Review: The Smiler rollercoaster at Alton Towers

The Smiler 1
4.5 star review

Dogged by problems since its construction began, Alton Towers latest rollercoaster The Smiler is now much more likely to be available when you turn up at the park.

The wait has certainly been worth it.

Aesthetically, the ride is the most dramatic and sensational-looking rollercoaster built in the UK since Alton Towers’ very own Nemesis.

The mangled track, inverting 14 times, towers over the caged queue lines in which people have had to wait for more than three hours earlier in the summer.

One of the five trains produces headache-inducing noise, and combined with the excessive laughter sounds playing, queuing can be almost unbearable on the ears.

Just below world-class

The final part of the queuing experience is spent within an indoor section featuring strange optical illusions and strobe lighting.

It is one of several examples of areas that could have been made more atmospheric with better effects – this feels like it has been rushed, not quite making sense in terms of theme.

The Smiler 2

As you hand over your loose baggage and climb some sparsely-decorate stairs, you enter a cold and clinical-looking station.

And although that is the attempt of the theme, an intimidating surgical facility – it requires serious imagination to realise that concept.

As you board the 16-seater trains and descend into a still-indoor section at fair speed, you can see the remnants of the floods that forced the addition of mobile pumps and sandbags earlier in the year.

Still within the building, the train inverts via a barrel roll – but there are no effects as the TV adverts allude to. A great opportunity lost.

It is these small touches – including too much bland-looking concrete on the outside – that let the ride down and prevent it from beating the thematic creations of Disney, and indeed other concepts at Alton Towers.

Relentless disorientation

As the first of two lift hills – this one at a more conventional angle – is climbed, the turnround into the first inversion lights the blue touch paper.

The Smiler 3

Although some of creator John Wardley’s claims about his rides can legitimately be questioned, his stating of “you don’t know where you are” at any given moment is totally accurate.

The inversions relentlessly disorientate you – but never to the point of nausea or dizziness. It is virtually impossible to know where abouts on the layout you are.

The ride judders considerably in places but is still an improvement on the experience offered by Saw – The Ride at Thorpe Park. One particular yank stands out above the rest, even bordering pain-inflicting.

It has character and urgency, it is unique and forceful in nature.

War of the Worlds-esque central theming object The Inoculator may be striking to look at as you walk up to and queue around the ride, but you have no time to notice it or its five ‘effects’ when you are on the ride.

A chance for a breather comes as the train hits a brake run halfway through and the vertical lift-hill is ascended, the ensuing body position unnerving a number of riders.

The second-half is pretty much more of the same as the first – fast-paced inversions which seem impossible to identify.

Unfortunately, the two bunny-hop hills in the centre lack the stomach-floating airtime they appear to offer, due to trim brakes.

The design of the loops look varied and stunning from the sidelines, but they virtually all blend into one when you are on the ride, save the double barrel roll which ends the ride as you re-enter the station.

Well-documented mechanical and civil engineering issues aside, Wardley and Merlin Entertainments have commissioned an £18 million ride that can sit proudly on top of the world….

…with just a few thousand pounds more worth of theming and effects.