Oakwood Theme Park

Oakwood Theme Park (formerly Oakwood Leisure Park or Oakwood Coaster Country) is a theme park in Pembrokeshire, Wales which attracts over 400,000 visitors each year.

Oakwood opened in the late 1980s as a very small family park with BMXs, a wooden fort, a 3D-style cinema experience show, go-karts and a water chute ride. The park has in recent years acquired a reputation for innovation and now incorporates five large thrill rides: Megafobia (1996), Vertigo (1997), Bounce (1999), Drenched (2002, as Hydro) and Speed (2006).

In 2006 Oakwood opened its latest ride to the public: Speed, a Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter roller coaster with a 97-degree drop. This was the first Euro-Fighter in the UK and was at that time the steepest roller coaster in the United Kingdom, only being overtaken by the opening of Thorpe Park's Euro-Fighter Saw: The Ride in 2009 and Mumbo Jumbo (rollercoaster) at Flamingo Land Resort in the summer of 2009.

The 85-foot-tall (26 m) CCI-built wooden roller coaster "Megafobia" has been rated among the best in Europe by enthusiasts.

Owned by the same company is 'Oakwood Bowl', which is situated just out side the entrance to Oakwood Theme Park.

In the beginning

Oakwood Leisure Ltd. was owned and developed by the McNamara family (until March 2008), Pembrokeshire farmland owners who diversified into the leisure industry in 1987 after the introduction of milk quotas. The park took twelve months to research and great care was taken when the work began to integrate all its facilities into the existing valley and to complement the natural vegetation. Not a single mature tree was disturbed and many have been used to enhance, screen and provide natural avenues to various rides. The first stage, completed in 1987, cost approximately £1 Million to build and invest in new rides, infrastructure and staff training has continued each season. As a result, Oakwood is now classed as one of Wales' top tourist attractions and one of the Top Ten Theme Parks in the UK

Original and former attractions

Since the park's beginnings a number of its original attractions have been closed and removed, frequently to make way for larger and more impressive rides. The need to renew and sustain public interest as well as the aged and primitive nature of some of the original attractions would seem to have been the main rationale behind this.

The original focus of Oakwood was that of a family orientated leisure park. The removal of previous attractions has thus been criticised by some. In particular Oakwood has been accused of depleting its own unique character by removing some of its more individual and authentic attractions to make way for the park's development into a "white-knuckle theme park".

Whilst the park's development has been welcomed it is sometimes argued that original attractions should have either remained in place or been upgraded so as not to forsake Oakwood's heritage as a family leisure park. A particularly regrettable move for some was the scrapping of Jake's Town, with its unique narrative theming based around the gold mine character of Nutty Jake. Critics point to the alleged inferiority of the poorly themed "New Orleans" as evidence to substantiate this viewpoint.

An alternative viewpoint is to say that the park's removal of previous attractions is standard practice in the theme park industry particularly with respect to developing parks who will naturally seek to gradually upgrade their portfolio of Attractions.

List of former and original attractions
  • Nutty Jake's Gold mine: Riders were taken through a gold-mine themed tunnel in the then themed area of the park "Jake's Town". Since then the ride has become "Brer Rabbit's Burrow".
  • Jake's Music Hall: an animatronic puppet show which opened in Jake's Town in the early 1990s.
  • Also self-operated Go Karts ("The senior go-karts) were removed for the 2002 season. A rumour at the time alleged that this was originally planned to make way for Hydro which was then moved to its current location for reasons unknown. One theory for this change of location is that the park deliberately sought to build Hydro in an imposing and exposed position at the front of the park to test the waters with regard to planning regulations and what the park would be "allowed to get away with". If this was indeed the reason then it would appear the policy has been successful as Hydro has received no complaints despite dominating the skyline at the entrance to the park and in the surrounding countryside. There has been some indication that the go-karts were becoming problematic for the park with fraudulent claims of personal injury from guests and also from individuals abusing the timing restraints on the ride. Since then the go-kart area has been used to house the Gerstlauer Euro-fighter Speed (2006).
  • A smaller junior go-kart track was also removed for the 2002 season. The land vacated was used to house the Plane-crazy family ride which opened at the start of the 2004 season.
  • An assault course originally existed in the mini-valley which is now the site of the Bounce shot'n'drop tower. The assault course was cleared to make way for the Bounce in 1999.
  • A somewhat primitive 3D Cinema experience, the "Cinema 180" was one of the original park attractions which eventually faced the axe after an unsuccessful attempt at moving the attraction from the front of the park (where Hydro currently sits) to a green space between the Pirate Ship and Snake River Falls water ride.
Development into Theme Park (1996 - 2008)

