Last month, after many false starts and a great deal of anticipation, I took my first ride on the Smiler at Alton Towers. I set out for the park full of dread in the wake of numerous reports regarding enormous queues and frequent breakdowns. I am not a person blessed with great patience and really do not relish lengthy waits for rides no matter how good they may turn out to be. In the event, thanks to the advice of my friend, things worked out rather well.
The Big Day
My friend had already made one trip to Towers to ride Smiler only to be a victim of the delayed debut of the ride. I think his head would have exploded if the thing was not running on this occasion! He had been tipped off that a small number of Fastrack tickets would be on sale and so we arrived early and ran straight to the sales unit, managing to grab the tickets which would hopefully save us from the queue from hell. I value my time greatly and so acquiring these tickets was a great relief. Everyone else had run straight to the ride where a lengthy line soon developed for a ride which did not open anywhere near on time.
From across the park we saw Smiler burst into life mid-morning and walked over to find the queue external and then some! We trotted down to the Fastrack entrance and were astonished to walk all the way to the platform and onto the front row of the ride without waiting a single second! I think the “limited” amount of Fastrack tickets had been limited to us!
OK so no queuing for us but how good was the ride? All I can say is that it was fun but not fabulous and definitely not worth waiting 3 hours for. The journey starts with a drop and inversion inside the station which induces a clever optical illusion making the track appear tilted as you return to an upright position. You are then sent up the first lift hill and through a series of twists and inversions before arriving at the second lift hill followed by more of same. There are 14 inversions in total, a world first, and some interesting special effects including the spraying of cold water in your face! There is nothing very cutting edge on the thrills front but it has to be said that the ride looks great, is very long and is about the best that could be achieved given the small footprint available and the height restrictions at the park.
I suppose the one big surprise for me was the smoothness of the ride apart from one section towards the end of the cycle that delivers a very unpleasant jolt. Having ridden other Gerstlauer constructions like Saw the Ride at Thorpe Park I was expecting a rougher journey but Smiler was pretty comfortable on the whole.
The Smiler is good fun but nothing amazing. If you are going to queue for it this summer then maybe leave your watch at home as you probably won’t want to be reminded of how much of your life you have wasted in that line!
Article by Sally Stacey