The Bear Grylls Adventure at the NEC is the newest attraction in the UK, and it really packs a punch!
On the west side of the NEC, next to the Genting Arena, and directly in front of the Pendigo Lake, The Bear Grylls Adventure is a new venue full of exciting physical activities, including:
> High Ropes
> Escape Room
> Assault Course
> Wind Tunnel (Not yet open to the public)
Upon arriving at the NEC site, and from looking on the website, we headed towards the East 5 Car Park. This is where all customers to the attraction should park, in order to receive the discounted car parking price of £1.50 an hour. It was a short 8 minute walk across the road and around the Pendigo Lake, up to the venue entrance.
You can see the outdoor High Ropes, the only outside experience, from afar as you walk around the side of the lake. It’s rather staggering just how high it is – standing proudly at 5 storeys high, it really is an impressive structure. As you get closer to the building, you see the back of a Chinook helicopter mounted high above the entrance, with two protruding Zip Lines leading down to the ground to the very edge of the land. Seeing visitors speeding down the lines really is a striking and interesting sight, that really sets the mood and expectations of what’s to come when you go inside.
Venturing inside, you’re met with a darkened cavern, complete with wet flooring. Checking in with the staff is incredibly quick and easy – confirm your name & booking reference and you’re issued with a wristband with the times of your booked activities, as well as a black rubber wristband. This opens and closes the complimentary lockers, as and when required.
The themeing inside is IMMENSE. From the tyre marks in the ground, full of water, to the giant tree with a crashed plane, you are constantly seeing new things as you wander around the central area. Undoubtedly the main draw has to be the giant glass window that looks directly into the aquarium tank. It’s absolutely breathtaking when you see it for the first time, and as we were diving in that very tank a few hours later, made us feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation!
Our first activity was Basecamp – the base of all bookings at The Bear Grylls Adventure. This consists of:
> A brief darkened maze, with confined spaces, water, and other theatrical elements.
> Escape Room, with a twist. No spoilers here!
> Assault Course
You are led through each element by your guide, and given the required information to complete each segment. For the most part, you’re part of a larger group, but there are a few moments where you are alone. It isn’t too intense, but for people with a fear of tight spaces, water, or inability to get low, then it may prove an issue. The staff member can guide you through an alternative route, however, if this is the case – they’re incredibly accommodating.
My personal favourite part of Basecamp has to be the escape room. Whilst we didn’t come close to completing it successfully due to some louder characters within the group, we found it to be challenging – maybe a little too challenging for a youngster. I’m confident if we went again, we would survive it!
The High Ropes were incredible, and really have to be tackled to appreciate fully. You zip line out of the back of a Chinook helicopter, right from the top of the building down to the ground in front of the High Ropes, and it really is an exciting and thrilling way to start the adventure.
Something that sets this course aside from other similar High Rope venues (such as Go Ape!) is the fact that you are always attached to the overhead structure. At no point are you ever disconnected, nor do you have to think about ensuring your safety lines are safely connected to the correct part. It’s a rather simple yet impressive feat of engineering that not only provides additional freedom whilst exploring the structure, but it keeps you safe at all times. The movement you are able to do is unreal.
The entire structure consist of 5 storeys, and you can tackle them at any speed, order or direction. It really is up to you to decide your route. There are a multitude of different crossings linking each platform. Some are nice and simple, whilst others are incredibly challenging, however at no point are you at any risk – it’s all in the mind!
We spent half an hour exploring before the wind picked up too much and made us feel like we were “done”. This was the perfect time for us though, as a full hour would have been too long for us.
Exiting the High Ropes, you head into the Gift Shop, which sells a lot of outdoor pursuit items, such as tents, shirts etc. There are a lot of branded pieces of Merchandise, including Pin Badges (in a WIDE range), bags, clothing and more. A brilliant selection is something I’m appreciative of when visiting attractions, and this choice does not fail to impress. The prices were reasonable too, and I was given 20% discount on my basket due to being a Merlin Annual Pass Holder. Brilliant!
After a nice relaxing Lunch within the restaurant area (which was a really large open plan area within the centre of the attraction), we headed upstairs to start our Diving adventure, and what an adventure it was!
Upon arriving at the Dive centre, we were met by Chris Facey, our diving instructor for the day. He welcomed us into the briefing room, which was, just like the rest of the attraction, nicely themed. We completed a brief but important safety document relating to our health, to ensure that we were in tip top condition to do the actual dive. Thankfully, we passed (hurrah) and could proceed!
After the four people in the group had finished the questionnaire, Chris gave us a quick Yes/No test, which included some basic questions on diving. Even if you had never dived, like myself and my partner, you’d be able to answer the question as it was a case of simple common sense. That said, Chris was a fountain of knowledge, so if you genuinely were unsure of any questions / facts, he’d have helped in any case!
Chris then proceeded to show us the diving equipment that we would be using during the dive, and explained fully what each individual piece did, and what it’s job was. I was interested in this segment, as this was the stuff that would keep us alive when under the water. As they say, you have to trust your equipment. so it was important to listen and comprehend the information being relayed. Chris had a knack of explaining everything in an interesting manner, and at no point did I feel as though I was in a lesson / lecture. He managed to convey the important points whilst keeping things interesting and exciting, which I feel is important for this sort of activity. Whilst there was a lot of information to relay, it didn’t take that long to complete, and we were soon off to the changing rooms to get into our wet suits.
