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Review: Thirteen at Alton Towers

Thirteen entrance
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Alton Towers has finally opened its long awaited new rollercoaster for the 2010 season, Thirteen. Although the park had lifted the veil of secrecy around the nature of the ride during the last week with a series of TV segments, members of the public had to wait until the first day of the season to see if Thirteen would live up to expectations. Theme Park Tourist's Nick and Natalie were on hand to brave "the scariest rollercoaster in the world".

Alton Towers cranked up the hype machine to maximum ahead of the launch of Thirteen, loudly proclaiming that its new ride would be "the ultimate rollercoaster", would feature a “world’s first element” and would be so scary that the park was considering imposing an upper age limit in case it proved too much for older riders. However, when it was initially revealed that the park would build a new rollercoaster for 2010, it was widely billed as a "family" attraction. So which was the true story?

Is Thirteen the latest mega-thrill ride to hit the UK's most popular theme park, or was the hype overblown? Read on to find out our impressions after the opening day.

Spoiler warning: readers hoping to maintain the "surprise" factor when riding Thirteen should read no further. This review contains SPOILERS including discussion of the "world’s first" element of the ride.

Dark Forest theming

Dark Forest entrance

To accommodate Thirteen, Alton Towers has updated the Ug Land section of the park with a new "Dark Forest" theme. The theme makes perfect sense, given the proximity of the area to woodland (Thirteen itself passes through a wooded area) and the abundance of greenery throughout the park.

However, we were somewhat disappointed with the lack of changes that Alton Towers has made to the former Ug Land area. Essentially, the existing shops are intact, complete with their "prehistoric" mock-stone structures. These have been repainted to darker colours, and "creeping" branches affixed to them to give the impression of the forest "taking over", but there’s no hiding the Ug Land heritage. Possibly, given the extremely tight deadline for achieving the transformation, Alton Towers simply had to make do with a quick-fix approach (many of the trees planted in the Dark Forest will take some years to reach maturity).

On the plus side, for the opening day at least, Alton Towers had populated the area with a number of "wraith" characters, who hovered menacingly around guests as they moved through the Dark Forest. Hopefully, the park will continue to employ the live characters, while updating the Dark Forest theme over time to make it more distinct and absorbing.

Queuing area

Thirteen queue - abandoned van

The queuing area for Thirteen is one aspect which feels as though it was neglected in the rush to meet the ride’s opening date. After a promising entrance through a gate featuring menacing wraith figures and whispering audio threats ("don’t go alone"), expectant riders settle into a monotonous tarmac line which winds around the back of Rita.

No attempt has been made to tell the story behind Thirteen before boarding it, and indeed had we not been reading forums on the web for months we would have climbed aboard oblivious to any kind of back story whatsoever. The only real theming elements to have made it into the queue are a few mounds representing buried bodies, a disembodied arm reaching from a grave and an Alton Towers van, seemingly caught up in the forest during the ride's construction.

The most disappointing aspect of the queue is the lack of build-up to the ride itself, since guests in the queue can only see Thirteen in action during the very last section. However, given that much of the queue line backs on to woodland, there is plenty of scope for Alton Towers to add improved theming now that the pressure to open the ride on time is off – we hope they make the effort.

The plus side to our experience of Thirteen’s queue was how little time we spent in it. Even though hundreds of excited teenagers stampeded straight to the new ride when the park opened, the line never extended for longer than 90 minutes during the opening day. This was primarily due to an extremely high throughput, achieved using three trains simultaneously. Thirteen looks as though it will not cause the bottlenecks that previous headliners, particularly Air, have caused at Alton Towers.

Station and boarding

Exterior of Thirteen station

The station itself is an improvement on Thirteen's queue line, with darkened lighting and foreboding music creating an intense atmosphere. In keeping with Thirteen’s impressive opening-day performance (a few short downtimes aside), staff were extremely efficient at herding guests onto the ride and we spent very little time in the station.

