UK Theme Park Round-Up - March Review and April 2014 PreviewBy Sally Moore, Sunday, April 6, 2014 13:35
Your news update for the March and April 2014 period in our UK theme parks.
March and April mark the start of a new theme park season here in the UK, and with that fresh, springtime feeling in the air, we can finally gear up and head back into our beloved theme parks after the long, dark winter period. Be assured that with the start of the new season over these 2 months, there are plenty of updates and news coming from our UK parks.
Alton Towers’ 2014 season began on Saturday the 22nd of March, 2 days after Thorpe Park opened on March the 20th - the British “First Day of Spring”.
2014 will be quite an important deal for 2 of Alton Tower’s roller-coasters in particular. Firstly, it marks the start of The Smiler’s first full season, open from March right through to November 2014.
The Smiler suffered delays in 2013, its launch year, as it was due to open with the theme park on the 16th of March, but inclement weather over the winter, when construction was taking place, pushed back this launch day to May. The Smiler officially opened on May the 31st, 2013. Unfortunately, it also was affected by numerous operational failures throughout the rest of 2013, but Alton Towers fans everywhere are crossing their fingers and toes and hoping for the best as The Smiler enters its first full season of operation, as of March 2014.
Theme park enthusiasts were able to commence their celebrations for Nemesis’ 20th Anniversary, and as the iconic roller-coaster enters its 21st operational season, Alton Towers have marked the special occasion with exclusive 20th anniversary Nemesis merchandise available resort-wide.
Continuing with its past efforts to break as many world records as possible, be it with world-class rides or massive special events, the Towers also smashed a brand new world record this March.
In conjunction with National Science Week, Alton Towers earned another place in the Guinness Book of World Records when it broke the record for the “world’s largest science lesson” this March, with a total of 792 students from local schools taking place.
Most news in your latest UK theme park update will be coming from the “Nations Thrill Capital”, where a new land, a new event, and a last minute change to an upcoming hotel are just a few items on the March and April agenda.
Thorpe Park’s season began on Thursday the 20th of March, with evidence of plenty of exciting additions to the “resort” for 2014. Possibly the biggest news would be a change to their latest and greatest new hotel.
Annual Passholder Weekend ran on Saturday the 15th and Sunday the 16th of March at Thorpe Park. This is the first time in 2 years that an Annual Passholder Preview weekend has taken place at Thorpe Park, and was an excellent opportunity for the resort to undergo staff training for the upcoming season.
Angry Birds Land is well underway, and the location of this new land has been confirmed on Thorpe Park’s 2014 maps – it has taken over the area between Tidal Wave and Amity Cove, Stealth Plaza, and Nemesis Inferno (in the remnants of Calypso Canyon).
Angry Birds Land will consist of 3 attractions – a re-themed Detonator (Thorpe’s 115ft Fabbri Mega Drop Tower) to become “Detonator: Bombs Away”, a new “Angry Birds 4D experience”, located in Thorpe Park’s 4D theatre (former home of Pirates 4D and Time Voyagers), and a completely new dodgems ride, named “King Pig’s Wild Hog Dodgem”.
Thorpe’s old Fish and Chips shop, located on the corner next to Tidal Wave and 4D theatre, is undergoing refurbishment to become “Peckish” – a new Angry Bird themed food outlet, taking on a slightly more well-rounded meal approach than its predecessor, with jacket potatoes and hot dogs on offer. As for all of your essential Angry Birds merchandise, look no further than “Flock N’ Shop”, centrally located in Angry Birds Land.
Continuing with their shiny new Angry Birds IP, and to celebrate the upcoming opening of Angry Birds Land this May, Thorpe Park are hosting a huge (and noticeably family orientated) Easter event.
Dubbed “The Big Easter”, and undoubtedly taking place over Easter weekend (18th – 21st of April), this will see events such as a “cracking” park-wide Easter egg hunt (with 20,000 eggs to be found, as well as Annual Passes and for 1 lucky guest, front row seats to the premier of Thorpe’s brand new Angry Birds 4D experience), and Brainiac Live! Perform on Park – an adrenaline fuelled show based on the hit TV series.
Still no launch date specified for Angry Birds Land, with the theme park claiming a May opening. This of course gives them some scope just in case it suffers delays and needs to open later in the month. It’s different news over at Alton Towers however, with their CBeebies Land opening date confirmed to be the 24th of May, conveniently the first day of May Half Term school holidays.
Construction of Angry Birds land is evident, with the majority of building facades between Tidal Wave and Nemesis Inferno already painted in block, bright, primary colours. The old entrance to Detonator has already been re-themed into an Angry Birds catapault, and a building site for the new dodgems is located between Tidal Wave and the 4D theatre.
If the 2014 park map is anything to go by, guests can also expect an archway, made out of crates and wooden planks as found in the Angry Birds game, to introduce them into Angry Birds Land - situated between Tidal Wave and KFC.
In more surprising news, Thorpe Park announced the change of its brand new hotel for 2014 – in both theming and name. Thorpe Park Resort will now be opening the “Thorpe Shark” Hotel.
Previously Thorpe Park had indicated that their new hotel for 2014 would be the “Waterfront” hotel; noticing how popular the onsite accommodation was for 2013 when the Crash Pad was located at Thorpe Park. However, they opted to take on a more classy approach than the Crash Pad and announced the “Waterfront” hotel for 2014. During March however, Thorpe started marketing their new accommodation as the “Thorpe Shark” Hotel. This claims to feature 90 rooms, with same room capacity and features as the Waterfront hotel had previously (ensuite wet rooms that take a maximum of 4 people; free wi-fi, and flat screen TV entertainment), but with its new nautical theme, Thorpe’s hotel now includes an on-demand movie service that gives guests the option of watching legendary shark movies (let’s guess “Jaws” and the more family friendly “Shark Tale”, to name a few?) from the comfort of their own room.
