A Californian in England- Alton Towers 4/22

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Friday, April 22, 2005 6:51 PM
Let me start by saying that I have always wanted to go to Alton Towers. So when that day came, I was very excited. Needless to say, this park did not dissapoint.

I started out bright and early by waking up at 5:50 AM. There are very few things I am willing to wake up that early for (on a day off nonetheless!), but I was sure this would be well worth it.

I took the tube to the St. Pancras train station. It was a long wait for the train, though it was on time. The train showed up, and I was on my way once again. I got off at Derby and took a chartered bus to the park. This whole trip came in a package, admission and all for 35 pounds. Quite the deal considering trains are ridiculously expensive and the park is in the absolute middle of nowhere. It makes Santa Claus, Indiana look like a metropolitan area. ;)

I got to the park at 11:00 AM. That was the only shortcoming of this package. I would have really liked to get there at opening. But beggars can't be choosers, right?

What is amazing as you approach the park is that you cannot see a single ride. Heck, you have to walk for at least 5 minutes once inside the park before you see any rides. All of this is according to the regulations, of course, but its pretty darn unique. Its basically the polar opposite of Cedar Point's magnificent skyline view as you cross the causeway.

The first thing I did was take off towards Nemesis. As I started walking, I couldn't help but think that this was the single most beautiful park I have ever been to. The huge lawn, the large lake and the majestic towers make quite an impression as you walk into the park. Its really not like anything I have ever seen. In fact, I can't think of any other park that is as spread out as this one is.

After a bit of a hike, I made it to Nemesis. The line looked short, so I took my place in the queue. After hearing so much about this ride and the queue in particular, it was really cool to see it in person. Sure enough, the waterfalls of "blood" trickle down the rocky hills. And sure enough, the ride winds through a maze of tunnels and flights over the pathways. Its quite a sight to behold.

I opted for the front row, as I've found that it is pretty much always the "money seat" for inverted coasters.

Nemesis
All I can say is wow. This one truly knocked my socks off. The layout is pretty good and decently intense (about the same as Batman). But what really makes this ride is the scenery and theming. The tunnels, the splashing of "blood" as you soar past the waterfalls, the near misses with the rocky outcroppings and the fact that you follow the terrain pretty closely the whole ride. It all adds up to one killer inverted coaster. I absolutely love the final zero-g-roll. It is seriously just a couple feet of the ground, and its a convincing illusion that you might very well scrape the dirt as you roll. I have to say that Nemesis is the best steel coaster I have ever been on. It is nothing short of a masterpiece.
(10/10)

After a great first lap, I hopped into the single rider line to get one more. That was less than a 5 minute wait, and I ended up towards the front. Still an excellent ride from start to finish.

Unfortunately, Air was not operating. I really hoped that it might be ready later on, but I had no idea at that point.

After snapping some photos, I headed back towards Gloomy Woods. I'm a sucker for a good dark ride, and all the more so for the interactive type. So I decided to hop aboard Duel.

Duel
It was a walk-on, but the interior queue was nicely themed. The ride itself was a lot of fun. I thought it was kind of weird that there were targets just randomly on the walls- its not like you are shooting at something, just lights. It was a bit on the cheesy side, but still a lot of fun.
(7/10)

After surviving the shop that the ride empties into, I walked back towards the entrance. I decided to check out Spinball Whizzer next, knowing that the single rider line would be my friend. That was certainly the case, as it had a long wait time. Still I got on in less than 15 minutes using single rider.

One thing that really impressed me about Alton Towers was that I don't think I saw a single open seat on any ride today. All of the major attractions have single rider lines, and the employees use them to their fullest extent. Good for them!

Spinball Whizzer
I had been on a Maurer-Sohne spinning coaster before, but only the one at the Orange County Fair. That one had wild mouse-like flat turns, so it was significantly different than this one.

The first odd safety event of the day happened on this ride. They needed to unlock one car's restraints in the station. So to do so, the ride op stepped into the track BETWEEN two cars to unlatch the restraints. This guy stepped between two seperate vehicles on a fully operational ride. Talk about asking for trouble.

