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*** The Ripley's Rip-Off ***
Ripley's Believe It Or Not (London)
Member Name: malibu_jenny
Ripley's Believe It Or Not (London)
Advantages: Easy to get to and a few things worth seeing inside.
Disadvantages: Way too expensive and mostly fake.
Many years ago, on a hot dusty day in Los Angeles, I stood on the pavement outside the Ripley's Museum to have my photo taken next to a waxwork of the world's tallest man. Looking up at the posters of what was inside, I was filled with wonder at the idea of seeing the skull of Wang, the Unicorn Man. This building, with its promise of two headed animals and other curiosities, seemed to cross the line between reality and fairytale with a promise of magic.
Keen to see if my childhood expectations had been right, I changed up our Clubcard vouchers for the new Ripley's Odditorium in London when the offer appeared. Seeing the horrific weekend queues, we bided our time until a wet Monday morning straight after the February half term holiday, when the streets were quiet and only the occasional tourist braved the cold and drizzle.
Shaking my umbrella off, I bounced into the foyer, eventually followed by The Boyfriend, who was lurking outside to finish his cigarette. We had the Clubcard vouchers to cover admission, a leaflet from outside to give us a free souvenir guidebook (normally at least another fiver), but we still paid £10 to do the mirror maze on the second floor. Shocked at the cost of just the mirror maze, I looked at the board. Full adult price was £24.50, so with the mirror maze at another £5, entry was just short of £30. Each. Considerably more than an entire day at, for example, Thorpe Park.
Through the turnstile was a small lobby, with lifts on one wall and a few bits and pieces in glass cases. The only thing of interest here (unless you like plastic animals in crates) was the selection of Olympic Torches. I stopped to look at the torch from the Nazi Olympics and the Boomerang underwater one from Australia. The signs weren't that clear, but this was the lobby and we were anxious to get on. Onward and upward.
We got into the small lift, with flashing colours and a cheesy voiceover and got out, as instructed, on Floor 5. Here, the room was divided into two by a barrier. One half had items such as Hailie Selassie's throne pinned up to the wall and a rotating mini covered in Swarovski Crystals, the rest was a holding pen to view them from. There were also a moving dinosaur and a rickety bamboo chair to have your picture taken with, but this was the limit of the interaction here. We peered into the glass cabinets in the middle. These had a novel display, arranged on shelves with mirrors at the back to mimic a dusty museum archive or a curiosity shop. Unfortunately, we struggled to match the numbers on the content list to the actual item. Some, like the rattlesnake skin weren't in the case at all, while others were ambiguous.
We went on to look at the other floors, which although nicely arranged, were missing something. A lot of the items wee pleasantly ornamental, but lacked interest. Some of the cases were at adult eye level, which must be a bit frustrating for kids. Ripley's missed a trick by blocking the windows over Piccadilly Circus, though most people tried to take a photo through the speckled portals on the fourth floor.
The Mirror Maze:
We soon got to the mirror maze. Again, we were lucky regarding the low turnout that day as the small maze wasn't too crowded and there were times when we felt like it was just us. The darkness and red floor lights added to the atmosphere and we edged around bumping into things and taking pictures of our eerie glowing faces. On finding the way out, you get to walk back up the four flights of stairs you came down and therefore end up in the same place in the museum from which you entered. Worth a fiver each? Not really, but if you're here you may as well do it.
Not so good:
I didn't rate the lengthy video of unusual circus type tricks such as sword swallowing, or the posters of 'believe it or not' information in awkward locations on the stairs. Wang The Unicorn Man was indeed there after all this time, but only in the form of a second rate waxwork head. Overall, the feeling was like all the action was somewhere else. Although there were only a handful of people there on the day of our visit, there were still occasions when we were shuffling through bottlenecks or queuing to look at things; if the 2000 plus visitors they get at peak times had turned up, it would have been unbearable.
Not so Bad:
So what did I like about Ripley's? I had a look in Marilyn Monroe's makeup case (a bit disappointed about the lack of labelling here and not entirely convinced of the authenticity) and I enjoyed the toilet paper wedding dresses. The interactive fishpond floor was a bit of fun and The Boyfriend loved the under-the-sea section with its stuffed shark and Titanic 'cold water' to put your hands in. Some exhibits, such as the chunk of the Berlin Wall were genuine pieces of history and made up for the general fakery that surrounded them.
I liked 'Ripley's ghost', a projection of the founder that chatted to the audience and 'moved' the real objects as it knocked against them. Reading about Ripley as we walked round, I discovered that his Chinese girlfriend had been the influence behind the large number of Chinese artifacts.
At the end of the museum is one of those spinning tunnels, much like the ones on many rides and ghost trains. The difference here is that you can walk down the middle, wobbling as the spin and the lights confuse your brain. This is fun both to walk through yourself and to watch other people stagger out of.
Just over halfway round is a little café area, with crisps and cups of tea at almost reasonable prices. On such a cold day, this was cosy and comfortable and if you're not in a rush it would be nice to take a break here.
A word of warning here; due to narrow passages and a lot of stairs, Ripley's would be unsuitable for anyone with mobility issues despite the lift at the entrance and exit.
Also worth noting that there are no toilets on the way out, so before you go down in the lift, make a trip to the third floor to use the ones there. (We, amongst other visitors, had to wait and be escorted back up after searching the gift shop for toilets.) These were warm and clean, perfectly acceptable.
Ripley's doesn't use more than a few hours; we were in there for around three and looked at everything. However, you could spend a much more interesting day in Madame Tussards and the Planetarium for a lot less money. As I mentioned earlier, £30 is more than the price of an entire day and limitless rides at one of London's nearby theme parks and certainly in excess of other half day entertainments, such as the Tower of London. The majority of visitors on the day we went were confused tourists, photographing each other with the waxworks and brightening up the place with their holiday spirit. If you're visiting London and are not blessed with limitless time and money, I wouldn't suggest Ripley's. There are so many places to choose from, it's kind of lost in the mire.
If you have children in tow, go to the Science Museum instead - it's free, it's far more interactive and it's educational without being boring. Despite it not being a school holiday, we were passed a couple of times by groups of children. From the running, screaming race to the mirror maze, I'd suggest they weren't that engaged in the concept of the museum and although some things (the talking heads and so on) are aimed at the younger visitor, a lot of pieces are out of context and won't be understood without adult explanation. If you're visiting with just one quiet child, then you might manage to get something from this.
So, who do I recommend it for? If you've got vouchers (we had) and are in Soho anyway (we were), then it's okay for a morning's entertainment, but only if you pick a quiet day. On leaving we agreed that it wasn't total rubbish, but we wouldn't have paid to get in. It seems this tries to appeal to everyone, but doesn't quite hit the mark.
It hasn't killed my childhood dream entirely; part of me still believes that the Ripley's in California has the original exhibits that are copied here and that this is just a tacky plasticky cash-in version of something special, dimmed by its newness.
Summary: Not the best use of a morning.
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