Here it is - the 2013 Review of the Thorpe Park season! I'll be sticking to a similar formulaic approach as the 2011 (sorry about the pictures being broken here; I'll be sorting it out asap!) and the 2012 Season Reviews I've done. If anyone has any suggestions on how to improve the style / format of it all, let me know! Sorry about the length of this; it's hard to a balance between a detailed review and keeping it short. Also, for anyone wondering, I won't be doing any for other parks, simply due to the fact I haven't visited them enough to do a 'season review' like this one. Watch this space though - who knows what the next season will bring for me? And so, with that out of the way, in the words of Thorpe Movie Studios' Director, "get ready to roll...lights, camera, action!"
We all know the story now - an alien race has attacked Thorpe Park, leaving destruction in its path. Unfortunately, this didn't bring in the guests last season - maybe the park's marketing was too effective and people actually thought real aliens had invaded? So, the thrill factor of the ride was upped - giving us the billboard and the 2 backwards rows. The general consensus is that, simply put, the billboard is a great addition, which is visually pleasing on and off ride, and creates what many regard as the best near miss of the ride. So Thorpe really hit the nail on the head there.
The backwards rows, however, have divided opinion a lot more. It certainly creates a unique and interesting experience, but it does detract from the 'point' of Swarm. That said, it still is a crowd pleaser, so it's not all bad. The main problem which seems to have arose from it is that of the station queue are being congested, and loading procedures sometimes being affected because of it. I noticed towards the end of the season, the backwards passes were scrapped in favour of just going backwards after seeing the queue size, so maybe that's the way forward? (Pun NOT intended!) I also see that Heide Park's wing coaster is having bag storage in the station area, so if that works out, I'd love to see that implemented for Swarm to solve the problem of the crowded bag area.
All in all, Swarm's touch ups this year are welcome to all, keeping a great ride experience and improving it with more large-scale theming.
The billboard, featuring the winning competition slogan.
The reverse of the billboard.
Swarm is still one of, if not, the, most photogenic rides on park.
Another 'New for 2013', though not heavily advertised, was the rethemed X. Finally, after closed season upon closed season of rumours that it would be given attention, the rumours were true! Forward facing trains, individual lap bars, a lowered height restriction, a vague theme, lights, music all in one - it added up to a whole lot of potential for what was likely a cheap-ish retheme. Now, my first go on the new X happened when the block brakes were still on the ride. It created a slow, boring and unenergetic ride which was a shadow of its older self in my opinion. Being a fan of X:\ No Way Out, it was hard for me to see how the park could successfully improve it.
However, my goes after that were without the block brakes. And the ride got better. And better. And better...you get the picture. I love it now. Everything about it just works; it's just a fun little ride which everyone can enjoy, and was something that was really missing in Thorpe's line up. As someone who remain sceptical over an overhaul of the ride, I'm really glad it's worked out and given the ride a new lease of life!
In 2003, the public felt the heat of Nemesis Inferno for the first time. 10 years later, and the fire is getting hotter and hotter! Inferno ran brilliantly this year, giving a faster and more relentless ride than ever before. It just goes the show that even B&M Inverters which are seen as 'boring' or 'unforceful' can still grow into something which can pack a punch. The tunnel's effects were a bit hit and miss, yes, but for the most part, I think they've been pretty good this season.
What speaks more volume about Inferno than I could ever say, though, is what I saw back on a cold, snowy April's day this season. The park wasn't busy at all, and rides had a maximum of a 5 minute queue, with 5 minute queues. Inferno, however, had a consistent 20-30 minute queue throughout the day, not because of slow loading procedures or anything, but simply because it was pulling in the crowds. Goes to show you don't need some amazing gimmick to create a coaster which will keep people coming back...
Inferno on a sunny day.
Inferno on its 10th birthday (look at that queue!)
The Other Thrill Rides
In a season where the park has aimed to slightly shift its target market so it's not all about thrills, the park's thrill rides themselves have had some mixed fortunes.
