It's unlucky for some, will it be for you?
Hype is a difficult thing to get right and that's the problem right there in itself; if you go OTT with it you'll leave people disappointed. If you don't hype something up, there is no public interest.
If you ask most visitors of 2010 to Alton Towers, they'd have said that Thirteen falls into the former and that it was hyped too much and marketed wrong. Trouble was, it wasn't really the parks fault.
Back in 2008, on one late September/early October day, it was announced that after 28 years, Corkscrew, the famous ride that put Alton Towers on the forefront of ride technology, rivaled only by those seen abroad was to leave the park. Needless to say, an announcement like that didn't go unnoticed and within a couple of days it was on the national radio and on national news. The problem had already started
The interest had been kicked off by the media, now Alton Towers had to deliver, saying it was a world's first and the ultimate roller coaster. In hindsight, the marketing whilst it was marketed wrong, the ride was exactly what Alton Towers said it to be, unfortunately, the ultimate roller coaster is very subjective and that is where Thirteen failed.
Thirteen is located in the bottom half of the Dark Forest (ex UG Land), well at least the Queueline is, the actual ride is the located in the nearby woodland near the entrance of the Dark Forest. As such, it was one of the few rides in the park, where you cannot see a lot. You can see the station, you can see the first drop. Apart from that nothing.
The queueline is in essence a very lengthy straight line, with very little backtracking and cattlepins, which comes as a great relief compared to Rita. Unfortunately, apart from the odd bit of scenery and walking through the woodland itself, there is very little in the queueline to keep you entertained, occasionally you get glimpses of Thirteen. You get great vantage points of Rita. You also get the obligatory queueline music, where if you listen carefully has some bars of the "Teddy Bears Picnic" only made a bit more creepy
Thankfully your not here for long, like with Oblivion, Thirteen is a throughput monster, on most days running 3 trains of 20 people, with a dispatch (on a good day) every couple of minutes means that you should at least be moving quick and never stuck in the same place twice.
Like with most modern rides these days at the Merlin parks, there is a baggage area for you to put (well) your baggage, and you get given a key ring with a number on it.
Into the station building we go, and it looks like someone has too been listening to "Teddy Bears Picnic" for in distressed writing reads "If you go down into the woods today....you'd better not go alone"
A young girl counts from one, and when she gets to Thirteen, the queueline Tesla coil goes off. It can make you jump, and dependent on whether you're in the normal queue or the single rider, will ultimately depend on whether you get sick & tired of it or not.
The trains whilst not being snug, are smallish, especially if you're tall. They do there job, but if you have trouble getting into the trains on the Runaway Mine Train, you may have a slight problem here. After the restraints have been checked, just before we depart the same young girl from the queue says "If you go down into the woods today, you'd better not go alone" and without hesitation, the train leaves the station.
Warning Spoilers will be taken from this point forward, do not read forward if you want the experience to be a surprise
This first mini drop out of the station is surprisingly quick and with the unbanked nature of the turn onto the lift hill, if you weren't cosy with your co-rider you will be now.
Up the lift hill you ascend, whilst not as high as Corkscrew's lift hill, on a clear day you can still see quite a distance. Before you know it, you've reached the top of the lift hill, only one way to go now. Down.
Unfortunately, this first drop is braked, if you're in the back half of the train you're not really going to notice that much, but front half you'll notice the strange sensation of moving quick, but that feeling that something is holding you back.
A quick flash of the camera and a slight helix leads us into another hill. If you're lucky you can get a bit of airtime in this hill and descend we go again into a curvy ascend and a curvy descend of the hills. A slight turn again and we end up on the second lift hill.
By this point you can tell the first time riders, a lot of them will shout out, "Is that it?" . Truth be told, you're only roughly a third to half way through the coaster.
The train goes speedily along the top of the hill and enters the station building from the top. Statues of Wraiths are either side of you and the train mysteriously stops.
You can hear the rumblings of cracking branches. All of a sudden, a blast of an air cannon, and the train goes into a horizontal freefall (think like a drop tower, a la Apocalypse) not much mind you. There is a louder, more menacing noise and the Wraiths have a white light flashing on them. The lights go out and you fall again, this time a much greater distance to the bottom of the building. Statues of Wraiths surround you, but this time there is one in front of you.
All of a sudden the train reverses and you sharply go down a backwards drop, going around a huge backwards helix back into daylight, gradually getting colder and colder.
You emerge back into the daylight into a graveyard. The track changes and you go quite fastly into the station. You've survived your experience in the Dark Forest.
This is how Thirteen failed in a lot of peoples eyes. The whole experience of the coaster, is probably one of the longest of the coaster rides in the country. However, the actual proper coaster moments isn't that great. Whilst longer than the 10 seconds of Oblivion, it is shorter than Rita. It is also much less intense than the parks major coasters. In intensity terms, it is probably the same as the Runaway Mine Train, possibly Sonic Spinball. It never was intended to compete with the big rides, it was family-thrill ride that was marketed for the thrill seekers. The former were put off by the marketing/hype and the latter were disappointed by the marketing/hype. It was a catch 22 situation.
But as I said at the said near the beginning of this review, Alton Towers, in fairness did deliver. It gave us the first hybrid between coaster and drop tower, which was a world's first.
They also gave us Alton Towers' ultimate roller coaster, but in fun! I've always viewed Thirteen, as the closest ride Alton Towers have got to a Wooden Coaster. With the first part before the event building section, very much a wooden coaster (albeit rather short) with pops of airtime, speed and moving everywhere.
If you don't let yourself be sucked into the hype, along with the Runaway Mine Train and Sonic Spinball, Thirteen is a fun ride. It was always intended to be that, but with a creepy setting. Nothing more, nothing less.
As such, even now in 2012, it is a marmite coaster. Whilst the hype has dropped off, and the marketing outside of the park has simmered. In park they are to an extent bigging the ride up to something its not meant to be. But could it be any other way? They can't advertise it as, the "most fun ride you'll experience, it's not remotely scary but you'll love it" no-one would ride it.
That was the problem from the beginning, any coaster that was replacing Corkscrew, ideally had to be something to compete with Nemesis, cutting edge and intense. Just like the Corkscrew was in its time. Had Thirteen been built in Gloomy Wood, I don't think it would've experienced the backlash it got, as it would've suited the fun but creepy style better. Then build something more extreme where Corkscrew was.
Thirteen is not a bad ride, its actually very good. Trouble is, if you ride thinking how is this going to be like Nemesis, Oblivion (or even Air, which too had it's backlash) you're not going to like Thirteen. If you're with a young child (or like the more 'fun' rides), who loves the Runaway Mine Train and Sonic Spinball you will adore Thirteen