Forget the zoo. What they really want is to be really really scared

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The Independent Travel
THE theme park industry is a childishly competitive business. The big-players launch ever-faster and more scary rides each year in order to keep up with one another. But what's the word from the kids on the street? Here six of the country's most discerning theme park addicts give their opinion.

Friends Rachael Cobb (right) and Hannah Wentworth (below), both 10 years old, from south London, gave a unanimous vote for Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey as their number one thrill-destination. Experienced theme park visitors, their first visit to a park was about five years ago and they've been making regular visits ever since, taking in most of the UK's leading parks.

"Rameses Revenge is the best", agree Rachael and Hannah. "Its a brilliant roller-coaster ride where you go upside down and get wet as well."

Just a bit frightening?

"No. The fast rides are the best", says Rachael. "Roller-coasters aren't scary, and I never feel sick."

Both girls make it clear that it is the white-knuckle rides that make a theme park, and dismiss the zoo at Chessington as "Okay, but a bit boring".

Another venue that does well in the adrenalin stakes is Thorpe Park, Surrey. "The best ride is X:/No Way Out" says Rachael, in the voice of a true critic. "It's the one where you go backwards and it's all in the dark."

Not yet sated by the ups and downs of adventure parks, the girls' schedule this year follows a familiar routine. "We're going to Chessington at Easter and Thorpe Park for half-term in the autumn," Hannah told me confidently.

Susan, aged 10, from Richmond in Surrey, likewise votes Chessington World of Adventures' Rameses Revenge ride as her top stomach churning experience, but unlike Hannah and Rachael she also liked the zoo. "Some of the rides have huge queues or are closed, and the zoo is good fun," she says. "You don't have to wait."

When asked what her dream half-term day out would be, there is no hesitation. "I would love, love, love to go Alton Towers. All my friends have been and they say its brilliant."

Aside from word of mouth in the school playground, the popularity of a park is often relative to how close it is to a child's home. But if the parks get their marketing - and more importantly their rides - right, then children will make the pilgrimage. Joanna Beane, aged 16, and brother Robert, 14, from Bristol, are the proof of this, and make regular visits to Alton Towers in Staffordshire, a good four-hour drive away. "We usually go camping at half-term with Dad, and we always get him to take us to Alton Towers on the way home as a treat," says Joanna who prefers this park to any of the others she's visited. "It's the best because it's the biggest, about four times the size of Chessington. The rides are just the same really, but there are more of them." The half-term queues don't put her off either. "You have to queue for about an hour for each ride but its worth it, even though it only lasts for a few minutes, and on the bigger rides there are people in costumes who entertain you on the way, playing music and singing ."

Little brother Robert used to find the minimum height requirement for rides unfair. "It was really annoying, I had to wait outside while everybody went on. It was so boring, and then they'd all come back and tell me how brilliant it was." Now standing 5ft 4in tall, this is no longer a problem (the minimum height requirement on the bigger rides, for reasons of safety, is around 4ft). "I go on everything now, at least once, but it depends on the queues."

Joanna disputes this. "There's no way you can go on everything at one go, there are too many. You need two days, there's too much to do in one."

Dominic Capon, aged eight, from Surrey is another victim of theme park sizeism. "Its so pathetic that you can't go on half the rides," he spits, with no apparent concern for his own safety. "You get left with all the stupid ones like roundabouts and boring kids rides." Theme parks owners take note - adrenalin junkies start young these days.

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