Stealth has had a pretty successful season, with no major breakdowns coming to light. It's nice to see a ride which was previously having a few troubles here and there be continually running smoothly. I love how the park use the ride's plaza area for loads of small little things, like Dr Pepper stuff and the ice cream event, making it feel like it is not only the 'icon' ride of the park, but also the icon area. Also, the Ice Cream event photoshoot was massive fun - 20+ rides on Stealth on a summer morning is always a great way to wake!
Colossus and Saw, known as the two rough rides on park, have also had decent seasons. Whilst Colossus is no longer the coaster with the most inversions in the world (or even the UK; thanks Smiler...), it's still got the 'world's first' to draw people in. It needs a spruce up, yes, but hopefully that will come sooner rather than later - after all, the park themselves have said they're keen on the idea when the time is right! Saw is a very Marmite ride; most people seem to have a strong dislike for it, whereas a few have a soft spot for it. I'm in the minority who enjoy it and feel that this season has been alright for the ride. Effects have been good on the whole, and I still don't think the ride is rough. If I have one criticism of the ride, though, it is that the outdoor audio is broken / turned off / too quiet to hear (I have no idea which); really would like to see that rectified.
Slammer started off the season really well (if anyone had been asked to place a bet on it working throughout days of snow, most people would likely have kept their money...), but it unfortunately hit its snag around the half way point of the season. It's a shame to see a ride which is having so much time and money invested having so many problems (and, as far as I'm aware, it's not reoccurring problems, it's usually a different problem each time). Hopefully 2014 will be 'the season' where it manages to be pretty much problem-free as you do wonder how many more long periods of downtime the ride has to have before the park say enough.
Slammer's S&S brother, Rush, has remained pretty consistent during the season, which is good news. It's been a bit of a shame to have shorter ride cycles this season compared to other seasons, but I assume there's a reason behind this. Detonator and it's shiny new restraints has been brilliant as ever; always gives you 'that feeling', and never fails to deliver. Vortex has been feeling very 'juddering' this season though, which has lead to an experience which makes me feel rather queasy unfortunately. Fingers crossed that this closed season will see the ride given a little bit more TLC.
Samurai also had a bit of trouble this season.
Detonator stands tall as the park's most consistently good flat ride.
The Water Rides
With the charge in target market becoming obvious just before summer time, the park's water rides played a bigger role than normal this time around. For a park the size of Thorpe, I think 5 water rides is a on the larger side, so why shouldn't the park put them in the limelight a bit more?
The season began with everyone fearing that the removal of Loggers Leap's tunnel would ruin the ride. Fortunately, not all of the tunnel was removed, and the ride experience isn't really affected by it at all. Of course, this is no reason for the park not to replace the tunnel, as I bet for first timers, the indoor lift is somewhat of a surprise. Other than that, Loggers has remained on good form for the most part, though seemed to struggle a bit towards the end of season. Also, the smell after the tunnel seems to have gone away / become less potent; if that's the park's doing, then yay!
Rumba Rapids is a ride high on my list (maybe top) to get a bit of attention. It doesn't need too much, a bit of work inside the tunnel, a fresh lick of paint and hey presto, it's pretty much done. The thing is, even though it's a short ride, rapids rides are the perfect ride for everyone and can work on any level. Tidal Wave is a ride I don't do, but it still looks as striking and wet as ever, so no complaints! Depth Charge's new boats are presumably heavier, as I've found boats to go faster and further, which is great fun.
As for Storm Surge, well...I'll let you fill in the gap here for yourself...
Tidal Wave...operating in the snow.
A variety of TPM members show off their Storm Surge reactions...
All the Rest
Not much else to say really about the other rides. It was nice, but a bit strange actually, to see the Teacups be repainted with the Tetley branding half way through the season - goes to show that they are working towards a good look for the park. Other rides like Quantum and Zodiac were doing as well as ever I felt, and rides like Rocky Express and Flying Fish were nice fillers which will no doubt become more popular as the family market builds all the more.
