Alton Towers 1 November 2021 Report

Edited: November 1, 2021, 6:11 PM

Alton Towers Report - 1/11/2021

Somethings happened today. The rose coloured glasses have fallen or something. I’m not sure if I would call Alton Towers a theme park anymore, and I certainly wouldn’t say anymore that its the UK’s best amusement park.

Already I can hear the shouts of “Heresy”, but hang with me here. I think the park has some serious broken faults, and I’m not sure they can all be fixed.

Maybe its because I've been spoiled by Disney and Universal now who seem to be able to do much more right (and have the budget to do it), or maybe its because unlike my first visit this wasn't a solo visit and the Wife wasn't feeling well so I had another perspective to look at it through... but I wouldn't recommend anymore an international visitor goes out of their way to see it.

Today was a wet morning, with probably a larger than expected park attendance, a fair few kids even though I think they’re all supposed to be back to school. Its also the last week of the season.

Location:

Lets start with something I would have told you last week. Alton Towers is in the second stupidest place you could think of to put a theme park; the first worst of course was a swamp in Florida - although to be fair to the Magic Kingdom, they put them selves right next to major roads and put in the work to deal with their location problem, although its sad to see thats going backwards.

it is about a 30-45 minute drive from any major town/city, with a few villages and small towns on the way. Coming from Stoke on Trent, the nearest city, this is a trip on small winding country roads and through said towns and villages with streets that are equally small. For an attraction of its pull, this is crazy, and I can only imagine is a major pest to locals when there is a major event.

If you don’t have a car then despite the “getting here” webpage reading “You don’t need a car to join in the fun at Alton Towers theme park and resort”, you’re in for a time so much harder that honestly I’m going to tell you its not worth it. If you have kids and are trying to get here without a car, then heaven help you.

Bus service is sporadic (There’s litteraly one public bus per day each way from here, and although its 10am scheduled arrival time (we were late 20 mins) is good for a 10am park opening, a 17:30 return isn’t convenient for a 4pm closing. The £9 return ticket price is high.

If you’re not willing to wait for a bus, you’ll need to make arrangements for a private hire (for non UK people, thats a Taxi, but one that can’t take street hails, you either have to pre book it, or call a booking office, or summon on an app). Although Uber will quote you, getting them to show up to pick you up won’t happen. You’re looking at another £20-30 each way, or more - thats 1 person’s ticket if you’re buying in advance. The phone numbers for their “Select Partner” for taxi rides is £35, and they don’t have enough cars to actually deal with the demand (Today he took three hails, including us, in one large car earning himself £100 for 30 minutes work).

There are hotels at the park, however, they’re clearly targeted at families with young kids despite the major thrilling coasters in the park.

The sad thing is, its location is one of the things that makes this park unique and special, you wont’ see it until you’re on top of it and you won’t see any signs of outside civilisation inside. That means its not a problem thats easily fixed.

Oh, and of course, its in Britian, so it rains, a lot. Like most British Parks, Alton Towers has a rainy day guarantee. if it rains for more than 61 minutes in a day, you can come back for free (lets see you match that Florida); but this is so filled up with small print you wouldn't believe it: blockout days apply, you do need your original ticket, the ticket it must be bought in advance online (so no showing up on days when you know its going to rain and buying one at the entrance), and more.

Layout

Alton towers is huge. Its website says that its 370 Hectares. No idea what a Hectare is, but wikipedia says Disneyland has 40 of them, and Magic Kingdom 43. So you could put them both in Alton Towers twice, and still have more than half the space left for extra parking.

So, you’d expect some great in park transport options right? Expect away, there’s not.

There is that form of transport that never seems to work outside of a theme park - the monorail - leftovers from Expo 86 Vancouver. It doesn’t actually operate in the park, just between the hotel and the main gate, so its no good to you.

There’s a chairlift/Sky ride thing with three stops. Not operating today, and only really covers about half of the park - the entrance, Forbidden Valley (Where two of the headline roller coasters are, and not much else), and the Dark Forest (home to two more Roller coasters, one of which is a headliner, and the other, well, I don’t know why it sticks around). If you had a family and wanted to go between the areas where the rides are more family friendly, then I hope your kid likes to walk; who am I kidding, no kids like to walk.

There was once a railway. Its now a walking path. That might be awesome in New York where you have lots of transport options and not a lot of exercise options, not when you’re trying to find a way to do less exercise and actually get somewhere.

