The 50 Best Parks; UP, DOWN, AND ALL AROUND THE WORLD
Fancy turning your world upside-down this summer? With theme parks ranging from the nail-biting and stomach-churning to the more gently educational, Jenny Tonge and her panel of thrill-seeking experts can make dreams come true
This week's panel consisted of:
l Liz Terry, the editor of Attractions Management Magazine;
l Reggie Heyworth, owner, Cotswold Wildlife Park, the UK's largest private zoological collection;
l Melanie Dakin, of Kids Out, the essential magazine for London parents;
l Martin Roberts, a regular presenter on TV's Wish You Were Here, and travel editor of Woman magazine;
l David Churchill, former Financial Times journalist and Disney expert;
l Andy Hine, founder and chair of the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain (PO Box 235, Uxbridge, Middx UB10 0TF; www.rccgb.co.uk);
l Emma Burgess, US journalist, and mother of theme-park fans;
l Ali Mackesy, business analyst in China.
ALTON TOWERS, STAFFS
Alton is a well-thought-out 500-acre site with up-to-the-minute thrills, where fun-lovers and serious buzz-seekers can head off in different directions. For the little ones, there is Toyland Tours, the runaway train and a haunted house (actually quite grisly). Mad teenagers or adults can try Nemesis and Oblivion, perhaps the two most famous rides. "Splendid setting, imaginative food, and helpful helpers. Nemesis was a vile mix of corkscrew turns," recalls Melanie Dakin.
Where & when: Alton, Staffordshire (0990 204060); daily to 31 Oct, 9.30am- 8pm.
How much: adults pounds 19.50, children pounds 15.50, family ticket pounds 59.
A theme park dedicated to the moving image, Futuroscope has 20 attractions, with Imax movies on flat and hemispherical screens. Even the buildings are spectacular - not surprising, as the French government puts money into the park, and Imax road-tests any new kit. "Definitely worth seeing for older families and anyone into cinema or television," suggests Liz Terry.
Where & when: Poitiers, France (00 33 5 49 49 30 80); daily 9am-6pm except in high season, when the park closes at around 11.30pm. How much: adults pounds 20, children pounds 15.
CEDAR POINT, OHIO
This is the largest (and some say the best) theme park in the world. The setting helps: it's by Lake Erie, so there are watersports here, too. The 13 rollercoasters include the world's highest, at 200ft, and longest: Power Tower blasts you 240ft high in seconds. Others worth a try are Raptor, Corkscrew and Mantis. Really only for older children or those with powerful constitutions. "I took a group last year, and everyone loved it," enthuses Andy Hine.
Where & when: PO Box 5006, Cleveland, Ohio (001 419 636 0830); daily to 6 Sept, from 9am (closing times vary).
How much: adults $32.95, children $8.95.
A 52-acre country park themed on Australiana, Dreamworld is divided into sections devoted to the country's culture. There are 19 rides, plus numerous other shows and attractions, with the delightfully named Gum Tree Galley, a theatre where children can marvel at the sight of animals singing and dancing.
Where & when: Cooma 4209, Australia (00 61 755 88 1111); daily 9am-5pm. How much: adults A$44, children A$26.
Adored by most three- to 11-year-olds, Legoland is educational but fun. Unlike many parks, it has great rides for younger customers - don't miss the Dragon Falls and Castle tour. If it rains, take refuge in the circus tent, whose daily shows feature juggling, magic, clowns and other guaranteed child-pleasers. Melanie Dakin warns that "food is expensive. But the castle is great, and we loved the clown - who must be the best in Britain."
Where & when: Winkfield Rd, Windsor (0990 040404); daily to end Oct, 10am-6pm. How much: adults pounds 16.50, children pounds 13.50.
Seven years old this year, this 1,500-acre park contains six themed hotels, five themed "lands" and 50 rides. Most rides are covered, so bad weather can be avoided - as can food queues, thanks to 40 restaurants. If your children are too small for rides, there are plenty of shows - get there early as they fill up quickly. "Disney on the doorstep, and it really is well done. The new Honey, I Shrunk the Audience ride is fabulous fun, but my favourite is Space Mountain," confesses Martin Roberts.
