Alton Towers in Staffordshire is the biggest theme park in the UK and has been pulling in the crowds with its innovative ways to get us to scream ever since launching in 1980 with the UK’s first double-corkscrew rollercoaster. Nearly 2-million visitors put their trust in the rides every year, and last week I was one of them.
Secret Garden Restaurant
We started our trip with an evening meal in the Secret Garden Restaurant at the Alton Towers Hotel. The décor here is great for kids (as it is in the whole hotel), but I was disappointed with the food. The pork belly was nowhere near as tender as I’d have hoped, but I was able to drown my disappointment in the Chocolate Brownie Sundae I had for dessert (from the kids’ menu). At just £3 this is an absolute bargain!
The breakfast here the next morning was great. Staff were extremely helpful and they’re happy to provide gluten-free sausages, toast and cereal. However, don’t leave it until you arrive to book your breakfast slot as availability will be limited – make sure to book in advance.
We ate here again the following evening and, although I enjoyed the seafood risotto, it took over an hour for our food to come. Thankfully they did take one meal off the bill, and were apologetic, but I think that the experience here is probably a bit hit-or-miss.
Enchanted Village Woodland Lodges
If you have younger kids, I’d recommend these rooms. In fact, I’d recommend them even without kids! There are fantastic little touches like a picnic rug painted on the floor in the separate kids’ room, and it seems that a little elf might also live in the lodge, with a tiny doorway and window on the wall in the main room. When he’s at home, you can often see a light on through the window. The main bed was one of the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced at a hotel, and if I had to describe the stay in one word it would be ‘peaceful’. Where we were, in Honeysuckle Hollow, it was extremely quiet. Just what you need before a fun-packed day at the theme park.
Download the app
I’d recommend downloading the app beforehand, especially if you’re planning on doing the Big 6 Challenge to get a free ticket to return in September. It also has live queue times to help you make the most of your time at the park.
Early park entry
Note that car parking is free if you stay at the resort (£6/day if not) and a quick monorail journey takes you from the accommodation to the park. If you stay, you’re also able to get entry into the park at 9am, an hour before other visitors. However, only a few rides are open at that time: Nemesis, Oblivion, Blade, Enterprise and some of CBeebies. If I did it again, I’d go earlier and queue for front seats on Nemesis. Instead, we arrived just before 10 and headed straight towards the X-Sector.
Smiler: costing a massive £18 million to build, the different sections of this ride have apparently been designed to make you smile and, with 14 loops, it has the most inversions of any rollercoaster worldwide. I have to admit, I missed any visual effects but, in terms of a rollercoaster, it was amazing. At the half-way point, you’re tilted backwards and are then put through turn after turn. This is one of the rollercoasters when, instead of being left wanting more, you’re wondering how many more turns it can possibly put you through.
Oblivion: ever fancied dropping 180 feet vertically? Then Oblivion is the place to go! For me, I’m always disappointed at how quickly this ride is over and feel slightly cheated, but it’s definitely one to tick off the list.
Spinball Whizzer: a rollercoaster with a difference. For me, this was the scariest ride of all, yet it’s not even in the Big 6. Not only is it a rollercoaster, but the cart turns as well. Going on this ride once was enough for me, and my stomach.
Hex: I’m a wimp when it comes to anything spooky, but if you’re the same don’t worry about going on any of the rides. If I can handle them, you can too! It is all about the ride more than spook. The one that’s probably the worst in terms of spook-factor is Hex, with the story building up the suspense of the ride. I didn’t understand the story all the way through, but it was still good, and the ride at the end is a bit of a mind-bender. However, the hardest bit of this ride is finding your way out afterwards!
Th13teen: I loved this ride! I think it’s good not to know what’s going to happen on it though, so I’m not going to tell you. All I will say is that it’s a rollercoaster with a twist. The only thing that would improve it is if it had another section at the end, so that you think it’s over but then get another shock. In fact, I’d be even happier if you got to go round again completely.
Rita: one of the Big 6, this starts by shooting you from 0-62 mph in just over 2 seconds. G-force or what!
Nemesis: this was Europe’s first inverted rollercoaster, where your legs dangle beneath you. I’d recommend queuing for longer to get at the front, otherwise you’re just looking at the chair in front the whole time, which ruins the experience.
Galactica: unfortunately, this virtual-reality rollercoaster remains closed after abnormal heat caused the ride to stall on the tracks last month (June 2017). If you’re doing the Big 6 Challenge, though, still go and scan the QR code near its entrance.
Duel: with no queue, this is a must-do. Pick up a laser gun and shoot at the green dots on the ghosts and ghouls along the way, trying to beat the score of the person you’re sharing a carriage with. We stayed on for another ride around, this time without shooting, in order to experience all of the bits we missed while concentrating on defending ourselves. If you can, try to do that too else you miss a lot.
Some rides were temporarily shut throughout the day while carts were added or taken away. This meant that we missed both the Runaway Mine Train and Congo River Rapids.
Visit the aquarium to see a variety of weird and wonderful fish and sharks. This is a must for the kids, with knowledgeable staff and shrimps that are happy to clean your hands.
Alton Towers isn’t just for the thrill-seekers. They have beautiful gardens for you to stroll around and relax in. Why not take a picnic and enjoy the peace?
I didn’t go on all the rides but there’s much more to see than what I’ve mentioned, such as the more family-friendly rides in Mutiny Bay and CBeebies Land. There are various levels of fast-track (FastRack) passes that you can buy, from £5 for certain solo rides to £95 for unlimited use all day. Failing that, you can always come back the next day for a tenner.
One of the best bits is looking at the photos after you get off the ride. I didn’t like the hard-sell from a couple of the places, but the rest of the staff all over the park were great and really helpful. Book a DigiPass in advance to save 20% (https://www.altontowers.com/theme-park/extras/digipass/#about).
In this fun restaurant, your food whizzes down on a rollercoaster track in the middle of a group of tables. It is more expensive than some of the other sites, but the food is good and staff friendly, even offering to run to one of the hotels to get a gluten-free bun because they’d run out.
Alton Towers Waterpark
If you stay on site, you get free entry to the waterpark. We left the theme park at 5 and headed to the waterpark for the last hour before it closed at 6pm. It’s well worth going to. Grab a ring and float around the lazy river, play with the inflatable balls or go on one of the flumes – it’s a great addition to the break and fun for all. You can hire a towel for £2 and will need 20p for the locker, and there are individual, double and family changing cubicles.
All in all, a stay at Alton Towers is an experience the family won’t forget. It is expensive, but there are various two-for-one offers throughout the year on park tickets and short-break special offers. Alton Towers is a great place to go to scream, rest and stay.