A Whirlwind Romance
PHOTOS BY MARCUS DELO
IT’S A BRIGHT JUNE DAY, heat shimmers on the highway, yellow traffic lights flicker overhead, an old-school diner and gas station welcome travelers, and riders squeal through the sky to a country rock soundtrack. To paraphrase Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in England anymore.”
Road of Dreams
This isn’t Route 66; this is Route 83: Paultons Park’s nostalgic slice of ’50s Americana set in the windswept town of Tornado Springs. It’s a place where, so the story goes, resourceful townsfolk have created machines to harness the power of tornadoes. Tornado Springs’ fictional inhabitants believe their tornado-charged town is destined to become one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions.
Paultons’ real-life owners, the Mancey family, share the same dream for their theme park in leafy Hampshire, United King-dom. Launching Paultons’ new £12 million land is an important milestone in their roadmap.
“We wanted Tornado Springs to help secure our position as one of the best family attractions in the U.K., and possibly in Europe,” says managing director Richard Mancey. He and his wife Sara, together with their three children James, Charlotte, and Lawrence, run the park founded by Richard’s parents, John and Anne. Route 83 is named after the year Paultons opened.
Funworld sat down with the family, along with Mark Taylor, their trusted general manager for technical services and Tor-nado Springs’ project manager, to chat about their new 4-acre land and future ambitions. What’s clear is that the family’s closeness—and gentle ribbing—extends to their team. Their hands-on attitude, approachability, and unflappability have en-sured Tornado Springs’ arrival, despite COVID-19 lockdowns that pushed the opening back a year to April 2021.
Peppa Paves the Way
Tornado Springs would not have been possible without a loveable little pig named Peppa. A decade ago, Paultons showed foresight by opening the world’s first Peppa Pig World, starring preschoolers’ favorite cartoon pig.
Peppa Pig World catapulted Paultons into the spotlight, doubling attendances in a year. A second phase followed in 2018, including the “The Queen’s Flying Coach Ride” monorail and “Grampy Rabbit’s Sailing Club” boat ride.
Paultons had tapped into a powerful global brand. In 2020, “Peppa Pig” was one of the world’s most-watched series on de-mand. “Peppa Pig launched us from being a regional attraction to a national attraction. Peppa Pig allowed us to dream bigger and to do what we always wanted, which was to create a quality day out for families with younger children,” says Richard Mancey.
Paultons’ popularity soared. The park usually attracts well in excess of a million visitors a year and had welcomed increasing numbers of overseas guests before COVID-19.
“We’ve been [ranked] the U.K.’s No. 1 theme park in TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards for the past five years. We’re fourth in the European rankings and 10th in the world,” says Lawrence Mancey, business systems and marketing manager. “That’s not bad for what was a regional attraction 10 years ago,” says Richard Mancey.
Paultons achieves an annual turnover of around £30 million and continually invests in new attractions, infrastructure, and staff. “It’s all about providing the best product that we can,” says operations director James Mancey.
Paultons followed Peppa Pig World with 2016’s Lost Kingdom, a prehistoric-themed land designed to appeal to slightly older children. The £9 million, 4-acre attraction included two Vekoma family roller coasters. “Both coasters went down well, so we carried on with the aim of providing an even better day out for children aged 5 to 13. Tornado Springs was born out of that desire,” says Richard Mancey.
In a competitive marketplace, it made sense to broaden Paultons’ audience by “enhancing the experience for older children within the family group,” says Sara Mancey.
“We wanted to make it really difficult for all those people who came to visit Peppa Pig World when their children were 2 or 3 not to come back when their children were older,” says Richard Mancey.
Banking on an Original IP
Tornado Springs is Paultons’ fifth themed land after Peppa Pig World, Lost Kingdom, Critter Creek, and Little Africa. So, how did the experience of creating a homegrown intellectual property (IP) compare to working with a world-famous IP?
“Both are hard work, and both are rewarding in different ways,” says James Mancey. “Peppa is an extremely important part-ner for us, and we enjoy an excellent working relationship with Hasbro. Being able to create an original concept is equally satisfying. Whatever we do, whatever brand it is, we are committed to quality.” Taylor agrees: “Everything will always be done to the highest standard.”
