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UK Theme Park Round-Up February Review and March 2015 Preview

Thorpe Park New Jungle Maze

February used to simply be another winter month, another 4 weeks to put up with closed gates and an even longer wait for our favourite rides to re-open in March. However, 2015 has been the year of change. Half Term openings have been the talk of the town this February, with the likes of Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures joining Alton Towers and getting in on the act. Drayton Manor opened its gates too, offering a selection of rides for families to enjoy.

Could we see a growing trend of longer seasons and winter openings in a bid to reduce seasonality of our parks, despite the cold climate? Let’s hope so. But there’s plenty more to mention in this monthly UK theme park update, including a new attraction at Thorpe Park, details on the Thomas Land expansion at Drayton Manor, and information on a whole year of celebrating penguins at Chessington.

Thorpe Park

Thorpe Park opened its gates over the February Half Term period for the first time in six years, offering a limited selection of rides, attractions and science-themed events, as the Brainiacs took over the park for half term. Whilst only half the park was open, it gave enthusiasts an exciting insight into what they can expect from the Island Like No Other in 2015.

Operating rides in February at Thorpe Park included Stealth, The Swarm, the Flying Fish, Depth Charge, Storm in a Teacup, and Angry Birds Land attractions. There were 45 minute long Brainiacs shows taking place 4 times a day in the Hospitality Suite next to Swarm Island, and individual “Brainiacs in Training” stations were set up around the park, where guests could get hands-on with science as they’d seen in the show.

Good news for dedicated Thorpe Park fans - they have confirmed there will be an Annual Passholders weekend taking place the weekend of March 7-8. Opening hours are from 10am-4pm, and it will be the first time in 2015 the whole of the park will be open. Tickets are free for both days but are strictly pre-book only, so if you’re interested, head on over to Thorpe’s website and grab your tickets now.

Thorpe Park began to post teaser images and Vines on social media throughout the first few weeks of February, building up anticipation for a brand new attraction for 2015. This was officially announced on February 12 as an “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!” maze.

Why was it not mentioned until just a few days before the February Half Term opening? Probably due to the fact I’m a Celebrity marketing would be up all over the park, and they would want it to be advertised to park goers as soon as possible.

Advertised as the “world’s first jungle maze”, this will offer a different type of scare to the more traditional horror mazes, playing on a different set of extremely common phobias, such as that of insects, (entomophobia) and spiders (arachnophobia).

Despite the intellectual property of this jungle maze being a reality TV series, it has to be said that this will indeed make a maze like no other, and the concept is potentially a good one, as there will be plenty of scope to include a wide variety of activities and challenges relating to creepy-crawlies and other rainforest delights that will scare people in ways no other live action theme park mazes can.  

I’m a Celebrity is scheduled to open on the March 27, a couple of weeks after the full season starts. Based on the photos and concept art of the maze, it looks like it will be a colourful, vibrant and immersive experience. It will certainly be interesting to see how another attempt at a year-round live action maze will last at Thorpe Park - considering the fact that this time the theme is a once a year TV series, and not based on a critically-acclaimed horror movie franchise (SAW Alive opened in 2010, as the world’s first year-round horror maze. Needless to say, it suffered from such a lack of popularity that opening times were quickly adjusted to busier periods – mostly weekends and school holidays).

And finally, how will I’m a Celebrity fit into Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights horror attraction line-up for 2015? If it is open at all, of course. I’m a Celebrity is located on the old site of Thorpe Park’s most famous maze, the Asylum, which ran its last season in 2013 and opened re-themed as another horror maze, Studio 13, in 2014.

Thorpe have confirmed that for the third year in a row, they will team up with Lionsgate, to create a truly iconic and immersive Hallowe’en experience, for Fright Nights 2015. The mazes for Fright Nights are already listed to include Cabin in the Woods, SAW: Alive, My Bloody Valentine and the Blair Witch Project, so nothing new has been added to the line-up yet. Thorpe Park usually do a very good job of creating their own maze alongside the Lionsgate ones, and have come up with the Asylum, Studio 13, and Experiment 10 in the past. Will I’m a Celebrity take on a “spooky” theme for Fright Nights, or will it just remain closed and let the other mazes do the scaring? Only time will tell.

In keeping with its more family-friendly target audience for 2015, Thorpe Park has launched a heart-warming “My First Coaster” event, taking place this March.

As we all know, the memory of that first big rollercoaster we dare to take on when we have just reached that minimum height limit is one that we never forget. Thorpe Park plan to celebrate such a momentous experience by offering 1,000 free tickets (500 per day) on March 14-15, to the first 500 young guests each day measuring between 1.4 and 1.5 metres tall. Those lucky guests will also receive a free My First Coaster frame to keep the on-ride photo of that first big ride (The Swarm, Stealth, Colossus, SAW, or Nemesis Inferno) safe and sound.

