The Rise Of UK Theme Parks
Since Blackpool Pleasure Beach opened the Pepsi Max Big One in 1994, UK rollercoaster construction and theme park competition in general has been gathering pace. New parks have been built across the country and established centres such as Thorpe Park and Aulton Tours have battled for supremacy. This was a scenario that was hard to conceive 15 years ago with the impending opening of EuroDisney (now Disney Resort Paris), as many thought the UK theme park industry would struggle to survive and thrill seekers would instead be enticed through the tunnel to one of America’s biggest brand names.
Unfortunately, for the Walt Disney Company this did not quiet materialise. The first sign of problems was when French locals started holding protests – due to concerns the park was going to damage and dilute the proud local culture. These protests partly led to crowds in the opening year falling drastically lower than predictions. EuroDisney also had to deal with the problems of an excess of under-populated hotels which had ran drastically over budget. This combined with high prices led to the closure of hotels during the winter months. By the start of 1994, EuroDisney was in serious financial difficulties and press speculation indicated that the park was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Meanwhile back in the UK the theme park industry was enjoying somewhat of a renaissance. 1994 was hailed as “The Year of the Rollercoaster” as new rides sprang up across the country. Drayton Manor opened its “Shockwave” ride along with Alton Tower’s who launched the famous “Nemesis”. At the same time Blackpool opened its 11th roller coaster, the Pepsi Max Big One, which for a short time was the tallest in the world...suddenly the UK found itself gripped in roller coaster fever which contrasted harshly with the negative press emanating from the outskirts of Paris.
Over the next ten years the UK continued to ride at the forefront of theme park technology…even out doing stateside industry giants such as Six Flags. Alton Towers - www.alton-towers.co.uk - ensured its park received world wide attention with the launching of the first ever vertical drop roller coaster, Oblivion in 1998 and the world’s first “flying roller coaster” with Air in 2002. Not to be outdone Fantasy Island near Skegness opened the tallest and fastest type of this ride in the world in the form of the 2002 Jubilee Odyssey and in 2002 Thorpe Park opened a record breaking ten inversion rollercoaster named Collosus.
By 2002 EuroDisney had now become Disney Resort Paris - http://www.disneylandparis.com. With the addition of more attractions and the re-branding of the entire theme park complex, to better appeal to European tastes, the Walt Disney Company finally announced their first annual profit for the park. Disney had at last found the right balance between implementing such a strong American brand on foreign soil without diluting the local culture. However, the time it had taken to find the balance ensured that Disney has not achieved the domination in the European market that many predicted.
At the present time the UK theme park market seems to be going from strength to strength with continued investment in their facilities. For example, Drayton Park have spent over £2 million in time for the new season upgrading their entry and ticketing facilities, while the ever inventive Alton Towers are launching their new ride ‘Spinball Whizzer’ which has the carriage as the focus of the ride rather than the actual track!
With the volume and popularity of parks increasing all the time in the UK, the demand for accommodation in surrounding areas has also expanded. Last year Alton Towers opened its second hotel, Splash Landings, which boasts an exciting all-weather water park, ‘Cariba Creek’. In addition to this companies such as UK short break specialists Superbreak.com – http://www.superbreak.com – have a number of excellent package deals with parks such as Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Aulton Towers and Legoland near Windsor which has over 50 interactive rides, live shows, building workshops.
Overall the future seems bright for the theme park industry across the UK and Europe as a whole. The slow progress of Disney Resort Paris has allowed other parks to get on an even footing and with continued investment in rides and general infrastructure competition should continue to be fierce between the major parks – which can only be good news for the consumer.
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