England Theme Parks / Zoos National
Nickelodeon Land (Blackpool)
My friend and I took our kids aged 9 and 12 to Nickelodeon Land and the Pleasure Beach and we had a fantastic day....it kept us busy all day and we were thoroughly exhausted when we came out!! Our favourite rides were the Nickelodeon Streak which is the old Roller Coaster for those who remember the original!! It was ... great..both kids loved it and it was not too scary for the 9 year old and suitably hedonistic for the 12 year old!! We also loved Avatar which is a ride that spins round and then runs up and down a track whilst spinning...you sit on the outside so it is not for the faint hearted!! Our kids loved it but I would not recommend that particular ride for under 9s
We paid with clubcard vouchers and it cost us about £8 of those each....it would have been nearly £100 for the 4 of us if we had paid cash which we felt was really expensive....if you don't have clubcard vouchers you can get a Blackpool pass which lets you in to about 10 attractions including this one for about £70 which I would strongly recommend.
The downside was that there were not enough grown up rides for our 2 in Nickelodeon Land so we were glad that our passes covered us for the Pleasure Beach too...between the two parks there was more than enough for all of us to do. The inevitable queues are always a nuisance and you can buy fast passes but I wouldn't bother...we only queued between 5 and 25 minutes for any ride. The food is quite overpriced too so if you can take your own then I would advise it or get a stamp and pop out for food along the Golden Mile
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Myself and my boyfriend visited London Zoo in June this year. I visited London Zoo once before but I was only about five years old and don't remember it that well. Being a massive animal's lover, it was a trip I was very much looking forward to. Getting There London Zoo is actually located within Regents Park in London ... which is bizarre because walking through Regents Park itself, you would never believe that there is an entire Zoo hidden away inside the grounds. We found getting there very easy; we took the tube to Regents Park station and then simply walked through the park to the entrance of the zoo.
There are two different prices for entering the zoo. One amount is charged during peak season and another amount at mid season. For details of mid and peak season, please see the London Zoo website. You also have to option to contribute an optional donation in your admission fee so this affects the price also. The entrance costs are as follows;
Mid season (without optional donation): Adult - £17.20, Child - £13.70, Concession - £15.70 and under 3's go free.
Mid season (with donation): Adult - £19.00, Child - £15.50, Concession - £17.50 and under 3's go free.
Peak season (without optional donation): £18.00, Child - £14.20, Concession - £16.30 and under 3's go free.
Peak season (with donation): Adult - £19.80, Child - £16.00, Concession - £18.30 and under 3's go free.
There are also many special offers you can take advantage of. For example, you can take the train to London and then benefit from 2 for 1 entry on the most popular attractions in London, including the zoo. If you book online, you can take advantage of a 10 % discount and finally, you can use Tesco Clubcard vouchers to pay for your trip. We had loads of Tesco Clubcard vouchers that were due to expire so we used these vouchers to pay for your entrance.
Until 5th September the park is open 10am to 6pm, from 6th September until 30th of October the park is open 10am until 5.30pm, from 31st October to 7th of November the park is open 10am until 4.30pm and finally from 8th of November until early 2011 the park is open from 10am until 4pm.
Getting Into The Park
We arrived at the zoo at around 11am (the zoo opened at 10am the day we visited). Upon getting to the entrance there was a rather large queue which filtered halfway up the road. We joined the end and waited to see how long it would take. To our surprise, the queue went down very quickly and within ten minutes we were called over to a ticket booth to pay. We gave the lady behind the desk our clubcard vouchers which we had previously exchanged for vouchers for the zoo. She quickly processed these and then informed us that we could buy an information book about the zoo for £5 and that £5 went directly towards the work they did at the zoo. We took this offer and found the booklet to be very useful during our visit.
I am not going to bore you with the details of every single animal we saw during our visit. Instead I will just talk about the main highlights for me and the things I particularly enjoyed during my visit. The animals are broken down into the following section;
There are literally hundreds of mammals to see inside the zoo. Animals such as Giraffes, Lions, Gorilla's, Sumatran Tiger's, Meerkats, Lemurs and Hippos as well as various types of primates can be seen here and that's just to name a few. Although the animals are broken down into sections, they are not actually designed in sections so as you walk around you may see a mammal enclosure followed by an animal from the Bird section. There are also various exhibits within the zoo which include animals from each of the sections I will outline.
All the mammal enclosures were exceptionally clean and large. One thing I particularly liked was that every enclosure had an area that you could not see which allowed the animals to have time away from prying eyes. This also meant that you might not always see every animal but to me, the animals well being is more important than whether I manage to catch a glimpse of them. Having said that, we saw pretty much every animal in the mammal section with no problems.