A few restaurant changes for Thorpe are coming our way in 2015 - the newly themed Finn’s Bar and Grill is finished and was open inside the Dome over the Half Term period. Finn’s took the place of the old Bar 360 restaurant, which was developed into a more family-friendly style sit-down restaurant, after the need arose for an on-site restaurant for Shark Hotel guests last year. Now Bar 360 has been renamed and renovated into Finn’s Bar and Grill, a larger restaurant that has been extended out into the Dome, and been given a nautical theme to link much more nicely with the Shark Hotel and Island Like No Other concepts. The Coffee Shack next door has also had a makeover.

The old Pizza Hut Buffet at Nemesis Inferno will become a new Merlin-operated Pizza Pasta restaurant in 2015, which is scheduled to open with the park later in March.

Last but not least, we must not forget to mention Thorpe Park’s new enclosed dark ride for 2016, taking the place of the old Arena. Over the winter period, the Arena and surrounding landscape have been completely cleared out, but the wooden fence that hides the Arena from the rest of the park remains intact. All that is there at the moment is a flat, concrete surface. It’s likely we will see this part of the park fenced off throughout 2015, as construction commences this year, with Thorpe Park’s quirky new fencing image stating “The Island Is Changing”. Exciting.

Drayton Manor

Drayton officially confirmed its up and coming Thomas Land expansion toward the middle of February. Thomas Land has become a steadfast family favourite, its popularity drawing thousands of families through the gates each year.

The Thomas Land expansion is part of Drayton’s £2.5 million investment for 2015 and will include three new rides and a two storey Sodor Airport terminal, built to become a cafe with views over all Thomas Land. Concept art released online by Drayton Manor in February is beautiful - looking like we can expect heavily-themed brand new attractions and the whole Thomas Land area to grow larger and more immersive.

The brand new rides will be called Captain’s Sea Adventure, Flynn’s Fire Rescue, and Toby’s Tram Express, and we can expect more details on these in the near future, and as the expansion nears its opening date.

Scheduled to open by Easter, the expansion will create even more fun and exciting memories for Thomas fans and their families.

Thomas Land Concept Art

Alton Towers

CBeebies and friends were at the heart of the Half Term opening at Alton Towers, which ran from February 14-22. Children and their families could sing-a-long to shows featuring their favourite CBeeBies characters, and had the chance to meet and greet with Iggle Piggle, Mim Mim, and Mr Bloom.

For thrill-seekers, Nemesis and Air were open in Forbidden Valley, as well as Blade, Duel, Hex, and rides in Mutiny Bay. CBeeBies Land of course opened for younger visitors. The Smiler remains closed until the season commences in March.

Enchanted Village construction continues, with most of the Woodland Lodges and Treehouses already built, and the Village is set to open on the 18th of April - a few weeks after the Theme Park fully opens on the 21st of March.  

Cariba Creek Waterpark at Alton’s Splash Landings Hotel underwent a small refurbishment recently, and has re-opened with a fresher look this February - staying open every day for Resort guests at Splash Landings, Alton Towers Hotel, and in the future, the Enchanted Village.

Chessington World of Adventures

It’s Year of The Penguins over at Britain’s Wildest Adventure, with Chessington finally revealing its “surprise for 2015” as a whole line-up of penguin experiences to enjoy in 2015 coming to the Resort.

March 18 marks the start of the Year of the Penguins at Chessington World of Adventures, and also the start of their main theme park season. Fans of penguins flocking to the Resort in 2015 will be treated to a brand new DreamWorks characters show, “Penguins of Madagascar Live: Operation Cheezy Dibbles”, a newly-themed Penguins of Madagascar kiddie ride, but best of all will be real life Humboldt penguins moving into the zoo, bringing with them a own walk-through exhibit for a close encounter with these fascinating creatures.

To round off the day nicely, guests can bed down in one of Chessington’s two Penguins of Madagascar themed rooms, brand new at the Safari Hotel.

Penguins have arrived at Chessington. Image © Merlin Entertainments

Zoo Days continued to run throughout February, with the last Zoo Days weekend taking place on the March 7 and 8. These events will cease as Chessington approaches the start of its 2015 season later on in March.

March is now here, and with it our beloved parks gradually open their gates for the start of the nine month long 2015 season. There will surely be surprises and thrills we will face throughout the year ahead. Even without a brand new significant ride or attraction to look forward to this year, one thing’s for certain - it will be quite the ride through a whole new year of thrills, excitement, and memories in the making.

 

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