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What is going on with Thorpe park?

Changa

New Member
It's almost always been my home park and we used to own annual passes around the opening of Saw. But the state of the park the last few times I've been has been pretty dismal. The past 5 years of investment has devalued the park from a fun day with awesome rides to a tacky, unpleasant day out where you might hit 5 rides in a day if you're lucky. Now it's unlikely there will be a new coaster for the next couple of years, making it a decade without a coaster, and there doesn't even seem to be hints of a flat ride coming about. But looking at the investments over the past 10 years, it's just baffling how things have changed from what was planned after Saw:

2010- Saw Alive, a relatively small investment but expected after coming off of Saw the ride. Never went on it but heard great things from other family members. Octopus' Garden closed, lining up with the idea that Thorpe park would be for older kids while the family market would be directed towards Chessington.

2011 - Storm Surge, a bit of a meme but still a genuinely fun water ride. Even if it overshadowed the entrance to X slightly.

2012 - The Swarm, personally thought this was incredibly underwheming and a definite misstep given how much work went into it. But It was definitely a crowdpleaser and still attracts a huge crowd to this day.

2013 - The big thing was the Swarm started "brave it backwards", which was a fun, heavily marketed change that included adding the best near-miss of the ride. X:NWO became X with a weird refurb and flipping the trains forward. This made it a decent step-up coaster, and the queue was always the smallest of the major attractions in the park. And the Crash pad, now Thorpe shark, opened on the alternate site of the 2015 coaster (which would have looked awesome on the way into the park).

2014 - Angry Birds Land, A cheap retheme of the pirates area with a new film in the 3d cinema and dodgems. This was the first red flag for me but it wasn't the end of the world. The Arena also closed, which was more than due a redevelopment into something special.

2015 - I'm a Celebrity Maze, ...Oh dear, I never went on this because it had hour long lines that year. But it just looked like a sad excuse for a major attraction. Especially when the 10 year plan had this to be the year of the next major coaster, it was so underwhelming that we rarely went that season despite living 20 mins away. And Logger's Leap unofficially closed after a slow, sad decline over the past couple-years. At least the Big Top was an AMAZING maze during fright nights.

2016 - Derren Brown's Ghost Train, The big failure of the park. It's cool that Merlin tried something different and went all out on new technology. But it really didn't seem to pay off. I still haven't been able to get on it due to it constantly breaking down in the first few years, and now they don't seem to even bother opening it. Brave it backwards also stopped on the Swarm, which I never understood why they went out of their way to stop it.

2017 - Rise of the Demon, "Right, this time we've done it properly, its fixed, and its really sca- where is everyone?". Also, Slammer closed and was just...left there; Two kiddie flats were opened next to the abandoned site, though.

2018 - Walking dead: the ride/ Year of the walking dead/Love island late nights, Another retheme of X that amounted to little more than a queue retheme, some screens on the mid-course, and an awful looking outdoor queue. They didnt even paint it, and they put a 1.4m height limit on for no real reason except to market it as a thrill ride. "Year of the walking dead" was also the big branding push for the park and I still dont know what it actually involved, other than the Living Nightmare maze using Slammer's queue. Love Island was another nauseating marketing gimmick that didnt amount to much.

2019 - Bouncezilla/Jungle Escape, Its a bouncy castle. It was fun....but its a bouncy castle. I had a similar thing setup at my Sixth form summer fete. I'm a Celebrity was also redone into an upcharge escape room, something which was tested out during fright nights with a shipping container.

2020/21 - Black Mirror Labyrinth, Seems like its going to be a spooky mirror maze? Either way, not a huge investment from the park as its using the Living Nightmare building/queue. But its still a WORLDS FIRST attraction themed to this particular brand. That being the 4th(?) time they've used that trick in the past 5 years.

I've seen ramblings that Merlin essentially lost confidence in Thorpe Park's investment strategy after Ghost Train. But the additions that they have put in have only devalued the park further by either relying on the gimmick of a cheap ip slapped on a small or existing attraction, or just a "Year of xxx" to drum up empty marketing. Seeing how Alton Towers spent their low period after the Smiler investing in upkeep and refreshing the whole place before committing to Wicker Man. Its such a shame to see Thorpe Park cheapen their experience with tacky branding while parts of the park are left to essentially rot away (Eg: Saw Alive is sinking, and the queue for X pre-WD was disgusting). The operations have taken a noticeable decline, the last couple of times I went Nemesis inferno and Colossus ran one train (in the summer holidays). Fright nights has also sadly lost the exciting magic it once had, the park's clearly gone for quantity over quality with the mazes in order to increase capacity and market it more heavily. Oh, and why Neptune's beach is still around will baffle me until the end of days.

