Theme Parks – Visiting with kids

I’ve blogged before about Disneyland Paris,  today I’m going to have a look at two of the UK’s big parks:  Thorpe Park and Alton Towers.


Location: Just inside the M25, north of Heathrow.

Catering: Independent chains – the Pizza Huts and Burger Kings of the world.

Time of Visit: Beginning of the summer holidays – Scotland’s schools are off, England’s are still in session.

Age Range of Kids: 3 – 13 (5 kids in total).

Height Range of Kids: 1.0m to 1.7m (this is more important than the age range!)

Wide range of rides we could all do.  Decent attitude to letting the older/taller kids ride on their own and a wristband scheme to save them measuring the youngest and shortest on each ride.   Only 1 technical failure on a ride (Saw) and reasonable queueing times all day.  At no time did the kids get bored queueing.  Longest queue was probably 20 minutes/half an hour for Stealth – and that was well worth it despite the ride lasting only seconds.

Problem Rides:  Swarm.  It’s got a height restriction.  Maximum height of 1.95m.  As someone who tops that, I was annoyed.  Furthermore it was the only ride that had a pin badge available.

Accommodation:  On-site Crash Pad hotel.  Take a pile of 40′ containers, convert them to basic rooms with en-suite, each box capable of sleeping 4 comfortably.  Even 6’6″ folks fit nicely.  Crash Pad accommodation comes with early access to the park, a couple of fast passes per person and the decent bar/restaurant at the core of the place.

The family had 2 days there in all, didn’t get bored, did all the rides they wanted to (except for Saw).

What Was New:  Can’t remember anything specific being brand spanking new, there wasn’t a ride that specifically drew the massive queues.

What We’ll Go Back For:  Colossus.  Didn’t manage to ride this one, deliberately.  I always leave a ride to go back for.

Souvenirs:   The usual range of lightly themed tat.  I’m a big fan of pin badges – there wasn’t even one for the park itself.



Location: Middle of bloody nowhere!  Seriously! You’re not going to stumble across this one, going on progressively smaller and smaller roads.

Catering: Entirely in-house.  Very reasonable value and decent quality.

Time of Visit: Wet Wednesday during the May half-term.

Age Range of Kids: 3 – 13 (5 kids in total).

Height Range of Kids: 1.1m to 1.8m (this is more important than the age range!)

Not quite as good a range of rides for the youngest one to do by himself and a bit more stringent on the 1:1 ratio of adult to child.  That being said, certain rides (Flume, Runaway Train) were generous on their measurements.  Park staff universally helpful and friendly, especially in CBeebies Land.

Problem Rides:  Sonic Spinball and Thirteen both have 1.95m height limits.  And I really wanted to do Thirteen.  Found the seats on Rita a tad uncomfortable, I’m quite long in the body and it was tough to fasten the brace.  I remember Ripsaw of old – it’s forever branded on my brain as the Hydraulic Wedgie.  Ouch.

Accommodation:  On-site expensive hotel.  Not that we stayed there.  Themed rooms, the works.  You’ve seen the adverts.

We spent a full day there – 10AM to 6PM, walked on to pretty much any ride we wanted to do, including the big ones.  Only Sonic Spinball and Smiler had properly significant queues, and I fast-passed Rita because I couldn’t be arsed waiting.

What Was New:  CBeebies Land.  It’d opened 2 days before our visit.  For the smallest 2 in the party, it was fantastic!  Justin’s Pie Factory was great fun (shooting foam balls at complete strangers and blaming the kids!).  Even the “In the Night Garden” ride engaged and entertained them.  And I got to high-five Tree-Fu Tom himself!

What We’ll Go Back For:  Smiler.  Fast-passes for this one were expensive! And I’m not spending over an hour in a queue.  Give it a couple of years, it won’t be the Latest Big Ride and people will be queueing for something else.  Amazing that we could just walk on to Air, Oblivion and the like!.

Souvenirs:   The usual range of lightly themed tat.  I’m a big fan of pin badges – apparently they’re in the main souvenir shop at the front gate but we passed that on the way out, dipped in, and dipped right back out again.

So…  Which is better?

That’s a tough one.  Alton Towers has to be more inventive with it’s rides, given the 20m height limit they’ve got for building.  Smiler, for instance, is dug into a big pit where the Black Hole (for those of you who remember it) once stood.  Stealth, at Thorpe Park, on the other hand towers over everything for miles around.  Cost of Fast Pass/Fast Track tickets is pretty similar, and similar discounts are available if you want to beat the queues on multiple rides.  They’re both a 2 hour drive from home.  Thorpe Park is marginally cheaper (£11 in Tesco Clubcard Vouchers compared to £12.50) but not enough to break the bank.

Non-ride wise, Alton Towers has more to entertain than Thorpe Park.  There’s the Towers itself, the extensive gardens, monorail and sky ride (cable cars between zones).  English Heritage has got itself involved in restoring and maintaining chunks of the gardens.  Plenty of space for picnics as well.

Bottom line, unless you’re after a specific ride, go for whichever’s closer.  You’ll have a great day out whichever you choose.

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