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Freak Visits the Land of Iron Maiden, the Land of Qua-sooonts, and the Land of Pizza (Trip Report)

Discussion in 'Trip Reports, Planning, & Questions' started by Freak, Jun 7, 2019.

  1. Freak

    Freak Veteran Member

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    While y’all are talking about Galaxy’s Edge, I want to talk about my trip so far seeing Europe. I started off flying into the land of tea, crumpets, and Iron Maiden....otherwise known as England. Spending two weeks in England (meeting up with a friend at Thorpe for one day) and two weeks in France and Italy with the fam. Before I get into that, a little backstory: this is my first time flying solo to another country and this is my first time in Europe. My parents and sister are visiting Europe and Italy for two weeks. I saw this as my big chance to check out the British parks that I’ve been curious to see. I decided to do this the two weeks before they left and meet them at Paris via the Chunnel. Planning this felt like a dive into cold water worrying about potential surprises.

    So there I was, planning everything out, thinking I figured everything out. Of course, as soon as I landed in Manchester, the airline I was with lost my bag. Flew with JetBlue, then Thomas Cook. Long story short, it was checked at the gate at LAX before flying to my connecting at JFK. Wasn’t in the system, so all I was left with was the stuff in my backpack. No extra clothes (but plenty of socks and some PJs) that really started off my trip with some frustration as my HHN 2018 shirt was in there as well as ALL of my good jeans and shirts and underwear for the trip. I’m getting by and had to buy a few extra clothes items, but I didn’t let that bad experience stop me. Not the kinda thing you want to happen to you when you’re traveling internationally for the first time solo.

    But enough of that. Let me talk about the good stuff. I want to talk about my first major park of the trip: Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I’ve always been fascinated by this park as it has much historical significance (I mean, Big Dipper has been there since WW2, how is that not cool!?) It felt like a Santa Cruz on steroids infused with tea and crumpets. The layout was a bit complicated and all over the place. It was also interesting just to see how so many structures and attractions were built on top of each other. So much so that I was amazed at how small the clearances were for most of their dark rides (Which I’ll address shortly). It also blew my mind how some of their flats or dark rides boat rides (River Caves and Valhalla) didn’t have any seatbelts or restraints. The train station didn’t even have an attendant! It’s amazing how much they rely on guests to use common sense at the park; it’s something you’ll hardly see at any US park, let alone Florida or Cali. This post is really getting long so I will as quickly as I can address the highlights.

    The Big One was my first International coaster credit. My first ride on it was fairly smooth as was a descent ride. The other two (front and back) were rough, and that’s because I ride on top of the wheels. Kinda sad that the most iconic coaster there was not great...and running one train. However, Icon was a really great ride. Got six rides out of it for my two days being there. Definitely the best ride there and probably my favorite coaster in the UK so far (Up against Smiler). Five of those rides were in the back and my last one was in the front (which was HOLY CRAP AWESOME). The other coasters were cool. Rode all of the wooden ones and Steeplechase was unique despite the rough turns. Infusion was awful. Hate those SLCs. That’s all on the coaster font.

    More coming in post 2.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2019
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  2. Spaulding

    Spaulding Member

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    Enjoy your trip! Very interested to see what you make of the UK theme parks. Particularly how they compare to what is in America.
    Also, try black pudding and Irn Bru if you get the chance.
     
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  3. Freak

    Freak Veteran Member

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    (Cont.)

    Let’s talk the dark rides. Like I said earlier, I was amazed at how tight the clearances were for those things. In all of them except Valhalla, if you raised your hand up during the ride, it would easily hit the ceiling or the lights mounted onto the ceiling. What was crazier was that in some of those cases, they were in total darkness! Again, it’s amazing how much the park relies on you to use common sense. I love it.

    Ghost Train was a fun spooky ride, Alice was an unusual ride that just had the music from Charlie and the Chocolate factory that awkwardly loops in the middle of the song and had no sound effects. It almost felt eerie; River Caves was a neat, old-school “tunnel of love” ride. That also had a quiet ambiance in a couple of rooms, which made it eerie. Wallace and Gromit was an oddly-paced, quirky dark ride that only had a “greatest hits” story from their shorts, but I kinda dug it. I was amazed at how low the ceilings were. The one dark ride that really stuck out to me was Valhalla.

