Pleasurewood Hills in Lowestoft, Suffolk, opened 30 years ago as an American–themed family park, and has celebrated its landmark Birthday in some style. In addition to a number of new rides and attractions for 2013, including the 12A-rated dark ride / haunted maze combo Hobbs Pit, the park announced earlier this year they were raising the bar on their Halloween offering. Of course we couldn't wait to see if all the promises would be fulfilled, given that the park has only dabbled with Halloween festivities in the past…well, we were not disappointed with what we experienced.
The park has worked closely with AtmosFEAR worked to design a series of seasonal scare attractions that would represent an investment 10 times that seen in previous years at the park. It all sounded very promising.
The first thing you notice as you enter the park is a huge array of pumpkins and seasonal decoration. Talking of first impressions, they don’t come much better than this one- we were drawn to a side-stand near the entrance with a scarecrow holding a noose and a sign suggesting you pose for a photo. When we stood there to get a quick snap, the scarecrow came alive and slammed his stick into the floor with an enormous bang! It turns out this was the park’s local menace, Stitch, but we had no idea it was a scare actor until he startled us!
Pleasurewood Chills Scream Park, as it was known, includes a number of scary attractions, many of which were open to all guests, although three attractions required you to buy a Terror Ticket, and was an upcharge of £5 for unlimited access, but given the normal admission was reduced to only £13.50 and that all the rides and coasters were open for much of the day it represented great value for money.
Apart from the general Halloween theming around the park, ride operators sporting scary attire and make-up and a host of ambient street theatre characters, there were seven scare attractions for guests to experience.
Spooky Storytellers – This is a brand new stage show created for the Halloween season, featuring various scary characters performing spooky skits at various times during the day. As the park describes it, there were plenty of chances for interaction, photo opportunities, laughs and fun. Whilst we didn't sit down to any of the story sessions, from what we could hear and see from the nearby Horror Express queue the performers were certainly nicely in character and enjoying their roles.
Tales of the Haunted Coast – This is basically a Halloween customisation of the park's Tales of the Coast boat-ride. After a short (an disappointingly un-themed) outside section, guests sail through the haunted tunnels meeting the eerie inhabitants on the way. This was very entertaining, and again all the scare actors were interacting well with the guests. Throughput was slow though and boats were going round only partly filled, so although it was quiet on the day we visited you could see this attraction getting long queues on busier days.
Hopton Ghosthunters – This was a 90-minute ‘real ghost investigation’ experience which the park claims uses the latest technology and spiritual mediums. You had to sign-up for this event on the day and with limited spaces available we didn't get the opportunity to try it out.
Trick or Treat – A simple but fun addition to the line-up featuring a small building with a number of doors…behind the doors were characters that would offer guests brave enough to knock a treat or a trick. This was hilarious to watch, and the children (and big kids) taking part were ‘treated’ to some great entertainment, with responses including sweets, cuddles with the park’s mascots, bursts of air horns, piercing screams, evil looks and some water pistol and silly string action!
The Terror Ticket then gave you unlimited access to the following three attractions:
Horror Express – Guests are invited to walk through a pitch-black abandoned train carriage, making excellent use of the carriages that have sat in the middle of the theme park for many years. The actors inside were very lively and guests who were brave enough were treated to a short but action-packed fumble through the darkness, meeting a number of sinister characters on the way. Horror Express features some good startles and use of strobe lighting and a surprise element in the middle that really put you in a spin. The only negative to report is the low throughput - the attraction only handles one group of guests (two or three people) at one time, so waiting times could get lengthy.
Hob’s Pit: XScream – After being impressed with Hobbs Pit at its opening this year we were pondering what changes they would make to the ride for Halloween season. The ride itself we felt was a bit of an anti-climax, as it remained pretty much identical to how it was before. Where the park has changed things is to add more scare actors at the end section of the ride and the exit tunnel, which made for some interesting guest interaction. We would have liked to have seen a few more startles around the ride element, but maybe that’s being a little picky.
Satan’s Circus Scare Maze – Saving the best until last, this was a very good maze, and we were very impressed with the overall theming of the attraction, the enthusiasm of the scare actors, and the whole immersive experience. Satan has taken over the circus, and the end result is a devilishly exciting maze that can only be described as in-tents (sorry folks!). Featuring scary clowns, flesh-eating freak-shows and a crazed magician who poses the all-important question, ‘have you seen my rabbit’, Satan’s Circus sends guests on their way with something far more sinister than myxomatosis!
The combined creative juices of the park’s imagineers and AtmosFEAR have resulted in a seasonal offering that would be a credit to even the largest of corporate parks, so to experience this at a regional UK park is a huge achievement. They certainly have ramped up their scares to the next level. Hopefully the park can address the low throughput issues for next year’s events.
The park’s invitation for guests to come in fancy dress was also a great idea and adds to the overall ambiance of the park, especially as the light starts to fade. Finally we must quickly mention Sean Alexander’s illusion show at the Castle Theatre…whilst it was not part of the Halloween extras, the show is breathtakingly spectacular, leaving the audience constantly stunned and confused how on earth he did it.
Pleasurewood Chills will return in 2014 - check the website for details - http://pleasurewoodchills.com/
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