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Hixee tries to catch up – Misc UK 2021 (#1 - Alton Towers & Drayton Manor)

Hixee

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Obviously it would be great to be heading off round the world to all the fabulous parks and coasters, but sadly that still feels some way off. Sometime towards the end of last year I started musing around the map of UK parks and realised I’ve got a few things not ticked off here.

Much of this is proper basic stuff (using basic in every sense of the word), but I figure I’ll give my short take on it all in one thread – that seems to be all the rage these days.

Trip #1, Day 1 – Alton Towers

Somehow I never manage to find the motivation to go to Alton Towers - 2017 (!) was my last visit. I use the excuse that it’s a long way from Bristol, but then I’ll happily drive twice that distance on other trips so that’s clearly not true. I think, looking back on it, it’s that they don’t tend to excite me enough into going back. If I’m going to go on a trip for a new cred, I’d rather it be something decent (i.e. not Merlin) than a slightly half-baked woodie. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge…

Started the day with the usual park-at-the-back-and-trudge-to-the-entrance – no point getting the monorail these days. As much as there was a reasonable flow of people, credit to them they had every turnstyle open and there was little to no queue forming. It was a bit of a scrum as you hit the little constriction in the pathway above the fountains, but it soon sorted itself out.

We headed first for Th13teen and Rita – probably the two rides worst at chewing through long queues. Rita seemed to be having a funny five minutes when we got to Ug Land Dark Forest Wooden Fenced Queueline Land, so we went for Th13teen instead.

Meh, this coaster is okay but it could be so much better. Seems to me particularly stupid that they have the back half of the train filled with water dummies (allegedly to ensure it makes it round the course), then still activate the trims. Not to mention that at the moment they can only run one car per party, so the seats are regularly ~50% full, giving an overall train capacity of ~25% most laps. It’s the trims that really make this ride awful, actually. It could have been much better. Next.

Rita seemed to be operating regularly by the time we got off Th13teen, and it was still a walk on, so we got straight in line for a front-row ride. I say straight in line, we did have to walk through the approximately 19miles of twisting queue line. Guh. Anyway, as much as I think Rita is a slightly turd decision for Alton, those Intmain launches are great. Rest of the layout is okay, but man I do love a good accelerator.

OK, a picture to break up all this text.
Disclaimer: the pictures aren’t in chronological order this time – seems to work better that way for this report.

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The airtime over these hills is actually reasonable.

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The over-the-top queue line does at least give some decent views of the ride.

From there we wandered over to X-Sector. Smiler had a reasonably short wait (~20mins), so we went for a go on that. Another coaster that, for me, is much better in theory than in execution. It’s a fantastic coaster to watch, although sadly the queue makes that all a little more unpleasant with the cages everywhere. Got a spiteful third-row ride, but surprisingly sort of enjoyed it. Credit where it's due, it’s a pretty intense coaster with all the tight inversions. It’s such a shame the last bit of the cobra roll and two corkscrews are so awful – they end up leaving such a bad taste in your mouth after riding.

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Looks better than it delivers, it would seem.

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But then, it is a Gerstlauer, so…

Oblivion next – pretty much a walk on. Reduced rider numbers don’t seem to mess Oblivion up that much, I think mostly because it’s always a bit hit-or-miss with full trains anyway. There’s often an empty seat or two. Anyway, yes Oblivion is fantastic. I did the classic thing I always do at Alton, and hit the brake run thinking “yeah, this is the best coaster here” – then head down to Nemesis later in the day and remember just how good that is. I’m rambling – Oblivion is great.

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This picture was from later on in the day when the ride was spiting, so sadly no train, but it does give a pretty good view of the ‘hole’ that makes Oblivion so good.

Now, at this point something strange happened. It started snowing. Yup, proper snow. Then hail, then sleet, then just rain. It was, I think it would be fair to say, disgusting.

