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CURSED: The Inside Story of Thirteen – The Biggest Coaster Let-Down EVER

Image: Joel A. Rogers,

Thirteen will make Rita's 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds seem like child's play, right? After all, the former is the scariest ride in the U.K. Although, Alton Towers doesn't seem to have followed through on its outrageous age restrictions or limitations... Turns out, you can tackle Thirteen if you're 1.2 meters tall (about 47").

Passing between the ornate pillars, the queue winds a bit through a clearing. In the woods to the side, you'll see a news van seemingly in the midst of being crushed by vines that have ensnared it. But your attention is likely dead ahead. If you've been paying attention (but not too much attention) to the marketing around this new ride, you'll know that it centers on the discovery of an ancient crypt, inside of which the coaster does something no other coaster on Earth can match.


And judging by the massive petrified tree growing alongside its tower, this may also be the epicenter of the vines that have taken hold of the Dark Forest. 

Now, given that you and I both know that that crypt is our final destination – and home to the ride's too-much-talked-about surprise – it may seem odd that the queue leads us toward it, and that the ride's station is inside our destination... Indeed, we can watch trains being dispatched from the building, dip around the tree, and head off to a lift hill alongside the crypt tower. Maybe it might've made more sense for that that crypt to be hidden among the trees, deep in the forest. 

Image: Alton Towers

But in any case, the queue leads inside where flickering excavation lights, spooky sounds, electrifying and startling science experiments, and an aura of foreboding signal a truly terrifying experience to come. 


As our rusted iron train departs the station, it dips into a small valley and banks around the tower we've seen from the queue. Now, we align with the ride's first hill. It's not insignificant at 61 feet high, though it is a bit odd that it's not a traditional chain lift nor even a launch, but a booster wheel lift – literally, powered by turning tires that slowly propel the train upward; a common feature of many "kiddie coasters."

Image: Alton Towers

But there's nothing particularly "kiddie" about the resulting drop, which sets the coasters off on a nice pace. Dipping down the first drop, the ride reaches its top speed of about 40 miles per hour – the same speed as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Bottoming out in a clearing, the train twists to the right into a wide, rising helix and jumps over itself, headling out into the woods...

Alton Towers did a pretty impressive job of leaving as much forest as possible out here, clearing only what was needed for the coaster's layout and leaving plenty of barren trunks and branches that appear almost close enough to be a threat. In 20 years, it stands to reason that the forest really will have grown out here... though admittedly, even then it's hard to imagine feeling lost, turned around, or even far removed from the park.

Okay, so maybe the gentle, swooping turns don't quite live up to that blasted concept art... maybe it's our own fault for expecting the ride to have launches and twists, blasting through ruins and slaloming through roots... Our journey through the woods wasn't particularly dark or extreme. In fact, a rider with a stop watch would see that it's approximately 25 seconds from the peak of the first hill to what comes next...

The ride now engages with a second tire-driven lift. But now we can see that this lift leads up to the moment we saw from the queue: the train reaches the apex of the lift and turns right, gliding into – gulp – the crypt.

As soon as the coaster enters, candles glow to life in the ancient stone corridor as eerie green lights illuminate scaffolds and stone carvings clearly being explored. The train coasts ahead until it fills the chamber, then stops. Just feet ahead of the front car, wooden planks have fallen across a tattered black tarp, blocking our path forward. Admittedly, this momentary stop may actually cause you to wonder what will happen next... Will something come out of the tarp? Will we launch backwards? Of course, the truth would be unthinkable (had Alton Towers themselves not spoiled it on national television).

First, it feels as if the train "yo-yos" for a moment, strangely bouncing a few inches up and down in place... Then...

Image: Alton Towers

The train falls. Track and all. Thirteen is the world's first freefall coaster, with the track plummeting just over 16 feet. Merlin's marketing, for a moment, was right: the manuever is spectacular and stunning – even on re-rides – creating a sensation unlike any other coaster, gleefully surprising first-timers and leaving the train chattering. As the lights return, we're a story below – in the vine-encased lower level of the crypt, with a statues (or are they?) of wraiths ahead and all around. 

Before you can get too worried, though, the train is suddenly propelled backwards, gliding out of the narrow underground corridor and twisting to the side in an elongated turn. When sunlight returns, the train is pulling out of that final helix backwards, coming to a rest between two pillars. Ahead, a switch track slides into place, aligning the coaster back up with the station. 

Naturally, we need to end our in-depth account of the ride with an on-ride video to give you a better sense of what it's really like to experience this family coaster in disguise...


So... Is Thirteen the scariest roller coaster in the world? The U.K.? 

Let's face facts... Thirteen isn't even the scariest roller coaster at Alton Towers; and depending on your preferences, it's probably not even the scariest roller coaster in the Dark Forest area! And that's perfectly fine, right? Corkscrew was a moderately-sized family roller coaster. And, fessing up, so is its replacement. But try explaining that to fans who'd had been drawn by promises of a ride so visceral, terrifying, and extreme, they'd be limited to just one ride a day for their mental health...

Thirteen isn't a terrible roller coaster; it's not even a bad one. But it's a disastrous reminder of the role marketing and expectations can play in projects like this. What's worse, Thirteen didn't remain the only freefall coaster in the world for long, and thanks to its marketing alone, the others are actually more well-regarded. We'll take a look at a few on the next page and see if Merlin ended up changing its marketing strategy after Thirteen... 

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