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IN FOR A RIDE

Inside Alton Towers as it prepares to reopen – we show what socially distanced theme parks will be like

ALTON Towers may be one of the UK’s most popular family days out but if you want to go this summer, you’ll need a temperature check first.

The Staffordshire theme park should have celebrated its 40th birthday back in March with the launch of Gangsta Granny, a new ride based on the popular children’s book by David Walliams - but was put on hold due to coronavirus.

Alton Towers prepares to reopen - what can you expect when you return?
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Alton Towers prepares to reopen - what can you expect when you return?

Now, the Merlin Entertainments-owned attraction is getting ready to open its gates again with the first visitors being welcomed back on Saturday, July 4.

But how will social distancing measures work in a place known for its long queues, bustling crowds and scream-inducing rollercoasters?

I headed to Alton Towers to take a sneak peek at what the new normal really means for one of Britain’s favourite attractions.

Forget spontaneous visits, all tickets must now be pre-booked to allow Alton Towers to carefully control the number of people on site.

This includes those who already have a season ticket or Merlin annual pass.

Temperature checks will be required before you go in
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Temperature checks will be required before you go inCredit: Paul Tonge - The Sun
Less contact will be encouraged to reduce the risk of the virus spreading
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Less contact will be encouraged to reduce the risk of the virus spreadingCredit: Paul Tonge - The Sun
Rides will also face being cleaned down between each passenger
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Rides will also face being cleaned down between each passengerCredit: Paul Tonge - The Sun

To even get into the theme park, my temperature was taken using a non-touch thermometer.

Anything higher than 37.8C and I’d be heading home before making it past the turnstiles.

With an unsettling feeling similar to walking through customs at an airport or driving past a police car, my inner worrier started to kick in. How well am I REALLY feeling?

Thankfully my hypochondria was short-lived and I was waved in by a friendly staff member wearing face mask, gloves and a visor.

Heading into the park itself, things seemed almost normal.

Ride staff wear masks across the park
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Ride staff wear masks across the park
Rides will keep passengers distanced from each other with spaces between each rider
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Rides will keep passengers distanced from each other with spaces between each riderCredit: Paul Tonge - The Sun
Don't expect any full rides soon as whole rows could be left empty
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Don't expect any full rides soon as whole rows could be left emptyCredit: Paul Tonge - The Sun

The signs warning you to keep your distance may look out of place at Alton Towers but after weeks of seeing similar notices in my local supermarket, they no longer look that alarming.

Almost everything is open but with added hygiene measures and social distancing restrictions.

The only exception is the Alton Towers Dungeon, which opened last year but will now remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Face masks are not compulsory for walking around the park but you’ll need to wear one to go on any of the big eight rollercoasters – Nemesis, Galactica, Oblivion, The Smiler, Wicker Man, Rita, TH13TEEN and Enterprise.

The face-covering rule also applies for three family favourites – Runaway Mine Train, the swinging pirate ship known as Blade and Marauder’s Mayhem, which is really a spinning teacups ride with a swashbuckling makeover.

Park capacity is expected to remain low at first, meaning rides will be able to stay empty easily
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Park capacity is expected to remain low at first, meaning rides will be able to stay empty easilyCredit: Paul Tonge - The Sun
The park lines are still pretty empty
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The park lines are still pretty empty
Guests will have to follow the new rules, although aren't likely to be any different from what Brits are used to
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Guests will have to follow the new rules, although aren't likely to be any different from what Brits are used to
Don't forget your masks, as staff will enforce guests to wear them properly
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Don't forget your masks, as staff will enforce guests to wear them properlyCredit: Paul Tonge - The Sun

On tamer rides, face coverings are optional and exceptions are made for children under six and those with disabilities or health conditions which would make wearing a mask difficult.

The queues at Alton Towers have always seemed intimidatingly long. But nowadays, the length of the line is more likely to be down to enforced spacing between family groups than huge visitor numbers.

Queue markings are 2.7m so families can stand comfortably without feeling like they are intruding into their neighbour’s space.

All the restaurants are open for food but with additional spaces between tables. Outdoor food stalls, fitted with the now-obligatory hygiene screens, will be offering takeaway ‘grab and go’ options and are card payment only.

As for this season’s new ride, Gangsta Granny, like lots of things since the arrival of COVID 19, you’ll have to wait until 2021 to check it out.

The new £37m Gulliver's Valley theme park is opening next month as well, with 26 new rides and attractions.

Theme park rides might also change.

Zamperla, a ride designer who has created a number of attractions across Europe, has developed the new designs to ensure passengers can continue social distancing while enjoying theme parks.

The plexiglass screen would be on the back of each seat, so each rider would have the clear barrier in front of their hands.

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