Thankfully, everyone seemed to run for cover (of which there isn’t really a huge amount), so we waited for the worst of it to pass and I popped into CBeebies land for the Octonauts cred. Nice.

Still a bit damp when we were done there, so got the Skyride over to Forbidden Valley. Was cold, but dry. Short bit of toilet faff later, and we were in line for Nemesis.

To aid the social distancing, they had most of the extended queue open. It gives a great view of the first drop and drop into the corkscrew, and in fact is where I captured one of my all-time favourite Nemesis shots – the one found here:

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This was not from today though – I’m just quite proud of this picture.

The queue was moving steadily, ‘cos, B&M, and it didn’t take too long to get into the station. Once again, as we hit the brake run I was reminded of why this is definitely the best coaster at Alton Towers. Oblivion is great, and all, but this thing rocks. That starting sequence especially is a truly inspired piece of design. Love it!

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The helix looks particularly cool through a wide angle lens!

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Just after the insanity begins.

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An icon of an inversion.

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I always liked how the train was framed in this angle from the queue.

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Also love the position of the queue and this loop – makes it such a good focal point of the ride.

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The final, semi-hidden inversion, doesn’t quite pack the punch of the rest, but it’s still ace.

Not going to bother with Galactica, so from here it was time to finally get my #basic cred for the day – Wicker Man.

Queue was posted at 65mins, which isn’t awful, but ended up taking more like 2hrs. Womp. The queue itself isn’t too bad, it does give some reasonably good views of the ride (which I like), and a great view of the already-letting-itself-down boring corner. Pre-show wasn’t running, which is a shame, but I did like the aesthetic of the queue, buildings and station.

Got lucky with a back row ride, and with a short heavy rain spell only a few minutes before, we were surprised how quickly it was running. Riding with others who generally have similar views to me on coasters, I wasn’t expecting great things, but they all admitted this was possibly the best ride they’d had on it over the years.

First drop(s) are great. It starts so promising, but I will admit after the second pass through the Wicker Man it sort of dies a bit. Boring corner is a disgrace of an element, and other than a few mild pops of airtime this coaster misses out on what GCI can do so well – that bouncing and darting airtime filled sequence of elements. It’s where rides like Joris, Troy, Wodan, Heidi excel. Obviously, we all know this, but thankfully now I can say I’ve experienced it first hand. Would have liked another go, but it’s not worth it with that queue!

It does also annoy me a bit how little cohesion there is between Wicker Man, Katanga Canyon, Mutiny Bay and Gloomy Wood. Feels like they were so desperate to do the theme that they didn’t think that hard about the interaction with everything else. Stand-alone, it’s good, but it’s not well integrated into the park.

Some pictures, now.

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I think the Wicker Man theming is quite fab.

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I like the views the queue gives you of the ride.

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The little details scattered around are a nice touch.

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”That shot” that it would be almost rude not to take.

From there we headed up to Woodcutters for a late lunch/early dinner. Was okay – they did a decent gluten free bun ( :( ), and the portion was alright too. Certainly filled the hole for the rest of the day, so that’s something.

We walked back towards Oblivion, but it was spiting by then (people were being evac’d off the brake run too, so didn’t look like a simple one), so we decided to wander past the shop towards Nemesis for a final ride of the day.

Thankfully we were able to leave the park via the bottom exit, so only a short walk to the car and we were heading home.

It doesn’t sound like the most action packed of days, which it wasn’t, but we’ve all done Alton more times than we can count (although not really because I have a spreadsheet – 15 times, if you wanted to know) and so there’s never a feeling of needing to rush. It was relatively relaxed, good fun, and we had a good time – it’s hard to ask for much more than that.

My thoughts on Alton having not been in four years? It’s still a bit special to me – it will probably always have that little something that no other park can have, I think mostly because it was one of my earliest outlets for my enthusiasm. That said, they’ve been making some ropey decisions recently. I hate, like, absolutely loathe, the retro squad. I hate the tackiness of it all. I think there’s an element of short-sightedness from Merlin (no surprises there) with their investments – see Wicker Man’s odd placement and theming choice (however well it is in isolation), see Sub-Terra, see the lack of quality of food in general, just… sigh.

