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British Theme Parks - Any good? If so, what?

The low frequency of TPI discussion surrounding British theme parks has prompted me to put a call out to any fellow Brits and others who have frequented any over here: Are any except Alton Towers worth bothering with?

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted May 10, 2011 at 8:49 AM
I am a BIG fan of Alton Towers. When I haven't got a Florida fix lined up, I'm planning my next trip to Alton Towers. It helps fill the loss. (Even though when I'm going round the park, I'm constantly stopping myself from going 'Disney wouldn't have done it like that...')

There's so many fantastic rides: Rita Queen of Speed, Nemesis, Oblivion, Air...and a few new ones I haven't tried yet.

My question is, should I be so blindly ruling out Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures? (And any others?) Do they have anything decent to offer and if so, what? Can the UK compete in any way, with any element, against the amazing adventures across the pond?


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From Jeff Elliott
Posted May 10, 2011 at 9:16 AM
Alton Towers and Blackpool Pleasure Beach are both world class amusement parks. Thorpe would be a step behind those two yet still enjoyable (and working hard to join the ranks of the other two).

Other than that, there are many 1/2 day parks in the UK that are enjoyable.

You can also cross the channel and go to Europa Park in Rust Germany, the Disney parks in France, and many small parks in the Netherlands, and Denmark.

I think the problem that you are having is that you are trying to equate a Disney theme park experience with an amusement park experience. They are not the same thing at all. It is like trying to compare a zoo with a go-cart track.

From Robert Niles
Posted May 10, 2011 at 1:34 PM
Zoo with a go-cart track?

This is the best I can do.

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted May 10, 2011 at 1:59 PM
LOL. I take your point Jeff, but I have to disagree! I am not trying to compare a zoo with a go-cart track. (Although this is a hilarious image and made me laugh :-) )

True, I'm comparing Theme / Amusement parks, which are obviously very different. But rather than considering them in their entirety, what about the individual elements – do any of the rides match up? Does any small-scale theming (such as the Nemesis or Oblivion queuing areas at Alton Towers) show any potential?

(And while we’re on it – WHY are we ‘just’ producing amusement parks – if we’re gonna build rides – why aren’t they amazingly themed?!)

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted May 10, 2011 at 2:09 PM
Robert - classic picture. But would be better if the lion's were driving.

From Mike Gallagher
Posted May 10, 2011 at 6:59 PM
If I could visit any amusement park in the world (that I've never been to) Blackpool would be my choice, followed by Alton Towers and SF Magic Mountain.

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted May 11, 2011 at 12:16 AM
Hmm, interesting. What have you heard about Blackpool that draws your interest? I've been on the 'The Big One' and I don't think any coaster has had me so scared. The fact that the track is so narrow and tall and held up in the old-style criss-cross structure underneath...oh yeah, and that you've only got a lose bar to keep you in!

From James Koehl
Posted May 11, 2011 at 2:01 AM
Blackpool Pleasure Beach is the only British park I've been to, but we had a great time there. It is certainly NOT a theme park, but reminds me of what I imagine Coney Island in NYC was like at its prime- lots of rides fit in wherever there was room. That is not a bad thing at all- it was fun and exciting. We went to ride the rides, not to experience a themed adventure. Our biggest chuckle was from the operator of a ride simulator based on The Beast at Kings Island in Ohio, a coaster we've ridden many times. We saw it and had to ride it, and laughed at how low-tech it was- this was back in the 1990's, but imagine a Winnebago camper put on a cocktail shaker with an 8mm projector showing a POV home movie of the ride on a bed sheet hung at the front of the cabin! Afterwards we told the operator that we were from America and knew The Beast very well. He told us that he had been in America the previous year and had looked around for The Beast but never saw it. He looked around for it?! How small did he think America is? At any rate, we did have a great time at Blackpool. It isn't a theme park, but it is a world-class amusement park.

