Ride Review: The Gruffalo River Ride Adventure
Photo via Chessington World of Adventures
The 2020 UK Theme Park season is nearly underway and it’s time to take a look at one of the best-loved rides introduced in the decade just gone.
In the latest Ride Review, we put Chessington’s Gruffalo River Ride Adventure in the spotlight to see what places it among the country’s favourite family rides. As ever, we’re judging the ride on our five criteria, which include:
– Queue and facade
– Physical ride experience
– Theming (including audio and atmosphere)
– Operations (reliability, capacity and throughput)
– Suitability (sense of belonging in the area and park as a whole)
While this is the fourth Ride Review, it’s the first time we’ve selected a ride aimed deliberately at the family market. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how Gruffalo fares when examined by the same criteria as our previous entries. After all, there are no complex animatronics or steep drops; Gruffalo excels in very different areas. Let’s get into the review- there’s much to discuss.
Prof. Burp’s Bubble Works opened in 1990 at Chessington World of Adventures, arriving alongside Vampire as part of the brand new Transylvania area. These two rides were immensely popular, and played a huge part in the transformation of Chessington into a genuine theme park. Bubble Works became Imperial Leather Bubbleworks in 2006 for sponsorship reasons, before being closed ten years later to reopen as a new ride based on The Gruffalo. This announcement wasn’t taken particularly well by park enthusiasts, but since the change the new-look ride has grown on many.
Queue and Facade
Nothing to see here, though of course Bubble Works was built in an era where the front-of-house wasn’t exactly a ride’s biggest draw. A fairly simple fenced exterior queue is complimented by some nice artwork, but it’s not until you reach the station that things take an upward turn. The moment guests walk over the bridge and down the stairs towards the loading area is when this experience really gets going.
No matter how old you are, there’s something about the station room that just makes you smile. Everything plays a part, from smell-pods that transform the room into a grassy meadow to the comforting oaky decor to the sound of running water. Even though the outside view may be nothing special, Gruffalo nails its opening scene as well as any ride in the park. 7/10
As a family indoor boat ride, Gruffalo doesn’t try to do anything more than it needs to, but it also understands that ‘family’ doesn’t have to mean boring. Guests spend 90% of the impressive six-minute ride time going round corners, and the other 10% wondering what’s around the next. Circular boats twist, turn and spin through the layout without ever smashing the side of the trough. Of course, credit for this must go to Bubble Works, which long predates the Gruffalo overlay.
Unlike a lot of boat rides, this one has a physical peak as well as a story-based one. Towards the end of the experience, riders are dragged up a lift hill and down a short drop, where the ride photo is taken, before being sent into the wonderful finale fountain room. Like a lot of dark rides, there isn’t much the creators could do with the ride system- instead they focused on doing the simple things well, and it’s paid off for them. 6/10
Ask any Chessington fan, and they’ll probably tell you that theming is where Gruffalo is a serious downgrade on Bubble Works. The music is pleasant but takes a back seat throughout, while there are several points where the set design is far less busy than in Bubble Works. Guests also point to the use of screens and lack of an original storyline as reasons why many are less-than-enthusiastic about this re-theme.
However, that’s not to say that the theming on Gruffalo is in any way bad. In fact, I think there are moments when it’s a stunning ride. The use of atmospheric lighting is strong, and provides a warm colour to each scene. The visual style of each physical set and screen animation is true to the original book, and it all culminates in a fantastic, swirling journey under two sets of arching fountains as every character reappears around you. Designers have also done a great job telling their story as clearly and cleanly as possible, and you barely have to be paying attention to pick it up. 7/10.
I can’t complain when it comes to operations on The Gruffalo River Ride Adventure. In fact, quite the opposite. While I have no idea how many boats are running at any one time on an average day at the park, it’s more than enough to keep throughput ticking over nicely, and on calmer days guests don’t need to share boats with other parties. Staff have always been friendly and helpful in our experience. As for breakdowns- a ride with so many moving parts is bound to experience the occasional technical problem, but this ride suffers far fewer stoppages than many other water rides in the UK. 8/10
The Gruffalo, while not as iconic as its predecessor, slots seamlessly into the Wild Woods area of the park. With Vampire frequently flying overhead just opposite the entrance, this classic still manages to retain a sense of belonging between the stone buildings on each side. It is the perfect family ride to serve as a centrepiece for one of the UK’s best family parks- kids will love it, but just as importantly, parents won’t get bored. 8/10
The Gruffalo River Ride Adventure scores a respectable total of 7.2/10 between all five categories, highlighting why it stands as one of the UK’s favourite family rides. Boat rides, particularly indoors, are disappearing at an alarming rate across the country and it’s encouraging to see this one still thriving and serving as one of the most popular rides at Chessington. If you see that queue board at a reasonable time, we definitely recommend you head down to the Wild Woods and pop in for a visit with The Gruffalo…