Masked screams and cheap chocolate: First look inside reopened Alton Towers

Gina Clarke
alton towers - getty

The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering as we got closer to the theme park. But this wasn’t about the world-famous rollercoasters, oh no.

I was bringing my family to Alton Towers to explore its first day of reopening since the start of lockdown. With an existing ticket and a birthday to celebrate, eight-year-old Megan and five-year-old Peter joined me as we jumped in the car to see just why they’ve been given the ‘Good to Go’ industry charter mark by Visit England.  

In order to keep safe against Covid-19, the park is currently operating at a reduced capacity, with guests subject to temperature checks and the introduction of spacial markers and screens throughout. But how does it work in reality?

Turning up early was one of the best decisions I could have made. With the monorail out of action (they can’t guarantee social distancing) there was a potentially long walk from the Alton Towers Hotel where we were due to stay for the night.

Instead, the reduced numbers meant we could park much closer. Once at those famous gates, portable tents had been erected so that bags could be searched and temperatures checked before we had even approached the turnstile. And while the rides themselves didn’t open until 10am, you could access the park from much earlier. It is a shame that this hadn’t been more publicised as I think the only crowds on the day came from wanting to beat the rush in the morning.  

This weekend the park is running at a 25 per cent capacity, and it soon became obvious that the majority of ticket holders were here for the rollercoasters. Over in CBeebies Land, the queue times stayed around the zero mark, and we strolled straight on to most rides.

alton towers entrance - getty

The only exception was a 25-minute wait for the In the Night Garden boat ride, but the poor chap manning it seemed to have to do all the cleaning at specific intervals, meaning that five empty boats would drift off while he battled on with the disinfectant.

Crying toddlers are always an occupational hazard here but many were incredibly patient with the extra safety methods. Dollops of hand gel were readily available at both the entrance and exit to rides, and the staff’s welcoming attitude never wavered – they really seemed to have missed us.

There were some additional requirements for masks on rides where you were expected to give the odd scream, such as the big rollercoasters and also the Runaway Mine Train. If you hadn’t brought your own then Alton Towers' gift shop was open, albeit newly changed to a one-way system, and in a stroke of marketing genius, it had masks available in various branded colours. I particularly liked the one for children as it came with a choice of ear holes so you could adapt the size.

To get inside you had to pass rows of Cadbury’s cream eggs, generously discounted to just 25p each, a sign that the theme park has faced its own struggles since was unable to open in March after the winter break. However, there are no price rises expected for this season to compensate.

alton towers - Gina Clarke

One of the biggest setbacks has been the postponement of the new ‘World of David Walliams’ and the headline Gangsta Granny ride, which will now be opened officially in September. While Alton Towers has said that it will try to open every ride they can (indoor rides such as Hex, Duel and Justin’s House are closed as social distancing cannot be observed), both Rita and Th13teen were out of action today meaning that big queues quickly built up at some of the other rollercoasters, such as Oblivion and The Wicker Man.

With the Skyride also not running, we hardly ventured out of Katanga Canyon, but still managed to have an action-packed day – you could never argue that there was ‘nothing to do’ at Alton Towers. But families should be aware that long walks are in store and that while picnics are encouraged the lockers will stay closed for the time being. 

Before we knew it, it was time to check into the Alton Towers Hotel. There are some small changes here: only one guest is asked to approach the check-in desk and there are screens between you and the staff. 

Then once we’d unpacked in our Benjamin Bunny-themed room (the sweetest hand-drawings complete with a realistic-looking tree) it was time to unwind with a spot of Adventure Golf before dinner – free for hotel guests. 

Overall, while large parts of Alton Towers are yet to open, there is still plenty to do, whether you’re a thrill-seeker or a family looking to spend some quality time together. The reduced capacity meant that in all my years of coming to the park, I had never seen it so quiet and of course, it’s very easy to find some space for yourself in the park's 550 acres of landscaped gardens. Just make sure you pack your walking shoes.