Ride Review: Vampire
Photo by Chessington World of Adventures
In the opening entry of a New Year-themed week of content, our second ride review highlights Chessington’s star attraction: Vampire. As the Arrow suspended coaster prepares to enter its 30th anniversary year, it stands alone as the last of its kind outside of North America.
Let’s see how the legendary attraction holds up when judged by our five criteria:
– 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)
Vampire is a strange coaster for me- I arrived onto the theme park scene too late to feel any nostalgia for it, but have heard so much about the impact of the ride on the history of the industry in the UK. I’m interested to see how I rate the ride and how it compares to the first ride we reviewed, Nemesis Inferno, which we gave a 7.4/10 overall score. Let’s get into the review…
The Vampire (later shortened to Vampire) opened in 1990. It was orchestrated by leading ride designer John Wardley, who also contributed heavily to Nemesis, Saw: The Ride, Colossus and The Smiler amongst countless others. It is the third-oldest operating rollercoaster at a UK Merlin park, beaten only by Thorpe Park’s Flying Fish and Chessington’s Scorpion Express. Due to ongoing maintenance issues, Vampire‘s trains were replaced by Vekoma in 2002.
Queue and Facade
This is Vampire‘s first stumbling block. The queueline of the coaster is not quite what it used to be, with several theming elements removed from the station, queue and entrance over the years. However, it’s still a solid start to the ride experience. Vampire‘s queue takes you on a winding walk through the Wild Woods itself, passing gravestones, thick trees and a sign warning you to ‘turn back!’ before pulling guests through a narrow tunnel and out towards the fast-track merge point.
What I will say for this ride is that the queue is significantly more impressive at night, when darkness intensifies the atmosphere. Unfortunately, during the day it can fall a bit flat and would benefit from a bit of refurbishment to restore it to former glory- particularly the station, which carries a slightly ‘budget Disney’ feel to it of late. The shade of the trees and crooked pathways leading up to there are much better than nothing, though. 5/10
Vampire is a classic. I say that because I want to bear it firmly in mind when reviewing the ride. I gave Nemesis Inferno a 7/10 in this category, and for me at least, the two rides aren’t even close. I should say that this is understandable; Vampire is in a family-oriented park, so of course it doesn’t have any inversions and lacks the intensity of Inferno. Even though they’re both suspended ‘coasters less than 20 miles apart, they couldn’t be more different and shouldn’t be compared directly.
There are plenty of positives to talk about- the drop through a dark tunnel is the highlight of Vampire‘s layout, and flying over guests walking past The Gruffalo River Ride Adventure is a delight. Having a second lift hill was a fantastic decision which keeps the ride feeling fresher and longer and leaves guests feeling like their queueing time was well spent- as much as possible, that is, because this is still a very short ‘coaster. The best quality on show is the use of foliage- the trees here feel closer and tighter than on any other ride in England. Still, I wish Vampire could be smoother- after all, it’s not that much older than Nemesis at Alton Towers (although built in different circumstances by different people). 5/10
Despite, as mentioned earlier, Vampire‘s theming not being what it used to be, it’s still worthy of praise. Upon entering the station, you’re greeted by the sight of the man himself hunched over an organ. This scene is dripping in theatrical splendour- I just wish there was a bit more of it. The other theming currently consists of a handful of gravestones but that’s pretty much it.
The concept of the ride is still excellent. You can imagine what it was like in its prime, taking users on a wild flight through dark forests and over medieval towns. The problem is that Vampire has let some of that magic go over the years. 6/10
Here we arrive at the biggest problem with Vampire– the wait times. Even on a mildly busy day, this ride is likely to hit an 80 minute queue shortly after opening and stay at that time for most of the day. This ride simply isn’t worth that length of time for guests who’ve already been on it. The issue with wait times is largely down to the reduction from three to two trains early in the century, which has doomed Vampire to excessive lines and business even on quieter days. As I write this it’s the end of December, and even though most of the park is closed, guests will still need to wait almost an hour for a go on this thing.
On the other hand, maintenance is fairly good, with significant downtimes seemingly quite rare, which redeems operations on the ride somewhat. I wish you could pick what row you’d like to go on- at the time of writing it’s up to sheer luck, and I wouldn’t mind waiting an extra few minutes for a chance to get on the front row. 4/10
This is the category where Vampire is certainly strongest. The Wild Woods area of the park feels as though it was made for Vampire– in many ways it was. As you approach the ride from the park entrance side, you pass several gravestones and a coffin in an old-style hearse. This is perfect for setting the tone of the ride; ‘coasters that feel like the whole area around them is built to suit them always get a boost in my eyes.
As for its place in the park lineup, Vampire is invaluable to Chessington World of Adventures. After the closure of Rameses Revenge, without the 1990 Arrow we’d have Dragon’s Fury as the only thrill ride in the park. That’s something Merlin can’t afford, as Vampire is arguably the biggest draw to this site for both enthusiasts and the general public. It’s thrilling enough to keep people coming back for more, but not too intense to scare off their younger guests. It’s the pearl of their lineup- even though I’d rather be on Dragon’s Fury. 8/10
While Vampire may not be a perfect ride, it’s certainly a classic rollercoaster that’s played a key role in the modern history of UK theme parks. It’s let down by extremely poor throughput and a lack of investment into theming upkeep, but there’s no denying that moments of the ride itself will leave a smile on your face. Overall, Vampire scores a 5.6/10, which feels right to me given how we rated Nemesis Inferno before Christmas. But if Vampire is your favourite ride, don’t let me tell you otherwise: while I came too late, there’s no denying the special place that Chessington’s pride and joy has in thousands of hearts.