That first visit was so exciting. It was a coach trip organised by the company that my Dad worked for. The journey felt like it took an age but I guess it was something like 2.5 hours from North Wales. I had never been to a theme park, but had heard about Alton Towers from other friends who has already been the year before. I don’t remember going on many rides, but I remember one of the adults holding onto me for dear life as I slid around on the pirate ship (I was a puny kid). I also remember getting soaked on the Log Flume – the final drop felt huge as a small child. And there the obsession began.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later, that I really found my theme park feet and ventured onto my first rollercoaster that went upside down – the Corkscrew. I don’t think I particularly enjoyed the sensation that first time, but it instilled some kind of excitement that would kick off my love of theme parks – one that is still with me to this day. The Corkscrew doesn’t exist anymore but both corkscrew loops remain in the entrance plaza as a nod to the past.
Skip forward to the year 2018, and despite some issues over the past few years, Alton Towers remains the UK’s number one theme park and I am going to run through some of the reasons I think why.
Here are my thoughts on the best things about Alton Towers.
We have to start with the best rollercoaster in the UK, in my humble opinion. Nemesis was unleashed to the world in 1994 – an exciting period when Alton Towers was expanding at a rapid pace. There was something different about this project (codenamed Secret Weapon 3) though. The buzz that was created during the build process was amazing. Something new was coming to the UK, unlike anything that had been seen before. In the days before the internet existed, the only hints about the ride would be what was going on at the construction site. There were no plans available online. No drone footage of the construction during closed season. Nothing.
Then, on the 19th March 1994, Europe’s first inverted coaster opened to the public. Dubbed at the time as ‘the world’s most intense ride experience’, Nemesis took guests through four inversions at a top speed of 81km per hour with G forces hitting up to +3.5G. The rollercoaster is built into a large pit surrounded by cascading ‘waterfalls of blood’. The landscape created allows for several near misses – with your legs dangling beneath the ski-lift style seats, it creates the sense that you are much closer to the rock work than you actually are. The layout is also great for non-riders and spectators too, given the proximity to the ground and the pathways that lead around the ride.
It may not live up to it’s title of being the world’s most intense ride experience nowadays, but this inverted coaster from Swiss rollercoaster manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard still packs a punch and is one of the most enjoyable rides in the park. Be sure to queue a little longer for front row – you won’t be disappointed.
Another ride dating back to the 1990’s, Oblivion opened twenty years ago as the world’s first vertical drop rollercoaster. With the ‘Don’t. Look. Down.’ tagline and sinister TV advert (watch it here), it’s been a favourite of mine in the park ever since. Another ride manufactured by Bolliger & Mabillard, Oblivion features a slow climb up a steep lift hill, before taking a turn towards the edge of a vertical drop. The ride then keeps you dangling on the edge for a short while before plummeting into a large hole in the ground and a 180 foot drop – much of which is underground. It doesn’t do much and is over in seconds, but what it does, it does really well! Nowadays, there are taller and longer Dive Machines around the world, but of the ones I have been on, the first drops don’t have the same impact and sensation as Oblivion.
One of the first things you will notice as you enter the theme park, is the looming gothic building which sits across a lake from the main entrance – Alton Towers. The house dates back to the early 1800’s and was built as a home to Charles Talbot, the 15th Earl of Shrewsbury. It remained in the Talbot family until 1924 when it was sold to a group of local businessmen.
The Towers are the centre point of the theme park, and much of the old building is open to the public for most of the theme park season. It’s wonderful to take a wander through the dusty old rooms and corridors imagining the grandeur that must have been present within these walls.
While we are talking about the Towers, we should mention Hex – Legend of the Towers which opened in 2000. This attraction is the only permanent one that is based within the Towers building and makes full use of this. The ride is based around the legend of an old beggar who is spurned by the Earl of Shrewsbury and casts a curse on the family. The ride queue line and pre-shows take a path through the old armoury and a large octagonal room, before heading into a ‘vault’ for the grand finale. It’s a disorientating and fun ride for all the family, and great to watch people’s reactions during the ride.
