In 2015, the UK’s largest tourist attraction operator, Merlin, announced it was to open a new attraction on the South Bank of the River Thames. It would join other attractions in the area operated by Merlin, including the London Eye, the London Dungeons and SeaLife Centre. It was sort of Merlin overload down there, but ignoring that, it brought the opportunity to have a whole day out, maybe two, for one, albeit quite expensive, ticket.
I was never really that interested, however, on a recent visit to London, curiosity got the better of me and we decided to head down and take a look. The website states that to avoid disappointment, book a timeslot, even with an Annual Pass. Costing just £1 each, I took the advice and boked 3 tickets for £3. On arrival, it became very obvious that I could have saved that £3 and started our visit feeling thoroughly ripped off, and it wouldn’t be the last time.
The queue to get in was non-existent, there was a family at the ticket desk, where we had to wait behind them, even with our timed ticket. They bought their tickets, and we were served. The staff member did their very best to make us feel like we had done the right thing by using terms such as ‘we will get you right in’, it didn’t make it any better, and being a regular to other Merlin attractions such as Alton Towers and SeaLife Centres, I started to recognise the script the staff members run by – full of ‘are you having a nice day’ and other empty questions that they really are not bothered about getting answers to.
We had our tickets pretty quickly and on we went, following corridors and through a security check including a metal detector, x-ray machine and bag search – all a bit OTT when they miss out our 8 year old – it would have been very easy to get something dangerous by them – I shouldn’t say it, but I think it would be worse to keep quiet, I did point it out at the time and they didn’t seem too bothered.
Away and down a number of corridors, we found ourselves at the inevitable green screen where we get our chance to have our photos superimposed in various scenes – a toe curling experience when you know you are not going to buy them but are still forced to stand there. I am not sure how many times I have stood there being refused past until I get my photo taken, so now I just go with it and try to amuse myself by looking more and more glum in the photo, with the staff member not knowing how to react, only having one chance to get the photo, it is all a very rushed affair.
After the awkward photos, we joined the back of a large group where a member of staff was going through some safety routine. I must admit, although the accent was a bit dodgy, it did raise a smile. After this we were herded through to a large area where there are a number of red London busses, and another staff member who tries to whip the group up into a frenzy, but, this being the UK, that frenzy is more than a little reserved.
We are then showed through to board a bus, in what turns out to be a sort of 3360 cinema where you travel to the land of Far Far Away with Donkey as driver. Things go wrong as you would expect and you end up landing on top of Rumpelstiltskin’s bride to be, to which he is a bit upset and we are rushed away to go and find Shrek for help.
What follows is a number of scenes where you are part of the action. You meet Sleeping Beauty, the Muffin Man, an Ugly Sister and a few others. I got picked on to dance in front of the group – all that Dad dancing paying off, and a number of kids got roped in carrying props from one scene to the next. There is also a mirror maze as part of the walk through, which, in this day of health and safety, is more like a twisty walk while looking up – you aren’t supposed to see the trail of emergency lights, but its hard not to, wouldn’t hurt to put a bit of scrim up to hide them when they are not turned on.
The final scene sees you in the dungeon, and this is where you finally meet Shrek who bursts through the wall to free you, before you have to ‘run’ down what they say is a subway tunnel, which is so lightly themed, you have to use a lot of imagination to believe it.
You exit to a photo opportunity with the ‘real’ Shrek where you are invited to take your own photos, along with a number of other recent Dreamwork’s characters, which included Trolls, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.
Before you can exit this area, a member of staff stops you and takes you to a computer to try and sell you a photo album of your journey. They ignore any resistance of ‘I am not going to buy this’ and carry on regardless, and I admit, the photo book they present is very nice. They keep making you think it is a bargain saying ‘all these photos’, and then saying, for ‘just’ £25. I very nearly burst out laughing, but before I could start walking away they carry on and say ‘for JUST £5 more’ I could have a digital download of the photos – yeah, that ain’t ever going to happen, £30 for some photos where I quite openly look like I am miserable on purpose, it was a bit of a sour end to the experience.
Overall, our 8 year old loved it, but the photo overload of the staff left me just wanting to get out. I did sort of enjoy it while it was happening, but I think once you have done it, that’s it, I have no desire to return.