Unlike other rides at Alton Towers which use insecure baggage cages to hold loose objects, Thirteen uses a free baggage hold system in which riders receive a wristband that allows them to collect their items at the end of the ride. We much prefer this system even if it does add a small added wait, and are pleased to see the park adopting it like its sister park Thorpe Park.

Boarding the ride itself is easy and fast, given that there are no over-the-shoulder restraints to contend with. Indeed, there isn’t even a full lap bar, with a simple lap restraint holding guests in place (if you’re ridden The Mummy Returns at Universal park, these are similar). This leaves riders with very little to hold on to, which is a positive thing given what lies ahead.


Thirteen lift hill

From afar, the Thirteen trains have an industrial look which suggests an intriguing “man-vs-supernatural” clash. Up close, we found them to be a little plastic-looking and not as impressive as the trains on other Alton Towers rides such as Nemesis and Oblivion.

On the plus side, the traditional bench-style seats are comfortable and the aforementioned lap restraint feels safe but not intrusive. And for tall riders like TPT's Nick, you won’t be banging your knees constantly as you probably did on Thirteen's predecessor, the Corkscrew.

Outdoor section

Thirteen helix

On leaving the station, Thirteen banks to the left and enters the main lift hill. Although the train moves at a fair pace up this, there is still time to admire some impressive views around the park before entering a surprisingly steep first drop – a thrilling start to the ride.

After the first hill, Thirteen enters a series of "bunny hops" which provide riders with a bit of "airtime", before twisting and turning through a wooded area. Although this is an enjoyable, fun ride (without being remotely scary), we feel that Alton Towers missed a trick with the theming of this section. Where are the encounters with wraiths? Where are the near misses with trees in the "forest"? Granted, the real trees had to be trimmed back for safety reasons, but there is no sense of danger in the outdoor section at all.

Having allowed Thirteen to build up some considerable speed in the first hill, the ride’s designers have seen fit to install trim brakes directly after it which take the edge off that speed for the remainder of the outdoor section. This makes for a comfortable, smooth ride – but puts the traditional coaster section firmly in the "moderate" category. This is for families, folks, not coaster fanatics.

Inside the "crypt"

Entering Thirteen crypt

The signature move – and much-touted "world's first" – of Thirteen takes place inside the mock "crypt" building which forms the centrepiece of the ride’s theming. To be clear, this is significantly more fun if you are not expecting it. Do not read on if you don't want to spoil it.

On entering the crypt, the section of track holding the train drops vertically by (we're guessing) 15-20 feet. We’re told that, as with Disney’s Tower of Terror, the drop sequence will vary ride-by-ride. However, on both occasions that we rode Thirteen, the track dropped by a few inches initially before dropping the remaining distance.

After the drop, eerie lighting reveals a wraith-like figure at the bottom of the crypt, although there is barely time to register this before the train is fired out into a backwards section through a darkened tunnel. Probably our favourite part of Thirteen, this is again reminiscent of great indoor coasters such as The Mummy Returns, although it is over far too quickly. After a short wait on exiting the tunnel, the train is launched back into the station and Thirteen is over, around 2 minutes after it began.

So what we do make of the trumpeted "world's first", super-scary Thirteen vertical drop? Well, firstly we should say that given that we had to cover the rumours around the ride as part of our news coverage, we were not surprised at all. Others around us were – and as a result, seemed to be much more impressed than us.

The first question on our minds on exiting the crypt was "was that it?" It's all over very quickly, and the vaunted special effects weren’t up to much (Update: it is believed that some effects are still to be added in the crypt section). There were no grabbing hands pulling us down into the crypt, no advanced video effects – very little of anything, frankly. Natalie compared it to going into a car wash – doors open, quick wash and dry, and out you come. Swap "wash and dry" for “drop and launch”, and you have Thirteen’s crypt section.

That's probably a harsh assessment. We really enjoyed the vertical drop, and it left us gagging for more. Alton Towers should be lauded for investing in the new technology, which will surely be picked up and expanded upon by another park (hopefully a U.S. one, with deeper pockets). We just wish it had been a deeper drop, with more build-up beforehand – but perhaps that’s the price to pay for achieving the impressive throughput that Thirteen has shown so far.