From Ashleigh Noad
Posted May 11, 2011 at 3:20 AM
An excellent question! As a Brit, I am happy that we leave the theme parks to those who do it best. Even Alton Towers is no where near the extravagance of other European parks (from what I've read and seen!).

Thorpe Park and Alton Towers are rollercoaster based. Their attempts at themes are rather feeble, though I give them kudos for trying to have a backstory on some of their attractions and including a little bit of themeing. In my opinion, theme parks offer an 'experience' whereas the likes of Alton Towers and Thorpe Park are simply offering you fast rides. Even their 'up and coming' worldclass attractions are no more, Oblivion compared to the likes of SheiKra is laughable!

However, saying that I still visit these parks. These are my fix whilst I can't get to Disney and I will settle for an amusement park. I think in recent years they have done well in TP and AT to introduce more themed coasters, however, they don't seem to serve any relevance in their positions in the park.

Whereas for Chesington, the park is a fun day out for young kids. Similar to Legoland, except Legoland is more of an 'experience' rather than an amusement park and fun for young kids, but not much to offer the single adult group category. Having not been to Blackpool, I wouldn't know what it is like, however, it does seem like a typical seaside amusement park but with better attractions.

"Theme" parks in Britain seem to be geared more towards teens or families with young children. Rarely do they achieve a good mix of both. Both Disney and Universal have considered theme parks in Britain (just around the corner to me quite scarily!) and obviously decided against it, perhaps the market isn't suitable and there is a lack of investment as it isn't a very central location for European visitors.

I'm glad however we don't have a Universal/Disney. It makes it that more special when I go myself!

From Kelly Muggleton
Posted May 11, 2011 at 5:52 AM
I agree with Ashleigh it does make the Uni/Disney parks much more special to visit having nothing here like it.

I havent been to Alton Towers for a while but both them and Thorpe Park kind of have 'mini themes' in my eyes. Like Hex set in the actual Towers, the water/beach section of TP. (Or the Thorpe Park Rangers! aaaaah they were weird) :-)

One area they both do themeing is Halloween...But having been to HHH at Uni - they can't really compete.

From Ashleigh Noad
Posted May 12, 2011 at 5:08 AM
Ahh I'm returning to Alton Towers within the next couple of weeks! So I'll be able to take a proper good look round again.

I agree, the 'beach' section of TP is so strange. The theme couldn't be more unfitting to the local weather most of the year!

I must admit Thorpe Park and Alton Tower's recent advertising campaigns have been very interesting...

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted May 12, 2011 at 5:27 AM
It's very restrained of you to not want a Disney/Uni park over here! I know logically, logistically, it's highly improbable...but I always think people who live in Fl are so lucky! Wish I lived close enough to the Magic to have an annual pass!

So it sounds like you reckon TP is worth a visit? I'll defo be going back to AT this year, but since I live in the southwest, TP would be closer... What's its best coasters? Isn't it really kiddie?

From Mike Gallagher
Posted May 12, 2011 at 6:34 AM
Lauren,

What I've read and seen of Blackpool reveals similarities..on a larger scale, of course..to the Jersey Shore oceanside ride piers I grew up with. As much as I wish to ride the Big One (no comments from the peanut gallery!) their other coasters also appeal. They seem to have a wonderful collection of classic flat rides, and a great seaside location. I recently watched the film Nowhere Boy, about the teen years of John Lennon prior to the formation of the Beatles. Parts of the film were shot at Blackpool, and my appetite was whetted even more. Speaking of appetites, I wonder if I'd find some nice, greasy fish and chips somewhere at Blackpool...???

As a side note, and loving wordplay as I do, I find it fascinating that a coaster was called Pepsi Max-The Big One many moons ago, when Pepsi only recently introduced an actual soda product called Pepsi Max. Outstanding taste, too..you'd never know it's diet.

