Situated in the middle of a quite hilly and at the same time beautiful region, out in the middle of nowhere, you will find the most significant theme park in England: Alton Towers. Around the ruins of the old castle and its gardens, an amusement park has been developed over the last three decades, which you simply have to see.
In contrast to comparable amusement parks like the Efteling or the Europa-Park, Alton Towers unfortunately does not show its splendour at the entrance, which simply does not want to fit into the overall concept due to its simple design. Even the upgrading of the forecourt by the corkscrews of the former Vekoma roller coaster Corkscrew doesn’t manage to increase the visitors’ anticipation.
Tour of the park
By entering the park, one is relatively soon confronted with the question in which direction one should go. This is further intensified by the early entry, since there are only a handful of attractions that are ready to ride at this time of day.
Following the way to the left, it is possible to get to the Forbidden Valley and/or to visit the Cloud Cuckoo Land in a very fast way, provided that the SkyRide – thus the gondola lift in Alton Towers – is running. If one has the pleasure to stand in front of a closed station, it is recommendable to follow the way further to the area Mutiny Bay.
The Battle Galleons can also be found in a slightly modified form at the German amusement park Heide-Park in Soltau. Even the music is the same. The level of wetness is quite high even though the weather was rather cold.
The other rides in this area are very family-friendly. In addition to a Zierer Kontiki, you can also ride a teacup train with cups in the form of powder kegs. But also the pirate show and the Sea Life Centre Sharkbait Reef can be found here. Luckily the aquarium is not as small as the versions from the Legoland theme parks or some German centres. The choice and number of species can be compared to the version from Chessington World of Adventures, but luckily it doesn’t share the tent look with it.
Alton Towers has managed to create one of the most original themes for a water attraction with The Flume. It is all about bathing, which is very much in keeping with the wetness of the ride. Squeaking ducks and a more than brilliant soundtrack complete the installation, which unfortunately is in need of a lot of renovation. The ride itself starts relatively unspectacular, considering the fact that after the first drop down you curve around in a forest for a few meters. After climbing up the second lift hill you find yourself in the middle of a house, where the second shot is taken in complete darkness. After having met the huge duckling, one leaves the house wonderfully soaked. A further lift hill brings you to the height of the final shot, which fills the bathtub again with the intended amount of water. If one is still dehydrated, the showers at the end of the ride will help.
In contrast to The Flume, the Congo River Rapids are much drier. Unlike Drayton Manor’s Splash Canyon, there is not even the slightest chance of getting wet. The layout was also designed more for capacity, after all there is no possibility to overtake the boats. Creatively the rafting offers a nice station, but unfortunately that’ s it. However, the interaction with the small roller coaster Runaway Mine Train is absolutely worth mentioning.
The Powered Coaster Runaway Mine Train is a very special ride from Mack. After the first helix the train gains not only height but also speed and after a few hills it goes down a steep curve. Two helices follow and the tunnel where you interact with the rapid ride before you speed through the station after a small curve and start the second round. The atmosphere created by the staff and the mutual cheering between the passengers of the passing rafts and the train passengers is just wonderful.
Just as atmospheric, but a lot darker is the ghost train Duel. An interactive dark ride in which zombies have taken over the house of a scientist who has experimented a little too much with death. The ride itself is based on the Haunted House dark ride, which has been spiced up with some changes. Especially worth mentioning is the ride system that helps you to make your way through the quite large show building, because it is especially the single cars that create an eerily beautiful and most of all creepy atmosphere. The effects that are triggered during the ride are ingenious and even manage to scare you out of your wits, which is even intensified by the focus on the targets. Duel offers a ghost train experience of the special kind, which doesn’t take itself too serious and can convince without looking cheesy. The accompanying music underlines this aspect excellently. The only weak point of the layout are the guns themselves, which are not easy to hold in the long run and distract from the great atmosphere with their noises, but otherwise this ride is definitely one of the best of its kind.
Passing last year’s novelty Nemesis Sub-Terra, an indoor freefall from ABC-Rides, which was only running sporadically or not at all due to work during the visiting days, we now head to the roller coaster which every student from Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein knows from their English textbook since many years, namely the B&M Inverted Coaster Nemesis.
