We spent 2 days at the Alton Towers theme park, trying out the family friendly attractions and some of the thrill rides
by Joy S on October 6, 2012
Alton Towers is probably the most well known and popular theme park in the UK. It attracts every age group and all types of people, from hardened thrill seekers, to those who prefer a gentler adventure to young children and families. There is something for everyone here.It is set deep in the heart of the Staffordshire countryside, a lovely setting and beautiful surroundings. It took us about 1.5 hours to drive here from our home in north west England. We decided to take our son here as a birthday treat and opted to stay overnight so we would have 2 days to explore the park. This was a good decision, we got to see everything and did not feel rushed.A day ticket to Alton Towers for an adult costs £45.00 and for a child costs £36.00. Parking costs £6.00. We actually bought a Merlin Annual Pass. This costs £172.80 if you buy online, gives you unlimited entry into Alton Towers and 12 other attractions (including the London Eye, Madame Tussauds, Blackpool Tower and Legoland) for 12 months. This is a good choice, if you plan to visit even 4 of the other places inside a year. You also get complimentary parking at the attractions and reduced prices in the shops/restaurants etc.. inside the parks. We found this saved quite a bit on food.Another real bonus of having a Merlin Pass was we didn't have to join the (huge) queue at the turnstiles on the way in. We were directed straight to the front and directly through the gate.We arrived on the first day around midday and left at closing time (6.30pm). The second day we arrived at opening time and again stayed until it closed at 5.00. We felt we needed this amount of time to see and do everything. The park closes around the beginning of November for the winter months and opens again around Easter time. Admission time is 9.30 but most of the rides don't open until 10 or 10.30. Closing times vary, so you need to check that.The park is divided into 12 themed lands, some with extreme rides, others suitable for young children and families. The estate was once the seat of the Earls of Shrewsbury. The 15th Earl did a lot of work landscaping the grounds. It was his desire, in the early 1800's to create one of the finest examples of a stately home garden in Britain. The 20th Earl turned the estate into a tourist attraction in the 1890's after running into financial problems. The family had further financial woes though, the estate ran into decline and was sold in 1924 to a group of businessmen. It was used by the army during World War II and remained in decline until the 1980's when it was turned into the theme park we know and love today.A lot of people go for the rides, but neglect to visit the gardens and the ruins of the towers themselves. The gardens are stunning - there are lots of lovely trees, flowers and paths and it feels peaceful and a world away from the hustle and bustle of the theme park. The ruins of the towers too are lovely - imposing and impressive. Knowing there is such a great deal of history here, it would be criminal not to spend time exploring the ruins and gardens. Another tip would be to take the Skyride - cable car across the park from one side to another - you get an aerial view of the gardens and can appreciate their beauty from on-high (it also saves your legs a bit!).There are 2 themed hotels on the Alton Towers site - the Alton Towers Hotel and Splash Landings. We stayed at the Alton Towers hotel in the past. They have themed rooms, we stayed in a normal room and found it basic but functional. There is a lovely garden restaurant and in the evening there is a lot of child themed entertainment going on, which is great. Splash Landings has a Caribbean theme and overlooks the water park. The two hotels are linked, so you can stay in one and enjoy the entertainment in the other if you choose.The water park is also quite good. It is open year round (unlike the park) and has a lazy river, various slides and a water coaster. Be careful when you visit. If the weather is bad, it is normally absolutely packed. They do not restrict the numbers, we have been there on a day when it was almost impossible to move. We couldn't find a table or place to sit and there were so many people in the water, it was unpleasant. If you visited at a less busy time, it would be great fun.They also have 2 nine hole crazy golf courses by the hotel. You pay extra for these, but they are wacky and very entertaining.There are lots of places to eat throughout the park - everything from fast food, to sandwiches to healthy options. We had the most delicious home baked cakes and great coffee at the Wibbly Wobbly Cafe in Cloud Cuckoo Land. I would definitely recommend this place. On our second day we ate Cornish Pasties from Mutiny Bay while sitting watching the Pirate Show. Again they were delicious, and eating while watching the show meant we saved on time.
