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Christmas at Sundown Festive fun at ‘Britain’s best kept secret’


Described by those in the know as ‘Britain’s best kept secret,’ Sundown


Adventureland is a charming park with an eye for detail, putting some of its larger counterparts to shame. This festive season Sundown’s owners spent over a million pounds erecting a dark ride that operated for just six weeks and will have closed by the time you read this. Owen Ralph was there to enjoy A Night Before Christmas


ABOVE: Scenes from A Night Before Christmas BELOW: The exterior to the new dark ride


village of Rampton near Retford, Nottinghamshire. Pitched as “the theme park exclusively for the under 10s,” it is similar in content to the Gulliver's chain of parks or perhaps a German “Märchenwald” (fairytale forest), but welcomed its first paying guests back in the '70s as a very humble animal attraction. “It started as a hobby,” recalls park owner and director Audrey B Rhodes, known to her friends and colleagues simply as Mrs Rhodes. “I had a lot of pets in the house; monkeys, bush babies and flying squirrels. We used to grow vegetables and sell them, we had chicken sheds too, but people would come and see the monkeys, so I decided to charge them six pence to get in. Then they wanted to go on our children's swings outside, so we put bigger ones in. About 20 years ago we started adding rides.” The original Sundown Pets Garden (Sundown was the name of the family bungalow) covered two-and-


O


ver a period of four decades, Sundown has developed without a masterplan and now attracts over 200,000 visitors a year to the


a-half-acres (one hectare). Today Sundown Adventureland occupies a 40-acre site and employs up to 80 staff in high season, including Mrs Rhodes' daughter Gaynor, her son-in-law Wayne, grandson Shaun, step-grandson Blake, and several other family members.


Scenic rides featuring popular tales and storybook themes form the backbone of the park's offering, combined with themed play areas and push button displays and animationatronics. The animals, alas, are a thing of the past. “We used to have a big aviary,” says Mrs Rhodes,


“but now it's Monkey Mischief. They are not real monkeys but they work really well! It got awkward keeping animals because of people having to wash their hands and all the rules and regulations.” Complementing the park's main season, which runs


mid-February until mid-November, is Sundown's “Xmas Spectacular.” Although most of the rides and attractions remain open for this festive finale, the focus is on the Market Square, which comes alive with lights, decorations and seasonal food and drink. During this year's event (November 13 to December 24) children could enjoy park entry plus the new Christmas dark ride and a gift from Santa for £9.50 ($14.00/€1.15), the same price as regular admission.


Santa's New Sleigh


A Night Before Christmas has been in planning for several years and supersedes Santa's Sleigh Ride, Sundown's existing Christmas-themed dark ride, which operates year-round. Housed inside a 40 x 50- metre purpose-built building, the new ride is the first attraction to use a wireless and “trackless” transport system by Garmendale Engineering Ltd (GEL) and features theming inside and out by KD Decoratives. The two companies are long-time suppliers to the park, which has a record of buying British wherever possible. Others whose work can be found at Sundown include the theming firms Farmer Studios and Meticulous.


Based around an hour away in Ilkeston, DECEMBER 2010/JANUARY 2011 33


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