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The Top 10 Theme Park Rides and Attractions in the UKSubmitted by Nick Sim on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 09:00
The UK's theme park market continues to sustain dozens of parks, despite the gloomy economic climate and the country's even gloomier weather. There are a dazzling array of attractions on offer, including towering roller coasters, soaking-wet water rides and tamer rides aimed at younger guests.
Since we launched our theme park guides in 2012 (covering every major park in the UK, and 90+ in total), we've been keeping a close eye on the ratings and reviews that our readers have given to UK theme park rides. Now that the 2014 season is about to begin, we thought it would be a great time to update our list of the top 10 rides in the country, based on our readers' opinions.
Many of the headline rides in the UK are roller coasters, so there's a dearth of dark rides in the list below. Still, it's an impressive selection. Don't agree with the list? Start adding your own ratings and reviews!
10. Cliff Hanger (Flamingo Land)
The UK's only S&S Combo drop tower ride, Cliff Hanger stands at some 180-feet-tall (making it the tallest ride of its type in the UK). You’ll get incredible views across Flamingo Land and beyond from the top – though you won’t have much time to enjoy them before you plummet back towards the ground below. Even better, Cliff Hanger can operate either as a drop tower or as a launch tower – or both.
Full details: Cliff Hanger guide
9. Grand National (Blackpool Pleasure Beach)
Grand National is one of only a handful of Möbius Loop roller coasters still operating, and features trains that “race” each other as they traverse near-identical halves of the same circuit. It was first opened in 1935, and features old-style trains with padded seating and lap bars for protection.
Trains on the two circuits are released from the station simultaneously, climbing a lift hill past a sign that reads “They’re Off”. Similar signs around its circuit mark elements from the Aintree course that hosts the annual Grand National horse race. In total, the ride’s two halves feature 3,302-feet each of hills and turns, culminating in a race to the finishing line that is usually decided by the weight of the riders in each train.
Full details: Grand National guide
8. Apocalypse (Drayton Manor)
The impressive Apocalypse is an Intamin-designed drop tower that stands at 177-feet-tall. Themed around a science experiment, it features five sides, each of which can hold four riders. Three different types of seating are offered – guests can choose to sit down, stand up on a floor, or stand up with no floor. The seats tilt forward 15 degrees at the top of the tower, before plummeting towards the ground below at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
Undoubtedly the best drop tower in the UK, Apocalypse also has a good claim to be considered the best ride of its type in the world (excluding Disney's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, that is). The different seating types add hugely to the re-ride value, and it’s not just a gimmick – each offers a genuinely different experience. Whichever one you choose, the views from the top are stunning, and the drop is exhilarating.
Full details: Apocalypse guide
7. Air (Alton Towers)
Alton Towers has a tradition of building "first-of-a-kind" roller coasters. Air was one of these, opened in 2002 at a cost of £12 million as the world's first Bolliger & Mabillard Flying Coaster. Situated in the Forbidden Valley area of the park, it aims to recreate the experience of flying. Riders board the ride in a seated position, but the seats rotate to leave them facing the ground before the ride enters its opening lift hill.
Air is still the only ride of its type in the UK, and its innovative ride system really does offer a spectacular feeling of flight. More than a decade after its debut, it still draws large crowds, although it hasn’t attained the same legendary status as nearby Nemesis.
The most disappointing aspect of Air is the dull second half of the circuit, which is exacerbated by the total absence of theming around the ride. Surely a ride that simulates flying should offer guests a flight “over” something more than blades of grass and the occasional patch of concrete? SeaWorld Orlando’s impressive flying coaster Manta shows what could have been if Alton Towers had stretched its budget a little further.
Full details: Air guide
6. The Swarm (Thorpe Park)
Thorpe Park's big new ride for 2012 was The Swarm, the first Bolliger & Mabillard Wing Rider roller coaster to open in the UK. It received a major update for the 2013 season, with the back two rows of each train being reversed to face backwards. Riders still sit seated in pods of two on either side of the track, enabling the ride to incorporate a number of “near-miss” elements with the surrounding scenery.
Stading at some 127 feet tall, The Swarm is still less of a feature in Thorpe Park's skyline than nearby Stealth. Its circuit is surrounded by extensive theming, designed to give the impression that an alien "swarm" has destroyed the Earth.
