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month's article is by Damien Bennett
BLAND AS WALLPAPER AND AS BORING AS MICHAEL HOWARD. CHESSINGTONíS FALL
FROM GRACE TO DISGRACE.
coaster enthusiasts are not the most hip people in the world. To most
people the vision of a Ďroller coaster enthusiastí drums up images
of lonely men in anoraks with glasses thick enough to see the cells on
your skin. The visions, from my experience are not far from the truth,
but there is a certain passion within each and every enthusiast that can
not be explained and demands attention.
have to admit, a month ago I thought I had kicked the habit. I found I
was no longer interested in the ups and downs of the theme park industry.
Hand me a bottle of beer and a good-looking lady (ok maybe not the lady)
and I was happy. I didnít have to worry about trivial matters anymore,
what Alton Towers were planning to build and whether Paul Orsmond would
ever meet Elissa Alvey seemed to fade out of the interested part of my
brain and into the side crammed full of useless knowledge and trivia.
indeed I was a free man. That was until Marcus Sheen came a long and
ruined it all.
guess bad habits donít die fast. Make no mistake about it I consider
my interest in roller coasters to be a bad habit taking away the value
of the more important things in life. Marcus had sent me a message
asking whether I would like to be a guest writer for a new section on
Coaster Kingdom. I pondered over the offer, and replied saying that
nothing was of interest at the moment, but if something came up I would
give him a shout.
have to admit, and I apologise to Marcus in advance for this, I never
actually intended to write the article. I never thought Iíd have
anything to write it about, and I would have been right had it not been
for one fateful visit to Chessington World of Adventures.
time I spend back at home during my break from University is usually
spent moping about. Going on MSN, Watching TV and playing football. From
the depths of my boredom came an idea, why not spend a day at one of the
parks I used to love visiting. So I grabbed the phone and rang my good
friend Mike and it was arranged that the following day we would go to
the wonderful, fantabulous, absolutely crazy-bingo Chessington World of
night before I could not contain my excitement. Like the kids on the
half price Disney advert I couldnít go to sleep. The thoughts of
riding my favourite ridesÖ OK the bull stops there. I was expecting
the day to be fun, but had heard rumours that the park might not be as
good as it had been on my last visit. After a sound nights sleep we
headed off unaware that Damienís Ďenthusiast brainí was ticking
and ready for a comeback tour.
donít plan on writing a trip report, so Iíll sum it up in a short
day was short and shit.
I am being romantic, but when I part way with twenty-seven pounds of my
hard-earned cash I expect to come away citing more positives than
negatives about my day. The sad truth is that Chessington is a shadow of
its former self. Old attractions ruined by the greedy corporate minds of
its owners, imagination and innovation replaced with double takes of
attractions and themes from other parks. There is simply no innovation,
no risk or atmosphere. The park is bland and boring, there are no new
things to intrigue you, no scenery to get your imagination going.
way what Chessington has become is a mimic of what society has become.
In todayís world nobody is prepared to take a risk. Innovation is
frowned upon, as suits in large oligopolies would rather go with a tried
and tested formula than something new and original. In this day and age
we are taking imaginative, passionate people from the high positions and
replacing them with business students, straight from university. People
with no passion, except for the greed of money. People who are better
off working out the trivial matters in accounts rather than bothering
the artists and designers that made the theme park industry what it is.
the new enthusiasts are showing signs of blandness. Born
and bred in an era of placid thrill rides they donít know what
innovation is. Suggestions of new rides coming from the so called
experts are often now just normal thrill rides plonked on a grid of
concrete. When asked for suggestions of what would make a good new ride
at Chessington even its fans were hard pushed to come up with anything
more exciting than a Huss Topple Tower. Similar to the music industry
the theme parks in general try as hard as possible not to escape the
comfortable surroundings of the typical Disney-esque themes of the West,
jungles, space and movies.
there is an excuse for the lack of quality that has been going into our
theme parks as of late. Sure us enthusiasts can get on our soapboxes and
moan away but the reality is that theme parks are businesses. They are
not natural money makers like some of the more ignorant enthusiasts
assume, the recent closure of Southport Pleasureland being a perfect
example of this. So what can they do? Maybe the large amount of
corporate sponsorship within our parks is the only thing that is keeping
them open as flights become cheaper and cheaper. The majority of
families are now able to afford a proper holiday and are turning their
backs on the theme parks they used to treasure.
of innovation is one thing, but survival is another more important issue.
You can mill about all you like pointing out how poor our parks in the
UK are compared to those in Germany but did you ever think why? Clearly
not for more than five minutes. You see the vast majority of Germans are
still happy to holiday within their own country. The UK has the highest
amount of foreign-holiday makers in the world. Asking the likes of
Thorpe Park, Chessington, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Alton Towers to
compete with Europa Park is like asking a member of the ECC to beat
Justin Gatlin in a one hundred metre sprint. It ainít gonna happen -
the running one hundred metres I mean, not the beating of Gatlin.
this puts us in a difficult position. With the market for theme parks in
the UK being so small how much can we really demand? Can we demand the
levels of theming you get to see in parks like Phantasialand and Europa
Park? Probably not. But what we can demand, or ask very politely for is
for the parks to put in a little effort. Sometimes it is the effort you
put in and not the money that counts. For example instead of replacing
themed, wooden signs with tacky, plastic signs why not put in that
little bit of extra effort to make another themed sign. Itís not that
hard and it can add that little bit extra to peopleís experiences.
the lack of effort at Chessington in the recent years which has annoyed
me. Log onto the infamous South Parks forum and have a gander. There you
will see the pride that Chessington team leaders take in their job, and
more importantly letting other people know about how important it is.
People are happy to boast about how senior they are at a theme park, how
much they can make a difference but they donít seem to put the
responsibility they lay claim to into practice. Either because of lack
of motivation or sheer laziness even the Ďsmartí employees at
Chessington donít want to make that effort to make peoples day better.
as a park seems disillusioned. On my last visit unexplainable actions
had been undertaken. If you are lucky enough to be running a park with
brilliantly themed queue lines of the likes of Rameses Revenge and Tomb
Blaster then why make people wait outside the queue on the pathways? If
you have the money to employ five people to work on one thrill ride then
why are the loading times still eight minutes? If you have themed music
for a ride, why do you make the decision to turn it off? Pre-recorded
announcements, done by professionals are replaced with cocky ride hosts
who tell jokes about their mates that no one understands. Adults with
the sense of humour of Jim Davidson trying out their pub routine for
later on unsuspecting families, who provide a poor audience as they
donít even laugh out of kindness.
people complain about issues that are of no financial matter you know
you are doing a bad job. When you have to bribe your audience into
thinking they had a good day by providing them with cereal box toys as
they leave you know you are doing a bad job. Chessington already has
some wonderful resources at it disposal. Staff that would care about
their jobs with a bit of motivation, an audience that will not destroy
the scenery and a good variety of rides with pleasant theming are all
within their arsenal. Why they choose not to maximise these resources is
beyond me. How they come to the decision that plonking Eclipse in the
middle of a well themed area is the right thing to do is beyond me.
I wrote this article I had it in mind to explain why Chessington comes
to these decisions. I canít. Some of the decisions management takes
inside the park are unexplainable. Sure I can understand the reasoning
behind the sponsorship, behind the lack of major rides and lack of
investment but the laziness, the allowing of staff to get away with
murder and the blatant ignoring of some of Chessingtonís prize assets
are surprising and bewildering. It makes you wonder just how the
management at Chessington got their jobs after all.
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