Following an increase in visitor numbers after the arrival of Snake River Falls water coaster in 1994, management decided to pursue the development of the park into a more 'thrilling' theme park. In 1996, Megafobia opened. It cost £1.7m to build, but allowed the park to reach 500,000 visitors in one season for the first time. In 1996 Oakwood also began an annual After Dark event, with late night opening, fireworks, entertainment and discounted evening entry. Due to its location and comparatively limited financial resources the park is unlikely to develop into a major competitor on the same level as such parks as Alton Towers and Thorpe Park. However, by retaining its authentic character whilst adding unique (comparatively inexpensive) signature rides (such as Megafobia, Hydro and Speed) the park is favoured amongst connoisseurs of the industry and the public alike. Rides Vertigo (1997), The Bounce (1999), Hydro (2002) and Speed (2006) have ensured Oakwood is now hailed as one of the UKs finest Theme Parks.

New Era for Oakwood (2009 - )

Following the change of hands to Aspro Ocio S.A in March 2008, Oakwood Theme Park has seen a range of changes, in particular to staffing. With both seasonal and permanent restructures to staff levels in order to coincide with market conditions. This has had a positive effect on the financial status of the park, after reports in 2007 and 2008 that it was £8,000,000 in debt.

In February 2010, a new logo was premiered on the front page of Oakwood's new leaflet and Facebook page. The new image is the first logo for the park to change the initial 'train stop' shape around the name (a shape that was used on the original Megafobia logo). We now see a blue corkscrew section of a coaster with the words Oakwood then Theme Park in a box underneath.

Chronological development

1988: Nutty Jake's Gold Mine (Family Dark Ride).

1989: Treetops Family Roller Coaster.

1991: Jake's Music Hall animatronic stage show (Jake's Town).

1994: Snake River Falls Family Water Ride. At the time this was a rather substantial addition to the small leisure park. Arguably, the addition of Snake River Falls in 1994 marked the real beginning of the park's current expansion into a major attraction. Of some amusement is the fact that at the time of the ride's opening it was billed as "Europe's largest water coaster", a title which was subsequently also used to publicise Hydro. The difference in both the type and scale of the two rides could hardly be greater.

1995: Play Town Farm for children including tractor ride. Further development on this area was planned but never came to fuition.

1996: Megafobia, at the time this was Europe's largest Wooden Roller Coaster and transformed the park's status as well as its fortunes. It remains the park's foremost attraction.

1997: Vertigo Sky Coaster. Kiddie Coaster (now Clown Coaster) in Play Town. General park face-lift.

1999: Assault Course is first of Oakwood's original attractions to face the axe as part of the park's expansion. This makes way for the Bounce Tower Coaster, the park's third white-knuckle attraction. Guest Relations is added, it is a tourist information centre as well as a second first aid base, also, it is a link between guests and park, complaints, lost property and lost children are its main duties.

2000: Jake's Town is axed. Voodoo Mansion now occupies the site of Jake's Music Hall. Play Town is revamped with the launch of Kidz World and the addition of a number of new children's attractions such as the Wacky Factory.

2001: Nutty Jake's Gold Mine, already closed since 2000, is now transformed into Brer Rabbit's Burrow.

2002: Hydro becomes the biggest ride to arrive since Megafobia 6 years earlier. Both Senior and Junior go-karts are axed.