Where & when: Marne-la-Vallee, Paris (00 33 1 64 74 40 00); daily 9am- 8pm, except in summer, when times are extended (call for details). How much: adults pounds 23, children pounds 18.
EPCOT, WALT DISNEY WORLD, FLORIDA
Disney's 260-acre shrine to innovation, but with no white-knuckle element. Try the Nestle-sponsored boat ride through a desert terrain bursting with genetically modified crops. "The highlight is the firework display at 9pm, where Disney burns up thousands of dollars of fireworks, then recoups them from the thousands splurging in the themed restaurants," says Reggie Heyworth. "Arrive when the all-day cards leave at 4pm."
Where & when: Lake Buenavista, Florida (00 1 407 824 4321); daily 9am- 9pm. How much: adult $44.52, child $36.04 inc tax.
OCEAN PARK, HONG KONG
One of the few places in Hong Kong that are fun for children, Ocean Park is situated in the southern area of the city near the sea. As well as several rides, it has a marine section with dolphins, whales and shark tunnels, plus a children's area housing a realistic, blood-dripping T- Rex. "I take my nieces here. There are mini Alton Tower things, and an amazing loop-the-loop rollercoaster that goes out over the sea. One section has miniature buildings in Chinese style, filled with artisans who will put your name on a T-shirt," says Ali Mackesy.
Where & when: Aberdeen, Hong Kong (00 852 28 73 8888); daily 10am-6pm. How much: adults HK$140, children HK$70.
OAKWOOD PARK, PEMBROKE
Wales's leading theme park, with plenty of white-knuckle action: The Bounce (the UK's only shot-and-drop tower, which reaches speeds of up to 70kph), Vertigo and Megafobia. There are a few rides for younger children in Playtown, with a mini-Pirate ship and Junior Flying School. Late opening at the end of July and August offers night-time thrills and cocktails. "Has the number one coaster in the world. Essential," says Andy Hine.
Where & when: Canaston Bridge, Narbeth, Pembroke (01834 891484); daily to 26 Sept; 10am-5.30pm.
How much: adults pounds 10.95, children aged from three to nine pounds 9.95.
PARC ASTERIX, FRANCE
Now in its 10th year, Parc Asterix has a new water ride, L'Oxygenarium, based (weirdly) on the process of water decontamination. Thrills here include a wooden rollercoaster and Europe's largest open-air stunt show, the Great Mona Lisa Caper. "It's well maintained," says Liz Terry. "There's something for everyone: a dolphin show, a seven-loop rollercoaster, and good food." Best of all, it's just 30km north of Paris, with excellent transport links.
Where & when: 60128 Plailly, France (00 33 3 44 62 34 04); daily in high season, 9.30am-8pm (out of season, call for details).
How much: adults pounds 19, under-16s pounds 13.50, under-twos free. 11
MAGIC KINGDOM, WALT DISNEY WORLD, FLORIDA
One of Disney's oldest theme parks, and still among the most popular, although it's now facing stiff competition from blockbusting newer parks. Magic Kingdom contains more than 40 rides in a 107-acre site, with seven lands featuring attractions, restaurants and shops based on Disney themes of yesterday and tomorrow. "Children really enjoy the Winnie the Pooh adventures, and the Main Street Parade is good value although crowded, so get there early," recommends Emma Burgess.
Where & when: PO Box 10,000, Lake Buenavista, Florida (0990 000003); daily 9am-9pm.
How much: adults $44.52, children $36.04 inc tax.
The most popular park in the world in terms of visitor numbers. Around 200 acres of Disney bliss, laid out in a pentagon shape and stuffed with rides. Hong Kong residents and the Japanese come here just for the shopping, so the Mickey Mouse merchandising opportunities are spectacular - whole coachloads depart wearing Mickey Mouse ears. "A tremendous place, with the most obedient little queues. Lots of people go on the scary rides, but people don't shriek here; they put their hands to their mouths and titter. Small children like the `teacup' rides, and Treasure Island was incredibly funny," recalls Ali Mackesy.
