The UK’s Paultons Park has enjoyed a hugely successful 2011 following the introduction of Peppa Pig World at the start of the season. Here InterPark Editor Andrew Mellor takes a look at the development of the new area with those behind its creation

NEVER before has the use of intellectual property been so prevalent within the theme park industry and as parks move to pick up on the latest or most popular brands, each year we are seeing new attractions and whole ‘lands,’ ‘worlds’ and more being created via the inspiration of a popular IP.

Without question one of the most significant recent additions to the fold is Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park in southern England. Superbly and accurately themed on the TV show phenomena aimed at the pre-school age group, this new area of the park, which covers three acres of what was previously an off show animal breeding area and paddock, was an instant hit when it opened at the beginning of the 2011 season and has been pulling in the crowds ever since.

“It’s been hugely popular,” commented Paultons Managing Director Richard Mancey. “We’ve had very good reports from all quarters and it’s been extremely busy.” Indeed over the Easter holidays shortly after opening record crowds were achieved on some days such is the draw of the brand, while the visitor pull has also proved to be exceptional, with guests coming to the park from throughout the UK and even abroad.

“It’s certainly a national, if not an international attraction,” Mancey added.

Representing a £5m investment, Peppa Pig World has its roots in the Peppa Pig character meet and greet events that Paultons held for a few years prior to the opening of the dedicated themed area.

“These were very popular,” explained Mancey, “and we decided that we wanted to do something a bit different and unique. We thought about doing a couple of rides and a themed area and the idea grew from there during our discussions with the licence holder Entertainment One (E One).”

Inevitably, comparisons have been made with the massively successful Thomas Land at Drayton Manor Theme Park, also in the UK, where the introduction of a completely dedicated themed ‘land’ based on the Thomas and Friends IP resulted in a huge increase in visitor numbers, not to mention the boost it gave to other aspects of the operation such as retail and F&B. Like Thomas Land, Peppa Pig World was designed by UK company RMA Themed Attractions who have done an exquisite job of bringing what is a fairly basically drawn cartoon to life.

RMA’s work has been complemented by a selection of rides and attractions, the majority of which were manufactured by Metallbau Emmeln in Germany and supplied through the company’s representative ARC bv of the Netherlands, along two others from fellow Germany company Zierer, supplied through that company’s representative JN Leisure and Entertainment.

Initial ground works began on the project at Easter 2010 and continued throughout the summer of that year. The rides began arriving in September/October 2010 and landscaping began in the October. The extremely bad weather during the winter resulted in the loss of a month’s work but the project opened on time at Easter this year, having taken a total of two years from conception to completion.

Significantly, RMA and ARC worked together on the Thomas Land project too and it is a partnership which is developing considerable expertise in creating themed areas that recreate the IP elements in excellent form and to the smallest of detail in the key areas of design, theming and choice of ride hardware.

“The main challenge is getting to the soul of the product and creating the right feeling,” explained RMA’s Rick Matthews. “You almost have to get down on your knees and imagine what the kids themselves will see. There’s anawful lot to consider and to think about. One fault can spoil the magic. But there also has to be compromises as far as health and safety and operational issues are concerned.

Also with this project, getting the proportions of everything right was a real challenge with transforming things from a 2D cartoon into 3D and into elements that people can get in and out of, such as the car ride.

“Not every park can do it,” he continued. “Certain products work in certain places. A lot of the success is in the subtle and subliminal elements. An immersive experience is what you want but there are many challenges to what you can and can’t do, such as in this case no-one actually sitting on a pig and only having one Peppa figure on display (on top of the Baloon Ride). One of the toughest things in this case was to keep it simple as Peppa Pig is a simple cartoon.

“You also have to listen to the operator very carefully as to how to do things and how they would like to do things. You have to work much closer with the operator when creating an area such as Peppa Pig World. We always consider these things a team effort and that is vital to the success of the project. And the more you do the more you learn but you also have gut feelings on some aspects and how they will work.

“For example, here we have added some pebbles to the walls around the balloon ride and pillars on the games building, but these elements are not in the original cartoon so we had to design them as we thought they would look and get it passed by E One. Understandably the licence holder wants everything to be as near to a perfect replication of the original as possible, although they obviously appreciate there has to be some leeway with various elements.”

“Some things have to be a compromise and an acceptable compromise for all parties,” commented ARC’s Coen Nieuwenstein. “As far as the rides are concerned, on the boat ride in Peppa Pig World, for example, there had to be slight changes to what’s in the cartoon to accommodate people getting in and out of the boats.”

The rides chosen include those that match the modes of transport featured in the cartoon, while capacity was also a key issue for each one.

“We also had to ensure that adults could ride with children on all the rides,” Nieuwenstein noted, while Matthews added, “and as far as ride placement was concerned we had to consider aspects such as not putting one near the meerkats as they wouldn’t have come out for viewing by visitors for six months, until they got used to what had been put next to them. These issues and the solutions to them always come up in brainstorming sessions we have when planning a project like this and which are so important for such themed areas.”

And Nieuwenstein expands on the choice of rides at Peppa Pig World.

“When we did Thomas Land at Drayton Manor it was a rides driven design whereas at Paultons we started with the layout and experience and added the rides after that,” he revealed. “But we also learn from each project on how best to approach things. There was also the point at Drayton Manor that the rides in Thomas Land were replacing previously operated children’s rides, while those at Paultons were for a completely new area. But in both cases the rides chosen complement the other rides elsewhere in the park.”

