My head was just beginning to spin with the G forces when The Smiler paused briefly again, this time for a sheer vertical lift. Then, long after most rollercoaters have finished punishing you, The Smiler was off again with more gravity-defying twists and turns before it hurtled back to the station – leaving me breathless but undoubtedly excited.
I’m not sure my mind was ‘marmalised’ as promised but my body certainly felt a bit weak as I made my way back to the entrance.
It was less scary than I had expected; the fear factor was more in the anticipation than the reality, and not as heart-stoppingly worrying as that long terrifying look into the abyss that greets you at the top of Oblivion, but it was certainly exhilarating and a thrill you are going to want to experience over and over again.
IT cost £18 million, features a world record 14 loops and promises to ‘marmalise’ your mind - but so far it has not been a barrel of laughs for The Smiler.
Alton Towers’ new big thrill ride broke down during its glitzy press launch in May and has had a fair few teething problems since, including more closures and queues of up to three hours.
The Smiler travels along its twisting track at speeds of more than 50mph. It features a 98ft drop and takes nearly three minutes to complete its circuit. On top of that, it has a sense of fun and likes to play a few mind games on thrill seekers. Its designers admit that it’s an intense experience and is not for the faint-hearted.
But as our thirst for such thrills continues to grow, it’s a ride that should bring visitors flooding to Alton Towers ... if The Smiler excites riders.
However, getting on the ride hasn’t been easy. Press invited to preview the ride in May were left high and dry when it was quickly closed after experiencing technical difficulties.
In July, as the heatwave kicked in, a piece of metal came off The Smiler and it was again closed as safety checks were carried out.
It was also shut at the beginning of this month after daily checks revealed more problems.
But rollercoaster fans are still eager to ride the white-knuckle giant and, now The Smiler is back in action, are giving the Staffordshire theme park’s new prize asset the thumbs up.
Michael and Debbie Brown, from Staffordshire, were making their third visit to Alton Towers since The Smiler was unveiled in May and finally got to experience the ride after previous disappointments.
“We love rollercoasters and wanted to be one of the first people on the ride,” said Michael. “But we came just after it was supposed to be open and it wasn’t working. Then we came again and the queue was over three hours long and we weren’t sure that we would even get on it before the park closed. So this is our third attempt.”
After an early entry into the park and a two-hour wait this time, the couple finally managed to get on The Smiler and gave the ride the thumbs up. “It’s not as scary as I thought it might be,” said Debbie “but it was amazing, really thrilling right from the start.”
Michael added: “There are not many rides that are worth queueing two hours for – but this is definitely one of them.”
They shared The Smiler not only with your Burton Mail reporter but with a slightly less adventurous theme park visitor from Manchester. Charlotte was the only one of her four-strong party who was brave enough to take on The Smiler and she quickly regretted it.
“You are not enjoying this,” I managed to say to her half way round our trip.
“It’s horrible,” she moaned, but later stepped off the ride and decided “I’m glad I have done it - but I might not be in a hurry to do it again.”
As we chatted, a group of four teenage boys came over whooping with delight after stepping off The Smiler from their front-row seats.
“Awesome,” was their verdict before they dashed back to the entrance to start queueing all over again.
I have been riding Alton Towers’ big thrill attractions since they first opened the Corkscrew back in 1980 but there was still a flutter of apprehension as I slid onto The Smiler and pulled the saftey harness over my head.
For the first time on a rollercoaster, I was grateful not to be in the front row and to have people on either side of me. Maybe it’s the sheer scale of the ride that made me wary or the weird theming that seems to suggest that you need to have a screw lose to be taking on this world-beating white knuckle experience.
We jumped out of the station and The Smiler sprang its first surprise – we were straight into a loop before the usual comforting crawl that heralds the start of most rollercoaster rides.
My head was already spinning before the first sloping lift. This was the first welcome breather on the long ride, and you need it, for we were soon spiralling up and down with intense ferocity. It was hard to keep track now of which way I was facing and I hardly dared to breathe but this was when the fear faded and the adrenaline rush kicked in, giving me the thrill factor that all rollercoaster fans are after.