A few months ago I had the honour of being my brother Shaun’s best man at his wedding to my now sister-in-law Rebecca. It was a fantastic day that we will all remember very fondly. One of the things I had to think about was creating a good speech about my brother, which I think I managed to pull off. The other thing was to come up with a good idea for a wedding gift. We wanted to do something a bit different, maybe an experience rather than a standard gift. My daughter came up with the idea of The Crystal Maze Experience
The Crystal Maze was a brilliant British game show from the 1990’s and originally featured Richard O’Brien, of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame, as the Games Master. The maze was split into four zones Industrial, Aztec, Medieval and Futuristic. A team of contestants would travel around the different zones, one at a time, and the elected captain of the team would select individuals to face a challenge. There were four challenges, skill, mental, physical and mystery. The contestant would then enter the room for that particular challenge and they would try to succeed and win a crystal whilst O’Brien would offer some advice, but mostly tease and ridicule! One crystal was worth five seconds of time, so you have to win as many as you can to accumulate time for the final and deciding challenge, The Crystal Dome!
If any of the contestants fail to complete their tasks or make a mistake then they could face a lock-in. They would be locked in a room and only released on payment of one crystal The crystal dome is the final challenge where all the contestants enter the giant crystal and have to collect as many gold tokens in the allotted time. Let’s say the team won 6 crystals that would be 30 seconds to collect the gold tokens. It sounds easy right? Well the crystal has some high powered fans blowing the lightweight tokens around and all tokens received have to be put in a letterbox style collection point, and that’s not all! Mixed in with the gold tokens are silver tokens that will take one away from your total for every one collected. Very tough.
This is the new series of The Crystal Maze presented by Richard Ayoade
So Jaime came up with the idea and being big fans of the old show, and of the new version of it, we agreed that that would be the perfect gift for them. When we presented Shaun and Becki with our gift they were as excited as we were. That made five in the team and to complete the numbers, Shaun and Becki’s friends Vicki and Tim, were invited. One snag was that Jaime is 15 years old and the London experience is 18+ but the Manchester version was 13+, so Manchester it was! Our booking was for 5:30 in the evening.
We decided to drive up in two cars and we left Bristol at 9am and met Vicki and Tim at the Gloucester Services The services are going to get a mention in this post because I was so amazed at the fact that it was a pleasant experience. It’s a motorway service station but it is a family run farm shop and has an eco friendly theme. The building is a hobbit style burrow with grass on the roof and a low profile. The farm shop has an amazing selection of fresh food on display. They work with 130 different producers that are sourced within 30 miles of the site.
We were the first family run motorway services on the UK roads. There are no franchises or fast food on our forecourts. Instead, a Farmshop selling locally produced food, a Butchery featuring meat reared from our own farms and a Kitchen serving homemade dishes produced daily using local ingredients.
Proper food with locality and a sense of belonging is at the very heart of everything we do. We believe proper food matters. So we serve it where you’d least expect it—on the motorway.
What a great experience and, just like they mention, where you would least expect it. I purchased a flat white coffee and an oatmeal biscuit that was delicious and my brother had a sausage roll which was spectacular. The prices were competitive and when you consider the quality of the products compared to other service stations, then it looks like good value.
To pass the time the girls were playing a movie music quiz that my daughter Jaime had prepared the evening before. It was a tough quiz but they were having fun trying to guess which movies the music belonged to. There were some easier movies like Batman, Rocky, 2001 and Pirates of the Caribbean, all of which have very distinctive music. Then there was some tougher options like Interstellar, 28 Days Later and Beetlejuice. Not so easy.
The journey took us the best part of 6 hours and we were all very glad to have parked up and be free of the cars. The Crystal Maze experience is in the Spinningfields area situated next to the Museum of Science and Industry in Lower Byrom Street, Manchester. The area is a busy, vibrant place with a huge amount of things to do, coffee shops and restaurants. We found our destination straight away to get our bearings and then, with a bit of time to spare, we looked for a place to eat.