But it has some lovely gardens in the middle. These are the original attraction, open to the public since the mid 19th century. The theme park grew out of the additional fairground attractions that would be brought in to manage capacity. Today they seem to be rather underutilised and underappreciated, but still lovely.

Alton Towers is also very hilly, and this goes double for queing areas. Mobility Scooters, Wheelchairs, and even strollers are going to have a hard time here. Do yourself a favour: bring sensible comfortable shoes.

As I said before, the sad thing is, is that this huge size, hilly and forest location is what makes it feel special, no construction is allowed above treetop height (so most coasters dig down) so there’s no weenies, no other part of the park in your eyeline teasing you to come forward, you’re just looking at your local area spread out from everywhere else, but also makes it frustrating to visit.

The park consists of the following areas

Towers Street - Any resemblence to Main Street USA is intentional yet ineffective. It honestly seems like a cheaply produced area next to main street, and doesn’t feel like it could be a real town at all. It does hold space for a gift shop and the usual park gate amenities.

CBeebies Land - Smaller Kids Area based on BBC properties. Just on the edge however is the “Spinball Wizzer” coaster, which is a fun spinning wild mouse coaster - I don’t think its one I’d want to be my kids first coaster so its inclusion near the preschool themed area is odd, but I suppose it gives something for big brother to do.

Mutiny Bay and Sharkbait reef - Themed for Pirates for some reason. Its headline attraction is the Sharkbait Reef Aquarium supplied by Merlin’s sister Sea Life properties, and has some smaller rides and cash in games.

Just outside Mutiny Bay for no apparent theming reason is The Wicker Man, themed around an old celtic or anglo saxon cult that is planning to sacrifice you to their god, the Wicker man, by burning you in a wicker man. Confused? Yeah, I am too.

Katanga Canyon - Themed for an African Village, its headline is the Kongo River Rapids, but its also joined by a small powered coaster themed as a runaway mine train.

Gloomy Wood - It has a whole one attraction, a ghost train/shooter thing. Can’t say I’ve been on it, but its on the walk to the….

Forbidden Valley - Here you’ve got the two classic headliners, the inverted coaster Nemesis and the ride I still insist on calling Air (Galactica) which is a flying coaster, along with a permanent flat ride, and a temporary one for the season. The themeing here is somewhat paranormal, which works for Nemesis as its supposed to be some monster who’s bones we’re riding or something, but its sitting next to Galactica which is themed as a knock off to Star Tours; I’ll come back to this. The Rollercoaster Restarant is also here. I couldn’t spot a menu, but I could spot a queue to get in, its gimmick is your plates are delivered by Roller coaster.

Dark Forest - This is home to Rita: Queen of Speed, imagine Top Thrill Dragster without the thrill. It launches, it goes around on a track, it doesn’t go high or near vertical; and Thir13en; I’ll talk more about this in the coaster section.

The Towers - This is home to Hex, which was closed, but is a brilliantly themed ride around a curse placed on the family that owned the towers, and an installation of Merlin’s Dungeons, which I’m still mad about (instead of a brilliant dark ride based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as illustrated by Quentin Blake we get an up-charge actor experience… And they can’t bring it back because they sold off every bit of the attraction to anyone who would pay? urgh). Although we couldn’t today as they were still pulling down the temporary scarefest attractions, you can normally wander part of the towers building.

The world of David Walliams - You might remember him as the tall thin one in Little Britain. Apparently he writes kids books now, and his illustrator seems to be channeling Quentin Blake; We were going to give their “Gangsta Granny” dark ride a go, but it broke down before we could see anything about it. The theming is sort of a characture of a little english town crossed with he front of a Roald Dahl book. There’s some other family friendly rides here like a small drop tower themed to farts (no typo), and a non lego version of the lego kids driving school.

X Sector - X Sector is home to The Smilier, the world record holder for number of inversions and notorious also getting the park convicted of criminal negligence. Although it was operating for years safely after that, its been closed the last few weeks. Its also home to Oblivion, which claims to be the worlds first Vertical Drop Coaster (a claim thats actually false, its an 87 degree drop not 90). There’s also an enterprise here.

The theming areas quality go from well themed, to confused, to “are we even actually theming this anymore?"

Coasters

I did get to ride most of the Parks’ Operating coasters, here’s my thoughts on them.

Wicker Man - 50 minute wait - It looks feels, and rides like a classic woodie, with just enough of the rough edge taken out to make it palatable but not detracting from the essence; Lots of seat shifting hills and drips, and lots of shuddering and shaking around the corners. It is a really great ride, but intense.

