Alton Towers Resort opened for the 2016 season this weekend giving guests the first opportunity to visit the full theme park this year. It also offered the first chance to see the many changes which the Resort have made, including progress on the theme park’s new additions – Galactica and the Rollercoaster Restaurant, the changes made through the Towers Loving Care initiative, and of course the re-opening of The Smiler. TowersTimes rounds up all the news from the theme park’s opening weekend.
Almost all the attention for the opening day of the season was focused on The Smiler which opened for the first time since the events of 2nd June last year. The rollercoaster re-opened to enthusiastic crowds with staff members having the first ride of the day before the first public train was dispatched shortly afterwards to cheers both on and off the ride. Throughout the day the rollercoaster attracted lengthy queues with the minimum wait being 45 minutes. There was a significant press and media presence around the attraction with journalists filming, taking photographs, and interviewing guests as they exited the ride.
Although the attraction has retained its original name and overall theme, there have been a number of subtle changes. The music which used to boom out into X-Sector has been noticeably turned down and subtle edits have been made to remove any references to marmalisation or correction. Inside the station area the projection mapping remains, however the voiceover no longer plays over the top of the music. On the ride itself riders are now dispatched to the words ‘join us’, the alternative dispatch voiceover, ‘it’s time to get corrected’ is no longer used, however the mist screen is now working once again. On the trains both the panels which were on the rear of the seats showing optical illusions and the on ride video have been removed, whilst at the half way point of the ride the word ‘corrected’ had been taken down so that it now reads simply ‘half way’.
Much of the merchandise has been returned to The Smiler Shop, along with a small number of new lines. Any merchandise which referred to being ‘corrected’ or ‘marmalised’ has not returned, something which is in-line with the removal of the references to these terms across the ride.
Galactica, the Resort’s new attraction for 2016 which has seen Air transformed into the world’s first rollercoaster fully dedicated to virtual reality, is almost ready for opening this Thursday (24th March), and TowersTimes were given the opportunity to have one of the first flights from Galactica Tours.
One of the first things that strikes you as you enter the plaza area is the new portal theming element. Surrounding the track at the base of the first drop the portal includes sound, lighting and mist effects which activate each time a craft passes through. Once you enter the queue you pass through the attraction photo point which requires guests to place their head in a bubble where their picture is taken and later placed on four different backgrounds. Whilst the idea of individual ‘space selfies’ is a different one, some people may be dismayed at the lack of possibility for a group photo. Once through the photo point guests then proceed either straight ahead, or across the newly enclosed bridge, to one of two stations, both of which have been re-themed and enclosed with new screens displaying the different destinations you will visit in the virtual reality world.
With the addition of the virtual reality headsets loading times for the ride have been increased from the attraction’s former incarnation. Once seated riders have to wait until instructed before removing their headset from the bag in front of them and fitting it in place. Once the headset is on, a member of staff then performs all the required checks, including setting the screen on the headset asking you to focus on the Galactica logo straight ahead of you. There is a dial on top of the headset if guests require to adjust the focus, however this can be quite tricky to locate. Overall, the virtual reality is well synced to the motion of the ride taking guests on a journey through a number of different locations, however the audio was a little too quiet making it tricky to hear what was being said. There is a lot that happens in the duration of the ride, and perhaps it could be said a little too much happens making it difficult to take everything in. Once your journey is complete disembarking is fairly quick with a member of staff swiftly cleaning each headset before replacing it into the bag and releasing the restraint. Despite a few technical hitches on our preview, Galactica will be a unique and strong addition to the Resort.
