Rollercoaster Ranking – Alton Towers

As the largest theme park in the UK, Alton Towers is home to a wide variety of interesting rollercoasters. Often attempting to be leaders in ride innovation or, more recently, seekers of ‘world’s first’ claims, the ‘secret weapon’ series of installations at the park has seen both prototypes and record breakers come to life within its vast grounds. Although I seem to have grown out of visiting this park any more than necessary, I do appreciate the relative level of consistency and uniqueness across a coaster lineup of this scale.

#11 Octonauts
An inoffensive +1 with notable theming.

#10 Beastie
A surprisingly vicious +1 that can no longer be found at the park. Fear not, this ride now lives in deepest, darkest Wales.

#9 Runaway Mine Train
Although it is probably one of the stronger Mack Powered Coasters out there and a solid family favourite with ride operator interaction and multiple laps on offer, it’s a very long time since I’ve gone out of my way to ride this one and I generally skip past the whole area of the park that contains it now.
I do love it when multiple rides within a park are intertwined and their atmosphere can feed off of each other so the fast section of the layout that runs past the rapids ride in the tunnel was always my favourite moment.

#8 Spinball Whizzer/Sonic Spinball
I have had good rides on this at certain times as you can get a bit of a violent spin. There’s even an on-ride photo of me for this somewhere, of which I’d say there are less than 10 in the world from any ride so it must have meant something important at the time.
The ride is rarely worth the queue for me these days though, particularly with its poor capacity, just a bit too much of a fairground attraction for Alton Towers really.

#7 Rita – Queen of Speed/Rita
If you’re into launches, it lacks the punch of a Stealth. If you’re into coaster layouts you can really sink your teeth into (like me), Rita lacks anything else interesting as well, consisting of corners in alternate directions with uneventful hills between.
It was built in the era when launching into a corner mostly led to an awkward transition, bordering on the uncomfortable if you’re not prepared for it. It used to be an ordeal to ride when I was more susceptible to this type of thing, now it’s just there.
What I do like about this ride is the launch announcement. The half hearted ‘go, go… go’ is very representative of the ride and always brings a smile to my face.

#6 Wicker Man
The simple process of riding other wooden rollercoasters makes this ride seem weak. Couple that with the disproportionate popularity/queue times and I am often left with this question to myself: ‘why bother?’
It took us 22 years to get a new woodie in the UK and with all the technologies and manufacturers now on offer they still failed to surpass the very low bar set by the others we already have in the country.
The preshow is better than the ride experience and builds towards something that wants to lean on its theme more than its thrill, which I would be perfectly fine with if it actually made any further attempt to do that. It doesn’t. The hardware is an underwhelming experience and the ending shed is completely squandered.
Wicker Man is the worst GCI in the world, but it’s otherwise fine to ride.

#5 Air/Galactica
I know Merlin have developed a reputation for dark and dingy theming these days, but at least that’s a theme. Air had none of that, no presence, no energy. Just a prototype in a car park, by a car park. For a park that definitely errs strongly on the side of theme, I see this as significant step down.
Then it had a name change and Virtual Reality added and that of course didn’t help at all (other than the new soundtrack, which I have a strong appreciation for).
I like the build of momentum at the start of the layout with the double down style first drop and the sections where the train is swooping over grass rather than concrete are decent, but the fly to lie being the only interesting element it attempts just ends up being uncomfortable and something I’m glad they never repeated.
Air is now the worst B&M flyer in the world, but it’s otherwise fine to ride.

#4 Oblivion
When the concept worked for you, this was a great experience, I can’t deny that. Now the ride boils down to a singular decent out of your seat moment. This is the UK, so that makes a good ride by comparison.
Fear of a single element as a base concept on a ride seems almost impossible to bring about these days and I do miss that to a degree, even if it’s just by watching or experiencing it through other people. There’s a lot more out there now diluting the simple sensations that used to scare people, like just a (near) vertical drop.
Oblivion is now the worst B&M dive layout in the world, but it’s otherwise fine to ride.

#3 Thirteen
I was never subject to any of the hype and/or marketing around this ride, so the common complaint that it wasn’t what people were expecting never bothered me. The only thing that bothers me is the trim brakes on the first drop that drain it of any real significance.
It’s actually the only coaster in the park I have a soft spot for, a little bit of an emotional attachment. The drop track still kicks my ass (particularly with the teasing bounce it does before the drop) and it was potentially my first ever genuine joyous surprise moment on a ride the very first time it shot backwards in the dark.
It’s also the first time I ever saw this new era of quirky shuttle layouts and switch track sections being run at an efficient and impressive pace. Watching the track move, followed by the mini ending launch is so satisfying and I remember thinking this could become so much more. And it did.

#2 Smiler
I like the ambition behind this ride. It was made to break a record and often in this industry that leads to a lack of creativity, but I’d argue this was done in a better way than most other significant records. What came before it? Colossus. How can we do the most inversions? Let’s take that super basic sequence of inversions already out there (loop, cobra, corkscrew) and add enough rolls at the end to win.
Smiler went beyond this, the inversions are almost all different and much less commonplace – they even invented one for the ride (or is it two?) and they’re paced between other interesting features like the vertical lift. The best part of the ride, as with the previous record holder, is the surprise airtime hill between inversions, and it does this twice, and better.
Sometimes being upside down is fun too now, it’s a statement of how ride inversions have improved in general – they have a lot more variety than they used to and offer many more sensations to go with it. It doesn’t fully pull them off due to Gertslauer’s struggle with quality at the time, but the ride gives it a good go. If it was built to their current standard, we could have had a potential Nemesis beater.
As a ride it’s both long, something the UK lacks a lot (Ultimate aside) and intense to me even now, which is also hard to come by these days. I like an intensity that earns itself – if I could ever ride the Smiler several times in a visit, I suspect I may even struggle a little, but I also think I may grow to like it even more than I currently do.
Sadly the park, the queue and to a lesser degree the restraints mean that will never happen.

#1 Nemesis
The most clinically positioned ranking in the list. Yes, it used to be my favourite ride but that was before I really thought about such nonsense (deep scientific importance). I believe it says more about the quality of the other things I had done than it does about this ride.
Aside from that, it was always a professional relationship with Nemesis for me, never personal. I never fell in love with it. I enjoyed it because it was the done thing to do and I respect it. The overarching use of storytelling and intelligent integration of the hardware into the terrain set a good benchmark for many future attractions.
As a ride it’s forceful, well made, well paced and that downwards helix that introduces you to the concept of having your feet ripped off by the force of a rollercoaster is legendary. Unlike the rest of this list, Nemesis is a good example of the ride type, but it doesn’t excite me.

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