My favourites from the mammal section included the Gorillas. They had a humongous enclosure which had an indoor as well as an outdoor section. The indoor section had a climbing frame and play area for them and you could view then interacting with one another through huge glass panels. Volunteers walk the grounds of the zoo throughout the day providing you with information about the animals and one of the volunteers near the Gorilla section spoke to us for a while about the Gorillas and told us that the one we were watching was pregnant and that's why she has chosen to sit indoors and chill out away from the sunshine. The other section of the Gorilla enclosure was outdoors and consisted of trees and big grassy banks for the Gorillas to enjoy roaming time. Half of the enclosure is surrounded by a small river and certainly makes for a very beautiful setting from which to watch the Gorilla's.
I also really enjoyed the Otter enclosure. Partly because I adore otters but mainly because their enclosure was lovely. Again very big and about as close to their natural environment as you can get. They had a massive pond with lots of grassy banks surrounding it. Within the pond there was a raised area which had water running from the top which sort of acted like a waterslide for the Otters to play on. We enjoyed a good ten minutes of watching the Otters play on this as well as grooming each other and eating their food (which consisted of dead rats).
Meerkats are another favourite of mine simply because I think they are so interesting to watch. Their enclosure was large and low down meaning that in order to see them; you had to stand a look over the top of their enclosure. There were glass panels around the outside of the enclosure to enable children and people in wheelchairs to still be able to see into the enclosure. One of the highlights of our visit for me was seeing the baby Meerkats; there were absolutely tiny but already so independent, playing amongst themselves and digging great big holes all over the place!
I must also mention the various types of primates such as the squirrel monkeys, ring tailed lemurs, white cheeked gibbons and the golden lion tamarins to name a few. The enclosures were full of high branches, ropes and swings for the monkeys to amuse themselves with and boy did they! We spent a lot of time just stood watching the monkeys flying across their enclosure and using the various items within in, swinging from the branches or just sat on one of the platforms grooming each other.
Lastly, I enjoyed the Tigers, Lion and Servals (which are cat like). Their enclosures were massive and they had plenty of areas where they could hide away from the visitors which I believe it vital for a healthy zoo animal. Although these animals are considered shy, we managed to see all of them, even if it did mean hanging around the enclosure and really having to look hard to see the bright orange coat of the Tiger as he lay in the grass.
The birds are housed in various sections across the zoo depending on what sort of habitat they require. For example, certain birds such as the Penguins, Vultures, Flamingos and Pelicans are housed with plenty of water so they are able to swim but birds such as the Macaws and Hornbills are housed in massive aviaries.
Penguins are another animal I enjoy watching and although I enjoyed the Penguin enclosure I did feel that it was tucked away in a corner when I feel that this is one of the main attractions. The penguins had a large swimming area as well as lots of banks all around for them to stand on land when they wished to. The viewing area is raised over the top of the enclosure meaning you can get really good views of the penguins and watch them going about their daily routines. You can see them swimming from the top of the water but sadly, you cannot see them under the water.
The Vultures are just inside the main entrance and have huge enclosures with lots of overturned branches on the floor. Most of the vultures were sat on top of one of these branches and one even decided to splay out his wings and walk around in a slow circle which was amazing as you it enabled us to get a sense of just how big these birds are. You could also see the vultures eating, pinning the dead rats down with their massive talons and then ripping them apart with their beaks.
I enjoyed seeing the Macaws, Hornbills and various types of Owls too. The enclosures varied depending on the birds. For example, the Macaws and Hornbills had lots of free flying areas so they could stretch their wings as they would do in the wild but birds such as they owls had lots of bushy areas within the aviaries which means they can roost and hide away from visitors. The owls also had indoors sections right at the back of their enclosures with perches inside so they can have darkness as they would do in the wild.
Overall I enjoyed all the bird sections at the zoo and I felt that each species had been catered to, ensuring that they had as near to natural environments as possible.
I really enjoyed this section and thought that it was very educational with loads of signs up explaining the weird and wonderful facts of each little critter. Animals that can be seen in the invertebrates section include Hissing Cockroaches, various types of Jellyfish, Bird Eating Spiders and Leaf Cutting Ants.
The invertebrates section in entirely indoors with the entrance being one end and then you follow the various exhibits round until you meet the exit.
