It was the decade that saw the UK amusement park industry embrace IP and branded attractions, but there were also some notable new roller coasters, dark rides and themed experiences.
1. The Making of Harry Potter
First on our list is Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. While it is not technically a theme park attraction, it is often mistaken by those who haven’t been as a UK version of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This attraction has become a huge hit since its launch in March 2012.
Unlike Universal’s Harry Potter offerings, the Warner Bros experience does not feature any rides. Instead, pre-booked groups of visitors are able to discover breathtaking sets, authentic props and original costumes used in the Harry Potter movies, at the very location they were filmed.
The multi-award-winning attraction was created by Thinkwell Group. The Los Angeles design firm has subsequently added updates including the original Hogwarts Express steam train and a recreation of Platform 9 3⁄4, as well as a recreation of the Forbidden Forest and Gringotts Wizarding Bank.
More than seven years after its debut, The Making of Harry Potter shows no signs of waning in popularity. The tour has already welcomed over 10 million guests, with many more keen to visit. Open for between 10 and 13 hours a day, 358 days a year, the tour currently has a six-week waiting list.
2. Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park
Next on the list of top theme park attractions is Peppa Pig World. After the phenomenal success enjoyed by Drayton Manor when it opened Thomas Land in 2008, other UK amusement parks were keen to partner with intellectual property (IP) providers to realise a branded family land of their own.
Peppa Pig World opened at Paultons Park in Hampshire in April 2011. It has done wonders for this previously regional park. Attendance doubled from 500,000 to 1 million in a single season. In addition to expanding Peppa Pig World, Paultons has since had the confidence to develop new themed areas based on its own concepts. These include the Lost Kingdom (2016) and Tornado Springs, opening this coming May.
3. Nickelodeon Land at Blackpool Pleasure Beach
Blackpool Pleasure Beach launched Nickelodeon Land just a few weeks after Peppa Pig World in 2011. The new-look land transformed the former Beaver Creek children’s area.
As well as new attractions such as SpongeBob’s Splash Bash (the world’s first Twist ’n’ Splash from Mack Rides), Avatar Airbender (Zamperla Disk’O) and Fairy World Taxi Spin (Zamperla Aero Top Jet), the park also relaunched its 1933 wooden roller coaster as Nickelodeon Streak by painting it orange.
4. CBeebies Land at Alton Towers
CBeebies Land opened at Alton Towers Resort in 2014 and has seen several additions since. The themed area is home to rides and attractions featuring characters from the pre-school brand and TV channel from the BBC.
5. Scenic Railway at Dreamland Margate
How can the UK’s oldest roller coaster be featured in a list of top theme park attractions from the past decade? This classic ‘woodie’ dating back to 1920 was extensively rebuilt after an arson attack in 2008, meaning the attraction that visitors to Dreamland Margate have been enjoying since October 2015 is practically a brand new construction.
Along with a new track and supporting timber structure, the ride also got two new trains. Purists were pleased to see these featured not just the dragon heads that were a feature of the originals, but also the brakeman that makes this unique compared to most other wooden coasters in the UK.
The ride’s classic appearance is perfectly in keeping with an amusement park that, since its relaunch after a 12-year hiatus and the ‘Save Dreamland’ campaign, has celebrated all things vintage.
6. Wallace & Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic at Blackpool Pleasure Beach
Two years after the opening of Nickelodeon Land, Blackpool Pleasure Beach partnered with animation company Aardman to launch this fun dark ride in 2013. And this time the park was working with a home-grown IP since Wallace & Gromit creator Nick Park grew up just half an hour from Blackpool.
Built inside the shell of the former Goldmine ride, Thrill-O-Matic takes guests on an action-packed adventure through scenes from various Wallace & Gromit films.
Themed entertainment industry stalwart Nick Farmer is the designer behind the ride. Passengers experience the ride sat inside giant slippers as they pass crazy contraptions from the madcap inventor and his dog.
7. ICON at Blackpool Pleasure Beach
After Wallace and Gromit, the Pleasure Beach’s next two new attractions were more thrill-focused offerings, Red Arrows Sky Force (Gerstlauer Skyforce) and ICON. The latter – pictured above – opened in May 2018, was a significant new addition.
Built at a cost of £16.25m ($22m), the double-launch coaster from Mack Rides was the first new coaster at the much-loved British park for over a decade. Featuring a top speed of 85km/h and a high point of 27m, the coaster interacts with other rides and attractions no fewer than 15 times.
8. Derren Brown’s Ghost Train at Thorpe Park
Over the past decade, operator Merlin Entertainments has really ramped up the thrills at Thorpe Park near London. It may be a dark ride by name, but the venue’s ‘Ghost Train’ (opened in 2016) is anything but conventional.
Developed in partnership with TV illusionist and mentalist Derren Brown, it’s a complex attraction combining multimedia effects, live-action and physical effects including a classic Pepper’s Ghost illusion.
At the heart of the experience is a virtual reality London Underground train ride, featuring a motion system from Simworx. Since its relaunch as Rise of the Demon, the attraction also features a secret, scary finale in the gift shop.
9. The Swarm at Thorpe Park
Derren Brown’s Ghost Train debuted four years after the opening of The Swarm, Thorpe Park’s seventh roller coaster. The 775m-long Bolliger & Mabillard construction – pictured above – reaches a top speed of 100km/h and remains the UK’s only wing coaster.
This highly themed coaster comes complete with a post-apocalyptic storyline involving the park being under alien attack. Nice theming elements include the ride’s loading area, which resembles a burnt-out chapel with its roof in tatters.
10. British Airways i360
Though not a theme park attraction, this standalone attraction on Brighton’s promenade has a significant pedigree. The British Airways i360 was designed by the architects David Marks and Julia Barfield, the husband and wife team who conceived the London Eye.
