My train brought me from the bustling town of Blackpool to the quiet town of Stoke-on-Trent. I got off the train praying Uber would actually work in this place since I didn't want to be extorted by a taxi driver and thankfully an Uber driver was there and waiting. The ride to Alton Towers was about a half hour through some of the narrowest and darkest roads I have been down. After only one wrong turn along the way, I made it to the Alton Towers Resort.
I stayed at the Enchanted Village. The hotel looked like something out of the Shire from the Lord of the ringy dingy ding-a-ling dings. Getting to my cabin was an adventure in the pitch black conditions, but the staff was prepared and went on the journey with me, flashlight in hand. We went up a dirt path and eventually found it. This was the cheapest of the resort’s hotels, but it was really nice! It was quiet (though if it was loud in this town I’d be amazed), had a good breakfast buffet, the nicest staff you're ever going to meet, and a log pillow. The latter was so ridiculous that it was awesome. And for reference you can take it with you for I think 80 pounds if you're so inclined (I didn't).
They have a monorail that runs from the resort to the park entrance. I decided to walk. FYI for anyone visiting, the entrance isn't right around the corner. It's a good 1.5 mile walk. I knew the park was massive so I probably should have guessed there would be a Dollywood-sized parking lot but it was a nice shady walk. I was the first to arrive and had a half hour to wait before early entry for hotel guests. I spent the time admiring the remnants of their old Vekoma Corkscrew. It's awesome they were able to incorporate that into the entry plaza.
When the gates opened I veered right. Most people seemed to head left towards Nemesis. I would in time. First I wanted to make a sad but quick sidetrip to Cbeebies Land. I read in a recent report that everything at the park was a walk-on except the kiddie coaster, with the latter somehow having a 40 minute wait. Since I had enough dignity to not wait that long, I went there first and had the first train all to myself.
The Octonauts coaster was actually a pretty respectable junior coaster. I didn't realize it would be as big as it was and include theming. As you descend down the first drop (which honestly may be the size of that of Nemesis
) you enter into a helix where a whale shoots into the sky like enthusiasts looking at lift hill porn. I got 2 laps and definitely enjoyed the coaster more than I should have. It was smooth and perfectly comfortable for an adult. Pathetic? Still probably yes but I enjoyed it. 4 out of 10
Enough fooling around, it was time to ride what many consider to be the best invert. Well that would have to wait 15 minutes since the walk over to the Forbidden Valley is really long. Early on the walk I passed SW8’s construction site (more on that later) but the remainder of the walk had no attractions. Just some spooky theming and trees, lots and lots of trees. For a while I was wondering if I had taken a wrong turn into the British forest only to be ambushed by a wild pack of corgis, but then I heard the unmistakable roar of a B&M.
Pictures don't serve the ride justice. Nemesis looks fantastic! The amount of theming and landscaping if astounding. Unless you had watched a million POVs growing up like me, there's no way you’d have any idea what the layout is. I made my way down the narrow, non-ADA compliant queue that would make Indiana Beach proud and waited one train for the front. Is there any better seat on an invert?
The first drop was as tiny as I had heard. It's truly impressive a coaster this highly regarded could have a drop that small. But the hype is real. The first corkscrew absolutely whips you through it and it's followed by the most intense element on the ride, the downwards helix. Holy moly was that thing intense. If it were in America I’m pretty sure people would complain a la that first turn on Intimidator 305. The following zero-G roll combines hang-time and a ferocious whip lacking on the newer B&Ms. Oh and there's also a crazy foot-chopper going on too.
The following turn has a minor spot of head-banging but the rest of the ride is glass smooth, a true feat considering this is a 25 year old coaster that pulls the Gs that it does. The coaster then descends into a trench, only now hitting its max speed, and into the vertical loop. I was expecting a little more from the vertical loop as it noticeably slowed a bit over the top, but the Gs picked back up on the way down. The following turn is the only real breather on the ride as the train crawled around it, but the intensity picked right back up as we dove into a trench and through another intense old-school B&M corkscrew. The ride is short but the elements flow so well and there's almost no dead spots.
Did Nemesis live up to its lofty reputation? Yes but not quite in the way I expected. I expected one of the most forceful coasters I had ever been on. While it was forceful, the Batmans and Flight Deck are more intense in my opinion. Nemesis however blows those coasters out of the water with its unbelievable theming and just how fun it is to ride. It's still also more intense than 90% of coasters. I’ll still take a top notch hyper or an RMC over Nemesis, but there aren't any other steels I’d take over it. 10 out of 10
I got 4 rides on Nemesis before early entry before I made my way over to Galactica. It was 5 minutes before opening and a line was starting to form. VR slows loading down to a glacial pace, so I was horrified how slow dispatch times could be on a flyer, a coaster type notorious for slow loading. Thankfully Alton wasn't as bad as Six Flags (granted that's like saying your pizza isn't as bad as Pizza Hut’s [cough]Chuck E Cheese’s [cough]) and I was on in 5 minutes. Unfortunately there was no choice seating due to the VR, a bummer since the front is by far the best seat on these because of the visuals. And I’m going to take a wild guess the lucky riders who got the front may have been looking at a smartphone screen instead.