Before we get back to the rides, if you want to take some time for yourself and grab some peace and quiet, there is no better place than escaping into The Gardens of Alton Towers.
There are beautifully manicured lawns and hedgerows, gorgeous conservatory buildings, streams, fountains, the charming Swiss Cottage nestled into the woods and absolutely stunning planting which changes over the seasons. Oh, and steps. Lots and lots of steps.
There are miles of trails leading through the gardens, and they can be a great way to get from one part of the theme park to another without following the herds of people on the busy pathways, or queuing for the Skyride.
You may have heard of The Smiler for all the wrong reasons. Opened in the 2013 season, The Smiler was (and still is) a record breaking ride featuring the most inversions of any coaster in the world – fourteen in total. Sadly the ride was involved in an incident in 2015 where several riders where seriously injured. However, The Smiler reopened in 2016 and is still a firm favourite with guests in the park, generating some of the largest queues in the park.
The ride, manufactured by German company Gerstlauer is fast paced and intense with two lift hills (one of which is vertical) meaning that two trains can run around the circuit at one time creating some interaction between both sets of riders.
Scarefest is Alton Towers’ annual Halloween event, which has been running since the mid 2000’s. It’s a time where the park is dressed up for Halloween, rides run late into the evening and guests have the opportunity to experience some scare mazes – interactive walk-through attractions which include live actors and special effects. There are also live shows which are aimed at the younger guests and some roaming actors around the park. Halloween is totally my favourite time to be at the park! If you visit Scarefest, make sure you ride Nemesis front row, in the dark – my top tip.
You can catch my review of last years event in this post here.
It’s been over twenty years since a wooden rollercoaster was built in the UK. In case you were wondering, that was Megafobia at the Oakwood Theme Park in South Wales. There have been plans afoot in the past for a large wooden coaster at Alton Towers, but they remained as that – plans which never got off the ground. By all accounts, people’s opinions of wooden coasters were that they were dated and that they were unsafe – the latter being something of which Alton Towers would definitely not want to entertain during this period.
Wooden Coasters are big business in other countries though – they are regularly being built around the world and enjoyed by millions. I was delighted that Alton Towers would be building a brand new modern wooden coaster for the 2018 season, and here it is – The Wicker Man. Strange name though, eh? Is is based on the movie? Well, not really. There is a back story which becomes prominent during the ride experience. I stress the word experience here, because that’s what the park have created with this new ride. It’s visually stunning, its interactive to riders and spectators and it’s bloody good fun to ride. It might feel a little bit cliche, but it feels like the old Alton Towers magic has been thrown into this project.
The dominating feature of the ride, of course, is The Wicker Man effigy. A large six story dual faced wooden structure which (safely) bursts into flames when the coaster trains pass through three times during the ride. It’s dramatic to ride and dramatic to watch. Even more so in the dark – another reason to make sure that you visit the park during Scarefest.
There are plenty of other attractions to keep guests of all ages entertained. Additional coasters such at Rita, Thirteen and Galactica. There is an entire CBeebies Land for the smaller kids to enjoy, with 14 rides and attractions. There are water rides for the summer such as Congo River Rapids and Battle Galleons.
Take a look at everything there is to offer on the Alton Towers Theme Park Map here.
Alton Towers Theme Park Tickets can be bought online for £33.00 (current prices), although Season Passes have been available in 2018 for £55.00 (with some blackout days). There are often half price, or two-for-one ticket deals to be found with groceries, newspaper promotions etc. It’s rare that you would have to pay the full price daily gate ticket of £55.00 unless you had made a silly mistake.
There are also deals available by booking into one of Alton Towers Resort hotels, but we’ll run through those in some detail in another post.
As the 2018 season draws to a close, 2019 will see the addition of the The Alton Towers Dungeons, but little has been announced about this new attraction at this stage. Watch this space…