    Valhalla was absolutely crazy. It’s totally out-of-place for a cold and soggy country like England. While I loved the ride for how it was, it was annoying how absolutely SOAKED I got both times riding it. It had zero chill with how wet it got you. Like, right after the second drop, the boat took you through a room that was ice cold. It was like the ride was taunting you. “You got wet, huh? Well, HOW ABOUT SOME CHILL TO GO WITH IT? It didn’t help that the boats were flooded with what felt like two inches of water. With that aside, the ride was really awesome. While not a technologically advanced powerhouse in the likes of Spidey, Indy, or FJ, it’s unique scenes, effects (especially the dual battering ram scene and fire effects), and unusual drops make this ride awesome. The theme music they have playing throughout the ride is really awesome when it’s echoing through the scenes. Also interesting to see while the ride does have “rooms”, a lot of it is just in one giant arena building, but they hide that from the flume supports, set pieces, and lighting. If it didn’t get you so uncomfortably wet, it would probably make it towards the bottom of my top 10 dark rides list. It’s really cool!

    Overall, I enjoyed Blackpool. I saw it as a better Santa Cruz. It’s one park I can now cross off the bucket list. I dig the “old school” feel of the place. I’ll write more about Alton soon, but I’m preoccupied with things right now. Other than that baggage hiccup, I’m having fun so I’ll write more soon!
     
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  4. Freak

    Freak Veteran Member

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    Okay. After long four weeks, I am back from my trip. Now that I can sit in front of a computer instead of a phone, I can give a more detailed report.

    So on my trip, I have visited BPPB, Alton, Thorpe, Chessington, Disneyland Paris (Both parks), Parc Asterix, and Rainbow Magicland. I kind of skimmed through BPPB, but if you want me to go more into detail about the park (Or even any other parks I will bring up), I'm happy to elaborate or answer any questions you have. So here we go: Gonna talk about Alton.

    While I was planning for the trip, I discovered how isolated this park is from basically all transportation. I was too intimidated to drive in the UK to drive up to the resort as I relied heavily on the train and bus systems (Which are fantastic, I might add) to get from location to location. What I did was take the bus from Blackpool to Stoke-on-Trent (The closest stop to AT) and hoped and prayed there would be an Uber to get me there. When I got there, there was one that happened to be nearby. I have discovered though that Uber in Europe is a little steep. It was £30 to drive a half hour to Alton. It cost me only $50 to get from LAX to my place coming back, and that was an hour drive, and definately further distance from the stop to Alton. The thing I didn't realize was there there was absolutely no Uber service coming from Alton, at all. Coming from LA, that was a culture shock to me, so I had to shell out some cash to get a Taxi. It was around the same price as it was to get an Uber to get there, but I had to use an ATM which charged me $15 for foreign currency, so that was annoying. Getting to and from was a hard dive into cold water, especially coming back when I was under time pressure to catch a pre-booked train, but I had a great two days at the park. I'm going to be as short and to-the-point as possible as I love to give detail, but not to the point to where it's too much to read. So here we go:

    Stayed at the resort and took the monorail to get there. Upon entering, I was blown away at how freaking MASSIVE this park is. Like, holy chuck-knuckles. It felt like the Huntington in Pasadena but double the size with a mix of Busch Gardens and Legoland. I also felt like I was walking through a park in Roller Coaster Tycoon. That should be no surprise as Chris Sawyer is a Brit himself and used this game as an inspiration for designing that game. As of now, this may be the most beautiful, most lush park I have ever been through. It was cloudy and raining both days I was there, so I can't imagine how amazing it would look on a clear day. There were so many areas of the park you could walk through and explore with no one around. It was weird. It felt like I was exploring a closed park all on my own it would be so deserted. Not all of it was made the way it would have to be done in America (I.e. everything having to be ADA compliant). Lots of stairs and slanted pathways all around. It was really cool being able to wind through the gardens with barely anyone around.