So, with all of that bitter rambling out of the way. Does anyone know why Thorpe Park has gone to the dogs in the way it has? And when could we reasonably expect some sort of worthwhile investment? Just a new flat ride will be brilliant, even though the yearly budget wouldn't cover a replacement for Slammer, and Quantum & Zodiac seem to be on their way out.
 
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Howie

Active Member
A really good rant, I share your sense of despair with the place. Unfortunately I don't have any answers for you, just the same set of questions.
I do still have a soft spot for Thorpe Park though. Back in the Noughties I was of the opinion that Thorpe could do no wrong, especially during that massive burst of investment between 2002 and 2006 - year after year of large, quality additions - and I still like the later investments of Saw and The Swarm too... but yeah, this entire decade has been a bit of a disaster really. DBGT remains one of the worst attractions in history. The mazes, bouncy castles and naff IP's have been a waste of time, operations and guest satisfaction continue to decline and there's still no sign of a coaster (or any new ride for that matter) on the horizon anytime soon.
Actually when I said earlier that I don't have any answers, I lied - the answer is glaringly obvious:
Dear Thorpe Park... build a coaster, FFS!

I mean, it's been 10 years almost, there's so many new and interesting coaster models out there that are good, marketable, affordable and unique to the UK that surely they can find something suitable?
 

rob666

Member
They have an absolute local monopoly for theme parks in the London area.
They own all three local parks, they don't need to do anything...no local competition, accept what we have or sod off.
My two (free Sun voucher) visits, off peak, were very good indeed, but I have no intention of going back for a decade, might have a new coaster by then.
 

JoshC.

Active Member
I can offer some insight here. But the answer to 'What is going on with Thorpe Park?" is neither short nor straightforward, in part because there is no real definitive answer.

If we go all the way back to 2007 when Merlin bought the park, the park shifted ideas for the next major investment. Some of the older members on here might remember rumours two rumours going round for the 2009 coaster back then: the GCI coaster (which I'm sure there's plans of somewhere), or a B&M flyer.
I believe the latter was the plan (after they at one point considered a Vekoma Flying Dutchman too - imagine how different the park would be with one of them...).
Fun aside: I believe the layout for the flyer is very similar to that of Manta at SeaWorld. Never seen something to confirm that, but

Merlin then came along and shifted ideas around, wanting to go for something where they could focus more on theming and experience. They opted for a Gerstlauer since it was cheaper than a B&M, meaning more could be spent on theming, etc. And after some discussions, the Saw IP was agreed upon (I *think* the Saw IP was only confirmed in mid-2008). And then when Saw opened, it was incredibly successful. Probably a bit more successful than they anticipated.

Following that, 2010 and 2011 were the park's busiest years yet in terms of attendance figures (and remain so now). A lot of this came down to Saw's success. They had also pulled the trigger on a huge park rebrand (the brash, in your face, style with the awful fatheads), and focusing primarily on the thrill market. Everything was rosey.

In 2012, Swarm happened. And what happened in 2012 shouldn't have been a surprise: it was quieter than in 2011, by a fairly reasonable amount. Merlin's thought process at the time (and to a less degree, still to this date), is if a ride doesn't have an instant impact, it hasn't worked. Swarm didn't have an instant impact, so in some perverse way of Merlin logic, failed. That's despite the fact that the park had hit a peak in their attendances the previous year, and things such as the Olympics meant people were less interested in visiting theme parks.

The Brave it Backwards in 2013 existed to 'up the intensity' of Swarm, and worked to a degree. It was something fresh and different. The change to X existed largely because of guest feedback, and because a lot of upper management just didn't like the indoors, backwards gimmick. The changes meant the height restriction could be reduced. This was also the first year of the Lionsgate tie in at Fright Nights, which was largely very successful.

It was around now where a trend could be seen with Merlin's thought process. They saw that the Saw IP worked incredibly well for the park. And they liked the idea of working with external brands too. On paper, it sounds like a massive winning formula, and the success of Saw only backs that up.

