Coaster Kingdom

Drunken Barrels, Drayton Manor
Saturday, March 24, 2007

When Drayton Manor installed an Enterprise on the site of their old Cine 180 a few years back, it would be tempting to say that few people were whooping with delight. Ironically though, quite a lot of people were whooping with delight - and it was this cacophony of screams and shouts combined with the trademark Enterprise growl that spelt the end of Cyclone's brief period at the park, being not-so handily located a stones throw from a private residence.

Whilst this specimen of Huss' finest headed south destined to replace an ageing, erm, Enterprise, Drayton Manor had something of a dilemma on their hands. The shape of the plot really only suited a static spin ride of some description - and that is going to cause noise, no matter how much you tell the riders to shut up.

Still, where there's a will there's a way and the park turned to a distinctly continental way of doing things to address their problem: use a scaled down aircraft hanger. It offers numerous benefits as well as reducing noise, namely providing shelter during rain and allowing you the opportunity of trying your hand at some impressive theming.

For the ride itself, Drayton turned to Intamin and their 'Drunken Barrels' ride, another spin-off of the age old Teacups, but this time utilising themed kegs whirling around. And what finer country could the park showcase to suit the beer brewing theme better than Germany - where beer is often cheaper then water, and anyone who doesn't swig a bottle or two a day is thought to be severely de-hydrated.

Bringing ourselves bang up to date, walking up the hill of the park towards Apocalypse allows very little view of the brown metal hanger inside of which Drunken Barrels resides and the only real give away is a large yet strangely easily missable sign of two friendly beer kegs enjoying a chat outside the entrance.

Those wanting to peek inside the large open front of the building at the ride as a whole will have to try and escape two obstacles blocking their view, namely a large tree and an impressively buxom reproduction of a German girl serving up two vessels of finest export standing slap bang in the middle of the ride view.

Tempting your eyes away from her concrete jugs will reveal a ride platform most likely doing nothing for an awfully long time, and so the only real way to find out what this ride can offer is to enter via the left of the building and take a trip down Drunk and Disorderly Way yourself.

Following in the footsteps of G Force, the queue line is small but perfectly formed. It is all under cover which while being a huge benefit for days when the British weather is doing what it does best, does mean that at the slightest hint of rain the queue for the ride will suddenly find itself with its very own beer belly.

The queue also allows you absolutely no view of the ride itself, as you are tucked into a corner on the floor whilst the ride itself is a storey higher. If you are lucky, you may see the rides centrepiece wobbling around from the corner of your eye, otherwise you must make do with looking at the ceiling which is not as boring as it sounds.

It is only when you enter the building and wait in your queue-line cellar that you can appreciate quite what a detailed job the theming has accomplished. On the walls of the building hang flags representing beer brands from all corners of Germany and various kegs and barrels are set into the mock wooden walls, some sporting faces of various expressions from tipsy to down-right slaughtered.

Shelves and other decorative features adorn every recess of the brewery, though suitably everything looks just slightly manic - just as though you yourself had perhaps enjoyed a drop to drink before entering - and the accompanying German folk music really transports you out of Drayton Manor as we know it.

The building is all very well, but we still haven't seen an inch of the ride in action. As you hear the whirring stop, you can expect to board the ride soon. But not too soon. In what must be some of the slowest ride loading around, the single ride operator commences a brew of procedures that involves slowly walking around every individual car to open it's door to let people out, then opening the exit gate from the building. Once everyone has left, the gate is shut and locked before the operator slowly walks around every single car again to ensure that nothing and no one is left before sauntering to the entrance gate to let eager riders in.

To get to the ride platform we must negotiate a set of steps which guests frustrated with the waiting will stampede up and run onto the platform. Here, for the first time, we can see what we are up against. A large circular platform houses several discs of kegs, with a large green table in the centre that holds several more overflowing tankards.

Once you take your seats, no amount of trying will let you shut your car door yourself, so more time is spent as the operator does the rounds. Seatbelts are provided for the small, and everyone else has the rotating handle in the middle to hold on to allowing you to speed up or slow down your spinning to suit your tastes. There will be no pre-party drinks before the ride has started here though, as each keg is locked in place until the platform begins to rotate.

With no fanfare at all, we suddenly begin to move. As is traditional for these types of rides, everyone soon starts heaving their centre disc around trying to build up their momentum a bit, but disappointingly, our barrels don't seem as keen to move as their teacup cousins and you can only a tease a little extra speed out of the mug.

With the platform up to an average speed, it is so far so... well... normal. At this point though, the ride brings out the specialist ales and the whole spinning platform raises to an angle surprisingly swiftly. Pausing momentarily on its way up, it then continues to full height and those riders who are not completely engulfed in their attempts to spin the car will find themselves far nearer the ceiling then they would have expected.

The angle the ride operates at certainly seems severe from on the ride, but strangely it has very little effect on the kegs themselves, and those who are knocking it back with the handle may not even notice you have lifted at all. The ride does its best to make you notice though, with a bit of lowering to half height then up again for a bit of variety thrown into the mix, though all too soon you lower back to the ground and the spinning slows.

Again, no amount of trying to open the doors of your keg will release them, so you have ample time to wait for the operator as you try and figure out why you don't feel quite as exalted as you might have from another Teacups variation.

It seems that although all the pieces are there, you never quite get the wild lurch that similar rides give you. Everything seems so very smooth and controlled; as though you were at a cheese and wine party rather than a German beer festival. You may wish to experiment with sitting in bunches in the keg and try to use gravity while the platform is tilted to kick-spin your drunken antics, and you will have some success though this is not always possible.

That said, the ride has so much going for it. The themed building is frankly brilliant and combined with the accompanying music provides a unique and atmospheric take on a ride that could well just be a plain vanilla affair inside a metal building. In fact, once you are inside it is easy to forget you are at Drayton Manor as the distinctly continental theme and quirky building feel very much like Europa Park or Efteling affairs.

The exterior of the building also boasts that this is something different, and you would be hard pushed to see the tin shed underneath the facia. Even the ride platform itself sports wooden floorboards. Some of the more usual Drayton Manor-isms do poke their ugly head through from time to time though, such as the ridiculously slow loading procedure and fairly boring queue line.

The plus points for the theming and decoration are reason enough to ride really and there does seem to be a feeling that the ride cycle itself doesn't quite live up to its surroundings. Despite lifting up so high, the tilt doesn't affect the barrels very much at all, and the centre disc allows you to change the direction you are turning in and very little else. Without the music and themed building, it would all probably feel incredibly sterile and, in a way, the atmosphere lets the ride off the hook of a number of sins.

Your enthusiasm for Drunken Barrels will be heavily linked with how much you like the superb effort the park have put into the scenery that adorns the experience.

If you are going for a family ride that won't leave anyone feeling under the weather, you will come off pleased if not raving. If you are expecting a full blown drinking competition however, you may find the whole thing a bit of a drip.

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:

  • Admirable and impressive theming of the ride
  • The ambience is spot on with the theme
  • Enclosed indoors, this is a true all-weather ride
  • Variation in ride cycle

Bad points:

  • Not as speedy as other rides of its type
  • Slow loading procedure lengthens queues
  • Queue line is fairly dull and offers no views of the ride

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