A special report by Michael Mander, with assistance from Alex Dunne
Britain can pride itself on having a repertoire of impressive and exciting thrill rides. While they may not be the biggest or the fastest, many would strongly argue that they are the best. But is it true?
I have travelled all over the globe, riding some of the tallest and fastest rides in the world. Be it Port Aventura’s incredibly quick Furious Baco, or the almost magical twists and turns on Harry Potter in Universal Orlando. What I’ve learnt over the years is that the thrill ride industry in Britain is like no other in the world.
Disneyland Paris, 2013, and Space Mountain has been operating for almost 20 years. The ride is themed on an exciting mission to space, with lights and special effects that make it an all round incredible ride. Much of the ride is in darkness, similar to Thorpe Park’s X. However, unlike X, Space Mountain is a fast twisting, turning and looping thrill ride that has you stumbling around like a drunkard when you get off. Whereas with X, it’s clear what this ride is meant to be: its detailed theming means that there is no place to look where you won’t feel like you are in outer space. X, on the other hand, is themed around who-knows-what, and you’d struggle to look anywhere to feel like you weren’t in an abandoned warehouse with a roller coaster track dropped in.
The theming does get better in one Thorpe Park’s latest ride: The Swarm. The winged coaster an incredibly impressive feat of theming, with an aeroplane wing, fire truck and ambulance lying on the ground around the thrilling twists of the ride. The music is intense, the ride is exciting and the theming is authentic (particularly the newest addition of the fire ball, incredible!).
The UK also has one thing the United States can never have: a love of history. The UK is home to numerous historical sights, as well as historical theme parks.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach is nearly 120 years old. Opening in 1896, the park is an asset to the UK Theme Park industry, and they are still keeping up with the big parks – adding new rides regularly, most recently Wallace and Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic, which is a good ride for all the family: from the kids all the way to providing a “Cracking” ride for Grandad.
So Britain’s theming can be a bit hit and miss, though we’ve certainly got the history factor on our side. But what about the aspect on any park that can make it great: innovation.
Universal Florida, 2010, and the latest ride is the fast-paced roller coaster Rip Ride Rock’it. The new ride allows you to choose the track that will be played directly into your ears during your roller coaster experience. This truly is unique and, while it seems corny and pointless, the choice of song genuinely adds massively to your ride experience. I nearly laughed all the way around the track with ‘Night Fever’ being played into my ears.
This is the sort of unique and revolutionary roller coaster experience that the UK may lack. Sometimes we’re so focused on making roller coasters taller, faster and with more loops that we miss out on coming up with new ideas that improve the ride experience. We miss the innovation that other theme parks have.
But our efforts to make rides taller, faster and scarier than ever before are sometimes without avail. The competition is so fierce; any records we can break will not be kept for long. While our rides are some of the scariest I have ever been on (in terms of thrill value alone) they lack the innovation the rest of the world manages.
So what do we need to do? Britain needs to up the game – and we’re certainly making a start. The theming of The Swarm is fantastic, and the two back rows being reversed is completely innovative and new. The ‘marmalisation’ idea of The Smiler is a pioneering new concept and, while it might not be something every other ride is adopting soon, it’s certainly a well-grabbed opportunity by Alton. TH13TEEN has even come up with something new and original.
This is what we need! Less of the ‘more loops’ ‘steeper hill’ rides, more of the ‘totally new’ ‘never before done’ rides – with a complex back story and an atmosphere that fits. When our parks are competing with the movie brands such as Disney and Universal we’ve got to up our game if we want to be the best in world!