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As you Kingdom cronies will know, I have no qualms in calling a spade a spade, especially when it comes to reviewing rides that – how can I put it? – leave much to be desired. Like the village idiot with a sign saying kick me, it is difficult sometimes to pass the opportunity to scorn these rides with brazen relish.

But sometimes, and it pains me to say so, I feel guilty.

As I put forward my argument, at the back of my mind I know sometimes the end result is not because of apathy, and not because the idea was flawed from the outset; just that the idea doesn’t seem to work.

The numbers are there, they just don’t add up.


Valhalla was a great idea, but just doesn't work

So what happens in between someone coming up with a good idea, announcing a good idea, building a good idea, and then having opened the ride, wonder whether it really was such a good idea in the first place?

Sometimes, too many ideas can be a bad thing.

I get a lot of stick for it, but I think Valhalla was a nice idea, poorly executed. They had the blue sky, but they weren’t content with filling it with white fluffy clouds. They thought bigger and better – they thought thunderclouds and lightning. And fire. Lots of it.

It all sounds like elements of an amazing ride, but the end result was a mess. You are confronted by effect after effect with little correlation between them in an experience that is often miserable and always uncomfortable.

By contrast, Phantasialand’s Feng Ju Palace went the opposite way, absconded from OTT effects and relied on subtlety and a discerning audience.

Feng Ju Palace

Feng Ju Palace looks great but is actually quite boring

Unfortunately, while most things Phantasialand touch turn to gold, no amount of carats could distract us from the unsettling fact that Feng Ju Palace is actually quite boring, verging on pretentious.

So, what is that happy medium? Dark rides are something of a science, and what looks good on paper might not necessarily translate well into reality. In the case of Valhalla and Feng Ju Palace, it’s evident that hearts were in the right place

In fact, and this is a bold claim, there are probably more dark rides that look good that aren’t than those which actually are good. They’re an acquired taste, they cater for a broad audience so the odds are stacked against any park who want to gamble on installing something that people won’t lose interest in within a season or two.

So while Phantasialand normally has the midahs touch, Drayton Manor has the touch of death.

Honestly, on the topic of great rides that weren’t, this whole article could have been about Drayton Manor. If Drayton was a kitchen, it would be full of juicers, ice cream makers and break makers – you know, things that look like they’ll change the world, but soon drop off the radar when people realise they’re more trouble than they’re worth.


One of many "great rides that weren't" at Drayton Manor

The first is Shockwave – another original coaster bought to the UK by Drayton Manor. It was always the weakest of the 1994 triplets, but it was always up against stiff opposition (Big One and Nemesis). The finished ride has flashes of inspiration, such as the immensely fun inline twist, but is otherwise almost a non-event.

The Haunting, a Vekoma Mad House, despite the camp charm, is also another example of Drayton Manor trying something original and coming up trumps – assuming a trump is something you’d rather throw away and forget about.

And Excalibur – where to start? Excalibur is watching paint dry, just in ride form. An outside dark ride was a great idea, but replacing a ride like-for-like was not, and neither was advertising it as ‘an amazing trip into a medieval kingdom’ when it is actually a ‘fairly forgettable trip around a lake with the occasional broken animatronic’.

So it’s difficult to pick just the one, but Drayton Manor’s just opened a new white elephant; one that is painted red and grey and is called G-Force.

Aside the final ride quality, this ride is brilliant. Honestly, it is.

The first computer illustrations came out and painted a picture of a unique ride with a unique layout. It had an upside-down lift hill, a parabolic airtime hill that makes Expedition Ge-Force look as flat as a Roman road, and a fluid-looking ‘cuban eight’ double inversion.

G Force

G-Force looks great, but as a ride most couldn't care less

While everybody was talking about Stealth, a glorified Space Shot if ever there was one (despite it being years off), they ignored the first genuinely original coaster for years in the UK.

Meanwhile, Muggins here sung the virtues of G-Force – something which my perfect 20/20 hindsight makes no apologies for; the illustrations looked amazing, the photos looked amazing... it was just the ride that wasn’t.

Why exactly a small ride with such theatrical turns and inversions could turn out to be so boring and G-forceless is one of those mysteries along with why cats always land on their feet and toast butter-side down.

But, had I been in Drayton’s shoes, I probably would have made the same mistake as them. Continues...

Coaster Kingdom Magazine


Issue 21: Aug 2006

Issue 21
Great Rides... That Weren't
Reliving the excitement of exciting new rides... only to realise they're not actually any good

Open Mic - William Squires
An American Adventure
William Squires defends much-mocked American Adventure

In The Picture
In The Picture
Click to enlarge image