I decided against VR for my first ride. I wanted to ride Air, yes Air, the way B&M designed it. The straight drop isn't air-time inducing or anything, but it's rare to see on a flyer. Then the fly-to-lie inline twist pulled some pretty strong Gs falling just short of a pretzel loop in that area. After the strong start, the ride tames considerably. There's one more decent inline twist, but other than that the ride slowly meanders over pathways and the terrain. Although the visuals flying over everyone are cool, I just wish the ride did something more exciting like another inversion.
Since the ride was a walk-on, I immediately ran around, went against my better judgement, and opted for the VR headset. Since the VR is in a pouch attached to the restraint, the attendant will secure it on you as they check your restraint. You may be wondering how they clean them then? Have no fear, the attendants run around with little Lysol wipes.
Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to wear my glasses with the VR like I did on Derren Brown or Superman at SFNE last year. I have vision just a shade above Mr. Magoo so I had some trouble. I know the VR can be tuned to your eyes, but even on the two extremes (and everything in between) it was blurry. The sequence on the lift where we entered into space was really cool and it was nice having the audio to compliment the visuals unlike the ones at Six Flags. However during the intense Gs of the fly-to-lie, the headset started to slip off. Instead of setting it back, I took it as a sign from the coaster gods, took the headset off, and cradled it like a football.
Needless to say I wasn't a fan of the VR personally. I can say that it appeared to be better executed than the one at Six Flags (granted that's not hard when you get a frozen screen or message the phone is overheating), but if you're visually impaired you may be out of luck on this one. As a flyer, Galactica was easily the worst of them. It’s still a fun coaster, but I didn't feel compelled to ride it again with how strong the rest of the park’s coaster collection was. 7 out of 10
I had planned to Sky Ride over to the Dark Forest next, but I decided to make a detour over to the Runaway Mine Train. That ride is located in a random dead end of the park and now was probably the best time to make my way over there. Well I made a detour on the way to the detour when I saw Duel, the park’s shooting dark ride. The well-themed facade and courtyard drew me in like a fly to a flame.
The ride had plenty of targets, some were color coded such that they were worth more. I don't think there was a moment on the ride when at least 15-20 targets weren't visible. The triggers on the guns were pretty stiff, but I was able to adjust from years of video gaming. I especially liked the large characters along the way as opposed to the cardboard cutouts on the Sally installations. Even cooler was that some of the targets became revealed only as the character moved. The ride was pretty long too, but there were excessively dark and empty areas. There were plenty of targets, but I felt I was just shooting random lights in the night as opposed to a monster or something. Overall it was an enjoyable ride, one I probably would have ridden again if it were closer to the major coasters. 8 out of 10
Runaway Mine Train was another powered coaster, but this one had a sprawling layout as opposed to the helix centric versions I’ve previously come across. Like Thorpe's it felt weird accelerating where you shouldn't and vice versa, but I did really enjoy the layout. The ride had some theming, a surprise tunnel, and ran right along the rapids ride (didn't see anyone on it though but I appreciate the park kept it open if anyone wanted to cool off in 50 degree weather). Alton gave 3 laps and I thought it was a nice little coaster. 5 out of 10
Since the park was now officially open, I had the opportunity to take the Skyride to the dark forest. I figured it'd give some amazing views and save a little time. I was right on the first bit but way off on the second; it saved a ton of time. To get to the Dark Forest from the Forbidden Valley area, you have to travel through an expansive and hilly garden. No thank you, I’ll just enjoy it from the air and it appeared most people shared my thoughts. Alton's Skyride, like the one at Busch Gardens, is really a necessity in any visit unless you want to lose a few hours to walking. 10 out of 10
Rita was next and I ran into my longest wait of the day at 15 minutes. The former Queen of Speed (I’m guessing this title was removed during that ridiculous Thirteen marketing campaign?) is a midget compared to the other accelerator coasters. As a trade off, the ride has an extended layout. I figured the best seat was the front like on 90% of the launch coasters out there so I waited patiently to ride Rita. When I told my girlfriend I rode Rita I had to specify it was a coaster and not a hooker or something. Rita is a seriously weird name.
The launch may not reach the same kind of speed as Rita's bigger brothers, but it still has more force and kick than a magnetic launch. The two S-hills didn't give the major ejector air I expected from an Intamin; rather they gave quick pops of air. The only spot of really strong air was the hill leading into the brake run. While small in size, Rita does manage to sustain its speed well over the short layout.
