2018 was set to be one of the most important years in Alton Towers Resort’s recent history. With the opening of the Resort’s first wooden rollercoaster, Wicker Man, construction beginning on a brand new accommodation offering, Alton Towers Stargazing Pods, and of course a year packed full of events including Scarefest and Fireworks, there’s been plenty to discuss over the course of 2018. TowersTimes take a look back at everything from the past 12 months at Alton Towers Resort.

The new year had barely got underway when the marketing for Alton Towers Resort’s new addition for 2018, then known simply as Secret Weapon 8, started to step up a gear with a teaser showing both faces of the imposing theming structure for the first time. On one side, facing towards the sky, the head of a man, whilst on the other side, a ram’s head. The teaser also at long last confirmed what fans had been waiting for – that the name of Alton Towers’ first wooden rollercoaster would be revealed on 8th January.

January would also see the launch of the new 2018 Alton Towers Season Pass which would replace the previously offered Alton Towers Annual Pass. Valid from 17th March to 4th November, the season pass would offer access to the theme park throughout the season for the price of a full cost day ticket – £55. However, the Season Pass had significant exclusion dates including Friday, Saturdays and Sundays in the summer holidays, and all Scarefest and Fireworks dates. Passholders wishing to visit on these exclusion dates could however purchase a reduced rate entry ticket. The new season pass received a mixed reaction, with some guests not happy at the seemingly significant exclusion dates, and the lack of inclusive parking, whilst others saw the season pass as a great opportunity to get entry for a whole season for the price of one day’s entry.

Finally, January 8th came around, and enthusiasts up and down the country waited in anticipation to find out full details of Alton Towers Resort’s newest Secret Weapon. At midnight all was revealed. Secret Weapon 8 was to be called “Wicker Man” and would be “the world’s first rollercoaster to fuse wood and fire”, seeing guests ride through a flaming 57.7ft Wicker Man statue three times. Also released was a first look at the design for the trains which would feature a wicker texture with the lead car having a ram’s head on its front. That wasn’t all. Alongside the announcements of the rollercoaster’s name, new graphics were released designed by renowned artist Kyle Lambert (known for his work on posters for Stranger Things, Star Trek, and Jurassic World). Whilst some inevitably questioned the wisdom of using wood and fire within the same attraction, the initial reaction from both enthusiasts and the public alike was almost completely positive, with many eager for the new season to begin so they could experience the ride for themselves.

As January progressed, a number of details emerged regarding the Resort’s February Half Term offering which would see the return of the pirates and princesses, alongside a new show for the Pirates of Mutiny Bay – The Lore of Treasure Unknown, as well as the return of long running favourite, The Kidnap of Lady Victoria Sponge. Sadly though, the Pirates return would not be extended to the main theme park season. Also confirmed were the details for the 2018 season Early Ride Time (ERT). 2018 would see ERT reduced to just 30 minutes from 9:30am-10am and only be available to hotel guests and annual pass holders. Wicker Man was announced to be included on the ERT line-up (fuelling speculation the ride would open with the main theme park on 17th March), alongside Spinball Whizzer, and a selection of attractions in CBeebies Land. One of the most controversial announcements was that the rest of the theme park would operate on staggered openings, with some popular attractions, including those in Forbidden Valley, not opening until 12pm – something which saw a huge backlash from fans on social media. Fortunately, just three days later, the Resort revised their operational plans, confirming that over half their rides would open at 10am, whilst the rest of the theme park’s attractions would open no later than 11am each day. The revisions were met with relief from fans of the Resort.

As the month drew to a close there was confirmation that Wicker Man had reached a significant milestone in its construction – the ride had begun the many hours of testing it would require to enable it to be signed off for opening. Shortly afterwards, a teaser was released on social media giving a glimpse of the six-storey Wicker Man structure and featuring the Beornen encouraging you to “lift your faces to the light”.

The arrival of February saw the launch of ‘Make your Mark on the Park’ which offered guests to purchase a brick which could be engraved with their own message and be installed in the newly re-worked entrance plaza. With the new theme park season just over a month away, the Resort also released a first look at the work undertaken on Duel – The Haunted House Strikes Back as part of the Towers Loving Care programme, showing new UV paint and lighting, and confirming the ride would have a new soundtrack composed by the Resort’s very own Simon Allen. Restoration work had also been undertaken on the 19th Century Stonehenge Garden Folly to ensure it could be enjoyed for many more years to come.

