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

Studio 13 at Thorpe Park

Summer is at an end, yet as the days gets shorter, we have even more reason to treat ourselves and make a visit to our favourite theme park for one reason: Halloween. Prepare to get your scream on at Halloween theme park events all over the UK - whether you are brave enough for the horror mazes, love roller-coasters in the dark, or are just a fan of the adrenalin-filled and buzzing atmosphere theme parks possess at night, October is widely regards to be the most exciting time of year to visit.

Alton Towers

Halloween events will be well underway over at the Towers from the October 18 until November 2. While Alton Towers are still using the Scarefest name, their imagery and marketing seems to be a little more family-oriented than in recent years, most possibly due to CBeebies Land opening in May, and the Enchanted Village accommodation scheduled for April 2015 - also aimed at families. However, the park will still have the Terror of the Towers - What Lies Within, and The Sanctuary at the top of their horror maze line-up, for those thrill-seeking parkgoers looking for a scare.

New for 2014 is the Scary Tales Scare Zone, themed around guests rewriting the ending of nightmares as they proceed through the attraction. Not much detail is given on this new scare zone, which can lead us to believe while it is a new horror attraction like Studio 13 at Thorpe Park, it will be a smaller and less scary experience, designed to give all ages a bit of a fright.

The theme park is open from 10am until 9pm every day during Scarefest, offering the exciting opportunity to brave the rides in the dark. The Smiler remains to be hugely popular at Alton Towers, with the park advertising relatively heavily the chance to ride The Smiler after dark during their Scarefest events. The Smiler’s smile is also featured in their Halloween promotions, just like in 2013.

The Smiler

A slight change in prices for the Towers’ 2014 walk-through horror attractions is worth mentioning also. Previously, Alton Towers had one free maze out of three offered, the other two at a charge. This year however, there will be a charge for the two mazes available - Terror of the Towers and The Sanctuary, but the two scare zones will be free for guests.

It seems Merlin’s focus on their most terrifying theme park Halloween attractions has been almost completely shifted down to Thorpe Park, despite both parks wanting to attract more families and younger guests through their gates as part of their 2014 marketing strategies.

Chessington World of Adventures

Howl'o'ween

Howl’o’ween, Chessington’s new name for its Halloween events (previously known as Halloween Hocus Pocus), will be taking place at the Resort, with all of the Howl’o’ween attractions included in the entrance fee, unlike at Thorpe Park and Alton Towers. An appropriate guess for this being the case would be that Howl’o’ween consists of smaller attractions, and whilst guests will visit the attractions during their visit to Howl’o’ween over half term, and may even be more interested in going due to Howl’o’ween, the scary walk-throughs and shows are less likely to be the purpose of their visit than My Bloody Valentine and SAW Alive at Thorpe Park, which are big iconic draws of attractions in themselves.

Howl’o’ween at Chessington will be running over the October Half Term period (October 24 - November 2), with the park open until 8pm. The Howl’o’ween line-up is purely aimed at families with younger children, and consists of two walk-through attractions, two new for 2014 Halloween shows, a daily fancy dress competition for kids, and of course, rides in the dark.

Chessington’s two walk-through attractions are both returning experiences for 2014 - Vampire: The Haunting in the Hollows is a spooky walk through themed around the iconic Vampire rollercoaster. Over at The Mystery of Hocus Pocus Hall, guests take on a detective role as they try to solve the mystery of what happened to Sir Arthur, the Hall’s owner, who disappeared without a trace.

Pumpkin High School of Rock - Live Show and The Hairy and Scary Show are Chessington’s brand new live Halloween shows for 2014, adding to a well-rounded line-up of several Halloween events at the theme park the whole family can enjoy.

Legoland Windsor


Brick or Treat

Brick or Treat, Legoland’s annual Halloween event, will take place from the October 18 to November 3. Halloween is fairly low-key at Legoland, with just a few activities to join in scattered around the parks during normal operating hours, including a chance to build your own pumpkin, enjoying spooky puppet shows, and dancing at the Monster Ball.

Unlike the other Merlin theme parks, Legoland will include fireworks as part of their Halloween “activities and fun” for guests. Lego Legends of Chima Fire and Ice Fireworks will fill the skies over Legoland Windsor on the October 18, 19, 25 and 26, and Halloween weekend, October 31 and November 1, a spectacular end to a day full of spooky fun.

Thorpe Park

Fright Nights

Thorpe Park’s focus for the next month or so will be its extremely popular Fright Night Halloween events. Fright Nights this year of course are incorporating their new branding and image, which it can be said Thorpe Park has done flawlessly by converting its “An Island Like No Other” slogan into a catchy “The Island Changes After Dark”.

Their partnership with Lionsgate will be returning for 2014, as will the 2013 line-up of mazes - My Bloody Valentine, The Cabin in the Woods, and the Blair Witch Project Scare Zone. Interestingly, Thorpe Park have rated each of their horror attractions with a fear rating this year, and based on this, they consider My Bloody Valentine to be the scariest maze of all, ranking it 5/5 on the scare scale, with SAW: Alive, The Cabin in the Woods and Studio 13 a close second at 4/5 each.

Fright Nights at Thorpe Park span the most weeks of any Halloween theme park event in the UK - and will be taking over the park on October 10-12, 17-19 and from October 24 through November 2. Park hours are 10am until 10pm so plucky guests can experience a whole 12 hours of thrills each day.

Thorpe Park announced this September that they will be introducing a brand new maze for 2014 - Studio 13.

Studio 13

Online teaser images and countdowns to a new attraction for Fright Nights took place, as Thorpe built as much anticipation and interest as it could for its new maze, until finally confirming the name and theme on social media early in September.

