Like a Tarantino film the following blog posts start in the middle before reaching the end and then showing you the start. If you’re reading this post before Pickard’s account of our Legoland experience then there is a small chance you’ll understand what I’m on about. Chronologically this is second but by nature of the way that blog posts are arranged on the page this will be nearer the top and I would imagine more likely to be read first. If you’d like to experience our theme trip account in the correct order of events I suggest skipping down to Pickard’s post and then returning here. If you’d like the Pulp Fiction experience then read on…
So after an early start we packed into the car and headed out for Thorpe Park. The trip from the Marriott to Thorpe wasn’t too bad at all. Short drive along the M4 to the M25 and then a couple of junctions south, coming off at Staines (massive). The route off the motorway couldn’t have been easier really. I’d never driven to Thorpe from this direction before, I’d always come from the south but the journey from Windsor was not a problem. Coming off at junction 13 we went towards Staines, missing the busy bridge and taking the road heading for Chertsey and Laleham. Took just under half an hour from hotel to park, can’t complain really!
I guess one of the major advantages of working for Play and Stay is the opportunity to visit the theme parks for free! Upon arrival at Thorpe Park we presented our passes and carried straight on into the park, dodging the large queue for tickets. I was surprised at the size of the queue to enter, even at 10am, given how few people there were at Legoland on our previous day. Most of the guests were teenagers though, so I guess the local schools were on holiday for the week. Judging by the amount of people I guess it really shows how Thorpe has captured the teenage audience well, the difference was quite noticeable from Legoland, and again at Chessington later in the day.
Once you enter the park you’re confronted with the dominating sight of Stealth looming in the background. The height difference between it and the other rides really is glaringly obvious. Given the growing number of people entering the park we decided to ride Stealth first of all, before the queue grew too long! I must say, waiting 15 minutes in a queue for the ride was really great after my last visit, where I had to wait nearly two hours. Going on Stealth I knew exactly what to expect and how the ride is, but still nothing can really prepare you for the shock of the speed and acceleration. It’s really quite breathtaking. What I had forgotten about however was the drop once you’re over the peak. Looking down into essentially nothing, you really do feel like you’re dropping out of the sky towards the ground. Of all the rides at all the parks over the week Stealth still provides the ultimate thrill, I wouldn’t really recommend it to the weak willed or those unsure on rollercoasters, but the young crowd at Thorpe Park were lapping it up. I saw many people instantly rejoin the queue for another ride once theirs was over.
After starting the day on Stealth we tried to fit in as many rides as we could before we had to leave for Chessington. Two hours at Thorpe Park just isn’t enough! We went on Nemesis first of all, the queue here was slightly longer and I could really see the park starting to fill up. Still, the ride delivered and even seemed quite peaceful after riding stealth. I do like the hanging style coasters though, makes things a lot more interesting through the loops and corkscews as you can really see the sky for a brief moment.
Once off Nemesis I wanted to head over to try out X as it had been closed on my previous visits. Once through the darkness of the queue line we were on the unique backwards coaster. I have to say, I was disappointed. The ride has a lot of potential to be really good but just doesn’t quite deliver. The dark is used well in the queue line, and builds the atmosphere and theme very well, making the whole experience seem quite sinister and shrouded in mystery. The ride itself is just pitch black the whole way, and while disconcerting given the speed you’re going at there isn’t really any references to see the speed and directions. Some more theming on the inside of the ride would really improve the experience I think. Also, they run a couple of trains at once on the ride, and it stops every now and again. I think that stops can be used very effectively on coasters to build tension, especially before a large drop or series of loops. However on X because you’re in the dark and facing backwards you can’t really see what’s coming so the effect of having stops in the rides feels rather lost and just ends up feeling like you’re stopping so you don’t catch up to the other trains. Perhaps the feeling of X was tempered by riding the more modern Nemesis and Stealth before it. I can’t fault Thorpe for trying something different but I would recommend trying all the other rides before X if you’re limited for time like we were.
Sadly we were running out of time already and the queue for Colossus had grown to over half an hour long by the time we were done with X, so we didn’t have enough time to ride it. Knowing we were missing out on Colossus we went round some of the smaller rides without queues before leaving. The rest of the team seemed to really enjoy the water slides. I figured I’d give them a miss having been soaked the previous day at Legoland, and didn’t fancy getting my only pair of jeans wet again. Still managed to get wet watching the ride though! With that our brief Thorpe Park visit was over and we were back in the car heading for Chessington World of Adventures and Zoo and Sea Life Centre and Kitchen Sink.
