October has seen the UK theme parks host their most popular events of the year during the Halloween period, and now November is here, the end of the season for these parks is fast approaching. A lot has happened in October however, from Merlin Entertainments announcing their decision to go public and criticism of one of Thorpe Park’s most iconic attractions, to fireworks turning into exploding bricks in the sky at Legoland and further technical problems with The Smiler, October definitely has been an eventful month.
Thorpe’s biggest event of the year, Fright Nights, got well underway for October, beginning on the 4th of October with the Passholders Preview Event, and running through until the 3rd of November.
The age for Fright Nights appears to have risen by a year, with Thorpe Park advertising it online as not suitable for under 13s. In past years however, the recommended minimum age for the event was 12. The raise may have been encouraged by Lionsgate, Thorpe Park’s new partners in creating 2013’s Fright Night environment, as the depth of theming and overall fear factor has definitely increased throughout the park.
Last year, we braved “Thorpe Park Penitentiary”, when the whole theme park was transformed into a prison for the launch of “The Passing”, their live action horror maze for 2012 that showed those who were fearless enough what it would be like to face their execution and be buried alive, all with a bag over their heads. Now for 2013, Thorpe Park was turned into Thorpe Park Movie Studios, with commentary around the park from the Thorpe Park Movie Studios Director. The concept being that you as a guest, whether on the rides or in the scare attractions, were part of the latest horror movie being filmed. The Dome was made into a movie theatre, with Thorpe Park’s 6 Fright Night experiences being on offer in the different “Screams”. Screams 1-6 covered the My Bloody Valentine, The Cabin in The Woods, SAW: Alive and The Asylum horror mazes, as well as the Blair Witch Project scare zone walkthrough and characters from the recently released horror movie You’re Next, wandering the park, machetes in hand.
Thorpe Park have come under fire recently for their long-standing Fright Night horror maze “The Asylum”, facing criticism by mental health advocates, including the charity Rethink Mental Illness. The campaigners suggest the attraction stigmatises mental illnesses through “lazy and damaging stereotyping”, started an online petition calling for the name to be changed, which has now been signed by 5,500 people and counting. Another petition has also been signed by over 700 people, in the hope of closing down the maze altogether. The attraction has been accused by mental health campaigners of “reinforcing damaging stereotypes”, and “by linking scary imagery with the mentally ill”.
Thorpe Park have been quick to defend themselves, highlighting that the maze is an enclosed, adult-only environment, and all visitors have paid and chosen to enter this experience. They stated: “It is not intended, nor is it deemed to be by those who have actually experienced it, to be in any way offensive or to be a realistic portrayal of a mental health or indeed any other institution."
Agree with them or not, this definitely comes as a surprise to fans of Fright Nights, as “The Asylum” isn’t a new addition to Thorpe Park’s Fright Night line up by any means; but an iconic attraction, running in 2013 for its 8th year. It will certainly be interesting to see if this recent criticism removes “The Asylum” from Fright Nights’ 2014 run-down, however due to the extreme on-going popularity of “The Asylum”, and the fact that it is Thorpe Park’s only continuously returning Fright Night attraction, it is very likely to show up again at next year’s Halloween events.
In non-Fright Night related news, Thorpe Park appear to have recently removed the “ticket holders only” line from their Brave It Backwards queue signs, over at The Swarm. Is this a temporary fix, or will there be no ticket required to ride The Swarm backwards in the future? We will most likely find out in 2014, but for now, guests to the park can make the most of not needing to pay or pre-book in order to face the “sting in the tail” and Brave The Swarm Backwards, for the last few weeks of the 2013 season.
Thorpe Park’s final day of their 2013 season will be Tuesday the 5th of November, after Fright Nights finishes on Sunday the 3rd of November.
In possibly the biggest item of news from the Towers since The Smiler’s launch, Alton Towers have finally announced the IP of their replacement for Old MacDonald’s Farmyard, as the plans for CBeebies Land were released earlier in October.
Due to open in May 2014, CBeebies Land is Merlins’ first collaboration with the BBC for themed entertainment, and it looks like we will definitely see more of this partnership with the BBC in the future.
There will be no new additions or rides to the land, but a complete re-theming will take place, with Berry Bish Bash, The Dung Heap and Riverbank Eye Spy already closed a few weeks prior to the season’s end to allow work to commence. The Dung Heap will be taken down completely in favour of a new playground, and Riverbank Eye Spy and Old MacDonald’s Tractor Ride will be given new theming and characters.
Alton Towers “Scarefest” Halloween event ran from the 19th of October and until the 3rd of November, offering scare mazes such as The Sanctuary, The Carnival of Screams, and Terror of the Towers: What Lies Within.
The Smiler has faced another unfortunate structural problem recently, when it closed down on the 27th of October, following a second bolt falling from the coaster during the theme park’s “Scarefest” Halloween event. The ride has been plagued with problems throughout its lifespan, with bad weather forcing primary construction of the coaster, (formerly known under its codename SW7), to delay the opening from March until May 2013. The Smiler struggled throughout May to fully open, and with rumours of valleying trains in the last week of May, further delays certainly looked likely. However, The Smiler did open officially on the 31st of May and has operated during 2013 ever since.
Alton Towers’ famous firework display will show on Friday the 8th, Saturday the 9th and Sunday the 10th of November, ending the season with a bang before the park re-opens its gates in 2014.
Brick or Treat, Merlin’s take on a more family-friendly Halloween event over at Legoland Windsor, began on the 19th of October and runs right through until the last day of their season, the 4th of November. Their line-up included the option to build your own Lego Pumpkin, over at Legoland’s Pumpkin Patch in the Enchanted Forest, Frankie’s Monster Ball and Meet and Greets for little witches and wizards, as well as the chance to find Legoland’s “glowing ghost figures”, cleverly hidden throughout Miniland.
Legoland also launched their brand new fireworks display for 2013 – DC Universe Superhero Fireworks. This premiered on the 26th and 27th of October, and will also show on the 1st and 2nd of November. With a couple of additional options like staying after the display to try out some of the park’s top attractions after dark, or grabbing a pair of 3D glasses which turns the fireworks into exploding 3D Lego bricks when worn, this is a great option for families who would like some after dark fun, without the full-on scares of Thorpe Park or Alton Towers.
Merlin Entertainments Ltd
In more general UK theme park news, Merlin Entertainments have announced, in an email to all Merlin Passholders, that they will be floating on the Stock Exchange next month. Reassuring their Passholders going public won’t negatively affect them in anyway, they advised the following:
“The proposed change in the Group's status from a private company to a publicly listed company will not affect your rights as a holder of a Merlin Annual Pass. You will still be able to visit all of Merlin Entertainments' iconic UK attractions with your current pass."
Fancy investing in the world’s second largest themed entertainment company? You’ll have to fork out at least £1,000, but you will get rewarded with 30% off your Merlin Annual Pass, which happens to be the current renewal discount rate for Merlin Passholders anyway (if renewal is processed within 6 weeks of pass expiry). How will this impact the future of Merlin Entertainments and eventually, the long term future of their fantastic selection of theme parks here in the UK? Or will it have little impact at all? Only time will tell at this stage so we as thrill enthusiasts, will just have to hold on tight, brace ourselves and hope for the best.
That just about wraps things up for the UK theme parks, right at the tail end of the 2013 season, as we make the most of the last Halloween and firework events going on in the parks, and eventually begin to look ahead to what surprises await us when they re-open in 2014.