Coaster Kingdom

The Flume Unplugged, Alton Towers
Friday, February 23, 2007

This article contains spoilers. If you read on, please be aware that surprises or secrets may be revealed in great depth

There is a precedent for what Tussaud's were planning to do to Alton Towers' Log Flume for 2004. Thorpe Park's Thunder River was an unobtrusive, though unspectacular, rapids ride until 2002, when it became Ribena Rumba Rapids. The transformation involved giving the ride a garish new colour scheme, new boats, and a tunnel scene plugging the wares of the new sponsor. It helped to reinforce the notion that, while Tussaud's are capable of creating excellent theming for brand new rides, their Achilles' heel is exposed when they try to re-theme existing attractions. Indeed, Ribena Rumba Rapids is now worth riding only for the sheer comedy it unintentionally offers.

Like Thunder River, the Alton Towers Log Flume was an unobtrusive affair. It was among the first of the park's major rides, installed under the John Broome management, when Alton Towers traded primarily as a stately home and gardens, with a few large rides dotted around the estate. The natural feel of the ride helped it to blend in with the surroundings, and the majority of the ride was built well out of sight of spectators, in the surrounding woods. Although not themed as such, the general idea was to recreate a logging camp, where the "river" would be used to transport wood from felled trees back to the outside world.

In 2004, two years after the unleashing of Ribena Rumba Rapids, the Log Flume was to receive a similar "re-vamp". The name was altered to "The Flume - Unplugged by Cusson's Imperial Leather", and the theme of the ride tailored to suit the sponsor's need to flog their bars of soap to the great unwashed. The project would not be the first time Alton Towers had allowed a major ride to be sponsored, but would be the first time they specifically geared the theming to the wishes of the sponsor. "Bathtime With Attitude!" was the rallying cry of the project, which involved the replacing of the logs with bathtubs, and along with a general re-vamp of the ride system.

The basics of the ride remain unchanged. The queue line and ride layout are identical to before, other than the addition of a Fastrack entry system. The same station building remains, although with a rather stylish new look, marred only be a tacky bath-tap on the roof. Between the final drop and the station are two new "Power Showers", which are unwelcomely garish, and whose real purpose seems to be to display a large Imperial Leather logo to the spectators. A new bouncy soundtrack plays constantly, as if to remind us that The Flume is no longer a quiet ride tucked away in its corner, but a brash cartoony theme park ride, intended to grab the attention.

Nice little touches have been included, such as carved ducks on the entrance/exit bridge, pointing people in the right direction with their beaks. The inside of the station has been changed from a rather bland affair, into quite a cosy place to be, using subtle lighting to soften the mood. The fact that the ride uses (and always has used) a rapids-style circular loading platform certainly makes the whole affair seem a bit more grandiose than most flumes. It is here that you are directed to your boat. Loading is efficient, and capacity very high.

The new theme involves the boats being fashioned as bright red, old-fashioned, cartoon-like bathtubs, complete with brass taps on the back, and a none-too-subtle Imperial Leather logo perfectly positioned to be visible in the souvenir photos. Whereas most people prefer to bathe alone, here we are expected to share our ablutions with up to four other people. Fortunately, the theming is relaxed enough to allow you to hop into the tub fully clothed. In fact, I understand they rather prefer things that way.

With loading done and dusted, we depart the station and embark on our wild journey through the wonderful world of washing. The first section is a rather pointless meander behind one of the park's fast-food outlets, which seemingly exists only because it made the ride more visible from the paths in the early days. Theming? No, not here. Soon we turn back on ourselves and embark on the first lift hill.

Up and up we climb. You could be forgiven for getting excited at the prospect of a huge drop. Well, it isn't a huge drop, in fact it is absolutely tiny, and bottoms out well above ground level, allowing the following section to go on for what seems like an eternity. With the drop out of the way, we find ourselves in the heart of the woods, well away from the hustle and bustle of the park. Theming? No, not yet. Instead, we drift through the woods, taking in the natural feel of the place. After all, what could possibly be more natural than joining your friends for a slow drift through the woods, while sitting in a bright red bathtub?

