With the summer holidays fast approaching, here’s our pick of the best theme parks for action-packed days out with kids of all ages.
There’s a new ride for 2019 – The Haunted House Monster Party, in which Lord Vampyre hosts a spooky (but not scary) get-together with a catchy theme tune and oodles of special effects. There are enough other rides – many without height restrictions – to keep you busy for days (good job there are two themed hotels on site), along with live shows and attractions. Plus, true to its name, there are over 80 million Lego bricks, used to create some of the biggest and most impressive models in the world. These include our absolute favourite, Miniland, a recreation of iconic landmarks from around the world. A great day out for kids aged 12 and under.
Tickets from £28 (under-threes go free)
Alton Towers, Staffordshire
Tinytots will love CBeebies Land and older kids will get their fix of adrenalin rushes and white knuckle rides with the likes of Wicker Man (new for 2018), Rita (0-60mph in 2.5 seconds), Oblivion (the world’s first vertical drop rollercoaster) and Galactica (a “flying” rollercoaster with riders in a horizontal flight position). New for this year is the Alton Towers Dungeon, a 45-minute hi-tech journey through Staffordshire’s darkest history with real actors. There’s no shortage of overnight options, including hotels, the Enchanted Forest lodges and the all-new stargazing pods – minimalistic wooden pods set around a village green. We also love the Rollercoaster restaurant, in which food literally spirals down to the table at speed.
Adults from £34, children from £28.50 (under threes go free)
Flambards isn’t on par with the big boys of the theme park world in terms of size, but this charming Cornish theme park has a good mix of rides, indoor attractions and entertainments. Our favourites include SkyRaker (fabulous for views), Hornet Rollercoaster (expect dramatic drops and turns), Thunderbolt (in which you twist round and upside down), Space Race (journey into the dark) and the Colorado River log flume (take a raincoat if it’s not a hot day). The newest ride is Sky-Force, which spins 360 degrees high above the park. You can also journey back in time to discover Britain in the Blitz and explore an entire Victorian Village.
Adults from £19.76, children from £14.36 (95-100cm £9.95; under 95cm go free)
Chessington World of Adventures, Surrey
“Room on the Broom – A Magical Journey” is the newbie for this year. We think it does a great job of bringing alive Julia Donaldson’s bestselling story, with little’uns and their families invited to enter the enchanted library to begin this delightful adventure. Last year, Land of the Tiger was the new addition, featuring an innovative big cat enclosure with Europe’s first overhead trails, and it’s proving just as popular this year. Overall, there are more than 30 rides and attractions suitable for all ages, plus a zoo and Sea Life centre. Stay over at the Chessington Safari Hotel if you can – it’s one of the best theme park hotels. Even the food is good (which can’t be said for many of them).
Tickets from £29.50 (under threes go free)
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Lancashire
The opening of the all-new Boulevard Hotel is the hottest news of the year about this amusement park by the sea, while last year saw the completion of the theme park’s biggest project to date – the UK’s first ever double launch roller coaster, ICON, the result of a whopping £16.25m investment. Give yourself a lot of time here – there are masses of rides and attractions sprawled across 42 acres, situated at the end of Blackpool’s promenade. And although there’s no shortage of new ones, we also like the well-preserved ones from years ago, including the Flying Machines and Big Dipper. There’s even an Adventure Golf course, Ripleys Believe It Or Not Museum and an ice skating rink.
From £23 for those aged 12 and over, 11 and under from £21, under twos receive six free toddler ride tickets and a free Pleasure Beach Pass
Thorpe Park, Surrey
With many of the biggest and fastest rides in Europe, this is best for kids aged 12+ who love being scared senseless. With more than 30 rides, attractions and live events, there’s easily enough to keep them going for a day or two (we stayed at the Thorpe Shark Hotel in between – tiny marine-themed rooms, lovely lake views). Favourites include Stealth, the UK’s fastest rollercoaster which launches you to 2,015ft at 80mph, and Derren Brown’s Ghost Train, a head-spinning, 10-15 minute train journey with exhilarating live action sequences, virtual reality 4D special effects and wow-factor illusions. Also don’t miss SAW, which starts indoors in the pitch black before moving outside ready for a dramatic drop. New for this year is BounceZilla, a 90cm inflatable course that bites back, and returning for the autumn are the now-legendary Fright Nights.