    So my first ride I went on was Smiler. I got seven rides on that thing and it is, by far, my favorite coaster in the UK. It is #10 right now on my top 10 coasters list. I'm usually very put-off by OTSRs on any coaster, but the way it was designed was totally comfortable. Although I certainly would've preferred the big lap bars that Hangtime has, I don't recall having any issue with head-banging on the ride. the restraints were wide and flexible, and surprisingly comfortable. Right when the ride starts, you start off in a tight-turn drop in the dark and a barrel roll. Right off the bat, the ride is awesome and with some great hang time in that barrel roll. There were two good airtime hills on the ride and the inversions were loads of fun. Smooth ride. Enjoyed the heck out of that ride.

    Oblivion was my next credit. I had low expectations given the gimmicky layout and it being the prototype dive coaster, but it was really fun! It's my third favorite coaster in the park, even over Rita. Just the hang time on the drop was worth it. My only experience on a B&M dive coaster was Valravyn at Cedar Point. That was fun, but the vest restraints kinda ruined the airtime. I even enjoyed this more than Valravyn despite that being a much longer ride. While I have yet to do Griffon or Shei-Kra at both Busch Gardens, Oblivion is my favorite B&M dive for now. One thing I will also add is that the drop is deceptively much higher than it actually looks. The awesome tunel element really hids how big that drop is and it makes it far more unique and thrilling. I love how you can be right there in front of the drop right where it dives into the hole. It's a great opportunity for some pictures. The queue line did feel like it was stuck in 1999 as it still had those old-boxy TVs in the queue.

    Went over to Rita next. It's a fun ride with nice small pops of airtime, but not quite enjoyable enough to make anyone's top 20 list. I liked it, but it wasn't amazing. That's really all I have to say about it.

    Thirteen was next. This was a bit high on my anticipation list despite the bad reviews. This was because this was my first ever drop-track coaster. I was really curious about the experience. While the ride was very boring and slow, the drop sequence was very gimmicky and not very enjoyable. I thought it would be a fun air-time, Tower of Terr0r-esque drop experience, but it was over in just an uncomfortable split second. It didn't help that on my first ride (Got two rides out of it), I was totally unprepared for the jarring stop and the bottom and ended up banging my left elbow when the drop stopped. That didn't help my experience. After my first experience on a drop track coaster, I'm not anxious for SoCal to get a ride like that....unless Hagrid's does it right. I'm going to hopefully see for myself this Fall if Hagrid's will make that element worthwhile, but this was my least favorite coaster with Cebeebies coaster being dead last. I will say that the theming in the queue was nice, but that loud electrical shock thingy device trying to create jumpscares was super obnoxious.

    Next, I did some credit-whoring on Ceebebies coaster. Vekoma roller skater. Bland coaster for kids. It's a credit. Okay, next!

    Spinball Whizzer was a really fun spinner coaster. Spinning was fairly intense and it was fun. Not much to say here. After realizing every park in Europe has a spinning coaster, it kinda got old. But still it's fun.

    While I was in the area, I decided to take a break from the cold rain and do an indoor ride. This was another highly-anticipated ride as this would be my first exposure to a Vekoma madhouse. I hit up Hex since that was fairly close by and it had like, zero line. I really loved how the used the already-existing infrastructure of the towers to design the queue and the ride itself. You can tell by the pre-show videos it's a bit old and stuck in the 90's, but because the footage the show takes place in the 19th century to tell the story, it works and still holds up well. I did this three times and of the three Madhouse rides I've done on the trip (Out of this, Caesar at Parc Asterix, and Houdini at Rainbow Magicland), this is my favorite one and probably the most intense one. I never realized before riding that the seats are on a seperate axis that swings left and right. The ride started off with the room rotating with the seats; that way you would feel the sensation of the room tilting while not seeing any sign of motion, which made it super disorienting and trippy. The swinging was intense enough to where when the room spins upside down, you really feel like you're spinning upside down when you're really just at a steep incline. The theming was really great in the room, I might add. It was a great experience and hope that Knott's or Universal picks up a ride like this. I'm really surprised none of the major park chains here have picked up on this concept. This would be perfect for Universal as it takes up a small footprint, would be more unique and thrilling than a motion simulator, and opens up a lot of great story opportunities with theming and potential digital mapping effects. Universal should jump on putting this in Parisian.

