ALTON Towers may be one of the UK’s most popular family days out but if you want to go this summer, you’ll need a temperature check first.
The Staffordshire theme park should have celebrated its 40th birthday back in March with the launch of Gangsta Granny, a new ride based on the popular children’s book by David Walliams – but was put on hold due to coronavirus.
Now, the Merlin Entertainments-owned attraction is getting ready to open its gates again with the first visitors being welcomed back on Saturday, July 4.
But how will social distancing measures work in a place known for its long queues, bustling crowds and scream-inducing rollercoasters?
I headed to Alton Towers to take a sneak peek at what the new normal really means for one of Britain’s favourite attractions.
Forget spontaneous visits, all tickets must now be pre-booked to allow Alton Towers to carefully control the number of people on site.
This includes those who already have a season ticket or Merlin annual pass.
To even get into the theme park, my temperature was taken using a non-touch thermometer.
Anything higher than 37.8C and I’d be heading home before making it past the turnstiles.
With an unsettling feeling similar to walking through customs at an airport or driving past a police car, my inner worrier started to kick in. How well am I REALLY feeling?
Thankfully my hypochondria was short-lived and I was waved in by a friendly staff member wearing face mask, gloves and a visor.
Heading into the park itself, things seemed almost normal.
The signs warning you to keep your distance may look out of place at Alton Towers but after weeks of seeing similar notices in my local supermarket, they no longer look that alarming.
Almost everything is open but with added hygiene measures and social distancing restrictions.
The only exception is the Alton Towers Dungeon, which opened last year but will now remain closed for the foreseeable future.
Face masks are not compulsory for walking around the park but you’ll need to wear one to go on any of the big eight rollercoasters – Nemesis, Galactica, Oblivion, The Smiler, Wicker Man, Rita, TH13TEEN and Enterprise.
The face-covering rule also applies for three family favourites – Runaway Mine Train, the swinging pirate ship known as Blade and Marauder’s Mayhem, which is really a spinning teacups ride with a swashbuckling makeover.
On tamer rides, face coverings are optional and exceptions are made for children under six and those with disabilities or health conditions which would make wearing a mask difficult.
The queues at Alton Towers have always seemed intimidatingly long. But nowadays, the length of the line is more likely to be down to enforced spacing between family groups than huge visitor numbers.
Queue markings are 2.7m so families can stand comfortably without feeling like they are intruding into their neighbour’s space.
All the restaurants are open for food but with additional spaces between tables. Outdoor food stalls, fitted with the now-obligatory hygiene screens, will be offering takeaway ‘grab and go’ options and are card payment only.
As for this season’s new ride, Gangsta Granny, like lots of things since the arrival of COVID 19, you’ll have to wait until 2021 to check it out.
The new £37m Gulliver's Valley theme park is opening next month as well, with 26 new rides and attractions.
Theme park rides might also change.
Zamperla, a ride designer who has created a number of attractions across Europe, has developed the new designs to ensure passengers can continue social distancing while enjoying theme parks.
The plexiglass screen would be on the back of each seat, so each rider would have the clear barrier in front of their hands.
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