Marketing for Wicker Man continued to pick up pace with the first official images of the ride released by the Resort on 16th February, followed four days later by a 2nd teaser video. With parts of Mutiny Bay open to hotel guests as part of the February Half Term event, photos emerged of the entrance sign for Wicker Man, as well as a video giving a tantalising glimpse of the ride testing. Towards the end of the month, the Resort would release their own footage of Wicker Man testing, both during the day and at night heightening the anticipation for the ride’s grand opening.

Of course February also meant the return of the Pirate and Princess Takeover at the Resort hotels during February half term. This year saw a jam packed entertainment schedule for the event including meet and greets with many of the Resort’s characters, Princess School, Pirate Pegg’s Magic Show, and more. For the first time, the Enchanted Village also joined in the Pirate and Princesses fun with the Enchanted Tipi hosting its own entertainment programme featuring lost boys and fairy princesses. Naturally, no pirate takeover would be complete without the return of the Pirates of Mutiny Bay who brought their own unique brand of swashbuckling fun in three back-to-back adventures. The success of the shows highlighted just how strong the Resort’s entertainments team are, and made a compelling argument for both the in hotel entertainment to be extended through the season, and for the return of the Pirates of Mutiny Bay to the theme park where they are much missed.

March would prove to be an incredibly busy month for the Resort. With the start of the 2018 theme park season fast approaching, further details surrounding Wicker Man began to come thick and fast, starting with IMAscore confirming their involvement with the ride’s soundtrack. Excitement grew on 1st March as ITV Central News appeared to leak that Wicker Man would open on 17th March, however this was quickly redacted to say ‘spring’. Further speculation surrounding the ride’s opening date arose just a few days later when the Resort’s Ride Queue Times app was updated to include Wicker Man. The Gold and Platinum Fastrack packages also had Wicker Man added to them with the packages available to purchase from the first day of the season on 17th March – could this suggest that the date for Wicker Man’s opening leaked by ITV News was correct?

Although the main focus of the Resort was on Wicker Man, thoughts were already turning towards the 2019 season with the submission of plans for an extension to the Enchanted Village. Featuring 102 accommodation pods, entertainment tipis, shower and changing facilities and a reception building, the plans suggested the Resort was looking to bring an experience similar to the Glamping offered at Chessington World of Adventures Resort and Warwick Castle.

With less than 10 days to go before the new theme park season was to get underway, the news everyone had been waiting for was finally announced – Alton Towers Resort’s latest Secret Weapon, and the Resort’s first ever wooden rollercoaster, Wicker Man, would open on Saturday 17th March. The same day, the Resort invited selected members of the press, as well as members of the enthusiast community, including TowersTimes, to a special ‘Meet the Maker’ event to meet some of the key figures behind the creation of Wicker Man, as well as be some of the first to ride. A few days later, a third and final teaser was released (the first to focus on Wicker Man itself), and was swiftly followed a day later by the release of a time-lapse of the construction of the rollercoaster. The Alton Towers Resort app was also updated to add Wicker Man to the theme park map. Everything was finally in place for the ride’s grand unveiling.

On Friday 16th March, one day before Wicker Man was due to open to the general public, Alton Towers Resort welcomed press and celebrities to the official press night for their newest attraction. Despite almost freezing temperatures, the evening was a huge success with The Beornen welcoming those who had gathered to their ceremony, and Wicker Man itself looking stunning as it was lit up in the darkness and the flames flared each time a train raced through the Wicker Man structure. It appeared that all was ready for the public opening the following day.

Unfortunately, it would seem all would not go to plan for Wicker Man’s grand opening day. Overnight, temperatures had continued to drop and a blanket of snow had covered the Resort. Despite the Resort’s best efforts, Wicker Man was unable to open leaving many people disappointed. As a result of the at times sub-zero temperatures, the theme park was only able to open between 10am-3pm with a severely reduced ride availability – it was simply too cold for many of the rollercoasters to operate. However, all was not lost. The Resort entertainment team ensured that those who did brave the cold were thoroughly entertained with a whole host of characters interacting with guests on Towers Street and beyond. As for Wicker Man, the Resort swiftly announced that the ride would officially open the following Saturday.

As temperatures slowly increased and the snow began to thaw over the following days the Resort was able to gradually return to normal operation. On Tuesday 20th March, Wicker Man soft opened allowing lucky guests to ride for the first time. Two days before Wicker Man’s new official opening date, the television advert for the ride was released on national television.

