Dark Ride Hunting 07/21 – Alton Towers
It’s been a relatively long time since I’ve been to the Towers, over recent years I’ve become a little unenamoured with the place, in the cliched way in which we tend not to appreciate that which we have easy access to. I’d like to say it haruns deeper than that and that I’d find the place burdensome even on a foreign holiday, but this visit left me less sure about the whole thing.
Arriving in the car park at 9:30 is burdensome, particularly when the express parking is unavailable and the only options are a 20 minute walk to the entrance or an offensively long queue for a monorail. The walk hurts even more in that moment when you glimpse Nemesis through the trees and realise that it’s going to take you half an hour to get there on foot, although I did at least learn something new in that moment from a nearby guest – that was ‘The Air’ and Nemesis is actually black.
Nevertheless we reached Forbidden Valley in relatively high spirits to find a lovely short queue for Nemesis. It broke down almost instantly, but was promptly fixed and we got two laps in back to back including a visually stunning front row experience and a violently stunning ride towards the rear. Either it’s been far too long since I’ve actually ridden something properly good or it was running really well. Probably both. I’ve sorely missed the sensation of a coaster attempting to rip my feet off and it’s one of the main reasons this remains a top tier invert. My feelings remain the same though, I love it, but I’ve never found myself desperate to marathon the thing, like I would for so many other rides given the opportunity. Is that because I subconsciously know I can always come back? Is it because Nemesis is not excessively standout in the Alton Towers lineup? Or because it’s just not that type of experience? Deep philosophical questions.
The Air (Galactica) was almost walk on, so it felt rude not to round off the incohesive Forbidden Valley experience (garish travelling flat ride aside). I love the soundtrack for this thing and spent the walk moaning like an audiophile about how their sound system wasn’t doing it any justice. The ride itself managed to be even more excessively meandering than I remember and it’s one of the main reasons this remains a bottom tier flyer. Fun though.
I’m attempting to be (relatively) positive today, so I won’t mention the jarringly tacky elements of the recent Duel overhaul. Instead here’s two points of interest before I move on.
For the benefit of disabled friendly access, Duel’s queue no longer has the wonky floor.
The staff were making a particularly big fuss over filming and photography on the ride via the PA, even bringing the system to a halt (bonus points for spamming the reaper’s eyes during this).
We then made the biggest mistake of the day and entered the Rita queueline for an advertised 45 minute wait (by this stage, one of the shortest in the park). Through some sluggish operations and a poorly timed breakdown as soon as we were tantalisingly close, it took 2 hours.
I don’t even like Rita.
I did manage to find that elusive mild airtime in the back row though.
During that time the app was being useless and wouldn’t let us book any food, so we rocked up to the nearby woodcutters place and were seated almost immediately only to find out, via having to then order the food on the app anyway, it would take an hour for them to cook a bit of chicken and chips. So that was half of the operating day gone.
Football based fortune began to favour us though. We had inadvertently ended up visiting on Euro cup final day, in which England happened to be participating. The crowds began to very noticeably disperse throughout the afternoon, in order to get home and watch it.
So it was over to Smiler, down to a humble half hour wait. It’s quite often running four trains these days and as such the two train duelling aspect of the coaster has become a rather consistent spectacle, one that I absolutely love to behold, ride interaction is just the best. I’m already a low key Smiler fan as it’s just so gloriously intense and silly, but this took it to another level – egging the trains on up each lift hill, hoping for that perfect timing, watching the rival train dance around you through the million inversions. I would have declared it the best ride of the day had it not attempted to detach my retina in those notorious final moments.
Don’t worry, there’s still time for a new worst ride of the day on the Wicker Man. I know the preshow is potentially boring on rerides (though who manages rerides at this place?), but I was sad to see it out of action. It used to be the best part for me.
Hold up. When did this lad get a bit rough and ready? He’s developed a bit of character, he tried to shake me up a bit. There was movement, there was motion, there was feeling. I… kinda liked it.
