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Alton Towers vs. Thorpe Park - Which is the Best UK Theme Park?

Nemesis at Alton Towers

Alton Towers and Thorpe Park are no doubt two of the largest and finest theme parks in the world. Many people, myself included, would name these two as the top duo in the UK. The only question is - which is better?

Both parks are part of the Merlin Entertainments Group chain, the second largest operator of attractions worldwide. Despite this connection, the parks have significantly different histories.

Alton Towers began its life over 200 years ago as a neo-gothic country house with lavish gardens, home to the Earl of Shrewsbury. In the 1970s it began its transformation into the theme park we know today; over the last half century rides have been added at a steady pace building up what is now a fantastic collection of attractions.

Thorpe Park, on the other hand, began its life just 40 years ago as a gravel pit, eventually being reused as a small family amusement park and farm. In 1998 it was bought by Tussauds (since acquired by Merlin) and thus began a major conversion. In the past 14 years we have seen millions being invested almost every year, including the addition of five world class roller coasters, and the park can now compete with almost other theme park in the world.

Roller Coasters

Nemesis

Nemesis continues to be a big draw at Alton Towers.

The biggest draw for any theme park is often its collection of roller coasters, and so it is right that it is the major factor in determining just how good (or bad) a park is. The tricky thing here, though, is that there’s very little to separate Alton Towers and Thorpe Park.

If we include this year’s addition to Thorpe Park, The Swarm, both sides have five big roller coasters. Comparisons can be drawn between certain similar roller coasters; Nemesis and Nemesis Inferno, Rita and Stealth, but it makes more sense to look at them overall.

Personally, I feel that Alton Towers just edges it in this category, mainly because it is home to by far the best individual coaster - inverted Nemesis. The weakest coaster in the park's line-up, Thirteen, simply doesn’t stand up to any of Thorpe Park’s collection, while flying coaster Air doesn’t quite provide the thrills that the others deliver. Launch coaster Rita, however, packs a mighty punch; very little separates it from Thorpe Park's Stealth, while Oblivion is by far the most terrifying of any of them.

Despite the the consistency of Thorpe Park's line-up (with classics such as Nemesis Inferno, Stealth, Colossus and SAW - The Ride),it can't quite match the big-hitters over at its sister park. It must be considered, however, that The Swarm looks to be potentially Thorpe Park’s best creation yet, and this could swing the ball in its favour.

Winner: Alton Towers

Thrill Rides

Rush

Rush is just one of the impressive line-up of thrill rides at Thorpe Park.

It’s no surprise which parks wins this one, and there are good reasons why. Thorpe Park has very little land to play with, and as a result it makes the sense that it installs major thrill rides with small surface areas. In contrast, Alton Towers has masses of space to work, but suffers from severe planning restrictions, with many flat rides exceeding its ceiling height of 65 feet.

As of this year, with Enterprise and Submission closed for the construction of the SW7 roller coaster, Alton Towers has just two flat rides; Blade, a swinging ship, and Ripsaw, a Top Spin. Although the latter of the two is thrilling, it is rarely open, and Blade is enjoyable, but no better than most swinging ships.

At the other end of the spectrum, Thorpe Park hosts seven thrilling flat rides. Two of these, Quantum and Zodiac, are not up to much, one an Enterprise and the other a Flying Carpet, but the other five pack a hefty wallop. Detonator is a small drop tower at 115ft, but is one of the most intense I have experienced on account of pneumatic rams forcing the car down. Rush, the Screamin’ Swing, is forceful and fun. Samurai, a Top Scan, is brutally intense, as is the Sky Swat Slammer, and Vortex rounds up the group, providing "airtime" aplenty.

Winner: Thorpe Park

Family Rides and Shows

Alton Towers' Sharkbait Reef aquarium is popular with families.

If you have young children it becomes apparent quite quickly that Thorpe Park is not really the place to be; sure, there a few rides for the little ones, but the park is aimed primarily at teenagers and young adults. The 4-D cinema Time Voyagers is perfectly enjoyable, as are the Flying Fish coaster and Logger’s Leap water rides, but it ends there really. Rumba Rapids is quite poor, much weaker than Alton’s lengthy Congo River Rapids, and Storm Surge is hideously out of place and very short. The real shame is that X:\ No Way Out, Thorpe’s bizarre backwards in the dark coaster, has a height limit of 1. 40 metres; it is not at all scary and could’ve been a hit with younger children.

Alton Towers also hostsa flume ride, which is one of the longest of its kind, and the aforementioned rapids ride. Add on top of this a couple of great family coasters - Sonic Spinball (a brilliant Maurer spinner), and the Runaway Mine Train  (a fun powered Mack coaster). Blade, the swinging ship, has a height limit of just 0.9 metres and thus is a great ride for all the family and Hex, a Vekoma Madhouse, is one of the finest attractions worldwide with its entertaining backstory.