Then again, I did enjoy my day and I do like Alton Towers. It’s probably one of the best we’ve got.

For completeness’ sake, as it would be sort of rude not to at least mention it, my take on Alton’s Covid status:
Mask policy – Loosely enforced in queues, bit more aggressively enforced in stations, probably as best as one could hope for.
Social distancing – Yeah, again not awful. They had clearly made efforts to figure out the queues (for example, the Smiler queue factored in the 2m rule between different lanes of the cattle pen also), and were limiting numbers of people in the stations, etc.
Sanitiser – Saw plenty around.
Overall – Not bad really. I think as good as one could hope for in a park. I think if I found their efforts to be insufficient, a theme park probably isn’t the place to be at all.

All in all, a decent day out. A +2 for me, for which I can’t complain I suppose.

Drayton next. That’ll be a shorter one… :p
 

Nitefly

Member
Really enjoyed reading this, thanks 👍

Great photos of nemesis - really captures those ‘wicked’ elements and makes me excited to go on it once more.

I would agree with any sentiment that the Smiler is at least as good to watch as it is to ride.

The ‘Retro Squad’ seems sort of lazy but I do quite like that animation that put out in relation to it, which kindled some fondness in me.

Next time I head to Alton, I’m going to give the Dark Forest area a bit more time. I always skip it entirely. It’s just feels like it’s... ‘sort of there’ and underwhelming.
 

Hixee

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Trip #1, Day 2 – Drayton Manor

Drayton next. No sure what’s more shameful here really – the fact I was missing Wicker Man, or the fact I was missing the three family creds from Drayton. Went years ago (2007) and Buffalo was broken, and haven’t been back since. I mean, I suppose it’s not much of a surprise, though…

This’ll be a short one.

Day started with one of the most hilariously awful entrances to the park I’ve come across in a long time. Everyone was funnelled through one turnstile bottleneck meaning the queue was absolutely huge wrapping all the way round the back of Thomas Land outside the park. It moved reasonably well, but it was such an off-putting start to the day. Not a shred of social distancing, masks or any ****s given by staff, either.

We headed straight for Thomas Land to get the Troublesome Trucks cred before the queues got too crazy (judging by the groups we’d seen in the queues we were going to have a lot of people in line for this). It’s a decent little cred, but clearly not quite our style.

Next was over to Accelerator. Queue for this is mostly indoors, so had to wait outside in a temporary cattle pen. Thankfully the queue didn’t take too long, and it was another solid family coaster. I don’t love the backwards section, but I rarely do on any coaster to be honest.

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Ben 10 Accelerator looking quite good – certainly popular with the families.

Finally, last new cred of the day was Buffalo. Man this was tragic. I reckon a train full of adults could cause it to stall, and you get two laps, which makes the whole thing a bit of an ordeal, really. Was the longest queue of the day (yes, really), and probably the crappest cred of the day too.

Mercifully, Buffalo is at least right next to something good. Apocalypse! I generally hate drop towers – they still give me the properly wobbly knees. I’ll do them, reluctantly, but I’m always secretly hoping they’ll break down. :p

They were only running one of the sit-down sides and then rider’s choice on the stand-up vs stand-up-floorless. Basically means there was a sizable queue… only 15mins or so, but felt like longer I think due to the slow progress. We did the stand-up side, and it was great. I mean, it was awful, but it was great. These drop towers do pack a punch, and this is probably one of the better ones.

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Sticks out a bit among the clearly more family focussed park, too!