A blank Teacups midway through the season.
Despite supposedly closing at around 5pm for Fright Nights, Rocky Express stayed open much longer. Perhaps there's more demand for the ride than the park realised!
Thorpe Park Mash Up
Mash Up ran for a second year, again in conjunction with Ministry of Sound. The fact that the previous couple of Easter events only lasted one season must say that the name and style of Mash Up was appealing. Unfortunately, I didn't go to the event this season, but I expect it was much the same as last season's, which worked well, so no problems there!
Sun Scream and Dr Pepper
Sun Scream returned for what I think was its fifth season, and was again sponsored by Dr Pepper. The more family-friendly direction the park were heading saw no stunt show, but instead a 'chill zone' take the arena, sand-sculpting be in the smaller half of Neptune's Beach and other things for everyone to enjoy. Then there was the Dr Pepper red button roaming around the park long after Sun Scream had finished, giving everyone the chance to win prizes if the dared to press the ominous red button. Good to see random little fun things like this crop about.
Despite Sun Scream obviously being popular enough to last many seasons, I think it's time to think of something a little different now. It's all feeling a bit tired and overused now; just a slight change in direction and couple of other tweaks with give it a fresher feel which I think is needed.
Sand sculpting on the beach.
The Colossus sculpture was highly detailed.
The Chill Zone was very different to the usual bike stunt show which would take over the arena.
The Red Button.
There's been a fair few smaller / one-off evening events this year, no doubt to help encourage people to make use of the other evening things the park does (keeping Bar 360 open till 11pm for example; great idea!) and to give something extra for Crash Pad guests. These included comedians working their way up, roller disco nights, lesser-known groups such as 'Please..?' and 'Anttix' playing in the dome and others.
It's nice to see the park experimenting and trying to get crowds in for longer / for other reasons than 'just the rides'. In honesty, I doubt these were huge successes, due to the lack of marketing they got, and that people probably weren't drawn to smaller names. However, the park shouldn't give up with them - they need to stick it out with things like this, find what works and what doesn't. Yes, it's a bit of a risk, but that's what the park need to do!
A surprise feature of the season was Summer Nights - 7 roller coasters and 2 water rides open for 3 hours for a small charge. Okay, at first the park were wanting to charge what was probably a bit too much (£18 for non-AP holders, £15 for AP holders), it was great to see Thorpe respond to the criticism and swiftly lower prices. The park was very quiet for all of the nights it ran (the first night being essentially dead and there literally being no queues). It was great to be in the park with such a relaxed atmosphere, and the staff were clearing enjoying themselves as well. Everything about the event worked so well.
The true testament to the quality of the event is that the park are doing it again next season, for pretty much every weekend during summer!
Queue free indeed.
A literally empty left hand side of Swarm's station area.
Two words - Intellectual Properties. These are what dominated this season's Fright Nights, and will do for at least the next two. IPs are tricky things to pull off at theme parks, but I think that the risks involved with pairing up with Lionsgate paid off.
Some may say that the IPs have ruined the mazes, but I think that isn't the case. Cabin in the Woods was a brilliant and unique idea, which worked brilliantly. Blair Witch Project was something different to the rest of the park's line up, and even though it didn't live up to expectations, it's a good learning curve for the park. Also, considering it was a 2* rated attraction, it really isn't that bad. Saw Alive remains a strong maze in the line up and the idea if the You're Next characters roaming the park was very clever. The only weak spot was My Bloody Valentine, which was a shadow of the original Experiment 10.
I expect we'll see at least 1 or 2 replacements next season (or maybe even a completely new line up bar Saw; who knows?), so the event should continue to grow in its own way. The way to improve the event from here is for park-wide theming; the park has got the mazes more or less sorted, they've got lighting and audio done rather well. To create an event which can start to compete with the best, theming the park is essential, and with Fright Nights being the crowning glory of the park's season, let's hope they can continue to go all out!
