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Apocalypse (Drayton Manor)


Rides like Hydro and Colossus go to show that Intamin’s insanity knows no bounds. Indeed, even before these rides, Intamin were one of the most innovative and pioneering manufacturers of modern times.

Intamin can be accredited with inventing the first river rapids ride (Thunder River, Six Flags Houston), had involvements in the first modern vertical looping roller coaster (Revolution, Magic Mountain) and in the early 80s debuted the first theme park freefall ride (Six Flags Magic Mountain).

Intamin’s Freefalls were quickly refined from the clunky and cumbersome first-generation rides into the must-have ride of the 20th Century. The first-generation rides took a car of four people vertically up a lift shaft before pushing them out onto a ledge, dropping 13 stories, curving out at the bottom of the drop onto your back before stopping and uprighting again in the station.

The only real marketable string to the first-generation’s bow was the sensation of freefall, something that hadn’t yet been available to theme parks. Like many of history’s greatest prototypes, capacity was so-so, reliability was poor and the concept needed refining before it could really become popular.

The second-generation Freefall was unrecognisable.

Instead of an unwieldy latticework structure, a single, slender pillar would take anything from 4 to 8 separate cars up a vertical track before dropping them vertically. Instead of curving out at the bottom (a waste of drop and a waste of parks’ valuable real estate at the same time), cars would be stopped vertically thanks to permanent magnets.

The advantages over the first-generation Freefall were almost innumerable. Second-generation Freefalls sold like hotcakes around the world, parks using their versatility to climb closer to the sky and rival manufacturers using the basis of the ride on which to make their own.

Various manufacturers have since copied the idea to the point that the humble tower ride is nearly at saturation point. New twists were devised; launches, accelerated drops, combinations of the two and turning gondolas.

However, stepping in from the sidelines, Intamin were quick to prove that they could push the envelope where, so far, nobody dared push it. May 2000, Drayton Manor, and the World’s first stand-up tilting freefall opens.

But further to this, Drayton Manor took the first step in providing the true Neapolitan of Freefalls with a flavour for everyone, initially including two standard sit down cars as well as two stand up cars that tilt forwards 15-degrees as they climb the 180ft tower.

Once the ride had become established, in 2002 Drayton Manor launched ‘The Fifth Element’, making use of the yet-unused fifth side of the tower. This fifth side is not only ‘stand up’, but also floorless, again tilting to 15-degrees off vertical as you rise. This wicked new flavour tests the palette of the most hardcore thrill ride enthusiast.

Marcus Sheen 4/5

Sit Down

Although second-generation Freefalls aught to be remembered with chocolate and watches as one of Switzerland’s best exports, the UK never really enjoyed the success of Intamin’s Freefalls. I’d speculate much of this is down to many parks’ inability to install 200ft tower rides due to planning regulations, but also due to the fact that Britain was late jumping on the freefall bandwagon. By the time there was an active interest, more alternatives were available, including Oakwood’s Huss tower (combining launch with accelerated freefall) and Blackpool’s Space Shot (launched), with the honour of only Intamin Freefall in the country going to Trocadero in London which was made unique by its indoor setting.

Whilst Drayton Manor’s Apocalypse was made unique by the stand up cars, two of the cars were standard sit down cars and were as vanilla as they come. Therefore, Apocalypse gives you not only one of the most intense freefalls in the country, but a ‘warm up’ drop ride too.

Standing at 180ft, Apocalypse doesn’t do much to re-assure the anxious rider, and Drayton Manor revelled in this making the experience even more foreboding with an (aptly) apocalyptic brick-red bunker surrounding the base of the grey tower and plodding soundtrack. The ‘Manor have eased on the fear juice recently, though, instead playing BRMB (who, along with Walls have sponsored the ride) which unleashes a terror in an entirely different disguise; namely in the form of various disposable teen-pop bands.

The choice of whether to sit or stand is made at the foot of the bunker where you bear right to sit, climbing a set of stairs and entering the industrial interior of the building. The queue wraps around half of the circumference of the conical building with the tower plunging through the centre. Not only does this deserve a nod for its conservative use of real estate, but it also affords a convenient gallery from which to watch the cars drop into view.

Intamin’s sit-down drop rides are furnished in much the same way as B&M trains with comfortable body-hugging seats, chunky restraints and a single seatbelt between the legs. Once sat, a siren sounds and the car slowly crawls up the tower.

As you reach the top of the bunker and enter daylight, the pace quickens as you smoothly accelerate up the tower, detail on the ground becoming vaguer and your view of the park better.

As the cameras creep into view, you slow to a halt. Heartbeats count down the seconds before without even a hint of a warning you drop 180ft at 50mph, stopping in a matter of feet as you re-enter the bunker.

Apocalypse compares well to other British freefalls with only Detonator up to the challenge of taking it on. Even on a global scale, the sit down side is above average although it does fall short – literally – of many newer Intamin freefalls. Whilst height most certainly isn’t indicative of the drop quality, extra height does well to intimidate even the most hardy of riders.

Of course, sharing the same tower with two alternative drop rides is its Achilles heel – it compares poorly to the stand up tower, and is less ‘fashionable’ than the new Fifth Element side.

Even so, it allows more hesitant riders to test the water. If you’re up to the challenge, the stand up drop is a larger step than you might think, if not, then at least the ride was over in a second.

