Alton Towers – A Flying Visit

Since as early as I can remember, I have been obsessed with theme parks and fairground rides. One of my earliest memories is a trip to The Pleasure Beach in Blackpool at age 4 and I remember being taken to Funderland in the RDS on a number of occasions. My first trip to Disneyland Paris was on a school trip to Paris when I was 12 and since then, I’ve visited theme and amusement parks around the world. Alton Towers though, is my favourite of all.

Alton Towers is located in Staffordshire in the English countryside, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The nearest village is sleepy little Alton and the nearest city is Stoke-On-Trent which is about half an hour drive away. Getting there from Ireland, or indeed anywhere outside the UK, is not the easiest of tasks but there are a number of ways to do it if you’re prepared to put in a bit of work. It will be worth it!

We flew into East Midlands Airport with Ryanair from Dublin and although the flight times weren’t ideal, they also weren’t bad and gave us nearly two full days in the park. Do you need two days? Well that depends on a number of factors which I’ll get to in a bit. We rented a car from East Midlands Airport as public transport options from there to the resort are limited. In fact, the only reasonable public transport option goes from either Stoke-On-Trent or Uttoxeter train stations BUT getting there means flying to Manchester or Birmingham and getting a train first. I went by train and bus via Stoke from Birmingham on my first visit and it just wasn’t a pleasant experience so I’d say that if you can drive, just rent a car. It tends to not be too expensive. Even though East Midlands is closer, Manchester and Birmingham are also options with motorway going close enough to the resort. In my opinion, East Midlands is the best option. Make sure you rent from a car company located at the airport. We rented from Green Motion which is located in the Hilton Hotel about a 5 minute drive away. We found it a bit of an ordeal to be honest and when you want to just get going, it’s frustrating waiting and getting shuttles. I rented with Enterprise on another visit and found it much more efficient and convenient.

In terms of accommodation, there are options nearby but I’ve stayed at the resort hotels on three occasions now and I really can’t fault them. There are now four accommodation options, each offering something different. Alton Towers Hotel was the first built and is themed around the explorations of Sir Algenon Alton. We were upgraded to a Moon Voyage room on this occasion and it was fantastic. Children would be blown away by it (we had no children with us and WE were blown away by it!) Splash Landings is the second hotel and is more of a budget offering. I stayed here on my first visit and liked it a lot. It’s got a Caribbean theme and is attached to Alton Towers Waterpark, of which there are some pretty fantastic views from the hotel. At the moment, the hotel is closed during quiet periods which was a shame this time out as I really like Flambo’s Jambo, the hotel restaurant. The Enchanted Village is a collection of lodges and treehouses which are really magical and the CBeebies Land Hotel is the latest addition. You can choose to have breakfast or dinner in any of the hotel restaurants once you’re staying onsite, although you can only enter CBeebies Land Hotel if you have a child with you. By the way, parking is free if you’re staying in the resort. It’s not if you’re a day visitor.

Fountain At Alton Towers
The amazing fountain at the entrance to the Alton Towers Hotel!

Apart from the theme park, the other attractions onsite are Alton Towers Spa, Alton Towers Waterpark and Extraordinary Golf, an 18 hole crazy golf course. I’ve not actually been to any of them so can’t say much about them other than they all look really good. I’d like to do a longer trip to experience them.

Getting to the theme park from the hotels is about a 10 minute walk but there’s a monorail that takes you right to the entrance. Buy your tickets in advance, either with your accommodation booking or separately on the Alton Towers website to avoid queuing at the paydesk. You can then just scan straight through the turnstile into the park.

Your first port of call is Towers Street which immediately has a view of the original Alton Towers, finished by the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury in the 1820’s. This area houses the main gift shop, information centre and other amenities with no rides. You have the option to go either left or right, taking you to other themed areas and a day of fun!

A view of Alton Towers
The original Alton Towers

Going anti-clockwise, the first themed area is CBeebies Land with lots of attractions for younger children. This area is quite big with quite a few different rides and shows based around Postman Pat, Octonauts and other CBeebies programmes. Located next to it, and not in any particular area, is Spinball Whizzer which is a lot of fun. My advice is to do it during Early Ride Time (you can enter the park before everyone else if you’re staying in the resort hotels) because the queues tend to get quite long for it during the day.