Overall impressions

Thirteen crypt image

So we weren't blown away by the "world's first" on Thirteen, and we certainly weren’t scared by the supposed "scariest rollercoaster in the world". But does that mean that Thirteen is a poor addition to Alton Towers' roster of attractions? In our opinion, no. We’re headed back to the park tomorrow, and which ride are we most excited about? You guessed it – Thirteen.

It's not the ride it was hyped to be by the Alton Towers PR machine. But that’s not to say it isn't innovative, or that its creepy theme isn’t in keeping with the gothic, haunted atmosphere of the park itself. The main issue, in our view, is that it is clearly a family ride that has been marketed as an extreme thrill ride. Alton Towers has plenty of thrill rides. It is crying out for more tame, but fun, attractions that kids and parents can both enjoy – and now it has one.

We're pleased to see the park investing in attractions with proper, rich theming after the disappointingly bland Air and Rita. If the gaps in the storytelling during the build-up to the ride can be filled in, Thirteen could be a much more complete experience than either of the aforementioned mega-coasters.

Is Thirteen the ultimate, game-changing rollercoaster that many were expecting (or at least wishing for)? No. But it is a solid addition to an already stellar line-up at one of the best theme parks in the world. Hardcore fans may be disappointed, but most theme park goers won't be complaining.


You can see images from the opening day of Alton Towers' 2010 season in our galleries.

There are 29 comments.

Th13teen is AMAZING!

I went on it last friday, it was so good, that I had to get a picture of myself on it!

It wasn't too Scary, if like me, you know what to expect.

Glad you enjoyed it :-)

Alton Towers has started to add some new theming elements to the queue now which should add to the atmosphere, hoping that they'll also update the crypt effects at some stage.

This review is spot on!

I went to Alton Towers yesterday after reading visitor reviews saying 13 was a poor addition but I would like to add my comment (which backs this review) as 13 certainly isn't poor, just take it in the right perspective.

13 is a good, fun ride with a quality twist but the ride and the build do show signs of a rushed job. The ride isn't fast enough so there isn't anything intense apart from the first drop, which can be seen in the queue, and the twist but more speed is needed for both.

I queued up for over an hour so I felt a little disappointed at the finish but anyone who queues up for 30 mins or less will enjoy another classic for Alton Towers.

We went yesterday - queued for 90 minutes, rode for 2 minutes. What a waste of 92 mnutes of my life.

The ride is slow, boring with about as much intensity as runaway trail type rides. Then you enter the crypt, a few flashs of light a few noises and you drop down around 6ft, fly backwards for 20 seconds and thats it.

For the rest of the day all we heard all day whilst walking around and in queues was how disappointed people were with the ride and I can see why.

Thirteen actually uses mine train-style track and trains to reduce the weight, so no surprise that it lacks intensity.

I'm surprised you had to queue for 90 minutes, even on a busy day. Perhaps the ride's throughput isn't holding up as well as it did on the opening day.

I was looking forward 2 this ride after seeing it advertised on telly it looked really good but when I went with a friend the other day I have 2 say iv been on scarier ghost train rides at a fun fair it was hyped up 2 be really scary but i was left thinking 2 myself is that it!! Very disappointed!!!

"Was that it" seems to be a common reaction from a lot of people. I guess that's the danger of overhyping a new ride! Seems strange that they have focussed so much in the ads on how scary the ride is, when in reality it is a family rollercoaster.

Scary! Was my first proper roller coaster - I loved the crypt part and thought it was well worth the ride! Can't wait to tell my friends and show them the funny photo of me!

I was very disappointed with this new ride.
Having been to the US and been on such coasters as the mummy returns it is slow, boring and once again adds to the list of Alton Towers rides that try to beat Nemesis but fail to do so.
My friend who has never been on a US coaster was just as bored as me on the ride.
It is a good family ride, but they didn't advertise it that way, and it certainly is not every coaster I've ever been on rolled into one amazing ride, which is what they state on the flyers!
When I visit the park again if the queue is longer than 30 mins I wont ride it.
Very sad. :( I was so looking forward to it.

