Everyone has a place they've always wanted to go. Maybe you dream of hot, tropical beaches. Or perhaps you've always fancied the hustle and bustle of New York. For me, my fantasy place was right here in the UK. It was a theme park I had grown up reading about, seeing on TV and hearing about friends visiting. It was a place called Alton Towers.
As most of you who read this blog will know, I turned 30 last month. Yep, pretty big birthday. Time to do something special, right? How about making a dream come true?!
Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly, depending on the sort of person you think I am...), it wasn't me who suggested a trip to Alton Towers. It was my lovely friend Lizzie who first suggested it - on my 29th birthday when discussions about the big 3-0 first began - backed up by the fabulous Lydia until we all decided: "YES!"
My face then looked like an older version of this. For a whole year.
There's excited and then there's me when it comes to this sort of thing. Every time I went to the supermarket, I saw things I wanted to buy for our "hotel party" the night before we went to the theme park itself. At the mere mention of the word "rollercoaster," I would instantly become 12 again and start getting nervous jitters. I couldn't wait to fly on Air, I wanted to travel ridiculously fast on Rita and I wanted to stare at Oblivion and tell everyone there was no way I would be going on that.
A vertical drop?! Into a BLACK HOLE?! ARE YOU MAD?!
The days and weeks and months dragged until finally, the day arrived. You know that feeling you get when you see a place on TV and think: "I would love to go there?" Well as I drove my car to Alton Towers that sunny, Saturday morning in September, all I could think was: "It's going to become a real place. It's not going to be on my TV, or in a picture on my laptop. I'm going to see that sign and it's actually going to be right there in front of me..." The phrase "like a kid at Christmas" doesn't do it justice.
When we parked, I was overjoyed to see that my sister Michelle, another Alton Towers virgin amongst our group (Kirstie, Lizzie, possibly Kim, if I remember rightly and Lydia had all been before), was pretty much wanting to leg it all the way across the carpark to the monorail, shrieking as she went. Getting over-excited at the thought of theme parks is obviously a Tofi trait...
Sitting on the monorail was almost excruciating; like standing at the entrance to a party filled with all your favourite celebrities, waiting to be handed your VIP access-all-areas badge. As we trundled past Air and began seeing the park itself, I genuinely pondered whether crying might make me look a bit pathetic, such was my sheer excitement. I'm not even sure the girls I was with that day know how much I was looking forward to it. I'm not even sure I can convey it in words. I was essentially about to experience the one place I'd dreamt of visiting since I was a child and I was beyond happy. I was finally there.
That's me - the one struggling to contain ridiculous levels of SQUEEEEE!
Over the next few hours, I did almost all the things I'd spent the last year (and then some!) dreaming of. I was swung all over the place on Nemesis (amazing fun, but made me really, really dizzy), I did roly poly flips and got soaking wet on Ripsaw (a ride I didn't expect to love as much as I did, but it was absolutely awesome!) and I flew on Air. In fact, Air was the ride I was most excited about going on. The ability to fly has always been the number one super power I'd like to have and experiencing it... WOW. I loved every second of it. In fact when I disembarked at the end of the ride, for the second time that day, I felt bizarrely emotional. When you've built something up in your head for ao long and it lives up to all of your expectations, it makes you happier than words can adequately describe. The feeling was sensational and I adopted the "Superman" pose throughout my flight. Flying along, suspended from the track, helped to dry me off, following my ride on ripsaw too!
Did I mention I got REALLY wet on Ripsaw?!
Queuing for Rita, having decided to use my Fast Track pass and ride alone, I was a bit miffed when it suddenly broke down. WHAT THE...?! Thankfully, since I'd used my Fast Track, I was handed a Priority Pass for later, which covered not only me, but one extra person, too. It meant that, much later on in the day, I was able to go on with Lydia. Travelling from 0-100kph in just 2.5 seconds with your best mate? I'd definitely recommend it!
I rode on Th13teen with Kim, Michelle and a random guy who was at the park celebrating his birthday with his family. He told me his wife had never been on a rollercoaster, so Th13teen was her first one. She screamed. A lot.
I experienced Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory and I checked out the aquarium (nice, but by the time we left I was hankering for some serious rollercoaster action!) and then we rode on the Congo River Rapids and The Flume.
