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UK Theme Park Round-Up - November Review and December 2013 Preview

The Smiler at Alton Towers

An update on the UK parks, looking back at November and forward into December of 2013.

Well, it’s November, and the 2013 season is officially over. Fireworks marking the end of another fantastic year for the UK parks, with exciting announcements already made for 2014. Beginning the first of our several months of winter closures, there will be refurbishments galore in the UK parks before the gates open in 2014, with Slammer returning at Thorpe Park, possibly more shipping containers being added to the Crash Pad, and no doubt changes made to The Smiler so it has a much smoother second season.

A very exciting announcement from Thorpe Park earlier this month will see many an enthusiast scaling the heights of their favourite rollercoaster next year. But first, let’s look at the final few days of the 2013 season at Alton Towers, the UK’s most popular theme park.

Alton Towers

The Smiler made media headlines at the beginning of November when wheels fell from the vertical lift during the ride and hit riders in the front row, in its third reported incident of falling pieces.

The parts, which were small, plastic guide wheels, were reported to have fallen from the chain after it became detached from the chain guard and hit front row riders when the train was ascending the second lift. Medical teams were called to the scene but it was reported that all of the four riders hit by the pieces continued with the rest of their day in the park.

This was an extremely unfortunate time for Alton Towers to experience arguably their biggest problem in The Smiler’s season of operational failures, as it was during their Scarefest events and just a week before their biggest event of the year, the Alton Towers Fireworks.

The Smiler re-opened on the 7th of November after four days of closure, under great pressure to re-open in time for the high demand it would experience over the Alton Towers Fireworks weekend.

Alton Towers can almost be felt breathing a sigh of relief as the season has drawn to a close and they can get down to the inevitable maintenance work The Smiler will need over the winter months.

Not surprisingly, The Smiler will remain closed throughout Alton Towers’ February Half Term attraction line up, despite every other major attraction in the park being open (with the exception of Rita & Th13teen in Dark Forest), until the season begins again in March 2014. Alton Towers have yet to confirm the first date of 2014, but if their pattern continues, the theme park will open on Saturday the 15th of March.

Alton Towers ran their most popular event of the year, the Alton Towers Fireworks from Friday the 8th to Sunday the 10th of November. Taking a different spin on their fireworks display this year, Alton Towers decided to focus on the “memory making” side of the theme park, with its years of operation, history, and major ride installations honoured in 25 minutes of lasers, fireworks and lights. The display told the story of the Towers, and went on to dedicate individual segments during the show to each of their main rollercoasters. These all kick-started with a nod to Corkscrew in true 1980s style, then went on to mention each Secret Weapon (and Rita) built at the resort. Secret Weapon is the name given to the major coasters built at Alton Towers approximately every 4 years, that boast a “world’s first” or unique element in some way. This began with Nemesis in 1994, being Secret Weapon 3, and Europe’s first inverted coaster. Why did it begin with 3? It’s not like Star Wars, where they will go back and make SW1 and SW2. The term ‘secret weapon’ came from the Arrow Pipeline coasters, one originally intended to be in Nemesis’ place. But that’s another story.

A fantastic showA fantastic showAlton Towers didn't fail to impress at their fireworks display this year, running from November 8th-10th.

The rollercoasters in the display were not honoured in chronological order, but of course, The Smiler rounded up the line-up and was the biggest and most spectacular display of all. Air, Nemesis, Rita, Oblivion, The Smiler and Th13teen were the coasters honoured, in a thoroughly enjoyable show, particularly for rollercoaster enthusiasts.

So now the theme park is closed, is there anything going on in December? The likes of Nemesis and Air won’t be heard roaring around their circuit anytime soon, but Alton Towers will continue with their Christmas break deals – Santa Sleepovers and Festive Breaks, with a small selection of children’s rides open to compliment the Waterpark and Hotels. These packages give families the chance to enjoy a few days of festive fun at magical Alton Towers during the winter months.

