The Gulliver’s parks are the UK’s original family fun parks, with three locations at Warrington, Milton Keynes & Matlock Bath. Each of the parks is designed to cater for families with children between the age of two and thirteen. In recent years the Gulliver’s brand has expanded and now offers six different attractions across the three sites.
In 2010, the chain opened their first camp site and will open their first hotel in 2011. G-Force Magazine spoke to the chain’s managing director, Julie Dalton about the exciting changes that have been happening at the parks and what goes in to providing the ultimate family day out.
Among roller coaster fans, the chain came to prominence in 1995 when The Antelope debuted at the Warrington park. It was the first new-era wood coaster to open in the UK. How did that project come about?
The Antelope was the brainchild of my father, who founded our company in 1978. He had always built in wood, his background was in timber-framed house building – so all of our park buildings are timber-framed structures for that reason.
It was my dad’s ambition to build a timber-framed rollercoaster – that’s the ultimate dream for a man who loves wood! He initially went to America to buy a design but realised the best talent was here in the UK. He put a team together and they built the ride.
Since the opening of the first park in 1978, has the basic philosophy of the Gullivers’ experience changed in 2010?
Our basic philosophy has never changed, our core aim has always been to offer families a value for money day out. Right from the early days, we wanted to offer visitors lots of different rides and attractions for their money, rather than concentrating on one big one.
We’re a family company and most of our team have families too, so we understand what parents are looking for in a day out. At Gulliver’s, they won’t have to queue and everything is tailored to the requirements of families with young children, rather than the teenage market. We want to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible.
This year saw the opening of the Gulliver’s Camp Site at the Milton Keynes park. Has the inaugural year been a success?
Very much so. It’s been great having people coming to spend two or more days with us, as it gives them the chance to make the most of all the attractions. Now we have SplashZone and Dinosaur and Farm Park at the site, we can offer families plenty to do over a long weekend or a week-long visit.
Is there scope for this to be replicated at the other parks?
Yes. We have development plans in progress at Warrington – we’re in the final stages of planning for our hotel and we’re looking to build a campsite there too.
The Nickelodeon characters Dora the Explorer and Diego can be found wandering around the Gulliver’s parks with your own characters – the Gully Gang. Are costume characters an important part of the visitor experience?
Yes, they’re a very important addition to the overall customer experience. They add that extra bit of magic to a visit, especially for younger children. Having their picture taken with Dora, Diego or a member of the Gully Gang makes their day.
Are birthday parties and special events an integral part of the business?
Yes, they are. We’ve built the Gulliver’s brand on loyalty and return visits – special events are integral to that as they offer the variety that families are looking for.
Birthday parties have always been important to us, and our offering grows every year. We’re always asking parents what their children and interested in and who they want to be – we build our party packages around this to guarantee there’s something for everyone.
The sheer amount of investment at the parks is phenomenal. A new ride opened at each of the parks this year along with a new camp site & water park at Milton Keynes. How does the chain select new attractions for the parks?
We look for inspiration everywhere and incorporate ideas we like into our parks. We look at how a potential attraction works for our own families, then consider how it could work for the business.
We look at the whole package, from standard rides to attractions that encourage children to be more active or get their brains working. Attractions like Gully Town are great because they give kids the chance to use their imaginations – it’s a miniature town with a garage, post office, gym, theatre and supermarket, so we see children bringing their dreams alive through this kind of interactive play.
What can visitors look forward to in 2011?
We’re thrilled to be unveiling our hotel in Warrington next year. This will be a marvellous addition and a great boost for the local economy. In terms of rides and attractions – watch this space!
Are you excited that the forthcoming Twentieth Century Fox film ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ starring Jack Black will introduce the story of Gulliver to a new generation?
We’re very excited indeed. We’ve been working with the team behind the film from an early stage and we hope to be part of their promotional campaign.