At Alton Towers we all shivered in the darkness, vainly scouring the hotel for signs of smoke that might justify our discomfort. There were hungover parents wearily herding children, peroxide Cheshire blondes cruelly exposed without their makeup, bulbous couples who’d evidently only come for the eat-all-you-can buffet, and me, doing paternal duty with my soon-to-be-13-year-old and his two friends. This was Sam’s birthday treat: two days of rollercoaster heaven.
Jo escaped the trip by claiming Izzy was too young. I know the real reason: that ghastly night we spent in Disneyland a few years back.
In fact, Alton Towers is much more parent-friendly. Sure, they play the theme from Captain Pugwash in the lift, which made me smile the first few times, then drove me to the stairs, but the bar, which looks like the tropical set from ZingZillas, serves a decent marghuerita, and the food is varied and edible.
But this wasn’t my treat: the real test was my son’s reaction. So, for anyone stuck for a plan this half-term, here is Sam’s unexpurgated, no-holds (but firmly strapped in, particularly when you’re going upside down) verdict. From what I can gather, he had a pretty good time.
The spooky girl in the advert looked like something from The Exorcist as she whispered “Thirteen!” - that’s what made me want my birthday weekend at Alton Towers.
The park is miles from the train station, and the signposts, pointing us in the opposite direction to our satnav, added an extra 20 minutes to the journey time (we tested it on the way back). Yet, aside from the patronizing Pirate Pete voice on the park’s monorail, Alton Towers is a 13-year-old’s dream.
Towering, spinning, looping structures erupt in the middle of a picturesque landscape of trees and a gothic 19th century house. So even for Dad it was mildly exciting as he got to talk to Alton Tower’s gardeners about orchids. He said it nearly justified the cost of the hotel rooms.
First, my two friends and I raced to Oblivion. Our hearts were pounding as we were hauled up the chain lift. At the top, there was a terrifying pause as we overlooked our fate, then we plunged 180 feet underground at 70 mph. Seven goes later we decided to try the other rides.
Air, a steel flying coaster, was more comfortable than thrilling, although the “flying” experience was one-of-a-kind. Nemesis, which practically had more G-force than a space shuttle launch, wasn’t particularly special; Rita Queen of Speed is a launch rollercoaster and although not as fast as Stealth, has a sharp, eye-popping bend at the beginning and unique soaring turns.
Eventually we reached the most disappointing attraction in the whole park - the new ride ‘Thirteen’. We needn’t have bothered. It was horribly slow and depressing. Sure, the horizontal drop was a first, yet it only felt about two feet. It was as though they had spent so much money on the little drop, that they forgot the rest of the ride, which consisted of a few turns and bunny hops.
We felt let down, but it didn’t spoil our day and we fell asleep as soon as we hit the pillow in our “starfish” room, only to be woken at 5 because someone set off the fire alarm. The next day our faces were a picture. Dad looked like he had a massive hangover. We still had a brilliant time and I definitely recommend it.