From Kelly Muggleton
Posted May 12, 2011 at 7:39 AM
Mike I believe that Pepsi Max was launched here at the same time the coaster was named that... It feels like its been around a long time. (saying that I'm not sure if they pulled it then relaunched it)

It would be harder for you NOT to find fish & chips in Blackpool! Everyone in England knows that fish & chips always taste better at the seaside (no matter how good they are at home).
Mmmmm I want to hit the beach and eat now! :-)

From Mike Gallagher
Posted May 12, 2011 at 7:50 AM
Kelly said, "Mmmmm I want to hit the beach and eat now! :-)"

Want some company? :)

I'd be interested to see the chronology of the Pepsi Max name. The coaster's been around for quite a few years, but I never heard of Pepsi Max in any other context until the drink was introduced here..last year, I believe. If it was ever marketed previously overseas, I was not aware of it.

*EDIT* I just looked it up. According to Wikipedia (not always accurate, I know) The Pepsi Max soda was introduced in the UK in 1993, and the coaster opened in 1994. So Kelly was on target. The beverage only became available in the U.S. recently.

From Kelly Muggleton
Posted May 12, 2011 at 8:17 AM
Who knew my specialist subject was Pepsi!! (although I do drink a lot of it and theres nothing worse for me than walking around Disneyworld knowing you would happily maim someone for one)

Haha fish & chips at the beach would be awesome...
With another great English summer tradition - Pimms! :-)

From Mike Gallagher
Posted May 12, 2011 at 8:36 AM
What's Pimms?

There's a restaurant here in NJ called the Argyle, in Kearny. They serve English style fish and chips. Not on newspaper, though, as I understand many places across the pond do. My family's been going to the Argyle for more than 40 years.

From Jeff Elliott
Posted May 12, 2011 at 9:06 AM
Pimm's Cup =
2 oz Pimm's #1 (booze)
1/2 oz flavoring (lemonade, lime juice, Sprite, ginger ale, or 7-up)
Garnish the drink with 5 kilos of fruit and a mint leaf.

From Mike Gallagher
Posted May 12, 2011 at 10:18 AM
Jeff, that sounds tasty. But what kind of booze IS Pimm's? Whiskey? Vodka? Gin? None of the above?

From Robert Niles
Posted May 12, 2011 at 10:40 AM
Pimms #1 is based on gin. Here's a round-up of Pimms drinks.

From Robert Niles
Posted May 12, 2011 at 10:42 AM
Okay, here's my question for those in the know.

If I'm in London for a couple of weeks, and have time to visit one theme park, where should I go? Alton? Blackpool? Thorpe? Chessington? Legoland? Or take the Chunnel to Disneyland Paris?

From Jeff Elliott
Posted May 12, 2011 at 12:23 PM
It depends greatly on what you want to do and who with.

Alton – This park contains once unique rides that are usually one-trick ponies that have been now built bigger and better elsewhere. Their height ceiling makes it hard for them to build new rides (since they are not allowed to build above the tree line). Lots of modern rides, plenty to do. 150 miles from London.

Blackpool – This is what Coney Island should be. Many vintage rides and a few relatively modern ones mixed in. If you are centered out of London, it is a long way to go to get to this park. 240 miles from London

Thorpe Park – This is a park that has really tried to pull the stops out and go for the crown of best park in the UK. They are not there yet, but they are on the right track. This is a half to three-quarter day park….with new rides on the way. This park is much closer to Heathrow Airport (11 miles away) which makes it really convenient if you are center out of London.

Legoland – Great if you have kids with you. Very little to do if you are alone (and kind of creepy (I mean for you, not the kids….they are all going to stare at you like from Children of the Corn)).

Chessington – This is more of a half-day family park with a zoo than a world class amusement/theme park. If you take the M25 from Heathrow to Chessington, you are going to pass extremely close to Thorpe Park. 30 Miles from Healthrow.

Disneyland Paris – I know you are a Disney fan, but this one is the neglected step-child of the Disney park family. There are fewer rides, and just less Disney-ness to go around.

