With 2014 drawing to an end it’s that time of year where we take a look back on all the events and developments at the Alton Towers Resort. Whilst there may not have been any major developments for thrillseekers in 2014, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been plenty of new developments to examine and discuss. From CBeebies Land to Scarefest, and everything in between, TowersTimes takes a look back at all the key moments from the 2014 season at Alton Towers Resort.
The year began with the Merlin Annual Pass sale in full swing. Alongside this sale, a number of changes were announced to the benefits associated with the passes. Premium pass holders would now receive a Privilege Pack containing exclusive vouchers entitling them to £5 worth of fastrack at Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures, and the opportunity to take three friends for £10 each to any Merlin attraction. In addition to these new perks for the Premium Pass, it was also announced that a new tier would be introduced in the form of the VIP pass. Limited to just 1000 passes at a cost of £500 the new pass would include a range of exclusive benefits, including unlimited fastrack and free preferred parking – although it would be June before these were finally introduced.
The new Annual Pass system soon proved to be one of the most hotly debated topics with the announcement from Merlin of changes to the drinks capsules system from a one off payment of £16 giving pass holders unlimited refills for the life of their pass, to a capsule costing £1.99 and 75p per refill. In the days following the announcement, Merlin received a torrent of criticism across their social media channels with many complaining that the new capsules would cost them more than before. Merlin however refused to change the scheme, insisting it represented better value than the previous drinks capsules. Adding to pass holders’ anger was the delay in the delivery of the promised Privilege Packs. Despite being promised they would be delivered in time for the February Half Term, the packs did not arrive. Instead, all pass holders received an email informing them the packs had been delayed by the poor weather conditions experienced across the country and that they would be dispatched soon. Although in some cases people were able to collect their packs from their nearest Merlin Attraction, it wasn’t until March that packs began to arrive in the post.
Meanwhile, back at the Alton Towers Resort, news began to emerge revealing more details about what would be included in the new family development for 2014: CBeebies Land. In the first marketing push for the new area, Alton Towers Resort posted a series of hints on their social media pages, revealing a new attraction each day for a week. The attractions announced included many children’s favourites, including Postman Pat, In the Night Garden, and Mr Tumble and would see a number of the Old MacDonald’s Farmyard attractions re-themed and re-furbished. TowersTimes’ very own MI7 took to the skies to observe the progress made so far. Even at this early stage in the year, it was clear that the area would be bright and colourful with a high standard of theming throughout.
The arrival of February saw a piece of surprise news with the announcement that Submission would be retiring for the 2014 season and would therefore not be opening. Although many people were not sad to see the ride leave the park, it left fans of the park wondering why the decision had been taken to remove it with less than two months to go before the start of the main season, especially as it would reduce the already low number of flat rides on offer at the park.
February 15th heralded the first opening of 2014, with the theme park throwing open its doors for the February Half Term Moshi Monsters event. This opening revealed a range of small changes on the resort, including an extension to Towers Trading, and some other changes around the park including new flat screen televisions in Hex, and new restraints on Nemesis. Perhaps most noticeable was the felling of a number of trees in the Gloomy Wood area, sparking speculation that the area had been earmarked for a future development. After a week of Moshi Monsters madness, the park closed its gates, and anticipation started to build for the start of the main 2014 season on 22nd March.
With the resort gearing up for the main 2014 season to begin, the beginning of March gave us the first glimpse of the resort’s plans for much further into the future with a planning application being submitted for brand new accommodation for the 2015 season. Featuring 120 fairy-tale lodges and 5 treehouses alongside a new restaurant – The Crooked Spoon – and play areas, the new accommodation, set to be situated on the field to the east of the Alton Towers Hotel – aimed to offer even more choice to guests wishing to stay over at the resort and was a sign of the increased focus of the resort on encouraging multi day visitors. Also submitted shortly after the application for the new accommodation were plans for an extension to the Alton Towers Spa and Hotel, including the construction of a new dedicated entrance for the Spa, and a total refurbishment of the facilities.
The 22nd March was the day many fans of the park had been waiting for – the first day of the 2014 season had finally arrived. Much to many people’s disappointment, the park did not put on any special event to celebrate the 20th Birthday of what is arguably their most famous attraction – Nemesis – instead stating that they would be celebrating the iconic roller-coaster’s 21st birthday in 2015. Across the resort a number of smaller developments had taken place including a new permanent queue-line extension for The Smiler, new audio detailing some of the history of the gardens in The Skyride, and new entertainment in the form of a refresh of the ever popular Pirates of Mutiny Bay: The Kidnap of Lady Victoria Sponge, and new for 2014 – The Alton Towers Traffic Patrol who entertained quests as they entered and left the park each day. Some rides and attractions did suffer some minor operation difficulties with Th13teen in particular experiencing several periods of downtime, and The Smiler suffering an issue with a train becoming stuck at the top of the vertical lift. Some of the food and retails outlets also received a new look for the 2014 season with Corner Coffee having a new outdoor seating area and fresh repaint and X-Sell gaining a new layout with interactive screens and new merchandise.
