2017 certainly hasn’t been a quiet year for Alton Towers Resort. With not one, but two new additions to CBeebies Land, the return of a much missed legend, a brand new hotel, and the construction of the next Secret Weapon, there’s been plenty to keep an eye on over the course of the year. TowersTimes take a look back at the highs and lows of 2017.
As 2017 got underway, the Resort made a series of announcements regarding the upcoming theme park season. Not one, but two new attractions were officially announced for CBeebies Land which saw the Go Jetters Vroomster Zoom Ride and The Furchester Hotel join the attraction line-up in the second expansion to CBeebies Land since it first opened in 2014. Full details of the entertainment programme for the new CBeebies Land Hotel were also confirmed, with the Resort’s newest accommodation seeing an extensive entertainment programme running from 7am to 9pm which would include live shows, storytelling, and character meet and greets.
Also confirmed was the operating hours for the main theme park season which was met with mixed reactions by enthusiasts. Whilst there was a reduction in the number of off peak closed days, the Resort initially announced that the theme park would be opening at the later time of 10:30am, however this was later reverted to a 10am opening. Finally, the Resort released details of which rides and attractions would make up their 2017 line-up. Perhaps the most exciting part of this announcement was confirmation that Hex: The Legend of the Towers would be re-opening following its season long closure as part of the Towers Loving Care programme, an announcement that was met with excitement from many in the enthusiast community. It was also confirmed that Driving School would also re-open following a year long hiatus. However, the Resort also confirmed that no fewer than four rides would be removed from the theme park’s roster of attractions with Twirling Toadstool closing to undergo some TLC, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Ride; Wobble World; and Ice Age: The 4D Experience closing for good leaving a noticeable gap in the attractions available for families who were a little too old for Cbeebies Land, but not yet at the stage where the large thrill rides would appeal to them.
With the 2016/17 closed season half way through, progress was being made on a number projects across the Resort. Splash Landings Hotel, which would remain closed until May, had new signage installed to inform guests about the closure and to re-direct them to the temporary Waterpark entrance which was situated at the entrance used for the Conference Centre. Components were delivered for what appeared to be evacuation platforms for the Monorail, although it wouldn’t be until November that these would eventually be installed. Although it wasn’t possible to access the theme park to see progress on SW8, the construction compound situated on the staff car park saw various mounds of earth appear alongside heavy plant machinery suggesting landscaping of the site was well underway. The main turnstiles building was encased in scaffolding suggesting it was receiving some TLC, whilst around the Resort various road markings were refreshed. Regular updates also made a return to the @AltonTLC Twitter feed with details of re-paints of the interior of The Smiler’s station and X-Cite in X-Sector, refurbishments of some of the toilets, and cleaning of the roofs in Towers Street amongst just some of the updates. Work was also progressing on the CBeebies Land Hotel with the exterior brickwork starting to be installed, and cladding and insulation being added around the building.
February proved to be a relatively quiet month, although we did see a series of teasers from the @AltonTLC Twitter feed showing the work undertaken on phase two of the restoration of the Nemesis Monster. It was also announced that, to coincide with its reopening, Driving School would be renamed to Cloud Cuckoo Cars Driving School. With the end of the month approaching, the Resort confirmed details of just which rides we could expect to see on the Early Ride Time line-up for 2017. Nemesis, The Blade, Oblivion, Enterprise, and CBeebies Land (with the exception of the two newest additions and Mr Bloom’s Allotment) were all confirmed to be available from 9am meaning 2017’s offering would be spread across the park as opposed to previous years which had seen attractions typically offered on just one side of the theme park.
As the start of the main 2017 season approached, the Resort released a series of teasers regarding the refurbishment of Hex: The Legend of the Towers via the Towers Loving Care social media outlets whetting enthusiasts’ appetites for its reopening with the main theme park on the 25th of the month. Something else which also started to tease a new addition was the addition of a page dedicated to SW8 on the Alton Towers Resort website. Whilst at this stage it simply contained the ride’s codename and a wooden background, this was enough to get people to talk about just what the Resort’s first wooden rollercoaster may eventually turn out like. It would be on 9th March that speculation regarding SW8 would really be fuelled with a trade mark being submitted for the name ‘The Wicker Man’, sparking rumours that this would be the eventual name for the Resort’s newest rollercoaster. As opening day approached we got the first look at the official Resort map for the 2017 season, a map which included the construction site for Secret Weapon 8 but intriguingly listed the attraction in Gloomy Wood instead of Mutiny Bay as had been expected by many. The map also revealed that Mutiny Bay Burger Kitchen was to be closed for 2017, as well as the food and beverage outlets in Dark Forest also only opening ‘seasonally’.
On Saturday 25th March Alton Towers Resort opened for the 2017 season. Headlining opening day was the grand opening of two new attractions in CBeebies Land – Go Jetters Vroomster Zoom Ride, and The Furchester Hotel Live Show. Both attractions received hugely positive reviews, with The Furchester Hotel in particular proving to be a well-crafted addition to the CBeebies Land line-up. Perhaps of more interest to older guests and enthusiasts however was the re-opening of Hex: The Legend of the Towers. Having been closed throughout 2016 as part of the Towers Loving Care programme, the Resort’s iconic dark ride had been restored to its former glory with a new sound system, refreshed effects, and a number of other improvements offering a much superior experience compared to when the ride closed at the end of the 2015 season.