My sister and me... Prior to our second soaking of the day!
By the time we'd clambered out of our bath tubs at the end of The Flume, we knew we didn't have much time left at the park. I'll be honest; I was probably more upset than I should have been. I wanted to spend my life at that place and the fact that the day was drawing to a close when I just wanted to go from fast ride to fast ride, pushing myself to my limits, letting the adrenaline rush take over time and time again, was pretty devastating! There was so much I still wanted to see and do. I wanted to take a slow walk through the gloomy woods and see all the statues that talk to you. I wanted to ride the SkyRide again. I wanted to visit the towers themselves and wander round the gardens for a while. I wanted to go on Blade with Lydia, as that's the ride she remembers with enormous fondness from her childhood visits. But in a funny way, I'm slightly glad (as much as I wanted to do everything on the day and kept wishing time would stand still so that I could) that there are things I still haven't done, which I'd like to do. It gives me more of an excuse to go back...
Even though I had no intention of going on it (I've mentioned the vertical drop into a black hole, right?!), I wanted to see Oblivion. Michelle was adamant she wasn't going on it, either. Kim was open-minded. We dashed to X Sector and there, suddenly, seemingly growing out of the ground itself, was Oblivion.
It was very tall. And very vertical.
I don't know if it was just the culmination of a day of adrenaline, but something came over the three of us and the next thing we knew, we were in the queue for the one ride I had sworn I would not be going on. With the rest of the girls waiting around the black hole, Michelle, Kim and I took our seats and began the agonisingly slow ascent to the top of the lifthill. Slowly, slowly, we made our way around the bend until the track began to disappear before our eyes. It looked like we were about to plunge off the edge of the Earth. As we tilted over the edge, looking down at a terrifying, vertical drop, I somehow managed to shout (well, no, scream) "hello" to Lydia, waiting down at the bottom with her camera.
Yep. One of those terrified people up there is me...
Then gravity took hold. Over the top we went, plummeting towards the cavern below us, with me screaming all the way. In fact, I was practically still screaming when we came to end of the ride. It had been terrifying, but the sheer adrenaline rush made it worth the fright a million times over. Facing what was one of my ultimate fears, with my sister and sister-in-law (to be!) beside me was amazing. I don't see them often enough and if there's one thing that's bound to bond you together, it's screaming your head off as you rush towards the ground at breakneck speed... ;-) I was determined not to go on Oblivion, but as it turns out... It's one ride I'm actually desperate to do battle with again...
Everyone rushed off in different directions once Michelle, Kim and I had made it safely back to the other girls (I may or may not have screamed: "I FUCKING DID IT!" at Lydia...). There was perhaps time for one more ride, if we rushed.
That was when Lydia and I decided to go on Rita, using our Priority Pass. I thought I knew what to expect. I thought it would just be a case of "oh, that was quite fast..." But seriously. That initial acceleration is so fierce that it literally takes your breath away! In spite of the ferocious speed, Lydia grabbed my hand and we rushed along the track, with our arms aloft. Hand in hand with my best friend, travelling at goodness only knows how many miles an hour... What a way to end the day.
That building I'm obscuring? That's Alton Towers... Honest.
Sometimes, you hype something up so much in your head that the real thing can never compare. But Alton Towers was everything I thought it would be. The rides were amazing; fast, scary, well themed and above all, fun! There was something there for everyone; from the quiet, gentle rides that please kids of all ages, to the beautiful gardens and ancient ruins (they're on my "to do" list) and of course the rollercoasters - great metal monsters, sending adrenaline coarsing through your veins at every drop and turn. There's always something to see, always a place to sit if you want to chill out and the SkyRide is a stunning way to travel.
So would I recommend it? You bet your ass. I recommend spending that little bit extra and getting a Fast Track pass; who wants to go all the way to Alton Towers and spend the whole day queuing?! And get Early Ride Time by booking online; you beat the queues that way, too. ;-)
Thank you so much Lizzie for suggesting it. Thanks to everyone for agreeing to it! Thanks to Alton Towers for making a 30 year old woman feel like a child again.
I knew I would love that place, with its thrills, spills and excitement at every turn.
And I'm definitely going back...