The greatest British amusement park has been under a renovation mania, or rather a transformation mania, for quite some time now; there is no other way to explain the novelties of the last five years – apart from last year’s Adventure Tree Carousel, no new attraction has been added to Chessington World of Aventures. The Runaway Train for example presents itself as Scorpion Express, the dark ride BubbleWorks as Gruffalo’s River Ride Adventure and the log flume Dragon Falls as Tiger Rock. Unfortunately, there are also retirements, e.g. the monorail, which mainly shaped the section of the park around the Hocus Pocus Hall and the Zoo, and the Ferris wheel Peeking Heights have left the park.
The start of this development was the roller coaster Runaway Train, which lost its entire artificial rock massif, which decorated the ride quite impressively beforehand. Although Scorpion Express is now standing relatively naked in the area, you can hardly miss it anymore. A huge mechanical sculpture in the shape of a scorpion adorns the back helix and creates all sorts of effects for a very fun and above all lively ride. For the entertainment of the waiting park guests there are also some terrariums in the queue, in which scorpions can be suitably admired. In total, the attraction has been upgraded; in any case, it’ s a lot of fun to go for a ride or two on the Scorpion Express.
Likewise, the squeaky duck dark ride BubbleWorks in the Transylvanian area next to the terrific suspended roller coaster Vampire was a lot of fun – let’s see what happened to it.
Originally opened as Prof. Burp’s BubbleWorks, the first 15 years were spent sailing in round boats through a lemonade factory before the ducklings of Imperial Leather took over the facility in a night and foggy operation with their sponsoring deal. In 2014, the soap manufacturer’s sponsorship with Merlin ended, after which all references to the manufacturer were removed from the parks. Although the theme of the ride could have lasted until further notice, the design elements used did not. So a new IP was needed, which is why a classic children’s book was chosen, which also fit into this theme area without much effort. In 2016 the last ride in the old design followed, before the Gruffalo’s River Ride Adventure opened on 18.03.2017.
The ride itself offers a very wholesome mixture of static design elements and video projections. The atmosphere inside is now very dense; it feels like following a stream through a forest in a little boat. The individual rooms each tell a part of the first children’s book; after which the mouse stops the fox, the owl and the snake from eating it by threatening them with the Gruffalo – a previously fictitious creature. In the following rooms the mouse meets the aforementioned Gruffelo, who would also like to eat it, but thanks to a statement by the mouse – according to which all other animals would be afraid of it – does not. Travelling together, Gruffalo and the mouse climb up the lift of the ride and then manage the shot into the former bathing room. There, they meet the other animals, who then take to their heels. This scene is successful despite the relatively open design and can at least partly retain its old charm thanks to some of the remaining fountains. On the way back to the station, the mouse chases away the Gruffalo, so that it can finally crack its nuts in peace.
Since I am not familiar with the franchise, I will refrain from making a comparison at this point. Gruffalo’s River Ride Adventure itself has definitely been upgraded and can fascinate again. The mixture of static design elements and the video projections simply works great and doesn’t seem out of place anywhere; despite the rotation of the gondola, you can actually always capture it. In general, the ride is now continuously well visited.
The Tiger Rock log flume, on the other hand, is much less popular, although this does not apply to the new and considerably larger tiger enclosure, which now uses the former open spaces of the log flume. Here, most of the work has been done, because unfortunately, the renovation of the log flume was not carried out. Thus, one floats through a channel that could have been recoated and has a great view to the animals of the (at least partly) surrounding enclosure. This is quite a thing, especially as the animals actually settle down in these areas and thus one actually has the best view from the white-water ride Tiger Rock; but it could have been more. The ride hardware is in contrast to the new arrangement of the ride and from my point of view, this is a missed chance. As Tiger Rock is the last still existing log flume of the group in England, an omission of the ride in the next years is sadly foreseeable.
Chessington World of Adventures remains my first port of call for the three theme parks located near London. The three major innovations of the last five years all have their raison d’être and can convince completely or to a greater extent. Since a revision of the walkthrough Hocus Pocus Hall has already been tased, one can continue to look forward to the future. Either way, you should always include the park in your UK planning, especially if you’ve never been over there and want to visit a theme park near London.
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