Tickets from £33 (under-threes free)
Scotland’s biggest theme park has the Giant Condor, a ride with breathtaking views over the park and beyond to Strathclyde Park and Lanarkshire. And unlike most theme parks, some of it – Amazonia, bowling, bars and restaurants – is open all year round. Kids will love the Big Apple ride, the Big Wheel, Flying Jumbos, the wave swinger and soft play area among others. And new for this year is the Disk’O, a unique spinning rollercoaster with a creative seat design which allows legs and arms to move freely. We also like the pirate-themed mini-golf course and the fact that there’s plenty to do undercover on rainy days.
Free entry for all, ride-all-day wrist bands from £17.95 for those over 1.3m and £13.65 for those under 1.3m
Crealy Theme Park and Resort, Devon
Crealy claims to be the South West's number one family day out and you can certainly pack a lot in, with more than 60 rides and attractions, all with the most stunning countryside backdrop you can imagine. There’s a great list of seasonal events for 2019, including the Hydro High Dive Show, which runs all summer, while kids will also enjoy the water rides, rollercoasters, animal barn, oodles of play areas both inside and out, and traditional fairground-style attractions. There are plenty of accommodation options too, including camping pitches, glamping cabins and five-star hot tub lodges. Best for pre-teens, in our view.
Anyone over 1m from £16.76; anyone from 92cm-1m from £12.76. Those under 92cm go free
Drayton Manor, Staffordshire
Thomas Land is the only attraction of its kind in Europe and as good as it gets for Thomas and Friends fans, especially those aged around five and under. For slightly older children, rides like the Ben 10 themed one are well thought-out, while thrill-seekers can get a piece of the action with rides including Air Race and Apocalypse, which has been voted the UK’s scariest ride. There’s also a zoo and an onsite four-star hotel. A place that genuinely caters for all ages – and that goes for grandparents too – everything is close together. New for 2019 is Drayton’s Ultimate Pass, which is valid for the 250 days a year that the park is open, including for special events such as fireworks and the magical Christmas event.
Adults from £28, children aged two-three from £8, older children from £24 (under twos go free)
Paultons Park, Hampshire
Paultons Park has won TripAdvisor’s best-rated UK theme park for three years in a row and is the only UK theme park to have got this award more than once. It isn’t huge, but with more than 70 rides and attractions, there’s a lot going on. It includes the brilliant Peppa Pig World, which added two more rides last year, and Lost Kingdom. The park holds seasonal events throughout the year, including the Hoppy Easter Event, Halloween and Christmas at Paultons. Last year, the new African-themed attraction, Little Africa, was launched. There’s no on-site hotel but there are holiday parks nearby, including Hoburne Bashley or Hoburne Naish – we recommend staying a while if you can to explore the New Forest and south coast at the same time.
Tickets from £30.50 (children under 1m go free)
Established in 1987, Oakwood is Wales’ biggest theme park, with more than 40 rides and attractions set in 90 acres of beautiful countryside. The best known is Megafobia, regularly voted as the best wooden rollercoaster in the UK. We also think Neverland deserves a special mention – this Peter Pan-inspired area opens with the Journey to Neverland and involves a range of different activities including the Jolly Roger, Tink’s Flying School, Skull Rock and Hooks House of Havoc, all of which are suitable for younger thrill seekers. New for this year is Dizzy Disk, which glides back and forth while spinning you in circles.
Adults from £30.15, children from £20.25 (under-threes go free)