With the 2018 season now fully underway following a snowy opening weekend, last weekend provided the first chance for many to return to Alton Towers Resort for the first time in 2018. With the official opening of Wicker Man, TLC to Duel, and a host of other changes around the park there was plenty to take a look at. TowersTimes has rounded up all the developments for the start of the new theme park season.

Wicker Man
Having had its original opening weekend snowed off, Wicker Man officially opened to the public with The Beornen performing the opening ceremony for the Resort’s newest Secret Weapon. Many guests ran to the ride in anticipation of being one of the first to ride that day (the ride having previously soft opened during the week) and it wasn’t long before a three hour queue had formed for the wooden rollercoaster. However, it would unfortunately prove not to be the smooth official opening day the Resort had hoped for with the ride experiencing several technical difficulties throughout the day, which at one point led to the whole queue line having to be evacuated. Credit has to be given to the Resort for getting the ride back open later in the day, even though it had to operate on reduced capacity with one of the 3 trains running empty, and four rows of the other two trains not being filled. Despite the operational difficulties, guests who had experienced the ride gave it overwhelmingly positive feedback, with many commenting on the overall theming of the ride, and how much they enjoyed the overall experience.

Towers Loving Care
Now in its third cycle, the Towers Loving Care programme has seen a range of improvements across the Resort. The Nemesis Monster has undergone the third and final instalment of its refurbishment with the top and back sections having been re-painted during the closed season. It now looks much improved and it is great to see it restored to its former glory.

Duel has also undergone some extensive refurbishments. On the exterior of the ride the ivy has been cleared from the frontage, whilst the crypt has also seen a new resident added. Inside, the queue-line has seen the addition of some moving portraits which replace the TV screens which used to play the backstory to the ride. Much of the ride has been repainted with neon and UV paint, and complemented with UV lighting, however, whilst it is good to see many areas of the ride re-painted, in places the neon and UV paint is perhaps a little too garish. There also seemed to be several sections where targets were not working, and the trommel tunnel was sadly not working, although we understand there is still some work to be completed so hopefully these will be fixed soon. The ride has also received a new soundtrack which has been composed in-house by the Resort.

Over the closed season the Entrance Plaza has received a complete overhaul with the former ticket kiosks now removed and replaced with planters. Ticket sales have now been moved to windows located on the left hand side of the Plaza (as you face towards the turnstiles). The Plaza buildings have received a re-paint, with the bottom entrance from the coach park now blocked off with the wall on the coach park side displaying ‘Welcome to Alton Towers Resort’ signage.

A number of areas have received re-paints with Oblivion’s queue-line barriers now painted silver, and the painting of Towers Street being continued giving the Resort’s entrance a more colourful look.In the Gardens, the Conservatory has had its restoration work completed and now looks much improved.

Operational Changes
Perhaps some of the changes which have caused the most discussion have been surrounding the operation of some of the Resort’s biggest rides. Having removed single rider queues from Rita and Nemesis for 2017, for the 2018 season the Resort have now taken this further and removed all single rider queues from across the theme park. The removal of these queues has meant that the fastrack lines have been re-routed with the fastrack for both Th13teen and The Smiler now leading direct to the ride station making them much more efficient than previously. The Smiler and Th13teen have also had their staffed baggage holds closed, with guests now required to place their bags in cages on the ride station. This has meant that the loading process for both rides now take longer than in previous seasons with guests having to cross the train to place their bags in the cage competing with those who are picking their bags up after disembarking. Rita has had an additional staircase placed alongside the fastrack stairs for RAP users meaning they no longer have to fight their way through the crowd at the ride exit gate. It would also appear that the Resort are no longer placing ride hosts at the entrance to their rides which means that, in some cases, you do not see a member of staff until you get to the boarding point for the ride.

As reported in our Opening Weekend Photo Update, the Alton Towers Traffic Patrol have made a welcome return to the Resort after being absent for the past two seasons. Their return brings more life to Towers Street as guests enter in the morning and provide some great interactions with guests as they start their day.