Nemesis - Got on with a 20 minute wait, which seemed consistent most of the morning. It is still one of the better coasters out there, although it could certainly use some paint and some love. How it was only a 20 minute wait I don’t know. It is however one of the more intense coasters you’ll ride.

Air…I mean Galactica - 50 minutes. Galactica is for my money the second best coaster in the world, putting you in the “superman” position gives a really great ride and experience you can’t get anywhere else, there is a particularly intense bit, a drop with a change of direction, but this part of the ride has you upside down so you go into the curve on your back, making it pallative. However, we have to talk about that theming - some fool a few years back decided somehow Air would be better if instead of flying through the trees, we were all using a VR headset, which strikes me as the single stupidest gimmick to ever be tried - Air already was one of the world’s great coasters, and a VR headset can’t save a bad ride, so what exactly could be gained by adding it? Turns out what could be gained was slower dispatch times, but now there’s posters and videos promsing you a trip to other worlds you’ll never get to see because VR isn’t an option. Merlin - Turn off the TVs, rip down the signs, and call it Air again, its not like its going to fit in any less.

Thir13en - Now, I didn’t go on 13, the reasoning being it doesn’t operate in the rain anymore apparently; this is obviously a fatal flaw in Rainy England. However, this can work to your advantage. After being closed all day the ride came online at 3pm, suddenly a large exodus from all over the park could be seen as every teen and adult rushed to get on the ride. Moral of the story - if it stops raining after a wet morning, keep checking for 13 to open and watch the queue times drop.

Oblivion - 5 Minutes (13 had opened as noted above). Its time for Oblivion to go. The cameras for the on ride photo seem to be out of focus, the queue tvs are all dying, It’s a one trick pony that doesn’t even really do the trick its supposed to be doing, there’s no course, its just a drop and return to station. The once expansive store is now just a games arcade, they don’t even bother to try to sell you merchandise anymore. The only thing really going for it is that it can eat crowds fast. Now thats not to say I didn’t enjoy it - I did, but I wouldn’t wait much more than 5 minutes to get on.

Spinball Wizzer - posted as 45 minutes, but actually about 30 - At the risk of getting myself sick more, we need more spinning wild mouse coasters. There’s so many elements and experiences you can do with them that other coasters can’t do at all, and somehow they retain an air of being family friendly (even though I’m not convinced it really is).

Are they worth the trip? Nemesis has its sister in Thorpe Park; Saw in Thorpe Park will give you a more than 90 degree drop, and Stealth feels pretty close and is faster. Blackpool is full of Classic woodies including one of 2 remaining mobius loop coasters, although they are much less comfortable than wicker man... That leaves Air, and Thir13en, one of which you're going to struggle to get a ride on anyway as it can't operate in the wet. That leaves Galactica and Spinball Wizzer as unique experiences you might want to travel for.

As I said before Alton Tower's biggest problem is arguably its biggest strength - its rural forest setting. You get a park like no other, where the outside world and other parts of the park don't intrude... But you probably can't get there, and if you can, you probably can't get around. I'm struggling to convince myself its worth the effort.

Does anyone want to take the defence?

Replies (2)

November 1, 2021, 10:28 PM

That's a shame, Alton Towers is one of my favorite parks and i'm from Orlando, and i've been to most all of the major parks in the world. Even though none of the coasters are anywhere near my top 10 maybe (except maybe Nemesis just because of how iconic it is being built into the ground) but Wicker Man is a really good GCI and Thirteen is a great family thrill for what it is, and I love the queues for all three coasters. Galactica is easily the weakest B&M flyer but its still enjoyable and I loved the queue/station/theme song.

While I agree the entrance area is underwhelming, the sheer massiveness of the park and large gardens, forests, and the castle make the park unlike any other amusement park. The park being hidden away in a forest next to a small town makes it more unique (something that used to be awesome about Dollywood but it has lost that specialness as the area around it has become a mega resort town). I love that the park is huge and hard to navigate but I realize that is a personal prefence as I like large parks.

Alton Towers and Europa Park were two bucket list parks that delivered, TBH i'd rather visit those than Disneyland Paris any day (but once again i'm from Orlando and used to live in Anaheim, so going to a smaller resort with many of the same attractions isn't that appealing to me. And that Studios park there is still awful even after 20 years).

November 4, 2021, 3:40 PM

Chad, I doubt that I'll ever get a chance to visit Alton Towers, and from the sound of it that might not be a bad thing. Every park has its good points and its not-so-good points, and it sounds like you gave your review a good balance of what you liked and what you didn't. A really well written presentation!

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