In early September we attended a preview of The Bear Grylls Adventure at the National Exhibition Center (NEC) located in Birmingham. Survival expert Bear Grylls invites visitors to step out of their comfort zone and try new experiences in this multipurpose activity centre designed and created by Merlin Entertainments, who is responsible for the “Sea Life” and “The Dungeons” attractions as well as many of UK’s theme parks.
The experience starts with the basecamp, an hour and a half experience consisting of four activities, a survival maze, an escape room, an assault course and archery practice all of which are included on your basecamp ticket as well as free digital photos of your basecamp experience.
We started our experience in the survival maze, and were told by Bear Grylls about the various challenges we would face, tight spaces, deadly animals and more… We went from room to room experiencing the different challenges this was a good warm up to the overall experience as it really set the tone. Our favourite challenge within the survival maze was the insect eating challenge where we had to eat a sample of mealworms as quick as possible, to sum up the taste in one word I would say “Dry...” it essentially felt like you had just eaten sawdust. The least liked challenge was a simulation about if you were bitten by a venomous snake. This experience involves you holding your hand against a screen for a few minutes whilst audio told you how to slow down your breathing to delay the effects, it wasn’t very thrilling.
The escape room was next, a few members of Theme Park Guide (myself included) were used to escape rooms trying many around the country, however, this one was a little different. Rather than the usual hour to escape we had 10 minutes for each of the two rooms. The first room we went into contained a map on the wall as well as clues which would give us a combination to escape the first room.
Clues were provided via a radio within the room, however, some of these prompts were extremely important and were sometimes missed due to us talking about a solution, these messages were never repeated, however, which meant we couldn’t figure out the first rooms solution. We ran out of time and the door unlocked leading to a steep slide which took us to the next room.
We were propelled into the second room that was covered in flags hung to the ceiling and various cabinet displays, we had audio prompts via a gramophone which thankfully, did repeat themselves and we managed to figure out one part of the puzzle but got stuck on the final piece of the puzzle and unfortunately, time ran out.
The escape room was a nice idea but the puzzles in the room often hinged on a single clue which if missed meant the puzzle could not be solved.
After the escape room it was time for the assault course that if I’m honest, we weren’t particularly ecstatic by the fact. Our group was lead into a large room and Bear Grylls explained on video that the assault course was based on an existing Royal Marines Commando course and told that it would be extremely difficult. In order to prepare for the trial ahead of us, our guide performed some warm-up exercises that the group then followed.
Our guide then led us into the assault course and it was time to climb, jump and run around the intense course. The guides explained to us to try our best and helped out where possible, including helping us over obstacles which allowed us to complete the course to the best of our ability. We progressed through the course and slid down the fireman’s pole to finish. The course was extremely exhausting and a real test even for those regular gym goers.
The final activity was Archery, which was a great cool down after our previous endeavour and after a short wait, we were let into the archery batching area, shown our video and given our safety equipment. After attaching the equipment to our arms groups were split and taken into two separate rooms where demonstrations were given on how to operate our bows.
Training completed, it was time to head to the target range to fire some arrows at the targets, each person had about ten arrows and fired them at their designated target. After firing all our arrows we were walked towards to targets to collect our arrows and see how we did.
The experience can end here if you choose, however, there are pay extra activities that can be done after the base camp as part of a package and price varies based on experience:
Climbing: This is an indoor climbing experience where guests get to climb rock faces inspired by some of nature's most impressive rock formations.
High Ropes: After zip-sliding out of the Chinook helicopter you will ascend Europe’s highest free roam high ropes, containing 36 different challenges over the 5 stories.
Skydiving: Take part in indoor skydiving by iFly. In the wind tunnel, you will be exposed to a freefall time three times longer than a traditional skydive.
Dive: Explore the seabed in the tropical tank, home to more than 1,000 sea creatures including sharks and stingrays.
Snorkel: Explore the deep in the see-through snorkel cage, you will see the same creature as the dive experience but less exposed.
During our visit, we experienced the "high ropes" activity, which starts on the second floor of the hub area. The group for our time slot were let into the briefing room and shown a video about what we will be experiencing and after that headed into a narrow room where our group was given our harnesses.
Safety checks were complete so meant it was time to zip wire out of the replica chinook helicopter that is prominent on the entrance of the complex. There are two lines coming from the main building to a landing platform next to the main high ropes structure which means you can have a quick race with your friends and provides some great interaction when gliding through the air. Once we landed on the platform we were unclipped and told to head to the stairwell of the main structure.
The main structure, bright red in colour filled with five stories of obstacles was shadowing over us as we swapped to the equipment for the structure and started our ascent. The high ropes activity advertises itself as a free roam high ropes which essentially means there is no set route, so you could traverse the obstacles in whichever way you see fit. The TPG team were feeling brave so decided to scale up to the fifth story to check out the view.
Once at the top we could admire the view over the NEC which was pretty impressive, The Bear Grylls Adventure is situated near the hotels which reside near a sizable lake, which was great to look over five stories up.
The obstacles vary across the five levels, the more difficult obstacles are on the top level, however, are complemented by less challenging ones. Our favourite obstacles were the two walk out platforms on the fifth and third levels as they have a little surprise element (SPOILERS) when you walk out right to the end the platform tilts forward slightly, this scares the life out of you even when you are expecting it!
We ran around the course for around two hours until the sun started to set and the lights around the structure illuminate all levels.
After all of the obstacles were completed, our team descended towards the ground and removed ourselves from our safety equipment and went back to collect our belongings from the designated lockers.
The whole team were very impressed by this new midway attraction and imagine it will be very successful attracting both thrill seekers and those wanting to try new experiences, we are already considering what activity to do next!