Alton Towers Revisited

I last posted about Alton Towers on here nearly four years ago, when I wrote about what I described as “the annual Beyond Alton Towers trip”. Since then it hasn’t really lived up to the “annual” bit; we’ve only just finally made it back there. Everyone’s schedule and finances seem to have got increasingly complicated over the past few years and it’s been hard to get the whole group together for things like this. But Alex’s pending 30th birthday finally gave us the hearty kick-up-the-arse we so badly needed, and we managed to not only reunite the core Alton Towers crew (me, Alex, Gavin and Heather) but also drag along Laura, Lori, Stuart and Sam for the ride(s) as well.

groupshot

(The thought of my quite-a-bit younger brother being 30 years old is something I’m still not entirely comfortable with. I’d only just started to get used to the idea of being in my 30s myself, for god’s sake, then Laura went and turned 30 a few months ago, and now Alex is doing it too. Will this ever end??).

Of course, Alton Towers has been in the news quite a lot this year, following the now-infamous Smiler roller coaster crash back in June that seriously injured four people. Probably mostly because of this, the park was by far the quietest I’ve ever seen it. Most of the time there was virtually no queue for the majority of the rides (Spinball, Rita and Th13teen still had queues but much shorter than normal). It was weird being able to just walk into the Nemesis loading station and get straight on the next train without having to wait at all. Consequently, we managed to do fourteen rides on the first day, most of them big ones, something that would have been impossible on any of my previous visits. No wonder we were all exhausted by the evening after all those adrenaline rushes.

Front row on Nemesis

Front row on Nemesis

The Smiler itself is still closed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it never re-opens after all that bad publicity. We saw them sending test trains around it, with weights in them to simulate riders. Unfortunately the only other new ride to be added since our last visit (Nemesis Sub Terra) was also closed the whole time, though I’m not sure why. So the only thing that was actually new to me was Enterprise, a big spinny wheel thing near Oblivion. It’s one of the oldest rides in the park, but I’ve never been on it before as Alex always said it wasn’t that good and I’d decided I’d rather spend my precious Alton Towers time queueing for things that were good rather than something that wasn’t. But this time, with hardly any queues to contend with, I gave it a try. It wasn’t bad. It didn’t make me feel as sick as I’d expected it to. Once it got going it felt a bit like going round the same roller coaster loop again and again, only less safe because inside your little cage there’s no lap bar or anything to make you feel secure.

Anyway. I may not have done much new stuff this time, but I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting all the old rides again, especially after such a long break. I was a bit worried I’d have lapsed back into being too scared to go on any of the big ones, but after a quick Saturday morning spin on Nemesis, I felt ready to face the rest of the park. Stuart, however, was quite nervous about it all as he hadn’t been to Alton Towers before, though his girlfriend Sam was already a bit of an adrenaline junkie (“Naw, just a junkie”, Stuart said affectionately). But once he got going, he enjoyed the rides a lot and wanted to do all of them (although he was still entertainingly sweary during the scary bits). It was Laura and Lori that really surprised me, though… they hadn’t even been going to come into the theme park at all until we discovered we could get them quite cheap tickets for the second day, as they weren’t sure it would be their thing. But they ended up going on quite a lot of the rides. They both did Th13teen and Rita, and Lori did Nemesis, Air and Sonic Spinball too.

spinball

Opinion was divided on what was the scariest. As I mentioned last time, Gavin, Alex, Heather and I are all terrified of Rita now, whereas the others just casually went on it and couldn’t understand what we were making such a fuss about. Laura said it didn’t bother her much, because she’d been in the car with her dad in his younger days. I did feel slightly vindicated when I read all the ride statistics online afterwards, though – at least in terms of raw G-force, Rita is the most intense, clocking up 4.7G compared to Oblivion’s 4.5 and Nemesis’s 4.0. Though I can fully understand why most people find Oblivion scarier – the fact that you’re experiencing 0.2G less than you would be on Rita isn’t really much comfort when you’re plunging face down into a huge dark hole from sixty feet up in the air.

I know it's blurred, but that gives you a better impression of what it actually looks like.

I know it’s blurred, but that gives you a better impression of what it actually looks like.

It was a nice enough day on the Saturday for us to risk doing the water rides. I’m not sure if they were there last time, but there are now pay-per-use water guns lined up next to the Congo River Rapids, so you can pay a pound to soak ten innocent passing riders. We discovered this when a huge jet of cold water hit Stuart right in the face as we descended the rapids, but he made himself feel better later on by doing the same thing to some other unsuspecting people. And so the cycle continues. Alex and I managed to emerge from the rapids mostly dry, but both got absolutely drenched on the Flume. Note to self: don’t sit in the front next time. Or do what Gavin did and bring full waterproofs, including a plastic bag to keep his feet dry, though that seems a bit like cheating to me.

Meeting one of my childhood heroes.

Meeting one of my childhood heroes.

