Summer days out: Theme Parks

30 highs, lows - and lost breakfasts. These pleasuredomes are perennial favourites. David Randall offers a survivor's guide

Of all days out with children, a theme park is the most treacherous. This has nothing to do with the perils of roller-coasters, or the likelihood of little Jeremy and Jemima regurgitating their sandwiches while riding in the Jolly Giant Teacups, but everything to do with you.

For most parents, a theme park visit is only marginally less traumatic than moving house. These places are not only expensive and full of people not all of us would describe as soul-mates, but few parents adequately prepare for what will be one of the most testing days of their adult life. The result is likely to be hours of tantrums, foot-stamping, bottom-lip pouting, and even tears. And that's just mum or dad.

Hence, our Intelligent Grown-Up's Guide to Theme Park Survival:

* Be aware of the likely cost before setting out. Nothing so wrecks the ambience of that longed-for day out than the words: "Why, you ungrateful little ... !" as you refuse the purchase of £1.80 toffee apples all round. Consider: family ticket, £40-£78; cost of transport, say £20; lunch for four, £32; ice creams and drinks, £8 if you're lucky; toys and "cheap" souvenirs, £16; cost of cigarettes (because you both took up smoking again mid-way through the queue for the flumes), £10. So, £126-£164, with maybe a £20 saving if you bring a packed lunch. Minimum.

* Sometimes, the only exit from attractions is via a shop selling tawdry novelties. Not knowing this, you buy toys all the way round. Your children are then subject to temptation on umpteen other occasions that day. The collision between their wants and your limited cash means trouble. So, as you park the car, address them thus: "Today, children, you will see many sparkly, temporarily desirable things. I cannot buy them all. Each of you have £5, £8, or whatever spending money." (Hand out cash). "I advise you to shop around before you buy. There will be no further funds distributed. Have a nice day." As a tantrum-stopper, it works. Mostly.

* Board the stomach-churning Megalops Cosmic Headbuster Ride before lunch.

* Pack a towel or two - and maybe a change or two of little ones' clothing. The White-Water Super-Soaker Log Ride is not called that for nothing.

* Arrive early, head for what will be the most popular ride, and do it before the "45 minutes from here" signs go up.

* On arrival, agree an "if lost" meeting point. Dress the younger ones in violent-coloured tops that can be seen from afar.

* Take a packed lunch. This will save money, time otherwise spent queuing, and stomach upsets later. It will also allow you to creep away to the furthermost recesses of the park to eat it, thus giving some respite from the noise and crowds.

* If of a fastidious nature, stifle your disgust at the place. Your kids will inevitably love it, and the day will be more successful if you let your intellectual and social standards slip for a day.

1. Alton Towers, Staffordshire

Five hundred acres of noise and rides, including new Rita - Queen of Speed doing 0-100kph in 2.5 seconds.

Open: daily, 9.30am. £29; child 4-11, £21; senior, £14.50; family (two plus two), £78. (08705 204060).

2. Blackgang Chine, Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Rides, maze, water garden, shows, water mill, quay side and a roller-coaster which climbs to 120m above the sea.

Open: daily, 10am. £8.50; family (two plus two), £31. (01983 730330).

3. Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Lancashire

More than 145 rides and attractions, including Pepsi Max Big One, Valhalla rides and six-acre children's area.

Open: daily, 11am. Free and pay for rides, or £30 for unlimited rides. (01253 341033).

4. Brocklands Adventure Park, Bude, Cornwall

Steam railway, paddle boats, racing cars, pony rides, archery, skittle alley, assault course, wildlife walk and more.

Open: Tues-Sun, 10.30am. £7.95; child 2-7, £6.50; senior, £5.95; family (two plus two), £28. (01288 321920).

5. Butlins, Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Rides, especially for younger children, boating, outdoor pool, indoor fun pool.

Open: Tues-Sun, 10am. £15; child 2-14 or senior, £7.50; family (two plus two), £35. (01243 822445).

6. Chessington World Of Adventure, Surrey

Claims 90 per cent of rides are suitable for under-12s. Also visit the zoo that was the original attraction here.

Open: daily, 10am. £28; child, £18.50 (one child under 12 free when accompanied by an adult); senior, £18. (0870-444 7777).

7. Dinosaur Adventure Park, nr Norwich

Prehistoric theme, with life-sized dinosaur models, education centre, fossil dig, animal garden, adventure playground, maze, crazy golf etc.

Open: daily, 10am. £7.25; child 3-16 or senior, £6.50. (01603 870245).

8. Drayton Manor Park, Tamworth, Staffordshire

One hundred attractions, including a roller-coaster suspending you at 16m - by your shoulder restraints.

Open: 9am, first ride 10.30am. £19; child, 4-11 years, £15; senior, £9.50; family, £47-£78. (01827 287979).

9. Flambards Village, Helston, Cornwall

Rides, laser shows, plus aeropark, Victorian Village and Britain in Blitz. Open: 10am, later for firework evenings. £11.50; child 5-14, £9.25; senior, £6.25; family, £29.55-£56.40. (01326 573404).

10. Gulliver's Kingdom, Matlock, Derbyshire

One of three parks of rides and attractions for younger children - others are at Warrington and Milton Keynes.

Open: daily, 10.30am. £8.50, senior, £7.50. (01925 444888).