But back to the ride. It was weird to go up the lift hill, not forwards, not backwards, not even sideways... but diagonally. The ride truly is wild and felt a lot more out of control than I imagined. I love its horseshoe turn- truly the best moment of the ride. But the whole thing was exciting and unpredictable. The theming wasn't extraordinary, but I can live with that. This certainly beats the Reverchon models to death. An all around fun ride, and seemed to be popular with the families.
(8/10)

Going into credit whore mode, I walked over to Beastie, which was right next door. I must say that it was rather brutal for a kiddie coaster! Some pretty unexpected laterals! I've been on a lot better kiddie coasters, however.
(5/10)

The X-Sector, home of Oblivion was nearby, so I walked over there. Honestly, the ride was not nearly as imposing or intimidating as I thought it would be. It was quite a popular ride with a long wait time. So once again I turned to my old friend- the single rider line.

Even the single rider line moved very slowly. I must have waited 30 minutes for the ride. Sure, thats not a terribly long wait time, but for the ride time, its pretty bad.

Oblivion
This was another anticipated ride for me, though honestly, my expectations weren't set too high. The 8 across trains were certainly weird. I ended up in the second of two cars. Another odd safety incident occured on Oblivion. They checked our row's restraints then released them to switch a few riders around. After locking the harnesses, they failed to check mine! Obviously, it was down and I took care of it myself, but that still wasn't a good mistake to make.

This ride is all about the build-up and the mind games. The lift seemed slow, and the turnaround slower still. They give you lots of time to think about what happens next! The car stops as you dangle perilously over the edge. And then you are gone, blasting into a dark and mist filled pit. I wasn't prepared for the wild airtime on the drop. I guess I should have been- it reminded me a lot of Xcelerator's decent from the top hat. Unfortunately, the ride was over in a flash. All things said, Oblivion didn't do a whole lot for me. Perhaps I'd feel better about it if I had a shorter wait, as the ride is just so short that it can hardly justify any long wait in line.

Which also brings me to the point that vertical drops are fairly common now (at least in America). Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 3 coasters I've done that have vertical drops (Dragster, X and Xcelerator). So perhaps that tainted the Oblivion experience for me. But the bigger issue is that this is purely a gimmick ride, comprised of only one very brief trick. Not altogether bad, just not worth much of a wait.
(7/10)

Up next was another highlight ride for me- Hex: The Legend of the Towers.

Hex
I had heard it was good, but I was not prepared for just how cool it was. Lets start by mentioning the park is built around a real castle or palace. That fact lends so much authenticity to the ride and really helps it to shine. Second, the concept is that you are visiting a restoration project of the Towers, which is very believable considering that every place of any historical relevance in Britain that I have visited seems to have some sort of restoration going on. I won't spoil any of the plot, but I will say that the theming is absolutely incredible. I mean Indiana Jones or Dueling Dragons incredible. And believe me, I don't make comparisons with those rides often (if ever).

What was really cool was that even the immature kids making noises during the preshow seemed to be pretty well shut up as the story progressed. It just draws you in. And of course the finale... its something else! If you are lucky enough not to know what happens (or what kind of attraction it is), consider yourself lucky. I did know, but I would have liked to be surprised. Anyway, its really well done and an absolute gem at Alton Towers.
(10/10)

Even exiting Hex is cool because you go through the Towers courtyard. It really puts you into the time and place and makes the events of the ride that much more "real."

Next up was the park's newest ride, Rita Queen of Speed.

Rita

Once again, I was really hoping this one would come through and be a great ride. I've been on Xcelerator and Dragster, so it was neat to get another rocket coaster under my belt. I'm going to be blunt here: Rita did not deliver.

I decided to stick it out and go for the front, knowing well that that is THE seat on Xcelerator and Dragster. My total wait time was about 80 minutes, nearly half of that was spent in the queue for the front seat. Perhaps the excessive wait tainted my view of the ride- but then again, I've waited 3 hours for Dragster and loved it. So I don't think the wait was what soured me on this ride.

