It takes a special kind of madness for a seasoned coaster enthusiast to visit Awful Towers on a weekend in the height of the summer. Her name is Megan, she is my girlfriend, and she had absolutely no idea that we'd be visiting a park today until our alarm clock went off shortly before 4:00am.
In recent years it has become very easy to get heavily discounted tickets for Alton Towers. Two for one offers are advertised on a very regular basis, and completely free tickets are also commonplace. We got ours through Tesco Clubcard, allowing us to redirect the money we would have spent towards Fast Track coupons. These gave us a single ride on each of the major roller coasters with minimal waiting time.
The lady at the ticket office told us that Thirt13n was closed for maintenance today, but that guest services would be able to revalidate our Fast Track coupon so that it could be used on any other ride of our choice. Unfortunately, the definition of any in use at the park today did not include the new-for-2013 roller coaster, The Smiler. This restriction wasn't exactly surprising, but it would have been nicer if we'd been told about it ahead of time.
We elected not to head directly for the new coaster, figuring that just about everyone else in the park would be doing that. Instead, we turned left towards a coaster that many enthusiasts consider to be one of the finest ever built. Nemesis is now in its twentieth season, but still delivers in spectacular fashion despite its age. We were able to get in three laps in twenty minutes, followed in short order by a lap on Air.
Nemesis Sub Terra was new to me today, having been added to the park last year. The ride is a heavily themed drop, albeit a very short one with a sequence lasting all of two seconds. I'd describe it as pointless were it not for excellent theming with some very clever special effects that were genuinely frightening. There are a few videos of the sequence on the Internet, but I'd encourage people not to watch them in order to get maximum enjoyment from riding.
The Smiler (#1954) is the latest roller coaster to be added to Alton Towers, and it certainly looks impressive at first glance. Fourteen inversions are crammed into a spaghetti bowl of track that covers and extends well beyond the area that once held the Black Hole (since reborn at Furuvik), and the visual statement is of a ride that means business.
Unfortunately, the experience itself is somewhat lacking for several reasons. Irritating music in the queue is just about forgivable, but extreme roughness is not, especially on a brand new ride. Most of the track is negotiated without jarring, but inversions two, twelve, and thirteen are handled very awkwardly, and the unforgiving over-the-shoulder restraints exacerbate the problem. More to the point, the ride felt like two seven inversion coasters bolted together, thanks to a lengthy stop followed by a second lift hill at the mid point of the course. We ended up in the back car of the train for both our laps, which might be colouring my judgement a little, but the fact remains that a brand new signature coaster shouldn't hurt when the twenty-year-old one on the far side of the park doesn't.
Over the rest of the day we worked our way around the other significant rides; Charlie, Duel, Hex, Oblivion, Rita, Runaway Mine Train, and Sonic Spinball, before finishing the evening with a number of laps on Nemesis.