Many Weeks ago I had planned and booked a weekend away at Alton Towers, to check out the new attractions, re ride the existing favourites and a behind the scenes lift hill walk on the Smiler .
However unfortunately, 5 days prior to our trip, a terrible accident on the Smiler occurred, resulting in the park being closed for days and the park's worst ride accident in it's history. With our plans changing constantly on the few days before including a proposed changed walk to Nemesis instead, by the friday afternoon we learn't that our park trip and lift walk just like an old bottle milk, were off.
Fortunately whilst our plans were rather badly bloodened, they certainly were not beaten, thanks to pre-trip plans, clever reorganising and great help from some wonderful friends who were able to not just help make the best of a bad situation but deliver a weekend trip that was just as good from the original plans.
The first stop was to Madame Tussauds to check out the brand new Star Wars section which opened recently, the rest of the attraction was very much as usual although Spirit Of London was stopping and starting a bit.
You have done well Madame Tussaud's.
I really liked the Star Wars area, which takes place after the Marvels show which is transitioned quite well (no idea what used to be in this area). The section included characters from all the films on top of main scenes.
We also visited the Dungeons and eye in County Hall which were the same as always. We also got to see how the construction of the new Shrek adventure was progressing, there's scaffolding all over County Hall at the moment and the former London Aquarium sign has now been replaced with a Shrek Adventure one in the same style.
After training it from Euston to stoke direct by Virgin trains which took only 85 minutes with no stops either before reaching our crash pad, Newcastle Travelodge.
Unfortunately, Alton Towers was still closed on Saturday which meant we couldn't go, however we were fortunate to be able to visit somewhere just as good.
That place was Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and this also meant
I was able to try out the new Sky Force ride, which to an extent is the biggest new ride in the UK this year.
For an addition this size, the ride and surrounding area have all been very well themed as it certainly looks very well themed (better themed than any of Thorpe's Flats).
The ride itself was quite fun and enjoyable getting some interesting views of the area too, although I wasnt able to get much spinning done due to the strong wing and not mastering the technique all too well. I think it's a good addition to the park as it offers the park a much needed flat ride to the line up and is so far a unique ride to the UK.
My only concern (something that has been mentioned here a lot) is the ride's throughput of 12 riders per cycle, as for a ride (let alone a new one) is very low on capacity and is unlikely to achieve anything over 300 PPH. It would've been nice if the park could've opted for a larger model like a 15 or 18 seater version or even install two of them, but it's still a good ride, 7/10.
When it came to lunch, we all headed to the nearby (appropriately named) Velvet Coaster Weatherspoons, where I had to Hog Burger which was ok as Weatherspoons food goes. It's definitely my favourite Weatherspoons I've visited so far and is also on three floors of greatness.
One of the great things at being back in Blackpool is not just getting to experience the brand new ride, but experiencing some of the ones I missed from last time; one of those was River Caves.
River Caves is a classic dark ride at the park which I think is around 100 years old now and comprises several small'ish boats travelling around a series of scenes of pharaohs, dinosaurs amongst other things. There also used to be a brief interaction with the now defunct gold mine (which closed in 2012) and has been replaced by glowing lights and an eiry soundtrack.
This is a loverly historic ride. If you look at River Caves from the perspective of comparing it to something like Pirates Of The Caribbean or something, you'll probably come off quite disappointed, however if you look at it from the historical point of view, it's a deeply interesting and iconic attraction that will hopefully live on for the forseable future and after all, it is the forefather of pirates to an extent.
Other new Fred's on this trip included the Avatar air bender which is the most intense Disko I've done and beats Mia and Ramba Zamba with Kobra only beating it on the theming side.
Dora's World Voyage was a happy little tide, basically a Dora version of its a small world but outside, I liked this ride more than I was expecting to, but could've been better and the Chinese puzzle maze which felt like a more crammed but not so good Loki's Labarynth. I also experienced the flying machines which is a wonderful piece of machinery and offers some good views in the park.
We also got to re-experience most of the wonders from last trip including Valhalla which was as fantastic as ever except for the slight lack of ice this time. This is a ride that wouldn't look out of place in Efteling or Phantasialand.
Big Dipper was as great as ever and ironically the smoothest woodie there despite being the oldest, Infusion was still ok first half rough second half and the grand national was as great as always although the second ride in the day was a bit on the rough side.
The rest of the rides were about the same as the last time I went (though I missed ghost train, ice blast & Grand Prix this time). Wild Maus seemed incredibly rough today (even for my standards), but I still like it as this is such a unique ride whilst the Big One was shut all day due to wind, which is another of the ride's many flaws.
After the park closed, we all had a walk down the promenade whilst eating chips,cheese and gravy (because why the heck not!). First stop was Coral Island and despite hating this place last time, I tried out their ghost train which for £1.50 isn't bad (based on 2 sharing).
The ride's very mediocre, but is still better than most travelling fair ghost trains (along with Tivoli World's) however to an extent it makes even Blackpool's look like the haunted mansion.
We also checked out the North and Central piers too (because we can) and had a drink on the latter. The piers were definitely a lot quieter than they were when I last went there in September, although that was probably because that was during the illuminations.
We also visited Pleasurewood Hills briefly to try out their new dodgems set (or maybe not)
And even a quick trip to Disneyland (stretchy does not approve)
On our way back to the car, Stretchy gave me a very brief crash course in to getting some decent sunset ride photographs. I will leave it up to you to decide whether I passed or failed this!
