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UK Theme Park Round-Up - August Review and September 2014 Preview

Enchanted Village at Alton Towers

The end of the summer is now here, and we can feel the nip in the air as the cooler temperatures and longer nights are fast approaching - the signs of Halloween events beginning very soon are starting to make an appearance. Most parks are starting to build anticipation for their Halloween events by posting countdowns on social media to the start of the events, as well as teaser images that will get potential guests excited and thinking about where they will spend their dark October nights.

However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of the last mild summer days in our theme parks, and with new hotels to enjoy, and quieter days in the parks, we can still have a fantastic September, filled with roller coasters and last of the summer sun.

Thorpe Park

Fright Nights logo

For the first time, Thorpe Park is  offering an exclusive Fright Nights Horror Pass. This offers 16 days of unlimited entry to their Fright Nights events, including free car parking throughout, and free Fastrack for the horror mazes.

The Fright Nights Horror Pass can be purchased either on its own, or added onto an existing Standard Merlin Pass or Thorpe Park Annual Pass. Ideal if you are a die-hard Fright Nights fan, or if you plan to visit Fright Nights on multiple occasions this October but don’t have a Premium Pass.

In saying this, if you have a Standard Merlin Pass and are thinking of adding on a Fright Night Pass, you may as well consider upgrading to a full Premium Merlin Pass (which is currently £40), and save on parking for the whole year, not to mention Fright Nights entry as well for next year. Please note that this is entirely dependent on the cost of the Fright Nights Pass, as this has yet to be confirmed by Thorpe Park. If you’re crazy for the mazes at Fright Nights and only really visit Thorpe Park to go to Fright Nights, the Fright Nights Horror Pass is definitely for you. However, if you want more longer lasting benefits from your Annual Pass upgrade and only plan to go in a few mazes at the event, it may be worth looking into simply opting for the Premium Pass instead.

Fright Nights will run on October 10-12, 17-19, and the half term week of October 24 to November2 , taking us almost to the end of Thorpe Park’s 2014 season.

On a warmer note, Summer Nights continued throughout August at Thorpe Park, with the last event evenings running on Friday 29 and Saturday 30. Summer Nights ran for a longer season this year, after last year’s debut of very select peak season summer weekends. It will be interesting to see if Summer Nights remain at such a long season in 2015, which is safe to say all depends on the attendance and popularity of 2014’s events.

Reserve n Ride

Reserve ‘n’ Ride continued to be available to all Park Guests on selected dates in August at Thorpe Park this August. Reserve ‘n’ Ride allows you to skip the queues on the park's big five roller coasters  - Colossus, Nemesis Inferno, SAW, Stealth and The Swarm, by booking a place in a virtual queue using your smartphone – very similar to Disney’s FastPass+ system.

Reserve ‘n’ Ride was exclusively available on The Swarm, for a small number of dates last year, and trials continued this year when the system was extended to include the other 4 major rollercoasters. Reserve ‘n’ Ride remains free for the time being, but if the trials conducted in 2013 and 2014 were successful, it’s likely we will see this being rolled out commercially, parkwide, on as many attractions as possible. Whether it will completely replace paper Fastrack tickets - the same way FastPass+ obliterated paper FastPass over at Walt Disney World, only time will tell.

Finally, Thorpe Park’s next Ministry of Sound Event takes place on Saturday, September 27. The theme this time is an “Ibiza End of Season Party”. This will also be Thorpe Park’s last event before Fright Nights commences on October 10.

Alton Towers

Remember we mentioned the Enchanted Village, Alton Tower’s third on-site hotel, announced earlier on this year? Well over the past few weeks, much more detailed information has been released, and details on specific types of available accommodation can now be found on the Towers’ website. In fact, Alton Towers has  confirmed the Enchanted Village will open on April 18, 2015, and bookings are already open.

There are two types of accommodation available at the Enchanted Village - Woodland Lodges and Luxury Treehouses, not to mention outdoor play areas for little ones and an on-site restaurant, the Crooked Spoon.

Enchanted Village

Those in larger groups will be able to splash out on a Luxury Treehouse, and Alton Towers has spared no expense in ensuring these Treehouses live up to their name. There will be five Treehouses in total, each sleeping a maximum of eight people in four separate bedrooms which each have their own TV. Every Treehouse offers comprehensive self-catering facilities (microwave, fridge freezer etc.) and lounge area, complete with a 50” TV and games console. As if it couldn’t get any better, Treehouse guests can enjoy the views from a hot tub in their own private sheltered outdoor decking area! VIP parking rounds off the list of inclusions in what sounds like a fully luxurious and special experience at the Towers.