2003: Voodoo Mansion is revamped into "Spooky 3D" for Whitsun.

2004: Plane Crazy, the most substantial new family attraction for several years, is opened on the site of the old Junior go-karts.

2005: Speed does not arrive as intended due to the Hydro tragedy of the previous Easter. Hydro itself is re-opened following closure through almost all of the 2004 season. It re-opens with a new boat interior with improved restraints and some degree of re-branding (primarily a new colour: red). The Magic Factory is the new children's attraction for this year. Oakwood's after-dark show loses its famous laser-water screen; it is replaced by "dancing" fountains, a series of illuminated water-jets choreographed to music.

2006: Speed Euro-Fighter (Now Speed: No Limits) is opened on the site of the old Senior Go-Karts.

2007: Oakwood re-locates its Premier Theatre from New Orleans to Wacky Factory's location, next to Plane Crazy. Wacky moves into Lost Kingdom, which loses its Bouncy Castles. Oakwood also holds an event for its 20th birthday allowing guests into the park for £2.95 for one day only, and begins a Online Booking system. Girls Aloud also played in the park on 21 July. This was their first live performance of their single "Sexy! No No No..."

2008: Oakwood's Late night entertainment was cut to only one outdoor show (the blues brothers band) with the removal of the "dancing" fountains. The parks fireworks also re-located behind Speed due to the parks neighbouring site Bluestone. The parks future late night entertainment is now in set to be doubtful due to the parks new ownership/management. This year no Summer Indoor show was produced.

2009: New Spanish owners 'Aspro Ocio S.A' abolish Oakwood's summer entertainment event After Dark, the park extends its opening times by one hour during August and all entertainment is cut. No new attractions are added making 2009 the 3rd year with no new developments. Two new attractions were scheduled for opening in 2009, but due to the recession, 'Aspro Ocio S.A' take steps to temporarily suspend their introduction. A new POS system is introduced to speed up entry into the park.

2010: No new rides are added, making 2010 the fourth year running with no new attractions. New logo released, becoming the first to detract from the original logo loosely used between 1987 and 2009. Bounce has been repainted red and white, and there is a major interior redesign.

2011: Hydro's name is changed to "Drenched" and the park undergoes another major internal facelift. Water cannons are added to a newly-created viewing platform near to the Drenched ride. A new traditional Sweet Shop opens. Late Night Opening until 10pm returns on Wednesdays and Fridays in August 2011. The 2011 leaflet states that in July and August there will be a 'Wild West Dive Show' available at the park, however further details are not known at this stage. The park's brand new website launches this year and considerable phone box and billboard advertising is undertaken by the park in South Wales and Ireland. The park announces that Welsh children's TV character Fireman Sam will make an appearance for the Whitsun half term, seemingly a suggestion that the park has turned a corner and is starting to develop once more.

2012: The park has released no information about possible developments for 2012.

Theming

Although the park claims to be a "theme park" the only themed area is the small section of the park which now houses "Brer Rabbit's Burrow" and "Spooky 3D". (It is arguable that the park's section for young children, Kidz World, formerly known as Play Town, is also themed.) This section of the park was formerly known as "Jake's Town" and featured a "wild-west" type theme. After the closure of "Nutty Jake's Goldmine", the areas main attraction, and the closure of an animatronic stage-show also set to the "wild-west" theme, the area became known as "New Orleans". New Orleans featured a "ghost train" called Voodoo Mansion (2000) set in the original showbuilding for the animatronic stage show, and a children's "dark ride" known as "Brer Rabbit's Burrow" (2001). Both the voodoo religion and the children's character Brer Rabbit are associated with the deep south of America, the locality of the actual real life New Orleans. However, it is likely that the themed connection (particularly that of Brer Rabbit) would have been lost on most members of the public due to its obscure nature.

