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Chocolate Towers & 
Be Discovered reviewed

John Thorp

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Chocolate Towers (Alton Towers) and Be Discovered (Thorpe Park)

Once upon a time, every day at a theme park was a special event! Well, they should be, shouldn’t they? Departing from the humdrum of daily life for a jaunt into a landscape of fast rides, entertaining performances and quality time with friends and family?

However, for the jaded and annual pass holding amongst you, this might not be considered enough, and so occasionally, a theme park will host a ‘special event’, an extra flake in the Cornetto to your day – a surprise for new guests, extra pleasure for returning ones, and something for fans and annual pass holders to look forward to and then complain about.

Easter is always a busy time at theme parks, usually as they’re rolling out their new investments to an eager to ride public, all waiting to queue hours for first dibs, or to pay a couple of quid extra and waltz past said public. Two of the busiest of theme parks, Alton Towers and Thorpe Park are both rolling out new attractions, both of which you’ve probably heard of by now. And so, it’s nice to see the parks feel that more guests are to be enticed by ‘special’ events.

Alton Towers marketing meetings must be a hoot. They once dedicated a whole week to ‘The Sound of Music’, bringing the hills of the park alive by dressing up the university drama student entertainment staff as Nuns and having them prance around, yodelling and pretending to be Swiss.

They’ve granted free entry for students who’ve failed A-Level exams, and those who happened to be dressed as Superheroes upon arrival, and were once quirky enough to advertise and cancel a Halloween event two years in a row! I bet they wear caps backwards and have their feet on the board table, and use lots of hip terminology.

Anyway, on April 1st, Alton Towers launched ‘Charlie and The Chocolate Factory – The Ride’, a re-hash of the aging Toyland Tours ride, in an attempt to provide a new family attraction, and after last year’s addition of Rita – Queen of Speed, bring more guest flow to an area of the park Nemesis and Air once spelt the death of.

Chocolate is the key here, and so the park have decided to host ‘Chocolate Towers’ – a ‘resort-wide’ event designed to embody the sprit of all things sweet, accompanied by the nifty tagline ‘You won’t leave empty handed’, which we’re sure in fact doesn’t refer to parking tokens.

Arriving at Alton Towers entrance plaza, the event is obvious – the whole of the gate structure has been plastered with a very professional, very striking gold motif spilling chocolate, and welcoming us to the event. Yes, the chocolate may be matte paint, but it’s very effective and not without class.

Of course, as guests rush in, their main aim is to head to a ride, and so it’s particularly nice to see that Towers Street (imaginatively renamed Chocolate Street!) is not without decoration… on each of the small lawns in the centre of the paving, oversized, tempting looking lollipops have seemingly spurted from the ground, the frog fountains are awash with oversized chocolate pieces, and at both ends of the street, are two oversized inflatable Easter eggs.

Elsewhere, there’s a variety of flags and sweet wrappers hanging from lampposts and roofs, like sugary hanging baskets.

But most obviously, is the impressive, amusing, if not slightly unsightly ‘Mount Chocuvius’ – a dark rock base feeds into the rough green cone of a mock, 20 foot volcano. At the top, blobs of melted chocolate peek out, with remnants of the last ‘eruption’ glooped over the structure.

Steam pours out of the top and from the cracks at the side, whilst occasionally two lines of flames lick both the base and business end of the edifice.  Business end? That’s right folks, as although Chocuvius fails to fire out hot, melted chocolate, it can manage to pump out a rather vast amount of Cadbury’s Miniature Heroes all over excited guests.

This is a very cool concept, and without a doubt the highlight of the event – the sort of silly little spectacle that most UK parks seemingly make a point of lacking.

Now, flags, signage and confectionery spewing (in)natural phenomena is all well and good, but is Chocolate Towers all shell and no filling? Well, I’m happy to report, the event has more than just a hopeful glaze. But there’s a Coffee Revel attached to this recommendation.