I really enjoyed watching the leaf cutting ants and was surprised to see that part of the display was out in the open. The ants were housed in two tanks with a large branch joining the two. There were a variety of leaves placed in one tank which the ants were cutting out and walking back along the branch to the other tank which was quite clearly their nest. The ants were very large, probably about four times as big as the average ants we all get in our gardens. It was so interesting watching them cut sections of the leaf away and then marching it back across the branch to their nest. The branch is completely out in the open and although there is a barrier to stop you actually touching it, you can get up really close to the exhibit and watch each little ant.
I found the Bird Eating Spider interesting to look at as I have never seen one in the flesh before. It was much bigger than I expected and was housed in a clear tank which was very dark (he would naturally live in the dark).
Finally, I really enjoyed looking at the Jellyfish. They were obviously housed in aquariums but the aquariums had subtle lights behind them which changed colour every fifteen seconds or so making it look like the jellyfish were changing colour. They were really fascinating to watch because it is not an animal you would come across naturally very often and it was interesting to study them in detail without the fear of being stung.
Reptiles and Amphibians
This is another section that is quite educational and certainly very interesting. The majority of the reptiles and amphibians are housed in a purpose built walk through house which is in total darkness, although each individual tank is lit up.
I was surprised to see just how massive the tanks were, even the smaller lizards had so much room it was surprising they didn't get lost. Animals that can see seen here include Turtles, Bearded Dragons, Pythons, Cobras and Komodo Dragons.
Again, each enclosure had been carefully designed to cater for the animal housed inside. For example, the snakes had enclosures that were tall rather than wide with lots of branches for them to coil themselves over. Whereas the Komodo Dragon enclosure was really long and had fallen branches for them to bask on.
I enjoyed watching the Terrapins which had a large pond area too swim in, with a grassy area at the back. You could see them swimming and taking time out to sit on a rock and bask under their heat lamps.
I also enjoyed getting up close and personal to the Komodo Dragons as again this is an animals that you couldn't view in close up in the wild. I thought it was fascinating looking at the various patterns on their scales and the spikes running all along their backs.
There is a walk through Butterfly House which is exceptionally hot! You can literally see hundreds of different types of butterflies in here as they land on all the lush vegetation that surrounds you. There is a member of staff stationed in here to answer any questions and also to ensure that the visitors do not try and touch the butterflies. AT the ends of the walk through section there is a feeding area that all the butterflies are attracted to. You can stand here and really watch each type of butterfly as they come here to feed. Great photo opportunities to be had here! Also at the end are all the different types of cocoons, where the caterpillars turn into butterflies. I found this section very interesting because each cocoon is labelled and you are able to see the various sizes and which butterfly they are eventually going to turn out to be.
Goes without saying, this area obviously houses all the fish. The Aquarium is actually a very special feature of the zoo as it was the first aquarium to ever be opened in the whole world when it was opened back in 1853. Nowadays it is separated into three different halls and contains all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures. Hall one contains the animals that are currently involved in London Zoo's conservation projects. The fish in this hall are endangered and some are even classed as extinct in the wild so the work they do at London Zoo is vital.
Hall two contains Coral Reef Tanks which are very bright and beautiful. The coral reefs are almost as interesting as the fish. The tanks and huge and look exceptionally clean. Many various types of fish can see seen here including Banner Fish, Lion Fish and Butterfly Fish and of course the fish made famous by Finding Nemo - The Clown Fish!
Hall three contains the Amazonian tanks which house all the fish that would be found in the Amazon. Included in this section is the 'Flooded Rainforest' exhibit which is humongous and houses several stingrays. Other fish that can be seen here include the Lungfish and Piranhas.
Lastly, you can see into the Breeding section within the Aquarium which is very interesting and there are many signs around here explaining all the brilliant work that goes into this program.
I loved the Aquarium. I thought so much effort and thought had gone into creating each tank. I particularly liked the Amazonian section as you literally felt like you were walking around the Amazon Rainforest!
As I mentioned earlier in my review, there are various exhibits within the zoo which are specific to each type of animal. These exhibits include;
This exhibit is housed within a restored Victorian bird house. This is a walk through enclosure where you can see various tropical birds surrounded by tropical plants. There are little streams running throughout and even an indoor waterfall. This exhibit is very warm so you really do feel like you are walking through a tropical rainforest.
This exhibit is aimed at children and is designed to teach children about the animals housed at the zoo. It is a hands on exhibit where they can learn about the sights, sounds and smells of the animal world.
Asian Big Cats
This is the new exhibit for 2010 and is where you can learn about the fantastic conservation work that takes place at London Zoo. This exhibit is attached to the Big Cat enclosures so you can views the animals whilst learning interesting facts about the habitats and interesting figures such as how many are left in the wild.
