Helen Milbank explores theme parks and attractions within the UK, ideal for thrill-seeking families and children
Holidaymakers in Kent will be celebrating over the summer as one of the county’s original theme parks re-opens, breathing new life into Margate’s entertainment scene.
Following an 11-year campaign, Dreamland - one of Britain’s original pleasure parks - is set to re-open, ready to welcome a new generation keen to enjoy the attraction’s rides.
While the exact opening date is yet to be announced (www.dreamland.co.uk), it’s great news for the thousands of coach trippers who holiday in the town each year, in addition to the local economy and heritage. Dating back to the 1860s, the original park was re-named Dreamland in the 1920s, with its resurrection cementing its position as the oldest surviving amusement park in the UK.
Dreamland was one of Britain’s bestloved amusement parks in its heyday and became one of the top 10 most visited attractions. Spread over 16acres, the park included a zoo, a miniature railway and a 2,200-seat purpose built cinema, as well as cafés, restaurants, bars and a 2,000-capacity ballroom. However, all that changed back in 2003 when the park was forced to close. Since then, £18million in public funding has been secured to restore Dreamland and its Grade II-listed railway, cinema complex and animal cages.
Thanet District Council compulsorily-purchased the site in September 2013 and work began last year to restore the site. Visit the attraction’s website for a taste of the rides set to open soon, as well as details of how to book your group day trip or short break to the Kent coast.
Assistance for group travel organisers, including details of local hotels and places to visit, can be found at www.visitthanet.co.uk/group-travel.
A few hundred miles west of Margate, located in the Welsh countryside of Pembrokeshire, is Oakwood Theme Park, which attracts more than 400,000 visitors every year. Oakwood has grown from a modest family park into a thrill-seeker’s paradise, housing a number of whiteknuckle rides including Speed, Drenched, Vertigo and Megafobia.
The park opens this month.
Young children, families and adrenaline junkies are well catered for and group discounts and deals are available – see the website for details at www.oakwoodthemepark.co.uk.
Nearby hotels are listed on the site if you’d prefer to make a weekend of it, with plenty of restaurants and bars situated in the park itself.
PIECE TOGETHER A GREAT DAY OUT
Perfect for LEGO-loving groups of school children, or families looking to indulge their offspring’s penchant for building blocks, LEGOLAND Windsor Resort puts the ‘theme’ into ‘park’ with LEGO-themed rides, models, building workshops, swimming pools and even a hotel.
More than 55 interactive rides, live shows and attractions - set within 150acres of parkland - make LEGOLAND a child’s paradise.
They can fly through the treetops to escape fearsome dragons, ride the rapids with a Viking fleet or join LEGO divers on an epic underwater adventure.
In the centre sits the LEGOLAND Windsor Hotel, brimming with LEGO features, as you might expect. Its theme park packages include an overnight stay and entry tickets, while it also appeals to corporate groups through state-of-the-art conference facilities and an event suite if your group’s needs are more business-minded. See www.legoland.co.uk for more details.
LEGO aside, theme parks don’t come any bigger and better than Alton Towers, which now sits alongside CBeebies Land, a waterpark and spa and the venue’s Extraordinary Golf and Tree Top Quest attractions (www.altontowers.com). Groups can stay at Alton Tower’s Splash Landings Hotel or its Enchanted Village.
While the attraction’s website also points group travel organisers in the direction of nearby, off-site hotels and accommodation options to suit all budgets and tastes.
GET ME IN THERE
New for 2015, discover the all-new I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Maze, launched at Thorpe Park Resort in Surrey. Groups can grab their khakis and wander into the TV-inspired jungle where they’ll compete for a prized star, as they take on some of the most iconic trials inspired by the award-winning TV show. Visitors can slither their way down jungle-themed rooms such as the Vile Vineyard, down to the Croc Creek rope bridge where they’ll cross into the jungle’s dense undergrowth. Then they’ll need to continue through the Catacombs of Doom in order to tackle their first trial, Holey Moley.
Only the brave will be tasked with reaching through several creepy crevices to unearth stars used to unlock a secret corridor to help them progress in their journey. There follows the maze’s second trial – a live game show experience in the Chambers of Horror. Not for the faint hearted, day-trippers can delve into the Calamity Caves, before climbing through the Pipe of Peril. There’s just time to catch their breath inside the Cruelty Towers before guiding their way through the Tunnel of Terror to meet their final trial; The Celebrity Cyclone. With actors on hand to bring the jungle experience to life, it’s a one-off experience for groups of all ages. For more information on the maze, the park’s other attractions and group deals visit www.thorpepark.com.
There’s a hotel on-site – the Thorpe Shark Hotel with its bite-sized rooms – and ticketand- stay deals available to tempt groups.
WILD DAYS OUT
Not a sea of pink feathers as its name suggests, but rather a modern, high tech amusement centre, Flamingo Land Resort Yorkshire is home to a theme park, zoo and holiday resort, complete with lodges, log cabins and a camping and caravan park.
Groups can stay on-site and spend a few days exploring the park’s seven themed areas, as well as its leisure complex, golf course and animal-packed zoo.
See the website for full details at www.flamingoland.co.uk.
Drayton Manor Theme Park in Staffordshire is an entertainment complex that mixes wild animals with thrill rides, attractions and Thomas Land - a must for young railway fans. Its group deals and packages include free parking, selected free entry and meal vouchers – see draytonmanor.co.uk for more details.
If good old-fashioned rides are what your group’s after, Fantasy Island in Skegness will tick all the right boxes.
Right by the seaside on Lincolnshire’s east coast, it offers a mix of the extreme including The Volcano that whisks you up 180-plus feet then drops at speeds of up to 50mph, and more family-friendly log flumes, dodgem rides, bouncy castles and the like.
Details can be found on the attraction’s website - fantasyisland.co.uk - together with details on its popular on-site market, eateries and bars.
FLIP OUT AT CHESSINGTON
Dive into the Year of the Penguins at Chessington World of Adventures Resort, as the Surrey-based attraction is invaded by the Penguins of Madagascar.
Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private will descend for an exclusive live show.
Plus, there’s a newly themed penguin ride in Africa Land and the chance to meet some real-life Humboldt penguins in the resort’s brand new walk-through experience.
Groups staying on-site can sleep in special DreamWorks Penguins of Madagascar-themed bedrooms at the Chessington Safari Hotel. While the newly opened Chessington Azteca Hotel offers 69 fully themed bedrooms, offering spectacular views across the park.
Penguins may be the talk of the town, but Chessington World of Adventures Resort has lots more to offer groups. For a full list of attractions see www. chessington.com.
Adventures continue across the theme park, which is home to more than 40 rides; plus you can visit Chessington Zoo and its neighbouring Sea Life Centre, enjoy daily shows and activities, and relax in the resort’s restaurants and cafes. Group deals on day passes and short breaks are available.
If you’d prefer to stay off-site, you’re within the M25 and close to a number of luxury and budget hotels. Local budget chains include Premier Inn (www. premierinn.com) and Travelodge (www.travelodge.co.uk).