Next up was the last cred of the day – Shockwave! Now, this coaster is literal trash, but man did we have a good time riding it. The restraints are hilariously grotesque, the lift hill is really slow, the first drop is weird, the zero-g is just… what?!, then it’s got a straightaway followed by two horrific corkscrews, topped off with a very aggressive halt at the end. Man, this coaster is a mess. That said, as rubbish as it is, we were laughing all the way round.

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It also just… looks awful.

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Good straight-on view of it from Maelstrom, though.

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The loop across the lake is a very “roller coaster tycoon” type aesthetic.

We slithered over Maelstrom for a quick lap, which is great. I do really enjoy these, they’re intense and give good airtime and are surprisingly big. Nice.

I’m running out of steam writing this now, so will be quick now. Had a quick wander through the zoo, which wasn’t really much worth writing about. Most of the animals were either indoors or stuff that’s not really a zoo animal – a duck doesn’t count!

Apocalypse has a spiteful queue, and we weren’t going to re-ride anything else, so we called it a day early and went for a late lunch/early dinner at a nearby pub garden before heading home. Simples.

Drayton is a funny one. I think they spent a while figuring out what direction to head in, and during that time made a bit of a mess of the place. It does, however, seem like they’ve settled in a direction (and, newsflash, I doubt it’s a park for ‘us’), so maybe they’ll actually manage to make the park halfway decent in another few years. Currently it’s a bit all over the place and still got that slightly rough Drayton feel. Doubt I’ll be going back for at least another fifteen years.

My take on Drayton’s Covid status:
Mask policy – What?
Social distancing – Pardon?
Sanitiser – Sure…?
Overall – I mean, boy. It seemed like most patrons didn’t give two ****s, and staff weren’t making much effort to enforce any of the rules. Meh.

So no love lost for Drayton, but at least a +3.

Trip #1 – Summary

New creds: 5
Total creds: 14
New parks: 0
Total parks: 2

Milestones: None!

Best Park: Alton Towers, duh.

Best Cred: Nemesis, duh. Honourable second place to Oblivion.

Probably something equally as basic next…
 

Smithy

Well-Known Member
Perfect timing as I came on looking for an Alton trip report since they re-opened. I was trying to decide if it was worth a visit just for a theme park fix and the 4pm closing was putting me off slightly but it sounds like you got on the big rides with no issue and I can't imagine it'll be too busy mid-week.
 

Hixee

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Perfect timing as I came on looking for an Alton trip report since they re-opened. I was trying to decide if it was worth a visit just for a theme park fix and the 4pm closing was putting me off slightly but it sounds like you got on the big rides with no issue and I can't imagine it'll be too busy mid-week.
It was fine, but would have been tight with a 4pm finish.

Obviously you could sack off Octonauts which probably ate up about 20mins, and I'm sure there would be other efficiencies to be had, but we left he park around 6:30pm if memory serves and besides lunch we didn't really stop all day. Wickerman was probably the biggest bother of the day with a posted 65min but in reality 2hr queue.

It depends how much you'd want to do versus a more steady "whatever we do we do" kinda day. To my mind a 4pm closing is still bonkers.
 

HeartlineCoaster

Active Member
Here I was, looking forward to a screenshot of a map with a line between Stoke and Tamworth in the summary.

Poor old Drayton, the one I always forget exists. That signature Hixee photography manages to make it look far more enticing than I remember. Great reports as always.
 

Hutch

Well-Known Member
Your photos of Nemesis remind me how masterfully designed that coaster is. Not only is the ride fantastic with some incredible terrain features, but the interaction with the pathways and queue really show how special it is. Coasters don't seem to be designed with that interaction in mind anymore.

Your report makes me miss Alton Towers, but perhaps a revisit isn't needed anytime soon with all the complaints and Merlin BS I'm hearing about? I keep forgetting about their 4 PM closures. I visited back in 2014 and they were open till 5:30 (probably sounds like a godsend nowadays, huh?). I'm definitely due for another Euro coaster trip, perhaps within the next couple years or so?

And Drayton looks like ass!
 
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