Finally, on Saturday 24th March, Wicker Man officially opened to the public. Many fans gathered at the theme park turnstiles eager to try and be one of the lucky ones to be on the first official public train. As the gates opened, many made a run for the wooden rollercoaster to try and secure their space in the queue. The ride did experience some technical issues throughout the day, at one point the queue line was even evacuated, however overall the public response to the Resort’s newest addition was overwhelmingly positive – it seemed Alton Towers had managed to create a fantastic addition to their repertoire of attractions.

Although most of the attention of the opening weekends was inevitably on Wicker Man, elsewhere across the Resort there had been a number of other additions and improvements. Duel – The Haunted House Strikes Back had had its main phase of TLC completed which included new additions to the internal queue line, as well as a new soundtrack and improvements throughout the ride. Not all changes were for the better though as both The Smiler and Th13teen saw their baggage hold facilities closed, and single rider queues removed. Over in Forbidden Valley new entertainment debuted in the form of ‘Wasteland Bash’, whilst the Nemesis Monster had been restored to its former glory having had the final stage of its restoration completed during the closed season. However, the Resort’s original Secret Weapon would start the season operating on only one train with the second train undergoing a significant overhaul. It would be mid-April before it returned to two train operations.

With the excitement of the start of the season over, April proved to be a relatively quiet month. Towards the end of the month, rumours surfaced of a potentially unusual IP that could be making its way to the Resort – David Walliams’ Gansta Granny – following a comment in an article on Digital Spy. Despite intense speculation, nothing further would come of the rumours during 2018.

May would see the plans for the Enchanted Village expansion resubmitted once again, this time with the layout of the proposed pods changed to be a circular formation rather than the clusters previously planned. The planned reception building was also removed from the proposals. There would be good news for the Resort with the release of the Themed Entertainment Association 2017 Theme Park and Museum Global Attractions Attendance Report with figures showing a 1% increase in attendance and a total of 2 million guests visiting the Resort in 2017, a figure the Resort would undoubtedly be looking to boost further during 2018.

The Whitsun Half Term at the end of May and beginning of June saw a brand new show in CBeebies Land as children’s favourite Bing met guests in his own educational show, Bing Live. Plus, for the first time since the construction of the CBeebies Land Hotel, the Woodland Walk re-opened to hotel guests once again allowing access to Forbidden Valley from the Resort hotels.

June would see a change in the Early Ride Time line-up, with enterprise and Oblivion replacing Spinball Whizzer. In a somewhat disappointing move, the Resort also confirmed that next day ‘bounce-back’ tickets were no longer available to purchase, something which angered and frustrated many regular visitors who used to frequently buy the tickets. In response, the Resort explained that guests could instead purchase Season Passes which allowed guests to come back all season – although many were quick to point out the many restrictions these passes had.

In what was a surprise move from Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, the decision on the planning application for the 102 accommodation pods was deferred by the Planning Committee at their meeting at the start of June who cited concerns about the development’s layout. The end of June would see the first signs of what would potentially be the 2019 addition to the theme park as Merlin Entertainments filed a trademark application for “The Alton Towers Dungeon” suggesting that Merlin’s prolific ‘Dungeon’ brand could be coming to the Resort.

Further revised plans for the accommodation pods would be submitted on 3rd July, alongside a trademark application for “Stargazing Pods” giving the first indication of the possible theme for the Resort’s newest accommodation offering. Just two days later, the development would finally receive planning consent from Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, clearing the way for construction to begin.

After being dormant for almost three years, activity was spotted around Nemesis Sub-Terra which saw the addition of a scaffold structure by the ride exit, and a yellow gazebo at the front of the building. Many speculated if the activity meant the ride could be making a comeback, or if the Resort had other plans for the attraction.

July may have been the start of the busy summer season, however thoughts were already turning to Scarefest with the announcement of the scare maze line up and event details. In a surprise move, long standing maze Terror of the Towers: What Lies Within was removed from the line-up, and new maze, Project 42 announced, although few details were given away as to what exactly this new maze would be. The Welcoming: Be Chosen; Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the Legend of the Skin Snatchers; Sub Species: The End Games; and House of Monsters were all confirmed to return, however there would be no scare zones for 2018’s event, instead, roaming actors would add to the ‘Scaremosphere’. It was also announced that the Freaky Four would become the Freaky Five with the addition of Gretyl the Witch. The countdown to Scarefest well and truly got underway as the Scarefest Hearse appeared on Towers Street towards the end of July.