As always, there was plenty else to do at the Towers as well as the white knuckle rides. Gavin and Stuart both became obsessed with those machines where you have to move the grabby claw so that it picks up a prize for you. There were lots of those all over the park, especially around the Arrr-cade in the pirate themed bit. (It’s not really called the Arrr-cade, but it definitely should be. Missed opportunity there, guys!). Gavin eventually did manage to win a Gremlin toy from one of them, though I dread to think how much it must have cost him altogether. I’m not sure if Stuart won anything from those, though he did win some soft toys for Sam from one of the “Win a prize every time” stalls. Heather, meanwhile, thought she was making friends with a duck near the Flume, but it turned out it just wanted to steal her doughnut.

The doughnut thief himself.

The doughnut thief eyes up his next victim.

It was a great weekend… mustn’t leave it so long before going back next time 🙂 .

(Photos mostly by Laura this time… I didn’t take my camera and hardly took any on my phone).

Alton Towers!!!!1!!!, day 2

In theory we should have got a much-needed extra hour’s sleep due to the clocks changing. In practise, my brain decided it wasn’t going to be tricked that easily. Bah. If only my body clock would update itself automatically like my phone clock.

More by chance than for any other reason, we managed to leave all the scariest rides for the second day this time. And boy, did we start with a scary one…

Rita. It’s bloody terrifying. It doesn’t necessarily look it… it doesn’t have any loops or sheer drops or anything like that. But in my opinion (and most people I’ve talked to) the launch at the start where it accelerates you from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds is the scariest thing at Alton Towers. Most rides get less frightening the more you go on them, and turn out to be not as bad as they look (even Oblivion). Not Rita. I get more scared every time I go on her. I’m wondering if some day I’ll find I just can’t do it anymore.

*shudder*

After that was out of the way, we knew the rest of the day would be easy and relaxing in comparison. We had a plan: we were going to spend the morning waiting in the inevitable queues for the rides we didn’t go on yesterday, and for the afternoon we’d bought Fast-track passes for Nemesis, Air and Oblivion (which allow you to skip to the front of the queue once for each ride). So next up was Th13teen.

I really like Th13teen. It’s… different. I won’t spoil the end bit if you don’t know what it does, but even the standard roller coaster bit through the woods at the start is pretty fun.

Last of the big queues was for Sonic Spinball. The queues are always horrendous, but it’s a great ride so we just had to wait anyway. At least it was only an hour and not two hours like it was the day before. Spinball is unpredictable… because the cars spin round while they go down the track, you never know whether you’ll end up going down the big drop backwards or sideways this time, and it feels really erratic like you’re being pulled in all directions at once. So don’t be put off by the queues or the theming… give it a try.

Our afternoon was a bit more sedate than yesterday’s, with less rushing around and standing in queues. We took advantage of our fast track passes to have another go on Nemesis and Air. Something was going on near Nemesis, by the excavations for “What Lies Beneath”. We couldn’t quite work out what, but it involved a worker in a radiation suit lying unconscious while others warned the public to stay back. And possibly a frog. Exciting.

We also finally braved one of the water rides (Congo River Rapids) and got a little bit wet. But by the time we were queueing for the Runaway Mine Train, madness was starting to set in. “Eye Spy” wasn’t sufficient to keep us amused for long and we took to making up terrible jokes of the form “What’s ____’s favourite ride/area at Alton Towers?”. (Most of them aren’t fit to publish, especially the Michael Jackson ones, but if I tell you that “What’s Patrick Stewart’s favourite ride at Alton Towers? Enterprise!” was probably the best one, you’ll get some idea of the standard of the others).

Our final Alton Towers ride of the day (and of the year) was: Oblivion!

Definitely the second most terrifying thing in the park after Rita. This time I was in probably the scariest seat, right on the edge of the front row. At least when you’re in the middle of the front row you can see the track in front of you… on the edge there’s nothing at all apart from the black gaping hole rushing up to meet you. As usual our approach to the drop was punctuated by moans of “oh god, why are we doing this?”, but once you’re up there you don’t really have much time to think about that.

(I’d tell you the story about how I coped with Oblivion the first time I went on it, but I don’t want to end up barred from Alton Towers or anything).

After that it was getting dark and with the drive back to Edinburgh still ahead of us, we decided it was time to call it a night. After a good filling meal at the Woodcutter’s Grill (the kind of place that has an enormous vat of chips on the serving hatch, which can’t be a bad thing) and a quick visit to the gift shop for obligatory purchase of notebooks and T-shirts that were probably intended for people half my age, we were on our way. The drive back was a lot quicker than the drive down – about two hours shorter in fact, even with scary thick fog in the Borders that I had to slow right down for.

So that was Alton Towers 🙂 I’m off on my travels again this weekend, in fact I’m writing this on the train to London, so stay tuned for a first-time gig goer’s account of… Evanescence!

Alton Towers!!!!!!!!!!, day 1

The beds were surprisingly spacious and comfy for a youth hostel so I got a good night’s sleep. After a hot shower and a good filling breakfast I was ready to don my “Air” T-shirt and drive to the park. On the way out we got our first proper look at the hall in daylight. The weather was quite misty but didn’t look too bad.

The park was VERY busy, full of people in every imaginable kind of Hallowe’en costume. I’d expected it to be quite busy due to the Scarefest, but was surprised it was even busier than it usually is on weekends in the summer. By the time we’d queued for our tickets, it was past 10am which meant the rides were already open.

