|Ghoulish scene from the London Dungeon where Halloween is a year-round event (dungeons.com)|
In January of 2013, the London Dungeon closed its doors after 39 years at Tooley Street near London Bridge and re-opened in March on the South Bank of the Thames next to the London Eye.
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In its new haunt, the London Dungeon also radically changed its focus in an effort to attract greater numbers of tourists and to make it considerably more family friendly. The changes are markedly different, dramatic and, yes, touristy, but given England’s notorious past, they are also a rollicking good time.
The new dungeon is an indoor theme park complete with 18 mini-shows, 20 performers and three rides where visitors journey through ten centuries of English history to encounter the likes of Henry VIII, Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd, the plague, Guy Fawkes and other creepy characters and incidents from the past.
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Each mini-venue briefly tells the story of events such as the Gunpowder Plot, the Black Death or the macabre Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Several vignettes are interactive and guests are encouraged to play along with the actors as they journey through history.
Rides include a “drop ride to doom“ where visitors encounter a free-fall in which they are victims of a public hanging. There is also a surprising boat ride in dimly lit surroundings where unsuspecting guests are splashed with water...some considerably more than others.
While the new dungeon attraction is a fun-filled romp through some of England’s darkest moments, it is also an interesting bit of history with tongue-in-cheek twists that appeal to visitors of all ages.
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Today’s dungeon however, is nothing like its older sister which opened in 1975 as a gory museum that showcased the bleakest moments in British history.
The original setting on Tooley Street had a dank, sinister presence that made visitors cringe with its foreboding models of torture and animatronic horrors. Its maze of properly musty corridors was, at times, gruesomely realistic making the cool, inky black atmosphere frequently frightening for its patrons.
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Eventually the Tooley Street Dungeon added a boat ride on the Thames called “Judgment Day: Sentence to Death“ which introduced interactive scenes in 1997.
Guests were tried and sentenced to death. Then they would board boats and cruise down the Thames to Traitor’s Gate where they were raised by a vertical lift system to encounter a firing squad. The ride ended with the boat plummeting backwards amid the screams and shouts of its startled passengers.
Three years later the Dungeon opened the “Great Fire of London“ with a re-creation of the burning streets of the city in the 17th century complete with a spinning tunnel that led visitors to the exit.
|Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett (dungeons.com)|
So popular did the interactive sequences become that the original grotesque torture chamber environment led to the contemporary version of the attraction which is more fun, less terrifying and highly entertaining complete with a bit of historical background added.
The dungeon experience has become so popular that there are now eight different attractions scattered throughout Europe; Amsterdam, Berlin, Edinburgh, Hamburg, York, Warwick Castle and Blackpool, England. A ninth, and newest, dungeon is now open in San Francisco at Fisherman’s Wharf.
As might be expected, lines can sometimes be long. The necessity of limited occupancy for the various re-enacted scenes throughout the venue can create human traffic jams at the entrance. The dungeons are also popular for groups can also add to occasional delays.
Combined with the large numbers of people the London Eye in the same location, it is wise to plan accordingly.
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Some critics have called the London Dungeon a glorified haunted house, but given its location and the appeal of its historical mysteries, the experience is a happy diversion, even if it is a bit on the touristy side.
Halloween and New Year’s are particularly ghoulish at the London Dungeon when it goes all out to awaken the Octoberfest spirit of ghosts and goblins. But regardless of when you visit, the London Dungeon and its relatives can be enjoyed any time of year.
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Tickets for the London Dungeon are not inexpensive. Save money by purchasing online at approximately $28 for adults and $25 for children ages 4 to 16. Add about $12 to an adult ticket at the door and $5 or so more for children.
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If you plan in advance, the cost to enter is not quite so hair raising. After all, you don’t visit London every day.
As one writer once said about they mysteries of the United Kingdom, “The past is no ghost at this banquet, rather it sits at the head of the table.“
The London Dungeon is a year-round Halloween festival of fun and a feast of fright.