At the same time, there was fears that the young adult / thrill market wasn't going to be enough to sustain the park. 2013 was another meh year on the whole. And so the change to 'thrill / family thrill' came in 2014, and Angry Birds was seen as an idea that would work. Something with appeal to everyone, and opening itself to all possible ride options. But again, it didn't really hit the mark.

As @Changa noted, 2015 should have been when the park got another coaster. Merlin's original attraction investment strategy was a 3 year cycle: High, Medium, Low (or High, Low, Medium). This is easily seen between 2009-2011, and the cycle did reset in 2012. You can also see that at Towers pretty well for example (2010 - Th13teen, 2011 - not much, 2012 - Sub Terra and Ice Age). And Thorpe did highlight another coaster in the Mid Term Development Plan for 2015 too. The trouble was, after Swarm's deemed failure, there were questions as to whether another coaster was the wisest investment. Maybe it was time for something different.

A glaring gap in Thorpe's line up had always been a dark ride. So the decision was ultimately taken to take the risk of creating a major dark ride in lieu of a major coaster. And if we're being honest, the majority of the enthusiast community (especially Thorpe-centric) was hyped to hear of a dark ride coming. 2015 was another stop gap / quiet year, and I'm a Celebrity was introduced.

When it comes to 2016 and Ghost Train, it's a crazy story. I think a partnership with Derren Brown and Merlin had been discussed for a long time (as far back as 2012/13). And when Thorpe decided on a dark ride, it was a perfect fit. But unfortunately, it just didn't work. I don't really know the full story and shouldn't go into partials, but suffice to say technologically it's a cocktail of problems, and there were perhaps one too many ideas thrown into the mix. And the other issue is it's not the fault of one specific party, there were problems on many sides. In short: they took a risk and it didn't work.

The other issue was 2016 saw a big shift in marketing. 2014 and 2015 had been built on welcoming families back. Then 2016 throws the dark, scary stuff the the forefront. It creates a level of confusion about who should be coming to the park. 2017 rectified some Ghost Train problems, and introduced two kids rides, after new management came in a noted the need for them regardless of who was being targeted with marketing.

The closure of Slammer came as a result of it being too difficult and expensive to maintain. The issue with removal is the Merlin logic mentioned earlier: what is the impact of spending money removing it? The answer is there's effectively none. It's a crude way of looking at, and I'm sure that's not the exact way Merlin look at it, but roughly, that's what happens.

2018 and the Walking Dead stuff is a weird one. There had been an acknowledgement that families would visit the park regardless, hence the introduction of kids rides on the cheap. But there was the idea that people best responded to dark and horror stuff, along with IP tie ins (once again, looking back to the success of Saw, but also the general success of Fright Nights over the years). That led to the confusing decision to retheme X, turning what was a family ride into something that couldn't be accessed by families, which kind of knocks against the families who visit. Now I quite enjoy the retheme, and see the appeal given the success of something like Van Helsing's Factory for example, but in the context of where the park was and what it needed, it just seems like the wrong thing.

All the while, attendance numbers have struggled. I don't think there's one reason you can give to pinpoint why. It's a cocktail of reasons.

2019 was a thing. Focusing on events is a good way to try and entice people back to the park, but I don't think a gaming event and a bouncy castle really had the desired effect, or resonated with the public. Before Covid, it was meant to be a similar concept of various (different) events this year, along with Black Mirror. This year also saw another rebrand, which on the whole is neat and well executed.

The other thing which was scheduled to happen for 2020 at one point was a major investment. Around 2014/5, Merlin shifted to a 4 year investment cycle for attractions, rather than 3 (so one major ride every 4 years). There were certainly many ideas floated about. Why it didn't happen is anyone's guess. Merlin have publicly said how they were spending less on theme parks a couple of years back, so that probably doesn't help. A worry that their last two major rides didn't hit the returns they wanted (despite, in the long term, Swarm being a well received, highly rated ride by the public) is likely another issue.

To me, Thorpe has a few issues as it stands. And those issues aren't quick, or cheap, fixes.
-Many rides looking tired / shells of the former selves (Colossus and Rumba are big ones, but stuff like Inferno, Stealth, etc need tart ups too)
-Some parts of the park in need of some TLC (Old Town, parts of Amity, the Dome, etc)
-Facing a ticking time bomb with flat rides. Their massive investment in the early 2000s is leaving them with several flat rides around the 20 year old mark; they're not going to last forever. Plus Merlin rarely seem to invest in flat rides.
-Loads of dead spots around the park (Slammer, Old Town in general, the awkwardness of Ghost Train currently, the problem of what to do with the Beach...)
-Along with, frankly, the need for a new coaster.

