Britain's 'rip-off' theme parks exposed

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The Independent Online

Queuing for hours, fighting your way through crowds of people and leaving with an empty wallet may not sound like an ideal way to spend the bank holiday, but it could be an unpleasant reality for those choosing to spend the weekend visiting theme parks.

A report published today by Holiday Which? magazine shows that amusement parks are increasingly bad value for money, with a family ticket for two adults and two children costing as much as £89.

Every year, 10 million Britons visit theme parks, but excessive queues are making the experience stressful, the report said. With half-hour waits for ordinary rides and up to 90-minute queues for more popular attractions becoming the norm, most of the £89 entrance charge is spent on standing still.

And if high prices and fast rides are not enough to make visitors queasy, the food should make sure of it. The study found that few parks in the survey offered an alternative to fatty fast food choices such as burgers and fried chicken.

The magazine sent a team of investigators to the six most popular theme parks in the UK: Alton Towers in Staffordshire, Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey, Drayton Manor in Staffordshire, Flamingoland in North Yorkshire, Legoland at Windsor and Thorpe Park in Surrey.

Holiday Which? editor Lorna Cowan said: "The whole family will have a great day out at a theme park, but if you've got teenagers, a family of four could end up spending almost £130 - and that's just to get in. Very long queues were the biggest downfall of our visits, and we felt there were some missed opportunities when it came to keeping everyone occupied during the dull wait for popular rides."

The priciest offender was Alton Towers, whose £89 family ticket becomes even more expensive if any of the children are over 12. The nation's most visited theme park also came out worst on queue lengths, with waits of 90 minutes on white-knuckle rides such as Air, Oblivion and Nemesis.

Alton Towers said they were "disappointed" with some comments, but argued the park's continued popularity showed visitors were still satisfied. A spokesperson said: "Despite their high prices, Alton Towers is still the most popular theme park in the UK, with 42 per cent of the adult population having visited and a 90 per cent return rate."

Thorpe Park also came under fire for its queues, but it was the smelly toilets, overflowing bins and dirty entrance that least impressed the magazine's inspectors. And all this came at just £1 cheaper than Alton Towers, with a family ticket of £88.

A spokesperson for the park said they were "particularly disappointed that on that day the testers had some concerns on cleanliness". But they added that they have since put in procedures "specifically to ensure the park is clean and tidy throughout the day".

Legoland received the best report, for its "beautiful setting" and "good selection". It was also praised for the way it kept children entertained in queues. This was despite criticism that its rides were not geared towards older children, and of high child fares of £24.

Chessington World of Adventures have tried to solve the problem of boring queues with television screens. But when the magazine visited them in September 2006 they found many weren't switched on, and those that were did not show anything of interest.

What a day out costs - and how long you'll queue

Alton Towers Staffordshire

Adult ticket: £32

Child ticket: £22

Family ticket: £89/£78

Queues: Up to 90 minutes for popular rides

Chessington World Of Adventures Surrey

Adult ticket: £29

Child ticket: £19

Family ticket: £74

Queues: More than an hour for the Vampire Rollercoaster

Drayton Manor Staffordshire

Adult ticket: £20.95

Child ticket: £16.95

Family ticket: £66

Queues: Often more than 75 minutes for top 2 rides

Flamingoland North Yorkshire

Adult ticket: £20

Child ticket: £20

Family ticket: £74

Queues: More than 90 minutes in peak season

Legoland Windsor

Adult ticket: £31

Child ticket: £24

Queues: Often long, but Lego is provided to keep kids busy

Thorpe Park Surrey

Adult ticket: £32

Child ticket: £20

Family ticket: £88

Queues: 60-90 minutes for more popular rides