Study Abroad Fun Part 2: Alton Towers

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Part 2: Alton Towers (October 20, 2006)

Fast forward a few weeks to October 20, and one of my other friends and I shelled out 38 pounds for Midland Mainline’s all inclusive train, bus, park ticket deal. From our location in central London, Alton Towers is about a 3 hour endeavor versus Thorpe’s one hour travel time. On the bus ride form Derby to Alton Towers I was continually looking all around me, “Where the heck is it”? Even pulling into the parking lot I was still wondering how anybody could find this place! The park’s rides are way more hidden than I once thought!

“Due to unforeseen circumstances, Rita: Queen of Speed will not be running today”
Argh. More spectacular Intamin downtime! Rita would not open all day, and I really felt for the crew members who were still on call and had to clean/stand at entrance all day.

We started the day at Oblivion, getting a tantalizing view of Spinball Whizzer on our way over. I really liked the feel of the X-Sector of the park, although it was disappointing one of the ride’s was being disassembled (I believe it was the Black Hole). We waited about 15 minutes and got to see one of the brief pre-ride videos. The videos were very interesting, intentionally trying to scare you. They were quite ominous in saying things like “This ride is completely safe” coupled with a freaked out guy saying things like “I hear some cars go missing! What happens in the tunnel?!?” I know a couple parks in the States that couldn’t dream of getting away with that stuff ? . The ride platform has a nifty alternating gate system which worked very well; there were 4 loading rows and two of the four opened each time. The ride itself is pretty straightforward, but man o man does that vertical drop give you some monster freefall airtime. Not getting stapled was a very nice addition. For what it is, Oblivion rocks…it really makes me want to ride Sheikra and BGE’s new drop coaster. The trains are spectacular, and the stadium seating gives both rows an amazing view. I actually thought the back row was better than the front because you kinda look down onto the track a little more and could actually see the whole drop on the holding brake.

We headed over to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ride, which had a negligible 5 minute wait: a good family dark ride, with a nice elevator sequence at the end that I wasn’t expecting.

We headed over to the Corkscrew, a beloved Vekoma hunk o’ junk. At least they were running two trains…the ride itself wasn’t rough which was a nice surprise and the corkscrews were surprisingly enjoyable. The whole second half of the ride really fizzles out and has some horribly awkward half bunny hops and turns. We hit the main brake where we stayed until the next train was dispatching out of the station. I’m not sure why the thing doesn’t bump itself up to the ready breaks, but it really didn’t matter. The thing sure sounds horrible though as the lift motor was probably the loudest thing in the whole park.

Admired Rita’s short but sweet layout, with three “looks like they would be loaded with airtime” hills. Too bad.

Took the scenic route towards the front of the park, across Katanga Canyon, past the Mine Train (which was also not operating) and Gloomy Wood…finally arriving at Forbidden Valley.

Nemesis looks amazing, built into the natural terrain and with great scenery accompanying the ride area. We waited about 10-15 minutes and boarded the second row. Nemesis is certainly a great ride, giving a very intense ride experience. The flat spins were perfect, but the zero-g threw me around a good bit. The ride’s high speed turns are nice, and the pacing certainly never lets up. If you like Batman more than Raptor or Alpie, then you would definitely love Nemesis. I tend to like the larger B&Ms more than the smaller more aggressive ones since I like the gracefulness of the huge loops and what not. The intensity of Nemesis hurts its re-ride-ability, as opposed to Nemesis: Inferno which I felt like I could have ridden all day. I guess I would just kind of throw Nemesis in the middle of all my inverts. Alpengeist is still my favorite, with Raptor, Montu, and the rest just kinda tied up behind.

Next we headed over to Air, which also looks amazing; I really like the station design in addition to the fact that it is a dual loading station. The lighting in the station is extremely effective, I really liked the way it changed colors when the seats rotated up. I have been on X-Flight and S:UE at SFGAm and have to say that Air is the best flyer of those I have ridden. Your face is very close to the ground throughout most of the ride, really accentuating the feeling of flight more so than S:UE where you spend a lot of time up in the air. I missed the pretzel loop, but the full 360 degree barrel roll is superb. I also like the “on your back” section after the first drop which was quite disorienting. Air really left me wanting more…I’m convinced that the flying coaster has some major promise and I really want to get back out to SFMM and try Tatsu. Great job Alton and B&M with this one!