Where & when: Tokyo, Japan (00 81 3 32013511); Mon-Sat 10am-6.30pm. How much: phone for ticket information.
BLACKPOOL PLEASURE BEACH
Very popular and excellent fun, Blackpool has around 145 rides and attractions set along its famous shores. Space Invader, PlayStation, Big Dipper, the Grand National, the Avalanche and the Revolution: it's a white-knuckle- fan's paradise. There is an area for smaller children, Beaver Creek children's theme park, and light shows, dancing and magic performances are staged daily and nightly. "Mega. The best place in the country, with the fastest, highest rides. I think it's the best in the world," declares Andy Hine.
Where & when: 525 Ocean Boulevard, Festival Coast, Blackpool (01253 341033); 2 Apr to 7 Nov daily; times vary according to the weather (call for details).
How much: individual rides from pounds 1, books of tickets from pounds 20.
At the grand old age of 30, this is the oldest of the Legolands (others are in California, Denmark and the UK), with the obligatory mini-land scenes of buildings in Germany, Denmark and Norway. There's also a driving school, and a safari park where children can drive through Lego animal scenes. It is similar to Windsor [see No 5] and up to Legoland's high standards. "It's a really great park, and there seems to be more here for little children to do. It's clean and well-organised," says Emma Burgess.
Where & when: DK 7190 Billund, Denmark (00 45 75 331333); Mar-Oct 10am- 8pm. How much: adults DKK125; children DKK115.
ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE, FLORIDA
Islands of Adventure contains five major themed lands: Seuss Landing, the Lost Continent, Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon and Marvel SuperHero Island. It's the biggest and newest of the rivals to Disney from Universal Studios, with the first upside-down coasters in Orlando. "Best is Spiderman, which combines simulator technology with Imax-style screens and 3D projections that simulate the twists of a coaster without putting you through them. Jurassic Park is well themed; its main ride is much better than Disney's equivalent, Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom," says David Churchill.
Where & when: Universal Studios, Turkey Lake Rd, Orlando (001 407 363 8220); daily from 9am. How much: adults $44.52, children $36.04 inc tax.
LOTTE WORLD, SOUTH KOREA
Aged 14, the park is huge in terms of visitor numbers - in 1994, the Guinness Book of Records listed it as the world's biggest indoor theme park. Lotte is a cartoon raccoon - smart and diligent, they tell me, with a girlfriend called Lorry, whom younger children adore. There is also an outdoor section called Magic Island. Indoor and outdoor, the attractions add up to 54, including Sinbad's Adventure, musical shows and Gyro Drop - a free-fall ride which runs at 100kph, making it one of the fastest in the world.
Where & when: 40-1 Chamsil-Dong Songpaku, Seoul, Korea 138-721 (00 82 8224 112000; firstname.lastname@example.org). How much: adults KrW9,000 (pounds 4.50), children KrW5000 (pounds 2.50).
CHESSINGTON WORLD OF ADVENTURES, SURREY
Entertainers plus rare breeds in themed lands draw hordes to Chessington. Rides are supposedly for all ages, though when I went there with three small children, I felt the park was best suited to teenagers. There is also a pretty well-stocked and managed zoo; the animals get put to bed early, so don't leave it too late. "The Samurai, which spins you round and upside-down and side-to-side, was a little too much. I had to go on four times in a row, and just felt ill after the second go," admits Andy Hine.
Where & when: Leatherhead Road, Chessington (01372 727227); 21 Mar to Oct daily 10am-5pm (last admission 3pm), extended hours in summer.
How much: adults pounds 19, children pounds 15.
WARNER BROTHERS, GERMANY
Only three years old, this park is firmly fixed on fun lovers' maps. The theme is Hollywood in Germany, so expect Batman and Robin on every corner. The Batman ride is a hi-tech simulation chase through Gotham City - great for teenagers. There are also plenty of shows throughout the day. "People are raving about it, and I think the new ride will do them wonders. Wooden rollercoasters are just great fun," say Andy Hine.