* When buying tickets, check the on-line price first of all. They offer significant discounts if you buy in advance on-line, as opposed to buying at the gate. This is also true for the Merlin Annual Passes. As well as saving money though, you also save time because you don't have to stand in a long queue to buy the tickets (then join another queue to get into the park). I was amazed though at all the advertisements I saw throughout the park for annual passes and tickets. They did not include VAT in the prices, this is normally always included in the UK, and had the effect of making everything seem a lot cheaper. Watch out for this.* Arrive early at the park. On our first day we got there around midday, joined a long line of cars to go in and park and found ourselves a long walk away from the monorail. On the second day we got there at opening time and had quite a different experience. We parked much closer and everything was less hectic. Also, I would advise buying the car park token when you arrive. You buy these from machines, there were huge lines at the machines at the end of the day.* Try and not go on the last day of school holidays (like us). If you can, avoid school holidays but this may be difficult. Our first day was the last day of the holidays for most schools and it seemed like everyone was packing in this last trip. The car parks were full and the lines for all the rides were horrendous. On the next day, lots of schools were back and it was a completely different story. We barely had to queue for most rides.* Be sure to wear very comfortable shoes. Like most theme parks, there is a lot of walking to do. You also need shoes that fasten - in case they fall off on some of the rides. Also you can't rely on the weather here - like elsewhere in the UK you can get 4 seasons in one day - we did! So you have to pack raincoats etc. and be able to shed all the layers if the sun comes out.* Leave the wet rides until the end of the day. Our son was not happy about this, but seeing some drenched people, he soon realised it was a good idea. Unlike in Florida, where you dry off quickly, that does not tend to happen in the UK. Getting soaked on the log flume in the morning means shivering and feeling uncomfortable for the rest of the day.* The rides have closing times listed, but you can actually join a queue for a ride right up until closing time of the ride. The queue closes at the time listed, the ride does not.* Plan your day carefully so you fit everything in. The big, new rides tend to get really busy in the afternoon, so do these first thing in the morning and avoid the worst of the lines. Single rider queues are also a good way to save time. There are lots of electronic boards all over the park with details on queue times, we found these useful.* At the end of the day when the park is closing the queues for the monorail look terrible. We were aghast, but actually they move really quickly and you don't have to wait long at all. So don't despair if this is the case when you visit.
by Joy S on October 8, 2012
These are the rides and lands we enjoyed as a family, not for hardened thrill seekers but gentle and fun for all ages.We started in Storybook Land. This is a nice introduction to the park and has rides for very young children. Squirrel Nutty is a ride inside a giant acorn which takes you high above the "tree-tops." You get a good view over this whole area from the ride. It is all very nicely themed.Old McDonalds Farm is right next door. It is aimed at younger children, but our 9 year old also found plenty to keep him happy here. The Dungheap playgroud has lots of climbing frames, slides and a zip wire. There is a tractor ride around the farmyard and a carousel for very young children, and the River Bank Eye Spy ride is a nice boat ride for all ages. Berry Bish Bash was a real hit with our family. Inside the "barn" you get a bag of foam balls, "shoot" them at people through a range of cannons and different guns and dodge them as they literally fly around everywhere. Even the adults were having a great time here.Cloud Cuckoo Land was another favourite of our 9 year old. Here they have the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ride - a lovely boat trip through Willy Wonka's factory, followed by a ride on the great glass elevator. There is also a Driving School - children can drive little cars around a well themed city area and get a driving license at the end. Unfortunately when we were there, most of the cars kept breaking down! One of the newest attractions of the park is here - Ice Age 4D Experience. It is a 3D film with bubbles, snow etc.. We enjoyed it, but found it a bit predictable and a little disappointing.Mutiny Bay is a pirate themed area. There are a variety of boat rides, but our favourite was Sharkbait Reef. This is a little aquarium with all sorts of creatures from the deep - including sharks and a small area with a touch tank. Children loved it here, despite the girl who worked here being very grumpy and sullen. Don't miss the Pirate Show which takes place 4 times daily at Mutiny Bay. There are fireworks, lots of shiver-me-timbers and singing and dancing. Unfortunately on our first day it was cancelled due to illness, but we did see it on the second day.Katanga Canyon was an area we went back to on our second day. Our son was a big fan of the Runaway Mine Train and the River Rapids ride. The mine train is a tame but reasonably fast roller-coaster. It is great if you don't like the big ones. It goes around the track twice - the second time much faster than the first. The river rapids is also fun - a few dips and splashes but you don't really get too wet.We had a great day as a family enjoying all these attractions. There does though seem to be a bit of a problem at Alton Towers with rides breaking down. On our first day, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had only 1 elevator working so the queues were huge; the Pirate Show was completely cancelled; Ice Age had an alarm go off in the middle of the movie and we all had to leave and then join the back of the queue if you wanted to see it again; the river rapids ride broke down for 30 minutes but was repaired while we stood in line, the driving school cars kept breaking down (due the attendant said to the "hot weather") and a few other little mishaps. It did not spoil things for us, as we returned the next day, but had we paid £45 for a single day ticket, I would have been most unhappy with the experience.
