Alton Towers Resort and Theme Park is essentially in the middle of nowhere, deep in the English countryside of Staffordshire. I took the train from London to Stoke on Trent and was fortunate enough to be sitting next to a woman who was not only getting off at Stoke but who insisted upon driving me to Alton Towers, which saved me a £30 cab fare. From the train station to the resort it was about a 40-minute drive on winding country roads.
Accommodations at the resort consist of two hotels and Enchanted Village Woodland Lodges. I stayed one night at Alton Towers Hotel, the more elegant of the two, and one night at the Caribbean-themed Splash Landings Hotel. Rooms in both are equipped with a double bed and bunk beds, perfect for a family getaway. Splash Landings also encompasses a water park. It offers a good dinner buffet and is perfectly adequate if you don't mind 1) lack of air conditioning on a hot day and 2) loud accordion music playing every time you step into the lift. Service at both hotels was outstanding. Both provide a complimentary breakfast but the difference between these and hotels in the USA is that it was necessary to reserve a specific time for breakfast.
The theme park is somewhat of a hike from the hotels and car parks but easily accessed by the monorail. Hotel guests are entitled to early ride time beginning at 9 am (the park opens at 10) and the monorail begins operation at 8:30. So off to the park it was to take advantage of this. Of the major roller coasters closest to the park entrance, only Oblivion was operating. It wasn't until about 11 am that they got The Smiler up and running, but I'll go into more detail about the coasters later.
What makes Alton Towers so different from any other theme park I've visited is that it shares a tract of land with buildings of historical significance. The Alton Towers Estate a/k/a Alton Towers Castle, originally a fort, was redeveloped in 1801 and is a "listed building" (landmark). The setting is beautiful and heavily wooded. Zoning regulations prohibit erecting attractions above the tree line and this is most likely the reason that Oblivion features an underground tunnel. I was told by a ride op – but have not verified this – that the reason the track of Rita is red in some spots and green in others is that this makes it blend in with the trees. And speaking of trees, the Skyride that I boarded near the Dark Forest section of the park in order to get to Forbidden Valley (location of Nemesis and Galactica) afforded a spectacular view of the landscape but didn't allow good aerial photography of the rides because they were mostly obscured by the trees.
Food is reasonably priced for a theme park except for the Rollercoaster Restaurant, which I skipped. I was able to get a very tasty vegetarian burger that came with fries and a drink for £6.95. That's less than I would have paid for the equivalent at a US theme park, where the drink would have cost extra.
There is obviously a lot to see and do at Alton Towers, including CBeebies Land for kids, but I went for the coasters, so let's talk about those. Alton Towers' coaster lineup boasts the first dive coaster to ever be built, and the coaster that holds the world record for most inversions.
My first two rides were on Oblivion, which dives 180 feet into a tunnel after the holding brake is released and ascends a right overbanked turn before returning to the station. The ride is short but sweet. The Smiler provided a pretty awesome ride experience, with a heartline roll in the dark right out of the station. After the second lift hill – this one vertical – it really kicks into high gear. It was rough in spots but nonetheless enjoyable enough to merit repeat rides. I did wonder whether 14 inversions might be a bit much but blimey, no problem and nothing to it. The drag racing-themed Rita was a fun ride, especially the launch, but nothing exceptional.
What did strike me as exceptional was Thi3teen, of which I was unable to get a photograph because, you got it, it's hidden by trees. The highlight of the ride occurs when the train enters a tunnel with flashing lights and other visual effects, drops vertically twice in the dark and the riders are propelled through the tunnel backwards. Nemesis is as intense as the best inverts I've ridden. While somewhat rough and in need of a paint job, it's exciting enough for me to have ridden it several times.
Finally, Galactica, formerly known as Air, proved to be the most surprising of the lot. Unfortunately, the VR headgear was not operating so I rode it without any enhancements – not that it needs any. I've never been a fan of flying coasters except for Flying Dutchmans and dreaded getting on this. Well, surprise, surprise! This turned out to be a vastly entertaining ride, very smooth and far, far superior to the only other B&M flyer I've ridden. Of the six major coasters at Alton Towers, it should be noted that Oblivion, Smiler and Thi3teen have single rider queues, so I was able to get on fairly quickly. And while these coasters may seem tame compared with some I've ridden in the States, they are all quality rides. Not a dud in the lot.
Unlike most US theme parks, Alton Towers has very limited hours of operation at this time of year. It closes at 5pm, even on weekends. Also unlike most US theme parks, Alton Towers is without drinking fountains (at least I didn't notice any) although this is typical of public places in the UK. Otherwise ride and general operations are pretty much the same as in the US but somewhat better. During my visit park staff went out of their way to make guests feel happy about visiting the park. More than once a team member asked me whether I was having a good day. I certainly was. I managed to get in a total of 14 roller coaster rides in a scenic setting and experience something out of the ordinary. What a fun adventure! Alton Towers is a destination that I highly would recommend.
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