Thorpe Park

Thorpe Park had a considerably quieter end to the season, with their last open day of 2013 being Tuesday the 5th of November. They didn’t hold any end of the year events, with their last fireworks display being in 2011, where they blew up a fire engine in ‘Thorpe Park Blows It Up’, in honour of The Swarm opening at the start of the 2012.

So what’s going on at Thorpe Park over the closed season?

The Crash Pad expansion will be the main focus and rumours are we may see some construction over the winter (though this is not confirmed). A £9 million investment, this will increase the capacity of the Crash Pad, with plans for up to 184 rooms in total. An unexpected decision made by Thorpe Park, announced earlier this year, as there was unprecedented high demand for the Crash Pad during 2013. This will also delay the opening of Thorpe Park’s next rollercoaster, which was previously rumoured (and shown in previous long-term developments plans which included The Swarm) due to open in 2015. We may not have to until 2017.

Stealth at Thorpe ParkStealth at Thorpe ParkThorpe Park operated this iconic ride until November the 5th.

Thorpe Park have confirmed via social media channels that Slammer will be returning for the 2014 season. This comes as a surprise after being closed for a significant portion of 2013. Slammer remains to be the only Sky Swatter flat ride in operation on the planet, and all the issues it has suffered over the years beg the question – why keep it? It could be argued that Slammer is a selling point for the park, being the only ride of its kind still in existence, but Thorpe Park don’t advertise this at all. Still, fans of the S&S designed Sky Swatter will be pleased to hear of its return after holding their breath at its lack of operation for a lot of 2013.

The park has also announced their opening date for 2014, which will be Thursday the 20th of March. The keen enthusiasts among you may have noticed this is a week later than usual for Thorpe Park. Maybe there is not sufficient demand to open the park in mid-March, or maybe more time is needed over the winter for refurbishments. Thorpe Park will of course have its reasons, but it will make the closed season that painfully bit longer for those of us that are already missing the adrenaline fixes on offer in the UK theme parks.

Quite possibly the most exciting piece of news from “The Nation’s Thrill Capital” this November is the announcement of their VIP Packages for the 2014 season.  Defined on their website as a “money can’t buy” Christmas present, Thorpe Park will be giving you the opportunity throughout the upcoming year to harness up and climb the lift hill of your choice (Nemesis Inferno, Colossus or The Swarm), as well as the chance to go backstage, find out what happens when a new coaster is launched, and speak to engineers about your favourite ride. Participants are asked to choose between the Ride Lift Hill Walk or Backstage Tour and to contact the VIP Experience team at Thorpe Park for more details on creating their dream package.

Chessington World of Adventures

Brand new for 2013, Chessington are running Chessington Festive Zoo Days this December. These will be taking place on the 7th – 9th, 14th – 16th, and the 19th of December to the 5th of January (not including Christmas Day). Aimed at families (and those of us that are big kids at heart), you will get the chance to sort letters with Head Elf, visit Mrs Christmas and learn how she makes Christmas cookies, and of course, no visit would be complete without meeting Santa himself in his study with your chosen Christmas list. The Trail of the Kings remains open, so you will get to see lions, tigers & gorillas galore. Feeling very festive? Don’t turn down the chance to have your photo taken with a reindeer, also available as part of Chessington’s line-up for this event.

Chessington’s first day of 2014 (full theme park open) will be Wednesday the 19th of March, one day before Thorpe Park open their gates.

Wrap-up

From the third significant and last minute closure of The Smiler, to Braving it Backwards on The Swarm in the early evening twilight as many times as possible before it’s over for 2013, and the most spectacular fireworks display Alton Towers has ever put on, the end of the UK theme park year has now passed. But let’s not try to let the start of the closed season get to us. Let’s keep our hopes up, and enjoy December, where we can look forward to Christmas, and maybe even visit Chessington World of Adventures to have our photos taken with a reindeer. You may not be able to place your heads back, face forward, hold on tight and brace yourselves for a few months now, but keep your eyes peeled for any exciting updates the parks may decide to release before 2014 reaches us. 


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