Coaster Kingdom


Wild River Rapids, James Mellors

I remember thumbing through an old Alton Towers Guidebook, remembering how back in 1986, the Grand Canyon Rapids (now Congo River Rapids) was the biggest project the park ever undertook.

I remember accounts of how tens of thousands of tons of rock dating back to the Triassic period covering ten acres were forcibly removed with explosives, and how the ride had to have a special lake and power sub-station built to enable millions of gallons of water to be pumped around the meandering course.

While improvements in technology enable more rides than ever to be transportable, looking at the grand undertaking that was Alton’s Grand Canyon Rapids, it is understandable why fairs haven’t until recently seen a transportable rapids ride.

Of course, while many rides start off on the fair circuit and make the step across into the world of theme parks (look at most of Huss’ back catalogue, for example), for many the opposite can be said. It took three years for the first inverted coaster (Eurostar) to debut on the fair circuit for example.

Yet, despite the logistics of building a ride like the Grand Canyon Rapids, this is no excuse. The Egyptians built pyramids and someone, somehow built Stonehenge. With little or no resources, both are standing testament to the ingenuity of mankind, so sooner or later someone – not necessarily an Egyptian – would work out how to pack a rapids ride onto the back of a lorry or five.

While Fabbri take most of the credit, it is actually Reverchon who first introduced the so-called Spinning Rapids in 2004 with Fabbri unashamedly copying the ride almost in its entirety.

Unlike traditional rapids rides, the Reverchon version is loosely based on White Water West’s ride, rides such as Parc Asterix’s L’Oxygenarium, which first takes boats up a lift, before they skim down a series of elevated turns and drops much like a large waterpark slide as opposed to white-water rafting through traditional rapids sections.

While not the civil engineering landmark that Grand Canyon Rapids was, Mellor’s ride still weighs in at 120 tons and takes two or three days to construct. Squeezing onto just five lorries, you do wonder why it took quite so long to make such a ride transportable when L’Oxygenarium debuted in 1999.

Amazingly, it was the British fair circuit that had first dibs on the Reverchon Spinning Rapids, and James Mellors opened Wild River Rapids at Coventry in 2004, yet – predictably – the Germans have since answered back with Lowenthal’s phenomenal self-built Wild ‘N Wet, a 26-load behemoth complete with rotating vertical lift.

While Blighty’s glory was fleeting, Wild River Rapids continues to head up Mellor’s line-up of rides. Reverchon, meanwhile, are quite the darling when it comes to travelling family rides. Their Spinning Mouse coaster, for example, has enjoyed unparalleled success on both sides of the English Channel, and their Spinning Rapids look to dominate the water ride market (along with the ever defiant Fabbri).

Like many travelling roller coasters, Wild River Rapids is arranged in a wedge shape, with the long lift hill framing the higher elements towards the back and the lower turns towards the front.

What this usually means is that the ride is perfectly staged with almost every part visible to those walking past the ride, but ironically on Wild River Rapids much of the ride is obscured by itself. Being elevated, the boats are often hidden by the high-sided troughs meaning while the lift is perfectly visible, and the drop is from a distance, the task of tempting you on is easier said than done.

Nevertheless, the ride makes a commendable effort. With the green structure strikingly lit, the ride is festooned in colourful tropical montages, with light-up palm trees littered around the circuit and forming an avenue up the side of the lift hill on the right hand side.

Despite being a large ride by British standards, for the family everything is still reassuringly dinky. The elevated station is a small canvass-covered affair, and boats pass through on a straight conveyor belt much like most log flumes. The boats are veritably Matchbox compared to some rapids, but in comparison to Congo River Rapids’ boats (Alton Towers) they are at the height of luxury.

Each person has a separate seat, and there is even a grab rail in the middle, even if it is a token gesture as opposed to something you can comfortably grab. At the end of the conveyor belt, the boat slides off and plops into the water, slowly floating around a 180-degree bend before getting to the lift hill.

All of a sudden, things become less quaint as you see the preceding boat climbing the lofty heights of this long lift hill. The conveyor belt stretches the entire length of the ride, climbing to 40 feet through a forest of gaudy flashing palm trees.

