Newest Review: ... them being hoisted up 164ft into the air towards the tall arch and then released for a freefall flying experience. Queue lots of screamin... more
CHEAP(ISH) WELSH THRILLS!
Oakwood Park (Pembrokeshire, Wales)
Author Name: mdstone
Oakwood Park (Pembrokeshire, Wales)
Advantages: Fun for all the family, some good thrill rides and reasonably cheap
Disadvantages: Neglected attractions and ammenties throughout the park, Vertigo too costly
This summer I visited Oakwood for the first time in nearly 15 years with my family and friends. We managed to get our tickets from Tesco Clubcard vouchers and my 2 year old son got free entry so we didn't have to spend a penny which was a nice bonus in this current climate.
As we live in South Wales it only took us about an hour and a half to get there which makes it one of the closest theme parks to home. Having not been here for a long time I noticed that they have built a new road that makes a more direct route to Oakwood as you come off the A40. The route was clearly signposted from junction 49 of the M4 just to lessen your chances of somehow taking a wrong turn. Oakwood is situated in Pembrokeshire near Haverfordwest in South Wales (set your SAT NAV to SA67 8DE).
If your not lucky enough to get tickets from Tesco Clubcard vouchers or other loyalty schemes then you will be glad to find plenty of 2 for 1 offers in various magazines, newspapers and fliers. You simply can't fail to miss them as they seem to be everywhere at the moment.
Standard entry prices for adults are around £19.95 or £14.50 for juniors between 3 and 12. Under 3's are free and there are discounts available for disabled or senior citizens. There are also various family ticket deals which will save you a massive £4! Or you could opt for an annual adult or child pass for £60 or £44 respectively. Group deals can also save you money but parties have to consist of 15 or more persons.
We arrived in the car park nice and early about 10 minutes before opening time and waited for our other party to arrive as they were about 15 minutes behind us. We had decided to visit at the end of the summer holidays when it wasn't going to be very busy. Luckily the weather had held out and although it wasn't very hot, it wasn't raining which was a bonus.
Once the others arrived they parked up close to us in the car park and we all quickly headed over to the main entrance to Oakwood. We were instantly greeted with our first disappointment of the day by a sign that read 'The train ride will be unavailable today due to a mechanical failure, we apologise for any inconvenience caused'. We were all a bit gutted about this as we all remember going on this ride as a child that takes you from the entrance into the park. I was also disappointed for my son as he has started getting into Thomas the Tank Engine and would have loved the train ride. Taking it on the chin we started to walk into the park using the alternative footpath route.
My memories of Oakwood span back to when I was a young child, maybe only 7 or 8 years old. Although I could not remember much we have family photos to remind me of my visit as a child. Going on the Bob Sleigh with my dad and playing in the outdoor assault course back in the 80's was about all that I could vaguely recall.
As we walked in one of our friends suggested that we should all head over to Oakwood's newest ride Speed so that the queues wouldn't be too big. It was a great call as when we got to the ride entrance, there was no queue at all.
Speed was built in place of the old Senior Go-Carts in 2006, although it was supposed to have been built the previous year.
I'm not a huge fan of thrill rides as I had a phobia of them when I was in my early teens but being forced onto an upside-down ride at Drayton Manor several years ago eased my fears slightly. I still hate heights and long winded inclines but as long as you don't debate too much about whether or not to go on a ride I find it is a lot easier to just start queuing and just get on with it.
One of our friends decided not to go on the ride after looking at the vertical incline at the beginning so she watched my son as we took the plunge. The ride cart seated 8 persons so 4 of us, including myself got into the front with 2 in the back. I thought nothing of getting into the front and only realised when we started moving that I'd made a mistake! As we got to the incline my heart began to beat faster as it tipped us back vertically and we started to climb. All I could see from the front was the clouds above and the rail which we were climbing. It was the longest 10 seconds of my life, there was no turning back now!
