Coaster Kingdom

Toyland Tours (Alton Towers)

The following review will go into explicit detail regarding the attraction and the surprises it may conceal. If you choose to read on, be warned that it may detract from your first ride on the attraction.

Many years before Cred Street and the Land of Make Believe ever ebbed their way into Alton Towers, Talbot Street was one of the most popular and bustling areas of the park. At the end of this street, Around the World in 80 Days, and whilst it was hardly frequented by the masses, was an animatronic frenzy around the world featuring mummies from Egypt and adorable fluffy seals from the Arctic.

Whilst on one side of the park a savage monster was ripping holes in the ground and tossing riders through it’s contorted circuit (going, of course, under the guise of Nemesis), Talbot Street became the Land of Make Believe, and Around the World in 80 Days became Toyland Tours.

The transformation was spectacular – from the outside, the drab exterior was no longer an inconspicuous subtle façade, but instead a brightly coloured entrance, fronted by colourful porches and arches. The transformation inside too was rather spectacular, with the theme being that of a magical toy factory.

Whilst the same boats were used, that is where the parallels end. Through the door, you climb some stairs that take you aboard the deep red and gold hull of the S. S. Toyland Tours. As you cross this ship, the cloudy walls proclaim that ‘ideas make toys – toys make presents – presents make parties’. You cross the ship and go down some stairs beneath its bridge before you walk onto the platform that loads just one boat at a time.

The station really is fantastic, with the paddle steamer that you cross to get onto the platform and a huge six-foot teddy bear being lifted from a box with a gathering of brightly coloured balloons.

Ideas make toys; your boat rolls from the conveyor and into the water before you pass a bubbling tank of brightly coloured liquid, so named the Thinking Tank. Above it thought bubbles echo some of the ideas this contraption has come up with – opposite, a prototype ‘Elecopter’, a giant pink elephant with ‘chopper rotors upon it’s cap. Above it, the thought bubble declares that this is an idea that ‘will never take off’.

You continue to pass madcap ideas, such as bouncy castles (bouncy castles on trampolines, obviously), a Snailetrix (race track for snails, many running on ‘lead-free slime') and stripy paint.

As a batches of stripy green and yellow balls undulate through a zany contrivance, you are duly informed about the balls – each sign says either ‘balls up’, ‘balls in’ or ‘balls out’. This kind of humour is enough to make any adult smirk, and goes way above the heads of those young enough to be corrupted.

The teddy stuffing department will soon pass on your right hand side, teddy bears are told to keep their mouths shut, those who habitually don’t have stuffing pouring from their maws. A giant robot watches over proceedings, a television screen set into his bulbous blue stomach shows the prevailing boat of riders as they enter the next room.

As you go beyond the dolly mixtures, in the truest sense with every part of their bodies a different garish colour, you go into the bathroom, where you are surrounded by thousands of bubbles, plastic ducks and fountains jumping over your head. You soon go between two columns of water pouring from the taps into the poorest and most unbefitting part of the ride.

This Sega room has a huge console to your left and standing proud on this rather outmoded machine under a monitor is the ever-endearing Sonic the Hedgehog. On screens around the darkened room between golden hoops are snippets of Sonic and his computer capers.

Toys make presents; the Toyland Express train chuffs past, fully laden, with a teddy bear in the front engine, pulling carriages piled high with party presents and gifts. Geronimo Giraffe pulls on a ribbon on another present as you pass under a castle archway from which toy soldiers play fanfare.

Presents make parties; the grand finale of this inimitable voyage is the grand party. As lights flash and mirror balls turn a band of cats play music as your boat sails by a huge jelly (by huge we’re talking about 20 feet tall here) with a mermaid wobbling upon the top.

There isn’t really much substance to the final scene other than the over-use of glitter as well as gaudy, clashing colour schemes. As you pass a huge spinning turntable of butterfly cakes (remember them?!) and fairy cakes, you go under a collapsing tunnel of candy canes before the boats queue up for the station under the shadow of a dancing hippo in a sequin dress upon a fairy cake. Attention is drawn to the continually swinging chest of this ‘lady’.

The ride follows on from the despicably popular Bubbleworks, a ride that has received almost universal praise. Both the Bubbleworks and Alton Towers’ Haunted House were done by outside companies, the theming on Toyland Tours, though, was done in-house (virtually) by the Tussauds Studio.

It is fair to say that on the whole the theming inside is fantastic. It is a very colourful ride, and seems to have been looked after very well, whereas parts of the Bubbleworks are showing their age.

The ride is tucked away in the middle of nowhere though. This means that very few people ride it, and in fact the whole of Cred Street is very baron, a lost opportunity, and something the park seem to have picked up on due to a new look virtually every year (Nicklodeon, Barny, Land of Make Believe… the list goes on).

There are a few facets that mean the ride is far inferior to the Bubbleworks; the finale is an anti-climax and, incongruously, the one of the most disappointing parts of the ride. The Sega part is also completely incongruous parts of the ride. The story is that ideas make toys (covered by the not so droll think tank), toys make presents (the scenes following) and that presents make parties (the ‘finale’). The Sega section seems to be a palpable plug for Sega, and to a less annoying extent, the bath section seems to break away from the consistency that the rest of the ride works for.

As a family ride, Toyland Tours seems to set the balance right, and is still an interesting ride whatever your age. It just lacks the finale and homogeny that the older Bubbleworks seems to have set the president for.

3/5 Marcus Sheen