Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Best UK Theme Parks for Families

With the Easter holidays nearly upon us, and them also being the traditional season opener for all the UK’s major theme parks, I’m timing a review of all my favourites.

I know they won’t all suit all parties, so I’ve split them in to the best for little ones, for those after bigger thrills, and for when your family has a mix of all types, like ours.

Hope you find our experiences useful for choosing where to visit this year.

Best for little ones

Thomas Land at Drayton Manor Park & Zoo

This one is a toss up between Legoland Windsor and Drayton Manor Park & Zoo.

It’s a close call, and while I’d happily recommend either to parents of little ones, I’d go for Drayton Manor as being my favourite.

We’ve had some great trips to both, but Drayton Manor wins due to its variety, its compactness, its ease and the change of pace available.

They really did steal a march on some of their rivals by setting up Thomas Land several years ago, and this year sees it undergo a transformation and significant expansion.

At Easter it opens with a brand new Sodor Airport, a Flynn the Fire Engine ride as well as the new Captain’s Sea Adventure.

This adds a gentle water ride element to Thomas Land, ride types popular with toddlers at other parks.

Taking a ride on the Thomas the Tank Engine train is always popular, and a gateway to a more relaxing element of the park, taking in lunch or a snack by the playground before perhaps enjoying an hour or two in the park's zoo.

If you have a mixed party, there is also a lot to do at Drayton Manor.  There’s the high octane rides like Shockwave and Pandemonium. But there’s also stuff in between like the Ben 10 Rollercoaster.

They also do great deals if you can take your toddlers to the park outside of school holidays.   It’s quieter and cheaper, and a good gentle introduction for small children to theme parks.

Best for bigger kids

The Alton Towers Resort

This one is a little bit more straightforward, and I’d plumb straight for The Alton Towers Resort.

My son has been measuring his own height for the past two years, just to see if he’s broken through the 1.4m ride height requirement for all the larger rides at Alton Towers.

Perversely, as well as a seemingly annual investment in the next big ride, Alton Towers has also made a significant effort in improving the experience for families and smaller children too.

We’ve always had a good time there, popping from one zone to the next, trying to adopt a route and order to taking all the rides in that avoids the masses.  The ride time boards are a great help with this.

It is a big park, and the Skyride is an excellent way to get around the park.  Mind for the little ones, they don’t need to go very far as the new CBeebies Land and brand new Octonauts Rollercoaster Adventure is right at the entrance to the park.

Look out for deals at the Alton Towers hotels and water park too.  We had a fantastic weekend stay at one of their themed Pirate Weekends.

Best for all the family

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

We are now a real mixed family, especially when it comes to theme parks.

My wife doesn’t really enjoy any ride that goes more than a few feet off the ground, or over a few miles per hour.  I’m happy to have a blast on any ride, and we have a 10 year-old boy who is somewhere in between.

Add to that we often go to theme parks with friends, so always have a mix of heights, ages and thrill tolerances.  And of all the parks, Blackpool Pleasure Beach seems to be the best place to cater for us all, together.

There’s some real classic and heritage rides at the Pleasure Beach, like Alice in Wonderland and The Ghost Train.  There’s the ‘inbetween’ rides like the Avalanche and Steeplechase.  The Big One is still an imposing sight and landmark, and for little ones Nickelodeon Land is a compact area well populated with rides little ones love.

As a family unit it’s probably the park we spend most time all together on rides.
We are generally together when we visit other theme parks, but perhaps taking turns to go on the rides and to stay with the bags.  At Blackpool we all tend to go on the rides together, with it being an exception rather than the norm when we don’t.

We’ve had some epic days at the Pleasure Beach, and if memory serves me correctly, they have the longest opening hours, so you can really space your day out, or pop off to return later in the day.

Keep your eyes peeled for deals on Pleasure Beach wristbands.  Cheap passes to the park are also available for family members not wanting to go on the rides, a practice that seems to have stopped at most of the other theme parks.

My tips for visiting these theme parks

I have written more in depth reviews of all these parks previously, and have included tips for getting the most out of your visit.

Hope you have a great time visiting them with your families.

Tips for visiting Drayton Manor

Tips for visiting Alton Towers

Tips for visiting Blackpool Pleasure Beach