NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
A weekend in London. That sounds normal, doesn’t it? And when I say London, you might be thinking about this…
… about this…
… or about this, although this sight might be more familiar without all the scaffolding.
Yes, London is an ideal destination to spend a few days off. There’s much to see, much to do and there are plenty of cool bars to have a drink in the evening. Cool, that’s what I like. Yet, this specific trip isn’t meant for seeing the London Eye or getting drunk in Soho. This time I’m crossing the Channel to add some brand new roller coaster credits to my counter. London is also a perfect base for an amusement park trip. You’ll find Chessington World of Adventures southwest of the city, Legoland Windsor lies in the west and somewhere in between (in the immediate vicinity of London Heathrow Airport) you will find Thorpe Park. This thrill paradise is my first destination on Tuesday 10th September.
Air Antwerp flew me to London City Airport and I rely on London’s extensive train and tube network afterwards. Thorpe Park can easily be reached from London Waterloo Station. Just take a train to Staines, from where you can take a direct shuttle bus to the park. It all works incredibly well and I arrive at Thorpe Park’s main gate at approximately 11 AM. There are very few people at the baggage check and it’s quiet near the entrance as well. Those light crowds are nice and the sun is shining, so my day starts in the most perfect way.
I’m not expecting long lines today, but technical difficulties aren’t predictable. For that reason, it seems a good idea to start with Stealth. This is a launched roller coaster manufactured by Intamin. Stealth reaches its top speed of 130 km/h in less than two seconds and then it climbs a 60-metre tall top hat. That’s quite impressive, but this also represents two thirds of the total experience. The train actually reaches the final brakes after a mere 10 seconds. Although Stealth delivers an incredible thrill, I think it’s a shame that the layout is so short. The curvy second part of Xcelerator – a similar ride at Knott’s Berry Farm in California – feels a whole lot better. Luckily, it’s perfectly possible to experience the kick again and again and again this morning, thanks to a lovely 5-minute queue.
It’s not my first visit to Thorpe Park, but I’m able to ride no fewer than 4 new credits. I wasn’t a big dare devil in 2007, which made Colossus’ 10 inversions look too frightening to me. In addition, Nemesis Inferno had technical issues for most of the day, which meant that I couldn’t ride this inverted coaster. Thorpe Park has also built two new coasters since that year. And I don’t know if that’s a coincidence, but both are fitted with a pretty creepy theme. The first one is called The Swarm and it’s a B&M Wing Coaster with a post-apocalyptic setting. The area is dominated by a crashed plane, destroyed billboards, a broken fire truck and a burnt down church, which also serves as the station. The trains were designed as flying aliens and those bad guys seem to be responsible for this mess. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of creepy themes, but Thorpe Park did a great job with The Swarm. The fact that the ride is placed in a remote corner of the park, also adds to the dark atmosphere.
The Swarm isn’t just a beautiful coaster to look at; it’s also a great ride. Wing Coasters actually never disappointed me. They usually aren’t the biggest thrill machines, but they deliver great fun. That’s not any different here. The Swarm is wonderfully smooth, it contains a number of brilliant near misses and it’s just long enough. A second and third ride are therefore more than welcome, which is perfectly possible today. Despite the low crowds, all roller coasters run at maximum capacity. At The Swarm, for example, there are hardly any people on the platform, but staff members continue to dispatch trains at rapid pace. Thumbs up for Thorpe Park, because this wouldn’t be the case at many other European parks.
Despite their rather chilly climate, the British have a bizarre preference for water rides. Local parks know this. That’s why the United Kingdom is filled with soaking water rides. Thorpe Park’s main draw for water lovers is Tidal Wave. This Shoot-the-Chutes is 26 meters tall and it creates (as its name suggests) a huge wave. That makes Tidal Wave’s exit the right place to spot soaked leggings and damp training pants. Not that impressed by wet British fashion trends? Then you can still admire the ride’s decoration. Tidal Wave has an original storm theme that works surprisingly well. Still, this theme can’t convince me to get in the queue. Although it’s a pleasant 22°C, I really save such rides for the hottest days of Summer. For the same reason, I skip Rumba Rapids and a water slide called Storm Surge.
It’s been 12 years since my last visit to Thorpe Park and I don’t remember much of it. Yet one specific thing remained in my memory: a meaningless attraction called X:\ No Way Out. This was an indoor coaster that treated us to a backward ride through total darkness. The ride is still operational nowadays, but it’s known as The Walking Dead – The Ride since last year. The layout remained unchanged, but the trains are moving forward and a considerable amount of theming has been added. The result is pretty okay: the coaster is enjoyable and its creepy zombie atmosphere works well. Don’t expect any high-speed thrills (it’s actually just simple family coaster) but The Walking Dead is an entertaining ride for in between.
Thorpe Park focuses almost exclusively on thrills. Nowadays, the park seems to create those thrills primarily through creepy themes. During the previous decade, however, the park heavily invested in new roller coasters. In 2002, Thorpe Park managed to get the record of most inversions in one roller coaster thanks to the opening of Colossus. This was Intamin’s first 10-Inversion Coaster and that’s quite impressive. Unfortunately, this coaster type got a lot less unique during the past decade. Similar rides can be found in Russia, Italy, China and even Flamingoland (another British park) is planning to build one. And why?! I really don’t understand what parks like about this coaster, because the layout is very unbalanced. The second half of Colossus consists of five consecutive heartline rolls. That’s not just extremely disorienting, but also quite boring. I think that’s a shame, especially since Colossus’ first part is great. By the way: Colossus is smoother than I expected, but I liked Divo Ostrov’s version better thanks to its nicer restraints.