In terms of shows, there aren’t a huge number at either park. Thorpe Park’s arenais usually home to a stunt show, which is generally very fun, while Alton Towers usually offers a show or two for the little ones. The Staffordshire park also hoststhe Sealife Aquarium Sharkbait Reef, which is really very enjoyable and lets you get hands-on with the some of the animals. The sheer number of quality family attractions hands this category to Alton Towers.

Winner: Alton Towers

Atmosphere

Alton Towers'; gardens are often overlooked by visitors.

As a result of Alton Towers' grandiose history there is a wonderful air to the park; many of the rides are nestled within trees and there is none of the overcrowded feel that many major parks suffer from. On top of this, most of the attractions have brilliant theming, particularly Nemesis and Hex and this means that guestsare constantly submerged in a fantasy environment.

Thorpe Park also boasts some very good theming in places; Saw - The Ride and Nemesis Inferno have very extensive and detailed stations, but where it falls down is the general atmosphere of the park. You can’t blame it for being in a disused gravel pit, but it certainly puts it a step behind Alton Towers. Also, the hordes of youths that flock there are notorious for causing trouble; often smoking and jumping in the queues. Overall Thorpe Park is taking baby steps in the right direction, but Alton Towers is still far ahead in atmosphere.

Winner: Alton Towers

Extras

So far I have just taken into account the theme park side of each resort, but the truth of course is that whilst Thorpe Park offers no more than the park, its northern relative goes far beyond this as the home to two hotels and an indoor water park. Perhaps this is slightly unfair as there is very little room for expansion on Thorpe Park’s lake, but for anyone planning on visiting one of the two it is definitely a factor to consider. The entirety of the Alton Towers resort makes it at least a two day job, and with the recently improved restaurants in the main hotel and the innovative crazy golf course, the Towers can become a miniature holiday of sorts. Even without explanation it’s very obvious that Alton storms this category.

Winner: Alton Towers

The Verdict

Taking just the big roller coasters and rides into account, it is clear that Alton Towers and Thorpe Park both have a lot to offer. However, taking all the other factors into account, it becomes apparent that Alton Towers is the finer theme park currently. Thorpe Park simply can’t match that historical beauty of the Towers, and it really needs some tender loving care to create a more enjoyable, friendly tone.

What has taken these parks to the next level in recent times has been their willingness to invest; other top UK contenders such as Chessington World of Adventures (also a Merlin park) and Blackpool Pleasure Beach have spent very little in the last decade and as a result have fallen behind. Thorpe Park has been investing at a quicker rate than Alton Towers, and if it can keep that up over the next decade or so, I see no reason as to why Thorpe Park can’t eventually overtake its sister park, but for now Alton Towers' crown is safe.

Champion: Alton Towers

There are 26 comments.

Totally agree with everything you've said!

The only thing I can put it down to, is that 'magical' feeling at Alton Towers, it's somehow just SO much more exciting!

That, and the themeing at Thorpe Park is a bit of a mess really.. many of the attractions do not relate to eachother dispite being next to eachother!

Having said that, cannot wait to see the Swarm in its finished state, the theming on that looks incredible!

Thanks! I had a pretty tough time picking the best set of coasters, but I agree with you, at Alton Towers there's something special in the air.

Very true about the theming at Thorpe Park, especially with Saw, Samurai, Colossus and X all really close together.

Cheers for reading!

Yeah it's really annoying because individually Tidalwave, Colossus, Inferno, Saw and Swarm are really well themed but there's just zero cohesion to the park with the possible exception of Amity Cove which leads onto Stealth (which is still a ridiculous name). I guess it's inevitable when you consider how compact a park it is.

I met my fella online, and we agreed for our first date we would go to Alton Towers, We both lived at opposite ends of the country, but loved the place. To cut a long story short it was the sheer magic of the 'Towers that helped us fall in love! We stayed for three days and had the best time of our lives, we may even consider getting hitched there lol. Its definately the daddy of theme parks. Great reviews! xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Excellent article here Sebastien. I completely agree with your verdict. Alton Towers still has the edge, but is in a more vulnerable position than it was ten years to be title "the UK's no.1 theme park."

I totally agree about the lack of theming in Thorpe Park. Unlike Alton Towers, it lacks that sense of mystery and character. Every good theme park has a story in which Thorpe Park lacks! Until there is a reason, a story, a monologue, an adventurous characteristic to the park, it will remain behind Alton Towers.

As for Alton Towers, it simply needs to find a new spark which hopefully will come in the form of the new SW7 which looks rather exciting. The park, like Thorpe Park, has great potential. Why not use it?