The highlight of the event, for me, has to be Face it Alone. By far the most extreme experience possible, well worth the money and exactly what the park needed to add to create this 'terrifying Fright Nights' which they claim. This really should return next season, as it is certainly a great experience.
Small theming pieces were around the park; specifically by the mazes.
The roaming actors caused quite a crowd when they were around.
Reserve 'n' Ride
Another experimental thing for 2013 was Reserve n Ride. A free-to-use service which replaced Swarm's main queue for about a week and a bit all in all. The overall idea of it seems very optimistic - turning the park into a queue-free environment, because you can book the time you want to ride.
The system worked to be fair. However, there are some problems, such as having to rely on having a smartphone with a decent battery life, and people understanding how the system works. The idea of making the park queue free is highly ambitious, but this might be a suitable replacement for Fastrack in some respects. Again, it's great to see the park trying out totally different things, and it will be interesting to see if this develops further next season.
When it worked, there were no queues in sight.
Food, Drink and Merchandise
Back before the season began, many were wondering if the outsides brands would be leaving the park, especially with the Burger Kitchen outlets arriving at Alton Towers and Chessington. Fortunately (based on reviews of BK at the parks), all outside brands stayed and no new food outlets came to the park in 2013.
All food outlets have continued to serve good quality, and the prices remain good value for what you get (which are made really rather good if you have can take advantage of Annual Pass discount). The only shame about drinks is, for a period of time, some outlets wouldn't refill the quenchers. Seems really odd, just doesn't make any sense (apart from for outside brands, of course). I did notice that during parts of the season, they became more relaxed about it all, which was pretty good.
A quick word on merchandise too. It's been great stuff yet again and of decent value too. Swarm's merchandise is still beautiful!
Amity Drop n Shop got a new sign!
Enjoying amazing kebabs.
It's no secret that there's not an awful lot of green space around the park. It's all too easy to forgot that the park is surrounding by water, which is actually a really beautiful setting when you think about it. So here's a couple of photos showing off the little bits of natural beauty that is around the park...
Sunken Gardens towards the beginning of the season...
...and in the middle of the season.
Swans and their babies by Swarm. They ain't afraid of no aliens.
Just a couple of other bits as well. We've seen new LED signs outside ride entrances come about this season, which are good quality and much more inviting than the previous ones. If there wad one criticism (which is quite a picky one too), it would be that all of them say 'WELCOME TO THORPE PARK' every so often, which seems a bit pointless really. Having it on the large queue boards, fine, but on the individual ride ones is a bit excessive.
Also, one thing I noticed on Summer Nights, when all the audio was the same all around the park, some of the speakers were a few seconds out of sync. I don't know if it was a one off or if that's now been sorted, but if it hasn't, then I'd like to see that fixed up. It's such a small thing really, but it makes a world of difference.
Speaking of audio, 'The Noise' was a great idea, and something which was well executed. It will be interesting to see if they stick with a similar idea next year, or go back to a themed entrance music piece.
A Look Ahead
2014 brings us the rebranded Crash Pad, aka 'The Waterfront Hotel'. Thorpe are creating their own shipping container hotel, with brighter colours and more rooms available. It will be interesting to see if there's a change in quality or price now there's no ties with Snoozebox, but that's only something time will tell. From reviews that I've heard this year, The Crash Pad was actually nice inside, despite the unpleasing exterior, so maybe it's one of those things which will get more popular as word of mouth spreads?
Other than that, we have no concrete announcements of anything new next year. There's been talks of a new 4D film, the return of the Canada Creek Railway, the movement of Vengeance to the park and others, but will any of it happen? If the change in target market to be a bit more family friendly becomes more prominent, then at least one of those things should happen. Thorpe have alluded to a spruce up of the entrance as well, which is much needed in my opinion. Other than that, I expect we'll see a couple of spruce ups around the park, as there are a couple of rides in need of a bit of tender loving care. Whilst it will be a quiet year for the park investment-wise, it doesn't mean that there won't loads of interesting little things come the new season!
So that's it for another season - onwards and upwards as they say. Thanks for reading!