I gave Rita another go in the back (I swear I am still talking about the coaster) and it was just a notch below the front. I still prefer to feel the full force of the launch in my face but in the back the air was stronger on the S-hills. Rita is definitely the worst of the accelerator coasters, but it's still a very fun coaster that’d hold its own in any park’s lineup. 8 out of 10
I had finally worked up the courage to try Thirteen. It was tough but I felt I could handle the world's scariest coaster. I had already ridden the world's most intense coaster according to the park in Nemesis after all. All kidding aside, I personally like the creepy theme, but the ride was completely mismarketed during its debut year. Like most of the other rides, Thirteen was a walk-on and soon enough I was on my way into the Dark Forest.
Offride, the only part of the ride you can see is the lift hill and a surprisingly tall drop for a ride meant for families. The drop gave a tiny pop of air in the back, but that quickly ended when the train hit the first trim. I feel like the first half could have had some solid air had that trim been off or not there at all. One of the other hills did still have a weak pop of air, but the best part of the first half was weaving through the forest. Just curious, did Thirteen ever run trimless?
The second half was where Thirteen really shined. [SPOILERS- DO NOT READ THE NEXT 2 PARAGRAPHS IF YOU WANT THE RIDE TO BE A SURPRISE] The theming on the indoor portion was very well done. I knew the drop track was coming, but the park did a great job on the effects leading up to the climactic plunge such as the shaking platform. The drop track provided a better drop than a S&S tower and then we rolled through a pitch black reverse section that was really unexpected and a nice finale.
I can draw many parallels berween Verbolten and Thirteen. Both take place in the Dark Forest, have an excellent drop track segment, and are two of the best family coasters around. I enjoyed Thirteen more than anticipated and snagged two rides before trudging onward. 8 out of 10
I had planned to head over to the X-Sector for Smiler and Oblivion, but I first needed to admire the towers that gave the park its name. The towers are truly a feat of architectural design. I wasn't able to pass through them since the park appeared to have a restoration project underway, but just seeing a castle like that in person made the Disneyland one look even punier
I also came across Hex, a madhouse tucked away in the castle. Since it was a walk-on, I decided to give it a whirl. Well before I got on the ride I wws treated to an elaborate pre-show complete with a video and a well-done live action component. The entire queue and ride really captured the feel of a creepy castle. Now the story itself was pretty nutty, but it got us to the ride component which was the important thing.
I particularly like the Vekoma models (a phrase rarely uttered here) because of the extra articulation of the benches. There were a few points where I was leaning forwards and my mind told me I was going to fall out, which is a sign of a well-executed ride. The park had 360 degrees of visuals on all portions of the rotating box that ranged from one of the haunted tree branches (you have to ride to understand, it ties into the ridiculous story) to a monster. Sorry Houdini, you’ve been dethroned in this genre. 8 out of 10
But if you want a theme so ridiculous that it works, look no further than the Smiler. Yes the ride is actually themed to smiling. The massive futuristic claws (affectionately named the Tickler, Giggler, etc) are visually strikintg much like Nemesis. Because of the park’s incredible operations, it’s not hard to get a shot with two trains at the same time making their way though the twisted spaghetti-like track.
The half theme song/half laugh they play in the station will get stuck in your head. If I had a full queue, I could easily see that recording driving someone up the wall. The park unfortunately doesn't allow choice seating, so I am thankful to have gotten the front for at least one of my rides since the visuals of all that inverted track are really quite something to see. It looks like one of those designs you’d see a 5 year old make in Roller Coaster Tycoon except this one is real and doesn't have an enjoyment rating below 2.
The ride kicks things off with an inline twist below the station with as much hang-time as Hydra’s jojo roll. The next lift was weird as I’m only used to the inclined lifts on these infinity coasters/EuroFighters, but instead it was a plain old Jane traditional lift. Like most coasters at this park, the first drop wasn't memorable but it builds up the speed needed for the circuit. The next inversion is my favorite, the diving cokrscrew. The combination of hang-time and whipping as the ride descends to ground level is fantastic. I think there were 5 more inversions taken in rapid-fire succession and there's no way I could recount them without watching a POV. They were all fun though, hang-time filled but relatively low G. The only time you aren't inverting is when you fly over an ejector bunny hill by the huge smiling device.
That alone could have formed a solid ride, but the Smiler goes the Twisted Colossus route and provides a second half with what feels like the same elements. There's the same first drop, same diving corkscrew, same ejector airtime hill, and the same types of inversions. If it's not broke, don't fix it. I was worried the ride would be rough with the OSTRs like on some of the EuroFighters but Smiler was extremely smooth despite all 14 of those inversions.