As we reached the top, the cart tilted forward greeting us with a view of the entire theme park. There was no time to think as the ride did not hang about, it rolled over the edge straight away and dropped us 110ft vertically downwards and slightly back on itself. Believe it or not but the vertical drop was not the worst part of the ride as the second dip was much worse as you were travelling faster up to 60mph. Several loops and twists later and feeling the G's on the cornering, the ride was over. I didn't even realise that we had been snapped for our photo on the ride as I was concentrating more on holding on. Although it was over pretty quickly I did enjoy it and my photo proved this theory.
As we came away from Speed we all decided to have a go on Waterfall. With this ride you sit in a single sledge and get dropped from a high water shoot into a shallow pool of water below which you skim across as you hit the bottom. If you're lucky enough you won't get wet at all but lots of people have come off their sledge at the bottom and ended up soaked in a pool of water (largely due to not learning forward). Although this ride has been here for as long as I can remember it was the first time I went on this ride as I had chickened out on this one last time I visited the
Pictures of Oakwood Leisure Park, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Oakwood Leisure Park, Pembrokeshire, Wales park several years ago. The ride doesn't look too bad when you are watching it from the bottom but believe me, when you get to the top and sit in your sledge you'll quickly realise that the drop is a lot bigger and scarier that you first thought. You can understand why several people turned back down the steps at seeing the drop. Albeit was a fun ride.
As I've mentioned already, I've never been a fan of heights and the fact you have to pay an additional £33 per flight (or £16.50 for 2 and £11 each if there are 3 persons) to go on this ride made my mind up pretty quickly that I wasn't going to go on it and neither did anyone else in our party. We did however stand and watch 3 people go on this together which you could see was a high adrenaline experience, especially when you see them being hoisted up 164ft into the air towards the tall arch and then released for a freefall flying experience. Queue lots of screaming! Not one for me.
Moving onto Bounce I decided to look after my little one for this ride whilst some of the others started queuing. I'd been on this ride before and wasn't a huge fan of freefall drops so I decided not to go on it this time. It is a much similar experience to Tower of Terror in Disney World in my view which I hated. This fires you up 150ft into the air before bouncing back down to ground. It then slowly takes you up to the ride's highest point and drops you in freefall. Watching from the sides it seems that the staff controlling the ride add to the experience by distracting you with safety measures on the speaker before they shoot you up into the air mid-way through talking. Looking to the side of the hill by Bounce you can see remains of what once was the assault course playground. This is another example of how Oakwood have replaced some of its original attractions for thrill rides which have taken away some of its family leisure park heritage.
Snake River Falls
Situated next to Bounce are 4 unique experiences of a water dinghy ride for 1 or 2 persons each with their own name based around snakes. 2 of these slides are open top with the other two being closed so that you can't see where you are going. I had the pleasure of trying out one of the closed slides and one of the open ones which led to a soaked backside on both occasions. I didn't manage to try this on my own as it was more fun being on the ride with someone else. The queuing did take a while though which was probably down to there only being 4 dinghies in operation. There would only be 2 dinghies at the top of the ride ready to be used, whilst the other 2 were at the bottom being loaded onto an escalator after the riders had exited them. If they had 8 of these in operation it would have reduced the queuing times (bearing in mind you could see a few deflated ones at the top of the ride).
We then headed over to the next closest ride which was the Pirate Ship. This is one of the worst rides for me as it just turns my stomach so much it makes me sick. I don't get any pleasure from these so I left this one to the others. The queue for this was pretty quick but you may have to try the ride a few times to get a back row seat. One of my friends regretted going on this twice in a row. I felt sick just watching it.
This is another original ride that I can remember from years ago which was Oakwood's first steel rollercoaster that opened in 1989. The coaster takes you though dense woodland in between fir trees at speed (well 22mph!). It's been over 20 years since this was first built and you can see that it is still a popular ride today although much less thrilling than you remember as a child. This ride is more for younger children and adults who don't fancy riding on some of the bigger rollercoaster rides.
