When Madeleine Barber rode Thorpe Park’s The Walking Dead: The Ride on the eve of its launch, she learnt that Merlin Entertainments has a host of unveilings lined up.
A panicked voice on the loudspeaker is telling me to run, get out and escape as fast as I can while red warning lights flash on the concrete walls of a narrow corridor and an urgent alarm deadens the sound of stampeding feet.
I’m running through an abandoned bunker, with a horde of eager fellow adrenaline junkies, towards the entrance of The Walking Dead: The Ride, at Thorpe Park in Surrey.
We’ve navigated past a pack of “walkers”, as they call them in gritty, zombie-apocalypse television series The Walking Dead, and are about to board the roller coaster that leads to “safety”. The rotting flesh and piercing eyes of the “dead” bringing up the rear provides a fearful incentive to move quickly.
On boarding the roller coaster, we hurtle through a pitch-black abyss and make a swift approach to the exit. But a projector screen simulates a walker capturing one of our own. Frightened cries plead for help, but it’s too late and we must save ourselves. Speeding up, down, left and right in the coaster carriage, we’re dodging walkers at every turn before arriving at the zombie-free “safe zone”.
This is one of the first runs of Thorpe Park’s new The Walking Dead-themed ride. With its fear-inducing sudden stops, lighting effects and haze, it’s not for the faint-hearted – or park visitors under the age of 13.
The attraction – which has been open since Easter – sits on the site of what used to be X: No Way Out. Now featuring a queue plagued by walkers, the attraction has added a replica The Walking Dead watchtower and surrounded the scene with barbed-wire fences to reflect the show’s set design. Inside, the corridors have been stripped and zombie themed surprises await. The new attraction’s mantra is “Those who ride, survive!”
The Walking Dead: The Ride isn’t the only new attraction that Merlin Entertainments is releasing this year.
In March, it introduced a Wicker Man -themed roller coaster to Alton Towers Resort. It’s the UK’s first new wooden roller coaster in 21 years, with the timber track leading coaster carriages through a giant Wicker Man structure that appears to sporadically burst into flames.
In Birmingham, The Bear Grylls Adventure is due to open later this year, offering diving, rock climbing, indoor skydiving and the tallest free-roam high ropes in Europe. All activities take inspiration from Grylls’ own adventures in mountains, deserts and jungles.
This January, Madame Tussauds London unveiled wax figures of both Eddie Redmayne and Tom Hardy, the latter possessing a heartbeat and body temperature of 37°C. The attraction will welcome a Meghan Markle figure ahead of the royal wedding this month too. Meanwhile, Madame Tussauds Blackpool plans to reveal a Marvel superheroes area featuring Thor, Spider-Man, The Hulk and Guardians of the Galaxy characters, among others.
Merlin is launching attractions outside of the UK too. Towards the end of last year, Madame Tussauds expanded into India for the first time with its Delhi division.
Then, looking forward, The Shanghai Dungeon is due to open in late summer 2018, offering visitors the chance to embark on a journey back in time to see, hear and smell elements of the city’s dark history. It will achieve this via themed sets, live actors, entertaining scripts and cutting-edge technology, as well as a thrilling vertical-drop ride.
Elsewhere in China this summer, the country’s capital will welcome an interactive miniature city titled Little Big City, presenting 6,500 miniature locals and iconic Beijing buildings for families to explore.
With this array of new launches, Merlin is offering something new for every client type, whether they are scare-seekers, history hounds or simply huge fans of the royals.
Book it: Attraction World offers a one-day ticket to Thorpe Park Resort for £31pp or £39 per adult and £38 per child including a meal. During October’s Fright Nights, tickets cost from £37pp.