Towers Loving Care
Throughout the closed season the Resort have made a number of changes, improvements and refurbishments across the theme park as part of its three year Towers Loving Care initiative. One of the largest projects has seen Nemesis receive a complete track re-paint, and the station monster have the first of a two stage re-paint and refurbishment. The iconic rollercoaster now looks stunning in its newly painted form, however it is somewhat disappointing to see the new paint flaking away in some places exposing the bare steel or the track underneath. Elsewhere in Forbidden Valley the Nemesis Gun has been fully restored, and the lower half of the valley has been resurfaced with red tarmac. Prospect Tower has now has its restoration completed and looks beautiful against the backdrop of the gardens. There have also been a number of repaints with Woodcutters, the fountain in Fountain Square, facades in Cloud Cuckoo Land and the Box Office and Photo Collection building all receiving attention.
Some of the largest changes have taken place in Dark Forest. New themed fencing has been installed alongside Rita and now covers the former scaffolding in the tunnel on the way to Th13teen giving the area a much tidier look. The new fencing includes posters giving nods to the former raceway theme and we understand it will also have vines added to integrate it more into the Dark Forest Theme. Many of the food and beverage units have now been closed, with themed panelling now occupying the space where the service hatches once were. The area is now also home to a new Box Office which replaces where the previous Rita shop used to be.
Towers Loving Care has also seen the closure of several rides, including Hex, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Driving School, and Wobble World. Each of these attractions have had their entrance signage removed and replaced with a single sign explaining the reason for the closure. Nemesis: Sub Terra is also closed, however unlike the other attractions this is not stated to be part of the Towers Loving Care initiative.
Other Changes and Developments
There have also been a number of other changes and developments across the theme park. With the announcement over the winter months that both Ripsaw and The Flume have been retired, many people started asking what was going to happen to the spaces which these attractions occupied. Ripsaw’s former position is now home to ‘Forbidden Sweep’, a pay per play wipeout style game which sees guests having to jump over and duck under rotating arms. The site of the Flume is now completely cordoned off with teasers being posted on the walls teasing the site as the location of SW8. Sonic Spinball has been re-branded back into Spinball Whizzer, the spinning coaster’s original theme, a change which has seen all the Sonic theming removed and replaced including new area music and station announcements.
The entertainments line-up has had some substantial changes this season. The Pirates of Mutiny Bay have set sail for new shores meaning that sadly their energetic shows in the Mutiny Bay Courtyard are no more. The Alton Towers Traffic Patrol are also no longer supervising guests entering or exiting via Towers Street. There is new entertainment for the Resort’s youngest guests with two new shows in CBeebies Land from Hey Duggee and Tree Fu Tom, both of which offer entertaining and interactive shows. Over in the Alton Towers Hotel The Fabulous Scott Family provide the evening entertainment with a nicely varied set of songs performed with enthusiasm.
A number of changes have been made to both the retail and the food and beverage offering. As well as closing the outlets in Dark Forest, Mexican Cantina, Courtyard BBQ, Refresh@Ripsaw and Wobble World Café have all been closed, whilst Towers Street Bar and Grill will now only open in the summer months. Over in Forbidden Valley the Coffee Lounge has opened on the site of the former Fresh Fish and Chips, offering Starbucks coffee alongside the Resort’s own cake selection. Although the coffee menu on offer is Starbucks branded, it is only a basic menu, with none of the special options seen in high street branches of the chain. Oblivion has had its shop closed, with the area which it used to be located now walled off and only ride photos being available from that area now. Galactica has its own dedicated shop, located after the photo collection point in a newly extended section of the building (the former retail outlet now being home to the upcoming Rollercoaster Restaurant). The outlet offers a nice range of attraction specific merchandise, from pin badges and teddy bears, to your own virtual reality headset. Towers Trading has been re-merchandised over the closed season and now has a much more fluid layout. At the bottom end of the shop (opposite the Resort Box Office) is a range of confectionary from ride branded chocolate and Resort branded fudge, to the traditional pick and mix. In the next section up is a range of toys, from Lego, to cuddly toys. Finally, in the top section, just before the tills, is all the merchandise unique to the Resort with one side offering ride specific products, and the other general Alton Towers Resort branded merchandise.