Alton Towers

16th September 2004

My visit to two parks today was as usual thanks to the ridiculously low fares available from the good people in Ryanair. I'd booked myself on a weekend jaunt to Belgium with the European Coaster Club, which necessitated me being in London on Friday morning. However, the cheapest suitable flight proved to be marginally more expensive than flying to East Midlands, spending a day at Alton Towers, and spending a night in a hotel. This made an extra day an absolute no-brainer, and since American Adventure was nearby, we decided to throw that into the mix too. An on time arrival at East Midlands and very little traffic brought us to Alton Towers just after opening. To our delight, there was no wait whatsoever for our tickets, and we were able to enter the park immediately.

Alton Towers

We were greeted by a sign advising patrons to Scream! You're at Alton Towers. This seemed more than a little odd to me, given that the park has recently lost a lawsuit brought by local residents over noise. Management has clearly decided to play hardball, and I wish them luck.

My first priority for the day, and indeed the main purpose of my visit, was to ride the new coaster, Spinball Whizzer. Unfortunately, the ride was closed for the entire day; while it is apparently not as good as its brother at Chessington it would still have been nice to try it. My first instinct was that it was closed due to a staffing issue, but some research on the Internet later on led me to the truth; both coasters had been closed simultaneously for an emergency refit following a potential safety issue that had arisen. Hearing the true explanation did improve my frame of mind somewhat!

I'd somehow managed to forget how spaced out Alton Towers actually is, but it all came back to me as I walked the ten minute route over to the Forbidden Valley section of the park, home to what are arguably the two best steel coasters in the United Kingdom. Nemesis remains the best demonstration on this planet that creativity and careful design can produce a much better roller coaster than those built simply to gain world records. At the other end of the intensity scale, the uninspired layout on Air nevertheless retains a real sensation of flight that feels far more realistic than the competition or indeed the garbage.

One of the Oblivion vehicles was stuck at the top of the ride as we approached, so while they were sorting it out we took a spin on the Black Hole. Rumour has it that this ride may not be in the park for too much longer, as the cost of modifying it to meet current health and safety standards may be prohibitive. Perhaps this is why it had the longest wait of the morning; in any case, it was great fun to ride it once more.

Oblivion had reopened by the time we emerged. I had been wondering how I would cope with riding this once more, as it was, a little over two years ago, the last coaster to really frighten me. Since then, I have managed to clear my fear of giant drops, and as such I figured Oblivion would not be a problem. What I hadn't anticipated was how much I'd enjoy the ride, and in fact on disembarking I insisted we go around a second time. Following the wonderful example set by Chris Simon, I spent some time taking my own collection of sadistic Oblivion photographs, but due to poor lighting conditions almost none of them came out properly. At some point in the future I'll have to have another go at this.

Our final ride of the morning was a circuit on Corkscrew. About two thirds of the way up the lift hill, the train stopped dead. The engineers did manage to get things going again a few minutes later, but not for long. A few minutes after our ride, we walked past it again to find it closed with several staff members examining a section of track in the brake run. As a little aside, when I was entering the ride name into my mobile phone to store the ride length, I missed a key, and the phone spell checker suggested Crap Screw. No comment.

 

American Adventure

16th September 2004

Visiting a deserted park is always a mixed blessing for an enthusiast. On the positive side, wait times (if any) are likely to be minimal. On the negative side, if a park doesn't make money it is unlikely to survive in the long run. There were no more than twenty five cars at American Adventure today, putting even Walibi Lorraine a few weeks ago to shame. Though overcast, it wasn't raining, and all rides were operational, at least whenever there were guests available to try them out.

American Adventure

George and I were the only people in the train for our first circuit on Twin Looper (#358), a roller coaster with a serious identity crisis; to date it has had four names (Soopa Loopa, Iron Wolf, Twin Looper, and JCB Twin Looper), three of which have been at this park. After the excruciatingly slow lift hill, the train drops into the two loops that give it its name, followed by a hill and some helixes. Unfortunately, the train runs out of speed after the loops, and the rest of the ride is disappointingly slow. On disembarking, the ride operator asked us if we'd like to ride again, so we relocated towards the back of the train for a second circuit. Sadly, we were not able to try the back car, as it had sand bags loaded in it, presumably because the train requires a minimum weight to complete the course successfully. Unfortunately these bags had been positioned in the two backward-facing seats on the train, which would have been interesting to try at least once!

The Runaway Train was fairly decent as powered coasters go, though it did have one particularly violent turn that sent me slamming into the side of the car. I noticed that the train came very close indeed to a platform at the lowest section of the ride, to the point that anyone with their hands stretched out could easily lose a finger. The advice to keep arms inside the car at all times is probably the most disregarded in the amusement park industry, and most rides are designed accordingly; apparently not this one however. The Buffalo Stampede was also a fairly decent ride, if a little less exciting than its brother.

The only remaining credit for me was an original Boomerang, here named the Missile (#359). This model was running fairly well, though this is obviously a relative term for any Vekoma product of this vintage. From there, we went over to the Rapids, which featured the longest queue of the afternoon at five minutes. This was not in fact due to other patrons; rather, it was due to there being just three twelve-seater boats out on the course, all of which were empty. Water rides in cold weather are never a particularly good idea, especially when one has no waterproof clothing. Fortunately we escaped almost completely dry.

Detailed commentary about food is normally absent from these pages, but it would be remiss of me not to write at least something about the Donut Robot Mark II, a truly ingenious device that was misbehaving in fine style today. The end result was a profoundly apologetic staff member and some of the strangest shaped donuts I've ever seen, though they still tasted just fine!