The six best UK theme parks

Our quick guide will help you to pick the right park for you and your family - and how to save money too


Alton Towers

Near Uttoxeter, Staffordshire

This Disneyesque park – which is built around a 19th-century listed gothic mansion and gardens – has 11 themed areas; and, new this year, Sharkbait Reef, a pirate-themed aquarium featuring more than 300 species of marine life. Thrill-seekers will not be disappointed by the roller coasters on offer, which include Rita, Queen of Speed, Oblivion – the world's first vertical-drop roller coaster – and Nemesis, Europe's first inverted roller coaster. Young children will enjoy Wobble World, an inflatable paradise, and Squirrel Nutty, a ride where youngsters travel through the treetops in acorns. Attractions for the whole family include the incredibly elaborate Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ride.

Save 20 per cent on the gate-entry prices by booking in advance online at www.altontowers.com – with costs from £29 for adults, £22 for children under 12 and family tickets starting at £64.50. For long-distance visitors, there are two fully themed hotels.



Thorpe Park

Chertsey, Surrey

With more than 30 rides and attractions, Thorpe Park's latest instalment is SAW – The Ride, the world's first horror movie-themed roller coaster. Adrenalin junkies will also enjoy Stealth, one of Europe's fastest coasters, which propels you from 0-80mph in under two seconds; Colossus, the world's first 10-looping roller coaster; and Nemesis Inferno, the ride with a G-force of 4.5. Younger children will like the 4D movie experience, the beach area, complete with sand and large paddling pool, and their "first roller-coaster experience" on Flying Fish – although be warned that Thorpe Park doesn't offer much more to tiny tots.

For 20 per cent off gate prices, book in advance online at www.thorpe park.com where costs are £28 for adults; £18 for under-12s; and £82 for a family of four.



Legoland

Windsor, Berkshire

Legoland, which is set in 150 acres of parkland, consists of more than 50 interactive rides, attractions, live shows, building workshops and driving schools, as well as Miniland, made up of Lego model cities and landmarks. Best for older children is the Dragon roller coaster and Vikings' River Splash. Younger children can ride the Dragon's Apprentice coaster. New for 2009 is the exclusive Bob the Builder movie in 4D and a whole new area – Kingdom of the Pharaohs – consisting of a new indoor ride Laser Raiders where, armed with laser guns, you must shoot your way through a labyrinth, battling evil mummies and dodging traps and skeletons during an adrenalin-filled journey.

Save 10 per cent on gate prices by booking in advance online at www.legoland.co.uk, where prices are £33.30 for adults and £25.20 for children.



Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Blackpool, Lancashire

Situated at the south end of Blackpool's promenade, the Pleasure Beach Resort was opened on the seafront in 1896 with a mission to "make adults feel like children again and to inspire gaiety of a primarily innocent character". It is still owned by the Thompson family today and has more than 125 rides and attractions, including Europe's tallest roller coaster, an ice-skating arena and – new for 2009 – the Spectacular Dancing Water Show, a thrilling visual treat. There really is something here for all ages. In fact, smaller children have their very own area within the park, Beaver Creek, where they can enjoy all the thrills and spills the park has to offer on a smaller scale. Despite the millions of visitors every year, the sheer scale of the resort means queuing is kept to a minimum.

Visitors can purchase an unlimited ride wristband, which starts at £19 for children under 11, and £25 for adults, on the gate – or save up to £5 by booking online at www.pleasurebeachresort.com . Alternatively, you can buy a £5 pass and pay for rides as you go.



Drayton Manor Park

Tamworth, Staffordshire

Set among 280 acres of lakes and parkland, Drayton Manor features some of the biggest, wettest and scariest rides around. Among them are Apocalypse, the world's first stand-up tower drop, Shockwave, Europe's only stand-up roller coaster and Stormface, often referred to as the best water ride in the country. Family attractions include the new 4D cinema, and young children will enjoy Thomas Land – a multimillion-pound attraction including 12 themed rides and a spectacular indoor play area. Also good news for the little ones is that there's a zoo and the theme park is so well designed that nothing ever seems more than a 10-minute walk away.

Online ticket prices ( www.drayton manor.co.uk ) for all ages are £18, a saving of up to 28 per cent on gate prices.



Chessington World of Adventures AND Zoo

Chessington, Surrey

This theme park – which incorporates a zoo and SEA LIFE centre, is separated into nine lands where there are six "Big Fun", nine "Family Fun" and 12 "Little Fun" rides and attractions. Among the most popular and exciting rides are The Vampire, a suspended roller coaster that whizzes riders through the trees, Dragon's Fury, a spinning family roller coaster guaranteed to make guests dizzy, and Dragon's Fall, a leisurely boat ride with a difference. Turn your day-trip into a short break with an overnight stay at the safari-themed Holiday Inn Chessington located next to the park.

Save up to 27 per cent off gate prices by booking in advance online at www.chessington.com , where adults pay £24 and children under 12 pay £17.

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