We love a theme park in our house, and Alton Towers is one of my favourites. This summer we stayed on resort at one of their hotels for the second time (we stayed in summer 2017 too) booking a short break directly through the Alton Towers Resort website.
We have two young sons (just turned 2 and just turned 4) and were travelling with my husband's family and their kids - 13 of us - and wanted to do as many rides as possible in 2 days - which takes a bit of planning.
I'll start with the basics - the package cost us about £230 for 1 night in resort, staying at Splash Landings hotel, this includes 2 day park tickets and we also bought waterpark tickets for the second day. The waterpark is impressive and well worth a couple of hours if your kids are keen splashers! The booking includes breakfast the next day, and early entry to the park with the monorail opening at 9am and limited rides opening at 9:30am. (Check the website before you go for the opening times and what rides are running as they change depending on time of year). TOP TIP - book online as early as you can - we booked in January for a break in June and it was about 40% cheaper than normal - both times we've booked before 31st January and it seems to be true, but they do various offers for different times of year so keep checking or sign up to the email list to stay informed. Also consider going in term time, particularly if you have young kids, the queue times are fairly non-existent and you can do much more of the park.
On your first day you can drop your bags at the hotel and they'll take them to the room after 3pm so that you can go an enjoy the park - beware that they seem to always be short staffed on reception and check in can take a while - this happened last year when we stayed in the Alton Towers hotel too so seems to be a recurring thing. Once you have checked in it's straight to the park.
The monorail has large queues to get to and from the park and there is only 1 carriage available for wheelchair users and double buggies - they ask you to fold them up if you want to get in a normal carriage, but if the kids are asleep and you do have a double you'll have to wait until the next monorail. It takes a couple of minutes to get over to the park entrance and it's part of the adventure for the kids.
At the gates of the park there are several different queues that I would say are not that clear - if you have printed tickets and are staying at the hotel, you can go straight to the priority gate and go in - on the first day we had no problem, on the second the staff were asking for proof of staying on resort so take all of your print outs with you - I don't know why it was different one day to the next but just carry as much with you as you have.
There is a Costa Coffee place just inside the entrance but beware they only do plain tea and coffee with soya/alternative milk - nothing fancy - so I couldn't go get a latte to keep me going. The food issue I'll get to later but is a big issue for Alton Towers - they just don't provide the necessary for those with allergies/dietary requirements.
The park itself is large, with cable cars running from one side to the other - with kids in tow you'll be unlikely to do everything you want in just one day - we attempted this last year and only really managed CBeebies with the kids and the waterpark. This time, with other adults with us, we could take it in turns. TOP TIP - Ask a member of staff anywhere in the park for a Parent Pass - we didn't know these existed until our second day (it's a shame they don't hand them out at the park entrance to parents) - these are FREE and allow one parent to queue and go on the ride, you get the pass stamped as you leave the ride and then the next parent goes straight through the fast track entrance - meaning only one set of parents if you're in a group, or one parent if you're a couple, needs to queue - it meant we could get on lots more than we have normally done and I only wish we'd known about them on the first day.
If you're travelling with young children you'll probably want to venture to CBeebies Land and Cloud Cuckoo Land - both good for small children, probably up to about age 10 - but beware there's not very much for any kids under 90cm tall - they can't even join in the fun in Justin's house even with a parent. Obviously this is reflected in the fact that you don't pay for a ticket for under 3's but also means if you have a curious 2 year old like us, they miss out on things that the other kids can do - we let him run around quite a bit, and there was still plenty for him to see like character meet and greets (Ubercorn from Go Jetters was there when we were) and last year we saw Postman Pat, who often does the rounds in his van through CBeebies - another great photo opportunity. Under 90cm can also do the Postman Pat ride, In the Night Garden, a merrygoround, various shows at the Furchester Hotel, tree top adventure and Tree Fu Toms play area.
Cloud Cuckoo Land has a driving school for the 4 and overs, which our eldest and my nieces really enjoyed. Plus a frog hopper ride and a carousel, so again a few bits to do in there. There are also family friendly rides throughout the park such as Hex, Duel, the Pirate Ship and the battle galleons where you squirt water at each other. Beware though, Hex is only a 90cm restriction and Duel has none but they are dark rides with moderate threat and younger kids might not be keen as they are quite atmospheric and 'spooky'. Avoid if they are particularly sensitive to this - although you adults will want to do Hex - it's a real mind-bender!