With the UK basking in a heatwave, the summer season was in full swing by the time August came around. New boats were spotted being tested on the Congo River Rapids, which featured a modified design, including higher backs and gate at the boat entry and exit points. These new boats would only be used for a very brief period before being removed from the attraction with no indication as to if or when they would return.

During the middle of August, construction would commence on the accommodation pods development, followed just a couple of days later with the Resort officially announcing the new accommodation and confirming they would be called ‘Alton Towers Stargazing Pods’ and would be available for stays from spring 2019. As part of the promotion for the new Stargazing Pods, some demonstration pods were installed on the lawns in front of the Towers Ruins giving guests a glimpse at what they might expect should they choose to stay in them. Reaction to the Stargazing Pods was mixed, with some guests commenting on the lack of roof window and how it didn’t facilitate any stargazing, whilst others expressed concern about the lack of storage and shelving. However others appeared to like the new offering with some commenting that the small size meant they were ideal as somewhere to crash at the end of the day.

The end of August saw the broadcast of “Inside Alton Towers” on Channel 4, a one-off documentary following the construction and launch of Wicker Man. Featuring comments from both key staff at Alton Towers, and a selection of enthusiasts, the documentary offered a unique insight into the Resort. Following its broadcast, the theme park saw an increase in attendance with the Resort noticeably busier in the following weeks.

As the summer started to fade, September saw thoughts turn once again towards Scarefest which was fast approaching. Further details for 2018’s new scare maze, Project 42, were unveiled, revealing that guests would take on the role of ‘valiant volunteers’ as they ventured into an underground Phalanx Compound to find the vaccination to a deadly virus. It was also confirmed that the maze would be located in Forbidden Valley, suggesting it was almost certainly going to take up residence in the former Nemesis Sub-Terra building. Elsewhere within the theme park, construction was well underway for returning maze Sub Species: The End Games. The shipping containers housing the final sections of the maze had been covered in themed graffiti hinting that the maze could be receiving a minor makeover for 2018.

There would be further news surrounding the Alton Towers Stargazing Pods at the end of September, with bookings opening for the Resort’s newest accommodation confirming that the Pods would open from 12th April 2019. Marketed as a more affordable option, prices for the Pods start at £123 per night in peak season, and from £88 off-peak. Whilst the price includes bed linen and a takeaway breakfast, towels would have to be rented at additional cost.

October’s arrival could mean only one thing – it was time for Scarefest to get underway! 2018’s event saw another strong addition to the Resort’s line up of scare mazes with Project 42 which made great creative use of the former Nemesis Sub-Terra building to create a highly themed and well received attraction. The Welcoming: Be Chosen returned for a second year with the removal of the hooded section and addition of a much more effective ending. Sub Species: The End Games also received some minor changes to its interior layout, as well as new theming, whilst Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the Legend of the Skin Snatchers remained largely unchanged, however retained its intensity from previous years. Family favourite House of Monsters made a welcome return and had new characters Gill and Fred join the spooky household. The Freaky Four turned into the Freaky Five as Gretyl joined the gang and presented her very own Spell School. There was also a range of other new family shows hosted on the stage in Fountain Square. For the first time, CBeebies Land also joined in the Halloween fun with its own Monster Ball. Whilst Freak Show may not have returned as a scare zone, some of the carnival creatures managed to make their escape and return as roaming actors, alongside Galactica Airways and the Ghost Pirates. Scarefest wouldn’t be Scarefest without the Alton Ancestors and 2018 was no exception with the Ancestors bringing their flash mobs and dance moves to Towers Street and Gloomy Wood. Although some were dismayed at the absence of the scare zones at 2018’s event, overall Scarefest 2018 appeared to have another great year, with the mazes building upon previous successes.

On 11th October, the Resort officially announced that 2019’s new attraction would be The Alton Towers Dungeon, confirming that Merlin Entertainment’s ‘Dungeons’ brand would become the second midway brand to be featured in the theme park. Just two days after its announcement, teaser posters started appearing around the park giving the first clues as to which characters would be featured in the new actor led attraction including the Highwayman and the Judge. Reaction to the announcement of The Alton Towers Dungeon was mixed, with some questioning the wisdom of the Resort adding what looked to be an upcharge attraction within the Theme Park, and others expressing concern about the large number of staff the attraction would take to run. Others shared more positive views, with some pleased to see something different joining the line-up of attractions at the Resort.

