It has been well documented in the past that January is a nasty month. Like an Eastbourne resident, it drones on and on and on and when you think you must be nearing the end of the line, it carries on even further. However, unlike an Eastbourne resident, there is something that can be legally done to ease the pain. Perhaps a little theme park trip to a seaside resort that has a park that opens during the winter? A jet-set holiday to Orlando, perhaps, to try out their fantastic all-year parks? Perhaps a little theme park trip to a seaside resort that has a park that opens during the winter? Perhaps jumping into the nearest elevator and pretending that you are on Ice Blast?
My solution is to take a winter visit to Adventure Island, Southend. I visited the park in November 2002 and the year before that, and have always been pleasantly surprised at how much care the park takes over its rides and attractions.
Driving to Southend is via a nasty dual carriage way off of the M25. This road is noteworthy for being in a dire state of repair, and having a rather odd junction that was once a roundabout but has been close. Or rather, has had a fence built across it – the two lanes of traffic still goes around the roundabout that doesn't exist slowing it down to 20mph for no good reason at all.
Adventure Island doesn't have a signature ride as such, though I suppose the Green Scream comes close to being one, as the Zierer paper-thin track towers over vegetation and every few minutes a fiber glass crocodile with it's finger in it's mouth rattles around it.
The new attraction (well, for 2003) was the Pinfari Mini Mega coaster that was advertised as being called "Twizzler Bendz". Sadly, the park have backtracked a little and opted for a not-quite-so-original name: "Mighty Mini Mega". The park opens at 11am, and is easy to get to. Interestingly though, Southend council appear to have decided to improve the sea front by knocking everything down and placing large mounds of mud everywhere. Whilst it fits in with many aspects of the town, it does mean that the park has a les then pretty accompaniment, however it is not the sort of park that would particularly want one. Whilst parts of the park have had an eye for detail with regards as to making the ride area look nice, others are clearly just fun-far rides. It's all quite odd, really.
So, Mighty Mini Mega was first up. This is the third model that I have ridden… indeed out of three in the UK. The ride was much the same – a good ride that improves as the train gets more and more riders. The track is blue, pink and lemon coloured. In fact, it looks like something from the Teletubbies. Adventure Island only entertained us with one lap, although ride ops were more than happy to let us stay on if there was no-one waiting. Mighty Mini Mega is a good junior ride, though slightly odd in that it is placed right next to another junior coaster of pretty much the same size. It was this coaster, the Barnstormer, that we rode next.
Like the Green Scream, this is a Zierer Tivoli coaster – though it is a very small off-the-shelf design. Despite being ultra-compact, it packs in some very powerful helices, as it zooms around some pot plants. Certainly a step down from the Flying Fish!
On to the Green Scream itself. As I have said, this is very tall (for a Zierer) and the prospect of being at the top in this rattly carriage is slightly disconcerting. The ride takes up a huge footprint, and doesn't provide enough excitement to justify it in my view. The train is unfathomably long and riders are forced to fill up from the front first. So unless you visit on a peak day, you won't get a seat anywhere near the back, let alone the back itself. It is then slightly ironic, that the front carriage gives the worst views of the entire ride, and you spend the entire course looking at the back of a dragon's neck. Still, it beats Air's visuals tenfold. Whether this is due to weight reasons or just because the op doesn't want to do the long walk to the other end of the train to check restraints, I don't know… I suppose the latter.
Beelze Bob's Trail is a lovely and unique dark ride, taking a humorous look at Hell. Erm, yes, well, I am sure this is a theme that we have all thought would be just right for a dark ride… The ride pulls it off very well though and has some memorable scenes including a nifty trick of getting some unique ride photos. I have a longer report on my Dark Rides site, but suffice to say that everything that should have been working was, and there even seem to have been a few minor improvements in the timing of the animatronics. Note has to be given to the station that really is scarily dark – when boarding the train it was sometimes impossible to work out whether you had left the platform and were now in the train, or not.
Just before lunch was a good time to experience the Cooked Cottage, which is a fun, cramped crooked house with some hideously disturbing animated scenes, including one which looks like it has been lifted straight from The Exorcist. Crooked Cottages are in short supply in this country, and when they are found they are generally kids only attractions. Probably wise, I am sure the prospect of me hurtling towards a wall with no control over my momentum must be daunting, if not downright dangerous.
Southend McDonald's provided some on-topic amusement, decorated with "modern-art" style photographs of famous coasters… all from the USA incidentally. There was kumba, several B&M's, a woody, and some sort of Corkscrew ride, though it was hard to be more precise as that picture seemed to be particularly blurred. Figures.
You don't often find a working ride that was built to accommodate pigeons. The Gold Mine is one such ride, though I am sure that a family of four pigeons would find it a struggle to fit in one of the rotating tubs. So you can imagine the inconvenience of getting four human beings into them. This ride is not really a dark ride, not really a scenic ride either though – it takes around some pieces of wood in rotating barrels. Sounds like a *barrel* of laughs to me! Oh ho! What do you mean not funny? Oh suit yourselves then, I will think up some more Eastbourne jokes instead.
American Whip is a much-reduced version of Blackpool's The Whip, again designed with Pigeons in mind. Though why you would associate a whip with Pigeons I don't know. A shotgun is far more effective. Anyway, I digest. This small whip is actually still great fun – I love the whip. A simple idea, but fantastically good fun. I quite liked the signs around the ride that read "Come on Mum, Let's Have A Go!" and "Scream as much as you like, We Don't Mind!"
Pharoah's Fury is advertised as "The Only Ride Like It in the Country". Sounds impress… but it's a twister..?! Presumably they mean it is the only Egyptian Themed Twister Ride Like It In The Country". Admittedly, not quite so impressive sounding though it is?
There is much pleasure to be found in watching a woman driver continually spinning out of control in her car. But after we had spent time watching the Main Road alongside the park, we saw the same thing happening on the go-kart track too.
After this it is much a case of repeating rides, and £18 for a wristband does seem a little steep. Thankfully in these wintery months, wristbands are halfprice. However in Summer, the park is open until 11pm – so I suppose for 12 hours worth of riding one can't complain too much.
Posters around the park advertise a Rocking Tug, another kids ride, a tower drop and a ride that looks like a very big adult version of the Rocking Tug, though I don't have enough knowledge on spin rides to place what ride it is specifically. This replaces the swinging ship and another kids ride. Southend is a park to watch… I think we may be seeing some exciting installations at the park in years to come.
I think last year I described the park as the South's answer to Blackpool, for kids anyway. The problem is that adults and thrill seekers are catered for purely by stomach churning spin rides (which are run on impressively intense settings – apparently the KMG Move It is run on settings that are not too dissimilar to German Fairs). If you are not a spin ride aficionado, you will (like me) find yourself wondering around with only 3 junior coasters and one good but short dark ride to keep you entertained. Despite that, the park does make a good effort in theming, presentation of rides, and park staff are generally pleasant and efficient. I particularly like the way that 90% of the rides have automatic entrance and exit gates, which speeds up one-man operation dramatically.
If only that wrecked piece of tarmac called Dreamland could focus its scopes on this park. Dreamland is a horrible, horrible park with a good signature ride. Adventure Island is a very nice park but without a good signature ride. Let's hope one day, preferably sooner rather than later, that wrong will be righted.