Marcus Sheen 3/5

Stand Up

Almost as acknowledge the forthcoming freefall frenzy in the UK, Drayton Manor made sure their freefall grabbed the headlines from the outset giving riders the option first enjoy the ride in it’s most vanilla form before having the option to move onto the novel stand-up side. In fact, despite Intamin offering all the different car types of Apocalypse as optional ‘upgrades’ to existing towers, Apocalypse is still one of only a few such rides in the world.

Freefalls are rightly criticised for their lack of longevity owing mainly to their one-trick nature. It’s a hell of a trick, but there’s only so many times you can see a rabbit pulled from a hat before you know what happens. Apocalypse expands upon the humble drop ride and opens a new chapter in the book in the form of a stand up freefall. And, from 2002, this chapter formed the pre-amble to yet more enjoyment in the form of the Fifth Element.

Drayton Manor have proved before that something original is more marketable than something out of the box. Fortunately, though, since Shockwave the application of standing up has been refined somewhat. The clunky design of the seating and restraints has been developed to consist of a vertically sliding saddle and single overhead restraint, and dealing with only a maximum of eight riders at a time, the staff can make sure that riders adjust their ‘seat’ to the correct height before the position of the saddle locks.

A klaxon sounds as the car slowly creeps away from the platform. A sinister touch in design is that the headrests angle downwards which means that by the time you approach the top of the bunker, and the car quickly tilts forwards 15-degrees, you have little in the way of alternatives in where to look.

As you enter daylight, the ride picks up a gear and slowly accelerates as it climbs the tall tower affording a view just beyond the outskirts of the park. The now-familiar routine of slowing to a halt as the cameras creep into view is no less intimidating having ridden the sit-down side as you stop 180ft above the ground.

Without warning, you drop.

If you’re expecting a similar experience to the sit down side, you’ll soon have the wind blown out of you as the stand up side offers a feeling of freefall that is far more drawn out, intense and abrupt.

As you enter the building, still almost at full speed, you stop within feet of the elevated queue line and slowly ease down the last few feet back to terra firma.

This isn’t scientific, mind you, as it is entirely possible that the cars drop at a similar speed to their sit down siblings opposite, but the sensation is there, and frankly it’s terrifying.

Furthermore, the reliance upon the restraints as the car tilts a relatively small, but nevertheless terrifying 15-degrees is fiendish. Even the headrest is angled downward meaning that you have no choice but to stare your fate right in the eyes.

Even on its own, the stand up drop tower is completely self sufficient, but not only does this offer a stand-up alternative to the sit down tower, but it offers a completely different ride that is leagues ahead of an already fairly decent drop tower.  

Marcus Sheen 4/5

Stand Up Floorless: The Fifth Element

For two years, Apocalypse's fifth track lay dormant. The initial plan was to wait and see which of the two existing types of car was the more popular, then fit one onto the fifth track, but that was to be abandoned in favour of fitting a whole new type of car.

After the original opening of Apocalypse, Intamin continued to build their Giant Drop rides at parks throughout the world, and to tinker with the way the ride worked. When Six Flags Over Georgia announced their version of the ride, gentlemen the world over winced at the thought of riding in a what was billed as a "floorless stand-up" car. Soon it became clear that this was what track 5 would host.

In 2002 Hear'Say were at Drayton Manor to open Maelstrom, and while they were there, the group's newest member, Johnny Shentall opened what the park were calling "The Fifth Element". What's that? Hear'Say? You know, they were the winners of Popstars. No? Oh, never mind. It got opened, that's what matters.

To ride The Fifth Element, just follow the queue as if you were going to ride the normal stand-up cars. When you reach the gates, just continue past the older cars. Once you have made your way around the tower, it is time for the secret of floorless standing to be revealed. Brace yourself...

You sit down.

Yup, that's all there is to it. Can't get to grips with the idea? OK, let me demonstrate. Go and find yourself a high stool. Now, sit on it and shuffle forwards so that you are right on the edge of the seat. You are now doing a perfect impression of Apocalypse's "floorless standing". A more precise description would be "uncomfortable sitting".

As with the original stand-up cars, you begin to rise and soon find yourself leaning forward slightly as the car tips outward. At this point, you'll realise that it is best to have your restraint as tight as you can possibly have it, as you feel your weight acting against it. This isn't very comfortable, and it seems obvious that if the car is going to tilt, it should do it at the top of the tower.

The drop is exactly the same as on the sit-down cars, and is great fun. Hitting the brakes isn't anywhere near as painful as spectators would assume, but is still not as comfortable as on either of the other types of car. It is at this point that you see the sense in tilting the car, as it means that the majority of your weight is taken by the restraint, rather that concentrated on the partial-posterior planted on the seat.

The Fifth Element still gives a great ride, just not as great as the existing cars. It seems a shame that what should have been a step forward has not fulfilled its promise. Queuing for The Fifth Element takes a lot of patience, partially because there is only one car of this design, partly because the hype that its presence has generated means everyone wants to try it, and partly because (like the old stand up cars), the climb to the top takes an eternity compared with the much lighter sit-down cars.

The bottom line (bottomless line if you prefer) is that if you only get one chance to ride Apocalypse, you should definitely go for the older stand-up cars. With a more comfortable riding position, they offer a far superior ride. The Fifth Element is a nice novelty, but nothing more than that.  

John Phillips 3/5