Consider, Alton Towers, the UK’s self proclaimed #1 paid for Tourist Attraction, and possibly the most expensive day out in the country, was closing on a balmy, busy springtime evening at 5:30PM – an utterly ludicrous time considering the size and pull of the park.

In the park, queues hit over an hour on several of the largest attractions, and I’d doubt that a group of guests arriving at around eleven would be able to conceivably manage all the ‘big hitters’. Therefore, the range of activities offered at Chocolate Towers was surprising in it’s magnitude considering a lot of thrill hungry guests would choose to ignore them completely. As well as ‘Chocolate Street’, Fountain Square became umm… ‘Chocolate Square’.

This was good park planning. As well as putting a gratuitously spacious area to good use, it paid heed to the crowds in the most popular section of the park. Here, guests could queue to meet ‘Father Chocolate’ – an afro-bearing, hip talking smooth operator in a green suit, who would engage guests on his chair and offer a free Easter egg and a hug or a sturdy handshake. Very imaginative. 

Across the way, £1 bought you a surprisingly scrumptious chocolate egg and the use of a wide variety of decorating inks to spell your message of choice – whether it be ‘Merry Christmas’ ‘Will you Marry Me?’ or ‘Bring Back Toyland Tours’. Next door, guests could obtain a special Chocolate Towers tattoo, and even an acrobatics revue has been set up.

Meanwhile, in Cred Street, the park’s theatre was proudly playing host to ‘The Chocoholic Follies’ – three bouncy, calorie loving ladies and their flamboyant transvestite friend. They sing, they dance, they mince, and they eat. This is a surprisingly well staged show, with an undeniable sense of fun. It’s snappy, and amusing, yes, borderline weird, but most importantly – really good fun.

Elsewhere, rather splendidly dressed stilt walkers – ‘Ladies of Chocolate’ greeted guests, and a free, park-wide ‘Easter Egg’ hunt to win, unsurprisingly, chocolate or a weekend at the park was available to all.

The eruption of Chocuvius provides the footnote to the day’s events, exploding at 5PM and 6PM, although the park seem to be in the habit of tweaking these times – certainly explosions spread throughout the day would better pay heed to hungry crowds.

Hundreds gather around the barriers at the base of the volcano, and after a lot of shouting and a story told about the Volcano’s being (which was in fact a sprightlier version of the Nemesis legend), the volcano erupts for around a minute solid, sending children and adults into a flurry of excitement to catch the treats. The chocolates which don’t reach the crowd, are then handily chucked out into the masses by Father Chocolate and Alton’s ‘Magic Makers’.

Although not great news to day visitors, Alton have chosen to extend the event to the hotels. In Splash Landings Ma Garittas Bar stands another chuckle inducing feature – an actual Chocolate Gunge tank, a shower cubicle that ceremoniously dumps chocolate on whoever is unlucky enough (or lucky enough?) to happen to be trapped inside it. 

Next door at the Alton Towers Hotel, the ornate theming has found itself covered in sweet wrappers and the park have gone through the trouble of transforming one of the Conference suites into the ‘Time Out’ lounge – a groovy, somewhat sensual, very funky open plan ‘chill out’ room, where guests can gamble with chocolate chips (naturally) and winners can make use of a giant fondue set.

From 10pm, the lounge becomes adults only, with the park offering the rather surprising opportunity to lick melted chocolate off the bodies of models. Well, you get what you pay for.

Elsewhere, the bar and atrium entertainment is courtesy of the Chocoholic Follies, an act practically made for a room of excited children and drunken adults.

And so, as the first real attempt at a ‘Resort wide’ event, Chocolate Towers is worth a chew – it’s not half bad. In fact, I’d say it’s really rather good, especially for a first season incarnation. One can only suspect it’ll return – not only considering its popularity on the day, but a substantial amount seems to have been invested in special staff fleeces for the two week course, not to mention that Chocuvius can’t have been cheap…

On a smaller scale, Thorpe Park is offering the opportunity for guests to ‘Be Discovered’, in a day out that the press release seems to have you believe is a cross between sky diving and a recording of X-Factor. In fact, Be Discovered is possibly the most boring event I’ve ever attended, that offers just two redeeming features.

