Coaster Kingdom

Rage, Adventure Island
Friday, March 23, 2007

The British Seaside Resort is fast fading away. Not by winds and costal erosion mind, but by the lure of foreign climates and inland theme parks. Some of our once mighty kings of the coast have either vanished into developers' pockets or are rusting away in a rot of false optimism. Only very few can actually say that they are storming ahead with their plans for the future.

For those in the south of the UK, the only real hope on the horizon lies at Southend on Sea, where the last decade or so has transformed a horrible weather-beaten and faded resort in to a frenzy of activity mixing old favourites with a dash of the modern. Whilst the fun-filled days of the Kuursal may stay as distant memories, improvements to the seafront have created a pleasant frontage to the sea with a new observation tower, entrance to the longest "pleasure pier" in the country and path up to the town centre.

However, to really cement its continued honour for Londoners' seaside hot spot of choice, all eyes must be on Adventure Island. For some years "Peter Pan's Adventure Island" provided a haven for kids next to the entrance of the pleasure pier. In the coming years they unceremoniously dropped Peter Pan (thank goodness he has the ability to fly) and were simply Adventure Island. Rides were not big, but almost un-erringly fun. Two Zierer junior coasters provided the cream to a crop of nicely presented rides.

Unlike other parks of its ilk, Adventure Island saw fit to plant around their rides, theme them and create a nice atmosphere. Even fairground spinners got the treatment, with an impressive Egyptian-themed Twist and Scorpion Troika. More recent additions have carried on in the same vein with a Zamperla Disk-O, Pinfari Mini-Mega and various home-concocted attractions that whilst may not have had the same presentational accolades of a few years previous, were still nicely decorated and well situated.

Seeming to strike a nice balance between family rides and some spinners for the more adventurous, rumours were always rife that the park wanted more. Ideas and plans came and went, but 2007 has seen the park leap with gay abandon straight into the deep end of the pool and install what, to the general public and local residents, must look like the most terrifying ride imaginable.

Gerstlauer Eurofighters have been doing excellent business these days, so whilst perhaps its installation is not the greatest surprise to those in the know, its sheer difference from any ride around it must prompt fears that it could turn out to be something of a painful belly flop. But nothing ventured, nothing gained - and the rides success will surely affect future choices and installations at the park, so lets look at newest addition to the Adventure Island family.

Just in case anyone wasn't struck by the sight of people lumbering around a vertical lift and beyond-vertical drop, the park have painted the ride and its tower in pink and yellow to ensure it is very very noticeable. Clearly seen from the towns High Street, the ride acts a beacon pointing the way to Adventure Island.

The entrance to the ride slices between the lift and the drop, and a plain metal ramp takes you to the metal hut that now adds silver to the pink and yellow scheme. The cars are quaint affairs; two rows seating four people each mean that only eight can experience our adventure at a time. Just in case you hadn't guessed, the cars are, yep… pink and yellow. Brandishing our wristband in front of the staff, air gates let us through to our seats. Any excited riders will soon be deflated though, as the most boring and dull voice at any amusement park in the world ever tells us to pull our restraints down and buckle up. As has become expected of Gerstlauer, the restraints are roomy and comfortable.

Without delay, we are off out of the station, and settle at the base of the lift until the car before us has cleared the brakes. Then, with a whir of motors, we slowly tip onto our back and work our way up the vertical lift hill. Those with butterflies will be squirming violently as the trip to the top of the tower seems to last an eternity. At the top, we are swiftly tipped back to upright, then without pausing, straight onto our fronts and beyond as we are flicked over the top and down the drop. Before we even realise it, we are back onto our backs and heading around the enormous vertical loop.

The small car takes the loop fairly slowly, and causes us to drop into our restraints at the top before we run down the other side and head into the overbanked turn that twists us around onto our right side before speeding down a ramp and onto our left where a long helix then fails to level out and in fact tips us into an inline twist to our left. Still with plenty of speed, we scream down to our right before an exhilarating sharp change of direction takes us around an upward helix to our left and into the scarily quiet brake run.

Whilst we might be whooping with delight, the voice with the charisma of a golf ball is back to take the shine off our experience by repeatedly telling us to undo our belts before we return to the station and everyone exits to the left.

It's a good ride - it really is. Blissfully smooth throughout, and with the view from the front providing track that literally drops away from you it is obvious that the clientele are enjoying it. It is perhaps a little short, but the plus side to that is that there are no dead spots whatsoever. The 97 degree flick at the top of the drop lunges you forward as though toppling off a diving board. The drop itself is good but without the long protracted rush of rides like oblivion, it is over before you really get the sensation of hurtling towards the ground.

The really strange thing about the ride though, is that it seems that people are enjoying it despite the parks efforts. You won't be able to ride Rage without seeing a crowd gathered around the lift watching this bizarre contraption in awe and amazement. It's just as well they are looking up really, as the bottom of the ride is a catastrophe. Balanced on temporary looking metal foundations, an exceptionally large space once occupied by the Raging River log flume is now left redundant and with no decoration save some unpainted fencing looks fairly grim.

The park is promoting Rage as following a superhero style, but you'll never guess this unless you look at a promotional banner for the ride. To everyone else, it looks like a modern art sculpture of Mr Blobby. Metal fences and pot plants do not a garden make.

Having installed speakers in the station and brake run, the park then fails to big-up and market your experience in any way, and with a voice that sounds like it is commentating on the dullest snooker match imaginable and about to go comatose, the sense of drama just never begins. One gets the impression they are treating the ride as though it were another Zierer junior coaster, which it most certainly is not.

It would be tempting to suggest that everything that Gerstlauer have provided fits the bill, and everything provided by Adventure Island falls short of expectation. The park now owns a big ride of great accolade, which competes against a different level compared to their other rides. If they could match this with a presentation and drama to suit it, they will have a popular hit on their hands.

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:

  • The lift and drop are an impressive sight on the skyline
  • Comfortable restraints, and a smooth ride throughout
  • Perfectly paced and ends before it runs out of ideas

Bad points:

  • Decoration and colour scheme may cause illness
  • No sense of drama and/or fun pre and post ride

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