At the end of the month, the Alton Towers Stargazing Pods would reach a significant milestone in their construction with the installation of the first of the physical pods on the site. The installation of these pods showed just how close together some of the units would be suggesting some would offer little in the way of privacy.

The arrival of November heralded the end of the 2018 season and the annual Fireworks Spectacular. 2018’s display saw the Resort sell out both days of the event and end the season in spectacular fashion with a stunning display which saw the return of Sir Algenon and was regarded by many as the Resort’s best display in recent years.

Whilst the 2018 theme park season may have only just come to a close, further details surrounding the 2019 season were being revealed, including provisional dates for Scarefest 2019 which, as things stand, sees the event set to cover 18 days – 5th – 6th, 12th – 13th, and 19th October – 1st November. The Resort also sent out an end of season survey which intriguingly including questions surrounding the Virtual Reality element on Galactica and whether people used and enjoyed it. Could this be hinting at the removal of the VR feature for the 2019 theme park season? Finally, at the start of December the Resort would confirm the main 2019 theme park season operating dates, revealing that the theme park would open on Saturday 23rd March and run until Sunday 3rd November. There would also be fewer off peak closed days compared to 2018 – something which was welcomed by fans of the Resort.

Something which sparked a flurry of speculation amongst the enthusiast community in early December was a teaser for something the Resort were calling “Wicker Man Winter” which asked if ‘you are ready to reignite with the chosen ones’. Many thought this could be hinting that the Resort would open up on selected dates over the winter to allow guests to ride Wicker Man. It would later be confirmed that “Wicker Man Winter” would in fact be a series of short videos taking a look behind the scenes of the work which takes place on Wicker Man during the closed season, leaving many disappointed that they would not be getting the opportunity to ride the Resort’s wooden rollercoaster during the closed season.

Away from Alton Towers Resort, Merlin announced that they would be re-launching their monthly membership scheme allowing customers to pay for the same benefits as a Merlin Annual Pass in monthly instalments. Each membership would be subject to a joining fee and minimum 12 month term, with the overall annual cost working out slightly cheaper than purchasing a full price Standard or Premium Annual Pass. The move to reintroduce the monthly scheme was broadly welcomed, especially by families who would sometimes struggle to pay the full up-front cost of a Merlin Annual Pass.

It would seem that the Resort also had one more surprise lined up for their 2019 plans, as a planning application appeared on the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council website to install two junior drop towers and associated queue line. With little in the way of further details speculation began as to whether these drop towers would form a part of the new Alton Towers Dungeon, or be a new, separate attraction, adding a much needed flat ride to the Resort’s line-up.

As 2018 was drawing to a close, no December would be complete without the Resort’s Santa’s Sleepovers, and 2018 once again saw three different experiences on offer depending on which accommodation guests chose to stay in. From a Christmas Party with Santa in the Enchanted Tipi for those staying in the Splash Landings Hotel, a Woodland Grotto nestled in the heart of CBeebies Land for guests in the CBeebies Land Hotel and Alton Towers Hotel, and Santa’s Festive Breakfast for those stopping in the Enchanted Village Treehouses and Alton Towers Hotel, the Resort was able to create a truly magical, complete Christmas experience. There was also another fun filled pantomime for guests to enjoy, Alice in Wonderland, which proved a hit with children and adults alike.

2018 has proved to be a huge year for Alton Towers Resort. The opening of Wicker Man has seen the addition of arguably one of the Resort’s best attractions in a long time, and one which has received positive reviews and brought the guests back to the Resort after a difficult few years. It has also seen the gradual return of some of the smaller touches, including the return of some much missed entertainments, which can make a big difference to the guest experience of the Resort. As 2019 begins, the focus will shift towards the Resort’s new additions – the Alton Towers Dungeon and the Alton Towers Stargazing Pods. Of course there will also be plenty of other things to look out for too including the Resort’s regular annual events, Scarefest and Fireworks.

What have been your thoughts on 2018? Did you get to experience Wicker Man? What are you most looking forward to in the 2019 season? Make sure you share your thoughts over on the TowersTimes and SouthParks Forum. As we head into 2019, TowersTimes will be sure to continue to bring you all the latest news and developments and high quality content.

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