    I took this opportunity to take the sky ride to get to the other side. The Sky ride was a life saver getting around this massive park and offered some fantastic views on the landscape. I wanted to make Nemesis my #200 coaster, but it broke down. I was going to settle for Wicker Man bing my #200, but that broke down too. I wasn't going to make the mine train my 200th credit. So after being tired of walking, back and forth wasting precious time, I decided to do Duel. It was kind of obvious that this was previously just a haunted house dark ride that was retro-fitted into a shooting ride. The queue was pretty cool and the entire indoor queue line path was slopped at an angle. That sort of thing would never fly in the US as it was totally not ADA-compliant. Seeing that was a novelty for me. The ride was a cool spooky ride. The targeting system was really good, but I hated how there was no reaction to the targets. It made the ride feel a bit more bland. But for a first-time rider, it was a tad startling on some areas.

    So Nemesis finally reopened and I was able to make that my 200th roller coaster. My absolute favorite B&M invert right now. Since they can't build above tree height, they really maximize the limitations and use the close scenery to their advantage. The close-calls you get from the surrounding rockwork and trees make this a truly one-of-a-kind roller coaster. I would have liked a front row on it, but it was raining, the line for the front was long, and I didn't feel like getting plastered.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2019
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  5. Freak

    Freak Veteran Member

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    (Cont. as there is a character limit):

    Next was Galactica: Not as intense as Tatsu (Tatsu will still be my all-time favorite flying coaster), I liked how there was more of the ride where you were on your back. It's a good flyer. That's all I've got.

    Wicker Man is a really good GCI coaster. I was pleasantly surprised by the good pops of airtime on the ride. the theming from the Wicker Man itself made it a lot more thrilling with the smoke tunnels. Gold Striker and Ghostrider are my two favorite GCIs and woodies right now with this being my number three woodie. Fast and ferocious.

    Mine Train was interesting as it was my first electric powered roller coaster. I noticed that virtually every park in England and Europe seems to have one. You'll be hard-pressed to find one in the US. Okay, Discovery Kingdom has one, but the ones in Europe tend to be much longer and more extensive. While it was fun, it's not overwhelming.

    Did the Dungeon. They took the old Willy Wonka ride and converted it into a horror ride with extra show elements in there. The whole conversion felt super cheap. While there were some cool Alien-Encounter-esque show scenes you get off the ride, the ride itself was virtually pitch dark to hide how cheap it was. You would sail in the dark and then suddenly, BOOM jumpscare. I guess it was cool doing once, but I wouldn't pay to do it again They could've found a better replacement but that's Merlin for ya. Anything to make a quick buck.

    Both days I was there it was raining and cold. My biggest concern was that all of the credits would shut down due to the weather. In California, If there was any hint of rain, they would shut down the park if it was Knott's or SFMM. Californians are total pansies when it comes to the rain. In England, it could be pouring rain, and they would still keep these rides open. They would make an announcement that "your ride may be uncomfortable", but they would still keep it open....which I think is awesome!

    Food was serviceable. I tried the burger and fries at the Burger stand by the Dungeon. Tasted almost like McDonald's. It's alright. The Roller Coaster restaurant was a nice novelty and the food was descent. I tried their waffle they sell from the waffle stand and US parks should do that more! It's pretty good.

    Overall, Alton Towers is a great park! My favorite park in the UK. Their operations were surprisingly good. Waaaaaaay better than your typical Six Flags park. My biggest qualm was how some rides wouldn't open until an hour after park opening and all of the rides would shut down at 4 when the site says the park closes at 5. Like, c'mon. Close the rides at closing. Other than that, I highly recommend you check this park out someday. This was fairly high on my bucket-list of theme parks to visit and I'm glad I finally had the chance to go!
     
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