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.