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.