We were each assigned a changing cubicle (complete with shower), and inside was a wet suit in our size, as well as boots. A quick rinse off (ensuring that all hair products and such were removed) and squeezing into the wet suits, we were ready to go into the tank. This is where things began to get real!
At this point, I was INCREDIBLY nervous. I’ve been on all sorts of roller coasters, rides, attractions, scare mazes, high ropes courses and more, and never felt that nervous. However, this diving was something that got my nerves going. Whilst I had a feeling of excitement, I was also incredibly apprehensive, even before getting into the tank. As I am a glasses wearer, I was nervous about not being able to see anything when in the water, but the staff were accommodating and worked with me to allow me to wear my glasses until the very last moment. I’m grateful for this as I really am blind without them!
Getting into the tank, I was the last to join the group of four (including me). However, we had two instructors – Chris and Jasmine, so the group was split in half, each with one of the instructors. Myself and my partner were with Chris, and he began to show us once more how to use the regulator (the breathing mouthpiece / apparatus) in two different tasks.
The first was taking your first breath underwater, and resting on your knees. This was a HUGE challenge for myself, as I had to tell myself it was perfectly safe. This is where Chris really showed how competent he was at instructing. He spoke with me, one on one, and ensured I was doing it correctly, but more importantly, that I was totally comfortable with using the regulator. I struggled at first, but he allowed me an extra couple of go’s which I was grateful for.
The next task was to recover the regulator, should it ever come out of your mouth during the dive. I was truly terrified of this part, but again, Chris demonstrated in a clear and concise manner, how to complete this safely. I had to ask him to repeat it, of which he did without issue. I was impressed with how clear his hand signs were – he worked methodically and slowly to ensure that we comprehended each individual step, with each demonstration starting with the 3 hand gestures of “You. Watch. Me”, followed by him completing each step. I was thankful of his ability to relay the actions we needed to complete, underwater, to complete novices, in a way that we understood. Thankfully, I managed to complete it satisfactorily, and retrieved my regulator, much to my amazement! To say I had a sense of achievement after this would be an understatement! Chris fist bumped me to show that I’d done it correctly, and at that point, I felt like I could actually do this dive AND enjoy it!
We then entered the actual tank itself, and headed down a short flight of metal stairs. I was the first to enter, with Chris facing me whilst descending. After each step, we had to equalise our ears to ensure the pressure was correct. This involved holding your nose and blowing out, much like you do on a plane or when travelling up / down a mountain. Nice and easy, I reached the bottom, and the rest of the group followed.
My partner had an issue in which his ears were causing him some pain, and Chris kept him calm, and attempted to resolve the situation. Jasmine took him back up the steps, and proceeded to walk him through the proper equalising method and steps, and a couple of minutes later he joined us on the floor of the tank, all sorted. During this time, he was feeling uneasy and this was visible to see. Chris and Jasmine kept him calm and relaxed, something that was really beneficial to us all.
The exploration of the tank itself consisted of walking a set, pre-defined route. It took us from the back of the tank, up the right hand side, through the giant jaws that were directly in front of the viewing window I mentioned above, and through a ship wreck. We stopped at various points to get a good view of the sea life within the tank, and I was absolutely blown away by what I could see! Somehow, even without my glasses, I could see just fine! The sharks swam directly above without a care in the world, and the fish got really close to us. At many points, they glided directly over our heads, close enough to touch (however it’s crucial to remember that touching anything whilst diving is strictly forbidden, not only for your own benefit, but for that of the nature / wildlife / sea life). Zig zagging through the tank, I saw so many new fish I’d never seen before, and Chris (the front leader during the dive itself) relayed hand signs to indicate which fish was which. Some of them were comical (puffer fish), others rather practical (Angel fish), and his ability to relay these to us without words was brilliant!
We spent around 20 minutes under the water, which I felt was a lengthy period of time. I could have spent all day down there, as it really was an exciting and immersive experience, and hands down the best activity I have done to date. Of all the theme parks, all the rides, and all the attractions I have ever completed, this dive was THE number one thing I’ve ever done. I firmly believe that this is down to the competent, clear, concise teaching Chris provided, whilst retaining the fun factor. He had a charm that was inviting, and the way he spoke with us was that of a friend rather than a teacher. I believe that this was the reason we felt calm and at ease with our first dive, as he was speaking with us as though we were friends / people rather than customers. The rest of the staff at the attraction and activities speak in a way that portrays a “survival” sort of voice, that gets you in the mood for a tough, rough and muddy adventure. I think if the dive team spoke in this same style, not only would the charm be lost, but it would also not make for a calming experience. I’m glad that this wasn’t the case!
Jasmine also allowed us to capture our adventure under the water by swimming with the Go Pro that was recording us. I’m waiting on the footage, but I’m sure it’ll be a brilliant video, so a massive thanks to Jasmine for this!
All in all, we had an absolutely FANTASTIC time at the Bear Grylls Adventure, and cannot wait to return. We are already planning our next dive, and have looked into taking this up as a hobby. It left us feeling incredibly invigorated and alive, and Chris Facey is the man to thank for this. He’s an incredibly competent instructor, with a fantastic ability to keep you calm and at ease, whilst ensuring that you are having this “once in a lifetime” activity, full of excitement and adventure. Chris, you’re the man!