Sunday 15 July 2007

Holidays start with Celebration Europe

After finally finishing work at 9pm on Friday night I settled myself in for two whole weeks of R&R. Couldn't come soon enough!

My holidays kicked off in style as Rich and I were off to Celebration Europe at the ExCeL on Saturday. We bought the tickets so long ago that it was great to finally be on our way! Didn't pick up the tickets until Saturday morning... and was surprised to find that they weren't your average paper tickets but beautiful laminated passes designed to be worn around the neck (shame the lanyards came at an extra cost of £3)!

So. Off we went on the 486 to North Greenwich from where it was just a short ride to ExCeL. Not as short as I thought. Labouring under the delusion that we only needed to go to Canning Town I was surprised when we go there to have to go upstairs to catch the DLR to Custom House (for ExCeL). Now, if we knew then what we know now, we'd have stayed on one stop to Prince Regent!

We got off the DLR (with a LOT of other people) and went up to the ExCeL. All along the route there were Storm Troopers and assorted other Star Wars characters. It was great building the atmosphere! We arrived at the ExCeL to be shepherded along by the staff "If you've got tickets, straight through the building". Should have been suspicious. If you've never been to the ExCeL it is like most exhibition venues. There are the general public areas and the show halls (in this case several hangar sized areas which can be joined or separated as required). Celebration Europe seemed to be taking up areas on the South Side. We came in the front entrance (nearest to Custom House) and started walking.

The first thing I noticed, which was rather cool, was model of an X-wing!

We kept on walking - with no clear idea of where we were going. My big criticism of the event was generally - very badly signposted and organised. But more of that!

We walked the whole length of the concourse, and noticed that there was a queue down the South Side, so we aimed ourselves at finding that back of the queue. And then some! We saw the line go into a giant hangar area, where it went around all three sides! As we got towards the exit we heard a father say to his small son "We're nearly there", you wish! We got out the back of the building, and looked down at the car park... the queue snaked all the way around three sides and then doubled back on itself! So we walked to the end of the queue... from where we could see Prince Regent Station. If only we'd known!

I don't wear a watch but Rich tells me that we spent about an hour in the queue. Once again, badly organised. Storm Trooper clad marshals slowed the queue down as people took the opportunity to have their photos taken alongside them. I wanted to shout "There's plenty more inside".

This is the queue in the hangar... a lot of small children took advantage of the open space to hold light sabre fights or to skate around on Heelies!

Finally we came out of the hangar and back down the concourse, on the home stretch! The last few yards the organisers finally sought to marshal the queue by means of tensa barriers. And we were there, we went through the doors into a great dark area where there was suspended a model of the Death Star, with some atmospheric music.

Now you could choose to go left for the main area or right for autographs. Here as you dithered was Jabba the Hutt and his court watching you!

Inside it was clear that far too many tickets had been sold for each day, and that maybe, just maybe the event should have run for longer. A few general spaces weren't too bad... but the 'corridors' between the stalls were jammed with people, and it was barely possible to move.

Pretty early on we discounted queueing for the 'theatre' where stars of the movies (etc. etc.) were honoured guests. We felt we'd done enough standing in line.

One of the first displays we noticed was Lego. We're both Lego fans from childhood, and more recently from the PS2 game "Star Wars Lego II". They had a giant screen where kids (and probably adults) could play the game. We were more interested in the amazing models. Characters made out of bricks and whole cities! I was admiring particularly 'Yoda' and commenting on the skill as it had been built entirely from regular blocks (not using great big huge 'specials'). And it so happened that the guy who built it was standing nearby! He commented, yes, all from regular bricks... no going over to the dark side! It took 2500 bricks... the sign said 2501, but apparently he added the extra one as he didn't think anyone would believe the 2500!

I loved the little cityscapes as well. Not least because of they were populated with little Lego figures!

We had a good look up and down the merchandise stalls... selling everything from models to comics and quite a lot more besides! These were being looked over by a rather large AT-AT!

We eventually found ourselves at the official shop. Area up for most critiscm? Quite likely. You were given an order form at the door... next you could stand in an enormous queue pay a cashier and finally pick up your items (a bit like Argos). What whereas at Argos you get a catalogue or even displays, here there was little option to see what you were buying. A few t-shirts on the walls and some display stands... once you were in the queue!!! We didn't buy anything (unsurprisingly)... apart from Rich did get the show guide and the exclusive figures, and we both got lanyards for our passes.

By now we'd pretty much seen it all and done it all! But there were a couple more bits to see. I liked particularly the R2-D2 entertainment unit...

Don't even want to think what you would pay for that!

Finally we saw an F1 car... quite cool, although a LOT smaller than I imagined! It was David Coulthard's Red Bull. As I said to Rich, Red Bull are never ones to shy from re-liverying their cars! Mind you can't totally blame them, as it was the same back when they were Jaguar I seem to recollect (something about diamonds in their nose-cones one time)...

All in all, we had a pretty fabulous day out! Exhausting, but well worth it.