Giants Of The Galapagos
This exhibit plays a massive part in the conservation work that happens at London Zoo. It houses the Galapagos Giant Tortoises which certainly live up to their names.
This exhibit allows you to encounter a Rainforest in the middle of London. You can see all kinds of animals that are native to the Rainforest including Armadillos, Monkey and my favourite - the Sloth. There is also a nocturnal section in here which is obviously in complete darkness and allows you to see all the animals that would usually only venture out at night time in the rainforest - a real privilege.
I mentioned this exhibit when I was talking about the Gorilla's earlier. You can learn interesting facts about the Gorillas when visiting this exhibit such as how much it cost to build their enclosure, the names of the Gorillas and interesting statistics about the Gorilla's.
The other exhibits are Butterfly Paradise, B.U.G.S and Penguins - all of which I talked about earlier.
Food And Drink
There are many places to sit down and have something to eat or drink. These include Oasis Restaurant, Oasis Coffee Bar, Pancake Shop, Animal Adventure Cafe, Fish N Chips, Oasis Picnic Shop and the Meerkats Kiosk. There are also various hot dog and ice cream carts dotted around the park so as you can see, you are literally spoilt for choice. Opening times for each of these are seasonal and do vary though.
We ate at the Oasis Restaurant where we had a wrap, a piece of cake and a smoothie. My one grumble was that prices were quite expensive but then they always tend to be in places like this so we kind of expected it. My smoothie was £3 and my piece of cake was £2.50 but they were very yummy!
In summary, I would highly recommend a day out here. I think that the admission costs are more than reasonable especially considering this is London and you can easily spend the entire day here. I thought the enclosures were all fantastically thought out, large and clean. I can't think of one area of the zoo that I disliked. The conservation work that happens here is vital to the animal kingdom and personally I think that if I can do even a little bit to help with this fantastic work then I will do. There are plenty of toilet facilities, the entire zoo caters for disabled people and there is plenty of choice when it comes to food and drink. If you are an animal lover and want a fantastic day out, at a good price then I would highly recommend a visit here.
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Alton Towers (Staffordshire)
===In the beginning=== When I was about ten, my family decided to go and visit relatives down in Manchester. A few bouts of car sickness later and I was fascinated with the surroundings. The trips down became a yearly thing that we all looked forward to partly because my great aunt was brilliant fun and partly because we'd ... always work in a trip to Alton Towers. The first couple of times I didn't actually go on any of the rides through being far too scared. Then I finally went on a smallish ride at a dinky little Scottish theme park and convinced myself that the "drop" I experienced on that thing was just about as high as the drop on the scariest ride in the park. Next time we went, my Mum and my Brother took great delight in my absolute terror as we chugged and clanked our way up the tracks of "Oblivion" I even got away with as much swearing as you've ever heard a 14 year old (at least 12 years ago that is). I was so utterly wrong about the drop being the same, but it did mean that I'd just cracked the worst ride in the park and therefore it'd be silly not to do the rest. And that's how my love affair with Alton towers began. The park is huge, so this review will be a long one.
For those of you who don't know, Alton towers is one of the biggest and most popular theme parks in the UK. They've earned that title through having some of the biggest thrill rides and constantly keeping up with the times by trying out new things. People who would enjoy the place the most would be thrill seekers, hands down. Children come next as there's a fair amount to keep the kiddies entertained here too. If you don't have kids and you don't like roller coasters then you'd more than likely be wasting your time and money coming here.
The park is huge and is built on the grounds (800 acres worth) around a listed 19th century gothic mansion which is partly in ruins and in recent years has been partly roped into helping provide chills for the visitors. One of the tamer rides "Hex" is built into the mansion, and at Halloween the park opens up scare mazes through the mansions with a couple of different creepy themes. You'll also find luscious gardens in a valley in the middle of the park, but if you are there for the rides, you probably won't get much time to explore these. I've been about 10 times now and I've still not been into the gardens. One day!!
As well as the theme park there are also two theme hotels that you can stay in. Splash landings hotel is a water park and hotel while the normal Alton Towers hotel has theme rooms based on some of the rides but you'll find yourself paying through the nose for most of the rooms in either. One other perk of staying at the hotels is that you get entry to the park before everyone else meaning you can get to the busy rides first and therefore to the front of the queue. This is also true if you are going to a concert in Alton Towers (I once went to see Pink at Alton Towers). As I'm not rich, I've never visited either of the hotels, instead I've just went with nearby hotels.