At Paultons it was also a case of the park wanting to work with particular manufacturers, Mancey explained, while Nieuwenstein added: “It’s important for the IP owner to have the right choice of rides from the right manufacturer too. They obviously don’t want to be associated with poorequipment that breaks down or has problems. They need to be of a high standard. This is one reason why we don’t use existing rides in such projects.”

“And people will see that it’s just an old ride re themed,” added Matthews, “and you can’t create the magic and the required atmosphere by doing that.”

Peppa Pig World features seven new rides in total, five from Metallbau Emmeln and two from Zierer, in addition to a large indoor play area provided by Rupert Oliver’s Ideas Factory, an outdoor play area by eibe and the Muddy Puddles water play area from SSP Waterplay, all suitably themed.

As mentioned, all the rides have been designed so that parents can ride with their children and among those from Metallbau Emmeln, and the most popular ride in the area, is George’s Dinosaur Adventure, themed to George Pig’s favourite toy, Mr. Dinosaur. This is a Metallbau pony trekking rail ride featuring two-seater dinosaur vehicles that allow one adult and one child to ride together. It is the only ride in Peppa Pig World that has a height restriction.

Also from Metallbau is the Windy Castle (a Flying Wheel) which stands at 13.5m in height and features two vertical wheels, each with three spinning gondolas that rotate in a Ferris Wheel style motion, as well as moving up and down a rotating central tower. Daddy Pig’s Car Ride features four-seater cars that take passengers on a themed track ride, each car featuring an audio system which provides an engine revving sound every time a car is about to move along the loading station platform to pick up its next group of riders.

From the same company is Grandpa Pig’s Little Train, a train ride that takes up to 16 guests on a music filled journey around various themed buildings and features, while Grandpa Pig’s Boat Trip is a re-themed version of Metallbau’s duck roundabout in which eight boats on water move around a central lighthouse.

The rides supplied by Zierer are Miss Rabbit’s Helicopter Flight, a Ferris Wheel featuring seven, four-seater helicopter style gondolas, and Peppa’s Big Balloon Ride which provides six hot air balloon themed gondolas that take riders up to a height of 14m as they rotate around a central tower. A hand operated wheel in the centre of each gondola also allows guests to spin their gondola as they enjoy a bird’s eye view over the surrounding area.

Ride photography systems are incorporated into two of the rides, the dinosaur rail ride and the car ride, while Peppa’s Magic Photo Studio allows for additional photo opportunities, with guests being able to be photographed in one of four different Peppa Pig themed settings using specially created backdrops.

In addition to the rides, the area includes a 2,000sq. ft retail outlet, the largest Peppa Pig shop in existence, which not surprisingly has been a huge success, as well as Daddy Pig’s Big Tummy Café, both housed, along with the indoor play area, within a substantial grass roofed, eco friendly building.

“This is the largest grass roofed building within the New Forest area,” explained Mancey, “and has a wild flower meadow mix on the roof. It was purposely built as an eco friendly building and has wind catchers on the roof for ventilation (instead of air conditioning) while we also collect rainwater which is pumped up to the roof for watering. We were very keen to do something like this.

“We also purposely didn’t put a major restaurant facility in the area as we cater for that requirement elsewhere in the park. Here we just have a coffee and sandwich type offering along with doughnuts and ice cream. And it’s proven to be the right thing to do.

“The retail element is going very well,” he continued. “We have some unique items in the shop and are learning all the time. In year two we’ll have a better offering and will know more of what people want. But it’s going really well at the moment.”

Certainly one of the most noticeable and impressive aspects to Peppa Pig World is the landscaping around the area. In the cartoon, many buildings and other elements are built on top of grassy mounds and this aspect has been faithfully recreated in the design as a key part of the theming. “All the landscaping was done in house by our own team,” said Mancey, “and they’ve done a great job. It will all mature and change in time and will therefore get even better.”

As in the cartoon series and books, all the buildings, walls and other features have been carefully designed to accurately reflect what young fans see and ultimately associate with, so wavy and crooked walls and buildings are the order of the day (where possible) rather than everything being perfectly straight and level, something else that gave the designers and builders a real challenge. The immediate success of Peppa Pig World is reflected in the increase in new visitors to the park and where guests are travelling from, as well as the fact that local hotels and others offering accommodation in the vicinity are fully booked up.

“The hotels in the area are rammed,” said Mancey. “There’s just no capacity in accommodation around the park. We are getting a lot of new visitors, especially from out of the area, and there is a big increase in two day visits, especially through our Paultons Breaks offer. People are doing Peppa Pig World one day and the rest of the park the next. We are also seeing an increase in numbers during the school term time because families with pre-school children want to go on their holidays outside the main school holiday time. This is something we hoped would happen and it has.”

With such a massively successful new area on their hands, as would be the case anywhere else, one would be forgiven for wondering if this might overshadow the rest of the park, and it is an observation Mancey and his team are well aware of.

“We have to manage the expectations of older children and visitors,” he notes. “Obviously in the first year Peppa Pig World is the main marketing focus but once it is established we will back off a bit and continue to focus on the Paultons Park brand. We have to be aware of this. The plan is very much to ensure we offer a rounded offering to kids up to the age of 13/14 and something different, which we do. Our Cobra coaster, for example, is still the only one of its kind in the UK. We’ll probably look to do something big again in a couple of years.”

What that might be is anyone’s guess, but for the time being Peppa Pig World is the star of the show at Paultons Park. It has given the venue a new string to its bow – and in a big, big way – and, like Thomas Land at Drayton Manor, has boosted numbers massively. Significantly it has also ensured a much larger catchment area for visitors – quite simply the whole of the UK, if not further afield. As all the landscaping matures, the overall look and feel of the area will only improve too, adding further to the attraction. Boy, are they on to a winner!