Sunday, October 24, 2010

Journey to Oblivion

The car park of the Splash Landings Hotel at Alton Towers is a miserable place at 5am, especially if you’re in pyjamas and bare feet. A fire alarm is a great leveller. I was once evacuated from a conference hotel with the entire senior management of the BBC. You can tell a man’s character by his pyjamas: Greg Dyke’s were very colourful, I recall.

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.


Clippy Mat said...

Excellent review. I would definitely give "Thirteen" a miss after that! For me, the excitement of a 5 a.m. false alarm would be about as much shock value as I could handle these days thank you very much.

Unknown said...

Excellent post Sam. I have two boys 17 and 7, who have been brought up on Disney and Universal Studios theme parks and Im not sure how they would feel about Alton Towers. What do you think?

Sam said...

Thank you Clippy Mat and Irritatingly Optimistic. In response to the latter I have been both to Universal studios and Disney and agreed they are not both the most hardcore of theme parks, yet the thing that makes Alton Towers unique is that there is such a variety of 'levels.' E.g from Oblivion to the Twirling Toadstool. I think your best bet is to get your sons to look up the rides on youtube etc. and see how they like the look of them. All of the rides are designed to be fun so it is just a matter of pushing themselves to do them. Once they do them guaranteed they will absolutely love them yet I agree rides such as Nemesis and Oblivion do look extremely daunting. Some good rides for your seven year old are Hex, Rumba Rapids, the Flume, Runaway Mine Train, (which is actually really fun!) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and 13 if the crowds aren't too big. As for the 17 year old he should just look up the bigger rides and see what he feels about them. Alton Towers is ridiculously fun and once you all get into the swing of things you are bound to have a fantastic time.

Clippy Mat said...

not to be outdone by Alton Towers or Disney I am sending you a link for Canada's Wonderland. I went myself once with some visiting family from England but absolutely refused to go on anything which hurtles me upside down at 95 miles an hour and then flings me backwards at the rate of knots. You would probably love it.