The trouble is, this isn't just down to lack of competition. As highlighted throughout, the past decade has seen seesawing shifts in target markets and long term goals, caused by a variety of reasons. The park have been viewed to fail at key moments, despite those failures not wholly resting of their shoulders. In general, it's all just a mess.

From my experiences, things like operations have gotten worse over the decade, but the past couple of years have been better. Fright Nights was a disaster in 2018, but things have gone upwards since. So there's a bit of cause for optimism in some things at a more 'operational / on the ground' level imo.

With Covid, it's hard to tell what the future could hold. We've heard the general manager of Heide Park say (quite curiously) another year like 2020 could kill the park off, but we're also seeing a partial retrack of a 1980s Vekoma at Gardaland. In other words, the immediate steps of Merlin theme parks are rather mixed.

A new coaster at Thorpe would answer some problems and be very welcomed. But that really doesn't tackle the heart of the problems at Thorpe. An ideal world would have seen Thorpe introduce another coaster or two after Swarm, and then spend the next few years being able to ride off that whilst focusing on sustaining their line up and addressing the ticking time bomb of flat rides. But they're currently faced with needing a major new investment and sustaining old and fixing up the look of the park, whilst recovering from a global pandemic coupled with Merlin investing less. Ouch.




tl;dr - "What is going on with Thorpe Park?"
1. A focus on IPs and trying to recreate the success of Saw has damaged the park
2. Their major investments this decade didn't have the desired effect
3. They've felt the effects of Merlin's changes to theme park investments the hardest
4. Seesawing target markets has lead to confusing, sometimes short term, investments and strategies
 

Ben

Social Media Team
Social Media Team
The thing I get to is IF Derren Brown had been good, it wouldn’t feel like they’ve gone so long without anything worthwhile. It was their biggest ever investment and if it had been amazing we’d only just be going hmmm maybe get a coaster now lads.

But the reality is it was terrible and such a massive mistake that it’s easy to forget they actually had a massive investment and so it feels like 2012 was the last time they got something solid.

This would literally all be solved by them getting an RMC.
 

Nicky Borrill

Active Member
I can offer some insight here. But the answer to 'What is going on with Thorpe Park?" is neither short nor straightforward, in part because there is no real definitive answer.

If we go all the way back to 2007 when Merlin bought the park, the park shifted ideas for the next major investment. Some of the older members on here might remember rumours two rumours going round for the 2009 coaster back then: the GCI coaster (which I'm sure there's plans of somewhere), or a B&M flyer.
I believe the latter was the plan (after they at one point considered a Vekoma Flying Dutchman too - imagine how different the park would be with one of them...).
Fun aside: I believe the layout for the flyer is very similar to that of Manta at SeaWorld. Never seen something to confirm that, but

Merlin then came along and shifted ideas around, wanting to go for something where they could focus more on theming and experience. They opted for a Gerstlauer since it was cheaper than a B&M, meaning more could be spent on theming, etc. And after some discussions, the Saw IP was agreed upon (I *think* the Saw IP was only confirmed in mid-2008). And then when Saw opened, it was incredibly successful. Probably a bit more successful than they anticipated.

Following that, 2010 and 2011 were the park's busiest years yet in terms of attendance figures (and remain so now). A lot of this came down to Saw's success. They had also pulled the trigger on a huge park rebrand (the brash, in your face, style with the awful fatheads), and focusing primarily on the thrill market. Everything was rosey.

In 2012, Swarm happened. And what happened in 2012 shouldn't have been a surprise: it was quieter than in 2011, by a fairly reasonable amount. Merlin's thought process at the time (and to a less degree, still to this date), is if a ride doesn't have an instant impact, it hasn't worked. Swarm didn't have an instant impact, so in some perverse way of Merlin logic, failed. That's despite the fact that the park had hit a peak in their attendances the previous year, and things such as the Olympics meant people were less interested in visiting theme parks.