Alton Towers regularly do deals with newspapers to collect vouchers and get in for free or half price. If you are planning a trip, it would probably be worth being prepared well in advance so you can look out for some of these deals as it could really save you a tonne. Entry to the park is just under £35 for adults and £30 for children and could even be more if you go in peak periods. Family tickets can save your dosh coming in at £65 but none of these ticket prices include "fast track" tickets which enable you to get on rides quicker. If there's a big group of you going, these deals could really save you a tonne.
If you buy your park tickets along with a hotel booking via their website it can sometimes work out cheaper too, with two days in the park for 1 adult costing us only £40 last time we went.
As well as that, you can generally save a bit of money by going to the park two days in a row. When the park is at its busiest, you really need two days to make sure you get on everything you wanted to. When it's quiet you can simply take advantage and ride everything to your hearts content. Usually your second day has a more than 50% discount but you can get even more if you go for your first day and keep your parking ticket as they usually have an offer for £10 tickets if you come back the next day. What I'm saying is, keep your eyes open for deals otherwise the price can sting a little.
Unlike some other places, however, the ticket price will give you access to all the rides all day for free. The only extras you'll pay for are things like food, drinks, souvenirs and carnival style games that are dotted about the place.
Alton Towers is about a half hour drive from Stoke-on-trent which has no shortage of cheap hotels (some nicer than others for the price). It's in the middle of the English country side but is fairly well sign posted even from Stoke so you shouldn't have too much trouble getting there. There's a local bus service from Stoke that takes you straight to the park for fairly cheap but I don't know the ins and outs of it, but at least now you know it exists if you wish to look into it! It really depends on how far you're travelling and what you're comfy doing to get here. Up till this year, I'd always gotten a deal with my local coach company who would bus everyone down to the park overnight for a couple of days with bed and breakfast in stoke. This year, now that my gorgeous Fiancé has me into a real sleep pattern and my distaste for people has steadily grown, I decided I'd pack all my friends into the car and drive myself. My trusty sat-nav got me most of the way though I'd suggest looking for the signs for the car park when you get a bit closer. As the park is so huge, my sat-nav was just trying to get me to the post code which is actually the mansion inside the park. The car parks are quite a bit away from that so my sat-nav was going mental at me for not turning into the staff entrance.
The post code that will get you most of the way there is ST10 4DB though even the Alton Towers website asks you not to put it on the "shortest route" setting or you'll drive headfirst into a farm!
No matter how you spin it, there's a lot of walking and standing involved in a day at the towers. You can take quick shortcuts across the park via the Sky Ride stations around the park, but sometimes it's just as quick to walk thanks to the queues. Wheelchair access is fairly good with most of the paths being smooth though there are one or two steep hills you might worry about. Getting into the park can either be done by walking from the huge car park or heading towards the monorail station. I prefer to do it that way. You can buy tickets on the entrance or pick up pre ordered tickets there too. If you also pick up a parking ticket at the start of the day it'll save you waiting in line at the end of the day.
===For the kids===
People with kids will have to keep their wits about them here. If you have taught your kids how not to be spoiled little brats, you'll be fine. If you've got a tot who chucks a tantrum any time it sees something fuzzy, you may wish to bring a blanket to put over their heads till the calm down (well it works for budgies and dogs!).
For really young kids there's a story book themed area to the right when you walk in. You'll be greeted by a giant tree reading a story book and kicking about will be various statues of story book characters. There's also the Squirrel Nutty ride which is a little pedal car that takes you and your kid through the "tree tops" (all constructed of plastic) if your little legs can pedal. I don't see slightly older kids taking well to the quaintness of the area, but that's fine, there is more. If you're an adult you'll probably find this area reduces you to tears of boredom after about two minutes. We don't ever go in any more as we don't have any kids with us when we go.
If you travel to your left at the bottom of the main Plaza you'll enter the Pirate Themed area of the park called Mutiny Bay. This area has a really fun adventure playground for the kids and even some boats that can float around and shoot people with water cannons. This area also has a lot of carnival games like hook the duck and basketball which can all be avoided if you wish, as well as a good old fashioned teacups-esque ride with a pirate themed twist. You can even get dressed up like a pirate and have your photos taken or watch a live show in the little courtyard in this area. Recently they added Sharkbait Reef which is a little aquarium full of weird and wonderful sea life. I rather enjoyed my little wander around it and your kids probably will too. Walk a little further and you'll also find the log flumes at the far end of this area. The Flumes when we went were looking a bit run down and dirty. I've never really enjoyed them as you get absolutely soaked on them but some people love them. There's a bit of a drop so kids with a weaker stomach might not do too well on them.