I agree with the verdict, being an Alton Towers fanatic myself. It does have a great range, I have been visiting since I was a baby until now, when I'm just going on the roller coasters constanly. I definately haven't visited recently when Alton towers hasn't been busy, and I think that reflects its popularity.

As much as I agree, I do feel that I should say a few things, so can I say, that as well as Katanga Canyon(Rapids, Runaway Minetrain), The Flume, Sonic and Hex, there are also many other children's rides. There are 2 other whole sections, Cloud Cuckoo Land and Old Macdonald's Farm (I include Storybook land in OMF) dedicated to children. First and foremost, Alton Towers is a family orientated park.

Also, on the thrill rides section, if Submission and Enterprise were being discounted for this season, couldn't Sub-Terra have been included? And Submission and Enterprise are no longer going to be closed this season. Can Alton possibly push ahead on that category now? :)

Interesting article. I think when it comes to some of the categories like family rides etc, I think what people seem to overlook is the fact that Thorpe Park had to shut down Octopus Gardens to make room for that monstrosity Stormsurge.

I live in the northwest and look forward to our annual trips to London to go Thorpe Park and Chessington. My nephew is still very small in height and doesn't even qualify for the log flume, and therefore there is nothing apart from the flying fish, Stormsurge, the carousel and mr monkeys banana ride. For the rest of us, we have loggers leap, tidal wave, my favourite colossus, another favourite of mine saw, nemesis inferno, stealth and now of course we will have swarm. I love Rush easily the best swing ride ever.

But I have to say Alton Towers wins because it is balanced for both adults and kids and all on the same site. Thorpe and Chessington now work in tandem and the idea is that Thorpe is for adults and Chessington is for kids, which means that people with families have to pay double in order for everyone to enjoy. If thorpe and Chessington combined then looking at the attractions at Chessington, Chessington and Thorpe would win hands down, another reason would be that Thorpe has the better thrill rides.

The fact is this Alton is unfortunately living off past glories, Oblivion is old and RIta has no creativity. Stealth is like a combined oblivion and Rita and makes for a much better ride. I think nemesis at Alton is better then Thorpes Nemesis Inferno. But Saw Colossus and Swarm will beat everything Alton has to offer. I like the concept of Thirteen, and also like the fact that Alton are not resting on their laurels and are looking to bring in SW7 which looks way better then Saw. I think Alton are getting back in to the race for thrill rides, and I think the next few years will be interesting as Thorpe I understand have something lined up for 2015.

Here's one what if Thorpe were to combine Air with Thirteen and make something really scary. They've done it with Oblivion and Rita before making Stealth, they could do it again.

I think overall Alton does offer more for an overall family experience, but simply because Chessington and Thorpe made that daft decision to make their parks exclusive for children and older people.

I agree with Alton being first and foremost a family park but as far as the thrill rides go no, Rush and Slammer alone would win it for Thorpe. The latter of which is unique in the world! Add in Detonator, Vortex and Samurai and you have probably the best line up of flat rides in Europe.

Thorpe park is miles behind AT. Merlin have ruined TP by taking out all of the family rides and only investing in overhyped medium sized thrill rides. TP had the chance to become the souths greatest all round theme park but the fools at merlin have turned it into a Chavs paradise, not a nice place!

Actually I think Merlin's approach makes perfect sense when you consider that they also own Chesington which is right next door. Alton has to appeal to both markets but Thorpe can leave the family attractions to it's neighbour.

Have to be the person to disagree with everyone else! I Agree on all of the points other than Rollercoasters, 13 is just a gimmick, Rita isn't particularly fast or high for a launched rollercoaster and yet still manages to be very short and Oblivion, well Oblivious is a great as a drop ride...but that is essentially all it is and it is definitely showing it's age as for "Oblivion is by far the most terrifying of any of them" I think Oblivious WAS terrifying but since Stealth it seems quite small which has detracted from it. Air is a great ride and Nemesis I think is absolutely faultless but until the 2013 Alton Towers rollercoaster is built I think Thorpe Park has the edge on that front. Agree on everything else though.

Also 'Oblivious' = Oblivion stupid auto correct.

i agree too tp has that edge on it but id say tp is more of an adrenaline junkies theme park compared to at as they have more family rides

One thing that could have been included in the article is queue times.

I have been visiting both parks for many years and refuse to go to Alton Towers between June and the end of August. Due to the sheer size of the park, Alton Towers can let a lot more people in than Thorpe park can and therefore, it is not uncommon to see 300mins on the queue time board for Air. The longest I have ever had to queue at Thorpe Park during August was 90 mins.

Thorpe park has a long way to go in order to catch up with Alton Towers in terms of an overall theme park experience, but the compactness of the park means that you can ride more than 2 things during a day.