It seems like the biggest problem with Thirteen for most riders has been over-inflated expectations due to the way it was marketed (as a scary thrill ride). From the perspective of Alton Towers, they probably don't care as the marketing has been very effective at pulling in visitors, and there are still a lot of people who have really enjoyed the ride.

I wonder about its longevity though. Will people still want to ride Thirteen in a few years time when the novelty of the freefall drop has worn off?

It will probably continue to attrack visitors as Oblivion and Rita have. They are also short, 'one thrill' rides like 13.

But what I really don't understand is why we don't have more indoor coasters in the UK? Our climate suits them far better and you can manipulate light and sound much more in an encloded environment. 13 would have been far better if it entered into a 'blackhole' style indoor maze of track and effects. But how much of this rides' 'unfinished' feel is due to budget issues I wonder? Is it as it was intended to be? I can't help but think that it had a major cut backs after the design stage and was re-designed into what we have today.

Completely agree with that - indoor coasters would be very well suited to the UK climate. The best of SAW: The Ride at Thorpe Park is the indoor "dark ride" section in my opinion, but we just don't see enough of it. X:\No Way Out appears to be best (and worst!) example of indoor coaster at a Merlin park right now, which is really disappointing.

After months of reading about Thirteen and seeing the hype after riding it today I can safely say what a con! It is nothing like the Psycho-coaster they pinned it as and as for beforeng scary... how?! The theming was poor at best. There was no music or explanation. No back drop of what was meant to be happening. Queue was 70 mins and I feel cheated. The drop was fun but seriously? Is that it? Saw at Thorpe Park is far more a psycho coaster than this. They clearly made claims without having budget to back up. Its a one trick pony whose trick isn't that amazing. I wouldn't bother riding again. Thirteen is the new X No Way Out... but worse

Agree that the lack of backstory is a major issue and really detracts from the ride. This is by design - John Wardley was interviewed recently on the Season Pass podcast and said that he doesn't see the need for backstories on most theme park rides. As much as I worship the man for creating Nemesis, I can't agree with him on this one. Rides like The Mummy Returns and Expedition Everest are definitely better for having a storyline. Even SAW has something of a plot, which adds to the overall experience...and particularly to re-ride value, of which Thirteen has very little unfortunately.

Stephen Sommers (who directed the 'Mummy' films and was responsible for a large part of creative process behind the ride) said that great rides are like great movies. Each new scene or each new turn keeps your attention and throws something interesting or unexpected at you.

Backstory is important in this respect: it sets the tone of the ride and builds anticipation.

Anyway, my attention was lagging significantly on this ride.

I have to agree that Th13teen was not all cracked up to what Alton Towers made it out to be but despite that, it was still one of the best roller coasters I have ever been on.
I watched a point of view video on the net before riding Th13teen and was somewhat disappointed with the ride but was still very excited to give it a go. After I came off the ride I was shaking, not because I was cold or because I'd just been scared but because I had just had the ride of my life. How anyone can go on Th13teen and say they didn't enjoy it I'll never know.
Again I have to agree that Alton Towers still have some work ahead of them in creating a history for the ride and giving riders a storyline to go with it just like they did with Hex.
In conclusion, Th13teen is a great addition to Alton Towers but just a small amount of tweaking is needed.

Went on 13 today at Alton towers and queued for around 30 mins. When we arrived in the dark forest people were stood queuing for, what seemed like miles, just to get into the gates to queue further. I am glad to have been on 13 and enjoyed the drop and the free fall section in the crypt. I couldnt wait to see what happened so spoiled it for myself by watching a POV online beforehand, however, the people I was with didnt have a clue!
I agree with everything that has been commented on regarding the lack of story and "thrill" that we were supposed to experience and I feel with a bit more funding areas can be touched upon..having something like the passage de terror theme where people dress up and grab you in the crypt before dropping would be better!
However, the only thing i disagree with is the rating of Nemesis. I found the ride boring and very uncomfortable. I constantly kept coming out of my seat and getting my head hit on the harness. Overall I rate Air as being one of the best rides, which I know many will disagree with.
Not a wasted trip for 13 but could be better!!