The Thorpe Shark Hotel is still due to open in April 2014, and it looks like guests can expect a Shark feature, set to launch in May, to enhance their stay on-site at the “Nation’s Thrill Capital”. If the artist’s impression is anything to go by, the Shark will feature images from Thorpe Park’s extinct attractions from a bygone era.
Aside from catapulting birds and a new hotel themed around ferocious looking fish, there have been smaller, more subtle changes made around Thorpe Park Resort. After facing their fears or braving it backwards on Thorpe’s roller-coasters, guests are being “subtly” lead out on more directed paths through the ride exit gift shops after Colossus, SAW, Nemesis Inferno and The Swarm. In particular, over on SAW Island, where in previous years one could walk around the SAW container shop and avoid it completely, now riders, upon reaching the exit, are channelled through the SAW gift shop.
If you were visiting Thorpe Park during the previous 2 decades, you will appreciate a small nod to the theme park’s history in the form of a recently added ride car from Miss Hippo’s Fungle Safari, located in the Nemesis Inferno exit and gift shop. Miss Hippo’s Fungle Safari was a slow-paced, family ride that took place in 4 seater cars, fitted with steering wheels and horns, following a fixed track through the “jungle”. However, Miss Hippo retired from Thorpe Park in 2009 (the ride exit and gift shop that now is Nemesis Inferno’s, used to be Miss Hippo’s) and Asylum, one of Thorpe Park’s most popular horror mazes at its Fright Night events every Halloween, has now partially taken over the old Miss Hippo site with its queueline.
For those of you familiar with Thorpe Park’s food scene, the 360 Bar and Grill located in the Dome is now table service, with more focus on meals. It’s evident that Thorpe are trying to make this their after-hours restaurant, aimed more towards families looking for an evening meal before hitting the hay in their designated container room.
Finally, Reserve ’n’ Ride, the “virtual queuing” system Thorpe Park trialled over selected weekends at the end of summer 2013 exclusively on The Swarm, will be running on certain days in the upcoming season. As the weeks pass and summer approaches, Thorpe Park will undoubtedly reveal which rides and days we can expect to try out Reserve ’n’ Ride for ourselves. Watch this space.
Chessington World of Adventures
“Britain’s Wildest Adventure” began their season with a Passholders and Members Preview weekend, running on Saturday the 15th and Sunday the 16th of March; funnily enough the same weekend as Thorpe Park.
A re-themed Runaway Mine Train takes centre stage at Chessington for the 2014 season - named the “Scorpion Express”. The original Runaway Mine Train ran between 1987 and 2012, being closed for the 2013 season for the refurbishments and transformation into the Scorpion Express to take place. The Runaway Train shared similar features to Disney’s Big Thunder Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller-coasters at its worldwide theme parks; the ride concept being based on a Wild West themed mining train that has seemingly lost control and runs wild, taking its riders on an adventure through caverns, mines and tunnels.
Due to the great popularity of the Runaway Train roller-coaster at Chessington World of Adventures, a similar roller coaster was installed at Alton Towers in 1992, and continues to run to this day.
Despite all track on the Scorpion Express now being visible to riders and bystanders alike, (as it was previously hidden underneath a “mountain”, weaving its way through tunnels and rock formations), Chessington have arguably done a great job with updating the mine train ride. Updates include putting in a Wild West façade across the entire ride backdrop, desert theming including several cacti and sand, and two impressive ride events – an fire explosion from a large tower near the start that rivals The Swarm’s, and (to keep the name applicable) a large metallic scorpion, that sprays water onto riders below on the final helix of track. As the ultimate theme park pioneer, Walt Disney, once advised his Imagineers - “You can take down that ride. But you’ve got to replace it with something just as good or even better.”
At first glance, with all of the track now visible and any of the previous mysteries and surprises the coaster held as the Runaway Mine Train have now gone; whilst it doesn’t share the same exciting mountain face façade or tunnels as its predecessor, the brand new Wild West theming and two very exciting ride events have greatly aided Chessington in rejuvenating one of their most classic attractions into an “almost new” family favourite ride for years to come.
Remember the fire that made the news at Chessington back in December, just before Christmas? It was confirmed to have begun in the Creaky Café, located in the Transylvania area of the park. The fire completely destroyed the restaurant, and was rumoured to have spread to a nearby attraction. Now that the theme park is open again to visitors, it has been confirmed that Chessington have now made the area in which the Creaky Café used to stand a generic picnic area, complete with benches and bins.
As for the nearby attraction affected by the fire, this appeared to not have been the Bubbleworks, a popular indoor family boat ride in Transylvania, but the small, almost cupboard-size interactive attraction located next door – which consisted of a dark room and small, half-gated door. When the curious guest plucked up the courage to see what was inside this mysterious room, most likely on their way to riding the Vampire, they would be greeted by the sounds of screeching bats above their heads. This tiny sideshow attraction is no longer there, and now makes up part of the picnic area (formerly Creaky Café) next to the Bubbleworks.
A little more low key is the opening of Pirate Shores at Legoland Windsor resort. Brand new for 2014, attractions include a new pirate play area – Castaway Camp, a re-themed Pirate Falls log flume ride, complete with new storyline, and the family favourite Jolly Rocker Pirate Ship. Castaway Camp is due to open in May 2014 and the main theme park opened in mid-March.
So, there we have it. Another British theme park season has begun. No new coasters unfortunately, unlike the previous 2 years, however with 3 new themed lands, 2 new hotels, and 1 new thrill ride it has definitely kicked off with a bang. Let’s make the most of the longer days spring is bringing us, even if the weather remains traditionally, unpredictably, British, and hit the theme parks once again.