B&M’s Wing Rider coasters are taking the world by storm, and after riding The Swarm it’s easy to see why. Dangling on the side of the train, with no track above or below you, creates an unparalleled sense of freedom and vulnerability. The cleverly-designed circuit makes great use of this, and you’ll be relieved to exit at the station with all of your limbs still attached to your body.
Full details: The Swarm guide
5. Stealth (Thorpe Park)
Standing at some 205 feet tall, Stealth dominates Thorpe Park's skyline. Still the fastest roller coaster in the UK, it originally launched riders up to a top speed of 80 miles per hour in 2.3 seconds. Subsequent modifications, however, have reduced this time to just 1.9 seconds.
The remainder of the circuit is fairly bland, with only one small hill after the initial trip up Stealth's main tower. Still, most riders won't care - the initial launch will have taken their breath away.
Full details: Stealth guide
4. Oblivion (Alton Towers)
Installed in 1998 at a cost of £12 million, Oblivion was the world's first vertical drop roller coaster. Manufacted by Swiss firm Bolliger & Mabillard, it remains an enduring favourite among Alton Towers fans.
Riders board wide trains which feature two rows of eight seats, before climbing up a very steep lift hill. They are then held at the top of the 180-feet vertical drop for around four seconds, before plunging into a hole in the ground. The ride hits a top speed of 68 miles per hour at the base of the drop, and then races around a wide bend before hitting the brakes at the end of a short 1,222-feet circuit.
Full details: Oblivion guide
3. Valhalla (Blackpool Pleasure Beach)
Housed inside a building fronted by an enormous waterfall, Valhalla is the major water ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It is the most expensive ride ever built by the park, at a total cost of £15 million, and has drawn large crowds since its opening in 2000.
Valhalla is the most heavily-themed ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and is based around the mythology surrounding the Viking afterlife. Riders are loaded into Viking-style longboats, before setting off on a six-minute journey. After entering the ride building via an ominous skull-shaped entrance, they are carried up one of two lift hills. A series of special effects are used to create an impression of being in Valhalla itself, including searing and freezing temperatures of 40 degrees and -20 degrees respectively.
The effects, boosted by a refurbishment in early 2012, mix visual elements with actual physical sensations, something that is relatively rare on theme park rides. Even taken just as a plain old water ride, Valhalla is the best ride of its kind in the UK. The two drops are impressive, and the backwards section is inventive and bewildering in equal measure. Put this right at the top of your list of rides to experience at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, along with the mighty Big One.
Full details: Valhalla guide
2. The Smiler (Alton Towers)
Opened in May 2013 at a cost of some £18 million, The Smiler is the most expensive roller coaster in Alton Towers' history. It also shattered the world recording for "most inversions in a coaster's circuit", with a mind-blowing 14 upside-down elements.
Of course, packing lots of inversions into a coaster doesn't necessarily mean that it will offer a good experience. The Smiler, though, is executed perfectly. Its lengthy 3-minute duration and engaging theme have resulted in it receiving almost unanimous 5-star ratings from TPT's readers.
The Smiler adds yet another impressive coaster to Alton Towers' line-up. There is one problem for the park, though - can it get the ride to operate reliably in 2014?
Full details: The Smiler guide
1. Nemesis (Alton Towers)
It may have first opened back in 1994, but Nemesis remains a huge draw at Alton Towers. The inverted coaster's setting inside a giant hole in the ground is an integral part of the experience, with the sensation of the ground sweeping beneath riders' feet creating an unparalled sense of speed and danger.
From the moment the ride hits the top of the lift hill, there is no break in the action on Nemesis. Although it is fairly short in duration, the coaster packs in a number of very intense elements and makes the most of its unusual setting. Most riders are windswept and out-of-breath when they reach the end, their eyes streaming as they reach for the buckle on their seatbelt. Many rush straight round for another turn.
Nemesis has spawned two “sequel” rides – the Nemesis Inferno roller coaster at Thorpe Park, and the nearby Nemesis Sub-Terra. Both are inferior to the original, which still ranks as one of the best roller coasters in the world.
Full details: Nemesis guide
What do you think?
Are you surprised that one of favourite attactions is missing from our list of the UK's top 10 theme park rides? Why not head over to our UK theme park guides and start adding your own ratings and reviews?