Peppa Pig World set a high bar for success. “Ten years on, it is still a really popular attraction with visitors,” says Sara Mancey. “As this is the first year for Tornado Springs, and it’s our own IP, it’s difficult to know if we are going to maintain that level of interest and visitor numbers. We hope we’ll look back in 10 years and say, ‘Wow, that worked.’”
Despite signs of recovery in the global attractions industry, she is wary of being lulled into a false sense of confidence. “Hopefully, we’re coming out the other side of the pandemic, but people still cannot travel abroad. The demand for staycations and attraction tickets is high, although we are still operating at a limited capacity. People are desperate to visit, but will that be the same next year when everybody starts traveling again? That’s an unknown.”
On the bright side, many Brits who usually jet away on holiday are discovering Paultons for the first time. “We’ve got people who have never been here before, and the feedback has been amazing. They are blown away when they walk into Tornado Springs. The key is to keep them. That’s why we’re always investing and looking at what else we can add into the mix,” she says.
Going to Town on Theming
Initially, the Manceys had considered a Wild West theme. The decision to add a twist (or should that be twisters?) came out of conversations with Leisure Expert Group, which carried out master planning and design development. MK Themed Attractions produced props and theming that imbued the make-believe American Midwest town with weathered charm.
“We also did a huge amount of work in-house,” says Taylor. Paultons’ engineers used the extra time caused by COVID-19-related delays to make their budget stretch further.
“We added quite a few items into Tornado Springs. There’s a big old truck that we bought on eBay, which we’ve themed. We’ve made water towers. There are fun items out there: a telephone that rings and electrical boxes that crackle away on the ‘Storm Chaser’ station.” The landscaping lovingly designed by Paultons’ garden and grounds team has bedded in too. “It enabled us to refine the finished product,” says Charlotte Mancey.
A “Storm Chaser” spinning coaster from Mack Rides, the first free-spinning ride of its kind in the U.K., whirls 20 meters overhead in Tornado Springs. The family roller coaster has a height requirement of only 1 meter. Riders as young as 4 can take a smooth and surprisingly intense spin along a 459-meter track the color of desert ochre. Route 83 is emblazoned across the cars, which resemble repurposed barrels bolted together with grilles and turbines.
Paultons’ team regularly travels to parks worldwide for inspiration. Taylor knew Mack’s spinning coaster was right for Paul-tons, having seen “Cobra’s Curse” at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in Florida. James Mancey agreed with him after they rode “Turbulence” at Adventureland in New York, despite freezing temperatures.
Paultons’ “Storm Chaser” has a customized track layout, with wider support columns to accommodate the revamped “Rio Grande Train Ride” that runs underneath. “Two trains give us more throughput,” says James Mancey. Four-seat cars feature back-to-back seating, with riders sitting two abreast.
“Cyclonator,” a Zamperla Discovery 30, scythes its way through the rural side of Tornado Springs. “It is the park’s most ex-treme ride,” says James Mancey. It’s also the one that caused the most debate. “We were thinking, shall we or shan’t we?” re-calls Taylor. Ultimately, they wanted “a brilliant ride experience,” says James Mancey. “Cyclonator” also packs a visual punch alongside “Storm Chaser.”
“Paultons now has exceptionally good ride capacity,” says Richard Mancey. “Even if a younger child can’t go on every ride within Tornado Springs, there’s something for them within a few steps. We cater for the whole family.”
“Al’s Auto Academy,” from Formula K, teaches Tornado Springs’ youngsters to drive safely, while parents are relegated to backseat drivers. “We learned years ago that it’s much more fun as a parent if you can go on a ride with your children. Family memories are made when you can do experiences together, so that’s always high on our wish list when we select rides,” says Richard Mancey. An aerial walkway offers bird’s-eye views of the track. Riders can buy personalized driver’s licenses and Route 83 merchandise at Al’s Shop and Service.
Tornado Springs has two cheerful playgrounds, Junkyard Junction and Parking Lot Tots, featuring Eibe play equipment. Guests can make a pit stop at three eating and drinking spots. The Route 83 Diner serves over 400 inside and has outdoor seating. The Hay Barn offers takeaway burritos and drinks, while Tornado Treats serves up sweet snacks.
