Alton Towers, London's Thorpe Park is a much easier park to reach for most visitors traveling to England. Located less than 20 minutes from Heathrow, the Merlin-operated park is reachable on public transit or a quick ride-share trip. Also unlike Alton Towers, Thorpe Park has a compact layout with very little open space, so we decided that purchasing Fastrack would not be needed in order for us to get to every top attraction in the park.Unlike
Unfortunately, we knew ahead of time that Colossus would be down because it is undergoing a retracking that would not be completed prior to our visit. I’ve read a number of reviews about Colossus, the former inversion record holder, and wanted to experience it for myself to compare with Smiler, but it was not to be. While we weren’t able to ride Colossus, we were able to get on every other major attraction at the park.
When researching information about Thorpe Park, a lot of reviews of the park compared it to Six Flags parks, but our experience was far superior to most of our visits to SF parks around the US. This first attraction we headed to was Swarm, a B&M wing coaster. Walking up to the coaster, you instantly get a post-apocalyptic vibe that reminded me of 28 Days Later, but instead of zombies, it’s suggested that the area has been invaded by alien creatures.
The attention to detail in the theming on Swarm is far beyond anything you would ever find at a Six Flags (includig Six Flags Fiesta Texas, which I feel is the best-themed SF park). Even the operators’ booth is themed by being housed in an upside-down ambulance perched above the loading platform. As with all B&M wing coasters, the line is split into two when you reach the station, to load seats on both sides of the track. Unfortunately, we were sent to the left side of the train for both of our rides but did get a chance to ride in the front row and near the back of the train to compare the experiences. I’ve ridden all of the wing coasters currently operating in the US (Gatekeeper, Wild Eagle, Thunderbird, and X-Flight), and like those installations, Swarm negotiates a course with massive, swooping motions, almost appearing in slow motion when watching from the ground. However, on board, the intensity remains high throughout, mostly accentuating positive Gs. Like other wing coasters, Swarm includes a number of near-miss elements, but here, props used to create those near-miss moments help to enhance the theming, like a billboard, a crashed airplane, and a hollowed-out church that houses the coaster’s station.
Unlike the other wing coasters I’ve ridden, the near-miss elements on Swarm are more effective in the front row. Those near-miss elements are typically the best parts of a wing coaster layout, but on Swarm, the best element by far is a slow barrel roll that occurs over the station.
The sensations (both hang time and good lateral G’s) coupled with incredible visuals make this one of my favorite inversions on ANY roller coaster – right up there with Velocicoaster’s lagoon-skimming barrel roll, Alpengeist’s cobra roll, Montu’s batwing, and Tatsu’s pretzel loop – which alone would be worth the 45-60 minute lines we observed throughout most of our day in Thorpe Park. It was good to grab a second ride on Swarm at the end of the day, but perhaps if we were to visit this park again, we would have spent more time riding what is clearly the best coaster in the park.
By no means should that suggest that the other coasters at Thorpe Park are bad – in fact they’re all quite good and well themed, particularly if comparing to the Six Flags expectation level with which we entered the park. However, like many theme parks, there are periods where technology and complex mechanical machinery do not always cooperate, which seemed occur a bit too frequently during our day. Nemesis Inferno experienced a lot of downtime during our visit. Not only was the B&M invert down from park opening until we first walked past the coaster after riding Swarm (teasing with some test runs leading me to think it was ready to open), but it went down later in the day when we finally entered the queue, leading to a total wait time of just over an hour to ride. Ordinarily I would not wait that long to ride most coasters, but given that we might not return to Thorpe Park anytime soon, we stuck it out. Nemesis Inferno, not to be confused with Nemesis at Alton Towers (also a B&M invert), is themed around a massive volcano-like structure.
Because we waited so long to reach the station, we decided to wait the extra 15 minutes for a front row seat. The compact layout reminded me a bit of Talon at Dorney Park crossed with a Batman: The Ride clone, but overall, I felt the coaster lacked the intensity found on those coasters, perhaps a function of us sitting in the front row. Nemesis Inferno is not what I would call a terrible coaster, but I would still rank it in the bottom third of B&M inverts I’ve ridden.
Another coaster that experienced a bit of downtime throughout our day was Stealth. Given our past experiences with other Intamin hydraulic launch coasters, we expected some downtime during our visit, and indeed the coaster was not open or even testing when the park opened. We circled back to the ride when we saw it testing shortly after noon – somewhat like Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point, you can see Stealth’s towering top hat from virtually everywhere in Thorpe Park, and when it began testing, it drew guests to the attraction like moths to a flame. We had joined the crowd and waited for about 30 minutes in the plaza outside the ride’s entrance before Stealth officially opened for the day. Like Rita at Alton Towers, Stealth’s theming invokes hot rod culture, but Thorpe Park’s hydraulic launched coaster has a decidedly American spin on the theme with plentiful references to US highways and a station that’s styled to look like a cross between a drag racing control tower and a service station. Like other Intamin hydraulic coasters, Stealth is all about the intense launch, which propels trains from 0 to 80 mph in 2.3 seconds, making it the fastest roller coaster in the UK. After the exhilarating launch, the train slowly crests the signature top hat and then plunges straight down (no spiral descent like TTD or Kingda Ka) before finishing with a quick airtime hill (like Kingda Ka).