Europa Park (Rust, Germany) – If you are willing to go to Paris, Rust, Germany is almost the same distance, but the park here is so much better. It is at least a full day park owned by the same people who own Mack Rides. Because of that relationship, many of the major rides in Europa park were built by Mack Rides, and are unique ones at that. This park is as good as some of the best in the States.

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted May 12, 2011 at 1:14 PM
It sucks being on a different time to y'all - I miss the good conversation :-)

Not only is Fish n Chips good at the beach, but it's also better up North (north of Birmingham) coz they fry the fish without any skin on. Down South they fry it with the skin on, so if you're picky like me, you have to mess around avoiding it.

And unfortunately they don't often use newspaper anymore, just styrofome containers and plain white paper :-)

And Pimms definitely isn't just a summer drink! Now you've got me craving... It's such a thirst-quenching delicious concoction, best enjoyed whist watching tennis and eating strawberries.

Hmm, okay Robert, which park to visit...Jeff's given a brill round up of what's on offer, but I'd have to say - if time's not a factor - head for Alton Towers. I don't really understand Jeff's comment about the rides being one-trick-ponies, they're awesome again and again.

You've got adrenaline rushes - Rita Queen of Speed does 0 - 61.1 mph in 2.5 seconds!!! It's a proper rush. Oblivion is a vertical drop, Nemesis is a classic hanging coaster but nice and long with 2 corkscrews a loop and a zero-G roll, there's Air which is amazing, you get strapped in hanging then the cars tip forwards so you're lying flat on your belly...actually feels like you're flying. Then you've got the classic rides - log flume, river rapids etc - and a large children's land. Plus an additional advantage of travelling north is you'd get to see some beautiful countryside!

From Jeff Elliott
Posted May 12, 2011 at 2:59 PM
What I mean by one trick pony is that these roller coasters were design with one distinctive element. An element that it does extremely well, I must add. But still usually one element.

Take Oblivion for an extreme example. The first diving coaster, but the only thing it does is dive into a tunnel and then round out back to the station. But if you have been on Griffin (Busch Gardens Williamsburg) or SheiKra (Busch Gardens Tampa), you get two dives, plus several other elements and is much more of a complete coaster than just one unique element.

Take Air for another example. Very unique, one of the first flying coasters, but it doesn’t have nearly as many elements as Superman: Ultimate Flight (Six Flags Great America among others) and Firehawk/X-Flight (Kings Island).

I will let you take credit for Nemesis being one of the best inverted roller coasters in the world, but Dueling Dragons/Dragon Challenge (Islands of Adventure) is right there with it in the running…with the added element of dueling coasters.

Rita is a good launch coaster, but with a launch lift hill and a dark tunnel launch (that is faster than Rita’s) as well as too-many-to-count zero-G elements, Maverick (Cedar Point) probably takes the trophy. After the launch, Rita is just a winding ride back to the station….much like Formula Rossa (Ferrari World)….but at least Rita doesn't throw the breaks on within moments of getting off the launch.

Th13teen is definitely a one trick pony…..almost the definition of it……but it is a very good trick….

Which is, I guess, my point. The roller coasters at Alton Towers have one really good trick up their sleeve. But usually just one. Many roller coaster don’t even get that far…

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted May 12, 2011 at 2:58 PM
Wow Jeff you're really knowledgable :-) I found your post really interesting.

I see what you're mean about one-trick pony now and I agree. I find it hard to understand why they went to so much trouble to build Oblivion and only put one drop in it! I have ben on Sheikra and thought it away amazing - the two drops, plus skidding through the water...plus everything the coaster throws at you! It was unbelievable.

Oblivion is the best thing we have that competes with Sheikra...and it doesn't really. And Alton Towers is the best thing we have to compete with theme / amusement parks in the US...and I think it gives it a pretty good go.

