Alton Towers

24th September 2005

Writing a proper trip report involves a fair amount of concentration. A quiet environment, while not a prerequisite, is certainly beneficial as the brain ruminates slowly over an action packed day and attempts to formulate a few paragraphs to document the occasion for posterity. As such, it seems only fair to warn the reader that this missive is being composed, a day late, in the departures lounge of Birmingham airport. I am more than a little ashamed to admit that this is my 49th such edifice, almost all of which have been visited in the last four years. My brain, effectively scrambled by two days in the company of coaster enthusiasts, has chosen to retaliate in the utilisation of excessive quantities of abstruse verbiage. I'll try to make it behave.

My day started with a late flight, which resulted in me missing more than half of the European Coaster Club ERS on Nemesis. It had been a little over a year since my last rides on what many consider to be one of the best inverted coasters out there, but I remembered the layout as if it were yesterday. A gloriously intense ride at the best of times, the enjoyment factor was enhanced greatly by the many friends I recognised in other seats. It was a pleasant surprise to see some other members from outside the United Kingdom in attendance, in this case from France and Norway. With the advent of low cost airlines we really are in a situation now where it is often cheaper to fly to an event from another country then to drive from two hundred miles away.

Rita

I managed two rides, and I daresay I could have managed a third before the mob arrived from the front gate. However, a better idea beckoned; Tom suggested that we should make our way over to Rita - Queen of Speed (#669), the new attraction for this year and a ride that has become known in the community for its extended wait times. This proved to be a remarkably prescient decision, as there was already a twenty minute queue in front of us on arrival, and this had extended to an hour even before the ride opened up.

With apologies to Blackpool, there is no doubt that this ride is the first modern launched coaster in England. The park has chosen to be somewhat creative in their advertising, giving a top speed of 100 km/h, dubious at best in a country still using miles for everything else, but either way, the launch feels very powerful as riders are accelerated to speed in a very short length of track. Unfortunately, things went downhill from there on, due to a very unforgiving restraint design with rigid over-the-shoulder straps. These repeatedly came into contact with my neck, and the result was not comfortable at all. The ride should have been fun, but really wasn't. Why could lap bars not have been used here?

There was a fairly substantial queue for Spinball Whizzer (#670), but we elected to wait anyway on the grounds that everything else would be just as bad. Part of the reason for the delay was the number of cars in use, a total of five out of a possible eight. The line halted altogether at one point, when we watched them transferring a car between the track and the garage; rather than adding another one as we had hoped, they had in fact taken one off due to technical problems. Better to be safe than sorry, I suppose, but it still took an eternity for us to reach the station. Fortunately, the wait proved to be well worth it; due to strategic balancing of the car we managed to spin a great deal, and while the layout wasn't anything like as exciting as the Chessington version it was nevertheless a good ride.

By the time we disembarked it was already lunch time; long waits on both of the attractions we had chosen made this an inevitability. This brings me to the biggest issue with Alton Towers. Extended queues for the signature rides (what few of them there are) are the norm, not the exception. The situation is made worse by the sale of Priority Passes, otherwise known as paid line jumping for those who are willing to pay more than the already substantial admission fees. Surely I cannot be the only person who objects to this? There are those to whom a day at a theme park represents a large amount of their disposable income, and these people gain second class treatment relative to those who have a little more to spend so that they do not have to wait. Might this be something for the equality authority to investigate? Answers on a postcard please.

Group Photo

We decided to test the effectiveness of our digestion system by heading for Oblivion immediately after a big meal. We had a relatively short wait for once, and soon enough we were on board. While typically lauded far less than a certain inverted coaster on the other side of the park, for me at least Oblivion remains a classic coaster. It is, without question, way too short, and I doubt I would like it quite so much if I had been able to ride Sheikra. Nevertheless, the holding brake at the top of a plunge into a dark abyss ranks among the best coaster moments anywhere.

Hex was my first encounter with a haunted swing attraction when I rode it for the first time in 2002. Returning to it after so many others only served to emphasise that this is one attraction that the park has managed to get as close to perfect as is realistically possible in any theme park attraction. I wasn't paying any attention to the story, but at the end of the day such things really don't matter a whole lot; what did matter was the illusion of the rotating room, which in this case worked absolutely flawlessly.

These reports can often be boring for the average reader, especially when they lapse into diary form; I did this, I did that, blah, blah, and, er, blah. Occasionally, however, there is an absolute gem of a moment that simply has to be documented for posterity, and one which breaks the monotony for those who have wound up here after failing to use a search engine properly. It was while walking away from Hex that we decided that a little bit of junk food was in order. Tom wanted a drink to go with his food, so we elected to give him money to purchase for us all. It was this that led to the quote of the week; Can I have ten donuts and a diet coke please?

Documenting our next coaster ride is a particularly difficult task. We decided to go ride Air, only to find that the queue time was at least ninety minutes. However, the operator at the gate suggested we try the single rider line, assuming we were happy to split up on board. This we duly did, walking all the way down this line to the gate in the station; it seemed that there was nobody in front of us whatsoever. It was at this point that things went very badly wrong. We had been fully expecting to be assigned to vacant seats, probably in separate trains. However, the ride operator ushered us all to enter the station together, in front of the queue of those waiting in the normal line, thereby giving us first choice on seats.

Air

It goes without saying that to do something like this is a very effective way to start a riot among those who had been waiting in the normal line. On one hand, the operator told us to go through, and as such we arguably were not at fault. However, as regular park visitors, we all know how single rider queues are supposed to work, and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that we did not correct the ride operator on this. Sure, this meant that we got a circuit in the back row, but that wasn't what should have happened. If anyone from the park is reading this, for goodness sake, make sure your staff know how to use a single rider queue, before you end up with civil disorder!

A new attraction to me was Duel, a target shooting dark ride. Rumour has it that this attraction has been secretly sponsored by the Secret Society of Neurologists and Rheumatologists. Okay, maybe not; I just made that up; however, it might be something for these fine upstanding medical professionals to consider. The guns on this attraction, at least during my visit, were very stiff indeed and a superbly effective way of triggering Repetitive Strain Injury.

Tom had an interesting tidbit about the Runaway Mine Train attraction. Apparently the park only runs it at 40% of maximum power. This was, to say the least, a startling claim; I can only imagine what this ride would be like on full power. 40% is about right given the general layout of the track and the ability (or lack thereof) of the train to deal with sharp corners!

With the park now closed to the general public it was time for us to enjoy some exclusive rides. We were treated to a session on Spinball Whizzer first, allowing me to get in three rides in relatively short succession, before we were all escorted over to the main attraction of the day, Rita - Queen of Speed. Of most interest to me was a special privilege; we were allowed into the hydraulic room, to watch the launch motor in action. This was always going to be a fairly serious piece of kit, given that it can accelerate a full coaster train past sixty miles per hour in a little over two seconds, and seeing it up close was certainly impressive; it looked like something out of one of the Matrix movies, with large black pipes hanging off it in all directions. The whole thing was controlled by an off-the-shelf PC running Windows. Might this be why the larger rocket coasters keep breaking down?

Alton Towers

It goes without saying that I got in plenty of rides; nine in total. After three or four circuits I had figured out how to hold the restraint to stop neck bashing, making the experience much more enjoyable. As darkness fell things became even more exciting, as it was simply not possible to see the back half of the coaster course; all you could sense was motion at insane speeds with the wind screaming past. My only complaint at the end of the night was the standard one; you know a coaster is too short when your train has hit the final brake run while the other is still waiting to be loaded.