11. Legoland, nr Windsor, Berkshire

More than 50 rides and attractions, including famous buildings in Lego, driving school, assault course, stunt shows etc.

Open: daily, 10am. £24; child 3-15 or senior, £22. (08705 040404).

12. Lightwater Valley, North Yorkshire

Rides, including The Sewer Rat. Magic show, pedal boats etc.

Open: daily, 10am. Over 1.2m tall, £15.50; between 1m-1.2m tall, £13.95; under 1m, free; senior, £7.95. Family tickets £55.80-£83.70, depending on size of party. (0870-458 0040).

13. Paulton Park, Romsey, Hampshire

More than 50 attractions on the edge of the New Forest. Rides, shows, museums, dinosaurs, exotic birds etc. Open: daily, 10am. £14.50; children under 14 and seniors, £13.50; family, £40-£52. (02380 814442).

14. Thorpe Park, Chertsey, Surrey

Good rides, including a roller-coaster which reaches 100kph. All set round a large lake, which means escape from crowds is possible.

Open: daily, 9.30am. £27; child, £20. (0870-444 4466).

15. Pleasurewood Hills, Great Yarmouth

Friendly park for younger children. Rides and shows, including circus. Open: daily, 10am. £14; children between 1m-1.4m, £11.75; seniors and concessions, £9.50; family (two plus two), £47. (01502 586000).

16. Adventure Island, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

London's own Coney Island, with tons of rides and kiss-me-quick atmosphere. Open: daily, 11am. Free, pay for rides. (01702 443400).

17. Camelot Theme Park, Chorley, Lancashire

Rides and attractions with medieval theme. Jousting tournament.

Open: daily 10am. £16; child under 1m, free; family (two plus two), £55. (01257 452100).

18. Cadbury World, Birmingham

History lesson and calorie overdose in one. Museum and demonstrations. Open: 9am most of August. £10.50; child 4-15, £7.90; senior, £8.30; family (two plus two), £32; family with third child, £38.50. (0121-451 4180).

19. Crealy Adventure Park, nr Exeter, Devon

Tidal Wave log flume, Prairie Train, farm, pirate ship, playgrounds in and out. Similar park at Newquay in Cornwall.

Open: daily, 10am. £9.95; child under 92cm, free; seniors, £7.20. (01395 233200).

20. Fantasy Island, Ingoldmells, Lincolnshire

Britain's first themed indoor family resort. Has roller-coasters, water rides.

Open: daily, 10am. Tokens for rides from 60p to £4. (01754 874668).

21. Flamingo Land, nr Scarborough, N Yorks

Eight roller-coasters, including Magnum Force, Europe's only triple looper. Zoo of 1,000 animals, including tigers, white rhinos, and meerkats. Open: daily, 10am. Adult, child over 12, £17.50; child 4-11, £16.50; seniors, people with disabilities, £8.75; family of four, £64. (0870-752 8000).

22. Kinderland, nr Scarborough

Imaginative play park with water chute, cycle track, boat lake, indoor two-tier play centre.

Open: daily, 10am. Adult/child over 16, £3; child 3-15, £5; family (two plus two), £13; with extra child £16. Half-day tickets, £2, child £3. (01723 354555).

23. Milky Way Adventure Park, nr Clovelly, Devon

Live shows, assault course, petting farm and rides, plus world's only flying ferret.

Open: daily, 10.30am. £8; child, £7; senior, £5.50; family (two plus two), £26.50. (01237 431255).

24. Oakwood, nr Haverfordwest, South Wales

Rides include Megafobia, voted world's best wooden rollercoaster. Mini-golf etc.

Open: daily, 10am. £13.75; child 3-9, £12.75; senior, £8.75; family (two plus two), £46; family of six, £70. (01834 861889).

25. Quaywest, Paignton, Devon

Water fun-park that has pools, slides, and Devil's Drop with 65ft freefall. Water heated to 27C (80F).

Open: daily, 10am. £8.95; child, £7.95; child under 42in, £3.50; family (two plus two), £31. Two-hour tickets also available. (01803 550034).

26. Wonderland, Telford, Shropshire

Set in 450-acre Telford Town Park, with rides, soft-play area, maze, crazy golf.

Open: daily, 10.30am. £4.75; child, £4.75; senior, £4.25; family of five, £22.

(01952 591633).

27. Woodlands, nr Dartmouth, Devon

Rides on 60 acres, including three water-coasters and new 50kph Avalanche ride. Plus bumper boats, pedal karts, animals and displays.

Open: daily, 9.30am. £8.25; senior, £5.20; family (two plus two), £31.20.

(01803 712598).

28. Barry Island Pleasure Park, Barry, South Wales

More than 50 rides and attractions, including Log Flume, Viper Rollercoaster, and Twister.

Open: daily, 2pm. Free, pay for rides. (01446 732844).

29. Brean Leisure Park, nr Burnham, Somerset

Largest in South-west with 40 rides, including roller-coasters, children's riverboat rides, pony rides and dodgems, plus shows and amusement arcade.

Open: daily, 11am. Free, pay for rides. (01278 751595).

30. Loudoun Castle Family Theme Park, Galson, Ayrshire

Set around ruins of Loudoun Castle are rides (including UK's biggest portable rollercoaster), live shows and more.

Open: daily, 10am. From age 4, £10.95; under-4s, free. (01563 822296).

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