Rachel Herrity gets more than she bargained for as she makes a trip to Alton Towers Resort in the heart of the English countryside
When it comes to rollercoasters, no-one does it quite like Alton Towers.
The theme park has spent millions over the years making sure thrillseekers are well catered for and has achieved many world firsts along the way.
Oblivion was the world’s first coaster to have a vertical drop, Th13teen had the world’s first freefall drop and Nemesis, which dates back to 1994, is still ranked as one of the best coasters in the world after nearly 20 years.
So their latest acquisition, The Smiler, had a lot to live up to. The £18m attraction, which has a record-breaking 14 loops, plunging drops of 30 metres and a ride time of almost three minutes, promises to “marmalise the body and mind”.
We were keen to find out if the hype was to be believed.
It’s a few years since either of us visited the Alton Towers Resort and things have certainly changed a lot since then so to make sure we didn’t miss anything, we decided on an overnight stay at the Alton Towers Hotel.
After a few hours negotiating the M6 traffic in scorching weather, we were more than ready to check in and get to the park.
We received a very warm welcome at reception before heading to our room – and found we were suddenly transported into space!
Our room was one of the hotel’s new themed Moon Voyage rooms, modelled on a spaceship built by the fictional explorer Sir Algernon Alton to transport him and his passengers (that’s us) to far-off galaxies.
The décor and furnishings resembled control panels, compasses and steam-powered machinery and the purple and gold colour scheme gave it a suitably gothic feel. There were even little buttons and switches dotted about to amuse guests of all ages.
The rooms are perfect for families as each sleeps up to four people and there’s also a children’s chill out area with an Xbox console and games to keep the little ones amused when not in the theme parks.
There is also a waterpark in the neighbouring Splash Landings hotel which offers its own rollercoaster – the Master Blaster – water slides, pools of all shapes and sizes, and even a lazy river where you can relax whatever the weather.
However, impressive as it was, we couldn’t wait to get out and into the theme park – and luckily the resort’s handy free monorail stopped right outside Splash Landings Hotel and transported us there in less than five minutes.
The park is divided up into 13 themed areas with something to appeal to all ages. With a handy map at the ready, we decided on a nod to nostalgia for our first ride – The Flume – just outside the Mutiny Bay area.
An old favourite of mine, it first opened in 1981 and was once the longest log flume ride in the world – another first at the time – at 886m.
It was just as good as I remembered it but after a thorough soaking, we decided to go from the old to the new and headed straight over to the X Sector area where The Smiler awaited.
It certainly looked amazing with a winding yellow and black track that seemed to go on forever, twisting in every direction around a huge, spider-like creature in the centre.
This is apparently The Marmaliser, which promises to make you smile.
As we watched, a car filled with people who appeared to be screaming too much to smile, hurtled past. A catchy but unsettling nursery rhyme-like tune was being constantly replayed, adding to the weird psychological effect.
As is typical of Alton Towers in the summer months, the queues were huge and, unless you are happy to spend half your day playing the waiting game, it is well worth investing in a Fastrack pass.
Our Fastrack Gold allowed us to go on all the rides once without queueing.
So, after sailing past the crowds, we were soon strapped in and, after a voice announced “You are about to begin the correction process”, our record-breaking ride began.
And what a ride! We were thrown, spun, doused in water, and twisted every which way at more than 50mph.
It felt like the longest 165 seconds of my life and when it finally ended, I felt mentally and physically exhilarated and exhausted. And yes, I did have an insane smile on my face.
Both suitably marmalised, we needed a breather to recover but were soon back in thrillseeking mode.
Air, Th13teen, Sonic Spinball, the Congo River Rapids and Nemesis were particular favourites. I’m very proud to report that I even tried Oblivion, something I didn’t think I’d dare to do.
Finally, exhausted but happy, we caught the monorail back to the hotel where, after a quick freshen up, we were more than ready for a meal – and there were plenty of options available.
Guests can try the Emperor Grill, a speciality steak restaurant offering sumptuous meat, fish and vegetarian dishes; the Secret Garden restaurant which specialises in tasty burgers and brasserie-style food, and an “all-you-can-eat” buffet at Flambo’s Exotic Feast, just a short walk away in Splash Landings Hotel next door.
After much thought, we decided on the buffet option and, with an impressive choice available for all three courses, deals on drinks and very friendly service, we didn’t regret it.
There’s plenty to keep guests of all ages amused well into the evening. Earlier on, children’s entertainers amuse the little ones with jokes and games and, if you’re lucky, you might even meet Sir Algenon Alton himself.
Later on, singers and a live band take over and the Dragon Bar offers a choice of drinks (including some ride-themed cocktails which I felt, at £5.95 a go, were a touch over-priced). Guests can also take an evening stroll round the small lake and picturesque hotel grounds.
There are so many advantages to staying in the resort hotel. Overnight guests who book theme park and/or waterpark tickets can get two days access for the price of one, free parking in the hotel car park, and exclusive Early Ride Time with some of the rides opening an hour early for guests.
After a relaxing night’s sleep and a delicious breakfast, we were ready to do it all over again.
Now that’s what I call being marmalised.
Rachel Herrity stayed at Alton Towers in Staffordshire as a guest of the park.
Stays at Alton Towers Hotel start from £33.75 per person per night, based on four sharing. Rachel stayed in a Moon Voyage room which comes at an additional £75 supplement.
Theme park tickets are priced £34.65 (adult), £29.25 (child) and £29.70 a head (family ticket), all when booked online more than seven days in advance. Waterpark tickets are £15 (adult) and £10.50 (child) when booked online in advance.
Hotel guests booking theme park and/or waterpark tickets along with their room can get two days access for the price of one. Fastrack prices start from £6 for three rides, up to £50 for Fastrack Gold.