Would Alton Towers theme park live up to expectations for the whole family? Read our review
We were lucky as although Alton Towers is in Staffordshire, which is not know for its sunny climate, the weekend we visited was almost Floridian. The sun shone and we had a strange sense of déjà vu of our American holidays as we slapped on sun cream before boarding the train that takes you to the park gates.
I think Alton Towers had our twins from the moment they spotted the train with its livery of giant jellybeans.
They would have been happy to travel around on that all day, but despite their excitement this didn't prove to be the high point of the day.
We started our day in Adventure Land, which is one of the areas of the park that offers the most for younger children. We boarded the Squirrel Nutty Ride, which trundles you around above the park at a stately speed, another hit with the twins.
But their big brother Jacob had to be appeased by a spin on the Sonic Spinball rollercoaster, which my thrill-seeking husband declared the best ride of the day.
Younger children will also enjoy the tractor ride that allows them to 'drive' through a farmyard and Old MacDonald's singing barn filled with warbling animated animals. The other area that is designed to keep the little one's happy is Cloud Cuckoo Land.
There is a great soft play area, Wobble World, which would be a good place to shelter in bad weather. There is also a mini driving school with electric cars, which Jacob and Max enjoyed, and several gentle rides for all ages.
This is also where one of Alton Tower's latest attractions is sited, the Ice Age 4D Experience. This is a short 3D film based on the movie, with added extras like 'snow' falling from the roof. But while the children enjoyed the show and it was a chance for us to sit down for a few minutes, what they really wanted to do was get back on to the rides.
All the serious roller coasters have height restrictions, which is worth bearing in mind if you are visiting with younger children. Jacob was very frustrated that he came up 1cm too short for the scariest rides.
He watched enviously as his daddy was spun around on Nemesis, Air, Rita and Oblivion and vowed to come back to try them as soon as he is tall enough.
Mike also gave the new Nemesis Sub Terra a go, but as a die-hard roller coaster fan this more experience-based ride was lost on him. That said, I am such a coward, one glance at the attendants dressed like paratroopers left me too scared to even give it a try.
But if both parents do want to go on a ride that isn't suitable for the children you can do a parent swap, which means you only have to queue up once, then as soon as one of you has finished, the other can jump the queue and have their turn.
Just ask a ride attendant for details of the free Parent Share Pass.
The other useful thing that we had was a Fast track ticket. There are various levels of Fast track that allow you to skip the queues on the most popular rides. The tickets start at £10 (on top of your entry ticket), which allows you to skip the queue for a single turn on three specified rides, right up to £85 for unlimited fast track access to all the top rides. It is expensive, but the alternative could be spending most of your day queuing.
There is easily enough to keep you busy for the entire day at Alton Towers, particularly as the park closes at 5:30pm, unlike the American theme parks that stay open till late. But with this in mind make sure that you come wearing comfortable clothes suitable for the weather.
If you plan to go on the wetter rides like the Congo River Rapids, The Flume or Ripsaw, either save them to the end of the day, or bring a change of clothes as walking around in wet clothes is no fun.
There are plenty of options to eat in the park from sit down restaurants to the typical burger, fried chicken and chips options. You could also bring a picnic as Alton Towers has preserved the beautiful gardens of the old house so there is plenty of space to lay out a rug on the grass on a sunny day.
Because we were visiting from London we'd booked into the Splash Landings Hotel for the night. It is the perfect base for a large family or group of friends as our room slept six in comfort.
It is also home to the Alton Towers waterpark, an indoor and outdoor extravaganza of slides, toddler pool, bubble pools and a lazy river. Sadly as we had four young children and only two adults to supervise them we weren't able to try it out for safety reasons, but it looked like a lot of fun.
The hotel is bright, clean and comfortable with a buffet style restaurant that caters to a family clientele. There is a bar area upstairs where parents can relax with a glass of wine while their children play with the mountains of Lego in the play area. There is entertainment laid on the evenings as well as character visits from the Ice Age cast.
The train to the park departs from just outside the hotel and guests can get early entry to the park an hour ahead of other visitors. It's a good idea to take advantage of this because the queues for the train in the morning are huge. But you can walk to the park from the hotel in around 10 minutes.
For me the proof of any theme park is in how much the children beg to return stacked against how much I dread returning with them. On this scale Alton Towers scores maximum marks.
The children are still talking about the rides and asking when we can go again several weeks after our trip, and I enjoyed our weekend there enough to be considering booking it for a birthday treat for Jacob later in the year.
Top rides for toddlers:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Squirrel Nutty Ride
Old MacDonald's Tractor Ride
Ice Age 4D
Top rides for children:
Runaway Mine Train
Congo River Rapids
Top kids' thrill rides:
Sonic Spin Ball
Top thrill rides:
Details: Ticket prices start from £19.50pp for a family of up to six with a maximum of two adults, adult tickets start at £26.10 and child tickets at £20.85, if booked in advance online.
Family breaks start at £33.75pp for a midweek break, including breakfast, free parking and free entry to the water park for under-12s.