The general layout of the ride is a giant elongated figure-of-eight, with the crossover being hidden by tunnels. "A-ha", I hear you say, "tunnels! Surely there will be some theming in there?". Well, we enter the first tunnel, into the pitch-blackness, and then... wait for it... emerge back into the open air. Back in the late 1980s, this back area of the ride was filled with giant dinosaur figures, but is now left much as nature intended. Theming? Nah.

The pace slows slightly as we drift around the back of the ride and return toward the crossover point. We climb a second lift hill, and enter the darkness for the enclosed second drop. Now, surely there will be some theming here, after all, this tunnel did once house a nice display of smaller dinosaur figures. Well yes, at long last, the quest for theming is complete.

Duck! No that's not an instruction; the theming consists of a giant toy duck that jumps out at the boat and starts quacking. Well, that was worth the wait, wasn't it?! Connoisseurs of the soap industry will no doubt recognise this as the dancing duck from the Imperial Leather adverts, although I suspect most riders will not care one bit for this far-from-fascinating fact. If you're expecting any sort of follow-up, you'll be disappointed, which is a great shame, as the cartoony theme would have provided a good opportunity for the sort of joke-packed scenes that make Alton's Toyland Tours so unself-consciously entertaining.

Well, now that we've seen all the theming we're ever going to, let's get back to civilisation. We emerge from the tunnel and head straight up the large final lift. As you make steady upward progress, more and more of the park becomes visible, and the drop delivers you neatly into the wide-open space above the main lake. The splash down is unspectacular to spectators, but is good fun, getting you just about wet enough to be enjoyable, without overdoing things. All that's left is to hope that the power showers don't catch you out, and then it's back to the station.

In a way, Alton Towers was onto a loser from the moment they decided to re-theme this ride. The original Log Flume was enjoyable simply because it was little more than a sprawling gentle float through the woods. Trying to theme the ride was always going to impact on its natural feel, while the sheer size of the ride meant that a full theming job would have required massive amounts of effort and expense. As it is, anyone who believes the hype of "Bathtime With Attitude" will come away wondering what attitude the ride is actually meant to convey.

Repairs to the ride trough have left it with a bright blue interior. Why do I mention this? Well, the down side is that the course of the ride is now screamingly obvious as you enter the forest, diminishing the old sense of meandering aimlessly through the woods. Similarly, the idea of being in the forest and seeing other riders going around in bright red bathtubs means that the area loses some of the natural feel that the original logs maintained.

Overall, The Flume is not the massacre it could so easily have been. While elements of the ride are undoubtedly garish, the ride generally manages to maintain its dignity far more than Ribena Rumba Rapids managed. That said, neither is it much of an improvement on the original Log Flume, whereas rider expectations will, quite reasonably, be raised simply by the fact that it has been re-vamped.

The Log Flume was an innocuous ride that did exactly what it proclaimed to. The Flume - Unplugged by Cusson's Imperial Leather is exactly the same ride, but with more expectation and less charm. In short, fans of the original Log Flume will just about be able to accept the changes with a minimum of cringing, while new riders will find a reasonably enjoyably ride, albeit not necessarily in the way they expected. It isn't the shambles that Rumba Rapids is, but nor does it come anywhere near being a triumph.

Please, do not use our ratings to compare rides head-to-head. They rate only how well this ride meets its own objectives using criteria that may not necessarily be relevant with similar reviews.

Good points:

  • Slightly more tasteful than could have been expected
  • High capacity ride means that the queue keeps moving
  • Still a good way to find peace and quiet in an otherwise busy park

Bad points:

  • Advertising aspect is not subtle, and what theming there is is not factastic
  • Wasn't ever the greatest of flumes to start with

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