7 Of The UK's Best Theme Parks For Families
1: Thorpe Park Resort
Thorpe Park has partnered with Derren Brown, the hypnotist and illusionist known for his mind-blowing TV stunts and interactive stage shows, to create Ghost Train, the world’s first psychological theme park experience. A disused warehouse on an island is spooky enough, but throw in a human brain, Victorian dolls and a master of mind control who is hot on your heels and your fear will warp into terror. The 13-minute immersive encounter manipulates the mind.
Brown says: ‘The process of creating this new experience has been the most challenging of my career – so much so that it took us three years to get the project on track.
It takes everything I love, from Victoriana to mystery and illusion, and wraps it up into a mind-blowing journey. Guests will be unable to distinguish between what is real or imagined and can look forward to a heady mix of magic, suggestion, psychology and misdirection.’
The resort has 30 rides, including Tidal Wave, which has a 26-metre drop; the UK’s first winged rollercoaster, The Swarm; and the world’s largest speed swing, Rush. From £27.99. Thorpe Park, Staines Rd, Chertsey, Surrey, KT16 8PN. T: 0871-663 1673. Train: London Waterloo to Staines in 30 minutes, then take a shuttle bus (leaves every 15-20 minutes) to the park. thorpepark.com
2: Alton Towers Resort
If being flung upside down while your feet are left dangling at 50mph sounds like your idea of fun, then queue up for Nemesis. Better still, hop on to Oblivion to feel the full impact of its 180ft vertical drop – face down. Too tame? Then strap into Rita and zoom to 62mph in just 2.5 seconds.
Spread over 500 acres – about the same size as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – Alton Towers Resort is great whether you like rollercoasters or not. It’s got a thrilling treetop obstacle course, an aquarium and waterpark, a 4D cinema and a crazy golf course themed around the park’s rides.
This year, enjoy two new attractions inside the park’s popular CBeebies Land: The Furchester Hotel Live Show featuring Elmo and Cookie Monster, and The Go Jetters Vroomster Zoom ride. In the summer, there will also be a fully themed CBeebies Land Hotel to fully immerse you in the world of your children’s favourite characters. If that sounds too much, end the day inside a picturesque Woodland Lodge in the captivating Enchanted Village. From £32. Alton, Staffordshire, ST10 4DB. T: 0871-222 3330. Train: London Euston to Stoke-on-Trent in 90 minutes, then a 30-minute bus ride. altontowers.com
3: Legoland Windsor Resort
Everything is awesome at Legoland Windsor, which is home to 55 million pieces of Lego. Aimed at under 12s, the park has more than 55 rides, plus live shows and attractions including The Lego Movie 4D – A New Adventure with its sound, wind, fog and lighting effects. New for this year, the park’s Star Wars Days (29 Apr-1 May) will have you channelling the force with special themed activities – get up close to a 500,000-brick Death Star model, one of the biggest installations ever created by Lego. Book now to stay in the new Castle Hotel, opening this summer.
Another highlight is Miniland, which features familiar landmarks from Europe and the USA made from 40 million blocks – look out for Tower Bridge, London Eye and Big Ben. Our tip? Arrive early to beat the queues and visit rides furthest from the entrance first. From £30. Winkfield Rd, Windsor, SL4 4AY. T: 0871-222 2001. Train: London Waterloo or Paddington to Windsor & Eton Central or Windsor & Eton Riverside in 30 minutes, then a shuttle bus. legoland.co.uk
4: Chessington World of Adventures
Chessington World of Adventures is a theme park, zoo and Sea Life Centre. New for 2017, experience the world’s first Gruffalo ride, a picturesque riverboat journey through a dark wood. Fans of the children’s book can also stay in the new Gruffalo-themed hotel rooms in the park’s Safari Hotel.
The zoo also has more than 1,000 animals, including penguins, sea lions, gorillas and lions. Why not experience glamping, or glamorous camping, in one of the park’s luxury tents? Daredevils can challenge themselves to loop around the treetops on the Vampire roller coaster or hop on Kobra for a spin at 43mph – if you dare. If that sounds too much, jump aboard Zufari for an expedition among white rhinos, zebras, giraffes and lemurs. Meanwhile, in the aquarium, you can get close to coral that glows in the dark and upside-down jellyfish. From £28. Leatherhead Rd, Chessington, Surrey, KT9 2NE. T: 0871-663 447. Train: various London stations to Chessington South in 35 minutes. chessington.com
5: Flamingo Land
This Yorkshire theme park caters for the whole family with nearly 40 rides and a zoo. Buy Q Buster tickets to skip the lines at the rides, including Hero, a new corkscrew rollercoaster.
As well as being home to more than 140 species, Flamingo Land’s zoo offers unique face-to-face encounters with a wide range of its residents, from giraffes to penguins. Simply choose your favourite animal and start to get acquainted (not included in entrance fee). This month, the Selous Black Rhino Reserve welcome Baringo, a new male who is part of an international breeding programme. From £32. Kirby Misperton, Malton, North Yorkshire, YO17 6UX. T: 0871-911 8000. Train: London St Pancras or Euston to Malton in three hours. flamingoland.co.uk
6: ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is the UK’s biggest zoo – it includes everything from farmyard animals, such as goats, pigs and sheep, to Giraffe Heights, where you can stand on a raised platform and come face to face with the animals. To mark the opening of the exhibit Hunting Dog, you can meet characters from Nickelodeon’s Paw Patrol (8-9 Apr). From £22.90. Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 2LF. T: 0344-225 1826. Train: St Pancras to Luton (then taxi).
7: Longleat Safari and Adventure Park
The first safari park outside Africa, which changed the way in which captive animals were kept and viewed by the public, has been going for more than 50 years. On a drive-through safari tour, you can watch cheetahs running at speeds of up to 70mph, observe the park’s two prides of lions and enjoy the antics of cheeky monkeys.
This year, the park plays host to a swarm of Marvellous Monsters, colossal bugs exhibited among the spectacular grounds. There is interactive fun, too, including giraffe feeding in the African Village and a whole host of family attractions at the Adventure Park. Get lost in the huge hedge maze, drift past the new gorilla colony on a Jungle Cruise and go on the Rockin’ Rhino ride. Also on site is Longleat House, a 16th-century stately home. The house is set in a huge garden created by ‘Capability’ Brown. From £28.85. Longleat, Warminster, Wiltshire, BA12 7NW. Train: London Paddington to Westbury in two hours. longleat.co.uk
All of the prices shown are the cheapest available when you book in advance. It is more expensive to buy a ticket on the day.