Alton Towers is the most beautiful and magical park I've ever visited but then I've never been to Efteling or any parks outside the USA except for Alton and Canada's Wonderland. When I got there it was raining and cold so I decided to make The Smiler my first stop, with a view to purchasing a sweater or sweatshirt with the Smiler logo after getting off the ride and passing through the shop. I'd ridden it several times last year and enjoyed it as much this year. My experience thus far with UK theme parks is that the coasters tend to have a little something extra; we certainly don't have 14-inversion coasters in the States. After the Smiler it was Oblivion, good but awfully short, which is understandable insofar as it's the 1st dive coaster B&M built, before later enhanced models with additional drops were designed. Next was Nemesis, which I would rate as among the best steel coasters ever built. Need to check the stats - can't open more than one window on this public computer in a UK hotel - but that was possibly B&M's 1st inverted coaster. After a repeat ride on Nemesis it was on to Galactica, B&M's 1st flying coaster. (Alton Towers has several firsts and I don't know whether this is because they were so forward thinking or because they're close to the continent and headquarters of B&M, Intamin, Gerstlauer.) This is so far superior to Superman:Ultimate Flight at Great Adventure that it's almost laughable. I rode it the conventional way once and decided to try the VR for my second ride. Well, it was interesting but apart from that the ride was bloody awful. Not only was it disorienting; the headgear wasn't fastened tightly enough and I didn't realize that until the train was dispatched, too late to make adjustments. So although there was no danger of its falling off completely, as it's attached to a cord, it kept slipping off my nose so that I had to hold it in place for the duration of the ride. The 3 chaps with whom I rode were likewise of the opinion that the ride is much better without the VR. The next stop - and the primary reason for this visit - was Wicker Man. And it more than lives up to the hype. It offers as good a ride as any I've had in recent years. I couldn't help comparing it with another GCI woodie of recent vintage, Mystic Timbers, and Wicker Man has it all over Timbers. I found Mystic Timbers rough in spots and had to ride defensively whereas Wicker Man is wonderfully smooth. At any rate, time was getting on and with Alton Towers closing at 4pm I had to make a choice between getting in rides on Rita and Thi3teen, which I rode last year, or getting in additional rides on Wicker Man. As much as I would have liked to ride those two again I decided to go for several more rides on Wicker Man. It's that good.
Thorpe Park was a real comedown after Alton Towers. It has none of the magic of the other park and the coaster selection pales in comparison. Fortunately, my first ride was on what I found to be the best coaster in the park, The Swarm. This is the most interesting wing coaster I've ridden to date in that riders are flipped over at the top of the lift hill. I had been looking forward to Colossus b/c it's an Intamin 10-inversion coaster - something I hadn't experienced - but this turned out to be a headbanger, at least for the initial part of the ride. The latter part of the ride, with five heartline rolls - four of them consecutive - was actually very good; it's just unfortunate that the entire ride isn't like that. Having ridden in the back I decided to give it one more shot and it was better from the front but only marginally so. As a Gerstlauer afficionado I was looking forward to Saw but it proved to be extremely rough. Its only redeeming feature is a surprise drop in the dark before the train reaches the lift hill. Nemesis Inferno was not at all bad, similar to Batman at Great Adventure but better. Stealth was good but extremely short, sort of a miniature Kingda Ka. I spent most of the remainder of my time at Thorpe reriding Swarm. I'd ridden it several times on the left side so decided to try it on the right and found it to be somewhat more intense on the right. Anyway, although Thorpe was a bit of a disappointment I'm glad I went, both to have the experience and get the coaster credits.
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