March was rounded off with National Science Week taking over the park and a large number of schools descended on the resort to discover the science behind some of the park’s most thrilling attractions. To celebrate, Alton Towers attempted to break the world record for the world’s largest science lesson. 927 students gather on the front lawns to take part in two experiments to officially set the record which was independently verified by Guinness World Records Officials.
After the excitement of opening day and the start of the new season, April proved to be a much quieter month for the resort. Work continued to steadily progress on CBeebies Land with many of the attractions receiving their final elements of theming ready for the grand opening the following month.
May heralded the opening of the resort’s major new family addition for 2014: CBeebies Land. Introducing a range of new attractions and shows to the resort, the new family area uses a host of popular characters from Children’s television – from Postman Pat to In The Night Garden – and brings them to life, helping children learn and explore through play and interaction. The bright and colourful land proved to be a hit with parents and children alike, seeing large queues for many of the attractions throughout the year. Elsewhere on the park other changes had also been put in place. An all new pirate show aimed specifically at guests under 8 – Captain Fin and the Mystery of the Lost Treasure – was introduced to Mutiny Bay, and the Towers Street Restaurant received a complete refurbishment re-opening as Towers Street Bar and Grill with a new look and menu.
Whilst the resort’s major new addition for 2014 opened, the plans for 2015 took one step closer to becoming reality with the plans for The Enchanted Village and Hotel and Spa extension being approved by Staffordshire Moorlands Council, meaning work could begin later on in the year.
As the Great British summer began, June saw Alton Towers Resort nominated for five SCAR awards for their annual Scarefest event. Picking up nominations for Best Halloween Event, Best Scare Attraction for The Sanctuary, Best Overnight Scare Experience for their scare Rooms, Best Set and Costume Design for Terror of the Towers, and Best Street Team and Entertainments, the 2014 nominations followed on from previous successes. At the awards ceremony, held at Tulley’s Farm on 19th June, Alton Towers Resort walked away with the award for Best Overnight Scare Experience, with other Merlin Attractions also picking up awards on the night.
June also finally saw the launch of the Merlin VIP Annual Pass, 3 months later than originally promised. With a price tag of £500 and limited to 1000 passes, Merlin initially offered them for sale during a limited window on 18th June. However, despite various rumours about the exact amount of passes sold, the full 1000 pass allocation was not taken up with the passes eventually being removed from sale in the middle of August. Anyone wishing to purchase a pass after this date was placed on a waiting list. Initial experiences using the passes were mixed, with some pass-holders reporting some staff at attractions were unaware of the additional benefits the passes entitled holders to whilst others experiencing some of their best visits to the parks and making full use of the free fastrack and other benefits of the pass.
With the main season now in full swing, many smaller developments were taking place across the resort throughout July. New queue time boards were installed across the park, each colour coded to the area in which they were situated. The Towers Ruins also received some significant restoration with the archway in the conservatory having much of its intricate paintwork restored to its former glory and general structural restoration work being carried out to the roof. A new show lodge was installed on the lawn by Goalstriker to showcase the new 2015 accommodation providing the first insight into what to expect when the Enchanted Village opens next year. The Early ride Time line-up was also changed with rides such as Nemesis and Duel being removed in favour of The Smiler, Enterprise, Oblivion and CBeebies Land meaning that the selection of rides available were all situated on one side of the park. Despite original being advertised as a limited time change, this line-up remained until the end of the peak summer season.
After gaining approval back in May, construction of The Enchanted Village, the resort’s new accommodation for 2015, began in early August with diggers clearing the field in which the new lodges and treehouses would be situated. As the month progressed a large amount of the major landscaping work for the project was carried out, along with the first foundation works being put in place for the installation of key utilities for the site. The start of construction also saw the resort starting to take the first bookings for the accommodation with an opening date of 18th April 2015 confirmed.
One of the more controversial decisions from Alton Towers Resort came in the form of the withdrawal of the Annual Pass for the resort’s waterpark. Citing the need to reduce the demand on the Waterpark and the anticipated increase in usage as a result of the introduction of The Enchanted Village as the reasons behind the withdrawal of the pass, the move disappointed many people – in particular those more local to the resort who utilised the facilities over the quieter closed season period.
September’s arrival saw the end of the busy summer period. However, that didn’t mean all went quiet at the resort. Preparations began for Scarefest, the annual Halloween event, with the confirmation of the line-up for 2014, including the introduction of a new scare zone – Scary Tales, which replaced Carnival of Screams (the free maze in 2013). Also announced for 2014 was a new overnight scare experience, The Ultimate Sleepover. Set within the Towers Ruins, The Ultimate Sleepover would see guests spend the night in some of the spookiest pats of the resort and replaced the scare rooms featured in previous years.
Progress also continued on The Enchanted Village with the closure of the Woodland Walk to facilitate the installation of key pipelines which would provide utilities to the new accommodation. A series of trenches was also dug across the site giving the clearest indication so far of the layout of the new lodges for 2015.