The Brave it Backwards in 2013 existed to 'up the intensity' of Swarm, and worked to a degree. It was something fresh and different. The change to X existed largely because of guest feedback, and because a lot of upper management just didn't like the indoors, backwards gimmick. The changes meant the height restriction could be reduced. This was also the first year of the Lionsgate tie in at Fright Nights, which was largely very successful.

It was around now where a trend could be seen with Merlin's thought process. They saw that the Saw IP worked incredibly well for the park. And they liked the idea of working with external brands too. On paper, it sounds like a massive winning formula, and the success of Saw only backs that up.

At the same time, there was fears that the young adult / thrill market wasn't going to be enough to sustain the park. 2013 was another meh year on the whole. And so the change to 'thrill / family thrill' came in 2014, and Angry Birds was seen as an idea that would work. Something with appeal to everyone, and opening itself to all possible ride options. But again, it didn't really hit the mark.

As @Changa noted, 2015 should have been when the park got another coaster. Merlin's original attraction investment strategy was a 3 year cycle: High, Medium, Low (or High, Low, Medium). This is easily seen between 2009-2011, and the cycle did reset in 2012. You can also see that at Towers pretty well for example (2010 - Th13teen, 2011 - not much, 2012 - Sub Terra and Ice Age). And Thorpe did highlight another coaster in the Mid Term Development Plan for 2015 too. The trouble was, after Swarm's deemed failure, there were questions as to whether another coaster was the wisest investment. Maybe it was time for something different.

A glaring gap in Thorpe's line up had always been a dark ride. So the decision was ultimately taken to take the risk of creating a major dark ride in lieu of a major coaster. And if we're being honest, the majority of the enthusiast community (especially Thorpe-centric) was hyped to hear of a dark ride coming. 2015 was another stop gap / quiet year, and I'm a Celebrity was introduced.

When it comes to 2016 and Ghost Train, it's a crazy story. I think a partnership with Derren Brown and Merlin had been discussed for a long time (as far back as 2012/13). And when Thorpe decided on a dark ride, it was a perfect fit. But unfortunately, it just didn't work. I don't really know the full story and shouldn't go into partials, but suffice to say technologically it's a cocktail of problems, and there were perhaps one too many ideas thrown into the mix. And the other issue is it's not the fault of one specific party, there were problems on many sides. In short: they took a risk and it didn't work.

The other issue was 2016 saw a big shift in marketing. 2014 and 2015 had been built on welcoming families back. Then 2016 throws the dark, scary stuff the the forefront. It creates a level of confusion about who should be coming to the park. 2017 rectified some Ghost Train problems, and introduced two kids rides, after new management came in a noted the need for them regardless of who was being targeted with marketing.

The closure of Slammer came as a result of it being too difficult and expensive to maintain. The issue with removal is the Merlin logic mentioned earlier: what is the impact of spending money removing it? The answer is there's effectively none. It's a crude way of looking at, and I'm sure that's not the exact way Merlin look at it, but roughly, that's what happens.

2018 and the Walking Dead stuff is a weird one. There had been an acknowledgement that families would visit the park regardless, hence the introduction of kids rides on the cheap. But there was the idea that people best responded to dark and horror stuff, along with IP tie ins (once again, looking back to the success of Saw, but also the general success of Fright Nights over the years). That led to the confusing decision to retheme X, turning what was a family ride into something that couldn't be accessed by families, which kind of knocks against the families who visit. Now I quite enjoy the retheme, and see the appeal given the success of something like Van Helsing's Factory for example, but in the context of where the park was and what it needed, it just seems like the wrong thing.

All the while, attendance numbers have struggled. I don't think there's one reason you can give to pinpoint why. It's a cocktail of reasons.

2019 was a thing. Focusing on events is a good way to try and entice people back to the park, but I don't think a gaming event and a bouncy castle really had the desired effect, or resonated with the public. Before Covid, it was meant to be a similar concept of various (different) events this year, along with Black Mirror. This year also saw another rebrand, which on the whole is neat and well executed.

The other thing which was scheduled to happen for 2020 at one point was a major investment. Around 2014/5, Merlin shifted to a 4 year investment cycle for attractions, rather than 3 (so one major ride every 4 years). There were certainly many ideas floated about. Why it didn't happen is anyone's guess. Merlin have publicly said how they were spending less on theme parks a couple of years back, so that probably doesn't help. A worry that their last two major rides didn't hit the returns they wanted (despite, in the long term, Swarm being a well received, highly rated ride by the public) is likely another issue.