by Joy S on October 9, 2012
Alton Towers is well known in the UK for its extreme and thrilling roller coasters. These are the ones we especially enjoyed during our day out there.In Forbidden Valley they have the newest ride at Alton Towers - new this year - Nemesis Sub Terra. We headed straight here when the park opened. The queues get really long, even at 9.45 before the ride opened, there was a long line, but we joined it and did not have a bad waiting time. They describe it as a psychological thrill. It is not a roller coaster and the ride part itself is not that scarey, but the build up, theming and pre-ride experience really seemed to shake up just about everybody. It takes place "deep underground" and involves the hatching of an alien egg. I will not give any more away, but this is definitely a scarey ride. They recommend children do not enter - some people ignored this and their kids were definitely upset and very shaken up!Close to this is the Nemesis roller coaster. Again come here early and the lines are not too bad. It is an inverted roller coaster and gives you a real adrenaline boost - you do come off feeling shakey. You experience several G-forces and it is a thrill.Next we tried the roller coaster called Air. This is a bit different to any we had ridden on before. You actually hang beneath the track with your arms in front of you. It is meant to be like flying. The coaster swoops down to the ground and then back up to the sky. It is a really different and fun experience.In the X Sector section of the park, you can't miss Oblivion. It drops you vertically into a small hole in the ground. It is quite a short ride, but not short on thrills and very intense. You climb slowly up the steep hill, then they hold you at the top, just perched over the edge where you can see the hole in the ground. After a few seconds, a voice booms, "Don't Look Down!" and then they drop you vertically into the tunnel under the ground at full speed.Rita Queen of Speed is in the Dark Forest area. This is a really fast roller coaster with sharp turns. You go from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds and lose your breath with the speed. The beginning and launching of this roller coaster is an incredible and powerful feeling.Thirteen is also in this section of the park. They call this a psychocoaster. The ride part actually involves a vertical free fall, the theming here is excellent too - an ancient burial site, so a really scarey experience all round.In Gloomy Wood, the thrills are a bit less intense, but everywhere you see tombstones, ghosts and eerie things. The Haunted House Dual Ride is quite good fun. It is an interactive ride - you shoot creepy targets with a laser as you ride through the house. The different scenes are very good.We finished off our "extreme" day at the log flume. It is not really a thrill ride, but great fun and we all got soaking wet. This is the UK's longest water log flume type ride. The theming as you bump along is not that great - I think they could make it better. There are 3 drops - one is very steep and in utter darkness (the worst of all and it was quite unexpected) and then another steep drop at the end where you get absolutely soaked. This is great for children and adults.
by Joy S on October 10, 2012
We wanted to stay overnight close to Alton Towers and had quite a search to find suitable accommodation. We had stayed in the on-site hotel in the past, but fancied a change this time. Lots of the offerings close by are guest houses or B&B's - lots seemed to have very negative reviews, but then we found this one. It had excellent reviews.It is in Cheadle, a nice little market town in Staffordshire, about 20 minutes drive from the theme park. It was once an old rectory, built in 1758.They claim a 4 star rating and state that although they are not a hotel, they have the facilities and more.The building is lovely, a big, old, red-brick house in the middle of the little town. Parking was a bit of a squeeze, but we managed in the end and got the last space. The room we had - a triple family room, cost £95.00 for the night and included breakfast.The small reception desk was at the back of the hall in the house. The man there dealt with our reservation in an efficent and friendly manner.Our room was not in the main house, but in what seemed like it had been an old stable block or some type of outbuilding in the past. It was at the back of the main house. The garden here is beautiful - lovely plants, wonderfully colourful and tranquil with a large pond full of enormous koi carp.Our room was on the ground level - very dark and the little, old-fashioned window let in barely any light. My first impressions were that it felt really cold in the room and smelt musty and damp. It was spotlessly clean, but the door had a bit of a gap underneath and a draught blew under. The window also let in draughts and the room just was not well enough insulated. I can't imagine staying here in winter, if it felt like this on a hot day at the beginning of September. I was very disappointed.There were 2 single beds and a double bed. The room also had a modern television and tea/coffee making facilities. The bathroom had a shower, was freezing cold and very old-fashioned, but again very clean. There was free Wifi in the room. They provided lots of white, fluffly towers, but the shower was extremely temperamental and impossible to control - one minute freezing cold, the next minute boiling hot. I did not allow our 9 year old to use it.We had dinner in the guest house. There is a small bar area in the main house and about 8 tables where they serve meals. The barman was very chatty and friendly and the atmosphere in this area is very charming. The dinner menu was good - about 6 offerings each for the starter, main course and dessert. I very much enjoyed my meal, my husband found his a little bland. They also had a good children's menu. For dessert we shared a chocolate fondant - it was heavenly!When we went back to the room and went to bed, the beds felt a little cold and almost damp. It was ok when we warmed up but definitely not ideal. It felt cold in the room during the night and our son needed to use an extra duvet.Breakfast next morning was reasonable - a choice of cooked breakfasts but only a couple of cereal choices and not much else. On check-out, the lady got our bill wrong twice before she came up with what looked like it was correct!All in all, we were disappointed with our stay here. The staff are really lovely, the food is good but the room was just not up to modern standards. I felt at £95 for the room, it was not good value for money. I would neither stay here again nor recommend it unless a major renovation took place to modernise the rooms.
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009