Shortly after the construction of voodoo mansion the ride was unexpectedly rebranded as "Spooky 3D" (2003). While some argue that the ride was closed due to lack of interest from the public this is unlikely as the ride essentially remains in place under the re-branding of Spooky 3D. Others argue that the ride was closed for ulterior reasons; namely the ride's politically incorrect portrayal of the voodoo religion. It is to be noted that even aside from political correctness the voodoo religion remains a controversial subject-matter. Since the ride's rebranding New Orleans seems to have lost its own distinctive deep south theme. The area in general now arguably suffers from a miss-match of theming with only a few western and New Orleans style buildings left.

Seasonal and holiday operation

The face and atmosphere of Oakwood changes throughout the year marking holidays and summer operation.

  • Summer: In 1996, the same year as Megafobia was opened, Oakwood also launched its "after-dark" late summer openings. The tradition continued until the 2008 season. 2009 sees a significant cut back in both the entertainment provided and the park now closing, in August, 4 hours earlier than previous at 6 p.m., a move which was widely criticised at the time.
  • "After-dark" involved Oakwood remaining open until 10pm every night in August and featured indoor and outdoor entertainment and a nightly fireworks display.
  • Halloween: Oakwood launched annual Halloween celebrations (or eerie evenings) subsequent to the opening of Voodoo mansion but has since decided to discontinue this. However, for the first time in a number of years, from 2008 Oakwood opened again during the day for October half term.
  • Christmas: Since 1995 Oakwood made a practice of opening the small children's area of the park known as Play Town (now Kid’s World) themed in the style of a Winter Wonderland. The park held an annual Christmas pantomime in conjunction with this in which minor celebrities would often undertake parts. Despite the relative popularity and success of Christmas opening the park decided to discontinue with this venture and has now not held a Christmas opening season for several years.
Main rides
Thrill rides
  • Speed was opened in 2006 and is the park's latest thrill ride as well as being the park's second major roller coaster. It is a Gerstlauer Eurofighter and has a 97 degree drop including vertical loop, a sharp overbank, heartline roll and helix.
  • Megafobia is a CCI wooden roller coaster and was Oakwood's first white knuckle thrill ride. It was built in 1996 at a fraction of the cost as CCI wanted a ride to showcase their company in Europe. Megafobia features a twister style layout. It is often ranked in the top 10 wooden roller coasters in the world. It has a 55 degree drop, and it's also a fast ride. A CCI (Custom Coasters International) built ride, Megafobia has celebrated its 11th year of existence and has been voted one of the best wooden roller coasters in the world. If you dismantled Megafobia and laid planks of wood end to end, it would reach from Oakwood Theme Park to London and back again!
  • Drenched, formerly Hydro, was built by Swiss manufacturer Intamin AG in 2002. Drenched is one of the biggest water coasters in the world and currently the tallest water ride in Europe, with a 100 ft drop almost vertical into a pool of a million gallons of water creating a 45 ft wave of water. Following the death of a 16-year-old girl on the ride in 2004, Hydro has fitted with over the shoulder safety restraints to replace the previous lap bars (see "Hydro death").
  • Bounce (originally "the Bounce") is a 'Shot n Drop' tower opened in 1999 and manufactured by HUSS a German thrill ride manufacturer. Bounce is one of the tallest rides in the park at 160 ft. When the ride starts the rider is shot up into the air in under 2 seconds before bouncing gradually back to the ground. It then, more slowly, takes the rider to the rides full height and drops the rider before bouncing the rider back to the ground again.
  • Vertigo, opened in 1997, is a skycoaster: a free fall type ride which seeks to simulate a free flight experience. A pulley lifts riders to the top of a very tall tower. Whilst at the top a rider will, on instruction, remove a clip sending the riders on a freefall which goes in a U shape underneath a giant metallic arch. This gives riders the feeling of free fall and then flying. 1, 2 or 3 people can ride at once. This ride is not included in the entrance fee and riders must pay a total of £33 per flight (£33 x 1, £16.50 x 2 or £11 x 3 depending on the number of riders). It is a popular ride at the park and riders are advised to book to ensure that they will be able to ride.
Family rides
  • Plane crazy opened in 2004 as and is a Flying Scooters ride with vehicles themed as aeroplanes. It was the first substantial new family attraction to open at Oakwood for a number of years.
  • Tree tops is a steel roller-coaster, installed in 1989. It takes riders through a dense area of mature fir trees at comparatively fast speeds. It is more family orientated than thrill based, but was Oakwood's first roller coaster and is still - 20 years on - a popular attraction.
  • Waterfall is a 2 lane water slide. Riders sit in sledges, 1 rider per sledger and travel down one of the steep slides into a long pool of water at the bottom. Sometimes, an unlikely rider will capsize the sledge into one of the shallow pools and will have to take a "walk of shame" in front of spectators. The trick is to lean forward on the sledge in order to prevent this from happening.
  • Snake River Falls is a water chute ride opened in 1994. It has 4 lanes and 2 "open slides" in which up to 2 riders can disembark along its bumpy track in green boats, and 2 indoor slides - cobra and python, crossing sides and twisting and curving where up to 2 riders can disembark in yellow boats. This ride is probably one of the most popular family rides in the park.
  • The Pirate Ship is a swing standard ride installed by HUSS of Germany (the same company which engineered the Bounce tower coaster). A pirate themed "boat" travels back and forth to almost vertical angles. It works on a system that travels up in levels from 1 - 9. On dry days this occurs automatically, on wet days, Ride Attendants manually operate it. It is a family orientated ride, yet, it does have a 1.2m height restriction like Megafobia, Bounce and Hydro. The ride operates on a "half swing" format on the hour to allow smaller children and those of a nervous disposition to enjoy the ride.
  • The Bobsleigh is a toboggan alpine slide situated in the centre of the park. One of the original and more authentic attractions, it remains one of the most popular family rides to this day.
Park pictures
  • Megafobia

