- Anne Cadwallader at Alton Towers
What is it about white-knuckle rides that has even the most level-headed kid gasping for more? Show them a roller-coaster, or an offer to catapult them into the air at the speed of sound, whirling around crazily at the same time, and they’d bite your hand off.
If you’re looking for a bribe guaranteed to achieve the desired result, or a birthday present that will elicit paroxysms of gratitude, it’s a weekend at the British theme park “Alton Towers”.
Reading the descriptions of the rides is enough to give most adults a headache. “Oblivion”, for example, takes you on a 200-foot, 4.5 G-force plummet under the ground while “Rita – Queen of Speed” catapults you from 0 to 100 kph in 2.5 seconds. But see kids? They love ’em.
The two we took with us recently (aged 12 and 13) went on a total of sixteen rides in one day (including several more than once) before virtually collapsing from exhaustion in mid-afternoon. But, on the bright side, there are less intense rides for smaller children and plenty of places for Mum and Dad to rest their feet.
What we all particularly liked about Alton Towers, comparing it to Disney and other US theme parks, is the sense of space. If white-knuckle riding is your idea of hell, there are plenty of quiet, shady nooks in the massive, ornate gardens to get away from it all.
You can barely hear the screaming over the sound of birdsong …
We were also pleasantly surprised to find we could buy a meal, including large soft drinks, for all four of us for just under £20 (including masses of barbecued ribs, large sausages, beans, salad, chips, coleslaw and chicken pieces).
Eating all that as well as riding “Nemesis” and “Oblivion”, it was amazing our two didn’t lose their lunches. Tessie (12) and Eibhlin (13) enjoyed the “Ripsaw” ride best as well as the gentler attractions of boating on the Alton Towers’ pond.
If you also prefer the independence that comes with taking a ship rather than a plane – then you’ll already be thinking about which of the many ferry routes to take across the Irish Sea. Teaching a child about the sea, about the geography of these islands and giving them a sense of the romance to be found in large ports can actually be part of the adventure.
It sounds terribly boring, and would be in a classroom, but there’s something indefinably satisfying about loading up the family car, taking the open road to a port and driving up a ramp onto a large sea-going vessel.
A “wagons roll!” kind of a feeling.
Our two actually enjoyed the journey over, found the beds comfortable and ate plenty of food onboard. They, and we, also appreciated the strong showers in our cabin – just the thing for waking you up at the crack of dawn with a journey ahead!
The experience of sailing out of Birkenhead at sunset on the Sunday, pink light reflected in the Mersey and shining on the twin towers of the Liver Building, was one of the highlights of the trip.
If you arrive early at the embarkation point, the seaside resort of New Brighton is just around the corner to spend your last few quid on the bumper cars and amusements.
And if all of this sounds either (a) complicated to arrange, (b) expensive or (c) time-consuming – think again. There’s a route from Belfast that will land you in Liverpool with two days ahead at Alton Towers that doesn’t cost the earth.
Norse Merchant Ferries operates a night-time sailing to Birkenhead from Belfast that leaves at 10.30 nightly – enough time to get you from Dublin after working hours – and lands you in England at 6 am the following morning.
If you’re thinking of visiting Alton Towers, this is timed exactly right to get you to the park at opening time, so you can sail in and try out all the most popular rides before the crowds arrive.
There are empty motorways at that time of morning all the way from Birkenhead to Stoke on the M6 where you leave the main drag and take well-marked minor roads to Alton Towers.
One major advantage of travelling with Norse Merchant is that your ferry price includes both a three-course evening meal and full breakfast – no rip-offs here.
It also includes a comfortable four-berth cabin with en-suite shower etc for refreshing yourself in the morning before your onward journey.
A 3-night Travelbreak trip includes a one-night stay at a nearby hotel and one night on board ship each way. Prices for 2 adults, 2 children and a car start from £279 for the complete package.
If all this fun sounds like too much to miss, you can book by contacting your travel agent or by calling Travelbreak (from the Republic) on 00-44-2890-714 614.
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