After Nemesis, Smiler was my favorite ride in the park. I do wish the park had been able to squeeze a beyond vertical drop somehow on this one since that's the defining moment on these EuroFighters but other than that the ride is perfect. The zany theme and absurd amount of inversions can't help but leave you returning to the station without a smile (unless you lost your lunch since I can imagine that happens quite a bit on this one). 9 out of 10
After mediocre drop after mediocre drop, I made my way over to Oblivion for the park to redeem itself and Oblivion delivered the goods (unlike the Tom Cruise movie of the same name). Oblivion has an obnoxiously long queue that wraps around itself. But if you made your way to the end of the labyrinth you were rewarded with a walk-on.
Valravn had the newer B&M vest restraints and quite frankly I did not like them on a dive machine. Dive machines are one of B&Ms smoothest rides and the vests hampered the freefall sensation on the drop. No such problem on Oblivion as it still had the old style restraints. The layout is unbelievably basic but it works. The drop is breathtaking. I absolutely love the theming with the mist-filled pitch-black tunnel. It looks like a black hole when you're staring down at it. Then the drop happens. I floated the entire way down and got a fantastic freefall sensation. I'm also impressed the park created a drop that long considering their height restrictions. Yeah the rest of the layout doesn't really do anything (there was a pop of air when you hit the brakes) but the same could be said for a few of the beloved Intamin accelerators.
As the prototype, it's often considered the worst of the dive coasters due to its shorter length. Oblivion has the best drop on the dive machines I’ve been on thanks to the old restraints and the presentation. Griffon is still the king of the dive machines, but I actually prefer Oblivion to Valravn. 9 out of 10
I had planned to eat after leaving the park since they closed extremely early at 4, but my stomach wasn’t on board with that plan. I settled on the fried chicken quick service restaurant adjacent to Oblivion. One really cool thing they do when you place your order is the Red Button Challenge. After ordering, you pick a number from 1-99 and hit that red button. If your number matches the one that pops up, your meal is free! I’ve never seen that before but it was a pretty neat gimmick. I went with good ole 69 but instead Derek Jeter's number popped up. Oh well. The chicken was better than I expected and it was under $10. I figured I’d get chicken fingers a la Six Flags or Cedar Fair, but instead I got big breasts. And who doesn't love big breasts.
It was now just before 3, so I planned to hit the last remaining coaster (Spinball Whizzer) and then hightail it over to Nemesis for a few last rides. As I approached, I saw several empty trains. Sweet a walk-on! Not so fast. The ride broke down and they weren't sure when it would reopen. What is it with wild mice on this trip?
Rather than waste time waiting, I decided to ride Nemesis until 3:30 and then return to get Spinball Whizzer since the latter was close to the entrance by this park’s standards. I used the Skyride to cut down on the transit time and this also had the secondary benefit of letting me see the SW8 construction site. Alton has already built an impressive amount of the presumed GCI wooden coaster. The one part that stuck out to me is that tower like structure on the left in my images that the track is converging towards. I have a feeling there’ll be something noteworthy there from a show standpoint (shed 2.0?) or a supersized central theming element like on Nemesis or Smiler.
I got 3 final rides on Nemesis, 1 in the front and 2 in the back. I would have loved to get all 3 in the front, but that wasn't happening with the ride now down to 1 train ops. The ride ran as well as it did in the morning and I can safely say it dethroned Banshee for my favorite invert. Before leaving, I grabbed a cool plaque/figure of the ride. Merlin had these for all the major coasters at Thorpe as well as most of the major coasters at Alton. How could I not pick Nemesis?
I stuck to the modified plan and by 3:35 I was on the Skyride back to the main entrance area. I made my way over to Spinball Whizzer to see it running (the app said it was but seeing is always believing). The ride actually appeared to have a decent wait, but I was able to skip most of it with the single rider line. I was the only one in that queue but it still took me almost 10 minutes to get on. I guess the British only go to parks in even numbered amounts.
Going in, I thought this was the same 2000 model I’ve ridden at Seabreeze, Waldameer, and Hershey. Turns out this was the larger model and it was much improved. The first drop in reverse was shorter than on the 2000 model, but it still had that gut dropping feeling any backwards drop provides. The second drop is actually the largest and the spinning is unlocked on the turn preceding this drop, so that was certainly a cool and different experience. Since Alton is a larger park, there were a lot of block brakes scattered throughout but this one regained its speed much faster than the 2000 model. I really enjoyed Spinball Whizzer and could see this anchoring a smaller park. 8 out of 10
Of the three parks I went to in England, Alton was easily my favorite. The theming around the main attractions was excellent and all of the adult coasters range from good (Galactica) to excellent (Nemesis). The park is in the middle of nowhere so it was challenging to get to without a car but it was worth all the train transfers, Ubers, and taxi rides to do so.
The next park was comparatively a breeze to get to- PortAventura.