To me, Thorpe has a few issues as it stands. And those issues aren't quick, or cheap, fixes.
-Many rides looking tired / shells of the former selves (Colossus and Rumba are big ones, but stuff like Inferno, Stealth, etc need tart ups too)
-Some parts of the park in need of some TLC (Old Town, parts of Amity, the Dome, etc)
-Facing a ticking time bomb with flat rides. Their massive investment in the early 2000s is leaving them with several flat rides around the 20 year old mark; they're not going to last forever. Plus Merlin rarely seem to invest in flat rides.
-Loads of dead spots around the park (Slammer, Old Town in general, the awkwardness of Ghost Train currently, the problem of what to do with the Beach...)
-Along with, frankly, the need for a new coaster.

The trouble is, this isn't just down to lack of competition. As highlighted throughout, the past decade has seen seesawing shifts in target markets and long term goals, caused by a variety of reasons. The park have been viewed to fail at key moments, despite those failures not wholly resting of their shoulders. In general, it's all just a mess.

From my experiences, things like operations have gotten worse over the decade, but the past couple of years have been better. Fright Nights was a disaster in 2018, but things have gone upwards since. So there's a bit of cause for optimism in some things at a more 'operational / on the ground' level imo.

With Covid, it's hard to tell what the future could hold. We've heard the general manager of Heide Park say (quite curiously) another year like 2020 could kill the park off, but we're also seeing a partial retrack of a 1980s Vekoma at Gardaland. In other words, the immediate steps of Merlin theme parks are rather mixed.

A new coaster at Thorpe would answer some problems and be very welcomed. But that really doesn't tackle the heart of the problems at Thorpe. An ideal world would have seen Thorpe introduce another coaster or two after Swarm, and then spend the next few years being able to ride off that whilst focusing on sustaining their line up and addressing the ticking time bomb of flat rides. But they're currently faced with needing a major new investment and sustaining old and fixing up the look of the park, whilst recovering from a global pandemic coupled with Merlin investing less. Ouch.




tl;dr - "What is going on with Thorpe Park?"
1. A focus on IPs and trying to recreate the success of Saw has damaged the park
2. Their major investments this decade didn't have the desired effect
3. They've felt the effects of Merlin's changes to theme park investments the hardest
4. Seesawing target markets has lead to confusing, sometimes short term, investments and strategies
tl;dr it’s f*@ked

(just to clarify, the above was tongue in cheek. Your post was fantastic, informative, and I enjoyed reading it, thanks)
 

Jared

Member
The reasons behind Slammer (and Loggers) being left standing is planning. Removing the rides is costly and also makes submitting planning for those areas more tricky. If they’ve got something there that goes so many feet into the air, then there would be no reason why they couldn’t build something else in its place that goes that high. It’s also more cost effective to remove a ride at the same time as replacing it. I know that this was the reason that Rameses Revenge was kept going another couple of seasons, so they could remove and replace in one move.
 
Thorpe Park used to be my favourite in the UK. Almost every time I went, queues were low, operations were great and I just loved the line up of rides! However, for the first time this year, I went to both Alton and Thorpe not long after each other and seeing the difference was crazy! I always though Thorpe had the better line up of rides however when I went AT, I was so surprised at how well they are at putting in pretty successful investments each year. Yes, some may be aimed more towards the younger ones however it really made me realise how behind Thorpe is now with their line-up.

They have more flat rides but then again, I don't see them lasting forever. It does look like AT has been the park that Merlin trusts the most out of them two and I honestly hope that it changes for Thorpe Park in the future. Like someone said before, there are so many types of new coasters that would fit perfectly for Thorpe. I would love to see something like the new Walibi Mega coaster or (predictably), an RMC! I guess time will tell but fingers crossed that in the next 5 years, there's something big there that makes it worth the trip.
 

Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
-Facing a ticking time bomb with flat rides. Their massive investment in the early 2000s is leaving them with several flat rides around the 20 year old mark; they're not going to last forever. Plus Merlin rarely seem to invest in flat rides.
I think this is one of the biggest issues they're facing. The "backbone" of the park is formed by all of its attractions together. All of them are not necessarily headliners that make you decide to visit the park on their own, but they provide fun stuff to do while you're there, and they are essential in forming an overall positive experience in the park. Without a variety of attractions, the park is just a roadside show. The sum of the attractions is what makes people visit, after all, even if the individual attractions are relatively anonymous on their own. The backbone lineup might not be the most loudly talked-about features of the park (at least not for rides long beyond their opening year), but it sure is important.