It’s September and Thorpe Park is currently getting ready for the upcoming Halloween season. Some horror mazes are added for the Fright Nights, but the park has a few permanent horror rides as well. The Swarm and The Walking Dead are two of them, but film franchise Saw is also represented here. There’s a walk-through and in 2009, the park opened a roller coaster called Saw – The Ride. We’re talking about a Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter, which isn’t exactly my favourite roller coaster type. I don’t like the uncomfortable shoulder restraints and these rides are often quite brutal. By the way: the word ‘brutal’ is an understatement when talking about Saw – The Ride. This is undoubtedly the most intense Euro-Fighter I’ve ever done. No idea what Thorpe Park did, but it seems as if they put the ride in a fast-forward mode. The lift hill is incredibly fast and the mid course brakes are completely switched off today. The result is an insanely intense ride full of heavy G-forces and ejector airtime. Seriously… this can’t be the speed this ride was designed for?! Anyway… I’d like to compliment Thorpe Park for the theming in the indoor part of this attraction. I’m not a huge fan of the horror theme, but the dark ride features some very surprising effects.
There aren’t any queues for the roller coasters and the same goes for Thorpe Park’s flat rides. Still, I’m not interested in riding these intense puke machines. I like watching the Flying Carpet, the Afterburner, the Enterprise and the TopScan called Samurai, but that’s it. The only flat ride I ride, is Rush. This is a so-called Screaming Swing. This giant swinging ride pleasantly surprised me at Dollywood, Liseberg and Cedar Point and that’s not any different today at Thorpe Park. I hate classic swinging ships, but this modern version is really enjoyable.
Hey there… what about another creepy attraction? Thorpe Park hasn’t got a classic haunted house, but they have Derren Brown’s Ghost Train instead. It opened in 2016 and it’s the latest major addition to Thorpe Park. This results in significant wait times, even during quiet weekdays like this one. I spend approximately 45 minutes in the queue and of course, that creates high expectations. Fortunately, the ride doesn’t disappoint. I don’t want to go over the whole experience, but let me give a brief summary: Derren Brown’s Ghost Train is a combined walk-through and VR experience. Although Virtual Reality doesn’t interest me at all, I appreciate it a lot better in this setting than on a roller coaster. Yet, it’s not the Virtual Reality that impresses me. Especially the visual show elements between the attraction’s two VR sections surprise me in a positive way. Derren Brown’s Ghost Train is a creepy experience that contains some unbelievable special effects. The total experience – which even extends into the souvenir shop at the exit – is therefore fantastic. This isn’t my favourite attraction at Thorpe Park, but it’s definitely the most surprising.
Derren Brown’s Ghost Train is the big exception, but the must-dos at Thorpe Park are mainly roller coasters. And when you’re planning to get a coaster bingo, you’ll have to ride seven of them. The park’s least fascinating credit is Flying Fish, a small-scale Powered Coaster built by Mack Rides. I’ve ridden this family roller coaster in 2007, so I can skip it today. Nemesis Inferno, however, is still missing on my list. That’s why I head to the park’s jungle-themed zone. This B&M Inverted Coaster is a stunningly beautiful machine: its burgundy-coloured tracks wind elegantly through the tropical vegetation and the volcano (in which the station is integrated) looks fantastic. Admittedly… theming doesn’t go any further than this: Nemesis Inferno wasn’t built half underground like its (half) namesake at Alton Towers. But can’t a roller coaster just be a roller coaster sometimes? Of course it can, especially if it’s such a brilliant ride as Nemesis Inferno. Yes, I’m a huge fan of this ride. It’s not exceptionally tall, fast or long, but it contains everything you’d expect from a good inverted coaster. The inversions are intense, the curves are very powerful and it’s incredibly smooth. I’d almost commit a crime to get such a perfect roller coaster in Belgium.
Thorpe Park is London’s ultimate thrill destination and it definitely lives up to that name. Families with young children have few reasons to come here, because this park is mainly focused on inversions, speed and creepy rides. Such thrill parks are generally not my thing. I love dark rides, I appreciate a well-themed family roller coaster and I consider atmosphere more important than record-breaking statistics. Nevertheless, Thorpe Park pleasantly surprised me during this visit. The park isn’t just the European version of Six Flags. Staff members are very friendly, the park is spotlessly clean and the overall ride capacity is very high. Many other theme parks would reduce capacity during the low season, but Thorpe Park doesn’t. Every roller coaster operated at maximum capacity, making queues virtually empty. In other words: there’s a very positive vibe in this park. And I’m sure that the average amusement park visitor is able to sense this vibe.
Thorpe Park is a must-do destination for coaster enthusiasts. Stealth is a world-class shot of adrenaline, The Swarm is an outstanding Wing Coaster, Derren Brown’s Ghost Train is unique and the park also features a brilliant Inverted Coaster. I enjoyed my afternoon a lot and I thoroughly hope that I’ll enjoy my next destination just as much. The second day of my British trip brings me to Chessington World of Adventures, which is run by the same company as Thorpe Park. To be continued.