This year we're making our way around the country to experience the UK's best theme parks and family attractions. We'll whizz, loop, scream and probably get soaking wet along the way. What's more, we'll be reporting back to you here on the blog to tell you all about the theming, the best rides, accommodation, value for money and (most importantly according to Lyall) the food outlets - he's a greedy little sausage, that boy!
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So, without further ado, here's our first theme park feature - Oakwood Theme Park in Pembrokeshire, South Wales.
Oakwood Theme Park
30 years ago, back in 1989 my parents took me and my little sister (now Aunty Emily) to Oakwood Park in South Wales. Back then, Oakwood was emerging as a small family park with just three or four attractions; a narrow-gauge railway, a toboggan, a drop-slide and a couple of water-chute type things but we absolutely loved it. Here's a few nostalgic pics to set the scene...
30 years on and Oakwood Theme Park has developed into Wales' biggest family attraction. It's set across 80 acres of hilly woodland and boasts an impressive selection of thrill rides - some comparable in size and intensity to those of Alton Towers and Thorpe Park. More about the rides shorty. But first, let's take a look at the up-to-date park map.
As you can probably tell from the map, Oakwood packs a lot into what appears to be quite a small area. But in reality the size of the park is very impressive. As you approach the entrance, an enormous water-coaster structure looms high above, along with a giant swing construction in the distance.
While Oakwood Theme Park (by name) describes itself as a theme park, it's actually probably better described as a country park with thrill rides. That said, there are two themed areas within the park; a spooky area which houses some creepy kids' rides, and a Neverland area with Peter Pan/London theming complete with Georgian terraced houses.
The absence of conventional theming with its fibreglass rocks and gaudy street furniture is a good thing for Oakwood; the landscaping and natural woodland at Oakwood is beautiful and the main attractions speak for themselves without the need for added theming.
The food and souvenir outlets are designed to complement the countryside and are well maintained, spotlessly clean and very efficient. All the rides were very well maintained, freshly painted and the queue lines and paths were clean and tidy.
One small thing that could improve the environment was areas designated for development have been left without 'teaser fencing' that you might expect from big, established theme parks like this. That's a very insignificant criticism because Oakwood is a pleasant, natural environment - very pretty.
The very same narrow-gauge railway from our trip back in 1989 collects visitors from the station and makes its way into the park. We decided to walk from the entrance to the main park, less than five minutes on foot. On arrival we were greeted by a giant... Drenched.
Drenched is a gigantic water-coaster. It's famously high and very steep (almost vertical), creating huge 40ft 'splash'... probably better described as a torrential tidal-wave, soaking spectators on the bridge ahead. Lyall, Rich and I couldn't wait - there were no queues so we were straight on; the first riders of the day. Tom decided to look after the bags (wimp) and capture some photos of the three of us getting soaked.
Drenched is very high and very fast - the drop really takes your breath away and, as its name suggests you get completely drenched. Possibly not the best first ride to choose, in hindsight, unless you have dry pants in your bag. Nevertheless, an amazing thrill ride; by miles the best water ride we've ever been on.
This, believe it or not was one of the rides I remember from 30 years ago and it's exactly as I remember. It's a metal toboggan run, snaking down a landscaped hillside. Riders sit individually on a plastic bobsleigh type thing (not the most dignified boarding process for a 38 year old with a stiff back, to be honest) and control their own speed with a handbrake.
Naturally, our family completely disregarded the brakes and raced down at a breakneck speed. If there had been a lifeguard, they would definitely have blown their whistle at us. Such fun! (PS we did actually brake near the end, otherwise we'd have caused a huge embarrassing Daddy & Dad accident in the station).
This is, by far the scariest ride at Oakwood. Speed is a 'Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter' - a green and orange looping monster of a rollercoaster, standing proudly above the trees and visible from miles away. Its defining feature is a vertical lift hill (yep, straight up) and a beyond vertical 35 m drop which basically means beyond straight down, like going back on itself. If you've seen Saw at Thorpe Park, Speed is its taller and faster big brother.
Speed is seriously scary to begin with, but once the first horrible bit's done it's 100% high-speed fun. We're not quite sure how fast Speed goes, but it feels like you're going impossibly fast, particularly through the enormous loop half way through. We laughed and screamed non-stop the whole way around. It is AMAZING and well worth returning to for a second go later if you have enough time! Guess how many times we went on Speed... FOUR times!
Megaphobia is Oakwood's crowning glory and we unanimously decided it was the best rollercoaster we've ever been on (so far...) - and that includes all the rollercoasters at Alton Towers, Ferrari Land and PortAventura! Widely regarded as Europe's best wooden rollercoaster, Megaphobia is enormous, noisy, erratic and very fast.
You know you're in for a thrilling ride when the seats are more padded that your settee and there are two lots of seatbelts! 🤣
It's quite difficult to describe how Megaphobia feels as a passenger - I guess 'turbulent' would be quite an accurate description! After the clickety climb up the hill and the big first drop (really bumpy and extremely fast) the main turns are unbanked so you're all flung into each other as you race around corners - it's really, really exhilarating and hilariously unpredictable.
We absolutely LOVED Megaphobia - to the extent Tom actually went on twice and bought his very first ever on-ride photograph! (I must mention the photos are only £8 including a digital copy) Here it is! 👇
Other notable rides include Snake River Falls - a collection of rubber-dinghy water slides, The Creepy Crawly - a family rollercoaster, Vertigo - a giant swing bungee jump style high-adrenaline attraction and Skull Rock - a classic log flume ride.
In summary - an excellent collection of rides and easily enough to consume a whole day or two.
The food outlets
There are several food and drink outlets throughout Oakwood Theme Park (I think Lyall counted about six or seven), including an American style diner, a smart looking cafe-bar with a panoramic terrace, a couple of burger/hotdog outlets and a pizza restaurant in the spooky area.
We chose the pizza restaurant for lunch. We'd suggest two pizzas would probably be enough for a family of four... like the rollercoasters the pizzas are enormous and priced at about £12 each - good value and tasty and we had leftovers!
There isn't any dedicated accommodation at Oakwood, although we stayed in a B&B in nearby Narberth - a nice village with several restaurants and takeaways.
Oakwood Theme Park packs in some big thrills, including Drenched - the biggest water ride we've ever seen and Megaphobia - the best rollercoaster we've ever been on. And that's quite an accolade!
Disclaimer time! Oakwood Theme Park provided us with complimentary entry to try out their rides and food outlets in return for our impartial review. All the opinions here belong to us. Before I forget, if you're a theme park marketing or PR manager and you'd like your attraction to feature here on Daddy & Dad, please do get in touch!