Obviously Stealth doesn’t measure up to TTD or KK, but the impressive launch and oodles of ejector air on the airtime hill make it a must do.
Stealth is located near an area of the park themed around Amity – yeah, Amity of Jaws fame, which is an odd fit with Stealth’s theming (aside from the American influences). However, the park’s shoot-the-chutes ride, Tidal Wave (which wasn’t operating, probably due to the cool temperatures), and bumper cars are found here and work well with the seaside vibe.
Directly adjacent to Amity is Angry Birds Land, complete with Detonator (a medium-sized drop tower ride) and Angry Birds 4D. The 4D attraction uses motion seats like the ones that used to be found on Shrek at Universal Studios Florida and are still used on Kung Fu Panda at Universal Studios Hollywood, with some additional in-theater effects synchronized with the film. The movie itself is pretty interesting because it’s presented with the video game characters, not the movie-based characters, so there’s no dialogue. I probably wouldn’t recommend going out of your way for Angry Birds 4D, but if you happen to be walking by during a posted showtime, it’s worth a few minutes of your time.
Also positioned near Angry Birds Land and Amity is one of the more unique roller coasters of our trip, Walking Dead: The Ride.
I didn’t know a lot about this attraction other than it supposedly had live actors. The indoor queue and coaster are well themed, but aside from the soundtrack, there wasn’t anything that directly referenced the TV series. This could have been themed around any generic zombie IP from what I could tell, and the coaster itself wasn’t anything special (reminded me of Skull Mountain at Six Flags Great Adventure). The live actors enter the equation after you get off the coaster as their job is to chase you out of the building. It was a nice touch to have this year-round haunt style element, but I would have been just as happy to go through this room (or maybe a couple of more rooms filled with scare actors) instead of having to ride a mediocre roller coaster.
However, if you do want a year-round, haunt-style attraction without needing to ride a roller coaster, Thorpe Park does have Black Mirror – Labyrinth. Taking its cues from the popular British series streamed on Netflix, this attraction taps into the dystopian themes and concepts of a world slowly being dominated by A.I. (sound familiar?) If nothing else, the British certainly know how to present bleak views of the future and point out how compliance ultimately brings the corruption of society. There are some really cool effects in this attraction, which ends with a classic mirror maze. There’s not a ton of variability with the attraction, so perhaps that explains why this was the shortest line of the day (less than five minutes), but my love for the Black Mirror series and fondness for haunted houses positively influenced my impressions of this attraction.
Saw – The Ride is another attraction at Thorpe Park that utilizes licensed IP. The Gerstlauer Euro-fighter coaster is heavily themed to the popular horror movie series.
The indoor queue and station have tons of references to the movies, and the Jigsaw doll is prevalent in both the boarding area and the first block after the station. Frankly I was surprised that there weren’t any parental advisories or warnings because the subject matter presented on Saw – The Ride is very intense. In fact, the first inversion is a slow barrel roll the flips riders over a corpse spurting fluid towards the train. After that first inversion, the train ascends a vertical lift, drops through a 100-degree dive and two more inversions. By itself, the coaster is good, but the addition of the Saw theming really elevates the experience. I think I still prefer Mystery Mine, another Gerstlauer Euro-fighter, but I really enjoyed Saw – The Ride, especially since it was the only coaster operating a single rider line that reduced the waits from 45-60 minutes down to less than 10 minutes.
We did ride Rumba Rapids, a pretty benign (and mostly dry), river raft ride…
and Dobble Tea Party, a stock teacup ride, but didn’t have time to ride most of the park’s other flat rides – most had 30+ minute queues and didn’t appear dramatically different from similar rides we’ve ridden at American parks. Perhaps if we had purchased Fastrack we could have gotten to all the flat rides or gotten re-rides on Stealth, Swarm, and Nemesis Inferno, but even without the line-skipping service, we were able to get to all of the unique attractions without much trouble. Thorpe Park is getting ready to raise the ante as they have begun erecting Project Exodus, which is rumored to be a Mack hyper-coaster, which will be the tallest roller coaster in the UK at 236 feet.
We really enjoyed our day at Thorpe Park and would highly recommend it to theme park and coaster fans traveling to the London area. While the park’s layout is a little compressed/tight and theming a bit haphazard, there are plenty of unique attractions to fill a day, particularly Swarm, which for me would be worth the price of admission alone.
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Previously from Russell:
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