Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures draw millions of visitors a year. They’re among Britain’s most popular theme parks -- and they’re only a dozen miles apart. But which one is the best day out for families?
Sum up Thorpe Park and Chessington in one sentence
Thorpe Park is a big island in Surrey packed with white-knuckle rides and water rides where you’ll get very, very wet.
Chessington World of Adventures is a family-oriented theme park that mixes big rides, a zoo and sealife centre.
Winner? They both sound delicious.
What do the parks offer for smaller children?
Thorpe Park: At least five rides are suitable for preschoolers -- or at least those over 90cm. Give your youngsters their first fairground thrills on a mini-pirate ship, a twisting tug boat, a ‘lumber jump’ vertical drop, and two smaller roller-coasters. There’s also a sandy/paddle area called Amity Beach (and, yes, that is a Jaws reference).
Chessington: Under-5s will find plenty to see at Chessington, which is much more targeted at the young-family audience. Choose from a dozen smaller attractions -- from a Gruffalo river ride to a flying elephants carousel. But you could ignore all that and spend a whole day in the zoo and sealife centre, which are home to more than 1,000 animals. The daily programme of shows and talks is also geared towards families, but is currently not running thanks to Covid-19 restrictions.
Winner? Chessington, hands down.
Which theme park is best for older kids and teens?
Thorpe Park: Assuming your kids like fast and furious white-knuckle rides, then Thorpe Park is everything they could dream of. Five huge roller-coasters headline the offering, including the UK’s fastest (Stealth), which does 0-80mph in just 2 seconds. The Colossus, meanwhile, was the world’s first 10-loop roller-coaster. The park’s notorious Tidal Wave ride features one of Europe’s tallest water plunges. Don’t expect a mere splashing -- you get thoroughly soaked. Sadly, or perhaps gladly, The Walking Dead white-knuckle ghost train is currently not running.
Chessington: Although more geared up for a family market, Chessington also has its share of thrills and spills -- albeit on a smaller scale than those at Thorpe. Both the Vampire and Kobra rides generate plenty of screams, while the Dragon’s Fury features carriages that spin while they fall.
Winner? Older children will undoubtedly be happier at Thorpe Park if they’re after big rides.
Nobody in the family likes white-knuckle rides. Still worth going?
Thorpe Park: It could be. The park does contain gentler rides, such as spinning teacups, dodgems and a magic carpet ride. Plus, there’s the beach area, as noted above. Do look carefully at the website to see if there’s enough to keep you happy at the ticket price. But this place is undeniably more about the big thrills.
Chessington: Absolutely. As noted above, the zoo and sealife centre could keep everyone entertained for a full day. Throw in the smaller rides and sideshows, and you have a packed programme.
How have they coped with Covid-19?
It goes without saying that both parks have taken all the necessary measures to reopen safely. Tickets must be prebooked, queues are socially distanced, seating on rides is spaced out, and facemasks must be worn in certain areas (and on some rides). Both parks are checking temperatures of visitors using non-contact thermometers. You may find you need to queue a little longer than normal at either park while rides are cleaned.
Winner? Both parks have very similar policies, with neither notably better or worse.
How easy are they to get to?
Thorpe Park: The park looks to be easily reached by road. It’s snuggled into the armpit formed by the M3 and M25 at Junction 12. However, as the park wryly puts it on its own website, it’s: “between Junctions 11 and 13 of the M25 (but for reasons unknown to us, you can't get here from J12)”. That means you have to do a bit of a shimmy along local roads to get there, but it’s well signposted and no real chore. Parking costs £7 for the day if booked in advance (£8-£10 if not). Public transport takes a bit of planning. You need to get the train to Staines (not on the TfL Oyster network), from where it’s a short bus ride on the dedicated 950 service (every 15-20 minutes). A small fare applies and, quaintly, it’s cash only.
Chessington: Another easy target from the M25. Head north from junction 9 and you’ll be there in 5-10 minutes. Parking is £4 for the day. The park is also easily reached by rail. It’s just a 10-minute walk from Chessington South station, which sees regular services from central London and is on the Oyster network.
Winner? Chessington has cheaper parking and an easier route by train (though, obviously, it depends to some extent on where you live).
What’s the cost?
The prices below were accurate in mid-August 2020 and are subject to change.
Thorpe Park: A standard day pass is £39 for both adults and children. Children under 3 go free. Discounts are offered for students (£27). Group bookings, which were discounted, are currently unavailable due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Chessington: A standard day pass is £29.50 when booked five or more days in advance, £34.50 if not. Children under 3 go free.
Winner? Chessington wins on standard entry price, whenever you book.
Which One Is The Best?
The verdict seems clear cut. Chessington wins hands-down if you’re planning a family day out with smaller children. Thorpe Park, meanwhile, is the clear winner if you have older kids who want to test their nerves and stomachs on some of the world’s best roller coasters.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.