Thursday, 13 September 2007

Day 4: Alton Towers

Today I got to finally fulfill a childhood dream.

The fun actually starts before you even get to the park. It is completely hidden in the countryside and in amongst the hills. When you see the landscape, you understand why the park has strict restrictions when it comes to the height of rides. You are driving down a country lane, turn a corner and there is a small entrance. You'd miss is it if it weren't for the sign and the fact that the GPS is telling you you have arrived at destination. You drive on (in your fantastic car) and the magic begins....

The car parks are huge and quite far from the park itself but a decent monorail takes us through the forest and there... you get your first glimpse of Air, Nemesis and Katanga Canyon.

Notice how, in both photos (a bit blurry i know), the rides seem totally immersed in nature.
It's like this on all the rides in the park. It really gives it something special.

Note: I won't be going into tech details on this post. I have been finding out about them, but it's taking me ages and if I don't get this post out now, I'll start forgetting stuff, and this is a day I want to remember for ever!
Any info you want is just clicks away on a really great site:

Ok back to the park.

Armed with wristband to record our visit, we head to the Spinball Whizzer, a spinning coaster in Adventure land. It's a great little ride that got us going for the day. Perfect.

Here is also where we saw the first of the "queue jumping signs" which John and I decided we should print out and stick everywhere at Walibi. (More on queues later).

From there, we headed the long walk to the far side of the park to UGland to try out Rita, Queen of speed (normal queue time: 0 mins, front seat queue time: 7 mins).

The station is in two parts and there are two trains therefore turnaround is lovely. All safety announcements are made through the speaker and we get our first glimpse at how nice it is to be in an English park. There are 4 members of staff manning the station and another two dealing with queue distribution and ride manipulation.

This ride is mostly about the launch, and as opposed to Turbine's flywheel launch at Walibi Belgium, this is a hydraulic launch.
It propels you into the ride at huge speed and then proceeds to give you three instances of airtime that really give the ride it's edge (and it doesn't break once during the ride). Rita boasts 4.7Gs, however I didn't feel them as much as I was expecting. Fun enough to ride it three times though, that, and the fact that apart from the front seat queue, there was no queue.

We tried out the front and back seats and as always, the view from the front seat is unmissable. The ride from the back feels heavier but you lose nothing of the launch or airtime.

Remembering how rough old corkscrews can be, I was expecting to get my head bashed from side to side on the Corkscrew (nqt: 2 mins) and I was right. Corkscrew was built by Vekoma in 1980 and it shows. It is really jerky, not very fast and just downright painful. I'm a dab-hand at reducing headbanging on these rides, and subsequently had to spend the ride sticking my head forward as much as possible to avoid injury (I failed miserably). The only thing going for it, is the fact that it is built in and around Rita, so you get the excitement of seeing her whizz past you. The ride is old and really should be shut down.

We leave Rita behind us and walk back towards the castle
and enter it for HEX.
(Alton Towers is basically a huge park with a castle in the middle of it.)

Reading the limited info on it, we guessed it was an Ali Baba replica. And we were right. You have to walk through the castle in very little light and listen to the Legend of Alton Towers before getting to the actual ride part. While the ride is essentially the same, it has the edge on the rides of this type I had already tried because of the theming and effects. Unfortunately, the end is so anti-climactic that you leave thinking you just wasted 20 minutes.
Exiting in the castle grounds we realise how
great this building would be during Halloween season.

Oblivion was our next stop. Their opening ad campaign had reached me and I was really excited about riding it. I had decided I would try everything in the park, but faced with this, I wussed out. I'm not a fan of drops and this looked like exactly that. John volonteered to brave the longest queue of the day (15 mins) to give it a go. It is classified as a vertical rollercoaster however a drop coaster would be more accurate. You are brought up to a vertical drop, hung over the edge and then released into a tunnel of mist.
For the scaredy cats out there, there is a great viewing section right at the foot of the drop where the tunnel starts and the rush of adrenaline you get from watching it thunder down the drop was enough for me.

No photos from the top so i 'borrowed' a couple from elsewhere.

John will describe the ride more accurately than me in his trip report, but he used one word to describe it. CRAP. Can't see how that is possible but I'll trust the master.

We stopped off for KFC in this area. The food throughout the park is really varied, there's something for everyone, from the fast food classics of burgers, pizzas and chicken buckets, to the healthier option of baked potatoes and salads. You can even get traditional English food and a cooked breakfast.

Our long walk across the park takes us through the Haunted Hollow (path in the woods with spooky theming that does what it's supposed to - distract you from the walking).
All the areas in this park are quite far away from each other and sometimes only accessible via one route. This layout does wonders to dissipate crowds but it means you do an awful lot of walking. Which i can imagine would be great on a busy day when you spend in excess of one hour queuing for each ride. There is a huge lake in the middle, surrounded by vast lawns where you can sit and relax in the sun. A Huge bonus for Season pass holders.

We arrive into the Forbidden Valley to be greeted by Air, Nemesis and Ripsaw.

