Coaster Kingdom

Vortex (Thorpe Park)

It has been a bitter/sweet relationship with spin rides that I have had for the last ten-or-so years. Our first argument was in 1993, where at the local fair I had perhaps had more candyfloss than is medically recommended. This resulted in the Technicolor yawn, reacquainting me with not only candyfloss but also the various party-digested parts of food that made up my previous two meals.

I ignored spin rides for years, but thanks to the much ridiculed settings theme parks run their rides on (Chessington specifically), we buried the hatchet and I rode the relatively tame Rameses Revenge.

Since we’ve been on talking terms, I enjoy spin rides to a certain extent but hope I know where to draw the line.

One company that carefully crafts these most disorientating of contraptions is German company, Huss. The Pirate Ship to them is what the Boomerang is to Vekoma – that is, of course, rather popular. A variation was inevitable, and by replacing the fibreglass keel of the Pirate Ship with a rotating disk, the Frisbee was born.

It was an Italian copy of this ride at Six Flags Holland that had me riding with my stomach tighter than a bouncer taking a beating from a thug – fortunately, I didn’t experience ‘banquet recall’, but had it gone on for perhaps another couple of minutes, then the results would have been predictably gross.

It was the random spinning aspect that really did me in, and although I wasn’t disorientated, my stomach (specifically the food within) certainly was.

Over to Holland. KMG further enhanced this success to swing to 120-degrees and added inverter-style seats so that there would be no floor beneath bewildered riders. KMG enjoyed the so-called Afterburner’s success on the fair circuit for a few years before Thorpe Park ordered one to accompany their two other thrill rides for 2001.

The ride was unforgivably late in delivery and until the middle of July was a concrete hole on the side of the lake at Thorpe Park. The absence of the ride was also highlighted by a report on the do-gooder programme, Watchdog on national television.

The ride is certainly an eye-opener. As you enter the park over the bridge, the pendulous claw of Vortex swings and spins dramatically to your left. It is a great first impression, and as such will have many excided visitors heading towards the colourful structure.

The ride consists of a mint green structure spanning the entire width of the platform, suspended from which a rich gold column. From this column span eight deep blue arms in a star formation, each supporting four inverter-style seats.

The ride is of a reasonable capacity, and queues normally are comfortable. Watching the ride, I was almost hypnotised by the speed of each swing. Fortunately, each swing is not accompanied by a whirlpool of spinning, more a gentle rotation, an aspect that really helped keep me calm during the queue.

Loading of the ride is a bit too slow for my liking. It isn’t until the last person has left the platform before the gate is thrust open. It seems an annoying trait for people to sit down, comfortably, BEFORE realising that their shoes may be flung into central London and then spending all the time in the world removing the offending articles only to be told to put them back on again.

Once everyone is sat comfortably, accompanying the safety spiel that pretty much covers every loose article that could be lost, the bars quickly lower, clicking firmly into place before upon checking, the operator leaves the platform.

The floor lowers by about a metre before the gondola of seats slowly starts to turn. Fifteen seconds later, once the turn is at a nearly unnerving rate, you are pulled to the side as the arm begins to spin.

At first, this is really pleasant with gentle shimmies over the surrounding shrubbery. It is not long before gentle swings evolve into rather large and exhilarating swoops.

Each swing is potent and very assisted feeling far less natural than a Pirate Ship. As you get higher, your feet seem to brush past the edge of the platform as you swing above the waiting queue line and entrance area to the ride.

At the pinnacle of each swing, the turning of the gondola is highlighted, and below you, getting smaller, people stare up at you. The swings soon get even higher, you feel yourself fall into the restraints as the swings reach about 120-degrees.

Between each end, an extremely exhilarating moment of flight is experienced as you swoop above the courtyard adjacent to the lake, over the below shrubbery, scraping past the platform.

People writhing in terror opposite soon stop screaming as the swoops become more palatable, smaller, the turning slows and the ride slowly concludes.

As your feet dangle, the colourful platform floor below rises and you jump from your seat and cross towards the exit.

Me? I think I’m in love. Vortex is a fantastic combination of forces. The swooping too and fro is incredibly bracing, surprisingly hasty and not at all stomach churning. Fortunately, the turning of the gondola isn’t done to excess and doesn’t stir up my stomach up like a Kenwood mixer.

The seats aren’t too uncomfortable. The bars do seem to push on your legs, but compared to the Chance Inverter and Huss Top Spin, it is like a leather upholstered settee from Courts. They’re just plastic though, which perhaps doesn’t do wonders for your back, but the ride is predictable in its movements and smooth as it does so, so this shouldn’t leave you crippled.

There are just a few gripes. The spinning seems to be just at the wrong speed. If on the high swings you face the ground, you are pretty much guaranteed to be looking at the ground on every swing. If you swing with your back to the ground, likewise you will be spending much of the ride on your back. A simple change in direction of spin would probably sort this problem, even perhaps a slightly faster spin.

At the moment, the ride seems to be an incredibly popular addition to Thorpe Park with more repeat riding I have ever experienced with a simple spin ride. This is perhaps to do with the quality of ride offered even though queues average out at 30 minutes.

Vortex is a very timely addition. With Colossus, thrill seekers require more than a single coaster (however good), and Vortex suits this bill to a tee and further enforces the fact that Thorpe Park is beginning to trounce any local competition what so ever.

As well as being a very sensible addition, Vortex ensures that you have a thoroughly enjoyable ride.

5/5 Marcus Sheen