#1 – It’s an event at a time when the park don’t really need an event. 
#2 – It kept the park open until 10pm.

Now, the argument for the latter of those two is a little flat – considering the crowds, the size of the park, the several national and regional advertising campaigns running for it, the arrival of a new £12 million rollercoaster, the time of year and general accessibility, Thorpe Park should be opening its gates later than 6 or 7pm regardless of whether guests wish to ‘Be Discovered’ or not. However, as it stands, 10pm opening outside of the usually chilly Fright Nights in October was lovely, with the majority of guests sticking around to ride in the dark or as the sun began to set. It must be said however, the lack of lighting on Stealth, the park’s widely promoted ‘icon coaster’ seems blindingly stupid.

Be Discovered didn’t quite do what it promised – that being turn Thorpe Park into ‘a land of Hollywood Glitz and Glamour’. Now, I’ve never been to Hollywood, but I’ve heard it’s not all you might expect, in which respect for all I know; it could in fact resemble Staines.

Still, a red carpet nobody notices, Basement Jaxx’s Greatest Hits album on loop, and some red tape wired around the bridge doesn’t constitute glitz, or indeed glamour. The paparazzi which were promised to snap me on the way in never materialized, instead replaced by sound effects of Paparazzi. Or, so it seems, that these ‘paps’ were so determined to get an exclusive shot of me, they were determined to hang off the side of the bridge, to do so!

The actual main event was in Port Atlantis (AKA, The Dome) – a rather snazzy stage was set up for budding stars to step up onto and belt out a tune to the approval (or otherwise) of several judges. I’d like to tell you who they were, but it wasn’t stated.

The show was attracting pretty much one type – 17 something girls in jeans and Topshop merchandise, whom all managed their vocals around Alicia Keys or Christina Aguilera tracks. The show therefore had no zest, and no real atmosphere. Positioning the stage in this area didn’t help – with four ‘heats’, throughout the day, and with ride queues at over an hour all over the place, would it really be to a guest’s advantage to make their way over to, essentially, the exit, for a show that really lacked much advertising, and was in fact, rubbish?

This could have been enormous fun, if guests were encouraged up to simply give it a go, karaoke if you will. But, whilst the park and its participants insisted on taking it so seriously, what was left was very hollow.

As for the celebrity appearances, Jo ‘her off of that S Club, remember them?’ O’Meera turned up briefly for the final heat, where as promised Richard ‘Craig off of Corrie’ Fleeshman failed to materialize at all. Finding their way to Thorpe Park from Madame Tussauds, were the rather splendid waxworks of Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh, pop moguls and most famously, X-Factor judges.

Fellow panelist, Sharon Osbourne, didn’t show up, which seems particularly half hearted considering she was just required to sit down for four days. Pictures were encouraged on the desk of these two famous faces – and were available for £4.99. Personal photography was forbidden for copyright reasons, and although the figures were nice to see, theirs only so long you can spend pointing at a well molded piece of plastic without wanting to move on.

This would all be quite tragic, if guests seemed to care in the first place – they didn’t.

Where as Chocolate Towers had a sense of the giddy about it, Be Discovered was a total misfire, the late ride opening being it’s only graceful note.

And so, this Easter, you were more likely to find success with a sweet tooth than with a taste for the big time.

Chocolate Towers 3/5, Be Discovered 2/5

Guest Author: John Thorp

Coaster Kingdom Magazine
Issue 18: May 2006

Issue 18
Why the Long Queue?
Coaster Kingdom looks at why parks hate queues as much as us and what they're doing about them.

In The Picture
In The Picture
Click to enlarge image