Some rides are blessed with great names. Names like "Nemesis" or "Oblivion", for example, say it all - hostility, confrontation of fear, rides that takes no prisoners. "The Big One", however you measure it, is big. "Wild Mouse", meanwhile, conjures up an image of a ride that punches above its weight. Names for junior/family coasters are much tougher to get right, but whatever guidelines you apply, "The Antelope" just doesn't sound quite right.
as it may seem, Gulliver's is one of Britain’s most prolific theme
park operators. With three parks scattered around the country
(Gulliver's Kingdom in Derbyshire, Gulliver's Land in Milton Keynes and
Gulliver's World near Warrington), it matches Tussaud's in terms of
quantity, even if its target audience is slightly different.
In terms of
roller coasters, the most interesting of the three parks is Gulliver's
World. Although an out-and-out kiddie park, it does have one or two
rides of interest to adults. Besides an array of quirky rides likely to
raise a smile, the park is home to two large coasters. Wild Mine is a
small and surprisingly intense Wild Mouse coaster, while The Antelope is
significant for the fact that it was the first wooden coaster to open in
Britain in several decades.
1995, The Antelope is an often-forgotten part of the UK's mid 1990s
coaster boom that took the country's theme park market into the big
time. Perhaps surprisingly, the ride is an all-British affair, handled
jointly by the Gulliver's
company and Allott and Lomax, a firm involved in the construction of
most of Britain's major rides since the early 1990s.
sits at the very back of the park and is just about visible over the
rooftops as you go through the park gates. Approaching the ride, first
impressions are very impressive indeed. Unlike Blackpool Pleasure
Beach's "Zipper Dipper" (Britain's only other junior wooden
coaster), you would not necessarily guess that the ride was intended for
children. The drops are surprisingly big, and the ride concedes nothing
to the bigger rides in terms of track gauge or general appearance.
Standing in front of the ride, it is strangely easy to forget that it is
meant to be for young children.
The station is
themed as an ornate little house, with an outdoor staircase leading to
the top-floor loading platform. There is very little to see or do while
waiting, which is very surprising, especially given how slowly the queue
moves. After queuing on the pavement outside, the staircase leads to a
balcony, and into the station. Once inside, the queue zigzags back and
forth along the length of the building before reaching a very narrow
loading platform. Although not actually unpleasant, there is nothing to
grab the children’s attention as they wait for their turn to ride.
whole queue is very unimpressive. The lack of scenery is dull for even
the most patient adult, and is simply asking for trouble given that most
of the park's visitors will be young children with goldfish-like
attention spans. Given that the ride itself has a very attractive look,
it is a shame that so little of it is visible from the queue. Worse
still, the lack of outdoor queue barriers means that the queue can be
quite chaotic, with children leaving and joining the queue constantly.
Given that this is a children's park, surely such things should have
been taken into consideration from day one?
loading platform shows little attention to detail. Rather than using the
bog-standard airgate system to speed up loading, sixteen people are
instead simply let onto the platform at once, and left to sort
themselves out. Fair enough, except that young children are never going
to do this in an orderly fashion, and inevitably stampede toward the
train, oblivious to the fact that the platform is far too narrow to do
junior woodies, The Antelope sports excellent cars, easily capable of
accommodating a full cargo of adults if necessary. In fact, it wouldn't
be an exaggeration to say that the train would not seem out of place on
an adult coaster. This will no doubt come as a relief to any adults who
have tried to squeeze themselves into the Zipper Dipper's tiny seats!
The dual restraints, lap bar and seat-belt, may seem excessive for such
a mild ride, but the overly-energetic nature of its riders suggests that
it may be better to be safe than sorry. In fact, my sole criticism of
the train is that the park name is printed as “Gullivers World” –
sans apostrophe. Honestly, what is the world coming to?
the train, you realise why the queue is so chronically slow. For a
start, it is the only train the ride has. Secondly, as soon as everyone
is seated, little Jimmy realises that he wants to swap places with
little Johnny, and starts crying. While they switch places, little Emma
decides that she'd rather sit with little Gemma, and starts screaming.