Where & when: Warner Allee, 1D-46244 Bottrup-Kirchhellen (00 49 2045 899740); 26 Mar to 24 Oct daily 9.30am-6pm except Jul & Aug (9am-9pm). How much: adults DM38, 4- to 11-year-olds DM33.
WALT DISNEY ANIMAL KINGDOM, FLORIDA
Disney's newest theme park sprawls across 500 acres, with jungles, forests and savannah. Go straight to the Kilimanjaro Safari drive-thru, brilliantly re-created, with an irresistable poacher encounter. Try and have one adult at least per child, as this place is huge, and equip yourself with sunhats and comfortable shoes. "Knowledgeable staff and marvellous attention to detail. Conservation Station is an onslaught of Disney-speak, but Tough to Be a Bug is a brilliant show for all ages. Beware that there are no picnic areas," says Reggie Heyworth.
Where & when: PO Box 10,000, Lake Buenavista, Florida (001 407 824 4321); daily 8am-7pm.
How much: adults $44.52, children $36.04 inc tax.
LIGHTWATER VALLEY, N YORKS
This well-established park features one of the longest (though not the most thrilling) rollercoaster rides in the UK. There's also an underground coaster called the Rat: it flashes red lights at you from time to time, but is mostly a disorientating experience carried out in complete darkness. "Thrill-seekers' paradise; worth it just to say you have been there," raves Melanie Dakin. Formerly a neglected age-group, under-5s can now enjoy a new children's area, Woody's Little Big Park.
Where & when: North Stainley, Ripon, North Yorks (01765 635321); 10am- 5.30pm weekends only to 29 May & 6 Sept to 23 Oct, daily 30 May to 5 Sept. How much: adults pounds 11.95, children pounds 9.95, under 1metre free.
EFTELING, THE NETHERLANDS
This is the oldest and largest theme park in Europe, with rides and attractions based on fairy tales, myths and legends. The attention to detail is fantastic, and the place especially suits the 5-11 age range. The Dream Flight Ride, through dreams and fairy tales, is better than the Peter Pan ride in Orlando. You can picnic in the park, which is delightful, and there is a hotel on site. "A major plus-point for parents is the absence of hard-sell commercialism, and the educational aspects," says Reggie Heyworth.
Where & when: 5170 AA Kaatsheuval, The Netherlands (00 31 416288111) April to 9 Jul & 30 Aug to end Oct daily 10am-6pm, 10 July to 29 Aug daily 10am-9pm. How much: pounds 12 adults & children.
SIX FLAGS MAGIC MOUNTAIN, CALIFORNIA
This 100-acre park has 11 rollercoasters including Superman and Riddler's Revenge, both of which are in the Guinness Book Of Records. There are more than 100 attractions and two picnic areas, but on the whole the park is full of teenagers (snogging in the bushes, as one reporter noted). "The park is a must for roller fans. Heart-stopping, seriously death-defying, outrageous rides. Just don't eat before you go there," warns Martin Roberts.
Where & when: 26101 Magic Mountain Park, Valencia, California 91355 (001 661 255 4100); daily except Christmas Day from 10am (closing times vary).
How much: adults $36, children $9.99. 23
PLEASUREWOOD HILLS, SUFFOLK
This long-running East Anglian attraction, with around 30 rides, is aimed at families with younger children. Try the Big Park, tailored for under-nines; there's a colourful parrot show and an excellent sea-lion display at feeding time. A couple of white-knuckle water rides - Canyon Raft and Log Flume - will entertain older children. Food is plentiful. "It's a really good day out for the family. There's an excellent show in the Castle, though a map would be helpful," says Liz Terry.
Where & when: Corton, Lowestoft, Suffolk (01502 508200); 27 Mar to 31 Oct; daily from 10am.
How much: adults & children pounds 10, children under 1m free.
