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In-Depth: Thorpe Park Submits Plans for Major New Dark Ride for 2016

Thorpe Park has released plans for a new flagship enclosed attraction.

Slated for a grand unveiling in 2016, the enormous ride is due to be housed completely undercover in a move that has been warmly welcomed by theme park fans.

As part of a Medium Term Development Plan adopted by Thorpe back in March 2011 focusing on the overall expansion of the park, plans initially outlined Merlin were to install two major roller coasters between 2012 and 2015. This was followed through with The Swarm. The Bolliger & Mabillard-built thrill ride opened to the public in 2012 as the first Wing Rider coaster in the UK.

The Swarm

The plan additionally indicated the park were to construct another major new roller coaster; due to be unveiled in 2015. In a covering letter submitted to Runnymede Borough Council, it has become evident this project has been thrown onto the backburner for now and pushed back ‘until a later date’. Instead, Thorpe Park has taken a surprising step to debut a ‘unique themed attraction housed within a building’. This is expected to be ready for riders by the start of the 2016 season. If planning permission is granted, it is an investment that is intended to ‘continue to attract visitors and improve the visitor experience.’

2016 blueprints

Whist the nature of the attraction’s hardware and manufacturer currently remains a mystery, 2016’s project is expected to be one of the most elaborately themed and expensive rides built in Merlin Entertainments’ history. At Theme Park Tourist we have taken a look at the blueprints and have had a glance at what could be in store from Thorpe’s new thrill ride once it opens.

Location

The new attraction is set to sit in a prime location right at the heart of the park which has been described as a ‘key objective’ within the planning applications. Residing adjacent to existing roller coasters X and Nemesis Inferno, Merlin has already announced the removal of family attraction Chief Ranger's Carousel and outdoor performance space The Arena to make way for the ride. It has also been confirmed that games stalls and smaller attractions currently occupying the site will be ripped out to make way for the large show building. Some vegetation will also be removed from the area including ‘five silver birch trees.’

Location

Experience

Whilst the exact nature of the ride is rumored to remain a closely guarded secret until 2016, in blueprints submitted to the council are a few brief details are given that hint towards what may be in store. The ride is set to commence with a pre-show segment before riders proceed towards the main experience. Guests will also exit through a dedicated retail shop themed to the ride where they will have an opportunity to purchase an on-ride photograph. The attraction features its own dedicated maintenance area suggesting it is more than simply a walk-through experience.

Ride Building

Making a BIG entrance

The investment is set to have a major focus on aesthetic elements and is promised to be a ‘unique themed attraction’ that will additionally ‘supplement the existing features at Thorpe Park'. At present, the exact nature of what lies within the building remains a mystery; with little indicated on the blueprints with regards to what lies inside. The plans do specify details on some brief ‘themed areas’ on the building including brick and graffiti themed textures.

Ride Entrance

To complement the ride experience and unique theme, the attraction is set to receive its own dedicated entrance plaza ‘to signify arrival for guests’ and ‘create a sense of arrival and anticipation.’ Thorpe Park has adopted this technique before; most recently with The Swarm as guests are greeted with upside-down ambulances and disused fire trucks to create the idea an alien creature has invaded the area.

Entrance feature

For 2016, the new attraction’s entrance plaza will have a themed sculpture as its main focus. Whilst details of the exact nature of this mysterious element are not specified at this stage, planning documents outline that the feature will stand no more than eight meters in height. The area will also receive some landscaping in a bid to improve ‘the overall attractiveness of the area’.

Building and theme

Thorpe Park has also indicated within its planning application that the overall size of the attraction is set to cover a total floor space of 2,807 square meters with an undercover queuing area. Whilst occupying a rather large area the overall height of the main show building will remain relatively low at around 10 meters in height and has been confirmed to ‘not be visible from outside the park boundaries’.

Ride Building

The ride’s exterior is probably the most exciting part of the development so far. With the entire experience housed completely undercover, it is expected the attraction will be as impressive on the eye as it is to ride. Parapet walls are expected to make an appearance. Described as a ‘warehouse building’, the structure is said to have an ‘aged and rustic appearance’ to help enforce the ‘old’ style theme. We can also expect to see terracotta-coloured sheeting used with brick and concrete textures plastered over the main building. Timber planks will also be visible that will come with an ‘aged effect’ and will be painted in a ‘crinkly-tin’ colour.

Ride Blueprint

The undercover queue area is also expected to receive some treatment in the form of metal pillars. These will be finished in either a grey, red or brown colour to add to the overall ‘neglected warehouse’ atmosphere. Fencing will also be used effectively that will stand at no more than two meters in height. These will consist of steel or timber with a ‘mesh or chain link finish’.

Ride Fencing

They say that first impressions count and that could not be more relevant to Thorpe’s new flagship ride. The entrance to the queue line will be rounded off via a rather large entrance feature that will stand 4.3 meters in the air supported by two brick columns. Early plans indicate this may have the words ‘Thorpe Depot’ featured along with the attraction’s full name. This is expected to be confirmed later on in the project.

Fencing

Thorpe Park also wish to install other various themed elements in what it is dscribing as a ‘signage zone’ that will be fixed to fencing at the west of the entrance gate. The building is also said to feature a rather large graphic superimposed onto it along with roller shutter doors and ‘peeling paint’ effects.

Ride Texture

A shift in target audience

Thorpe Park has traditionally been billed as ‘The Nation’s Thrill Capital’ but from 2016 could this no longer be the case? Since the installation of the world’s first 10 looping roller coaster Colossus in 2002, the park has invested in innovative thrills to draw in thrill seekers from the 16-24 year old demographic. This somewhat shifted most recently in 2014 with the opening of Angry Birds Land. Inspired by the classic smartphone game, the attraction saw many of Thorpe Park’s existing attractions receiving a facelift along with a new dodgem track. In order to target the new audience, we can expect to see the park's latest anchor attraction to follow a similar pattern aimed more at families compared to thrill seekers.

Having said that, there's little sign of a family-friendly theme in the industrial look of the proposed ride building. Indeed, it looks closer to the gritty tone of Saw - The Ride and The Swarm than to the gaudy colours of Angry Birds Land.

Angry Birds Land

Our thoughts

There’s no doubt that Thorpe is planning something special for the 2016 season. Whilst the exact nature of the attraction is a complete mystery, early plans indicate that all of the ingredients are being thrown together to create an immersive experience. Could this be the first major dark ride to be installed at one of Merlin's UK theme parks for some time?

The disused warehouse theme is hardly original and fresh but could it be used with to complement something we are all familiar with? Intellectual property has proven to be a popular technique for Merlin when it comes to theming new attractions. The first in 2009 saw the opening of Saw - The Ride at Thorpe Park. Themed to the popular Lionsgate horror franchise, the horror themed roller coaster quickly became one of the most popular rides within the park. Its popularity soared that provoked the opening of the Saw Alive Horror Maze that now operates as part of the Fright Night events every Halloween.

One thing for sure is that Thorpe Park is expected to bring a whole new dimension to the often neglected dark ride scene in the UK. Be that in the form of a TV show, movie or an original theme, it seems Merlin is keen to bring an original attraction to Britain that will stand-up on the theme park global stage.

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