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The Smiler at Alton Towers

Our Smiler video from opening weekend is at the bottom of this review

The Smiler has filled a hole (no pun intended!) in Alton Towers line up which was created over 8 years ago, when, on 5th March 2005 the Black Hole gave its final rides and after 22 years of loyal service.

The Black Hole tent stood empty for years, until, in 2012, after only 3 weeks of work, the tent was removed.

Following the removal of the tent structure digging began, and went on, and on and on, at the end of the 2012 season a huge hole had been made in X Sector, the new ride was going to fit in with the planning restrictions that Alton have to abide by and be sunk into the ground.

Construction was slow, very slow. Regular updates saw very little work going off, and at February half term it was clear to all that not a lot of track was there, and the March opening day would be missed, some questioning if it would open at all in 2013.

this roller coaster will have the most amount of track per square meter than any other in the worldJohn Wardley, 2013

To our amazement, over the next few weeks the track shot up, with supports installed and the track threaded onto them, weaving its way in and around its immense tangled knot.

John Wardley, the Smilers designer was quoted in an interview saying that this roller coaster would have the most amount of track per square meter than any other in the world, and looking at the Smiler now, its quite clear that he wasn’t kidding!

After a few delays, the delayed opening day of 23rd May 2013 didn’t happen. Visitors to the park were left disappointed, but just over a week later, without any official announcement from Alton Towers, on Friday 31st May 2013, the Smiler opened to the public for the first time, around 12, midday.

So, Smiler, it has really taken over X Sector, its soundtrack echoing around the area, a mixture of mechanical, spooky echoing sounds, laughs and just plain weird stuff. The queue line starts with a large yellow double doorway, one entrance for the normal queue, the other for fast pass, single riders and the rest. Lighting effects inside the entrance structure go almost un-noticed, but its a nice touch.

The queue line winds its way down and underneath the Smiler. The trains race past overhead, almost close enough to touch, or thats how it seems. The central Marmaliser themeing element which consists of a large central tower with legs coming off with effects on like smoke and water jets. The legs create some stunning head chopper effects for the trains, but more about that later.

As you progress through the queue line back and forth, a tangle of black steel fences, some with steel mesh tops on them to protect you from the Smiler roller coaster track above. Finally you reach the station building. Inside, more queue, but now, in the dark, lights are projected onto the walls, creating pulsating effects. Finally, you reach the station platform. The large white room with yellow fences and features splits the queue line into 4 rows, ready for the train to roll in.

Once seated, the over the shoulder restraints are closed and the ride is ready to go.

Moving forwards, the train drops into the darkness, taking in its first inversion, and with 13 more to come, you reach the first lift hill.

The lift hill raises up above X Sector, looking out towards Towers Street, over the lake. Giving great views of the Towers building, you don’t get long to admire the views before you reach the top of the chain lift and you head to the right, dropping slightly before raising again into the Smilers second inversion before diving down into the pit. Before you know it a series of two dive loops face you, one straight after the other, the second leading to a head chopper effect with the Marmaliser. Your first close encounter is with the ‘Flasher’ leg, a leg with a series of flashing lights on it.

At the far end of the Smilers footprint, near to the exit hole of Oblivion, the ‘Staffordshire Knot’ has it has been affectionatly nicknamed sits. This features your next two inversions, an area you will re-visit a little later.

Yet another inversion over the top of the Marmaliser leads to a brake run, and you are faced with the second lift hill, this time vertical.

The vertical lift hill quickly comes to an end, and the train dives to the left, over the toilet block and into yet another inversion. Heading back to the Staffordshire Knot, you experience another two inversions before a bunny hop hill with a head chopper effect. Taking this quite quickly ejects you from your seat.

You wouldn’t guess, but what follows in another series of inversions, before the track almost cuts straight across the entire Smiler footprint, inverting as it does to lead to a sharp turn into the brake run.

As you sit there, approaching the station area again, a large sign says ‘Process Complete’, you finally have a few minutes to think about what just happened, and its very hard to remember what happened, where and how.

The Smiler opened to rave reviews on its first day of operation. We had watched it built, and it looks massivly impressive. This, John Wardley’s last roller coaster before he retires, takes the record from fellow Merlin theme park, Thorpe Park for a roller coaster with the most inversions, standing at a whopping 14, indeed, the Smiler seems to hold you upside down more than you are the right way up!

Its fast, its disorentating, its brilliant, if just a tad of a head banger, but with such a compact layout with so much track, what do you expect! Has Alton Towers finally got something that has taken Nemesis’s crown as ‘King of Roller Coasters’?, in our opinion, no, not quite. Although the Smiler looks impressive and is a great roller coaster, a record breaker, it just doesn’t have the immense force of Nemesis, but it comes close!

Below is a short video showing the Smiler in its glory