The big rides, for fans of rollercoasters, are great at Alton Towers. Wickerman is their newest addition and is fab - make the most of staying in resort and if this ride is on the early opening schedule (which it was when we were there) head straight there at 9:30am - there was no queue at all. Galactica (which used to be Air for anyone who has been before) now offers a virtual reality option in the back seats and it's excellent - definitely go for that option if you want to fly into space - lots of fun for the big kids. Thirteen is great, still one of my faves even though I know what's coming, Nemesis is an oldie but a goodie and Rita is worth it for the thrill of the sheer adrenaline rush of being launched onto the track at mammoth speeds. There are then the in-between type rides like Spinball whizzer, which is fun, but I let my hubby and brother-in-law do that one and didn't bother myself. It is a great park with something for everyone, plus the views from the cable cars are amazing - you can see just how vast the park actually is from up there - worth it on the way back to the exit to save your legs. (I think we walked something like 8 or 10 miles in the 2 days we were there so it's a far distance). To that end, wear comfy shoes (nothing new in case they rub, same with the kids, although we took the double buggy and it was a God send - everyone's bags, jackets, food etc went on there and my 4 year old niece managed to get on there with our 2 boys - it really does help if the kids are young). You can hire double stroller type things which lots of parents had for their toddlers/younger kids - they looked really happy in them and it certainly saves a lot of whingeing about sore feet.
Food in the park is, as usual when you're a captive audience, over-priced, not great quality and there's a limited selection. TOP TIP - Take lots of bottled water, snacks such as fruit and cereal bars, fruit etc - the kids were snacking all day, and we drank lots of water between us - we stocked up at the local Aldi in Ashbourne the day before and it saved us a fortune! We did eat in the pizza/pasta buffet place on the second day as we really wanted lunch before the waterpark, and even with 1 child free (our 2 year old) it was around £35 for pizza and a drink - we made the most of it and ate as much as we could, plus the stuff on our plates that we couldn't eat got given to the other kids as a snack so everyone was full! (Beware that the staff are not knowledgeable about allergies or dietary requirements, vegan was mistaken for vegetarian everywhere we went, and I got pointed in the direction of the stuff with cheese on/eggs in etc) - this needs to be updated by Alton Towers and how they train their staff. Allergies and intolerances/different requirements in 2018 should be a given - if you're serving food you should be aware of the basics, just as a simple health and safety measurement.
We ate altogether in the Rollercoaster Restaurant for dinner in the evening and it was fab - the kids (and us) loved it. TOP TIP - Book ahead - (i.e when you make your hotel booking, book the restaurant you want too as book up very fast and very early. This is also true of booking you breakfast as slots go quickly - book on check in to get the time you want. The food coming down the track to the table was a great novelty, as was the ordering from an ipad type contraption - however, as you expect when your food is coming out of the sky and hurtling down a track, the options are limited. We had 2 glasses of wine, a beer, a coke, (we took water for the kids) 3 sides, 2 mains and a kids meal to share and it came to about £62 so fairly pricey, although it was okay and filled a gap. It was worth it for the experience of the restaurant. If you're a Merlin pass holder remember that you get a discount between 10% and 20% in most outlets and restaurants so make sure you use it. After dinner we headed straight over to the Splash Landings hotel where they have kids entertainment, a disco, a singer, characters, a small stage, and a pile of lego! A nice couple of hours to chill out and watch the kids dance and play while you sit and have a drink.
The hotel rooms themselves are great from fairy doors in the Enchanted Village lodges, to space themes in the Alton Towers hotel and lots of things to see in the lobby's of all the places. There is also a CBeebies hotel but the rooms are more expensive than the rest so we didn't bother seeing as you spend little time in your room. The breakfasts really differ depending on where you're staying - last year in the Alton Towers hotel, the breakfast was served in The Secret Garden and it was fairly decent - a choice of cooked options, lots of cereals, fruit and pastries. We were told by our family that the Crooked Spoon breakfast was also like this. In our stay this time, our breakfast at Splash Landings was nothing short of shoddy. The service was all over the place, there were very few options - maybe 4 cooked things including hash browns with fish ingredients so unsuitable for vegetarians, a few cereals, some soya milk in cartons, and toasters that have seen better days. I did ask for some sunflower or non-dairy spread and there was none to be had (despite requesting some non-milk options on the booking and at reception the day before - I still can't quite get my head around why they ask about these if they can't provide anything for guests). Eventually someone tracked a couple of packets down but this was 30 minutes later and my kids and hubby had finished and my toast was cold so it was pointless - I ended up with a bowl of cereal and glass of juice - which isn't really what I anticipated. I'd avoid Splash Landings again for this reason.
In all, for a short break, it's a really nice one to do - they still have a long way to go as far as general customer service and food goes, however the concepts and the rides are really good, and the waterpark is worth a visit. If you live far away but want to stay off site, we stayed in the Travelodge Ashbourne, right on the edge of the Peak District area, for £50 for a family room. It was more than adequate for the night, had an aldi and a great pub with beer garden and kids area, where we had dinner and it's 10 minutes away from Alton Towers - a good place to choose if you don't want to be confined to staying on site.