The UK Theme Park Line-Up Is...Good, Actually?

Do you ever wake up one day and realise you've bought into a bit of a lie? I'm guessing it's the fact that we haven't really been able to escape this island much in the past 18 months or so, but in recent times I've found myself with a new found appreciation for themed attractions here in the UK, and it's really made me consider how far off the mark the consensus that 'the UK theme park landscape isn't very good' really is. When you have the opportunity to step back and reevaluate a little it's quite plain to see that the UK theme park line-up is...good, actually? Here's why!

We have some fantastic natural settings for our parks here in the UK. Typically if we look at the US for example, the regional parks do tend to be dumped on some pretty uninspiring areas of land (obviously there are exceptions) but here in the UK we're quite lucky in that our parks tend to have been built by millionaire lunatics and thus there's some pretty extraordinary settings to come out of that. Of course we have the glorious Alton Towers, set in the grounds of the stately home itself including the gorgeous Gardens, but let's not forget the others. 

How about Blackgang Chine on the Isle of White, the UK's oldest theme park literally hanging off of the side of a cliff and looking out towards the sea. Or what about Gulliver's Matlock Bath, nestled amongst the treetops on a hillside amongst the stunning Heights of Abraham complete with real caverns at the edge of the Peak District. There's many areas of gorgeous natural beauty here in the UK and we're lucky that many of our theme parks are set right in the middle of them. 

OK shocking I know because 'there's no airtime in the UK' (lies) but I truly believe we have a fantastic coaster line-up across our major parks. Obviously my personal favourite Stealth, one of the tallest and fastest coasters in Europe, is a great example to begin with. Then we have the record breakers, or the 'world's firsts' - coasters that weren't afraid to try and do something different to put their name on the map. I'm talking Oblivion, the world's first dive coaster, Air, the world's first flying coaster and Colossus, the world's first ten looping coaster and record holder for many years. Just because they're no longer the record holders or first and only of their kind any more doesn't mean they're still not great coasters we should be proud to have on our doorstep. They may not be the best in the world, but they're different and varied and I love that we have such a choice of different coaster experiences to choose from!

And then of course we have coasters that are just excellent in their own right. I'm talking The Ultimate (YES I KNOW it's closed right now, but humour me a little), one of the most unique and brutal coasters in existence and for all intents and purposes should never have been built and yet still was for some reason. Fiery GCI coaster Wicker Man, that decided to somehow turn around and be absolutely brilliant fun this season, and of course, the legendary Nemesis that pairs incredible theming and lore with a kickass layout for a world-beating ride experience every time. Stunning stuff. 

Alongside the mainstream UK theme parks we also have a fantastic selection of preserved heritage rides. Of course here we need to start with Blackpool Pleasure Beach, a park packed with amusement relics that are still alive and kicking and delighting riders to this days much as they were when they originally opened decades ago. Something I love doing in Blackpool is letting my imagination wander and picturing what it would be like stood in this exact spot 50 years ago - and I love that many of the rides operating today would still have been standing back then. 

But Blackpool isn't the only place that's preserved the UK amusement park history - such joy can be found all along the British coastlines. Head to Great Yarmouth's Pleasure Beach to enjoy the UK's only remaining coaster still operating with a brake-man and head along the promenade to Joyland to ride the Tyrolean Tub-twist, the UK's only remaining Virginia Reel style coaster. Or head to Dreamland Margate in Kent to take a ride on the lovingly restored Scenic Railway before checking out some of the preserved and restored buildings and classic flat rides at the park too. Our coastal parks are like livings museums and I always love taking a trip out to these places to appreciate the UK amusement heritage still standing and operating today. 

OK so Europe goes in a little harder on the...political incorrect side of quirkiness but many of even our modern UK attractions are full of zany British weirdness that just wouldn't work anywhere else. The old school Blackpool dark rides have this in bucketloads from the horrifying animatronics in Alice in Wonderland to the giant Egyptian cankles of the River Caves (they make me howl every time). But even the newer dark rides at the Pleasure Beach like Wallace & Gromit Thrill-O-Matic are just so silly: where else could you find a homage to the movie Ghost including baking bread smells on a ride? 

Head to Adventure Island in Southend-on-Sea for a more modern approach to British ridiculousness and ride the likes of Adventureville for some colourful WTFness or enter the pyramid at Fantasy Island to feel like you've been transported to another world entirely. And ride a water slide that will get you completely soaked fully-clothed before heading back out to face the North-East coastal winds for a truly joyful British experience. 

Our mainstream parks aren't devoid of this randomness either: hear silly fish-puns galore on the Flying Fish at Thorpe Park, immerse yourself in fart-tastic silliness on Gangsta Granny The Ride at Alton Towers Resort (complete with smells - you've been warned!) or talk to a mystical elephant tree at Chessington World of Adventures if Banyan happens to be awake on your visit to Wild Asia when visiting the park. There's so many quirky little weird things at all of our parks that I don't think would be quite as charming in any other country. 

OK, hear me out. I actually think our dark rides are...kind of great? I think they can be split into two categories: ridiculous, kitschy stuff that's fun because it's weird and quirky (see above) or genuinely impressive dark rides that I will ride on every visit. So let's talk about that second category, shall we? I'll kick things off with the ever divisive Derren Brown's Ghost Train. I rode this again last week for the first time in a while and...there's just nothing else like it in the world. It's SO impressive with how much it crams into the attraction: illusion, special effects, VR, scares, huge set pieces, live acting. Rumour has it the Disney Imagineers rode it and it inspired them to build Rise of the Resistance. I think it's an attraction we really take for granted here in the UK, if for its ambition alone. 

And that's just scratching the surface - we have the epic water ride Valhalla, packed full of ridiculously over the top practically effects combined with a genuinely thrilling water flume ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the stunningly atmospheric Hex at Alton Towers that brings to life a real local legend within the walls of the Tower itself, oozing with gloom and malaise (themes we tend to bring to life fairly well for some reason in our British attractions!) and the beautifully reinvigorated Gruffalo River Ride adventure, that always feels like being lost in a fairytale to me. We're spoilt for choice when it comes to dark rides in the UK, yes maybe not high-tech, high-thrill dark rides, but we've certainly got our fair share, especially if you're willing to head off the beaten track a little to ride the lesser known ones!


So yes, as much as I am gagging to get back out there visiting theme parks around the world again, I wanted to take a step back to really showcase the fantastic attractions we're lucky to have here in the UK. Mostly to remind myself that actually, we don't have it half bad!

What do you think? Does the UK dark ride line-up bring you joy? Do you think the UK has a fantastic coaster line-up? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to have a chat!

Talk later xoxo,