As well as all the fun you can have in this area, I'd say without a doubt, this area is where you'll find the best selection of food in the park. From freshly made donuts to Mexican food (both of which I'd really recommend) and kebabs, back to British all of the food in this area smells fantastic and tastes great and it's not even too expensive. If you are on a tight budget you can obviously bring a packed lunch, but I'd definitely say some of the food here is worth your money.
===Katanga Canyon and Gloomy Wood===
Continue in this direction and you'll find Katanga Canyon which is an area with River Rapids and a Run-Away Train that the kids will love (the adults will probably really enjoy these rides too) and then a little further on in Gloomy Wood you'll find one attraction called Duel which is a haunted house with laser tag built into the trains (it used to just be a haunted house, then kids got bored with that kind of thing so they added the shooter aspect to it). All three of the rides are quite tame but also quite enjoyable. They also offer a seat for five minutes and if you want you can just chill out while the carts go round the tracks. Hardly the most thrilling, but quite nice after a long day of walking around. If you don't like the idea of handing your kids a laser tag gun, then avoid Duel but it's really rather cheesy inside so you'd be hard pushed to find it anything other than a bit of fun.
===Cloud Cuckoo Land===
As well as all of this, there's more fun to be had just behind the gothic mansion in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Head towards the house and go through the arches, you'll see "Hex" to the right hand side which bar being a little creepy (most kids won't be too scared) is completely suitable for children. It's also rather dull and totally skip-able if you don't want to waste your time on smaller rides. It's quite good for a seat if you're tired, but that's about it. Go straight ahead and you'll find a Charlie and the Chocolate factory ride which is great for kids though I found it a bit sickening due to a certain part in an elevator with a video screen on the floor (it's not actually scary at all, I just hate elevators in any context) and a little Alton Towers version of Disney's "small world" tunnel-of-weird-puppets-and-a-boat ride which is great fun for the kids but a little bizarre for adults.
===For the Thrill Seekers===
If you have managed to ditch your kids or like me you haven't taken the time to impregnate someone yet (One day Allan will carry my child I swear it) then you'll probably be here just for the Big Scary Awesome Roller coasters and rides. And who would blame you?? Not me! Firstly let me advise that you should really bring clothes with zip pockets, if you wear glasses, consider contacts for the day so you can see what's going on while on the ride. So, hold on to your hats and I'll take you through what you can expect!
Currently home to four rides, the X-sector is a sort of futuristic government facility under lock down, though the theme isn't played on too heavily anymore. The two smallest rides there are The Enterprise and Submission are rides that you could probably see at bigger travelling carnivals as their main attractions but are still quite a lot of fun.
Until Recently everything in the X-sector paled in comparison to Oblivion which was the worlds first vertical drop rollercoaster opening in 1998 which basically dangles you over the edge of a straight down drop and then lets you fall face first into a gaping hole in the ground. You can pretty much see the whole park from the top and according to a lot of the advertising at the time, on the drop you feel more G-force than an astronaut blasting off into space. (4.5 G's is the official measurement from Oblivion; 3.5 G's is typical for a shuttle blast off, though re-entry can be as extreme as 5.5 G's) I'd say it's the only ride in the park that still scares the absolute pants off of me and to this day is still the only one that people I've been with will refuse to go on. I find the experience entirely terrifying due to my fear of heights which this ride plays on heavily by making the climb really slow and then slowly turning you round to meet the drop before locking the cart above it. I've been on it about 8 times, but the last time I went on, I managed to pass out and ever since have decided to give it a miss. If you're a thrill seeker, this is definitely for you.
Opening in 2013, The Smiler is Alton's newest ride and is breaks records being the first ride in the world to contain 14 loops in the track. The ride is a little bit crazy and is split into two parts by a vertical climb in the middle and employs things like strobe lights, and sprays of water to really give you that little bit extra confusion while you're tumbling around it. I'd not say it looks terrifying (if you ignore that vertical climb) and overall it's a very fun ride. At the moment you'll find yourself queuing for a long time before you are able to get on it so while it's the newest attraction I'd recommend heading straight there first thing. If you don't you'll have a three hour wait ahead of you. This ride will also make you hit 4.5G's but the fact you're going round loops and tumbling in all directions means it doesn't feel like it hits you in the stomach the way Oblivion does. This ride really just leaves you smiling with only a few hundred swear words hurled out on the 30 meter vertical climb. I love it.
===The Forbidden Valley===
The Forbidden valley is to the far left hand side of the park and is themed around an alien invasion. Everything here is rusted, sharp and burnt out, some items have what looks to be muscle and sinew growing all over it and there are rivers of "blood" flowing around the place. It's quite a cool area and it holds another couple of the big rides!
