This weekend we took a short trip down to Alton Towers, the UK’s busiest theme park, which opened in 1980.
Merlin Entertainments flagship resort in 2013 introduces a “The Smiler” a rollercoaster with 14 inversion, making it a world’s “first”. Sadly on our visit this ride was out of action due to a bolt falling off about 2 hours after we entered the park. It didn’t open back up on our two days there and instead had a crane in place working on the track. Glad to report, no-one was hurt.
However as a first trip in a good many years, I was taken back by the similarity to Disneyland Paris, and other Disney Parks in general…
Alton Towers is built on the site of an old historic castle and its grounds. In the middle of the grounds is the “Alton Towers”, a very old, under developed castle with a ton of original features in place. Sadly Merlin don’t see its renovation as worth much effort, as its been being restored for nearly 15 years now. However this castle feature prominently on Alton Towers adverts, logos, and sits right in the centre of the park.
So you walk through the gates after enduring nothing but hell to actually get a ticket. We booked online a month in advance, they requested we picked up our tickets [45 minute wait], to find out to get in, it’s a barcode scanner, the barcode could EASILY have been printed on the email. Saving us time, them labor costs, and reducing a lot of mucking around.
The street you enter into is much wider than main street, and a lot less themed. However the theming it does have? It isn’t old British looking. Nope its an American Main Street style. Down both sides you have the Alton Towers shops, leading you into the park. In the hall of the mountain kings is the only song that plays day long, catchy but repetitive very fast.
Over the years they’ve added some effects, such as names to the shop windows, flag poles, and updated the fronts to resemble an out of time town centre. Seeming very similar, and done cheaper than our dear Disney.
Every section of Alton Towers has a theme, however the map shows great theming, and every land has a themed entrance, but they all suffer from the same thing. The theme is an after thought.
Lets look at the dark forest, it has a “evil in the woods” ride (Th13teen), which is perfectly themed for the area. It also has a “queen of speed”, which has no real theme, other than its about to get fast, not very dark. The dark forest also happens to have a brick floor, like every other land in the park, from Pirates, to X-Sector to the Dark Forest.
Nemesis exists in the “Forbidden Valley” and has an alien theme, its sister also has the same, however they whammed Air into this area, its about feeling airy and free. It’s also baby blue in colour, again not very “Forbidden”.
Fascination with overusing nuclear symbols park wide, when in doubt, the ride is a result of a nuclear spill. Avoids complex story telling.
Oblivion in X-Sector could be about a government project, underground, testing, anything, but instead they take the theming they have, chuck some grandiose words out on a TV spiel and call themselves done. More brick paving.
I only feel so passionately here because its very evident they want great immersive lands like a Disney Park, however they do the absolute minimal story background and move on. Usually to quickly build more stalls to throw balls, and try and claw up some teddy bears.
None during the year, then a three day show in November, on the same dates as Disneyland Paris none the less. You will hear about this event non-stop while you are in the park. Most posters, audio tracks, monorails, tickets talk about this event. It again seems too similar to call it a nighttime spectacular. In English we were gifted with multiple words that could be used rather than spectacular, some even better, but nope they’ve copied.
No comparison to anything Disney. The food onsite is absolutely terrible and lacks in any choice. It’s all mass made and rapidly served. Oddly they’ve got some unbranded deal as “The Burger Kitchen” is a McDonald’s, same chairs, same decor, same light bulbs, same food claims “100% beef, Only chicken breast, Bean to Cup coffee” and they happen to use American equipment, surprising since the UK has similar comparisons, and Europe houses its own large catering equipment brands.
The chicken thing IS a KFC, it just doesn’t say it is. Everything apart from the cups and bags are directly from KFC. The Pizza Place? Its a pizza hut for sure. All unbranded, or absolutely meticulously copied.
Same parking system as Disney, with the slight twist you pay on the way out, they have about 6 ticket machines sadly which again causes really painful queues.
The walk to the park from the car park is miserable and teases you with nothing, it’s barely a real path.
Shame really, because it could be made better and mood enhancing quite easy. They actively discourage you from using the monorail at opening and closing time which is a ton more “magical”.
It could be my imagination running wild but I felt there was a lot of copying going on. They’ve almost tried to introduce story to each area, but never quite done it right. They’ve tried to take some memorable places like Main Street and have a great opening line, but again missed the fine attention to detail and time. The castle could be a focal point and be a full attraction in itself, it just isn’t on the cards. Take “Hex” for example, a story about a chained up tree in the castle courtyard, millions spent on this ride, they didn’t bother to chain up a tree, shaved possibly £50 of the total price of the attraction, people would probably queue to have their photo taken at the tree.
Despite the tone of this article, I enjoyed my visit, relatively crowd free for a Sunday. Alton Towers like to be the first to try new technology and push rollercoasters forward. It’s a very nice weekend away that has a lot of fun for everyone, its absolutely massive grounds shield you from the outside world well, it just lacks some of what we like to call “Magic”.
Ps. The Share a Coke team were onsite on the Sunday allowing you to get your own name printed a on a free bottle of coke. Pretty snazzy.