I went to Alton Towers this weekend, (a theme park in England Official Site Wikipedia Entry Unofficial Guide
I've been to Alton Towers a few times now. Each time there's always a new ride or two, this time the new rides were Rita (stupid bloody name if you ask me) and the Spinball Wizzer - You can read more on these from the previous links.
Anyway, Alton is a village in Shropshire, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. To get to the theme park, you have to drive through very windy, very old, country lanes. Passing through some very picturesque countryside and pretty hamlets. If I lived anywhere in the vicinity of this place, I for one wouldn't be happy with the 2.5 million annual visitors to the park!
While I'm sure it would be possible to get to the park by train, I wouldn't fancy doing it, so car is pretty much the only option. This is my first gripe with AT. Since I am restricted to going to the park by car you might assume car parking would be included in the ticket price. Think again! Just for the privilege of arriving, they slap a £4 (about $
charge for parking.
Being the tight-fisted person I am, I definitely wasn't going to buy my lunch at the park. They do have McDonalds and KFC outlets, which I presume don't charge any more than the usual prices, but I'd still rather bring my own than fork out £10 on a mediocre meal. This left me with the issue of taking a rucksack to carry my lunch. I decided to leave my bag in an all-day locker which cost me £3. I was happy to pay this though since the bag was quite heavy, considering I'd taken a big drinks bottle with me.
So, before ticket costs I was already down £7. Factoring in petrol for the return journey I'd say I'd spent roughly £37.
Now, let's talk about admission tickets. I got the tickets online since that comes with an £8 reduction on the price you pay at the gates. So it was £24 each. I spent roughly 7 hours in the park, so my time there was costing me about £3.50 an hour. Considering the rides I went on, this was quite good value for money. But - and this is a big but - booking online comes with an ordering fee. A fee for a computer to process my booking. Fair enough there will be a team of people behind the bookings system who all need to be paid, but still, surely this would be factored in to the ticket price. Incidentally the booking fee was £1.50 and the girl at the gate certainly didn't earn her £1.50, she was rubbish, but since this is quite early in the season, she was probably new and I can't blame her for that.
Alton Towers is a smashing place. The setting is lovely. It's in the heart of the English countryside and is built around a castle/stately home from the 15th century (I believe). Extensive and beautiful gardens were constructed around the towers, which are still a part of the theme park and when the cable car isn't running (I think it's been running two out of the five times I've visited), you have to walk through the gardens to get from one part to another.
The rides are quite modern and it holds the record for the world's first vertical drop roller coaster (Oblivion), the world's first inverted roller coaster (Nemesis) and the world's first 'flying' roller coaster (Air).
The only other big theme/amusement park I've visited in this country is Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and is a little closer to home. For me, Blackpool is a lot scarier than Alton Towers. While the rides at AT are made to appear a little rusty and run-down to give you an added feeling they may be a little unsafe, Blackpool has a similar effect on most of its rides, but I don't think it's intentional
Blackpool plays host to the Pepsi Max Big One
which, in its day was the fastest, tallest and steepest roller coaster in the world.
Perhaps the scariest ride I've been on is on the Central Pier
at Blackpool (not a part of the Pleasure Beach). Most of the piers at Blackpool have amusement rides built on them. Central Pier has a fun-fair which includes a moderately large ferris wheel. This is the scariest ride I've been on. I do suffer from acrophobia/vertigo (fear of heights) which culminates itself in some funny ways other than being in high places i.e. I have trouble looking up at very tall things, I can't fly a kite and I don't like being in deep waters (but I do it anyway
). Anyway, the big wheel at Blackpool...well, it's seen better days. The capsule/pod thingies rock from side to side (as you would imagine) and also, they can spin on the axle which supports them. The ride was quite hellish and I was pretty shaken afterwards
My acrophobia is strange as it didn't affect me too when earlier that day I had been up Blackpool Tower
and danced around on the glass floor viewing section up there, something my fiance had refused to do
The ride up in the lift did turn my stomach a little though.
Anyway, I digress, back to AT.
Being relatively early in the season, the park wasn't too busy. But, since it was a Saturday and the school kids have broken up for easter, I expect it wasn't their slowest day either. I have been in the past closer to summer and it was a little busier back then. I cannot imagine being in the park in the middle of summer. The queue lines are stupidly long and I could well imagine for some rides you may get stuck in them for a few hours waiting for a ride. The longest I waited was about half an hour, that was for one of the newer rides the 'Spinball Wizzer'. I couldn't quite believe the waiting time. The ride runs very quickly and it had about 8 cars running. Each car seats 4 people back-to-back and spins around as it goes around the track.
I very nearly didn't get to ride as my particularly ample girth meant two of the girl ride operators had to push down on the restraint bar to click it into place and secure me in
The ride was quite exhilarating. My faves are still Nemesis and Oblivion though. I also enjoyed the enterprise ride
. Air is great, but I do feel a little too safe on it. It's ace to just let yourself go limp. You don't quite feel like you're flying, but it's a fun experience all the same. The Ripsaw is quite scary too; particularly when you're hanging upside down at the top and then, to top it all off, you get sprayed with freezing cold water!
We were going to ride the log flume but sadly ran out of time, so we had a Girls vs. Boys on the Teacups. The guys won of course...but then again...there were no rules to base this on
The drive home took a long time. AT have obviously had to introduce some traffic calming measures for everyone leaving the park and the route I was taken on definitely wasn't the quickest. The other people I'd visited the park with had sat nav which took them on a much better route and meant they were on the motorway a full 30mins before we reached it
Aside from the cost, all in all I had a brilliant day. And as a bonus, the weather was good for the whole time. We even got a free Cadbury Creme Egg on the way out.