Opening weekend also offered the opportunity to see the results of the range of Towers Loving Care projects across the theme park including the second phase of the refurbishment of the Nemesis Monster, and re-paints and refreshes to a number of other areas. It was also the first opportunity to see progress on the construction site of SW8. With the usual pathway between Mutiny Bay and Katanga Canyon closed, a new path had been installed leading from Mutiny Bay to Gloomy Wood offering an excellent view of the site of the new wooden rollercoaster. Over the closed season the former site of The Flume had been transformed with the first concrete foundations for the ride in place, and the concrete skeleton for the ride’s station clearly visible. The only thing which put a slight dampener on opening weekend was disappointing ride availability with The Smiler unavailable, Galactica operating without its signature virtual reality element, and other rides experiencing a number of periods of downtime.
The arrival of April saw the Resort re-launch the Big Six Challenge, complete with a new marketing strapline – ‘Are you STRONG enough?’ Guests simply had to ride all six of the Resort’s major coasters and scan a code into the app to claim a free return ticket to be used on a weekday between 6th-30th September. Nominations for the annuals ScareCon SCAR Awards were announced in the middle of the month with Alton Towers receiving five nominations – four of which were in relation to 2016’s new scare maze, Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the Legend of the Skin Snatchers. In a surprise move, viewing windows appeared in the construction fences along the path which ran next to the SW8 construction site, allowing guests to have a clear view of the progress on the Resort’s wooden rollercoaster. On 19th April further plans were submitted to Staffordshire Moorlands District Council relating to SW8 which included further details of the proposed theming feature and further stoked rumours surrounding a possible Wicker Man theme for the ride.
Throughout May work steadily progressed on both major construction projects at the Resort – SW8 and the CBeebies Land Hotel. The CBeebies Land Hotel had its exterior brickwork completed and the finishing touches, such as exterior themed window shutters and external landscaping, started to be added. At the start of the month, a special delivery was made to the Resort with the first load of timber arriving. On the construction site itself there were increasing signs that it wouldn’t be long until we would see wood start to be erected with L-shaped metal footers being secured to the concrete foundations which had already been installed ready to receive the wooden supports for the rollercoaster. Sure enough, by the end of the month the first signs of vertical construction were appearing, first with timber being erected for the ride station, then, on the 31st May, the first signs of exterior vertical construction on SW8 appeared.
The end of May also saw the re-opening of Splash Landings Hotel following its closure since the end of the 2016 season. The Hotel had received refreshes throughout including a re-name for Flambo’s Exotic Feast to Flambo’s Jambo.
June would see construction on SW8 hit more significant markers as the start of the month brought the commencement of vertical construction on the theming element, whilst the end of the month saw the first sections of the rollercoaster’s lift hill installed. A metal structure also rose from the ground throughout the month, although as yet there was no indication as to just what shape the theming feature would eventually take.
Following its closure to allow for construction of the CBeebies Land Hotel, the Alton Towers Spa re-opened on the 17th June having had a refresh throughout and offering a new range of treatments using Decléor products. Alton Towers Resort also hosted ScareCON, which brought together professionals from across the scare industry, including designers, owners, fans and experts, as well as the ceremony for the SCAR Awards which saw the Resort walk away with two awards for Best Halloween Scare Attraction for Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the Legend of the Skin Snatchers, and the Award for Technical Excellence for the use of the Haunted Laterns in Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover The Legend of the Skinsnatchers. Also announced during June was the ability for Annual Pass Holders to be able to pre-book their entry for the Fireworks Spectacular for £5 per person. Whilst many were pleased to see the Resort had learned lessons from 2016’s event where many Annual Pass holders were turned away, others argued that the charge was too much for families who had to pay for several people.
The CBeebies Land Hotel would open, as scheduled, on 10th July. Aimed specifically at younger families, the Resort’s newest accommodation offering provided a bright and colourful environment all designed with younger guests in mind. From the brightly coloured décor through to the extensive entertainment programme, the CBeebies Land Hotel showcased just what the Resort is capable of when given the right resources.
With construction on SW8 progressing at a swift pace, TTSP’s very own MI7 took to the skies to capture what was going on from above, giving us our clearest view yet of the layout for the wooden rollercoaster’s track, and a unique perspective of the ride’s station. Construction of the ride would also reach a key point at the beginning of the month with the ride reaching its highest point, a milestone marked by the placing of three flags representing the countries of those involved in the project – the Union Jack representing Alton Towers in the United Kingdom; the Stars and Stripes of the USA representing manufacturer GCI; and the flag of Germany representing the construction contractors. At the end of the month the metal skeleton of what would eventually become the theming structure was covered prompting speculation that the resort may possibly want to keep whatever the theming feature would be hidden.