Bit of a good week last week. Not only did I win the National Lottery of the Netherlands and become the surprise recipient of a hefty chunk of cash from the step cousin of the ex-finance minister of the Government of the Federal Republic of the Congo , but I also was fortunate enough to spend the weekend at the premier Uk amusement park, Alton Towers’ on-site hotel, the, erm, "Alton Towers Hotel."
A significant weekend for the kids too as they have just reached the necessary heights to be able to go on all the major rides. Having been a visitor to the amusement park for around 30 years (it was an annual school trip ) and seen it evolve from a sedate stately home into a world class theme park the place still retains a great deal of happy memories. I remember the opening of the corkscrew and the black hole and how awe-inspiring they seemed. The former is now classed as a "family ride"and seems rather tame and quaint in comparison with the more recent white kuckle rides such as Oblivion, Nemesis and Rita.
Bolliger & Mabillard‘s "Nemesis, " (below) brilliantly themed and constructed, remains my favourite coaster; the ride is long enough at 90 seconds, quick enough to take the breath away and compact and vigorous enough to deliver a real full-on experience. The post-apocolyptic/Mad-Max-come-Alien style designs, the faux-rust, blood red waterfalls and the ingenious way the ride is sunk into what appears to be and old quarry heighten the anticipation and stimulate the senses.
My little boy is 2 and is preoccupied with diggers and dinosaurs and space shuttles. We stopped at the world HQ of JCB, a few miles before the theme park and marvelled at the variety of diggers and dumpers and told the lady in the shop we’d see her later and that we too wanted to be diggers drivers when we grew up.
Alton Towers caters well for small children, with a number of farm -themed rides which delighted the younger kids. Mine in particular spent a good hour watching a choir (battery?) of farmyard animals singing "Old McDonald’s Farm" again and again. And then again. Now I know my singing chickens and though the pig, cow and dog worked well the chickens here seemed a little threadbare. A little too realistic. Were they stuffed chickens with glued-on plastic beaks? In the premier league of electronically animated poultry (I’m not sure how big and competive this particular market is) are the singing chickens from Chick-n-mation., which serenade visitors at Devon’s Big Sheep. Perhaps Merlin should check out the chickens.
The hotel itself was rather luxurious, the interior inspired by Jules Verne and the nineteenth century, the central atrium home to a magical pirate ship which serves as both as a fantastic focal point and stage for the industrious entertainers, the lifts a themed ride in themselves. The attention to detail is important, my own kids love the way the carpet from the Splash Landings Hotel slowly merges, Escher like, into the carpet of the Alton Towers Hotel, the crabs and sand ebbing away with every foot.
Ours was a mid-Winter break. The package included entrance to both the amusement park and Splash Landings, the Alton Towers Caribbean themed waterpark. The obvious advantge of this is that there were no queues. We went on Nemesis 6 or 7 times in the two days. The equally obvious disadvantage and of course the reason why the park is not open full time throughout the year is that this is the UK. It was grey and damp with that very British kind of rain, a kind of half hearted persistent drizzle. "Spitting" they called it at school.
However, we all had a great time and any minor quibbles I might have about the hotel (when will hotels start giving free web access???Only one accessible plug socket in the room, they’ll send you any newspaper you wish to your room , except, strangely, the Guardian or the Observer. ) can be dismissed as low-order pedantry. One stand out attraction was the staff. This must be a good place to work or the training is top notch or maybe both, as everyone we met was eager to help, enthusiastic and polite. The whole environment was friendly and relaxed.
The hotel is very good value for money, the restaurant food is superb and the waterpark quite spectacular. I tried a new ride, Spinball Whizzer, onto which I was coaxed by my wife labelling me a "lily-livered excuse for a father" as I had suggested the girls went on alone whilst I digested my breakfast. I don’t like heights and I don’t like waltzers, so this fiendish construction was very much a white knuckle ride for me.