We hit up Nemesis one more time on the single riders line, and the crew was doing a great job getting all the seats filled. I really hate legalized line jumping systems in general, so I am probably a hypocrite for using the single riders line, but both Alton and Thorpe effectively implement the single rider lines. Plus, they only use the single rider line on limited attractions, so it works out in the end.

We took “The Gardens”/”Cross Valley Pathway” on our way back to Rita, just in case it had opened. This area of the park was mind blowing; it wasn’t just nice for an amusement park, it could have been nice as an actual nature park. It was so quiet and a nice change from all the hustle and bustle I’m used to at theme parks.

We made our way to “Hex: The Legend of the Towers” for our biggest surprise of the day. I guess I don’t know what I was expecting, just a walk through with some special effects. Of course, Hex started off like it, with a pre-show and some strobes and what not. We then walk into another room where we sit down and a very basic lap bar comes down. So at this point I’m thinking to myself, “OK, it will probably rock a little bit and maybe shake or something, but nothing too crazy”. What I didn’t know was that Hex likes to play tricks with your mind. As the ride started there came a point where I got really confused…“Wait a minute, shouldn’t I be upside down right now, how did the bottom of the room get to the top of the room, I know I didn’t go upside down…how did we complete two revolutions with this tiny lap bar?” The way the ride vehicle slowly rotates and the room also slowly spins, and the synchronization of the two was just incredible. A very simple ride with a fantastic effect. I was very impressed and was flabbergasted afterwards, I loved the way it played tricks with my head.

Next we headed over to Spinball:Whizzer and hit up the single rider line. We got on the ride two times in the time it would have taken to wait in the normal line once. The blocking system of this ride is quite spectacular, sending cars out of the station the second the previous car clears the lift. I guess most mice are like this, but I appreciate any ride that gets maximum capacity. This ride was not about intense spinning like Exterminator or Ragin’ Cajun; rather, the ride has an intense layout that is coupled because you are never facing forward. I was really surprised by how intense the ride was…I did not expect this from a mouse! The “vertical turn” or whatever gave a nice pop of air, and the ride’s twists, turns, hills, and helices are just wild while you are spinning. I’ve always loved wild mice, and the Maurer Sohne version delivers in spades. I really want to try Gerstalauer’s new mice, and although it’s not quite the same I really want to try out the new Euro-Fighters.

We walked back over to Duel to try out Alton’s shoot in the dark ride. There were literally targets everywhere, which was great since I can never hit the few and far in between targets on Scooby and Gobbler Getaway. The ride seemed to go on forever, and my trigger finger was so tired by the end, but I beat the woman in front of me so that was good. My friend’s gun didn’t work so that was kinda disappointing. Too long, but it had lots of nice effects.

We hit up Air one more time and headed back over to Oblivion before the rides closed at 5 o’clock (or should I say 17:00?).

We didn’t hit up any of the flats because, frankly, there were no flats that captured my interest. A top spin, enterprise, and Time Warp…no thanks. In the end I thought Thorpe had a better overall ride package, while Alton had single attractions that outshone those at Thorpe. If Rita was open I’m sure I would have had a higher opinion of Alton, but the trip out there was longer and more expensive than Thorpe so I think Thorpe is a better overall package. On the other hand, Alton was much more scenic and well run than Thorpe and the crowds were a little lighter since we there later in the season.

Alton Towers and Thorpe Park are two great parks with fine collections of rides. As these parks get more rides they will only get better, and they could both use a good Gravity Group or GCI woodie. I’m so grateful I had the chance to visit these UK parks. They were much less commercialized than American parks and I felt a lot more relaxed and ready to just enjoy myself than when I’m at CP or a Six Flags park. A great way to end my 2006 riding season!

On to Maverick and more Voyages in 2007!


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