Studio 13’s name is a nod to 2014 being Thorpe Park’s 13th year of Fright Night events, and they claim it is also their 13th maze. Studio 13 plays on the “Thorpe Park movie studio” concept, which sprung up after Thorpe announced their partnership with Lionsgate last year, and essentially involves the whole park being turned into a movie studio, with guests taking on the role of “actors” acting out horror scenes by braving the rides and mazes for the Director (who is never seen and only ever heard occasionally in the park).

Based on Thorpe Park’s wonderfully creative past “one-off” mazes, such as The Passing in 2012 and Experiment 10 in 2011, it looks like this year’s Fright Night guests will be waiting in line at Studio 13 for a similarly interactive and immersive experience. According to Thorpe Park’s website, guests entering Studio 13 will be part of an audition for the “Director’s” new movie, The Motel. But of course, nothing is ever as it seems...

Studio 13 is replacing the old Asylum maze, which came under severe criticism last year from mental health campaigners due to the concept of the attraction. Whilst The Asylum remained a firm favourite of Fright Night goers each year (it even consistently drew a small crowd of spectators at the exit, who gathered solely to watch frightened guests running out of the maze and away from the guy with the chainsaw), and Fright Night regulars will be sad to see it go, a replacement makes sense for Thorpe Park.

The price for Thorpe Park’s brand new Fright Nights 16 Night Horror Pass was also recently confirmed. It will be £98 per person, and includes unlimited access to Fright Nights for all 16 days, a “Director’s Cut Fastrack” ticket (to the value of £25), and a £5 voucher towards a Fright Night VIP Experience. If you already have an Annual Pass, this Fright Nights Horror Pass can be bolted onto this for £50. Depending on which pass you hold, Fright Nights entry and parking (£5 each time) may already be included, along with the 20% food, drink and merchandise discount.

Thorpe Park’s Fright Night Horror Pass is ideal if you only really visit Thorpe Park during the Fright Night period, want to try out as many mazes as possible, and want to benefit from the flexibility the ticket offers (i.e. not having to book the dates you are going in advance). If you want a year of benefits, including free Fright Nights entry (for the time being), parking and the 20% discount on food, drink and merchandise, it may be worth looking into a Premium Merlin Annual Pass, which will give you a year’s worth of entry to every Merlin attraction in the UK for an additional £101.

Fright Nights at Thorpe Park.

There is also a large range of exciting Fright Night ticket add-ons available for brave guests on Thorpe Park’s website. The Face It Alone tickets to Thorpe Park’s horror maze attractions return for 2014, which offer guests the chance to go alone through the maze solo after the park has closed for the night, playing on our ultimate fears of solitude and isolation in a terrifying environment where anything can happen next. Tickets are £15 per person, and are available for Cabin in the Woods, My Bloody Valentine, Studio 13, and SAW Alive (as Blair Witch is technically a scare-zone). Interestingly, Thorpe Park have the minimum age for this experience set at 18, compared to the minimum recommended age for Fright Nights of 13.

In keeping with their brand new VIP Backstage Tours and Coaster Climbs offered on selected roller-coasters this year, VIP Maze Tours are now available for those interested in seeing the less dark side of Thorpe Park’s world-class mazes. Places are £20 for a tour of any of the 4 mazes mentioned above. Tours commence at 1pm so you have the chance to experience your favourite maze behind-the-scenes before braving it as a guest from 3pm onwards.

A Director’s Cut Fastrack is available for those who want to experience all 5 mazes and scare-zones that Thorpe Park has to offer in one night, and is available for £25 per person.

A Fright Nights RIP Package can be purchased for £250 for guests who want to splurge on a fully immersive experience. This ticket price includes all park entry, front of the line access on two rides and all horror mazes, a welcome drink upon arrival and unlimited soft drink throughout the evening, dinner in the RIP Lounge, access to a private bar, a Fright Nights lanyard, and to top it all off, a horror make-over or trick-or-treat gift. Note that the experience is so exclusive you have to book at least 3 days in advance, and it is only available on a Saturday during Fright Nights from 4pm-10pm. Given the price tag, it will be interesting to see how popular the Fright Nights RIP Package will turn out to be, especially as the 16 Day Horror Pass is also new for this year and whilst there aren’t VIP treats included, its 16 days of unlimited entry, included maze Fastrack and £5 off a VIP experience would also greatly appeal to die-hard Fright Night fans.

On a final Fright Nights note, there has been a small change for Standard Merlin Annual Passholders and the entrance fees, and this is worth mentioning. For some time now, the Standard Passholder entry has been £5 per person per night, however this year, Thorpe Park have decided to put a deadline on this price (selling it as an Early Bird rate) and raise it to £10 per person after the 1st of October. This means that Standard Passholders have to be pretty organised well in advance to know which days they will be attending Fright Nights and ultimately benefit from the lower price.

Premium and VIP Merlin Passholders remain with free entry, and just need to book their free ticket in advance (really only so Thorpe can monitor their capacity and plan for the busier nights accordingly).

Ministry of Sound, Thorpe Park’s last major event before Fright Nights, was held at the Resort on Saturday, September 27. The theme this time was an Ibiza End of Season Party, which proved to be so popular that tickets sold out. The event ran from 8pm until 3am, with selected rides operating 8pm until 11pm.

As the nights draw in, and the air gets chillier, hundreds of thousands of us will flock through the turnstiles of our fantastic British theme parks to ride coasters and brave live-action horror mazes under the cover of night, happy to pay to be given the fright of our lives.


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