EUROPA PARK, GERMANY
This family-oriented park boasts a large variety of attractions, and not all of them white-knuckle. It is, in a way, a showcase for the best rides in the world, as it is owned by Mack, who actually manufacture them. Features luscious gardens and the strangely named Euro-Mir, a rollercoaster without any loops. "One of the prettiest parks that I have been to," says Liz Terry, who appreciates its very high standards. "It's a genuinely family park, but with some scary white-knuckle rides," she adds.
Where & when: Str. 2.D-77977 Rust/Baden, Germany (00 49 78 22 77 6103); daily 9am-6pm.
How much: adults pounds 13, children pounds 11.50.
SIX FLAGS, CHICAGO
One of 12 Six Flags parks in the States, this one, in Chicago, boasts a variety of shows in 100 acres, and 10 rollercoasters, including Raging Bull - the world's first hypercoaster, a ride which includes a 208ft plunge from nowhere - and Batman, the world's first inverted coaster, where riders find themselves hanging upside-down. "Has a high thrill factor, but queues can get very long so be prepared. Also take a picnic because the food on offer is pretty standard," says Emma Burgess.
Where & when: 542 North Route 21, Gurnee 60031 (00 1 847 249 1776); daily 10am-10pm.
How much: adult $36, child $18, under-twos free.
Four hundred of the latest video games and simulators, and seven unique rides, all under one roof. It's a perfect haven for teenagers or the computer- mad youngster, or an antidote to the round of museums and galleries in the area. Segaworld is recommended as an ideal stop for tourists with bored teenagers or children above the age of nine or so.
Where & when: The Trocadero, Piccadilly Circus, London W1 (0171-292 0714); Sun-Thur 10am-12m't; Fri & Sat 10am-1am.
How much: pounds 12 unlimited rides.
Most of Germany's parks are only semi-permanent, but this one stays put, and is one of the best. The themed lands are good, and there are plenty of shows ranging from ballet on ice to go-go dancers from outer space - plus a slightly strange glut of Monty Python-inspired rides and shows. "It is near Cologne, so easily reached, which is a bonus for parents. This park is great for families, very clean, well organised and fun," says Liz Terry.
Where & when: Berggeistr 31-41, D-50321 Bruhl, nr Cologne, Germany (00 49 22 32 36200); daily 9am-6pm.
How much: adults pounds 12, children under 1.20m free.
SEA WORLD, FLORIDA
Two hundred acres of marine attractions, rides and shows in this trail- blazer of marine theme parks, famous for its killer-whale shows. Arcticworld, the manatees and the sea-lion pavilion are all outstanding, with immaculately entertaining shows. A highlight is Journey to Atlantis, which combines a high-speed rollercoaster with 60ft drops into water. Reggie Heyworth says: "More relaxed than Disney, with wide-open vistas and fairly restrained commercialism."
Where & when: 7007 Sea World Drive, Orlando, Florida 32821 (00 1 407 363 2613); daily 9am-7pm.
How much: adult $28, child $22.
MAGICAL WORLD OF FANTASY ISLAND, LINCS
Themed indoor resort, which is a sensible idea in this part of the country. Set in 13 acres on the Lincolnshire coast, there are around 50 attractions aimed at older children, with a seven-day food-and-crafts market and caravan park conveniently located next door. Features the Millennium, Europe's biggest looping rollercoaster, which cost pounds 15m. "Lots of water attractions featuring big waves. The rollercoaster has just started up, and I have heard it is excellent," says Andy Hine.
Where & when: Sea Lane, Ingoldmells, Lincs (01754 872030); daily 10am- 6pm.
How much: pay as you ride, from 50p.
Named after the Belgian singer who founded it, Bobbejaanland was voted one of Europe's top seven theme parks by the German press. There are four rollercoasters, a couple of water rides, and plenty of other attractions, including Speedy Bob, a gigantic double coaster, Indiana River, a covered flume ride, and Kinderland, the biggest indoor soft-play centre in the world. "A good family day out, and well run. I haven't visited the new children's area, but it should boost numbers," predicts Reggie Heyworth. Where & when: Steenweg Op Olen, 45 2460 Lichtaart, Belgium (00 32 1455 7811); to 24 Oct daily 10am-5.30pm. How much: adults BFr695, children BFr350.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ESCAPE, FLORIDA
Opened in 1990, with seven major rides and 11 shows based on Back to the Future, Jaws, etc. Not so good for small children, but the Orange State sunshine is an extra bonus, as are the huge food helpings. "The park is brilliant for anyone who loves the movies and the Tower of Terror was the scariest ride I have ever been on. You are left hanging in mid- air not knowing when you are going to drop down," says Martin Roberts.