As a result, the train can sit in the station for an eternity as the
riders endlessly switch places. Although children are always going to
behave this way, with a little more planning, they could at least have
these tantrums while standing behind air-gates, where their inevitable
squabbling and rearranging won't hinder the ride so much.
sixteen riders finally settled in their seats, the brakes are released
and the train drops out of the station, and around to the lift hill. The
ride has a fairly basic figure-of-8 layout, similar to the Southport
Cyclone, but with the peak of the lift hill and first drop sitting on
Of course, all
expectations of the ride have to take into account the kiddie-orientated
nature of the park. Surely a kiddie coaster would provide about as much
airtime as a Stannah Stairlift? Wrong. Amazingly, the back seat of The
Antelope offers perfectly good airtime - not in the Megafobia/Grand
National league, of course, but certainly enough to give these kids a
real taste of what wooden coasters are all about. A really great start.
lightly banked turnaround, the track heads back under the lift hill.
Given that very little of the ride is visible to spectators after the
first drop, how many people would seriously expect to find a speed hill?
Not many, but that's exactly what you get, and very effective it is too.
At this point you start to wonder whether this really is a kiddie ride -
I can think of several adult coasters that deliver fewer thrills than
this, and we're only at the halfway point of the ride!
about it. From this point, the ride starts to feel a lot rougher than
any junior coaster really should. The designers clearly had very good
intentions for the remainder of the ride, with a hidden Grand
National-like double drop, followed by a double up, but the train just
doesn't execute it the way it should. After a final turnaround, the
track drops into a flat ground level section, before hopping up into the
brakes. Apparently the flat section is there because the original plan
was for a mock water-splash section that was never built. This is a
great shame, as it could have been a terrific finale, whereas without it
the finale falls flat in every sense of the word.
many coasters that suit their park more than The Antelope. Compared with
the park's various small buildings and even smaller rides, Antelope has
as almost as much presence as The Big One at BPB. Although this means
that the ride may seem a little too intimidating for children, those who
dare to ride will be rewarded with an excellent junior coaster.
Antelope's strongest point is its excellent balance between tailoring
the ride toward children, and providing genuine thrills. The inclusion
of elements like the airtime hill and double drop is a credit to the
designers, who could so easily have knocked together a bland coaster on
the assumption that children won't know the difference. The design of
The Antelope shows a genuine enthusiasm to show its young riders why
wooden coasters are held in such high regard. It is an ideal ride to
introduce children to good quality roller coasters, and a perfect
starting ground before moving on to the likes of Southport's Cyclone or
BPB's Roller Coaster and Big Dipper.
biggest single letdown is the roughness of the second half of the ride,
which really fails to live up to the promise of the first half. Good
elements like the double drop fail to have the impact they deserve to
have. Also, the
non-appearance of the water-splash section is a shame for both riders
and spectators, as it could have been a spectacular way to end the ride.
Alas, the ride
does itself few favours in terms of infrastructure. Not only is the
queue dull, slow, and disorganised, spectators don't get much
opportunity to see the ride in action. This seems a fairly basic error,
partly as the impressive scale of the ride means that apprehensive
riders would benefit from being able to watch the ride in action, and
partly because parents are given little opportunity to see their little
ones enjoy the ride. It seems obvious that Gulliver's biggest blunder is
the failure to provide pleasant and efficient ways of organising the
queues and loading procedures.
niggles, The Antelope is easily the best children's coaster in the UK.
Giving a thrilling, but not intimidating ride for children, the ride has
more than a few tricks up its sleeve to keep the adults entertained.
Riding The Antelope makes
you realise how lacking most large parks are in terms of
"intermediate" rides that bridge the gap between the myriad of
Pinfari Apple and Dragon coasters, and the all-out thrill rides.
The Antelope is designed to appeal to children, and not only does it succeed, but it manages to bring a smile to even the face of even the most cynical adult. Given the number of parks that buy in kiddie rides and call them "family rides", The Antelope is billed as a kiddie ride, and manages to be a highly respectable family ride.
Here is our bullet point review of this attraction, highlighting everything that is great about it, and everything that is sadly bad.