We didn't ride Ripsaw as we have the same ride at Walibi. But Alton Towers has added an excellent twist. WATER. The jets are controlled by a member of staff and granted, this is a bit of fun when on the ride, but I think the most fun is had by the people watching. It is hilarious.
It's a little long, but the video below shows the moment when riders are lowered onto the jets face on. I saw this happen many times and it still cracked me up.

Next was Air (nqt: 10 mins, fsqt: 15 mins). My first ever flying coaster. We rode this twice and my second time was a lot better. Mostly because I was not in the front seat on the first try. And the lovely view of dirty socks and being downwind kind of distracts you. The harnesses are really comfortable despite looking a bit like a torture device as they also have leg bars. You have to back into the seat and sit down, before being harnessed in and then tilted to a lying position before you are told to "Prepare for Air" (sorry) and the ride begins.

This ride is not the most thrilling of the park but it is an engineering marvel. It's pretty impressive. During the 'flight', you are sometimes turned to lie on your back, but mostly you are lying face down smoothly passing over the scenery. Not tempted by Skydiving, this is a good alternative for me, but the fact that it is low on the ground means that sensation is not huge. I'm looking forward to riding a higher version of Air.

We had great fun on this one though, singing the Superman theme tune and striking the out-stretched clenched fist pose. :) And for some reason making a total arse out of yourself on a coaster is allowed!!

Over the square to Nemesis (nqt: 0 mins, fsqt: 10 mins). This was the ride I was most looking forward to. An inverted coaster but clearly the best one of it's kind. The harnesses are not the soft foam kind, but rather hard. We were worried this might be a problem when inevitable headbanging arises in banks, but there were none. NONE! The ride is soo smooth, it allows you to really enjoy the ride. It lacks in height but its amazing speed and design takes you in ravines, over blood coloured water and in through the trees. Brilliant!
I'm ashamed to say, at one point I got so overwhelmed by excitement, I nearly peed myself (I said nearly) :)

I never bother filming rides as I feel it never lives up to the ride itself, but I did this time and even though I only got 40 seconds of footage without sound it came out great. (Not for the fainthearted)

We spent the next 30 mins going from Air to Nemesis and back again before deciding we should get on with the other rides.

Onwards to Katanga Canyon.
John LOVES water rides and the sun was out, so I followed him eagerly onto the RiverRapids (nqt: 7 mins). BIG MISTAKE. This is your traditional rapids ride with 8 per boat and as always, it's basically a gamble whether you get wet or not. As the park was so quiet, we were able to get a boat to ourselves. The good thing about these rides is not everyone gets wet to the same extent, and when a fellow rider gets a good wave, it's hilarious. The smile was wiped off clean off my face and onto John's when I received a drenching which left my back and most of my jeans soaking. Hmmm.

It gave us the opportunity to try out the drying cubicles at the exit of all water rides. Cool feature though kind of cheating and not efficient when drenched.

Whilst already wet, we move on the Flume (Not ONE could come up with a better name!?). Apart from it's low water level but amazing scenery nothing really sets it apart from other flumes. Except maybe the fact that whilst in the tunnel, if your are lucky - which we were - you get the Runaway Mine Train whizzing past you in the opposite direction. Very cool. There's a nice little drop in complete darkness to surprise you too.

It was nearing 4 pm and with only an hour left to go, we headed back to the park entrance to pick up our purchases to avoid the end of day rush. Ha, end of day rush.... that's funny.
You can buy photos, mugs, etc at the rides and collect them all at once so you don't have to carry them around with you all day. A nice little service which is really handy.

Nemesis called from afar, and I was eager to get the end of the ride on film so we walked/ran back through the Canyon and the wood. This walk basically finished us off. We didn't manage to get the front seat as the line was closed so I didn't get my film. But what a great way to end the day. :)

Stopped off for another snack and watched the last Ripsaw riders get drenched by the jets (the guy operating the water was clearly on a mission and barely stopping the jets at all. Then began the endless path back to the entrance, onto the monorail and back to the car.

Everything shut down at lightening speed once the clock hit 5pm but we were incredibly lucky that it was so empty and with queue times so short we were able to have at least 15 rides, which is huge (I have read that in peak season it can get so busy that you would only manage 3 or 4 rides in a whole day. We even had bags of time to check out the arcades. We didn't venture into the smaller rides or kiddy areas of which there seem to be plenty, nor did we stop off to shoot the living dead).

Both staff and fellow coasties were very courteous and respectful of the park. We saw no pushing, no queue jumping and above all no spitting. A real delight. Everyone seemed to be having a fantastic day and it made the whole Alton Towers experience that much more fun.

Also noteworthy is the fact that we had no ride breakdowns - which has been a thorn in Walibi's side all season.

So I think I speak for both of us when I say we are very proud of ourselves for making the trip.
The third member of our mini coaster fan club was not with us on this visit, and he was missed. but hopefully our trip reports as well as other video and photos will make up for him missing it.

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