Coaster Kingdom

Rumba Rapids (Thorpe Park)

Have you ever wanted to see the ‘source of the current’, the fictional home of Ribena? No, neither have I.

Ribena Rumba Rapids is another attempt by Tussauds at injecting life into a lifeless attraction. Thunder River has never been anything to tell your friends about, but then before there has been little reason to get excited about such an unassuming ride – with a subdued entrance and a queue as plain as a cream cracker, it has never been that much of a shock to find the actual ride to be somewhat featureless throughout.

Although in its loosest sense the dictionary term of ‘new’ does cover overhauls of existing rides, I put it to you that anyone would laugh in my face if a luridly painted queue line and some fibreglass blackcurrants with cheeky grins would constitute as being a new ride.

This is exactly what Rumba Rapids is.

The Rumba Rapids experience starts near the Tea Cup Twisters in Calypso Quay. Sadly, the entrance of the ride being a sensational shade of green fails to put people off the ride, and the queue often reaches back across Calypso Quay as the Rumba Rapids queue-line is unable to hold little over 30 minutes of queue.

Clasped onto the lime-green bridge at the entrance to the ride is a mischievous little lizard, surprising unwitting queuers by spraying a craftily aimed jet of water. You can look forward to similar little touches as much as you like, but they’re never going to materialise.

A brightly coloured walkway skirts around the edge of a rather square lake. Safety announcements are introduced by an odd popping noise, the language I assume to be spoken by a safety conscious Ribena berry before a softly spoken person speaks the law of the land.

The rest of the queue is although brightly coloured, featureless. The end of the queue drops down onto the customary turntable. The control box in the middle is again a shade of green, trimmed with stripy drainpipes and a yellow snake thing on the plastic thatched roof with the turntable surrounded with an undulating fence. No prizes for guessing what colour it is painted in.

The boats are simply awful and look like the cheap plastic toy you get in Christmas crackers that you throw away. In garish shades of red, purple and green, each is littered with a melee of random tasteless and tacky logos, trimmed with a tatty rubber ring at the base.

My problems with the boats go way beyond aesthetics, however. The eight-seater boats are exactly the same size as the six-seater ones that they replace. Despite being told in my childhood not to talk to strangers, I’m slightly uncomfortable by the fact that nowadays children are expected to virtually sit on strangers laps to enjoy the ride.

The seats are not padded, and seat back ends uncomfortably halfway down your back. With no central grab rail, I find it insulting that I am told to hold on when all I have is a pathetic handle to the side of my seat that I am almost sitting on anyway.

Before you’re even seated comfortably (although, should the truth be told, that’s never going to happen), the boat rolls off the end of the turntable and immediately saunters around a 180-degree turn and skims beneath a waterfall. A crescendo of excitement from our fellow marines is offered as a drum roll as we approach the waterfall. It all to soon changes to a sigh of disappointment as the boat passes unscathed and without any war wounds. The waterfall is best compared to a runny nose and makes a toilet flush look like Niagara.

A sudden 180-degree turn takes us into a long but slightly choppy straight section. Pipes beneath the shallow water are like speed ramps in every sense as the boat violently thumps over each pipe offering a sensation not dissimilar to sliding down a storm drain on a dustbin lid.

A few less violent ripples follow as your under-whelmed expressions are caught on camera without warning. You enter a misty tunnel and skirt around the outer walls beneath a waterfall lit in a nice shade of purple.

Here we see the ‘source of the current’. Quick, turn it off. Of course, this is like a scene from Professor Burp’s Bubble Works although far less animated as the Ribena berries stand around and do something or other. I guess the berries are making Ribena, which is sinisterly made from their pulped friends. Maybe they’ll endure the same fate – who knows?

Outside again, we pass a riverside shack with a Ribena berry on a rocking chair just as we enter a wave pool. You slowly hover for about 30-seconds before dipping under a bridge and through a sweeping 90-degree bend.

The finale is simple. You pause beneath a (bright green) water tower. As people whoop with expectation, not a drop falls from the water tower, and instead a couple of jets of water spray hit the back of your head from elsewhere as boats are siphoned onto the final lift.

It is a strange phenomenon that by spending even too little on a ride the finished attraction is actually worse than what forewent it, but Tussaud’s have sadly made this an art form.

Increasing the capacity is a good move, but as well as looking like glorified washing-up bowls, the new boats make the ride an uncomfortable and frankly lousy experience.

My main complaint with rapids rides at theme parks that is aside the minority, they make no effort to explain why you’re actually white-water rafting in the first place. There have always been exceptions, especially newer rides, but if you’re going to theme a ride, you may as well do it properly.

This is why I’ve never had a problem with Thunder River – it has always been quite inconspicuous and inoffensive – it has never been themed and although dull, doesn’t profess to be anything else.

Rumba Rapids on the other hand now joins ranks of themed rides – it is beyond me why the opportunity to actually explain why you’re drifting down a river is passed up, and why they thought painting the previously weathered shades of brown in adventure playground colours would constitute as theming.

With colours bright enough to necessitate the wearing of darkened shades whilst you queue, it seems the ride itself is all the more dull remaining untouched with the peeling paint on the sides of the concrete channel. Where before the ride was a complete non-event, the flippantly themed queue-line now just highlights how dreary the ride actually is and makes it look like they’ve run out of paint mid-way through the re-theme.

Again, like the boats not only am I saying the ride is no oil painting, but also that the ride is as dull as old boots too. The two waterfalls around the ride are useless and have no effect.

The wave pool is ineffective as it isn’t a respite from the normal flow of the ride, more an anti-climatic conclusion following on from the most lifeless stretch of rapids I have ever gone down. Wave pools normally throw the boat from side-to-side - this just stops the flow of water.

The water is too shallow, showing too much of the ugly concrete channel and the bright yellow pipes beneath the water that make (or should make) the waves. Of course, the boat doesn’t really react to these waves too well, grinding along the bottom on a couple of occasions.

Basically, the flaws of Rumba Rapids are simple. Before, a dull queue line was unassuming and low key, as was the ride. Now the brightly coloured queue offers a casually themed build up to a Ribena-themed adventure that frankly never transpires.

We can’t even take comfort in that the ride is actually a good rapids ride. It never has been and I doubt ever will be – not whilst they rely on spraying water from bushes, anyway.

Ribena Rumba Rapids fails to deliver on a number of levels. With cheap theming ruining what was already a poor ride, I simply cannot recommend something that will taint an otherwise good day at Thorpe Park.

1/5 Marcus Sheen