The Bistro in the museum had an offer on so we tried it out.we all had burgers or pizza. Unfortunately we couldn’t have alcohol as the rules for the Crystal Maze Experience forbid it. The food was reasonably priced and filled the hole from traveling.The quality was mediocre, too much money spent on the aesthetics and not enough on food quality!
Next up we took a look around the museum itself. This is a very hands on experience that is ideal for families with children. Lots of experiments and other fascinating things to explore and touch.
Now it was time for the moment we had been waiting for, The Crystal Maze Experience.
We were all buzzing away excitedly as we approached the entrance. We were greeted at the door and then asked to register. A few members of the group got changed into something more sporty and the competitive level started to rise. We were taking it seriously! We were eventually led into a different room where we had to fill out a form, create a team name and use a locker and then wait for the briefing. Our very apt team name was Wedding Crashers. The briefing didn’t take long and the guy was enthusiastic and whipped us all up into a frenzy. Now in a manic state, we were ready. We were led into a room and told to watch the screen.
On comes Richard O’Brien explaining that he is handing over the keys to the Crystal Maze to somebody else and expect them along in a minute. Then out of nowhere comes our guide like a whirlwind. Her name was Crystal (of course) and she had been trapped in the maze since the 1990’s. She was locked in after failing one of the rooms and completely forgotten about. She had a Boyzone t shirt on and had a Pikachu and a Tamagotchi (eighties toys) hanging around her neck. Crystal is one of 40 actors that they have working at the site that are all guides for the groups going through. Her energy and enthusiasm was amazing and she really set the tone for the whole event.
After about 5 minutes of banter and choosing our captain (Bex) and vice captain (Shaun) we were led into the maze. The theme music instantly hits you and you feel like you are in the show. We had to hop over some water using the stepping stones that were strewn around. At the end of the stepping stones was the start of our first zone; The Medieval Zone. This was exactly as you would imagine with suits of armour and banquet tables all surrounded by castle walls..At this point in time our heads are in a spin and we don’t really know what’s going on. Becki picks a mystery and chooses Shaun to attempt it.
Now at this point it has to be said that I am rather critical of the the contestants on the TV show. They always seem to pick the most incapable people to put through the maze. Basic common sense seems to go out the window or not be there in the first place. I’ve been known to be shouting at the TV at times and hurling various insults at these ludicrous people. Well! Now I’m one of them! In fact, collectively, we have all turned into raving lunatics that have forgotten that instructions are important and the art of communicating with your teammates. Even Crystal is belting out clues and hints that are falling on deaf ears.
Anyway, Shaun is first and is being fed to the lions. His task was the bucket challenge, hard to remember now because the whole thing is like a blur, but he was doomed to failure from the start. We were all so mentally unprepared for this whole adventure. Instead of calmly trying to guide him and listen to Crystal; who’s obviously done this before; hell she’s been stuck there for twenty years, we just start screaming wildly so that not only can he not understand what we are saying but he can’t hear himself think! Needless to say, we failed the first task.
We move on to other tasks with similar results until we get to Vicki on the ‘Hamster Wheel’ who aced her task and earned our first crystal! Hurray! Hopefully the start of many. Tim’s task entailed a complicated conundrum based around pie flavour combinations, which again seemed impossible for our superior knowledge and intelligence to overcome. The next zone is the Industrial Zone. A dark and dingy place full of machines and metal. It was here that I had my first attempt at gaining a crystal. I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the tasks for those of you that are keen to try this experience, so I won’t go into too much detail but I had a physical task to achieve.The only twist for me was that this one was an automatic lock-in if you failed. I was so close and absolutely exhausted by the end of the task but I failed to earn the crystal and faced a lock-in.