Thanks for the comments on Thirteen. We'll be at Alton Towers to review the Scarefest 2010 Halloween event, and I'm hoping they'll really ramp up the theming around Thirteen during it. We'll see.

Afraid I have totally the opposite view on Air and Nemesis - Nemesis has stunning theming and is intense and fun (sounds like your harness wasn't down far enough?), while Air just feels dull for the second half and has no theming whatsoever.

This ride is absolutley rubbish, after the massive hype of how scary it was etc i was so disappointed, this ride is a tame as the "mine train " at Alton Towers - utter waste of ride space.

Went on this ride this Monday past and would agree with most of the comments already made: Most definitely a mediocre outdoor section - Could be higher, steeper, longer, faster, etc. However, we went back on "after dark" and the ride came into its own. The crypt section could go further but was a complete hoot! I knew about the drop but had no idea about the backwards part. The drop could be deeper and the backwards bit longer, but it totally put a smile on my face and was enjoyable without the "heart jumping out of your chest" feeling you get with Nemesis and Oblivion

Went today fast tracked as cues so long what a waste of time and money felt sorry for all the people in que as thought they will be as disappointed as we were, Alton towers should be done under trade description act - all that hype for that .... Wouldn't even bother going on it again not worth the wait.... Should have kept the black hole ...

quite disappointing. we waited about an hour to get on the ride and we felt that is was certainly not as scary as all the adverts we had seen made it out to be. Having ridden on oblivion and nemesis earlier that day, we were underwhelmed with Thirteen compared to them.

I don't live to near to Alton Towers so the last time I went was ages ago. Th13teen was still under construction, and Rita was also shut for some reason. I know about the suprise feature included in Th13teen's structure and have heard that it is fun, but not extreme like some of Thorpe Park rides. I have heard that Th13teen doesn't meet the amazing standards that Oblivion, Air, Nemesis and Rita meet. Th13teen could do with a better srtucture, i think, like some loops, steeper drops and more speed and G-Force.

Also, Last year on Friday 13th August 2010, Alton Towers renamed TH13TEEN to FOURTEEN for a the whole 24 hours of that day, they started selling official FOURTEEN merchendise, they changed the ride sign outside the shop and entrance They even re- printed their maps displaying the logo FOURTEEN! The managers did this because they didn't want to lose riders and were a bit superstitious, so they decided to play it safe, I think they went a bit over the top - Thoughts?

So is Th13teen really worth waiting for? Is it really what the managment of Alton Towers claim it is? Advice needed.. thanks

Its has to be said it's a ride your only going to go on once.
Luckly when we went on Tues it was quiet and only queued up for 15 mins, The 1st part of the ride is very tame in todays theme park times, just like many people have said its a slow runaway train ride. The drop and then the backwards ride is good, but only beacuse your not exepcting it. Once you know its there, what's the point of going back on. Its not like Oblivion, Nemesis or Rita which keep pulling you back to go on again for the thrill, Thirteen has nothing else to offer.

thirteen is crap! dont go on it its the worst roller coaster ever!!

After going to Thorpe Park and riding the amazing Saw and reading some reviews for 13, I didn't even bother with it.

For me, TH13TEEN was a great family rollercoaster, even though i AM a bit hardcore. Me and my brother queued for a while and we laughed when we saw a dummy that had been placed in the trees. A.T have added the numerals 1-13 until you get in the indoor section, and the lightning sensor thing scared me a load!
My brother claimed he was falling out of his harness, but he WAS squirming around SO much i was surprised he didn't. We found the speed about right for us and the drop was so unexpected. The air-blow thing adds to the intensity of the big drop, and we were giggling as we went backwards.
I was a BIT dissapointed, but it is one of the best rides, especially after sub-terra was introduced.

I went to Alton Towers yesterday and went on this ride and thought that this was very well thought out. The sudden drops in complete darkness were quite un expected and scary.

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