Lost Kingdom & Wacky Factory
It was time to do something for my son as he had been patiently watching us in his pram for much of the morning. The lost Kingdom is basically a huge multi-level soft play area filled with slides, ropes, swings and balls. Our son absolutely loved this but being only 2 years of age we had to take him around the play area to make sure he was safe. It kind of put me back to my childhood days as a few of us in the party went inside too and had just as much fun as the kids!
The wacky factory is a new addition next to Lost Kingdom where kids can fire soft balls out of various button controlled cannons and load balls into vacuum tippers and pipes. This section also has a small play area where you can reach cannon guns at a higher level and fire balls at others.
There is probably enough area of play to spend a good hour here.
Play Town Rides
After being worn out from the Lost Kingdom we took our son onto the Play Town rides. This area hosted a few fairground type rides for kids, which consisted of truck rides on a rail track, a plane ride that lifted up and down as it went around, a small carousel, a clown mini coaster, tractor ride and mini Ferris wheel. We took our son on most of these rides including the clown coaster which he wasn't very sure about but the Ferris wheel was out of order.
The tractor ride, more commonly known as the Bunny Rabbit ride consisted of several tractors on a rail that took you round a track in a small holding of guinea pigs, rabbits and chickens. The rest of our party watched us and took photos from a bridge walkway that was built over part of the track. Our son loved turning the steering wheel and playing with the gear levers as it went around the track. My only disappointment with this ride was that it only did one lap of the small circuit when it could have gone around twice. There were only 1 or 2 other children queuing for the ride so this was a bit of a shame as my son cried when we took him off the ride and we had to explain to him that it had finished.
On the way over to the Bob Sleigh a few of us had a go on the Sky Leap. This is one of the first rides ever built at Oakwood where you drop from the top of a near vertical slide in a sack. This is another ride where it looks easy from ground level but much higher when you get up to the top. There isn't really a queue for this ride so we were only here a few minutes before moving on. Just remember to remove your shoes!
The Bob Sleigh was what Oakwood was all about back in the late 80's. This was one of their more authentic rides which had always been popular with families. It is basically a toboggan ride which takes you up to the top of a hill on a traditional metal slide via a chain. At the top it then releases you as you travel downhill and around bends. The rider is in complete control of the speed using the lever at the front of the sleigh to apply the brakes. There is a clear warning before getting on the ride that if you fail to brake altogether you may capsize the sleigh but I've never seen this happen.
All but my partner queued up for this ride and I decided to take my son on with me (much like my dad had done with me when I was a boy).
It wasn't the most toddler friendly queuing system in the world as it was a wooden footbridge that had gaps in between the panels. These were big enough for my boy to fit through so I had to keep hold of him, which at his age is very difficult as he likes being free and is in to everything. Having said that, when we finally got on the ride it was a great experience and he loved being at the front. I was slightly cautious with the brakes with the 2 of us on the ride but I later went on it a second time with my partner separately for a much faster ride.
The only disappointment with this ride was the time it took to queue. We must have been queuing for nearly an hour due to the fact that it was one off, one on for the sleighs, every minute or so.
Wild West Dive Show
This was new for 2011 which is situated next to the large open picnic area. There was nothing 'Wild or West' about this show apart from the announcer who was trying to put on a western American accent and doing a pretty bad job at it. They may just as well have called this 'The Dive Show'. Having said that, it was enjoyable to watch the 3 divers doing the synchronised and high diving from the different platforms into a small circular water pool. The announcer would try and get the crowd involved with clapping and cheering up to the big finale which involved one diver climbing up a very tall ladder which must have been around or close to 100ft in the air and diving into the water pool below. It was surprising to see such a high dive and it was all done without any safety measures. The ladders were all open so the divers could actually fall from them considering they were also wet and there were no safety nets to the side of the pool should a dive go wrong.
When we returned to this area later in the day on the way out, the picnic area had a DJ setup with lighting playing loud music. This was part of Oakwood's late night opening days which are spread across the summer.