Watch out Wildcat, this thing might not be the worst GCI in the world any more.
We’d booked a slot to check out the Alton Towers Dungeon in the late afternoon and our time had now come. They currently allow for up to 4 groups per 15 minute interval, each designated their own spot on the floor of each room for spacing reasons. We were one of only 2 groups for the tour in the end and ended up being dubbed the Rotten Rascals, though I rather had my hopes set on being an Ugly Peasant.
I’ve previously done and enjoyed both the original London and Warwick Castle Dungeon, along with the new London one, which is meh. As such, basically everything that was on offer here is a rerun of scenes I’d seen before, usually with some local twist in the wording. Rooms like the courthouse, in which you get shouted at and humiliated, and the torture chamber, in which you get shouted at and humiliated, lost their impact somewhat with lack of a good crowd.
Two words come to mind for the ex-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory boat ride and they are ‘grim’ and ‘sparse’. It was weird to recognise parts of the layout and think that this used to be chocolate, now it’s a bloke hanging from his wrists and being sliced in half by a two-man cross-cut saw.
The twist on the pub scene was that it’s Dick Turpin instead of Jack the Ripper. It also used some elements of Sweeney Todd for a bit of ASMR in the dark, air cannons to the neck and a collapsing seat. Probably the most interesting one for me.
I thought the whole experience was paced quite well considering it’s part of a theme park and doesn’t want to eat up too much of your (overly short) day. It’s worth a shot if you’re into that kind of thing and haven’t done too many others in the brand before. It could probably do with an Extremis drop tower though, at the risk of rendering the dormant Nemesis Sub Terra more irrelevant.
The gameplan devised over lunch was working out nicely now, as the park was a ghost town. We walked straight into Hex, as should always be the case. The music was turned down a bit low and there’s more ambient light in the preshows these days, but it’s still the best madhouse in the business.
Jogged round to Thirteen to get a token lap in. It was so quiet they were having to wait for thirteen guests to despatch each train. There were two dummies in the back row of each train and if they’ve done that specifically to make it that requirement, then well done. Still a blast of a ride to me, if you can look past the comedically trimmed first drop.
Of course we hadn’t forgot about Gangsta Granny, the one and only real reason for the visit. With the worst queues all day and a capacity to match that of the former Wobble World bouncy castle, making it the last item on the agenda was a stroke of genius as we walked straight on to it, twice.
The queueline is are rather quaint, though clearly not designed to take the star attraction level crowds it currently receives. Once it settles in and stops being the ‘new thing’ (and when Covid goes away) I’m sure it’ll do just nicely. I liked some of the pictures on the wall, most notably the 15th Earl of Shrewsbury, though they haven’t quite captured his legendary scowl at the Ugly Peasant. There are a couple of repeats of these throughout the attraction, which is less than ideal.
Expectations were low for the ride and they were easily exceeded. It’s actually really well done, with a solid range of scene styles, a great use of the very limited space by means of various subtle sensations of movement to keep it dynamic and some amusing extra details to give it that rerideability factor. It has that charm that all dark rides deserve and I can see it becoming a staple for any future visit.
And so ends the day, it was time to go home, even though football wasn’t going to join us there. One more long trudge back to the car park – the monorail somehow had the worse queue we’ve ever seen, so I’m assuming most of those who left early, making it nice and quiet on park, missed the match anyway (and may still be queuing to this day).
It was fun, one of the better days I’ve had at Alton in a good while, but I don’t see myself increasing the frequency of my visits any time soon. All the signs are still there for it to go wrong and really we just got lucky with certain things (football), unlucky with others (Rita) and familiarity (knowing your way around a gameplan and what constitutes a skip the monorail queue) is obviously still a requirement for the most rewarding day out.
Talking of gameplans, I think this long overdue USA trip is well and truly stuffed for yet another year. I feel another Eurodemption coming…