  • Speed

  • Oakwood Logo until 2010

  • Old Oakwood Logo Used Until 2005

  • Drenched (Hydro)

Hydro death

In April 2004, a 16-year-old was killed after falling approximately 100 ft from the top of the Hydro ride. The accident was attributed to the lap-bar system, designed by the ride's manufacturer, Intamin AG. The ride was closed until the next season, when it reopened with more secure over-the-shoulder restraints instead of lap bars. 10-year-old Daniel Rothwell was also injured after being hit by the victim as she fell; he was treated for minor head injuries and made a full recovery. The incident was superficially similar to an accident in 2001 involving the death of a guest on Perilous Plunge at Knotts Berry Farm in California (the only other installation of this type of ride). Inquests into the two deaths report that the circumstances of the two accidents were not related.

In August 2005 it was reported that the victim's parents received an anonymous letter purporting to be from an ex-employee of Oakwood which alleged that the park had decided against installing over-the-shoulder restraints at the time of the ride's opening in 2002 on grounds of cost (others have stated that this decision was largely based on the manufacturer denying that additional restraints were necessary). The letter has been delivered to the police and Oakwood have said they will themselves respond to the letter following the conclusion of the still ongoing investigation by the Health and safety executive.

In 2006 coroner's tribunal into the accident returned a narrative verdict on the death with some indication that the accident was more the result of the restraints being improperly secured by staff as opposed to fundamentally inadequate in and of themselves. The inquest reported that CCTV footage taken at the ride before the boat left clearly showed that the victim's lap bar was in an "open and unsafe position". Other CCTV footage showed both operators had failed to properly check that passengers were secure. Despite Oakwood previously having a good reputation and record for safety, concern was nevertheless expressed about the quality of staff training at the park. The Hydro operators raised the alleged inadequacy of their training as a defence at the inquest. Concern has also been raised regarding the young and inexperienced nature of the staff employed to operate the larger (and potentially more dangerous) attractions at the park.

On 18 May 2007 the Health and Safety executive reported that Oakwood would be prosecuted, and in February 2008 the HSE charged Oakwood for not ensuring that guests were properly and safely restrained. The case against Oakwood was committed for trial at Swansea Crown Court on July 7, 2008 where Oakwood pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety Act 1974. On December 18, the park was fined £250,000 in addition to £80,000 legal costs, a penalty which was described by the victim's close family as inadequate. High Court Judge Justice Lloyd-Jones who passed the sentence had earlier commented that safety breaches at the theme park had created "the potential for really serious injury to very large numbers of people".

