Having not been to Alton Towers since 2010, I thought I was long overdue another visit. With the introduction of The Smiler it seemed the perfect time to go, and drag my Mum and brother along too.
We arrived in the car parks at around 9.20am after a pretty straight forward hour and a half trip. After parking we walked the short distance to the park entrance. There weren't really any queues for the ticket booths which meant we got through and to the turnstiles within 5 minutes - a great start!
Entering the park I realised just how impressive that first view of the Towers is as you walk up Towers Street, it's those kind of moments that make you fully realise you are actually there and about to experience a great day! My brother insisted on doing The Smiler first, so we headed over towards the X-Sector where a queue of regular ticket holders had built up in anticipation of park opening at 10am. This meant we could just take the time to admire the views of the Towers and Lakes, as well as feed the fish and ducks with free boxes of Krave cereal that were handed out. Five minutes later we were let and, and pretty much the entire queue headed towards The Smiler! Luckily we weren't worried about staying together so decided to do single rider.
As we entered X-Sector the sheer amount of track on The Smiler was enough to dominate the area. Add to that the Marmaliser screens and the music blaring out and it almost feels like it draws you in! It was pretty impressive walking underneath the track, through the pit as we entered the queue. The single rider queue was just at the door to the building which didn't seem too bad. We did, however, start to get slightly worried as by 10.10am we had only seen two cars with dummies go round (both of which I watched thinking 'please don't stall!'). It wasn't until 10.20am that the first car full of guests went around the track. Once guests started moving through the single rider queue was very quick and all of us were on ride in 20mins. All the time whilst waiting my anticipation was building, especially after everything I have read in the forum. I managed to get second row on my car and looked forward to the ride. I will put a more detailed review in The Smiler forum, but the ride was incredibly smooth, although I only really noticed the Flasher and Inoculator out of the five effects. I got off with my adrenaline pumping and immediately wanted to do it all again (although that may have been partly due to the fact it was my first coaster ride in 3 years). Unfortunately my Mum didn't like it so much.
After The Smiler we headed over to Dark Forest. The one coaster both my Mum and brother really wanted to do was Rita so we wanted to do it before the queues got to big. We managed to get on within about 25 minutes, which for Rita is pretty good. The ride was as good as ever - the fast launch, the rush around the track before finally slowing down back into the station. My Mum even said at the end of the day that it was her favourite ride. For me, Rita somehow doesn't quite fit in with the Dark Forest theme, even with the 'You must escape' audio and scaffolding. Even so, it still doesn't take away from the experience.
Next up was Th13teen for which we again did single rider. It was nice to see the majority of the theming still in place since my last visit. Neither my brother or my mum had been on Th13teen before and I deliberately didn't tell them about the secret element. They got on thinking it was just a regular coaster with a specific theme. They didn't have clue until they entered the crypt that it was anything else. My brother looked a little shocked, and my mum let out a scream as [spoiler]the track dropped and the train went backwards for the final part of the ride[/spoiler] Luckily they saw the funny side and enjoyed the ride.
By this point it was only 12pm and we had already done three big rides. A quick check of queue times and we took the sky ride to Forbidden Valley. Riding over the gardens made me realise just how beautiful the grounds are and how it is nice to stop in between the rides to take them in.
Arriving at Forbidden Valley we decided to go to the far side and work our way back so that meant Air first. This had a 35 minute queue, which for Air isn't too bad, plus it was moving very quickly. The ride was as smooth as ever and for some reason felt more comfortable than previous rides I've had on it.
Nemesis next, an old favourite. I will say she is starting to look a little tired with a lot of the theming appearing to have been left to deteriorate, for example there was little dye in the waterfalls. Hopefully she'll get a good spruce up for her 20th birthday next year. My Mum was a bit apprehensive about this one so we stuck together. The ride itself was nice a smooth, but intense at the same time, just as it should be for Nemesis. Mum even cam off with a smile!
Woking our way up Sub-Terra was next. Unfortunately this was the low point of the visit. I found the performances unconvincing, and the whole experience under-whelming - not scary at all. It kind of reminded me of a low budget version of the old Alien ride at Magic Kingdom. It was a shame as it has potential to be so much more.
After a packed morning it was time for lunch for which we went to the Burger Kitchen in Mutiny Bay. The food was nice and fresh, pretty much what you would expect from any fast food burger place. There was plenty of seating and the cost was pretty reasonable for what it was.
Time for a change of pace and a wander around Sharkbait Reef. With all the rides it's easy to forget this tucked away to the side of Mutiny Bay. It was nice to wander through at our own pace admiring the range of sea creatures, from Sharks to Shrimps! Our particular favourite was a broccoli eating Stingray.
My brother really wanted to do the Runaway Mine Train so we headed up to Katanga Canyon to join the 35 minute queue. This was the only time we really had any issues with queuing. There were a lot of fast-track ticket holders which meant the main queue moved quite slowly. The operators also didn't seem to be as efficient as on other rides, there was a lot of personal conversations going on instead of interacting with guests. As for the ride itself, it seemed to be a lot slower than previous times I've ridden it. I don't know if this is in part due to the technical issues it had a few weeks back. There also seemed to be a number of effects missing, including the bell that rings on the second lap.
Once done on the Runaway Train we'd done everything we wanted to so decided to head back to The Smiler for a second ride. We joined the single rider queue again and were through in 40 minutes (compared to a 100 minute regular queue) which wasn't too bad. This time I got front row which only added to the experience. I did notice however that the smoke screen at the start had stopped working.
As it was now approaching 5:15 we had time for one last ride. Mum wanted to do Th13teen again, so it was back to Dark Forest for one last time. As it was so late in the day we were on Th13teen in just 15 minutes. All done it was time to hop on the skyride back to the entrance - a chance to enjoy the views one last time.
We left the park and this time caught the monorail having done so much walking through the day.
Overall a fantastic day that reminded me why I love Alton Towers so much. The mix of fun and thrills combined with the stunning setting of the Towers make it a great day out. I'll have to make sure I don't leave it another three years until I visit again!