Family Theme Parks
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 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, which opens this month, manipulates the human mind.
Derren says: ‘The process of creating this new experience has been the most challenging of my career – so much so that it has taken 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 headymix of magic, suggestion, psychology and misdirection.’
The resort has 30 rides, including the thrilling Tidal Wave, which has a 26-metre drop; the UK’s first winged roller coaster, The Swarm; and the world’s largest speed swing, Rush. From 17 Mar. From £27.99. Thorpe Park, Staines Rd, Chertsey, Surrey, KT16 8PN. 0871 663 1673. Train: London Waterloo to Staines in 30 minutes, then take a shuttle bus (leaves every 15-20 minutes) to the park.
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. In May, the park opens a rollercoaster restaurant, where your meal is served on a 400m steel track – travelling faster than Mo Farah when he won gold at the 2012 Olympics!
Even if all you want to do is relax, you can do that too by strolling the park’s flower gardens, visiting the spa or catching a show. From 19 Mar. From £37.80. Alton, Staffordshire, ST10 4DB. 0871 222 3330. Train: London Euston to Stoke-on-Trent
in 90 minutes, then a 30-minute bus ride.
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 55 rides, live shows and attractions. New for this year, you can see The Lego Movie 4D A New Adventure and experience being sprayed with water and being shaken in your seat as you watch the action.
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. You can also see your favourite Star Wars scenes made from 1.5 million bricks, and get lost in a maze.
Our tip? Arrive early to beat the queues and visit rides furthest from the entrance first. From 11 Mar. From £37. Winkfield Rd, Windsor, SL4 4AY. 0871 222 2001. Train: London Waterloo or Paddington to Windsor & Eton Central or Windsor & Eton Riverside in 30 minutes, then a shuttle bus.
Chessington World Of Adventures
Chessington World of Adventures is a theme park, zoo and Sea Life Centre all rolled into one, so you’ll want to get there early to fit it all in. When the rides and attractions reopen this month, meet Po, the star of Kung Fu Panda 3, and see animatronic pandas in a new interactive live show, Pandamonium. The zoo also has more than 1,000 animals, including penguins, sealions, condors bred on-site and Mojo – the blue and gold macaw.
Also new for 2016 is a male Asiatic lion and a revamped Trail of the Kings, which has new treasures to discover, both in the zoo. You can also extend the fun and stay overnight. Why not experience glamping, or glamorous camping, in one of the park’s new tents?
Daredevils can challenge themselves to loop around the treetops on the Vampire rollercoaster or hop on Kobra for a spin at 43mph – if you dare. If that sounds too much for your heart to cope with, then jump aboard Zufari for an expedition among rare white rhino, zebra and giraffe.
Meanwhile, over in the aquarium, you can get close to coral that glows in the dark, upside-down jellyfish and electric-blue Regal Tang fish. From 18 Mar. £47 adult; £43 child. Leatherhead Rd, Chessington, Surrey, KT9 2NE. 0871 663 447. Train: Various London stations to Chessington South in 35 minutes.
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, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. On a drive-through safari tour, you’ll be able to watch cheetahs running at speeds of up to 70mph, observe the park’s two prides of lions and enjoy the antics of the cheeky monkeys.
There’s 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, who also marks an anniversary this year – 300 years! From £28.85. Longleat, Warminster, Wiltshire, BA12 7NW. 01985 844400. Train: London Paddington to Westbury in two hours.
This Yorkshire theme park caters for the whole family with nearly 40 rides and a well-stocked zoo. Buy Q Buster tickets in advance to skip the lines at seven of the park’s eight thrill rides, including Hero, a new corkscrew rollercoaster that gives every rider an unobstructed front-seat view of its terrifying twists and turns. Younger visitors can get a taste of theme park magic on junior versions of classic thrill rides, such as Frog Hopper, a scaled-down replica of the park’s Cliff Hanger vertical drop.
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 and lemurs to sealions, penguins and tigers. Simply choose your favourite animal and start to get acquainted
(not included in entrance fee). From £31. Kirby Misperton, Malton, North Yorkshire,
YO17 6UX. 0871 911 8000. Train:
London St Pancras or Euston to Malton in three hours.
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.