Megafobia is probably Oakwood's best ride and has been voted one of the best rides in the UK and Europe. You could arguably say this is scarier than Speed because of the rattling wooden structure. Since my last visit to Oakwood they have added extra lap belts to the ride and padded out seating making it more safe and comfortable. This ride is a great experience of heart dropping dips and sharp turns and will have your adrenaline pumping. The queuing wasn't too long for this either as you can get a lot of people in the coaster for every ride. This is another ride that takes your photo half way through which you can view or buy on the way out. The biggest drop on this coaster is 82ft with speeds of up to 55mph which is amazing for a wooden coaster.
I went on this ride twice although some of our party had time to do this 3 or 4 times.
We could also see the Boating Lake as we rode on Megafobia but decided not to bother as we could have ridden pedal boats at anytime at some local parks and were mainly here for the bigger rides.
This ride has changed considerably since it was once Voodoo Mansion prior to 2003. You are seated in a ghost train ride wearing 3D glasses and taken through a dark mansion house with scary spooks along the way. All you can hear throughout the ride is evil laughing, screaming and ghostly noises. The 3D experience probably made this a whole lot better with some nice visual effects which made creatures appear like they were coming at you.
We were kind of forced to take our son on this ride with us as everyone in our party wanted to go on it. He was fine for most of the way around the ride until a creature popped out and made a loud noise which did frighten him. Towards the end of the ride they also had a real person wearing a mask walking around and scaring people which added to the fright.
Gold Panning is where you can sieve Jake's river water for gold (not real gold of course but fool's gold). We didn't actually manage to go here due to time constraints but to be fair it was tucked away at the back of the theme park and could easily go unnoticed. Some other reviews I've read suggest that you could spend hours here with children as they get so much enjoyment out of it.
The site itself is at the location of Jake's Town which was scrapped by Oakwood in 2000 and pretty much put to shame the 'theme' in their claim to be a theme park. Jake's Town was the only true themed section of the park (Wild West) which has taken its fair share of neglect over the years. Jake's shooting gallery near the Spooky 3D is a prime example of this neglect where almost half of the air guns were broken or out of order and some of the targets inside the gallery were worn to the point that they no longer registered a hit. We did however manage to find one broken gun that gave unlimited credits for free so we did enjoy it!
Brer Rabbit's Burrow
This ride was previously known as Nutty Jake's Goldmine and has seen a considerable revamp to turn the entire ride into a child aimed rabbit adventure. This was quite disappointing as Nutty Jake's Goldmine used to be a good ride and sat well within the themed area. I no longer see Brer Rabbit as something current and most children will not have even heard of it. My son however did enjoy the train ride and looking at all the rabbits (not real ones) on the way round.
Just outside this ride there were some amusements along with some carnival type stalls where you had to throw or kick balls at bottles or targets to win a soft toy. Some of the prizes however were pretty poor. There was a teddy bear with 'I Love you' written on it which isn't something you would want to win for your children as this is more of a prize aimed at couples and a few Smurf toys which had been hanging from the stall for some time and were very dirty or had holes in them. One winner was very disappointed when he wanted a Smurf but had the choice of a dirty one or nothing at all as they didn't have anything else in stock. I also think that although the Smurfs were something current due to the movie being released in cinemas, this was more of a fluke and they were just flogging old stock.
After we came out of the Brer Rabbit ride with my son we met up with the others just outside who were already playing mini golf so I decided to join in. You have to pay a deposit for this and a one-off fee of around 50p. On our way around each of the holes we saw more examples of neglect whereby most of the golf courses were worn so that golf balls could not be placed correctly or did not roll along the ground as it should. Despite this we all had great fun on the course and went around several times before moving on.
Formally known as Hydro until 2011, this is one of the biggest water coasters in the world and one of the tallest water rides in Europe. It has a 100ft drop which is almost vertical into a million gallons of water. This creates a 45ft wave of water which also splashes over the wooden viewing area (onto some unsuspecting viewers).
I refrained from going on this ride for 2 reasons. Firstly, it does not open until 2:30 in the afternoon and it was colder by that time than in the morning and I didn't fancy getting soaked (and I mean drenched, like the name suggests) and have an uncomfortable afternoon. You can however purchase a thin water proof anorak before you queue but that would take some enjoyment out of the ride. Also the hot air dryer outside which you stand inside (and have to pay for) was out of order.
