I am old enough to remember when it was simply a hoot, hoot at Paultons Park.
Now it is more of a RAWWWWWWRRR! and a GRRRRRRRROWWWL! and a SNARRRRRRRRRL! as the dinosaurs have moved in to set up their own Lost Kingdom at the New Forest theme park.
It might be millions of years since they roamed and ruled the world. But there is nothing prehistoric about the new attraction as £9m has been spent on creating four acres of Jurassic landscape, inspired by the era of fierce velociraptors, flying pterodactyls, giant triceratops and the mighty tyrannosaurus rex.
When you look up to the argentinosaurus – yep, I’d never heard of that one either until finding myself in the shadow of it’s 12m tall and 23m long frame – and meet the park’s very own captive and ‘tame(ish)’ T-rex you realise this is a far cry from the park’s main draw of Peppa Pig World.
But the park will be hoping Lost Kingdom – the biggest single project it has undertaken – will prove as much of a draw as Peppa, George, Mummy and Daddy Pig and their friends when it opens on Tuesday, May 17.
As managing director Richard Mancey explains: ‘Lost Kingdom is a truly unique experience where families can be thrown back millions of years to see, hear and feel a prehistoric world.
‘Children and adults of all ages are fascinated by dinosaurs and I think the amazing world we’ve created here at Paultons Park and the rides within it will thrill both children and adults alike.’
The opening of Peppa Pig World in April 2011 provided Paultons with a massive attraction to transform the park.
But with a target audience of families of pre-school children the park recognised the need for a major new draw for an older audience and for those children who had outgrown their porcine paradise (although that’s never stopped me still stealing a ride on George’s Dinosaur Adventure and Peppa’s Big Balloon Ride) .
And those seeking new thrills will certainly find them in Lost Kingdom.
Among the 27 animatronic dinosaurs, the showpiece rides are the two new rollercoasters. Flight of the Pterosaur twists and turns its riders through the air on suspended carriages on a 395m track at 55km/h. While Velociraptor is a ‘boomerang’ ride attempting to recreate the speed and agility of the this devilish dino with a starting drop of 20m and a series of sweeps around tight bends with speeds of up to 60km/h.
Both rides are short in duration but certainly pack a G-force punch and had us returning again and again. And they have also been designed to ensure they can be enjoyed by as many youngsters as possible, with accompanied children needing to be at least one metre tall (around 3ft 3in) and more than four years old.
After the rollercoasters it was time for some respite and the obvious choice appeared to be Boulderdash - surely the Lost Kingdom’s answer to the traditional genteel fairground favourite of the teacup ride, just with giant rocks and smashed dinosaur eggs replacing the cups and saucers.
But appearances were deceptive as this demolition derby of a ride also packed a punch with enough ‘near-misses’ and swirling and spinning to keep your stomach churning.
Peace was eventually found on The Dinosaur Tour Co, a tracked expedition in a Jurassic Jeep where we caught our breath while coming face to face with some of the largest and most fearsome dinosaurs to have walked the earth. But beware, there is one twist which certainly had many unsuspecting explorers squealing with surprise.
A quick bite to eat at the Base Camp was enlivened by the ‘Alive, Dinosaur Encounter’ where you can literally stand nose to snout with the park’s very own T-Rex. Fortunately the captive creature was kept under relative control by its two keepers, despite the growls and snorts of fury, bloodied rows of pointed teeth and strong swish of its powerful tail.
After-lunch digestion was aided by the soothing, circular motion of the Temple Heights ‘magic carpet’ ride.
Its slow pace allows you to enjoy the views across the whole Lost Kingdom, which also includes a third junior rollercoaster – Dino Chase – for the younger and less daring family members and Little Explorers, a colourful dinosaur-themed outdoor adventure play park, featuring climbing frames and a fossil finders sandpit.
Having enjoyed the delights of Lost Kingdom for more than four hours, the joy of Paultons Park was then trying to cram in as many of the old family favourites as possible before heading for home.
The always-fun 4D cinema is currently showing fast-paced adventure The Lost World to tie in with the new attraction, containing all the usual added effects to ensure you are never quite sitting comfortably.
Outside, especially with last weekend bringing an early burst of summer sunshine, there is so much to enjoy for all tastes throughout the 140-acre park. Our long to-do list (all successfully ticked off) ranged from the daredevil showpiece thrills of Magma, Cobra and Edge; to the sedate rides of days-gone-past like the Sky Swinger ‘chair-o-planes’ and Victorian Carousel; to the simple pleasure of strolling through the beautiful gardens being serenaded by a vast array of tropical birds with such striking plumage it’s hard to believe some colours are natural.
And we can never leave without jumping on the Rio Grande train ride, which really takes you back to the hoot-hoot days of years gone by.
Which is why, complete with its new £9m prehistoric addition, Paultons Park is a theme park kingdom always worth getting lost in.