As you slowly climb, the boat you’re in feels smaller and smaller as you get higher and higher, before you reach the top and slide into the first of the elevated turns.

Skimming on a thin film of water, the boat aquaplanes into a 180-degree turn that starts the boat spinning, before straightening out briefly and then dropping into a 360-degree elevated spiral. As the water sloshes up the side of the troughs and the boat is jostled around, you get faster and faster before the spiral straightens out into a long drop.

As the boat gathers speed and the churning waters below get closer, you cower before you hit the water, it splashing up around you but falling far short of getting you anything near wet.

While this could have been the showy finale, your fibreglass vessel is now afloat in the ‘wild rapids’ and has to navigate itself around the bottom level of the ride. Still with momentum to burn up from the drop, the boat turns towards the station, before going around a sweeping 180-degree turn sending it into a straight stretch between the lift hill on the right and the drop on the left.

A small chicane makes sure there are a few waves for your boat to climb over before a final 180-degree turn into an s-turn approaching the station slows progress down as your boat dips over the waves and troughs created from the turns in the course.

With alarming speed, the boat heads towards the station before coming to a halt as it hits the conveyor belt into the station and you climb off to the right hand side.

Alas, Wild River Rapids is definitely no River Quest.

But it is also no Rumba Rapids.

While River Quest focuses on drops and nothing else, Rumba Rapids focuses on being somewhere near the bottom of the water ride bell curve. Wild River Rapids, meanwhile, sits somewhere in between the two, offering the sections of rapids that River Quest doesn’t, as well as the drops, excitement, razzmatazz and – well – everything that Rumba Rapids doesn’t.

Wild River Rapids is no five-star ride, but it does make measured steps to ensure that it doesn’t sink without trace. Fortunately, Wild River Rapids seems to remove itself from inevitable comparisons between itself and the more-established Intamin rides by offering something completely different.

While Intamin focus on rough and churning waters – with the associated danger of getting soaked – Reverchon focus instead on the sensation of height. Despite your spherical ship sailing up to 40-feet into the sky, Wild River Rapids is never particularly scary thanks to the absence of any major drops.

The feeling of skidding around the elevated turns is an odd sensation, and new to probably just about everyone who rides Wild River Rapids. It can only really be compared to the Wild Water West rides, such as Parc Asterix’s Oxygenarium.

Like Oxygenarium, ignoring any high expectations you may have, Wild River Rapids is quite a fun ride. No, you won’t be running around to re-ride it, no, you won’t be telling all your friends and family about it, and no, you definitely shouldn’t catch the next flight or National Express coach up to ride it, but like even the worst rapids ride, you can get together as a family and enjoy the prospect of a fairly entertaining ride at worst.

While there is the perennial fear of getting wet, the water stays at bay, which is apparently by design. Without the provision of toilet facilities like theme parks, getting wet at a fair is quite a miserable prospect, so this design ‘feature’ is a welcome one.

While this means that your fibreglass boat won’t be clawing their way up and over torturous walls of water as if in a scene from A Perfect Storm, small waves do make sure that you’re not floating across a mill pond.

This however ignores the fact that almost half the ride is taken up by the first meandering elevated turns, and the drop that follows. Offering a feeling not dissimilar to Vikingar, the drop is long, shallow, but pretty fast. That said, while the boat creates a respectable splashdown, this will hardly have panicking riders jumping overboard.

One of the biggest criticisms that could possibly be levied at the ride is that in terms of length, it is sensationally short. Much of this is down to the fact the first half of the course is navigated at such high speed. The second, slower rapids section helps, but as you leave the ride, there’s still the uncomfortable feeling that for such an expensive attraction, you don’t get much bang for your buck.

While Wild River Rapids does an admirable job of steering through the stormy seas in search of satisfying the notoriously difficult family group, it is always going to be up against stiff competition.

For now, we’ll always remember Wild River Rapids as an unremarkable ride in an unremarkable genre.

MS 12 December 2005

Good points:

▪ A major family ride, not something often found at fairs
▪ Not too wet
▪ Two distinct halves; elevated turns and then slower rapids section
▪ Fairly decent boats

Bad points:

▪ Nothing too spectacular
▪ Far too short
▪ Not a spectator's ride due to limited visibility



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