The journey begins with a comparably rather small lifthill, from which one is released in a lively manner. Quite untypically, a corkscrew inversion follows, which you would expect towards the end of the ride. The exit from this element leads into a helix, which can be described as bloody intense, as it pumps the blood into your feet like no other coaster. Thereupon you are turned upside down for the second time in a zero-g roll, only to make a rather boring turn towards the looping afterwards. This loop is luckily done the way a loop should be done and ends in the last inversion after another turn. Shortly after that the brake run is reached. Overall, Nemesis is a good and above all smooth ride, which is very entertaining.
Only a few meters away from Nemesis, Alton Towers can call a prototype its own, which is quite airy. It should be noted that Air is not the first Flying Coaster out there but the manufacturer’s first installation.
As soon as you have left the fluffy waiting time, in a rather bare and boring waiting area behind you, you are introduced to your row of seats and the airy experience can begin. After one is dazzled by a light on the floor in front of the lift, it already goes upwards, but with a little stop in the lift, so that one can still wave to some people who have placed themselves curiously under it. The first descent brings you a little closer to the ground before you are turned on your back and stay that way for quite a long passage. The feeling is very surreal and therefore simply ingenious, especially if you think you are quite close to the trees during your first ride. One turn further on you do a complete roll before you get quite close to the stones in the last curves and turns. Overall, Air is a wonderfully intensive ride with little floating airtime moments, great close calls and a fantastic setting. If you have the pleasure to fly in the first row you will surely appreciate the ride, but also the other rows will offer the same airy riding pleasure, even if the visibility is a bit limited.
The Blade and Ripsaw attractions complete the Forbidden Valley named area. Where the Blade swing ship, apart from its appearance and location in the valley of the former Thunder Looper roller coaster, a Schwarzkopf shuttle loop, offers few special features, Ripsaw can use its full potential. The Top Spin by HUSS is probably one of the best known representatives of its kind, but this is not due to its ride programs. Ripsaw usually makes you wet and this even outshines the Rameses Revenge from Chessington World of Adventures. Unfortunately, on the day of our visit there was hardly any playing with the water fountains, so that we went out of the ride wet, but not soaking wet.
If one has the pleasure to do without the cable car, one can now either walk around the gardens or through them in order to get to the other side of the park. From many sources one hears that a crossing of the gardens is time consuming and that one can get easily lost if one does not follow the signpostings anymore. That these sources are wrong can be clearly seen, as long as one has done the rather short distance by cable car. The gardens themselves are arranged in a valley and can be crossed in a short time, as long as one does not shy away from the descent and ascent. Even if one has a closer look to the gardens, one does not need much time to see everything, getting lost is quite impossible.
Another interesting attraction is located in one of the side wings of the Towers, the old castle ruins of the Alton Towers theme park. With Hex the Legend of the Towers Vekoma has delivered a masterpiece of a witches’ swing which fascinates visitors with its storyline. The story isn’t far-fetched, after all it’s basically just a spiced-up version of a local legend. The curse that led to Chained Oak is in the center of the story, only the end, where the Earl of Shrewsbury experimented on the first fallen branch of the oak tree in a well hidden laboratory, is new. The musical background, which is the leitmotif of the attraction, is simply brilliant, as is the atmosphere created by the high-quality pre-shows.
After leaving Hex you will find yourself in the courtyard of the old building. A few meters further on you can visit Cloud Cuckoo Land, probably the weakest area in Alton Towers. Here you will find the park’s 4D cinema, the wave swinger Twirling Toadstool and the dark ride Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as well as some attractions for younger children.
The dark ride brings the modern fairy tale of Roald Dahl closer to the visitors and is divided into two ride sections. On the first section, you accompany Charlie and the children on their boat trip through the chocolate factory, which gradually falls victim to their spoiled behaviour. When only Charlie is left, the journey continues in an elevator, which is one of the best simulations you can experience despite the animated characters and landscape. The experience itself corresponds to the original and is quite convincing.
Ice Age 4D
This year, the 4D cinema will be showing the film Ice Age 4D, where you can watch a bad recording of the probably best Ice Age (Ice Age 3 – Dawn of the Dinosaurs) film to date. The story has been shortened to the basics – where a few effects could be added – which unfortunately fell victim to the cheap jokes that make up this movie. The recording itself is therefore a bad joke. For Alton Towers itself, the movie might be an enrichment, but one could have done without it.
Located in the Dark Forest, Th13teen is the newest roller coaster of the park. Marketed as the ultimate, yet most terrifying roller coaster, the ride, built by Intamin, is an ideal family roller coaster, which manages to scare even the youngest passengers.
