Ever thought about a visitor attraction where one moment you’re scuba diving metres underwater and the next you’re simulating a skydive?
Celebrity survivalist Bear Grylls – who’s famous for starring in TV shows where he’s stranded far from anywhere and must make his way back to civilisation – is partnering with Merlin Entertainments on an attraction concept to “bring adventure to millions”.
Bear Grylls Adventure will be split into five zones, each offering a different set of activities based on high-adrenaline experiences and inspired by Grylls’ past expeditions, such as scaling Everest, traversing deserts and jungles, and training as an SAS reservist.
Targeting the burgeoning adventure-based experiences market, the first £20m Bear Grylls Adventure will be located at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in the UK, and cover an 8,000sqm area. The Merlin Magic Making team is theming the attraction as an immersive wilderness, made all the more convincing by the addition of a real-life Chinook helicopter, light aircraft, army vehicles and Grylls’ own survival equipment.
“I wanted to create a large-scale attraction so you don’t have to travel the world to get a real taste of adventure,” says Grylls. “The adventure park is all based on experiences that have shaped my life, pushed me to my limits and so often taken me far out of my comfort zone.
“My late father – a friend, commando and climber – is my inspiration. He taught me to survive and climb. He showed me it was OK to have big dreams and that to fail a few times is essential to success.”
“It was such a logical next step to bring adventure indoors and to millions of people. The Bear Grylls Adventure will test the skills, strength and nerve of the most intrepid thrillseeker, and you can hone some of the core mental and physical skills for adventure at our Basecamp.”
Dive, fly, climb
The attraction will be staffed by trained “adrenaline advisors” and split up into five areas – Dive, Fly, Climb, High Ropes and Basecamp – and it’s going to be hands-on.
In the Dive zone, professional divers lead an underwater experience in a 886-cubic-metre tank. Guests do not need any previous experience and can choose between snorkelling or scuba diving, with equipment provided. “Underwater adventures can be the most exciting. The key is being calm under pressure and prepared for the unexpected,” says Grylls.
In the Fly zone, trained experts teach skydiving skills inside a giant wind tunnel, with the chance to experience a freefall three times as long as an average skydive.
The Climb zone allows users to choose a route inspired by famous terrains, such as El Capitain in Yosemite National Park and the bouldering areas of Fontainebleau, France. Guests of all abilities can have a go. “It’s about helping you find the courage and tenacity to conquer your fears.”
The High Ropes section sees visitors zipline from the Chinook before taking on a multi-level ropes course, billed as military standard and “the toughest in Europe”.
Lastly, Basecamp is the heart of the attraction, made up of four mental, physical, group and individual challenges designed to teach the core skills needed for survival in the wild. Look out for an escape room and face-your-fears challenge.
Grylls sums up the experience in his own inimitable style: “Courage is about finding a way through the fear, not denying the fear. The more we do that’s difficult, the more empowered we become to tackle the big obstacles in our lives.”
“This is all about developing that ‘never-give-up spirit’. To build courage, determination and resourcefulness, we have to experience challenges that stretch us,” he says. “That’s what we do at Bear Grylls Adventure in spades.”
Merlin expects to then take the product overseas in a major rollout and has an exclusive deal with Bear Grylls Ventures until 2026, which could be extended as new Bear Grylls attractions open worldwide.
“Bear Grylls is a truly international brand,” says Merlin CEO Nick Varney. “As well as earning recognition in Europe, he is extremely big in the US and in China, which are the two big markets we’re focusing on.”