This has been the main ride in the area since 1994 pulling an impressive 4 G's and was the first ever Inverted roller coaster in Europe which basically means rather than sitting on the tracks like a train, it dangles you below the track so your feet are free to swing around. The back-story was that an alien is supposed to be chasing you but it's not really played on at any point. It's a very comfy ride and you'll be put through 4 loops. It feels quite fast, though isn't the fastest in the park, but it's a great feel good ride that I'd imagine most people will be able to handle with ease. The only thing I would say is make sure you're wearing tight shoes or take them off and put them in the lockers before you go on this one as it could make your feet come flying off with some of the sharp turns.
Is a newer ride in the area which is all underground. This ride plays on the back-story from the nemesis as you get a tour through a military facility defending earth from aliens and doing scientific research. While you're being shown around something goes terribly wrong, and aliens escape, the lights go out and the carts plunge 20ft straight down. This ride terrifies me simply because it's a "drop tower" ride that plays into my fear of elevators (yes, I know, I'm crazy).
This was the world's first "flying" rollercoaster. Similar to Nemesis in that it's inverted however just before the carts pull out of the station, your seat goes from hanging vertically to hanging horizontally. Your new position is somewhat like superman, hence the "flying" part. You'll still be thrown round a few loops like you're peter pan on speed, but it's not entirely uncomfortable. In fact it's probably the comfiest ride in the park due to the padding that you are suspended in. Allan freaked out a little as he didn't feel like he was very safe in it, but I really don't know why. The G's aren't packing any punches on this one coming in at 3.2G's but the experience of "flying" makes it a really enjoyable ride. Due to the fact you are really close to the tracks they can squeeze you through a few tighter spaces than usual, so there are also a few thrills from speeding by hillsides and various other bits of the park and queues very close up. Great stuff
This is one of my favourite rides to watch as it's controlled by a person in a booth so it's a little different each time. You're in a long carriage set between two arms. The carriage spins round so you'll be doing forward rolls, meanwhile the arms also swing you round in huge circles. To add an element of fun, the whole ride is over a pond with giant fountains that operate at the whim of the controller. The carriage can also lock in any position so sometimes you'll find yourself being spun round upside down, other times you'll find yourself coming face to face with the fountains. If you're really unlucky you'll even get put face first into them. The G's aren't too terrible coming in at 2.3 but all of the spinning and hanging upside down is enough to really mess with your head. It's great fun and I absolutely love the ride. On cold days, you're less likely to get wet too.
This is the tamest ride in the area being a rocking boat ride. It lets you experience zero gravity momentarily and if you sit as far back at either side as you can, you'll get a much better experience as you'll drop further each time The Blade swings. Even though it's the tamest ride (and therefore completely suitable for kids) it does give me that horrible feeling in my stomach that you get when you go over dips in the car or indeed when you're on a swing and looking straight down. I don't enjoy it a lot, but it's an easy ride to get on and keeps the adrenaline flowing.
===The Dark Forrest===
This is an area that's been through extensive changes recently with the addition of a newer ride. This area used to be cave-man themed and was called Ugg land, since then, the dinosaurs have been removed and everything has been gothed up with a much darker feel to the place. You'll find two fantastic rides in this area.
Originally dubbed Rita: Queen of Speed Rita was based on drag racing. The original advertising for this ride featured a carriage full of Drag Queens being shot round the track. Now it's gothed up a bit and more themed towards escaping the evil within The Dark Forrest as quickly as you can. Either way, it pulls the most G's in the park at 4.7G's and all within the first second or two of the ride. You'll be shot off from standing still to 62mph in 2.5 seconds and my, what a rush. It's like taking the gut wrenching feeling you get from Oblivion, making it stronger and then telling it to do nice things to you. This one really tickles your brain in all the right places with the rest of the ride being fairly easy going as your carts go round the track in an effort to slow down! One of the best rides in the park.
This ride is great at building up a bit of fear. It's almost like a haunted house but with a rollercoaster at the end of it. The ride pulls out 3.2 G's and 20 meter drops to give you a tonne of thrills before pulling in to a dark and gloomy tower where some very scary things happen. I don't want to ruin the surprises for you so you'll just have to get in there to experience it, but it's definitely up there with the best rides despite not pulling too many G's out on you.