First we took the Sky Ride over to Forbidden Valley where our favourite rides are. (Actually, that’s not quite true. First, I breathed a sigh of relief as the sweet, sweet signal found its way once again to my phone, and felt my racing heart and urge to kill subsiding as I got my much-needed internet fix. I’m half joking. But only half).

It was good to see the Sky Ride back in operation… on two out of my previous three visits it was out of action due to first the Forbidden Valley station and then the Cloud Cuckoo Land station burning down. (This means there is now only one station left that hasn’t at some point gone up in flames. I bet the staff are eyeing that one nervously and hoping bad things don’t really come in threes). From our gondola we saw something strange… kittens on top of the Mexican restaurant near the Flume! About four of them, cute little bundles of fur just playing on the roof… no idea what they were doing up there. If anyone does know, please tell us.

First ride of the day was Nemesis. It’s still my favourite, I think. I don’t find it scary anymore now, just really, really fun. After that we found that the Air queue was still reasonably short so we did Air as well (it used to be my favourite before I plucked up the courage was forced by threats of eternal ridicule to go on Nemesis a couple of years ago).

Heather hates the Blade, so naturally we forced her to go on it twice in a row.

I like it, but I can kind of see where she’s coming from. It is much scarier than you’d expect from watching it, especially if you sit up at the back.

That was all the Forbidden Valley rides done apart from the Ripsaw, which no-one was in a hurry to go on as it was a cold day to risk getting sprayed with water. Instead we wandered around the park taking in some of the less intense rides before lunch. Though opinions vary on what is “less intense”, of course. Alex, for instance, will happily go on any of the big coasters, but refuses point blank to go anywhere near this

… after an unfortunate incident in the past involving Alex having just eaten and Gavin spinning our barrel like a madman and refusing to stop. (Disappointingly, Gavin couldn’t get it to go very fast this time, even with my help. Maybe we were in a dodgy barrel, or maybe it was the one before that was dodgy).

Later in the day, the queues got long… VERY long…

… or maybe they always just run it with a skeleton crew at this time of year ;). But in all seriousness, the queues were longer than I’ve ever seen them before, up to two hours for Sonic Spinball at the peak time. So during the afternoon we avoided the big rides and went on smaller things. We also wandered round the petting zoo and the aquarium:

The new spider crabs were pretty big and freaky. I got a surprisingly good photo of a seahorse:

Gavin and Heather tried to get their fingernails done by the cleaner shrimps like usual, but there were too many kids and not enough shrimps to go round.

(By the way, if the Alton Towers employee who was dressed up as a pirate outside the aquarium and who shouted at a passing woman “What’s that you’re wearing? A Disney T-shirt?? You don’t see us going round Disneyland wearing Alton Towers T-shirts, do you?!” is reading this… you made my day! 😀 ).

For dinner we went to the all you can eat pizza and pasta buffet in Katanga Canyon. It was just as good as I remembered, and I overdid the pasta bolognese just as much as I did last time. After that the queues had died down a little and we decided to go back to Forbidden Valley to ride the rides in the dark!

We got on both Nemesis and Air before they closed. Air in the dark was spectacular, I would highly recommend it. It was weird being in the park at night, it felt as if we weren’t meant to be there. The lighting didn’t really seem bright enough for a theme park and even with a lot of extra portable floodlights there were lots of very dark corners. It all added to the atmosphere.

Alton Towers!!!!!!!!!, day 0

Last weekend it was time for the annual Beyond Alton Towers trip… time to satiate my adrenaline-junkie side for another few months. I’d planned to maybe upload pics and blog entries from the hostel each night, but my camera’s sudden refusal to talk to my netbook put paid to that idea. So here they are now instead.

We stayed at Ilam Hall youth hostel, which is a great place as well as very handy for the Towers. (We were there in 2009, but last year we left it too late to book and had to go to Hartington Hall instead – also nice, but a bit further from A.T.). We had a 4 bed room to ourselves.

Only downside was complete lack of mobile signal, though maybe that’s not a downside if you want to get away from it all. (They do have a couple of internet-connected computers and semi-working wifi so we weren’t completely cut off… this was lucky as I’d completely forgotten to tell anyone I might not have phone signal and had to hastily go online and send some Facebook messages so they didn’t start thinking the Alton Triangle had claimed another victim).

We were all tired the first night, especially me after driving for about six and a half hours (M6 Friday traffic, grrrrr), so we didn’t do much apart from play Scattergories. And go out to take some dark pictures of Ilam Hall:


(Nicer than the Stoke-on-Trent Travelodge I stayed in when I was last down this way back in June, I’m sure you’ll agree).

For some reason I loved being out there in the dark. Unlike the city it was pitch black apart from the hostel lights so you could see hundreds of stars, and it was also absolutely silent apart from owl calls from the nearby woods. No traffic noise at all. Lovely.

Up next on Gcat’s World of Stuff: radiation leaks, stranded kittens, giant spider crabs, and more. Just an ordinary Hallowe’en day at Alton Towers. Don’t miss it!