Ride History: Rameses Revenge
Photo by Chessington World of Adventures
On the 3rd of November 2019, one of Britain’s most iconic rides closed for the final time. After a quarter of a century of drawing thrill-seekers to Greater London, a fascinating lifespan of controversy, mystery and publicity, something had to give. It’s time to take a look at the ride history of Rameses Revenge…
In the early nineties, Chessington World of Adventures was in desperate need of a thrill ride to add to its growing lineup. Alton Towers were unveiling their new E-ticket attraction Nemesis, and there were whispers of a new indoor rollercoaster coming to Thorpe Park. In short, Chessington needed to keep up.
Their answer to this was a Huss Top Spin. The model had only debuted a few years ago but had been an instant success, and fairgrounds were falling over themselves to secure one for their line-up. Chessington identified the Top Spin as a perfect addition to their park and were prepared to pay a premium price for a permanent installation. It helped that they’d worked with Huss before. The German company had built Smugglers Galleon– the pirate ship now known as Black Buccaneer– in 1988. They’d more than proven their credentials as manufacturers of flat rides.
Conveniently- or perhaps intentionally- the park had just unveiled their first true scare-based attraction. Terror Tomb, an Indiana-Jones-esque dark ride, opened as a replacement for the sci-fi themed The Fifth Dimension in 1994 (the ride would eventually become Tomb Blaster and keep many of Terror Tomb‘s sets and scenery). Terror Tomb opened as part of a brand-new Ancient Egyptian area called Forbidden Kingdom, topped off with pyramids and a sandy village setting. Park operators wanted this new land to be one of the go-to areas for their older guests, and so it was decided to place the new Top Spin there.
To fit with both the Egyptian theming and the desire to give the ride a scary aura, the name Rameses Revenge was chosen. It refers to Ramesses II, one of the most powerful and celebrated pharos in Ancient Egypt, whose name has also been spelt as Rameses. In Greek, he is known as Ozymandias, which spawned the title of two famous poems and even an episode of Breaking Bad (a TV show that takes inspiration from the poems). The ride was constructed in a large pit towards the back of the park so that spectators and riders could get a good look at each other; the park felt that one of the drawbacks of a Top Spin was that off-ride views were too restricted by height.
Rameses Revenge was seen as Chessington’s biggest potential crowd-drawer during construction and featured heavily in advertising ahead of the 1995 season. One TV advert from early in the year showed Chessington, a scientist character presented as the creator of the park, cheerfully stating that “they go on to my new Rameses Revenge ride one colour… and come off quite another!”. This signalled a huge leap from the park: not only had they opened their first true thrill ride, they were proud of it. The advertisement was almost a dare to the public to come and brave this new kind of contraption. Chessington took a big risk. It worked.
Rameses Revenge drew in the crowds like few other rides have done in the UK before or since. In the year of its opening, 1995, a reported 2.2 million guests flocked through the gates of the park- which, if accurate, would make it the busiest season in Chessington’s history. It was an initial success with critics and guests, who praised the variety of Huss’ sequences- they’d installed eight possible settings on the ride- and fell in love with the ‘drown-upside-down’ element, one of the ride’s biggest selling points. In what was marketed as a world first, Rameses Revenge featured fountains underneath the seating platform that would tease and torment the riders by rising inches away from their face before finally pushing up during the finale of the ride and soaking anyone unlucky enough to be near the centre of the front row.
So, Chessington had unearthed a new gem. But the road ahead was not a smooth one for Huss and the park. Over the course of a 25-season lifespan, the ride underwent countless changes- almost always perceived as being for the worse. Reductions in the number of settings were frequent and for the final few years of opening Rameses Revenge operated on just one relatively tame sequence. Fountains also struggled with downtime and were often not turned on at all. For safety reasons, the ride also had a minimum capacity of fifteen people and on quieter days when those seats were hard to fill the park didn’t always bother opening the ride at all.
Even though the commercial success of the ride led to Alton Towers opening the painstakingly similar Ripsaw, another Huss Top Spin, both rides suffered from regular maintenance problems that often saw them out of action for days, weeks or months at a time. The most serious incident in Chessington’s case came in June 2013. 39 riders, almost a full cycle for a Top Spin, were trapped on the Rameses Revenge for three hours after the ride stopped 20ft in the air. Many of these riders were children and some were treated for panic attacks and asthma attacks at the scene. Ripsaw, which had plenty of issues of its own, closed two years later- although this is attributed by many to the crash of The Smiler.
As Chessington World of Adventures expanded and opened some big-name rollercoasters such as Dragon’s Fury and Rattlesnake over the next ten years, the importance of Rameses Revenge in their roster faded somewhat. As they moved towards a more family-oriented market, rider numbers of the Top Spin declined and in 2015 this led to the park removing the ride’s entrance archway and the majority of its queue. It became an understated attraction, just another ride amongst many at one of the country’s biggest theme parks. It’s ironic that a ride meant to signal the transition away from the family market was the biggest casualty of the transition back into it twenty-five years later.
In early October 2019, Chessington World of Adventures announced that the ride would be closing for the final time at the start of the following month. Theme park enthusiasts headed en masse to the park to ride Rameses Revenge for the final time. More than that, it was likely the final ever permanent Top Spin in the UK. The ride was not only difficult to maintain and keep safe, but it was in direct conflict with Merlin Entertainment’s desire to turn Chessington into a fully family-targeting park. Planning permission applications revealed their intention to replace the classic ride with a family drop tower that would see riders plummet into the jaws of a giant model crocodile. It seems they’ve taken cues from Paulton Park’s Magma when it comes to producing thrill rides for a younger audience.
So there we have it- the long and tumultuous history of one of the most iconic flat rides in the history of the United Kingdom. Rameses Revenge may have been an example of a ride that came into the industry at the wrong time and maybe the wrong place, but it won’t be forgotten by the hundreds of thousands who fell in love with this unique experience. Losing well-loved rides is never fun, but this one hit particularly hard. Still, if the phrase “giant crocodile drop tower” is being thrown around, perhaps there’s reason to be optimistic about the future.