Where & when: 1000 Universal Studios Plaza, Orlando, Florida (001 407 363 8000); high season 8am-10pm, low season 10am-6pm daily.
How much: adults $44.52 (inc. tax), children $34.
DRAYTON MANOR, STAFFS
A 250-acre, pleasantly sited park, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. Best rides include Klondike, Black Revolver, The Haunting and Shockwave (the only stand-up rollercoaster in Europe with a backwards-somersault leap and a steaming corkscrew). There is a children's corner, a garden centre for weary adults, and enough space for picnics. "A well-organised park with good rides for all ages. Stormforce, the new ride, is a glorified log-flume experience, which gets your adrenalin pumping and leaves you soaked," says Martin Roberts.
Where & when: Tamworth, Staffs (01827 287979); daily 10.30am-7pm.
How much: Adults pounds 14, children pounds 10, under-fours or 0.9m free.
PORT AVENTURA, SPAIN
An excellent park, Spain's biggest, featuring five themed worlds: Mexico, China, Polynesia, Far East and Mediterranean. There are street attractions and 100 daily shows, with cuisine themed according to the countries represented - reminiscent of Disney's Epcot Centre (see No 7). A good combination of attractions are suitable for children as young as five, with some very hairy rides to satisfy the over-eights. The many water rides prove particularly popular when the weather hots up. "Stampeder is a great wooden ride with a surprise element. A really lovely park," enthuses Andy Hine.
Where & when: nr Tarragona, Southern Catalonia, Spain (00 34 977 779000); daily 10am-12m't.
How much: adults pounds 18, children pounds 13.
SESAME PLACE, PHILADELPHIA
America's only theme park based on Sesame Street, so a fabulous treat for children brought up with Big Bird (who appears in the 8ft flesh). Fourteen acres are filled with 15 water attractions, 50 activities and a rollercoaster. There's also a special-effects video adventure where children join the Sesame Street cast. "A must for little children. The park brings the TV programme to life but there are plenty of educational aspects on offer too. A good day out," says Emma Burgess.
Where & when: Longhorne, 19047 Pennsylvania (001 215 752 7070); Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat & Sun 10am-7pm.
How much: adults & children $30. 35
MILKY WAY, DEVON
The largest undercover area in the South West, but with plenty of outdoor areas for picnicking. Basically a giant indoor play area with assault course for little ones, plus extras such as bird-of-prey shows, sheep-dog demonstrations and farm animals that you can bottle-feed. Also boasts Clone Zone, Europe's first interactive adventure ride. "Perfect for young children, with lots of places to escape from bad weather," says Emma Burgess.
Where & when: Clovelly, Bideford, Devon (01237 431255); daily 10.30am-6pm.
How much: adults pounds 5.50, child pounds 4.50, family pounds 19.
DISNEY MGM STUDIOS, FLORIDA
A working film, TV, radio and animation studios as well as a theme park. Characters and sets from Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame all feature, alongside a great evening firework show and the nightly spectacular Fantasmic - a show built around the "dreams" of Mickey Mouse. Get there later in the day so as to have energy for the fireworks. Disney at its best. "I can't recommend it highly enough," confirms Emma Burgess.
Where & when: Walt Disney World, Florida (0990 000003); daily 9am-8.30pm.
How much: adult $44.52, child $36.04 inc tax.