The ride itself starts relatively fast before it goes up the lift. The following descent manages to build up a good amount of speed, but the integrated trim brake is a little bit annoying, as the deceleration is noticeable and the turns are only passed somewhat faster instead of having a very pronounced airtime. As soon as you have conquered the second lift you enter the crypt only to crash through the floor. This is the first time that a freefall element has been installed in a roller coaster, which is quite convincing despite the low height. After the fall the ride continues backwards in form of an oversized, but at the same time simply ingenious Bayernkurve back out of the crypt. In the end, friction wheels accelerate you towards the station in a suprisingly fast fashion.
The neighboring roller coaster Rita Queen of Speed was renamed Rita as a result of the reorganization of the area and now features a distinctly gloomy look. An aura like the one of Stephen King’s Christine now surrounds the trains of the ride, which now serve as escape cars. But what you are fleeing from is completely irrelevant, but de facto you should flee.
The layout itself serves as a model for the catapult launch coaster Desert Race from Heide-Park Soltau, but differs in some details. The launch track is not only longer, but also leads into the first turn a bit more leisurely. The following hills offer wonderful airtime before the brakes are reached. Compared to the sister coaster Rita seems a bit more leisurely, but due to the paths underneath the layout it is at least more convincing in terms of design. As the queues at the ride fill up very fast, it is recommended to ride the ride as early as possible or to get a fast pass instead.
On the other side of the towers is the X-Sector, a themed area around the Oblivion roller coaster. The world’s first Dive Coaster offers a very special kind of free fall experience, after all, the hole is waiting for you. The rest of the track is relatively irrelevant, even though the turnaround with a 90° bank is a nice one to ride. Oblivion is basically all about the fall, and despite the comparatively short stop, it is extremely convincing and also quite refreshing. Unfortunately, the appearance of the ride is massively clouded by the exit, as you first have to make your way through an arcade.
The other attractions in this area are a HUSS Enterprise and a Chance Double Inverter. The Enterprise has been placed really ingeniously and can actually have a 90° inclination, which is not noticeable from a technical point of view, but visually unusual. The inverter named Submission is a very special ride for Europe, after all, there is only a second other installation in Walibi Rhône-Alpes in France. Technically, the ride is quite curious, but it is a nice ride. The further inside you sit, the more distinctive is the feeling of the ride with its strange ride cycle.
Riverbank Eye Spy
Close to the entrance are the three themed areas Adventure Land, Storybook Land and Old MacDonald’s Farmyard. These three areas can be described as the better children’s areas in Alton Towers, after all you can find some interesting and beautifully designed attractions. Besides a merry-go-round and a tractor ride, you can also try out Mack’s canal ride Riverbank Eye Spy at Old MacDonald’s Farm. This ride offers an unusual feature and can therefore be seen as an interactive dark ride, although unfortunately not every button actually works. The Squirrel Nutty Ride in Storybookland is a beautiful high-level ride with a rather strange layout in places. As with Air, you should pay attention on your head when entering the ride.
The last roller coaster in Alton Towers is dedicated to the Knight of the Wind. Originally opened as Spinball Whizzer, the ride is now entirely devoted to Sega’s video game hero Sonic the Hedgehog, which is very popular in England. Also thematically the choice is quite reasonable and understandable, after all many Sonic titles have a connection to the pinball theme. Unfortunately, the design of Sonic Spinball is kept very minimalistic and the music can only be heard in the entrance area of the ride. It’s a pity, after all, the titles of Crush40 and Co. are simply brilliant.
The ride on the huge pinball machine keeps its promise and offers a ride that can only be trumped by Dragon’s Fury of Chessington World of Adventures. The part in front of the lifthill is to be seen as relatively bizarre, as it brings the cars into an unconservative starting position in front of the lift. The rest of the ride is fast and sometimes quite abrupt, which is especially good for the part after the big Immelman Turn. Surprisingly, the clearance of the ride is very fast, which invites one to several rides in a row.
Pictures Alton Towers
Conclusion Alton Towers
Alton Towers is one of the best European amusement parks and can convince by its beautiful location. The distances you cover during your day in Alton Towers are not as long as a visit to the Efteling theme park in the Netherlands, but this might be an advantage. Next year, SW7 will fortunately upgrade the X-Sector and another visit to the park is a must do.
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