And thanks for recognising the genuis that is Nemesis...But times that by two and Dueling wins hands down. (Went on last month - fire is always my favourite...are fire and ice identical?!)

As for the other comparisons you gave, makes me desperate to seek out other parks in the US! I have friends in New England and Ohio - are there any decent parks there?!

From Jeff Elliott
Posted May 12, 2011 at 3:08 PM
I really like Alton Towers....it takes a lot of guts to be the first with unproven technology.


In New England there is Six Flags New England where resides the #1 rated steel roller coaster in the world Bizzaro.

In Ohio, you not only have the #1 rate amusement park in the world, Cedar Point, but you also have a personal favorite of mine, Kings Island.

In between New England and Ohio, you have Pennsylvania, probably the densest region of amusement parks in the world, home to HersheyPark, Kennywood, and Dorney Park, among others.

…and no….Fire and Ice run different layouts with different elements…..I personally like Ice side better because of the wall kick, and is the spinning coaster on one of the fly-bys.

From Robert Niles
Posted May 12, 2011 at 3:46 PM
Cedar Point in Ohio might be the world's best roller coaster park - its closest competitor would be Six Flags Magic Mountain, here in Los Angeles. Kings Island, in the south of Ohio, is a solid regional amusement park, but not as good as Holiday World, a couple hours to the west in Indiana. (Holiday World has the country's best collection of wooden roller coasters.)

Six Flags New England has one great roller coaster - Bizarro, and Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey is one of the Six Flags' chain's better park, perhaps its best, according to many readers on the site.

From Kelly Muggleton
Posted May 13, 2011 at 12:54 AM
I think being in London also depends on how far you want to travel...I would say you can get to the door of Disneyland Paris, just as quickly (if not more quickly) than you can get to Alton Towers. Ive done both journeys and DP was quicker! (That was AT by car, DP by Eurostar)

Thorpe Park is a lot of fun really and you can easily do everything in a day. Stealth & Saw are probably the big draws, I dont see the attraction of the new water ride thing...

Has anyone been to Drayton Manor? Is that worth checking out?

And I had my first Pimms of the year last night - as we say in England - Lush! (and it was quite easy on the fruit)

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted May 13, 2011 at 1:04 AM
Thanks Jeff / Robert for the info. I never knew the North East was so hot on roller coasters. I'm planning a trip next year so will definitely factor one of these in. (Maybe I'll miss Holiday World though - wooden coasters terrify me, even the Grand National in Blackpool!) Sounds like Cedar Point is the one to aim for, but where abouts in NE is Six Flags?

Hey Kelly - I have seen adverts for Saw, but I hate the films and considering its theming I wasnt really drawn. I assume nothing remotely related to the films happens on the ride?!

I see what you mean about journey time from London, it probably would be quicker to get to DLP but more expensive. And regarding a lot of the negative discussion on here about DLP, I'm not sure if it would be everyone's cup of tea. Me and my friends love it, because it is still Disney and the fact that most of the French workers hate smiling and being jovial and generally dont wanna be there is very funny to us :-)

I prefer their Space Mountain because of the zooming up-hill start, and they have TofT there now, so would be worth doing 2 parks... But if you're not prepared for France-does-Disney, it might be best to go to Alton. Besides, let's encourage Robert to see the best of what the UK has to offer! :-D

Haven't had a Pimms yet this year... But will be buying some in the next weekly shop! I hope you do the obligatory chopped cucumber and strawberries? When I first met my husband he had always sloshed some beer in too...I soon sorted him out.

From Ashleigh Noad
Posted May 13, 2011 at 2:34 AM
Lauren, TP is worth the one visit! Nemesis is a great coaster, my family are split on whether AT's or TP's version is better. Stealth is a bit of a one-trick pony, it is short, has one good element. It's Rita but up a big hill and a lot shorter. Whereas Collosus is loved by many, but personally for me it is a bit too slow at points, particularly its inversions. Saw is supposed to be amazing however I haven't had the pleasure of riding this yet! However, theres many good non-Coaster elements like Rush, which is pretty much a huge swing.