THORPE PARK, SURREY
Most of the rides here are of the white-knuckle variety, so little children are not so well catered for. A number of pools with plentiful flumes provide huge relief in hot weather. Queues can be long at certain times of the day, so either go early or late. The latest crowd-puller is the 4D cinema, where things fly at your face and you can hear them buzzing. "Thorpe Park is not as advanced as Alton Towers [see No 1], but, in general, it's very good fun indeed," says Melanie Dakin.
Where & when: Staines Road, Chertsey (01932 569393); 10am-5pm to 31 Oct (days vary according to season; call for details).
How much: adults pounds 17.50, children pounds 14.
Scandinavia's biggest theme park has around 30 attractions, including a hair-raising haunted house, a number of water rides and the terrifying Hangover rollercoaster ride. There's also a huge theatre where you can listen to Swedish pop stars, if you're so inclined. "It's an expensive place to visit, to stay there and to use, but it is Sweden's only theme park, and well suited to families," says Andy Hine.
Where & when: Liseberg AB, Box 5053, 402 22 Gothenberg (00 46 31 400100); daily to 26 Sept, 11am-11pm. How much: adults & over-sevens 45 Swedish kronor, under-sevens free.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, CALIFORNIA
The nearest most of us will get to Hollywood, this place has enough thrills to satisfy most visitors, though little ones could freak out (cf the visceral Terminator 2 3-D ride created by Titanic director James Cameron). Also features Jurassic Park: The Ride. "I was very impressed: many of the themed attractions were better than Disney ones," says Emma Burgess.
Where & when: Universal City, California (001 818 622 3801); daily 8am- 10pm.
How much: adults $39, children $29.
BLACKGANG CHINE, ISLE OF WIGHT
One of the few places on this rather genteel island where you can let kids run amok. Thirty-five acres of cliff-top gardens with themed areas, it has been running since 1933. There's Rumpus Mansion, Nurseryland, Smugglerland and plenty of model dinosaurs. Aimed at the under-nines: take a teenager, and they will laugh you off the island. "It's a little family place, with lots of plastic dinosaurs, possibly modelled on Efteling in Holland [see No 21]," says Liz Terry.
Where & when: Blackgang Chine, Chale, Isle of Wight (01983 730330); daily 10am-5pm to 29 Jun, 10am-10pm thereafter.
How much: adults pounds 5.50, children pounds 4.50.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLORIDA
Seventy acres of attractions and information dedicated to America's space programme, with a close-up view of the Space Shuttle launch pads. No white-knuckle fantasies but the realities are amazing enough: particularly the International Space station, where you can look around facilities that astronauts use in flight. Brilliant value for older children, though there's not much for the under-5s. Emma Burgess recommends the Imax trip to Mir: "It's fun and educational."
Where & when: Kennedy Space Center, Florida 32899-0001 (001 407 452 2121); daily 9am to dusk.
How much: pay per ride.
THE AMERICAN ADVENTURE, DERBYSHIRE
Families with pre-adolescent children will love this small park. Based around a lake, it features different aspects of a Wild West town: visit the saloon bars, admire the dancing girls, and marvel at the stunt-riding shows. White-knuckle rides are limited to Skycoaster, though with a 200ft freefall, it is Europe's tallest. Liz Terry calls it a training ground for Alton Towers: "It has a certain thrill element."
Where & when: Ilkeston, Derbyshire (01773 531521); daily 10am-4.30pm to 31 Oct (till 6.30pm in summer).
How much: Adults pounds 12.99, child pounds 9.99, family pounds 39.
STORYLAND, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Parents in New England head for this 35-acre mini Disneyland, as it is particularly good for younger children. It has an area focusing on nursery rhyme and bedtime-story themes; older children aren't bored as there are rides for them too. Next to Storyland is an educational heritage village, which explores New Hampshire's history using people dressed in colonial costumes. "I highly recommend this for families taking in a New England autumn who want the children to have a treat too," says Emma Burgess.
Where & when: Glen, New Hampshire (001 603 383 4186); days vary, 9am- 6pm.
How much: adults and children $17, under-threes free.