That just shows thorpe park is rubbish co.pard to alton towers with nore people going to the theme pa year after year i live i Alton on farley lane they queue to get into alton towers on a daily baises

For me:
Rollercoasters- I have to say Thorpe Park because I hate Th13teen and Rita is not that good.
Thrill Rides- Definitely Thorpe Park
Family Rides and Shows- Definitely Alton Towers
Atmosphere- I love the music at Thorpe Park but the surrounding of Alton Towers is amazing so I'm not sure
Extras- Alton Towers because of the AMAZING hotel!
Verdict- Thorpe Park because of the amazing rides and great experience. I hardly care about Family Rides and I wish I can go to Alton Towers Hotel more but I hardly go.

I completely agree! AT just has a sort of magic about it- when I first when to the towers I was only 4 years old and have been going ever since! As for TP, it just needs to be more balanced.

Good article.

I completely agree with your verdict.

One point which has niggled at me forcing me to comment is the perception you are giving for these parks to international visitors.

in no way are these world class theme parks.

Bush gardens, universal and islands of adventures, etc etc.

They on a par with Astrix park in Paris but not world class at all.

Brilliant article, I think Alton Towers does win hands down. I mean one ride you forgot was the Spinball Whizzer which I feel is fantastic. Yes Th13teen isn't great but it is still better than Corkscrew which it replaced. The piece of track they left from Corkscrew adds to its tradition and features if you like. Finally yes Thorpe Park has caught up in recent years to due to a quicker rate of improvement but when SW7 comes out it should take Alton Towers miles ahead again.

at school we are having Curriculum Enrichment Day and i have many different choices but i decided i like two of them Alton Towers and Thorpe Park,I've been to Thorpe Park once before but didn't really get the chance to go on all the rides because we didn't really know what was about and what there was but i was asking for your advice what theme park would you suggest me going to

yours sincerely

Jade Shing

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Instead of Curriculum Enrichment Day they could teach you about punctuation!

Personally, I have to disagree here, although I think it is down to personal taste. Plus, some of the things you have posted here are now outdated.

I just got back from an overnight stay at Thorpe Park today, and it was brilliant. The Crash Pad; Thorpe Park's accomodation; is small, but lives up to its expectations, and has up to date facilities, with a flatscreen tv, extremely comfortable beds, a wetroom, and enough items to make your stay comfortable. For the little extra money, it is definitely worth paying to stay in. As we arrived yesterday; they were testing the fire alarms as they do every monday, which meant that we couldnt stay in our room until 5. However, this was no problem to us, but to say sorry, they gave us a free fasttrack for any ride in the park! This we found incredibly good, and the level of care they gave us was fantastic - they were so friendly, and they definitely made us feel welcome.

X:// no way out has now been renamed X, and the height limit has been lowered to 1m, so now younger children can ride it. I rode it four times, and all the children that went on it before and after me looked like they'd had so much fun!

All of The Swarm's themeing now works, including fire balls exploding from the fire engine, which for me personally definitely added to the experience! For 2013, The Swarm have turned the two back rows around, so you can experience the entire ride backwards! I rode it backwards, and for me it just makes the ride that bit better, as it was so unique. Also for 2013, a new near-miss has been added - the billboard. Personally, I think this was one of the best parts about this ride, as first you go straight through it, and then you go underneath it. I find the billboard very clever, as on it was once a spot treatment advert, and the slogan was 'Don't Lose Your Head' - however now the hole has been put through it, thats all you can see, and since you really feel like on that part of the ride you will lose your head it is very clever! For me, the whole atmosphere of The Swarm is amazing, as they have put so much effort into making it feel like war really has evolved.

Also, I have to partly disagree with you on the themeing of everywhere else in the park. Yes, they could of done with impoving the feeling of the area where saw/colossus is, but in certain area's the theming is amazing - the best themeing has to be the Amity Boardwalk. Most of the rides fit together, and the way they've even made what looks like small houses is good. The outsides of the restaurants fit in perfectly, with KFC having a shark straight through the roof!

I understand what you mean about the family attractions, but then at the end of the day, Thorpe Park is less of a family day out, and more of a day out for a group of Adrenaline Junkies. Having said that, there is a few activities for children, but I say if you want a day where the whole family can have fun, go to Alton Towers or Legoland - unless your kids are into rollercoasters.

For me, Thorpe Park has to win it, but then thats my personal opinion.

I think that Thorpe Park is for the thrill seekers of the family, Alton Towers is for an all round family trip and Chessington is for the younger families. Me being a thrill seeker, I just prefer the trill rides at Thorpe.

defiantly alton towers! evn now with the smiler, it is much better

I agree if you look at just the quality of the rides alton towers wins but i think you need to incorporate the price into your assessment.

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