Secondly, a 16 year old girl died on this ride back in 2004 which led to its closure for 12 months. They ended up adding over the shoulder restraints and belts for better safety instead of just a lap bar but in my opinion the shoulder restraints should have been there in the first place due to the sheer drop.
Viewing the ride from the side where you don't get soaked I could see a few of the others who went on the ride beginning their incline to the top. It seemed that they had been queuing for ages before they even got on the ride. This was surprising because there wasn't anyone else queuing and you only ever saw the ride perform every 15 minutes or so.
As they reached the water fall I could hear them all screaming as it tipped over the edge and shot down vertically at speed into the water. It almost looked like the ride tilts too far forward before splashing into the water but they all survived it safe and sound to some cost. Unlucky for them there were some people squirting them with the water canons next to the ride so they got even more wet (you had to pay for these but one of them was broke and had a continuous flow of water out of the end free of charge). When they finally got off the ride and joined back up with us we could really see how wet they were. They were shaking from the cold and soaked right through as if they'd just taken their clothes out of the washing machine! One of our friends had dyed her hair a few days before and this had run all over her white top which was now skin tight. As for some of the viewers on the bridge, they were just as wet and they didn't even go on the ride!
Food & Drinks
Although we decided to take a packed lunch to save on the cost of food, some of our party decided not to. Outside Spooky 3D there was a Fried Chicken style restaurant where meals cost in the region of £5-£6 consisting of a fillet burger, fries and a drink (or similar options). This was quite pricey considering you can get a Mcdonalds meal for under £4 and kids meals for under £3.
Outside Megafobia there was a stall selling hotdogs, doughnuts and slush drinks (to name a few items). The seating area next to this seemed to be pestered by wasps which was very annoying. Out of some spare change we had we expected to get a few warm doughnuts as a treat but these were very over priced considering their size and we only had enough for 1 each.
Next to Speed there was also a stall selling food but I'm not sure it's placement works well here. I wouldn't want to see the results of someone eating here and then taking a ride on Speed!
Dotted around Oakwood there are also various vending machines selling snacks and ice cream and also stalls selling candyfloss. Next to Drenched you can now find a new traditional Sweet Shop which is something different to find at a theme park rather than your usual sickly treats. My advice on food is to do the same as we did and take a packed lunch but eat it at the picnic area so you get good seats for the diving show.
With everything taken in to consideration Oakwood is an enjoyable family day out with plenty to do for a reasonable price. You could quite easily spend 2 days here and get to go on your favourite rides more than once. The placing of the rides are not too far from one another so it doesn't take too long to get around the park. There is however a lot of evidence of neglect with several amenities or older attractions out of action or in a poor state which was sad to see. Even the changing facilities next to Drenched were out of order and being made into a home by several birds who were flying in and out of the unit!
If I could make any improvements to Oakwood then I would certainly put some life back into the older attractions and add more themes as they are pretty much non existent. Although it has lost most of its themed areas, there have been some great additions to the park recently with Speed and the Wacky Factory for kids.
I do not agree with having to pay extra for rides once you have paid at the entrance so paying up to £33 per flight for Vertigo is daylight robbery. It also takes bookings in advance and they should just scrap that idea and introduce a queuing system.
The ride waiting times on our visit could also have been improved if they had concentrated on adding more riding materials such as more Bobsleighs for Bob Sleigh, more dinghies for the Snake River Falls and more sledges for Waterfall. There was a lot of evidence of deflated dinghies and out of use sleighs next to these rides that were obviously out of action for some reason or another. Maybe they will use the winter months to do some much needed maintenance?
It does seem that Oakwood is drifting away from its heritage as a family park to a thrilled theme park but if it is to compete against the likes of Alton Towers or Thorpe Park then it needs to invest in more rides and look up the meaning of the word 'theme' in the dictionary.
It is however Wales's best theme park so I would still recommend a visit despite some of its negatives.
Summary: A great day out with some great ride additions but room for improvement.
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