off theming when they want to. I don’t remember this ride too well from when it opened, but I’m fairly certain that it was nowhere near this state of shoddy disrepair. How ironic it is that a ride through a mock fizzy pop factory is covered in empty discarded Coke and Pepsi bottles. And that is without mentioning the crisp packets, sweet wrappers, cigarette boxes and park maps that are liberally strewn throughout the ride’s décor. Still, at least it has a catchy theme tune that I found myself singing the other day. And hey, it’s a Wardley original, so it can’t be that bad, can it? Well, it’s not the lowest depths of ride design that John’s ever sunk to, but it sure ain’t from the same textbook of imagination that brought us Nemesis.
(I swear, I have no idea who that person is, but try to ignore it and look at the bag.)
Overall, you shouldn’t really expect too much from Chessington. It has some nice touches; there are some genuinely pleasant themed areas, and a few of the rides are truly worthy of your time, such as Dragon’s Fury. However, this park is still in the middle of its transition from thrill park to family park, so unless you’re into kiddie flat rides, there isn’t a huge amount to do. What does sadden me is the lack of any plans to add more dark rides. There’s real potential in Chessie, and if all their creative minds can come up with are flying islands and 3D cinemas, then they’ve got a problem. But more on that another day.
And just as we shut the doors in the car to go home, the sun went away and it started to rain. I have a feeling that there’s an element of irony to that, but I’m still not sure why.
i love chessington and always will
apart from that day with the broken rides(look at a visit to chessington)the rides and the sound tracks are grate
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