All in all, it is worth a visit but you will definitely prefer Alton Towers, Thorpe Park is tiny compared to it.

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted May 13, 2011 at 6:17 AM
Thanks Ashleigh, think I'll give it a go. I have friends in London who I could rally together for a group visit. So is it more of a half-day visit? Looking forward to trying another version of Nemesis!

From Jeff Elliott
Posted May 13, 2011 at 6:30 AM
The best way to figure out where parks are in relation to where you are going to be is to whip out some Google Maps on it. Google is pretty good about finding amusement parks, even if you don't have the addresses.

If steel beasties are your thing, Cedar Point is a really good park, since they don't play around much with the woodies...and last time I rode Mean Streak, it was so rough that it about broke my wife and I in half.

Holiday World, like Robert said, has 3 of the top ten wooden roller coasters, including #1, The Raven. But these are roller coasters that are in extremely good condition and cared for extremely well. Holiday World is also consistently one of the friendliest and cleanest parks in the world.

Kings Island is mostly steel coasters, but it does have the longest roller coaster in the world, The Beast, that had its wooden track replaced this winter, so it should be running nice and smooth.

From Ashleigh Noad
Posted May 13, 2011 at 8:58 AM
Well I could easily have a full day there but mainly due to repeat rides. As long as you go to the park in low season, you could easily get round it in half a day!

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted May 14, 2011 at 7:29 AM
Hey Kelly - I went to Drayton Manor when I was a kid and thought it was brilliant. Shockwave was amazing - stand up roller coaster (Europes only!). They've got G-force which was built in 2005 and a couple of standards - drop tower, water rides - but the rest are like fairground rides, spinny, swingy etc. But it's still a really good day out. I'd definitely go back.

From Ryan Jarrett
Posted May 18, 2011 at 2:49 AM
We've recently visited two UK Theme Parks that have areas themed after classic Kids TV series.

Drayton Manor in Staffordshire has Thomas Land, an area devoted to Thomas the Tank Engine and friends. Thomas Land has 14 rides and attractions, and is themed very well. The rest of Drayton Manor is a traditional theme park with plenty of large roller-coasters and some smaller rides for the less adventurous. New this year is the Ben 10: Ultimate Mission ride which is based on the Ben 10 cartoon series. Unfortunately it wasn't open when we visited so I can't give you an opinion!

Paultons Park in Hampshire has Peppa Pig World. Newly opened this year, it has 7 Peppa Pig rides, as well as indoor and outdoor play areas and a wet play area called Muddy Puddles! The theming here is amazing and it looks exactly like the cartoon and toys. The rest of Paultons is great for younger kids with more outdoor play areas and another larger wet area, as well as plenty of rides and attractions.

Both parks also have animal exhibits if you are looking for that little bit extra!

From Lauren Hayhurst
Posted May 19, 2011 at 4:19 AM
Thanks Ryan! I was hoping for an up-to-date comment about Drayton. Sounds like I will have to take my nephews there - they are mad about Thomas! What are the other roller coasters like? I can only remember Shockwave. Are we talking big-thrills, loops, inversions...or little tummy-ticklers?! :-)

Also does Paulton's have any adult attractions / roller coasters? The Peppa Pig theming sounds cute! I've never heard of Paulton's, but would be interested in visiting the smaller parks the UK has to offer...

From southie chick
Posted May 21, 2011 at 3:49 PM
Lauren, 6 Flags NE is in Agawam, Massachusetts, which is in the western part of the state -almost to the New York border. If you're staying in Boston, you'd have to rent a car to get there 'cause there's really not any public transportation to get there. Haven't been in a couple of years, & haven't tried Bizarro or Superman since almost everything was closed due to rain my last trip there.It's nice, but not WOW - if you can get out there, then go, but I wouldn't make a special trip just to go there.

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