Thorpe Park: Underwhelming & Overpriced

As much as I hate to say it, Thorpe Park has had its day. Since my last visit two years ago, two new rides have popped up (Storm Surge and The Swarm) but little has changed elsewhere and the park seems to be in pretty poor state throughout.

On arriving at the park a little before the 10.00am opening time, I was surprised to see a line of 300-400 people stretching into the car park. This line was made up of people who had purchased tickets and who were waiting for the park to open. When the gates to the park opened (right on time), visitors were led through puddles and gravel in order to get to the entrance. Thorpe Park should either keep ticket desks closed until 10.00am (allowing visitors to avoid standing in a car park) or open the park slightly earlier, but keeping the rides closed until the official opening time. I dread to think how chaotic it might have been on a Saturday or Sunday when visitor numbers will be much greater.

Like others, we were keen to get to the newest attraction – The Swarm – which opened earlier in the year and is the UK’s first winged rollercoaster. The queue time was around 30 minutes (the longest queue of the day) and the ride itself was actually quite exciting, although short in duration. On leaving the station, the coaster climbs to 127ft, inverts straight away (one of five) and then works its way around half a mile of track. The ride was a real favourite and definitely on par with the exciting Stealth rollercoaster, which launches riders at 80mph, 200ft into the air.

A weekday visit meant shorter queue times, and, in some cases, no queuing at all. For the better rides, a wait of 10-15 minutes was necessary, but the family-friendly rides were just a couple of minutes e.g. Loggers Leap (log flume), Flying Fish (rollercoaster), Chief Ranger’s Carousel, Storm in a Teacup etc. Some of the rides in the park were closed; Colossus, Samurai and Slammer being the bigger and better of those out of action. Samurai had actually been taken to pieces and its parts were spread over a vast area, including across the neighbouring railway track. A sign said that the ride was undergoing refurbishment and that it would open again in 2013. When riding Rush, we thought that it too was experiencing technical problems, when it came to an abrupt end. Returning back to ground level, the ride operatives chatted for a few moments and then released us from our seats. It wasn’t really worth the 5-minute queue time!

Walking around the park, it was sad to see a once brilliant attraction falling into such a bad state of repair. A number of the rides that we queued for came to an occasional halt as a result of a technical problem. Nemesis Inferno stopped working for around 15 minutes, and although the staff were keen to keep everybody informed, the many announcements suggested that a different ride was at fault – Detonator, for example. Similarly, a number of the buildings across the park were in need of repair or decoration. Excessive cracks and peeling in paintwork gave many of the attractions a tired and uncared-for appearance.

For me, Thorpe Park lacks any atmosphere. As a theme park, this is a place where people go to have a good time and to have a memorable and enjoyable day. Walking around, the only sounds you will hear are the foul language of some of the other, younger visitors to the park and occasional screams from the rides, but no music whatsoever. As well as playing some music, I think the park would benefit enormously from some employing some entertainers. The current workforce seem to be limited to ride operatives, shop/stall workers and cleaning staff. There is really little in the way of engagement between the park and the customers. As somebody who spent a lot of time in Florida (undeniably the theme park capital of the world), there is a stark contrast between our theme parks and theirs.

The park has an adequate selection of places to eat and each of the options are affordable. Big names such as a KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut offer their usual menus, but at a slightly higher price than the high street. Other food counters and restaurants serve grilled/BBQ food, Mexican food, sandwiches and pastries etc. Be aware that during less busy periods (i.e. on a Tuesday, when I visited), the majority of the food counters and stalls do not open.

Merlin Entertainments, the owners of Thorpe Park, go well out of their way to ensure that visitors to the park are charged as much as possible in just about every area of the park. Visiting Thorpe Park, you will incur costs if you plan to arrive by any means other than on foot. The bus service that operates between Staines (railway station and bus station) costs £3.50 per adult and £2.50 per child (return) with a journey time of just 10 minutes. The car park is now a paid-for facility with customers being charged £4.00 per vehicle – again not a reasonable charge. Once inside the park, aside from being charged over the odds for drinks and snacks, ride photographs are charged at £8.00 (reduced by half if visitors commit to buying a ridiculous number of the things – tat including mousemats, framed photographs and keyrings) and the water pistols dotted around the water rides are £1.00 a go. When you consider that adult entry to the park is normally charged at £42.00, it is frustrating and disappointing to be charged over-the-odds for these optional extras.

For the future, I would like to see Merlin Entertainments spending its money more wisely. Forget new rides (there are already enough great rides in the park) and instead bring existing attractions up to a better standard (both in terms of functionality and cleanliness). Loggers Leap, in particular, was in a very sorry state, showing signs of age and neglect.

All in all, it was a good day, but I hope that the company springs into action when the park closes for the season in just a few weeks. Work is needed throughout, and with ticket prices as much as they are, I am doubtful that the money required for these works is in short supply!

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