Most of us wishing to stay in the Enchanted Forest however, will be opting for a more budget-friendly yet still beautifully immersive experience in one of the 120 Woodland Lodges. These lodges sleep up to five guests in a king-size bed, bunk beds and trundle bed - ideal for families. Each lodge is fitted with a 32” TV and mini outdoor decking area to relax on after a long day of roller coasters.

It’s worth noting that Alton Towers gas had a third resort hotel in the pipeline since their development plans were released in July 2009, alongside rumours this would not be a conventional hotel, but with more lodge-style accommodation – the Towers seemingly making the most of their woodland setting. In March this year, the Towers revisited these plans, and their planning application was accepted a few months later in May. Alton Towers is apparently very confident the Enchanted Village won’t suffer any delays, and will be completed on time, as taking bookings commencing on a specific date seven months in advance is quite a bold move.

The Woodland Walk has been closed now, in preparation for the construction of the Enchanted Village, which will open next year. Woodland Walk is a footpath exclusively available for hotel guests that connects the Alton Towers Hotel and Splash Landings Hotel to the theme park (Forbidden Valley), as winds its way through the forest. It cuts off a massive amount of time that would otherwise be spent on foot (as the main entrance is on the other side of the park) from the hotel into the theme park. It is almost certain Alton Towers will add another shortcut, but right now it looks like the current one cuts right through their Enchanted Village plans.

Chessington World of Adventures

Azteca Hotel

The much anticipated 4 star Azteca Hotel opened at Chessington this August, after months of construction.

The theme park had kept Azteca’s opening date quiet, with all marketing advertising simply stating an ‘August’ opening. However, by July, Chessington had started to take reservations for the brand new Temple Restaurant inside Azteca from August 11. Chessington later revealed that date as Azteca’s official opening day, and it has been welcoming guests ever since.

All rooms at the Azteca Hotel cater for two adults and three children – meaning the resort is able to accommodate families of five all in one room. The kids can enjoy their own separate sleeping area in the room, complete with bunk beds, trundle bed and plasma TV, whilst parents can relax in a double bed next door. Interestingly, this room layout is identical to Alton Towers’ new Enchanted Lodges, which also sleep 5 guests.

The Azteca Hotel boasts 69 fully themed rooms on 3 different levels. First, we have the Discovery room floor – with rooms themed like an expedition camp. Next, on the second floor, we have the Temple Treasure rooms, taking on the theme of gems, treasure chests, and mysterious temples. Finally, right on the third floor, there are the Temple Summit rooms, which are themed as though you are right up in the sky, with views of temple ruins, rainforests, and animals.

Azteca Hotel

Photos of Azteca’s rooms are now available online and it really does look like Chessington has pulled out all the stops to ensure an in-depth and immersive experience, with as many aspects as possible beautifully themed – including corridors where guests walk along temple stones, and even a “Savannah Splash Zone” water park.

Howl'o'Ween

In other news, Chessington has changed the name of its Halloween events from Halloween Hocus Pocus to Howl’o’ween for 2014. The name Halloween Hocus Pocus was originally derived from Chessington’s spooky manor walk-through attraction, Hocus Pocus Hall.

Howl’o’ween will be taking place at Chessington from October 24 to November 2. The resort is advertising the events as “spooky family fun”; undoubtedly taking on a much more family-friendly approach to Hallowe’en than other sister Merlin theme parks Alton Towers and Thorpe Park.

Howl’o’ween, with its animal sounding tones, does seem fitting for Chessington, and one would suggest it’s safe to say we can expect Howl’o’ween to stick around for a while.

With the launch of the immersive and heavily themed Azteca Hotel, and change in name to Howl'o'ween for their Halloween events, Chessington really seem to be settling into their new wild, adventure, family-friendly branding and marketing. It’s wonderful to see how instead of just promoting big steel rides, they have incorporated so much focus on their zoo and conservation work into the resort, as this not only carves out a nice little niche but is ultimately their heritage, and animals remain at the heart of Chessington World of Adventures.

With a new hotel to explore and event news galore this August and September, these months are undoubtedly a colourful and vibrant end to our summer, and will ease us gradually into a great, dark, and spooky October - full of horror, thrills, and even more fun.


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