X-Sector is the next area and is home to two secret weapon coasters. Alton Towers has a reputation in the theme park industry for their secret weapons, essentially prototype, world’s-first or record breaking roller coasters. Oblivion is the world’s first vertical drop roller coaster and although short, has a really great moment where you’re just dangling over the edge facing into a big hole before dropping straight down into it. The Smiler has been the centre of a lot of media attention following the crash in 2016 however it was reopened with increased safety and operational standards. I certainly don’t have an issue going on it but once a day is probably enough. It has 14 inversions, more than any other roller coaster in the world. When you get off, you have to walk through hallways designed to disorient you even further and you re-emerge into the open air feeling quite dizzy. It’s an incredibly fun ride.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is past the Towers ruins and has some rides for children. There’s been rumours for a few years that they’d be redeveloping this area to have a theme based on a Dreamworks movie however, recent talk has been around Walliams World, an area based on the books of David Walliams. It would be an interesting addition. They’ve just added the Alton Towers Dungeons next to this.

There’s actually a ride located in the Towers. Hex has just undergone a complete refurbishment and is still brilliant even though it’s nearly 20 years old. It’s a really immersive experience which tells you the legend of a fallen branch and its connection to the building, with a curse that goes along with it. I won’t say any more other than don’t miss it. It’s really well done.

Hex At Alton Towers
Hex At Alton Towers, one of the most immersive attractions I’ve experienced

Dark Forest is home to two roller coasters, both of which are fun and a great starting point for those who are a little nervous of going on the thrill rides. Rita is a launched rollercoaster, themed around a racing track which was abandoned and reclaimed by the forest. It’s fast and fun with a great launch at the start that’s enjoyable without being rough (compared, for example, to Furious Baco in Port Aventura which is also launched and rattled my head around uncomfortably). Thirteen is a secret weapon with the world’s first horizontal drop. It’s my favourite coaster in the park and both my husband Denis and my best friend Patrick agreed.

Dark Forest at Alton Towers
The entrance to The Dark Forest, home of Thirteen and Rita

To get to Forbidden Valley, you need to take the Skyride, a gondola system which can also take you from there back to the park entrance. This is home of Nemesis, the first secret weapon to be built in 1994. There’s a planning law in place that states that Alton Towers can’t build above the treeline so they dug a massive hole into the ground and put Nemesis into it. It was the first inverted roller coaster in Europe and the theming is really fantastic. Galactica originally opened as Air, the world’s first flying coaster however recently they’ve added VR. It was the second VR coaster I’ve been on, the other being Shaman in Gardaland, and it’s much better than that. You have the option to ride with or without VR and I’d recommend doing both. Non-VR queues tend to be shorter. In fact, they’ve just announced they’re removing the VR.

Duel is the only attraction in Gloomy Wood and it’s just been refurbished. From previous visits, I can say it’s much improved and is a fun ride where queues tend to be short. Give it a go.

Dual at Alton Towers
Dual is lots of fun

Katanga Canyon features a children’s runaway mine train coaster (suitable for adults too!) and the Congo River Rapids. It’s a lot of fun on a warm day although it was cold and wet on our recent visit and it just made us even more cold and wet. They’ve turned off some of the effects on the ride and this is probably the area in the park most in need of a bit of love.

Mutiny Bay is the last themed area and has lots of games, some food options and rides aimed at children. It’s also home to Sharkbait Reef by Sealife, an aquarium which we were glad of when it was lashing rain. Next to this area is Wickerman, the brand new coaster opened this year. The theming of the ride is fantastic and really brings you into the story.

Entrance to Mutiny Bay
The Entrance to Mutiny Bay. ARGGH!

So what advice do I have for visitors? Well the timing of your visit is important. Check when schools in the UK are on holiday and avoid going then. If you can go on a weekday, it’s much quieter than the weekend and Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be quieter than Thursdays and Fridays. They close on Wednesdays during the off-peak times. I’ve been in April and September and both are okay in terms of queue times. September is obviously a little better for weather.

Make sure you get there as early as you can. If you’re staying in the hotels, be at the park for Early Ride Time and keep an eye on when rides open. On quiet days, they open Forbidden Valley and Dark Forest later than the areas at the front of the park. Download the Alton Towers app and use it to keep an eye on queue times. This will help you decide where to go next. I think it goes without saying that you should be careful what you go on after you eat! You don’t want to be going on The Smiler after a big feed. Do some of the indoor rides until you digest a bit. They tend to be tamer. There’s a lot to do and it’s quite a large area so if you’re going during a busier period or if you want to take your time, 2 days is probably the best option. There tends to be a lot of walking so wear comfortable shoes and make sure they’re tight enough not to fall off on Nemesis. Don’t bring anything you don’t need. Have good pockets, with zips if possible but not essential, just to keep your phone and wallet safe. Wear contacts if you’re a glasses wearer.

If you are visiting, I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time! Have fun, be patient if it’s busy and make sure you’ve checked park opening times on the Alton Towers website before you book. If you are heading along after reading this, make sure you come back and tell me how you got on.

 

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