After reinventing the Ferris wheel for the 21st Century, the couple gave a similar makeover to the observation tower. Opened in summer 2016, they also secured the same launch sponsor as the Eye.
The 162m-tall (531ft) structure features a 360 glass skinned gondola, providing panoramic views of the UK seaside resort, English Channel and the South Downs national park.
11. Legoland Hotel
Launched at Legoland Windsor in 2012, this themed accommodation offering is not a ride. It’s not even located inside the main theme park. Yet for families with Lego fans in their ranks, this bright and cheerful hotel is certainly an attraction. Each of the Pirate, Kingdom or Adventure themed rooms comes complete with a supply of Lego bricks.
“There is Lego everywhere,” wrote the Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman after staying with her son. “The flowers at reception are made from it; there’s a massive green Lego dragon guarding the front door. Above my bed there’s a Lego skull, gripping a Lego sword between its Lego teeth.”
The Legoland Hotel was important for operator Merlin Entertainments since it secured the UK park’s position as a destination resort. It also provided the blueprint for hotels at other Legoland parks across the world.
Since then, a Legoland Castle Hotel has been added to the site in Windsor, west of London. And themed accommodation has now become a major part of Merlin’s expansion strategy at all of its resort theme parks.
12. Cú Chulainn
This ride was transformational for Ireland’s Tayto Park, north of Dublin. Whilst some parks would opt for a modest-sized family ride as their first roller coaster, the Coyle family (Tayto Park’s owners) chose to go big.
Cú Chulainn is a wooden coaster of over 1km in length (1,094m), featuring a top speed of 90.1 km/h. Signature elements include a 115° over-banked curve.
Overlooking Tayto’s car park, the ride continues to catch the eye of arriving guests. And those guests increased dramatically in number after the coaster’s debut in 2015, up from 450,000 to over 750,000.
Previously it was a simple leisure park, zoo and potato chip factory tour (taking its name from the Tayto crisps brand). However, this put it on the map for thrill-seekers across Europe.
Since then, the Coyles have continued to invest in new attractions. Among these have been several Zamperla rides, as well as the ambitious water ride Viking Voyage, which opened in 2017 courtesy of Interlink.
Sometimes it’s nice when someone from outside the amusement industry creates a theme park; bringing with them an inherent ability to think outside the box.
The secretive street artist Banksy certainly did that when he opened Dismaland in the summer of 2015. Operating for just 36 days, the project on the site of Weston-super-Mare’s former Tropicano lido was designed to be taken with a pinch of salt.
“It is an art show for sure,” wrote Blooloop’s Charlie Read at the time. “A theme park of sorts but also a satire on many things – consumerism, the attractions business and, perhaps most affectionately, the British seaside holiday.”
Rides were few and far between, but guests could encounter such ‘delights’ as a deteriorating building reminiscent of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, some disturbing carnival games and installations by Banksy and other artists – such as an old woman being attacked by seagulls as she eats fish & chips – as pictured below. The park’s deliberately disinterested staff made visitors question if they were actually ‘guests’.
With admission priced at just £3 ($3.95) per head, Dismaland was never going to make millions for its creator. And that was never the intention. But it did generate an estimated £20 million for the local economy, and it was certainly an attendance hit.
Over 150,000 people visited the pop-up anti-amusement park during its five-week run. The Tropicana site has enjoyed a new lease of life as a summer amusement park operated by local showman James Rogers. And this time the rides and attractions are of a more conventional kind.
14. Wicker Man at Alton Towers
The third wooden roller coaster featured in our list of top theme park attractions in the UK is a beautiful beast. For years there had been talk of a woodie at Alton Towers, but until recently operator Merlin Entertainments had preferred to build steel constructions. When Wicker Man finally arrived in spring of 2018, it blew many guests away.
Constructed by Great Coasters International, the ride features almost 800m of track. It provides a thrilling ride through the former site of the park’s log flume (retired in 2015). Yet what really makes this such an impressive experience is the added layer of special effects.
These include a pre-show by Holovis, with mist and sound effects in the tunnels. There are also smoke and fire effects around and in the 15.5m (nearly 60 feet) Wicker Man structure itself.
After the Wicker Man’s introduction, coaster fans became excited about prospects for new woodies at other Merlin parks. That has yet to happen. However, the 2019 refurbishment given to at Colossos at Heide Park in Germany – now complete with a wooden tree-like structure as its centrepiece – owes more than a little to Wicker Man.
15. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
Finally on our list of top theme park attractions of the decade is Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. For six weeks each festive season, a corner of London’s Hyde Park becomes a celebration of everything Christmas.
The ‘pop-up theme park’ actually began in 2007, but really blossomed in the 2010s as it was expanded to take over a larger part of its prime central London site.
IMG runs the event in co-operation with The Royal Parks. It combines elements of a Christmas Market, funfair, Oktoberfest style food, drink and hospitality, plus winter activities including ice-skating, ice sculptures and more. Operators from several European countries contribute rides and attractions. Most feature a seasonal makeover for the occasion.
Added to the line-up for 2019/20 was the world’s largest transportable observation wheel, standing 70m high. Winter Wonderland also includes a number of live entertainment offerings including Zippo’s Circus, a comedy club and a new show for this season, Paddington on Ice produced by Europa-Park.
After experimenting with a ‘Coaster Pass’ in 2018/19, IMG rolled out a contactless payment system to all 70 rides this season, in partnership with Connect&Go. Many of the event’s visitors took this up enthusiastically. And it is the numbers through the gates that make Hyde Park Winter Wonderland a particularly impressive operation. Over 45 days, it welcomes more guests (2.5 million+) than any regular British theme/amusement park in an entire year.
Images courtesy of parks and attractions featured.