GTW brings you some of the very newest and shiniest group attractions and venues, some only just opened and some opening later in the year. Be one of the first groups to walk through the doors, before the paint has even dried!
Warwick Castle recently opened four new rooms not seen by the public for hundreds of years. As we reported last month, one of the rooms was actually built for Richard III, surely the ‘monarch of the moment’ after the discovery of his bones in Leicester recently. The Bear Tower was where real bears were kept in the fifteenth century and the small dark room still has a musty, ominous damp feel to it, along with a thick tree trunk and shackles depicting how the bears would have been restrained. The county of Warwickshire and the heraldic crest of the Earls of Warwick have been represented by a bear and ragged staff for many centuries.
The Watergate Tower of Warwick Castle was the room unlocked by Tony Robinson at the official opening of the four new rooms in February. Reputedly haunted by the ghost of Sir Fulke Greville – playwright, poet, Member of Parliament and victim of a gruesome murder – the Watergate Tower tells the tale of a notable life brought short by a disloyal, dagger-wielding servant. Fulke’s restless spirit is said to roam the tower – just one reason few people in living memory have ventured inside.
Visitors can also now climb up to the Guards’ Room in Guy’s Tower. In 1642, during the Civil War, Warwick Castle was besieged by Royalists stationed at St Mary’s Church in Warwick. This Guards’ Room at the top of Guy’s Tower was remodelled to fire cannons rather than arrows, and has been to accurately recreate the musty, smoky living conditions endured by the guards as they awaited attack and tried to survive the siege. Finally, the Barbican Battlements and Captain’s Room provides visitors with the chance to touch, see and even smell how this setting would have been centuries before. Built in the reign of Edward III to protect the entrance to the castle, the Barbican Battlements over the portcullis include deadly murder holes through which boiling tar and human waste were poured on attacking forces.
The new developments do not stop here however. Following Warwick Town Council’s successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund last year, work on the Court House is now beginning as well. This extensive restoration and conservation phase of the project is expected to be completed by July 2013 – and there are plenty more rooms at Warwick Castle to unlock and restore in years to come as well. Progress can be followed on the ‘Unlocking Warwick’ blog.
Warwick Castle’s other big new attraction for 2013 is the ‘Horrible Histories Foul Fayres’, developed to mark twenty years of Horrible Histories series. Held at ‘Awesome Easter’, ‘Wicked Whitsun’ and in ‘Stormin’ Summer’, the events take the best bits of the irreverent books written by Terry Deary and immerse visitors of all ages in the most gruesome and fun aspects of Britain’s history. Five camps set in Warwick Castle grounds will play host to characters who will tell – and show – visitors all the nasty, gory parts of life at various historical periods through the centuries.
Warwick Castle has frozen entry prices at 2012 rates and there is no additional cost for the ‘Foul Fayres’. Open every day except Christmas Day, Warwick Castle is packed with fun for the whole family and a day out there includes the interactive Castle Dungeon experience, the Merlin experience, extensive grounds, towers and ramparts to explore, and daily live shows including birds of prey flight shows, jousting and raising of the portcullis.
After nearly 40 years, The London Dungeon has left its old home on Tooley Street and moved to a huge new site next to the London Eye. With 18 brand new shows and cutting-edge special effects, this new development turns an attraction that was already great into something unmissable. The Dungeons brings together an amazing cast of theatrical actors, special effects, stages, scenes and rides in a truly unique and exciting walkthrough experience that you see, hear, touch, smell and feel – 90 minutes covers 1,000 years of history in an experience which is full of scares, thrills and dark comedy. The shows are based on real London history and legends (minus the boring bits) – visitors get up close and personal with sinister characters including Jack the Ripper and the infamous barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd, and now for the first time Guy Fawkes and Henry VIII.
The whole experience is fully themed, so sets are 360°, full of authenticity and theatrical storytelling continues throughout. On the journey visitors pass through the Whitechapel Labyrinth of misty East London streets, plague-ravaged houses, the fearsome torture chamber… and see and feel what could have been if Guy Fawkes had succeeded.
The Dungeons love group visits – whether corporate groups, school groups, stag and hen parties or just a day out. For groups of ‘ten victims or more’, London Dungeons offers 20% off normal ticket prices and timed priority entry. There is a coach drop-off point – coach bays should be reserved beforehand.
Info: www.thedungeons.com 0871 6631670 1670
SEA LIFE MANCHESTER
Sea Life Manchester will be transporting groups into the amazing underwater world from early summer this year. Visitors will come nose to nose with sharks and get astonishingly close views of everything from starfish and seahorses to rays – there will be over 5,000 creatures on display. Fun and informative talks throughout the day encourage visitors to find out more about the sea life, and feed shows give the opportunity to see the creatures more closely. The Interactive Touchpool Experience gives visitors the chance to hold crabs and touch starfish, and the underwater tunnel creates a watery experience where sharks and rays swim all around so they can be seen on every side. A free kids’ quiz trail lets younger visitors test their creature knowledge. Early Bird tickets are now available online from just £12 and there are discounted prices and priority entry for groups.
Info: www.visitsealife.com/manchester 0871 221 2483
TIGER TERRITORY AT ZSL LONDON ZOO
Newly opened at London Zoo, Tiger Territory is home to critically-endangered Sumatran tigers, after the 186-year-old site has undergone a massive redevelopment to make way for the 2,500sqm (27,000sqft) enclosure. Visitors to Tiger Territory embark on a journey through an Indonesian habitat, coming face-to-face with beautiful tigers through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Five times the size of the previous tiger enclosure, the new exhibit has been designed with ZSL’s team of tiger keepers, conservationists and experts to ensure that it perfectly suits the big cats’ needs.
Tigers are excellent climbers and like to observe their terrain from a towering vantage point and Tiger Territory allows them to do just that. The exhibit features tall trees for the cats to scale and high feeding poles to encourage their natural predatory behaviours. Unusually for cats, tigers also love water, and visitors will be able to see them hanging out in their custom-built pool. When they’re not playing in the water, the tigers will have all-day access to indoor dens where visitors will be able to see the big cats relaxing.
Carefully planted to mimic the tropical foliage of the island of Sumatra, the Zoo’s team of expert horticulturalists studied images of native Indonesian flora, taken by zookeeper Teague Stubbington on a recent visit to ZSL’s tiger conservation project. Working around the world to try to reverse the fate of the Sumatran tiger, Tiger Territory will enable ZSL to breed tigers at ZSL London Zoo and learn more about these elusive animals to apply to its field conservation projects. The European breeding programme and the Global Management Species Programme for Sumatran tigers are both coordinated by ZSL London Zoo – where ZSL’s specialists are responsible for ensuring a healthy and diverse population of tigers in zoos around the world.
It is hoped that Tiger Territory will inform and inspire a generation of people to treasure the tiger and understand their role in its survival. It will also help to fund ZSL’s tiger conservation work in the field.
ZSL London Zoo is ideal for groups and welcomes them with a number of benefits. Groups of more than 10 receive a huge 25% discount on tickets purchased online in advance. Blue Badge Guides get free entry and free posters and leaflets are available to help promote your group visit. There is a special brochure available for groups to download on the website.
Info: www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo 0844 225 1826