Alton towers and social distancing?

On Sunday I went to Alton Towers as the park was open from 10am – 8pm (this is normal hours in Europe for most theme parks). Part of me wishes I didn’t bother, but as the UK is on the brink of another national lockdown I decided to drive there and back. Its not the first time I’ve done it and this time at least it wasn’t pouring with rain.

As I drove in to the car park I could see the huge long queue to enter with social distancing. I think the monorail was closed because of social distancing too. After 40mins, a bag check, temperature gun check and a check of my eticket I was in.

First stop the Smiler. This is when I spotted the sign about single riders. There will be no single rider queue due to social distancing guidelines join the main queue. I knew then it was going to suck…

Social distance markers in Alton Towers

Standing in the queue, which was extended up and around the top ridge of the Smiler compound. You could see markers on the ground of where you are meant to stand. Problem is most people were not standing on them no matter how much Alton Towers staff shout over the loud speaker system. Heck they even called out a few people and it made no noticeable difference.

One of the biggest problem with the Smiler queue is it exists underneath the ride structure and its setup to be like a maze for mice. Of course this isn’t good for social distancing at all. You could see there were obvious gaps to allow distance between the fences but people just took it as they were 2 meters from the people in front and back and that was enough.

The Smiler queuing system

I got on the ride twice and I’ll be honest twice I had to glare at the people following me to back off. I really should have worn my mask, which you only need to wear when entering the station. I honestly didn’t feel that safe while queuing. Of course all this queuing means you are in close contact with people for a long time. A hour each time for the Smiler.

The Smiler train has 4 rows of 4 seats (16 riders), I shared a row with a couple the first time (there was a seat between us) then had a whole row to myself the second time. You can easily see why queues were so long.

With two rides I looked around and saw the horribly long lines for food so decided to head over to Nemesis and Galactica (I didn’t bother going to Rita or 13). The queue for the cable cart was 60mins (Imagine it would be 1 household per cart), so I walked over. Nemesis had a queue time of 55mins and they had opened the line up to include the extended line right up in the field, last time I been up there was back in 1999! Usually Nemesis’ queue is no more than 5-10mins. The bunch of men/lads/idiots behind me stood within 0.5-1 meter. I did tell them to back off and they made stupid faces and silly noises. I couldn’t be bothered so popped my headphones on, pretty much ignored them. On the ride I had a whole row to myself again. No wonder it was such a long wait. For all that waiting, Galactica was only 30mins wait which isn’t that far off the last time I was in Alton Towers. I did share the row with another couple like the Smiler.

The killer for me was Wicker man which I have never been on and finally got the chance but there was one hell of a time cost. Almost 2 hours of queuing in to be fair a socially distance observing line. The line was moving so slowly, most people had given up standing and were sitting around. It was dire, make no mistake. After listening to 2 hours of the Guilty Feminist’s audiobook I finally got on the ride and it was clear why things were so slow. Each row had 2 seats and they were seating every other row. Meaning a maximum of 12 riders per turn, not the usual 24.

By the time I got my ride on Wicker man I decided I was fed-up and close enough to the entrance to drive home before the sunset and I didn’t fancy  driving at night through country lanes.

I’ll be frank Alton Towers is a horrible place to be during a pandemic, I felt a lot safer going to Blackpool Pleasure beach. The staff seemed a lot more knowledgeable, gels (for example there was no gel in the line for the smiler over 2 hours) and cleaning was a lot more visible.

I’m not the only one who had worries about Alton Towers.

Maybe I’ll revisit next year out of season…

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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