As unserious and fun as we were all trying to make the experience, you can’t help but feel genuinely gutted not winning the crystal. You are so hyped up and everyone is cheering you on and it's horrible to let everyone down. That moment when victory is within your grasp and the support everyone is giving you is reaching a crescendo and then FAIL! Just like that everyone goes quiet and you feel terrible. Of course the group give you words of encouragement and tell you not to worry but it's a tough one. Especially when they leave you behind, the swines! 😂
Lock-ins in the show mean just that. The contestant gets locked into the room and unless the team spend a crystal to save them, that's where they will stay. In the live experience they allow you to leave but you have to wait by the door with a question on a piece of paper to think about while your team go off and do the next task. My question was about Boyzone of course! In the meantime my wife Jayne, proceeded to earn bragging rights over me by completing her task and earning the team another crystal, which not only did I fail to do but if I get the question wrong I also lose the team another crystal. Pressure! The question was: Boyzone appeared in the video for the song The Sweetest Thing by which band? The answer was U2 and I got it right! Phew. On to the next zone.
With the theme music blaring we had to crawl through a small tunnel and then facing us at the other side was a big slide down into the Aztec Zone. This is the coolest zone and the most authentic looking compared to the TV show. My task was a skill task and I had to drive a mining cart, a situation that still finds me ridiculed to this day! It was a gargantuan task that took all my reserves of strength and intelligence but I prevailed and won the crystal for the team. A team that were all falling about laughing at how ridiculously easy and just plain ridiculous I looked! They were just jealous!
The last zone was Futuristic Zone which is all computerised, high tech and very bright and clean. My daughter Jaime had an exhausting task in a ball pool which, frankly, looked impossible within the time scale. It has to be said that the times allocated for all of these tasks are very tight and not easy to achieve. Captain Bex had an opportunity to do a skill game and she took it on with determination. It was a room full of security lasers that would set off an alarm and automatically lock the contestant in if three were triggered. Bex used all her yoga skills and set off to win the crystal. She set one off but after that proceeded to majestically float her way to the crystal, success and the cheers of the adoring public, well the other 6 of us anyway.
One more crystal meant a not so awesome total of 5 crystals for a total of 25 seconds in the Crystal Dome.Not an awful lot but we were going to do our best to break some records (or some set furniture) and come away with the ultimate prize. In the show the prizes are two tiered. You gain a certain amount of the gold tokens (50) for, as O’Brien likes to describe, the not so fabuloso prizes If you gain the bigger amount off 100 you gain the ‘fabuloso’ prizes.In the live experience that ultimate prize is to be put on the leaderboard and have bragging rights over all the other participating teams. With 25 seconds we were looking to not be bottom!
We all enter the Crystal Dome and take our positions around the edge. Our guide Crystal is getting everything set up ready and then prompts us to say the immortal words from Richard O’Brien ‘will you start the fans please’ which was a buzz. Then the fans start and bedlam insues. The fans are really powerful and you really have to catch your breath. Then Crystal blows the whistle and we go absolutely crazy trying to collect the golden tokens and place them in the small slot on the side of the dome. 5…..10……..15 wow the time just drained so fast. 20……...25 and the whistle blew and we had to stop. We left the dome buzzing and really excited about the whole experience. Had we broken any records……...we had to go back to the reception to find out.
We got led back out of the maze, collect our stuff and head out to reception. On the wall are the scores from today, this week and of all time. The all time record is 499 tokens which seems like a massive amount. The days highest score was just over 300 tokens. Then the screen put Wedding Crashers on the board and started the 10 second countdown to reveal the score. Dreams of the three’s were cruelly cut down when the board revealed 122 as the total score. What! There must be some mistake? Or not! At least we weren’t bottom. In fact for the day we were comfortably mid table which was kind of a result.
The whole experience was brilliant and I believe it would be that way even if you had never witnessed the TV show before as well. Crystal was fantastic and a real livewire. She maintained her enthusiasm and energy throughout the whole time we were in there and the banter was first class. It’s not cheap, the price varies depending on the day, time of day and how many in your party, but our tickets cost £45 each. The duration from entering the reception to leaving the building was roughly 2 hours with approximately 1 ½ hours actually in the maze.
We had such a good day all together and I’m pretty sure if asked, the whole group would do it again if we ever get the chance. I would thoroughly recommend it. We were all shattered but buzzing from the day. The journey thankfully took us less time going back but we were going back happy.
Best Idea for a wedding gift ever Jaime!
Thanks for reading.