I'm going to be honest and say that the launch was weak. Now this is my opinion here. As far as I know, the only other launched coaster in England is Revolution at Blackpool. Hence, I heard other guests absolutely raving about Rita's "great" launch. So really its all in the eye of the beholder.

But I have been on way too many launched rides to count (Xcelerator, Dragster, California Screamin', Montezoomas' Revenge, Flight of Fear, Speed: The Ride, etc.) I was just underwhelmed by Rita's launch.

The rest of the ride was decent, but nothing to write home about. I have concluded that there is a reason that every previous rocket coaster begins with a top hat- it provides the extra exclaimation point that really makes the ride impressive, regardless of the size of that first hill. I know that wasn't an option for Alton, but it just seems to be missing that little something. I think that if it began with a top hat and had the rest of the layout the same as it currently is, I'd think a lot better of it. Don't know why, but I just do.

So Rita wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Don't get me wrong, its still fun, but it doesn't hold its own against any of the other rocket coasters.
(8/10)

Tired by the long wait for Rita, I went over to Corkscrew next door, which had about a 5 minute wait. There was a reason for that, as I found out. ;)

Corkscrew

Honestly, its about par for the course for the "corkscrew" genre. I've been on the Michigan's Adventure edition and Cedar Point's as well. This one is pretty much the same. Lots of bracing and defensive riding, some minor jolts (though not awful) and a pair of decent corkscrews. Its not horrible, but there is so much better stuff at this park.
(4/10)

I still hadn't been on Air, and still had no idea if it was open. Thats the thing about Alton Towers- if you aren't standing right next to a ride, you probably can't see it! :) I guessed that the quickest way back over there was by the skyway. That was a good guess. The valley you cross over on the skyway is amazing. This park is visually something to behold.

I got of the skyway to find a happy sight- Air was running! Apparently it had just opened, two hours before the park closed! As I walked up they opened the single riders queue- score! There weren't even enough guests to fill a train, so they just let us pick our seats. Nice! I think I was in the middle. In my experience, it doesn't really matter where you sit on a flying coaster.

Air

I had heard that this ride was basically a B&M flyer version of Knott's Jaguar. Very gentle and forceless. I admit it wasn't terribly intense, but I don't care. A good ride is a good ride, and Air is a VERY good ride!

First off, I love B&M's flying coaster trains. Its just ingeniously simple and very comfortable. Having been on Stealth (in its PGA days) and X-Flight, I've never been impressed with Vekoma's trains or restraints for the flying coasters. Having been on Superman: Ultimate Flight at SFGAm, I learned just how novel the B&M approach to these rides was.

As we were going up the lift, we were stopped mid-way. Apparently, someone took a camera aboard. The ride op came and collected it, and we were back off. Oh well, the ride op probably made the right choice, as I don't trust anyone to hang on to it during the whole ride. Not to mention that about 60% of the course is over pathways!

What I love about Air is that it does exactly what a flying coaster is supposed to do- give the sensation of flight. The use of tunnels and the fact that you are just feet above the grass, diving gracefully towards the ground and back into the sky enhances this sensation by 100%. Yeah, its not that intense, and I know that a lot of enthusiasts don't like their coasters to be so "graceful," but thats the best way I can describe Air- graceful. For Nemesis, graceful would be horrible. But for Air, that style fits like a glove. Heck, even the zero-g rolls are engaged with grace.

I know that Air is not a popular ride among enthusiasts. But I don't care- I think its absolutely wonderful. Its not perfect- the forces are fairly low (but not forceless), and the theming seems to have been forgotten (what is up with the plain cement tunnel at the start!?), but Air, IMO is exactly what a flying coaster should be- all about the sensation of flight.
(10/10)

After my first walk-on for Air, I got back in line. This time, the single rider line took at least 30 minutes. Even so, I am happy that I got two rides- thats more than I expected.