I'd say Thorpe has a pretty good backbone lineup. Several thrill flats, river rapids, a handful of coasters, and an awful lot of water slides. But it's all aging, and these rides will all reach the end of their lifespans within a few short years of each other. Unless the park is prepared to take on the expense of replacing them all in such a short time span, or willing to downscale its backbone (not a good idea if they want to retain customer numbers), they better start on a replacement plan, like, five years ago. Coasters like Colossus, Nemesis Inferno, and Stealth are also approaching the "best before" date, while Flying Fish isn't getting any younger either.

A flat ride or coaster might serve as part of the backbone for 20-30 years or so before age catches up with it and it has to be removed. That means that when the rides from 1998-2006 are gone, the rides built after 2006 will be what the park has to fall back on. And that's Thorpe's problem: There are almost no attractions with "staying power" to fall back on. The backbone hasn't been built up at all lately. Ideally, when the flats from the 1990s were to be retired, the flats from the 2000s and 2010s would be there to retain a sizable lineup before it could be topped up again by new flats built in the 2020s. But while there were some flats built in the 2000s (if only during the first half of the decade), none were built in the 2010s, and now the 2020s are here already and there is so much old stuff to be replaced. When the 2000s flats kick the bucket, there's almost nothing at all to carry the torch.

And yet it seems they still only want to add temporary attractions, gimmick mazes, bouncy castles and other faff with a very limited life span - a year or two at most. It makes the budget look good in the short term, but it doesn't add to the backbone for the future. All that feet-dragging in the 2010s will come back to bite Thorpe pretty hard one day. I wonder what Merlin will do when the old coasters can't run any longer: fork out the necessary mountain of cash, try to pretend the cheap IP attractions can serve as full-fledged replacements, or downsize the park?
 
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That's a hell of a post @JoshC. And some interesting insight.

I spent far too much time there in my teens in the 00's armed with an £80 Tussauds pass, but rarely visit these days. I still don't think it's a bad park but Merlin have tightened the purse strings so much it just doesn't offer a very well rounded day out.

The Old Town area sums it all up really with Loggers rotting away and the abandoned railway. Even the small details aren't there, like walking into Canada Creek past Burger King and hearing this banger...


As mentioned above; they got really unlucky with DBGT and the park could look very different right now if that thing actually worked.

Walking Dead is a very well done retheme. And if given the budget for a new coaster I'm confident they would nail it.
 

EmiliaHadson

New Member
The largest chain of amusement parks in London, roughly speaking a monopoly, even though it is prohibited by the Constitution.
 

Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
Staff member
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The largest chain of amusement parks in London, roughly speaking a monopoly, even though it is prohibited by the Constitution.
I think this is another big reason too: After Merlin acquired both Thorpe Park and Alton Towers, there hasn't been real competition between thrill parks in the UK. None are trying to "get the upper hand" and out-doing the other. Now both are content with carefully measured mediocrity, because the money goes to the same owners regardless. Flamingoland is independent, but doesn't seem to throw its hat into the ring either. Well, maybe with the 10-inversion coaster, it will. Maybe we'd have seen Thorpe or Alton stepping up if by now if it hadn't been for Covid.
 

Fleetwood_Mack

New Member
I do worry about the future of Thorpe Park in the hands of Merlin. They're clearly not interested in the place and seem to be content bleeding it dry until it disintegrates. If they keep running it into the ground at the rate they are and do eventually decide to sell up who could even take a job like that on? Barratt Homes? This might sound a bit melodramatic but I can't find a single fibre of hope regarding the future of the park within myself right now.
 

spicy

Active Member
Is there even a structured plan in place at the moment? Where is the latest Medium term development plan? I believe they haven't released one since 2010 which went up to 2016.

All they have issued since then was this application for permitted development rights in 2017 which is still to be approved:

 

rob666

Member
Can't be housing, it is zoned out for leisure use only.
The new owners of the Camelot site have tried to get changes for that land for over a decade...with zero success.
 