GULLIVER'S WORLD, CHESHIRE
While most parks have height restrictions that exclude the smallest visitors, Gulliver's World prevents anyone too big coming in to spoil the little ones' fun. The massive adventure park is themed on the story of Gulliver, with pirate ships and a model village; everything scaled down to children's size. There are no big rides here. "It's great fun, Eve was around two years old when I brought her here, but all the children loved the fact that everything was for them," recalls Melanie Dakin.
Where & when: Warrington, Cheshire (01925 230088); Jun to Aug daily 10.30am- 5pm; ring for opening details outside these months.
How much: pounds 6.
GRANADA STUDIOS, MANCHESTER
Live shows, films and epic sets from television productions. The skyride simulators are quite fun but in general you have to know what's what on TV to get the most out of it. The studio claims you need to spend five hours there, but Andy Hine says: "you could do it in an hour." It's a must for all Coronation Street fans as you can walk down the Street itself. A fascinating introduction to the behind-the-scenes world of TV."
Where & when: Water Street, Manchester (0161-832 4999); Apr to Jun & Sept Tue-Sun, Jul & Aug daily, Nov Wed-Sun; 9.45am-3pm.
How much: adults pounds 14.99, children pounds 9.99, family ticket pounds 39.95.
NEW METROLAND, GATESHEAD
A huge park within Europe's largest shopping centre, with lots of rides for smaller children (ideally five- to nine-year-olds). There are 12 traditional fairground type attractions, including the New Rollercoaster and Disco Dodgems, plus plenty of fairly unhealthy food options. Indoors - but in Newcastle, this matters: "In bad weather it can be a welcome fun stop after a day's shopping," says Liz Terry.
Where & when: 39 Garden Walk, Gateshead, Metro Centre (0191-493 2048); Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, except Thur (till 9pm); Sun 11am-7pm.
How much: all-day pass pounds 6.30.
One of the better coastal parks, with three rollercoasters, three go- kart tracks, and a log flume, plus 100 attractions in all. There's a new family entertainment centre, but on the whole, it is best suited to the teenage group, or at least children over eight. Try the Traumatizer, the UK's tallest and fastest suspended looping coaster, which according to Andy Hine, has "put Southport on the map".
Where & when: Marine Drive, Southport (01704 532717); to 29 May 5-9pm Fri, from 11am Sat & Sun; 29 May to 5 Sept daily from 11am.
How much: pounds 12 white band, all rides; pounds 7 pink band, restricted rides; pounds 5 infants band; pounds 36 family ticket.
CREALY PARK, EXETER
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Crealy is the West Country's biggest indoor adventure park. Really best for the over-fives to early teens, it has no rollercoasters but a large number of farm animals that children are allowed to pet. "I went there with small children who absolutely adored the baby animals, and then were able to do a couple of gentle rides," says Emma Burgess.
Where & when: Sidmouth Road, Clyst St Mary, Exeter (01395 233200); Mon- Wed 10am-6pm, Thur-Sun 10am-5pm.
How much: pounds 4.95, under-threes free.
FLAMINGO LAND, NORTH YORKS
Europe's largest family-owned zoo has around 100 attractions, including a triple-drop log flume, which is opening this year. There is also a caravan and camping park nearby. "Good day out if you are in the area. Although the zoo isn't up to international standards, it is very sweet," says Emma Burgess. The meer cats in the zoo will particularly appeal to children.
Where & when: Kirby Misperton, Malton, North Yorks (01653 668287); Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat & Sun 10am-6pm.
How much: adults pounds 10.50, children pounds 10.50, under-fours free.
A family-orientated park, with few white-knuckle rides. The indoor area contains Towers of Fun, a "medieval" area with three soft-play areas for small children. The rare-breeds farm has cattle, pigs, sheep, shire horses and baby animals in the spring. The Rollerquest game, a treasure hunt played on 'blades, will satisfy bored teenagers. Martin Roberts says: "Fantastic for young children. The medieval jousting tournament is a spectacular show."
Where & when: Charnock Richard, Chorley, Lancs (01257 453044); 10am-5pm daily (open later when busy).
How much: adults pounds 7.99, children & concs pounds 6.50, under 1m free. !
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