New for this year is Wasteland Bash, located in Forbidden Valley. Due to be performed for the duration of the Easter Holidays, this new entertainment will see a performance on the former Ripsaw site set to a soundtrack composed by the Resort’s in house entertainment team, with the performers also roaming around Forbidden Valley.

It is encouraging to see the return of more entertainment outside of CBeebies Land, and whilst some is only due to be around during the peak school holiday period, we hope to see more entertainment put on throughout the season.

Food and Beverage
There have been a number of changes to the food and beverage offerings across the Resort. Following its re-opening during last season’s Fireworks Spectacular, the Burger Kitchen in Mutiny Bay has now been permanently re-opened and has received a re-paint and subtle re-brand to become ‘Wicker Man Burger Kitchen’ to fit into the area for the Resort’s new attraction. The arrival of Wicker Man has also seen the re-theme of The Courtyard Tavern to ‘The Welcom-Inn’, a name which is a nod to the scare maze which occupied the Courtyard during Scarefest 2017. Also receiving a subtle re-theme are the three quick service windows at the far end of the Courtyard building, which now serve waffles, hotdogs, and hot wraps.

Over in Dark Forest, the food and beverage outlets are now operated by the franchise Eastern Express (which previously only had the one outlet in Mutiny Bay), and sees a range of snacks and hot food items on offer including chips, hot filled baguettes (with the option of sausage or lamb donner meat), hot wraps, and ice cream. With these outlets now being operated by a franchise this does mean that they no longer accept Annual Pass Discount, however it may mean that these outlets are able to open for much more of the season than they did last year.

Forbidden Valley’s Burger Kitchen appears to have been closed, with the outlet not being listed on the Resort map and the unit being shuttered and signage almost totally removed. It is not known if this is a permanent closure, or if the outlet will return for the Resort’s busiest periods, however its absence now means the only outlet serving hot food in Forbidden Valley is the Rollercoaster Restaurant. Towers Street Bar and Grill also remains closed with no indication as to whether it will re-open at all this season.

The new season means a new range of merchandise has made its way into the Resort’s retail outlets. Wicker Man has an extensive range of items, from the usual pin badges, mugs, clothing and stationary, to more unusual offerings including photo frames made from wooden off cuts from the ride, and even replicas of the Wicker Man structure itself – one made from copper wire (costing £300) and one made from wicker (costing £3000).

Also introduced this season has been a number of new pin badges, including Hex and Duel, a new range of mugs and shot glasses, glass paper weights featuring the track outline of the Resort’s major rollercoasters, and new items of clothing for many of the Resort’s big 7 coasters.

With the theme park having not been able to fully open during its opening weekend (17th/18th March) due to the weather, and crowds being relatively low during the week, this weekend saw the first time in 2018 that the theme park had to cope with large numbers of guests visiting the Resort. With many guests visiting for Wicker Man’s official opening day, significant queues formed early on in the Entrance Plaza resulting in lengthy waits to enter the theme park. Later in the day, some guests were reporting it was taking them in excess of an hour and a half to make their way from the main car park via the monorail, pay or collect their tickets from the ticket windows, and make their way through the turnstiles. Inside the park several of the Resort’s rollercoasters were operating on reduced capacity with Nemesis only running one train due to the second train undergoing extensive maintenance, and Galactica only using one of its two stations. With the park being busy, this led to long waits for many attractions, something which was compounded by some of the queue time estimates being inaccurate, and a large number of priority passes being in circulation due to Wicker Man’s technical difficulties in the middle part of the day. Although it is good to see the Resort so busy again, it would appear that there is still some work to do to enable everything to run as smoothly as possible, however we’re sure that as the season gets into full swing the Resort can sort many of these issues out.

Have you managed to make your way to the Resort for the 2018 season yet? What are your thoughts on all the changes and developments? Join in the discussion over on the TowersTimes and SouthParks Forum. As the 2018 season continues, we’ll be sure to bring you all the latest developments.

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