A scaredy cat visits London Bridge Experience, London Tombs

Millennium Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral in London — Photo by John Soltes
Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London — Photo by John Soltes

LONDON — I blame credit the London Pass.

For my second trip to England’s capital city, I decided to test out the London Pass experience. This travel card may not make the most economic sense for a day-tripper, but for me, who would spend nearly a week in London, the savings were obvious.

The pass is easy enough. You pay one upfront cost and then gain admission to many of the top attractions in the city, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre & Exhibition. To gain the most value from my purchase, I decided to hit as many attractions as possible.

Right around the turn of the new year, I found myself in the Southwark neighborhood, having just enjoyed a visit to the Tate Modern. With a few hours to spend before a matinee performance in the West End, I decided to venture along Bankside and try my luck at the London Bridge Experience and London Tombs. The popular attraction would cost a lot of money if purchased separately, so I figured it was worth the price of admission with the London Pass.

I’m not sure what it says about our culture but the line for the London Bridge Experience is perhaps one of the longest in the city. National Portrait Gallery? Walk right in. Tower of London? Walk right in. London Bridge Experience? An hour wait on a cold winter day. Luckily, the London Pass allowed me to skip the entire line and enter right away.

The first part of the exhibit is the “bridge experience.” A tour guide wearing sloppily applied makeup brings a crowd of people around spooky rooms that tell the bloody, bloody history of the infamous bridge. There are some frights on this part of the tour, including a skeleton-driven train that pops out of nowhere. But, for the most part, these initial rooms are more historical in nature. The most interesting exhibit is a complete model of the London bridge, which allows visitors the chance to see the entire construction and how it once featured a community unto itself.

Our host tried a little too hard to elicit screams and laughs, and he always competed with the mandatory audio guide that provided simultaneous commentary. At one point, I needed to turn off the audio guide just to hear the directions on what room was next. This tug-of-war between the real live person in front of me and the recorded voice in my ear was annoying. A better-timed presentation would have been appreciated.

After learning some tidbits about the tower, it almost appeared that the entire “experience” was finished. But now it was time to enter the London tombs. The crowd was ushered past the ubiquitous let’s-take-a-photo-of-you-and-charge-you-later destination, and then we sat down for a quick video on all the reasons why we shouldn’t enter the tomb.

At this point, I began to sweat. I love horror movies. I enjoy Halloween. I hate haunted houses, or rather, they usually have their intended effect on me. I’ve never endured a haunted attraction that didn’t produce a spine-tingling feeling. I’m a baby, I know.

Wishing I was pregnant, had high blood pressure or suffering from vertigo, I entered a tiny elevator and descended into the depths of the tomb. (Note to readers: I’m not sure the elevator actually descends, but it does shake a lot.)

One of the employees leaned over and asked if I was all right. Even in the strobe-lit interior of the cramped elevator she could tell I was turning green. I nodded my head, sort of passing off the question. If you can believe it, I had to lead the group into the darkness of the haunted attraction. I stepped into the scares with a train of 20 or so people following me. Everyone held onto the shoulders of the person in front of them. Because I was first, there was no safety clutch. I was the leader. I was the person responsible for the group.

Slowly and with hesitant feet, I made my way through the tombs. For real haunted-house experts, perhaps this attraction is basic and non-scary. For me, a man with a low tolerance for this kind of thing, the scares were monumental. Zombified actors jumped out. A man wielding a chainsaw nearly took off my head. Blood was everywhere. Darkly lit corridors led to even darker corridors. At one point, I needed to squeeeeeeeeeze my way through enormous, suffocating cushions, all with the train of people hanging onto my shoulders.

After what seemed like the 33rd deranged madman, I became somewhat numb to the scares. The scenery and people stopped terrifying me, and I was trying to let the experience win me over. Just as I was about to take a deep breath, just as I was about to turn my grimace into a smile, just as I was about relieve the pressure in my clenched fists, I opened one final door … into a gift shop.

One look at the souvenirs, and I headed outside onto the streets of London and toward the nearest Underground station. It was time for my matinee performance in the West End. I had lived through the London Bridge Experience and London Tombs, proud that I had survived and with a new promise to go back. But next time, I want to be a follower, not the leader.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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