===And on its own===
Last of the bigish rides is Sonic Pinball (originally the spinball whizzer) based around (you guessed it) a game of Pinball with Sonic the hedgehog branding all over it. Your cart spins around as it goes round the track and it's gravity that decides so every ride will be different. This ride is all on its lonesome between the story book area and the X-Sector and is never usually too busy. It pulls 3G's and is classed as a family rollercoaster so as such it's not the wildest in the park, but it's still worth a pop if you have time. I'd not feel particularly bad if you miss out on it though.
===Shop till you realise you can Drop===
Every ride ends with a trip through a souvenir shop and most have a photo taken while on the ride. If you want you can ask to pick up anything you buy at the main shop at the end of the day, although the photos are really the only thing you'd need to buy in the gift shops as the main shop stocks all the items from all the shops over the park. It's also a great thing to be able to tell the kids to help them forget about all the cool things in the shops. If you want to treat them to something at the end of the day, the shop will have everything and comes with the added benefit of being so packed that the kids might not notice or remember what they've asked for all day. Result.
This is the major downside of the park, especially if you go at a peak time of year or for one of the main events like Scare Fest. Queue times for all the good rides are usually between 1 to 2 hours with the newest ride that year peaking at 3 hours. The queues are a nightmare especially if you're having an adrenaline crash. If you are sensible plan to go at a time when the schools aren't off and there's not a big event on. There's also a very specific way to get round the park that could save you a tonne of Queue time.
Firstly you have to go straight to the newest ride (if it's a roller coaster). If not you'll get stuck in a giant queue instead of a slightly long queue. Right now you need to hit the Smiler first. After that you're best to go get Thirteen done and then Rita. Rita gets more people round quicker but the queue will only get bigger for Thirteen the longer you wait. Once you're done with those two make your way to The Forbidden valley and do everything there. Oblivion no longer has massive waiting times all the time, mostly because people are so scared of it so, if you are close, jump on it. If not, come back to it when you feel ready. The Forbidden valley is quietest first thing in the morning and last thing at night, but you'll be sacrificing getting on the newest ride if you let queues build up. Mostly though, you really should always try and hit the park for two days running to make sure you have enough time to get on everything you want to do.
One other downside of the park is that occasionally the rides have to shut down. On our most recent visit, the first day was fine but the second day, nearly every ride we queued for broke down before we got to the front. At that point you can either walk all the way out of the queue or wait and see if it'll come back on. It's a total gamble and sometimes you'll win, sometimes you'll lose. Our second day left us having not been on a rollercoaster till 5pm after having been there from 9.30am. It was horrific. The only saving grace is that when the rides shut down completely, if you are smart enough to find a staff member, they'll generally give you a sneaky fast track ticket (which gets you pretty much to the front of the queue once the ride is back on).
As such, we waited 2 hours for Smiler before it broke down and closed, stuck it out in the 13 queue which broke down three times before we got to the front of the queue, got onto Rita, went to go to Hex which promptly broke down and we left for a scare maze we had tickets booked for. After that, because it was scare fest and the park was open late, we went to Smiler. In the dark. And got right to the front within 5 minutes. Oh. My. God. So, the rides might break down, but sometimes it'll be worth it.
===Food and Drink===
As mentioned before most of the food and drink is in Mutiny Bay but there are little stalls and restaurants dotted throughout the park. One thing they do which is quite good value is a refillable cup for about a fiver. You can fill this up for free for the rest of the day at any of the refill stations over the park. If you're sharing one with someone it's even better value and if you're walking, you'll probably want to keep hydrated. As well as this you can get a hot drinks refill cup for £7 that'll get you free tea coffee or hot chocolate for your day. Always a good idea!
===A good plan: Hints and tips===
So, that's what you'll find in Alton Towers. Here's a quick run down of some hints and tips for your visit:
Go for at least two days
Go during a quiet period if you can
Look out for vouchers and ticket discounts
Get your parking ticket at the start of the day
Wear tight shoes
Wear Jackets with zip pockets
Wear contacts instead of glasses if you can
Get juice refill cups
Go to the newest ride first then the dark forest, then forbidden valley.
Ask for fast tracks if the rides shut
Pick up souvenirs in the main shop at the end of the day.
Hotel guests get in early, same if you're seeing a concert.
The place is huge and is probably the best theme park the UK has to offer. Admittedly, it's a total nightmare when it's busy so I'd heavily recommend avoiding the main events and peak periods if you can. When the park is quiet, however, it's heavenly. You can usually get on most rides within half an hour if you time your visit right. Tickets are a little expensive but it really is a trip you probably won't forget if you enjoy roller coasters. I really do love the place, but I'll have to take a star off for the queue times, rides breaking down etc. Mostly everyone will enjoy the place and if you've never been, you need to sort that! Just make sure you plan well!
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