EDjanaika

New Member
Can't be housing, it is zoned out for leisure use only.
The new owners of the Camelot site have tried to get changes for that land for over a decade...with zero success.
The only reason they've been unsuccessful is because the people in Chorley don't like anything new being built there these days, they just want to see it rot even more so yh!
 

JoshC.

Active Member
I think this is another big reason too: After Merlin acquired both Thorpe Park and Alton Towers, there hasn't been real competition between thrill parks in the UK. None are trying to "get the upper hand" and out-doing the other. Now both are content with carefully measured mediocrity, because the money goes to the same owners regardless. Flamingoland is independent, but doesn't seem to throw its hat into the ring either. Well, maybe with the 10-inversion coaster, it will. Maybe we'd have seen Thorpe or Alton stepping up if by now if it hadn't been for Covid.

I don't think the Merlin acquisition argument really holds to be honest. Thorpe and Towers had both been owned by Tussauds since like 1998 and they both thrived for a while. Yes, Thorpe needed the development for them to get it where they wanted it to be, but it shows you can have both work hand in hand whilst developing and improving. And my understanding of the Merlin acquisition is that it just bought in more people, and another layer, at the high up level (beyond park management levels), rather than a total replacement and total philosophy change.

The lack of competition does harm them to a level, in that it doesn't keep them on their toes as much as having competition would do. I don't think its coincidence that Chessington is seeing a bit more investment lately now that Paultons has continued to develop very well.

I've always felt that Thorpe should try to make themselves more attractive to foreign tourists, given the proximity to London and Heathrow, and the ease of getting to it my public transport. And that in doing that they could be competing against other popular tourist attractions. But I guess the marketing strategy of targeting tourists is much more complex and such..


Is there even a structured plan in place at the moment? Where is the latest Medium term development plan? I believe they haven't released one since 2010 which went up to 2016.

The park do have plans in place, much like pretty much every park will. Obviously these things are fluid, and I think one of the issues has been that the last 5 years, things have changed so much that they've never been able to build upon things like they perhaps should have.

The Mid Term Development Plans they've submitted to the council in the past are neither here nor there really. The park and council have had a pretty good working relationship for a long time. The MTDPs they submitted to the council showed roughly what they might consider introducing over a given time period - it basically indicates possible places they might introduce a ride, heights, etc, as well as any buildings they'll build. If the council approve it, it makes it a simpler and quicker process to get plans approved for the actual new ride.

The park having not submitted an MTDP for post-2016 could be seen as a sign they don't have plans to introduce new rides, but it could also be seen as them simply not needing to. The site for Ghost Train wasn't marked in the previous MTDP, nor was the amount of indoor space it took up mentioned, but the application pretty much breezed through. As long as a ride isn't too tall, or too loud, or too close the housing, it'll be fine. Simply put, in practice, there's no reason why the council would reject plans for any realistic ride development Thorpe may install.
 

Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
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Another thing I've noticed, although I'm not too sure about how it affects Thorpe's visitor numbers: the major attractions installed over the last decade just have a really ... unpleasant ... feel to them. Saw is macabre, that's in the core premise. But then Swarm is all about destruction and decay as well. Walking Dead: The Ride ... well, it's rotting zombies. Derren Brown's Ghost Train is also all about the scares and the bleakness and darkness and destruction too. Now they're doing Black Mirror, which I know nothing about, but Wikipedia calls it "dystopian". And then there are all the scare mazes and escape rooms and such that aren't even mentioned on the park's Wikipedia page.

True, there's Angry Birds as well, and Storm Surge which doesn't seem to have much of a theme, but for the headliner attractions it really feels like Thorpe is going all in on the themes of horror, urban decay, dereliction, darkness, scares, and general dystopia. I guess there's a huge audience for that, but it also has a bit of an off-putting feel to it. For an amusement park it feels strange to be this fixated on the opposite of amusement (which, depending on your opinion, doesn't make Angry Birds quite as much of an exception as it appears at first). What happened to a fun day out? Does it have to involve something threatening to decapitate you?

I mean, the occasional horror attraction isn't bad in itself. But nothing but horror, for more than a decade straight? I could see why it would turn some guests away.

EDIT: This may actually be more of a Merlin problem than a Thorpe problem, though, as Alton Towers has done exactly the same. Each of the coasters installed there since ... Spinball, I guess ... seems to be outright threatening to kill you in its marketing material.
 
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