Miles away from the coast, but sure to satiate your roller-coaster desires – it’s time to find out ‘the power of the towers’…
Alton Towers – the place where dreams are made of (well, a place where fun times are had, anyway) and, being located in the middle of nowhere, this really is the go-to destination for anybody travelling through Staffordshire. Check out these hacks of what to do and what not to do to make the most of your visit whenever you may go.
From Flowers to Towers
If you don’t know anything about the history of one of the most famous theme parks in the world, here’s definitely a good place to start.
A fort/castle establishment has been at the heart of the Alton Estate for hundreds of years. In fact, an iron age fort was built there, and in 700AD, a fortress replaced this by a Saxon king. In the twelfth century, the large manorial estate (in which Alton Towers is located) was given to a knight – Bertram II de Verdun – for his work in the Crusades. However, the current estate as it is known today was created in the first decade of the nineteenth century by the fifteenth Earl of Shrewsbury, where the buildings and the farmland around the stately home were turned into one of the largest formal gardens in Britain. After many more years of different people inheriting the land, the eighteenth Earl of Shrewsbury acquired the Alton Towers estate in 1859 – and this is the point in time which became the major turning point for the future of this Staffordshire landmark.
Believe it or not, Alton Towers opened as a country estate nearly 180 years ago, in April 1860. The Earl celebrated his acquisition of the Alton Towers estate by holding a procession through Staffordshire, attracting some 40,000 people to the grounds.
Following the success of the eighteenth Earl, the successive earls consequently monetised how popular and how much of an attraction this place actually was. Opened for raising money to refurbish the house in the first instance, a tradition arose, and it became obvious that the public was just as enthusiastic about taking a visit to the estate as the first instance. In fact, the twentieth Earl instigated the tradition of bringing summer fetes to the Staffordshire Moorlands. Not just with the attraction of the gardens being open to take in, but fireworks, balloons and several exhibitions ensured that the future of the estate was secured for many years to come.
However, in the closing years of the nineteenth century, the separation of the Earl and the Countess slowly but surely put the future of the whole estate in danger until 1924, when it was brought into public ownership. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Alton Towers showed even a tiny glimpse of what it is today, with the inclusion of a few little attractions, such as a boating lake, a chairlift and a small fair. However, when the Tussauds Group purchased the site in 1980, this foreshadowed the many decades of development and the scope for what was to come to ensure the continuity of this site through the major development of roller-coaster rides; notably installing the famous Corkscrew that year.
Alton Towers was requisitioned as an officer cadet training camp. The house and grounds remained under the control of the war office until 1951.
Don’t Halt in Alton
If you’re one of the millions (yes, really) of people who have visited Alton Towers over the years, you’ll have probably experienced the feeling of nervousness and excitement as you drive through the little, hard-to-navigate streets of the namesake’s chocolate-box village. The only thing I would advise you to do is to keep on driving. You see, the name, ‘Alton Towers’, is actually quite misleading, as the actual grounds are located in an even smaller place called Farley. It’s like the Glastonbury of theme parks.
But once you do arrive on the grounds, that is just the start of your experience. Whether you park as close as humanly possible to the main entrance, or you drive just a little further afield and catch the monorail, the scenery and the staff all make your time at Alton Towers that much more magical – it’s like you’ve been transported into a completely different world.
Alton Towers is Europe’s joint-12th most visited theme park in Europe, with attendance breaking the 2,000,000 annual visitor mark in 2017
Make the Most of Your Stay
Ensuring that you have the best time, the Alton Towers Resort is fantastic at providing things for everybody to do. So much so that this overview of the theme park does very little justice to what you can actually get out of being there – so my first tip is that you really don’t know the magic of Alton Towers until you visit Alton Towers. Along with their world-famous roller-coasters (which people literally travel across the world to visit), visitors are encouraged to have a leisurely stroll through the centuries-old Gardens,
along with taking the Skyride to really get a different perspective on what stood (and still stands) in this now-changed country estate. Not only this, but Merlin also provides a plethora of arcade games dotted around each attraction to keep literally everybody occupied for the day (or even longer…)
Saying this, I really would recommend that, if you were staying for more than one day, you purchase the Alton Towers season pass – for a little more extra than the price of an ordinary ticket, it pays itself off in only a couple of visits; so definitely do your research and do your planning before paying.
Make sure to visit https://www.altontowers.com/tickets/ and also make sure to visit the well-known voucher code websites to really get the best deal
As with a lot of the major attractions which Merlin has, the amount of roller coasters and things to do is physically staggering. So much so that a lot of the coasters are split into different ‘sectors’ – including CBeebies Land (for smaller children), Mutiny Bay (for great family fun), the Dark Forest (for everybody wanting to take a delve into the unknown of roller-coaster rides) and the X Sector (for the true thrill-seekers).
This can mean that different areas of the park are busier at different times, and this can be super annoying for people waiting in the queue because it can mean that you are spending much more time queuing rather than getting to the next ride to quench your thrill-seeking thirst.
So, firstly, I would always pick a day during the week to visit the park where possible. As a general rule, the areas furthest away from the entrance are the best places to visit first. Not only would this get some of the Big 6 coasters ticked off the list first, but it would also mean that the queue times are shorter because not many people really feel like walking their legs off at the beginning of the day to get to the far corners of the park. Aside from this, it must be said that lunchtime is always a good time to go on any of the big rollercoasters – because not many people really have the desire to jump on the front of The Smiler just after wolfing down a hugely tasty (but a little pricey) spicy chicken burger and chips! And remember – always check to see when the ride close time is; this is the time when the entrances to each of the roller-coaster rides shut, so make sure to jump in the queue before then.