I now had about 30 minutes until the park closed. I don't think its surprising what I decided to do- head next door to Nemesis. Oddly, this ride had short lines and a non-existent wait with the single rider line all day. Whatever, I'll take that I can get! I got two consecutive laps, one in the back row. The combination of warming up throughout the day and riding in the back offered a truly manic ride. Very forceful stuff, without becoming painful in the least. Certainly the best ride I have ever been on!

I shot a couple more photos of Nemesis, then decided to see what else I could do before walking back to the entrance. I grabbed another ride on Duel. I got a better score this time!

I didn't plan to go on Runaway Mine Train, as its a powered coaster and I don't count it as a credit. But at 5:00 (closing time) it was still open. I walked on right to the back seat. Do they not check restraints on this ride, because I didn't have my lapbar checked!? In any case, I was secure. And not only did I get one lap, but operator indulged the train in not just one... not even two... or three... not even four... but FIVE laps without stopping in the station! :o I couldn't believe it, but that is the nicest way to top off a great day. Thumbs up to that ride op, who I'm sure made a lot of people's day by doing that.

Seriously, I thought the ride ops and staff today were great. Sure they aren't you're typical Disney-types. Some had tattoos, earrings, mullets etc. But all were VERY courteous and professional. I was really impressed.

As I walked out of the park, I had one last brush with their good service. They had staff personally thanking each visitor for coming to the park. That to me is wonderful, and from a business standpoint will only serve to reinforce the good time that the guests had that day.

All in all, it was a truly awesome day. A park that I had long wanted to visit lived up to its great expectations. After such a good day, I am going to make a point of having one more visit before I come home in July.

Thanks for reading! I can't imagine anyone could get through all of that, but thanks for doing so if you did!

+0
Saturday, April 23, 2005 12:03 AM
Thanks for TR! I hope to someday get off this rock and visit overseas, and AT will definitely be on the itinerary.

I agree with you that some coasters are better built graceful, as opposed to forceful. When I do get there, it sounds like Air will not disappoint.
+0
Saturday, April 23, 2005 1:04 AM
great TR. Beast Tamer gives two ethusiastic thumbs up!
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Saturday, April 23, 2005 9:20 AM
I lived in England for a couple years, and visited this park about a half-dozen times. I really miss it. The landscaping is absolutely gorgeous, and the friendliness of all of the employees just made the park that much better. And it's so nice to read that other people 'get' Air! It's not very intense at all, but it was never meant to be. What Air does though, giving you the feeling of flying, gliding, and sailing on air is absolutely fantastic.

Anyway, excellent TR!!

-Paul

+0
Sunday, April 24, 2005 2:51 PM
Just wanted to mention that I have some photos to go with the TR up now. :)

http://community.webshots.com/album/328703815BrfrBN

Enjoy!

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Monday, April 25, 2005 9:28 AM
Very, very good TR. I really want to hit Alton in the next 5 years, this made me want to go sooner!
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Thursday, April 28, 2005 9:49 PM
Alton has been getting a bit of a tough time from the media in the last few years- heck and the english fans, but it seems that this year they have taken great strides to improve things.

The addition of srq's has been a big plus.

The refurb of Nemesis- which is without doubt the best total ride experience out there.

Much improved customer service.

It is looking good for the Towers, i do think they need a couple of top draw flats' just to soak up the huge q's.

Coasterfanmatt i would imagine went during the week- at an off peak time, when you can easily get everything done in the day, but when it's busy- ugh its a bit of a q'athon.

Totally agree with the whole report actually- Nemesis is the best, AiR is exactly what they intented it to be, and Hex was just the biggest surprise ever. And Vekoma made it.

+0
Saturday, May 21, 2005 6:53 AM
Glad you enjoyed Alton-- Nemesis is by far the best inverted coaster around, and the best use of landscaping / scenery used in conjuction with the coaster design. Air- I used to love it; I agree, it does capture the sensation of flight, but the problem is, it wears off. Once you've been on Air a few times, you get used to the flying-position, and so once the gimmick has worn off, the ride is actually really boring. It's a shame, but when i visited Alton this season, I just found Air really bland; I think the addition of Rita and obviously, Nemesis next-door, really highlights Air's general slowness!
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