Three junctions round the M25, and just 20 minutes in the car and we were at Chessington. I never really appreciated just how close the parks were until I’d driven it myself. Picking a central hotel means that you really can visit all three parks in a weekend. Could make a pretty nice holiday I think. Anyway, after parking up at Chessington we were due a lunch appointment at the newly built Chessington Holiday Inn Hotel.
We met two members of staff, Saskia and Lee, at the Holiday Inn who were kind enough to give us an introduction to the hotel and a tour round the rooms and facilities. The hotel hasn’t even been open a year at the time of writing yet seems to be doing very well, with all the family rooms sold out during the Easter holidays. The hotel itself is decorated in an African safari theme, which seems fitting given it’s proximity to the zoo. In fact, next year there will be zebras and giraffes grazing in the fields surrounding the hotel, all visible from the business conference rooms (aptly named Serengeti Rooms 1, 2 & 3) and many hotel rooms. I guess that’s something that no other hotel can offer you! The rooms themselves were immaculately presented and cleaned, I can’t really fault the hotel on anything at all. They had top notch facilities, including an indoor heated swimming pool and a gym which was just going through the final stages of installation as we were looking round. After thanking Lee and Saskia for our tour we ate and headed out to the park.
Again time and the elements were our enemy. With only a couple of hours to view Chessington we had to pack in as much as possible. And of course in true British fashion the heavens opened as we walked through the gates. Having left the Legoland ponchos in the car we quickly dived into the Sea Life centre to avoid the rain and yet another drenching. I’d like to point out at this stage how the British weather always seems to conspire against me. I can go outside into theme parks and get nothing but rain and cold weather and yet as I sit here typing this, it’s a warm(ish) sunny day outside, and not a drop of rain. Still, what can you do. I’d also like to point out the irony of entering a Sea Life centre to avoid water.
I was quite impressed with the Sea Life centre. For what is essentially a giant tent they’ve constructed somethin
g that feels very permanent. The genius of the Sea Life centre really is in the design. There are parts where the fish are literally swimming around and over you, and you can see them at all angles as they glide gracefully though the water. For me the highlights were seeing rays and small sharks. Although they can’t keep anything too large at the centre there was still no shortage of interesting creatures, complete with facts and figures all about them on the walls next to the viewing glass. Once the rain dried up we were out into the rest of the park.
Again, I was actually quite impressed at how much Chessington had to offer. For what is billed as a family park it actually has quite a lot of thrill rides and options for older guests, as well as the full range of childrens rides and attractions. I would say that Chessington does a far better job of satisfying the whole family than Legoland does, which seems to be far more suited to young children. If your family is a mix of older and younger children I would definitely recommend Chessington over Legoland. Of course, if your children are all under ten then Legoland is the place for you. And conversely if you don’t have children then Thorpe Park is where you want to go! The rides we experienced at Chessington were for the most part pretty good. The Vampire was a relatively relaxing coaster and a good median point between kids ride and adult thrill ride. I can remember going on this ride when I was ten years old and being terrified, and here I am now describing it as relaxing! We went on the Dragons Fury, which was an instant hit with the Play and Stay team. Akin to the Pinball Wizard at Alton Towers the ride spins round and round as it careers down the track, and gives some genuinely unsettling moments as you’re not quite sure what direction you’re supposed to be going in. One ride I do recommend you give a miss however is the Rattlesnake. It’s very jerky and stop start and can be quite uncomfortable at times. However despite this and the fact that we didn’t get to see the zoo or even all the rides I enjoyed our time at Chessington and I would definitely recommend it. I would say it really is the one park that has something to offer everyone.
I’d like to end this blog post with a word of advice. We were advised at the Holiday Inn that we shouldn’t leave any later than 15:30 as we’d get caught up in holiday traffic. Well it can’t be that bad can it? Another hour in the park can’t hurt surely… How wrong we were. Due to a fatal accident on the M25 it took us three and a half hours to get home when it should take around 90 minutes. Five people in a Ford Fiesta isn’t the most comfortable experience in the world, particularly if you’re in the back! So my word of advice is this; whatever you do don’t drive home at rush hour on Easter weekend like we did, although I guess given the circumstances I’m glad we got home safely. Once home I collapsed and fell asleep for eleven straight hours, knackered after the trip. I have to say that after having done one, I would recommend a theme park break to anyone. Just make sure you pick the right attractions.