If you are peckish, there are so many great places to eat in and around the park, but it can be equally nice to take your own food, giving you the freedom to eat it wherever your heart desires. This might be a good idea, too, because it means then you can really treat yourself during the day to a pack of moreish doughnuts from Mutiny Bay instead of splashing all your cash on the savoury stuff at midday.
Nitrogenie, located outside Duel, is a particular favourite too for snacks on a hot summer’s day, with ice cream made directly in front of you. Made with a splash of magic (also known as liquid nitrogen), the whole experience of watching your food being made is hugely satisfying – and this is certainly no exaggeration. However, if you don’t take your own food, Pizza and Pasta restaurant is the destination to go to – with an all-you-can-eat buffet selection. The downside to this is, that you could literally spend all of your time at Alton Towers solely eating – so definitely approach with caution on that one!
Feeling a little more flush or going for a special event? The Roller-coaster Restaurant is amazing; it is fantastic for families too, but err on the side of caution with this one – there is no movement or indeed human interaction involved as you order all of your food with a tablet at your table and you pay for it all at the very end. Terrifically typical of Alton Towers, the magic of the park even flows into the theming of the food – which is really tasty, by the way.
Apart from the main attractions, there are other things you can do there, but this is all at a cost. For example, you can while away the hours at the Spa, or you can even visit the on-site waterpark and Splash Landings, but both can get hugely busy during the peak periods, so you really do need to make a day of going to those places too. Splash Landings is the place for everybody, and when it’s not full, you really can let your hair down (or not) and just let go of the flow of life for a few hours. When it is busy, though, it sometimes doesn’t feel like you really get the full value of your time there, so it is probably best to plan ahead before you go, just like with the theme park, if you can.
Queue Times: The Inside Track
When I say ‘a completely different world’, I really do mean it – once you make it into the theme park itself, it really does place you in a very strange place, where the reality of the outside world might as well not just exist. One of the reasons behind this is the fact that physical time within Alton Towers times is completely different to how you’d experience time during (to quote one of the most famous rides at the theme park, ‘The Smiler’) your ordinary, mundane lives. So, because of this, be sure always to make a plan of action before you step foot into the park – this will ensure you get the best out of these few precious hours where fun is the one and the only thing on the agenda.
Visit Alton Towers live queue times to get the queue times.
Depending on the time of year you visit, what you can physically do within the confines of a single day can vary hugely.
Thinking of going at the start of the season (March/April)?
Yes, the queue times might be quiet, but the likelihood is that you’ll be quite chilly when walking between the rides and between finding things to do. I’d recommend going during this time if you’re a true adrenaline junkie, but beware of horrible weather, and this might cause some rides to close in adverse conditions.
Thinking of going before the summer holidays (April-June)?
In my humble opinion, this is the best time to go. Okay, the weather might not be as good as during the peak summer season, but the likelihood is that you’ll be met with sun and not showers. Apart from the seemingly endless bank holidays, these months create the fine balance between having a good time and being able to really quench your thirst for adrenaline.
Thinking of going during the summer period (July-September)?
The holiday season only means one thing; FUN! The height of the British summertime brings along with it something not seen at any other time of the year for all of the fun and thrill-seekers among us – it brings the chance to stay outside for longer and, for the kids, to stay up for longer! This is definitely the time to go if you are up for even more time to thrill seek on your day out. Usually, the ride close times are much later than at any other point in the season, but the flip side to this is the hideously long queue times. Of course, it all depends on the day – you can never be too sure.
Thinking of going during the festive period (October-November)?
A little like the summertime, this brings a whole different kettle of fish to the forefront – the Scarefest spooktacular, during which The Laurels is dressed up and Fireworks extravaganza. Especially during Scarefest, the ride times are even later, with rides closing at 9 pm (yes, really), but again, this means that the crowds can be heaving during the busier periods– so be prepared to walk (or stand) your legs off if you take the plunge and decide to visit during the period that Alton Towers is most famous for.
Let’s Just Go!
If you are a thrill-seeker, a fun fanatic, or just fancy going somewhere for a day out in the middle of the Staffordshire countryside (and who wouldn’t want that?!), you need to put Alton Towers on your list of places to visit.
If you’re from the UK, or even further afield, you have probably heard of Alton Towers – especially as Merlin seems to have taken over the world with its theme parks, located at various locations in the UK, Europe, North America and Asia.
Yes, a trip to the Towers can be an expensive way to while away a few hours of the day, but there are so many different things you can do to make the most of your time there. You don’t have to be a Merlin employee to really make the money stretch further when you get there.
One of the main ways in which people save money is (I’m going all Martin Lewis here) by using popular online voucher code websites, where Alton Towers regularly offer huge discounts. Additionally, staying at The Laurels B&B is a fraction of the price of what Alton Towers charge per night – so if you don’t mind a little bit of travelling if you are staying in the area for more than an afternoon, it really does pay to do your research.
The same goes with food; with so much to choose from in and around Alton itself, if you don’t mind what to eat, your taste buds might thank you – yes, the food at Alton Towers is nice, but healthy? Let’s just say there is only so much fried food you can take, as well as having the stomach to be able not to turn green on the most exhilarating roller-coasters!
So, if you plan your day right, if you know the best days to visit and if you come to the park with a good pair of walking shoes (trust me – you will need them) you’ll have a whale of a time. You’ll leave this incredible attraction smiling with your wallet not being drained into oblivion and your head not Spinball whizzing with confusion!