And then it was on the journey back to Stoke, I couldn't believe how quickly the car journey was especially to the five hour journey I had experienced last time I came, it was almost a bit overwhelming (although we were crashing in the Midlands). Knightmare by the way has been taken down, hopefully a sign the ride is getting a new home.
Blackpool is still a park I very much love and whilst some of the wow factor had naturally dryed since my first trip, it was good to be back and I really enjoyed it. The park is on top form and definitely on the way up, although I would like to see better merchandise as bar Wallace & Gromit and Skyforce, there is generally not a lot to see really and like invisible ink, there was nothing to write about.
Apart from getting no Big One, the only major disappointing thing in my day was not being able to buy a coaster wheel from the old parts shop as I had been particularly interested in getting an old wheel for my collection from something like the Wild Mouse. A small part of me died when I found the shop closed after planning to buy something, but oh well.
Unsurprisingly, towers was closed again on the Sunday, but that didn't stop us from going, because the secondary hotel attractions were still open when we went. However first, a very Midlands style breakfast.
Oatcakes are a novelty food I'm in the Midlands and for anyone who does not know what they are, they're essentially like Oaty pancakes and are absolutely delicious. I naturally opted for two double bacon oatcakes (because I couldn't get enough) on top of taking a pack of a dozen back home which I had for Monday's tea, I certainly didn't regret anything I did that morning!
If you haven't had an oatcakes before, get yourself down to the Midlands for the weekend and try one, they're absolutely amazing and you won't regret it. The picture you see here definitely does not justify this culinary delight's greatness and outside of Staffordshire is very hard to find.
From one kind of Oak, to another Oak, as we explored the nearby woodlands around Alton Towers, to find the legendary chained Oak.
The Old Oak is an amazing sight to behold, and whilst the tree is now very old with some branches having now fallen off whilst some chains have loosened or dug in to the tree itself, it's still an interesting sight to behold and to think nearly 200 years ago the legendary tale of the earl took place here, The place where very same tree was cursed, resulting in the mysterious death of one of the Earl's family and then completely chained up. On top of this, having also inspired the creation of one the best dark rides in the uk.
Once leaving the ancient woodland [thankfully not meeting any old women who appeared to be cursing along the way], we eventually headed off to Alton Towers [or at least what was still open to see there]. The main entrance to the park was actually closed up when we went, which meant using the staff/deliveries entrance when we arrived, which was an interesting way to the park [although noticeably longer] seeing old park signs and the like and areas of the [closed] park such as Cbeebies land and X Sector [ironic in a way really].
Once parked in the Hotel parking lot, we first headed off to Treetop quest to book a time for the high ropes course, the earliest option they had was 2:40pm, which whilst cutting things a bit fine for our train back we decided to go for and then did more exploring in the resort.
Having quite alot of time to kill, we decided to play a 18 hole Extraordinary Golf which was great fun and many of the holes are cleverly designed and well themed towards rides in the park [even if around half of them no longer exist]. I drew with Daniel whilst Stretchy stood out on the game.
During our time, we could see Air testing from all the way over the car park, which was a sight that definitely gave me quite a blow to the stomach. The Hex,Duel and Nemesis sound effects in the golf only added insult to injury.
After completing the course, we checked out the resort's hotels starting with the Splash Landings before moving on to the Alton Towers hotels, both places I haven't visited properly before.
Both hotels here are very nice and different too. Splash Landings obtains a tropical style theme which reminds me of Hotel Gold River at Port Aventura whilst the Towers Hotel seems to have a more stately traditional theme, which feels like an english version of DLP's Newport Bay.
Despite the park being closed, all the hotels were buzzing with life featuring lots of entertainment characters throughout to keep hotel guests happy and still obtaining much atmosphere. I think all the staff at the resort have dealt with the current situations at the resort following last weeks tragic events very well.
We also went in to one of the hotel shops where all Smiler merch [as expected] had disapeared, although they still had smiler monopoly and giant resins featuring the Smiler on, which I naturally had to buy [plus it would help waiting for my next towers visit slightly too].
Afterwards, we had a look around the park's latest accomodation offering, the Enchanted Village. I wasn't too sure about these at first, but having seen them in person, they definitely look rather rather and the area as a whole feels very much like a middle earthesque area.
After an enchanted walk, it was off for some lunch at the new Crooked Spoon Restaurant which was naturally very quiet when we went, although featured another amazing soundtrack in the background created by the fantastic IMA score which very much had a LOTR and irish style feel to it.
In the end, I went for a tuna and cheddar pannini with chips and salad, which wasn't bad for the price and definitely unique when it comes to appearance and style.
After the fairly tasty lunch, it was time to do our Treetops Quest, however unfortunately they were running very behind there with almost an hour behind schedule, which meant in the end having to cancel out our time here [lucilly we got a full refund].
This might be the reason why we didn't get chance to do the ropes ;]
After this, we left Alton Towers and found some other way to pass the time before we got our train back to Euston shortly followed by home.
And this shall hopefully keep me going until next time [which might not be until 2016 now].
Despite turning in to a weekend much different from the original plans, it was still a great time away. A massive thanks goes to Stretchy whom without the trip wouldn't have been a patch on the overall outcome of the trip. Getting back to Blackpool was a bonus considering I was not expecting a return visit until at least 2016 and the towers staff have handled everything well. Whilst it's still not near enough to warrant me coming during the non themepark time, it's great to see Towers have so many additions to the resort now aside from the themepark, the hotels, the golf, the waterpark and the treetop quest which help things even more so in this difficult time.
It's just ironic that the park only reopened the day after my trip away