The park has cannily rebranded three existing rides. Alongside “Trekking Tractors,” there’s the “Buffalo Falls” dinghy ride (formerly “Wave Runner”), and the “Rio Grande Train Ride” now has scarlet livery.
Next year, guests can expect to see cute yellow crop duster planes land in Tornado Springs. “Farmyard Flyer,” the park’s latest Zierer family roller coaster, is taking shape. The custom coaster features a single train with eight cars, a 6-meter lift hill, and a 160-meter-long track. With a 90-centimeter height requirement, it is suitable for riders age 3 and older. “It ticks a lot of boxes for us,” says James Mancey.
Paultons has achieved a remarkable amount for its budget. The attention to detail in Tornado Springs is impressive. The barn-style queue for “Storm Chaser” is filled with farmyard odds and ends; even the bag storage is artfully rusted.
Outside, there are whimsical flourishes. A cheeky goat perches on top of one of the “Windmill Towers.” The two Zierer family freefall towers offer panoramic views over Tornado Springs. Tornadoes have dropped cows, armchairs, and tractors in unexpected places. Groundhogs raid farmers’ fields, while windmills whir in the breeze. Foot-tapping tunes from IMAscore add to the liveliness. The family is integrating a vintage combine harvester from Sara’s father’s farm into the “Farmyard Flyer” area.
Paultons whetted people’s appetites for Tornado Springs with a teaser-filled marketing campaign. Tornado Springs’ resi-dents popped up across social media channels to spread the news.
Adapting to Change
Paultons’ team runs everything in the park, including the food and beverage (F&B) and retail operations, which gives them complete control over quality, branding, and revenue. “We always manage our costs very closely. We never take anything as read, and we always challenge everything,” says Sara Mancey. Nevertheless, COVID-19 caused massive, unexpected changes and costs. Contractors had to return home, and building materials became scarce. Everything had to be rethought, from the queues to the F&B and retail operations.
Sara and Charlotte had to prepare staff to handle both the reopening and the expansion. Charlotte presented videos to help with employee onboarding. The park also shot weekly films to keep staff in the loop about progress on-site. Throughout 2020, they prioritized the workforce’s well-being. “Our staff are one of our biggest costs, but they’re also one of our biggest assets. We couldn’t do this without our team. They are our engine,” says Sara Mancey.
Many employees, including Taylor, have been with the family for years. “It’s a good place to work,” he says. “There’s always someone from the family here, so it’s easy to get a quick decision. Issues are not issues for long, and we can move on.”
Little Things Make a Difference
Besides the marquee attractions, the owners provide “little things to make families’ lives easier,” says Lawrence Mancey. They continually ask themselves, “If we were going out as a family with young children, what would we like?” says Sara Mancey. There are child seats on every toilet, baby care centers, water bottle filling stations, and an accessible Changing Places facility. The team is scrupulous about cleanliness and upkeep. “We make sure the park looks as fresh as the day it was built,” says Taylor.
“We offer so many experiences and guests appreciate that,” adds Charlotte Mancey. “It can be all go, go, go, if you want, but you can also have a picnic in our gardens or look at the meerkats in Little Africa. It’s a nice balance, and it increases dwell time.”
James Mancey nods: “Everything we do is designed around enjoying time as a family together in different ways.”
Being in England’s New Forest National Park—a picturesque tourist destination—is a boon. “We are lucky to have such a beautiful setting,” says Richard Mancey. He expects Tornado Springs to strengthen Paultons’ short-breaks program with local accommodation providers.
Growing for the Future
Next, the family plans to redevelop existing areas of the park. Paultons covers 140 acres and offers more than 70 rides and attractions. “If there’s merit in keeping original attractions, we will reimagine them,” says Richard Mancey. Also, Tornado Springs is still “a work in progress,” he says.
Whatever the future holds, Paultons is well-placed to weather the winds of change with Tornado Springs. James Mancey welcomed a baby son in 2020, so the family is looking forward to introducing a new generation to Paultons Park too. Their story goes to show that “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”
Funworld Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the attractions industry in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region. Contact her at [email protected].