Our first European Coaster Club trip was to Alton towers for the first day of the season last weekend.
We had been to Alton a couple of weeks before when the ponds were frozen and it hurt to ride due to the near zero temperatures causing frost bite on your face however it was restricted opening as it was still closed season. This weekend everything was open, well by eleven o'clock (except for the sky ride post fire work still going on). We managed to arrive for just after nine and got on the front row of Nemesis while no one else had arrived.
We got to see the newly re-themed pirate area, last time very under construction, now finished off together with the new water ride, and even better there were hundreds of pirates walking around the park from various pirate societies. Many of them looked uncannily like Mr. Dep. It was a great day not too busy with the pirates been very well behaved for pirates, lots of "argh"ing going on though.
It was really nice to be so welcomed by the EEC members. We enjoyed completing the Alton Challenge where we had to find the answers to a list of clues given to us around the park. We thought it was our first trip and didn't want to be too disgraced, so we diligently went around finding out as much as we could, and ended up a very respectful 3rd. As we'd only been in the park a couple of weeks before we'd already found our coaster legs so didn't mind not riding too many rides.
The evening brought us to a look at the under belly of HEX the ride. We got to watch the ride go through its program from the outside. I learnt it is not a Huss ride but built by Verkoma. It was really cool to be allowed into see this as it is something that I've always wanted to see and we could not have seen it much closer, my nose almost getting sliced off as it rotated. We had previously nearly got to seeHex by going to one of the Alton behind the scenes tours last year, but Clare was too ill to go. At last the secrets were revealed and we also got to ride with all the AV switched off. Everyone was interested by how quiet it was. Personally I thought the music was to mask the ride motors, not the case!
Then we got some extended ride time on Rita, in the rain -that was painful, but sort of fun. It was very dark by this time too, with just a couple of flood lights lighting the station, they are very sensitive about lighting at night so as to not upset the local residents. It was an honour to be invited into the hydraulics bunker to see the hydraulic motor launch the train. We also were told all about the instrumentation used to measure the launches and conditions of the cables. Very interesting to an engineer like me!
Next we were brought around The Towers by some professional ghost hunters. This didn't really work for me as I've always found The Towers very welcoming and homely. I couldn't get into the teenage switch the lights off and lets tell stories to scare ourselves frame of mind - sorry. That said I am very glad to have experienced it so at least I know it is not my cup of tea!
The evening finished off with an evening buffet that was really high quality. It was just what I needed after a long day at the park. Everywhere was looking smart for the new season; it is nice to see the place getting better every year. It was also nice to see the restored stained glass windows back in the chapel, worth a look if you are on your way past after riding Hex. You must also check out the conservatory on the way out, the glass is almost all back in! It was said that even the kite marks on the glass have had to be hidden in the putty of the frames to keep the conservation officer happy.
Sometimes I think when you look at the overall state of the towers, worrying about small details like this is inappropriate. Does it have to be restored so precisely. Is it not better that something happens rather than running even bigger bills up by pandering to such requests...?
The my day people were out in force at the park, the new video of my day system was under test and they thought would go live the next day. Shame they didn't use us as guinea pigs.
Super day, great people and I've included links to the launch and Hex.
Special thanks to staff that stayed back on a wet cold night to let us see what we could only have dreamed of seeing and talking to me on a none patronising level about the technical stuff.
29/03/2008 Edit - Justin has uploaded photos now from the trip, see http://www.coasterclub.org/gallery/index.php?cat=20