In mid-2011 Hydro was renamed, it is now called "Drenched".

Takeover by Aspro Ocio A.S. (March 2008)

During the course of late 2007 local press in Pembrokeshire reported that Oakwood had been made following news that it is up to £7 million in debt and struggling to keep up with market conditions.

This speculation was proven to be correct as the park has been sold to Aspro Ocio S.A. of Spain as of March 2008.

Ride Statistics
  • Speed - Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter (Custom) roller coaster
    • Height (Total): 115 ft (36 m)
    • Height (Drop): 110 ft (35 m)
    • Drop Angle: 97 degrees
    • Speed: 60 mph (95 km/h)
    • Track length: 1970 ft (600 m)
    • Ride time: 90 s
    • Acceleration: −1.3 to +4.5 g (−13 to 44 m/s2)
    • Elements: 97-degree drop, −1.3g camelback hill, 110-degree overbanked turn, vertical loop, heartline roll, helix
    • Restraints: OTSR (Over-the-Shoulder Restraints)
    • Trains: 3 x 2-section roll-articulated trains (4 trains prior to 2008), 2 rows of 4 riders each
    • Capacity: 800 riders per hour
    • Opened: 13 April 2006
  • Megafobia - CCI wooden roller coaster
    • Height (Total): 85 ft (26 m)
    • Height (Drop): 82 ft (25 m)
    • Drop Angle: 55 degrees
    • Speed: quotes vary from 46 mph to 55 mph; faster in wet weather
    • Track length: 2956 ft (901 m)
    • Ride time: 100 s
    • Acceleration (max): +2.75g (27 m/s2)
    • Trains: 2 x 6-car trains, Philadelphia Toboggan Co., 4 riders per car, total 24 riders per train
    • Restraints: Lap bar and lap belt. NB: A little known fact is that Lap belts were retro-fitted around 1997/ 1998 and were not installed at the time of Megafobia's initial opening in 1996.
    • Opened: 1996
  • The Bounce - HUSS shot-and-drop tower
    • Height: 154 ft
    • Speed: 44 mph
    • Acceleration (max): +4g (39 m/s2)
    • Restraints: OTSR
    • Seats: 24
    • Opened: 1999
  • Vertigo - skycoaster
    • Height: 164 ft (50 m)
    • Speed: 80 mph (128 km/h)
    • Acceleration: 3g (30 m/s2)
    • Opened: 1997
    • Due to low throughput, Vertigo is the only ride in Oakwood to charge an additional admission fee, which is on top of the entrance fee to the park. As of April 2009, the charge is £11 per person for 3 flyers, £16.50 per person for 2 flyers and £33 per person for a solo flight.
  • Drenched (formerly Hydro) - Intamin River Plunge
    • Height (total): 121 ft
    • Height (drop): 118 ft
    • Wave Height: 45 ft
    • Ride Length: 581 ft
    • Speed: 55 mph (88 km/h)
    • Acceleration (max): 4g (40 m/s2)
    • Restraints: OTSR (retrofitted; formerly lap-bar)
    • Boats: 1
    • Opened: 2002
  • Bobsleigh - toboggan ride
  • Treetops Roller coaster - Zierer Tivoli (Large) family roller coaster
    • Height (total): 26 ft
    • Height (drop): 26 ft
    • Track length: 1181 ft
    • Speed: 22 mph (35 km/h)
    • Ride time: 60 s
    • Opened: 1989
  • Spooky 3-D - ghost-train
  • Brer Rabbit's Burrow
  • Plane Crazy
  • Pirate Ship
  • Snake River Falls
  • Waterfall
  • Boating Lake
  • Clown Coaster - children's roller coaster

Building Activity

  • removed 2 media
    about 6 years ago via OpenBuildings.com