Having read mixed reviews I was curious to check out Merlin’s latest midway concept in London, their home turf. Shrek’s Adventure! is the first of a series of DreamWorks Tours, which will be rolled out throughout the world.
At first sight the attraction seems a bit of a weird fit for this historical site with its Edwardian baroque architecture. But once inside they have actually done a good job integrating it in the building.
The French term “parcours spectacle” (literally show journey) describes best the experience. Imagine a one-hour long walkthrough dark ride. It seems to follow a trend recently adopted by Merlin, which started with Dungeons and was then adapted in Singapore for the new ‘Images of Singapore LIVE’.
More of a theme park ride than a midway attraction, which explains some of the more critical reviews of visitors complaining it is too short and that not much is happening.
So I purchased my tickets online (they made me think I would get 30% discount only to realize upon paying it only applies for bookings at least 2 weeks ahead!) and showed up on a Tuesday morning at 10am. I just had to show my receipt on my phone and was given a physical ticket (after being asked if I wanted to upgrade to a combo in true Merlin fashion).
Then the not-so-pleasant part starts where I have to walk along a corridor and up a lift guided by awkward staff to the queuing area where more staff is expecting me for 3 photos in 3 different poses. The wait is 15min (I must have just missed the previous tour). There were only 15 other people in my group for a maximum tour capacity estimated at 45pax.
That whole arrival and queuing experience is a disaster. The attraction fails to build the expectation, the lighting and sound are weak and the theming poor (with visible cables, etc).
The first actor arrives and introduces the tour with a few jokes and attempts to lift up the group spirit. It’s a hard one to pull but he does an OK job. After walking us along a corridor we finally get to the first room and the nice part of the journey starts.
Elsa is our first host and she tells us what is going to happen (it’s a good idea for people who have no idea what to expects, like me!). Then we get on a London bus for a well-executed 3D ride starting from the London Eye and featuring loads of DreamWorks characters.
To keep it short the following is a succession of 6 ‘live shows’ with special effects in highly themed rooms. Highlights include the stinky smell of Shrek’s swamp, the interactive seats of the game show, the mirror maze, objects coming out of screens and caught by actors, and rats under the seats of the prison.
I personally enjoyed it; mostly for the actors, who were funny and well casted, and the theming & special effects, which were to high-standard theme park quality.
My review of Historium Bruges – another quality “parcours spectacle” – mentioned “a very meticulous approach of storytelling with a lot of respect, a dose of humor and a high sense of esthetics in the realization, in particular in the theming and media content.” I would say Shrek’s Adventure delivers a similar experience. But the difference is that Historium’s journey is half the time and is complemented by a few museum-style rooms where visitors can discover more at their own leisure and an observatory of Bruges market square.
I think Shrek’s Adventure is lacking of another dimension; something giving visitors opportunities to discover and to create their own personal experience. It might be a bit too scripted and guided for a midway attraction. People want more control of their experience and of the time they spend, especially with a family. I would suggest a few more interactive and educative rooms inspired by the great touring ‘DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition’.
Overall I would still give it a 7/10 for beauty and a 8/10 for humor, my two base indicators (read my post on humor and beauty), despite the shortfall.
A few additional observations:
- Merlin is milking that DreamWorks license: from the use of all the characters in the 3D movie to the photo opportunity booths at the end of the journey.
- There’s a lot of staff with intimate interaction with visitors, which makes the attraction very dependent on the quality of the staff and therefore probably hard to roll out.
- According to my ticket number they would have received 35,000 visitors since 1st July, i.e. 200-300/day, which is not much for a midway attraction.