Alton Towers re-opened the gates to the Resort on Saturday 4th July. With the main season being delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, TowersTimes was there to take a look at what changes the Resort have implemented to keep guests and staff safe.
Car parking & Admissions
Day guests are parked in the main car park, which has been reconfigured to keep all cars at the top end near the exit barriers. Guests are directed into a space by a member of staff, who are keeping one space free between each car to aid social distancing. The Monorail is currently closed, so all day guests must walk to the Admissions plaza (Express Parking is available, priced at £18 for day guests and £12 for Merlin Annual Pass holders). Resort Hotel guests can access the theme park via the gate near Galactica, which is open between 9:30-11:30am and again at ride close.
Once on the plaza itself, a staff member assigns you a number between 1 and 5, which corresponds to which queue you will join to pass through the security and temperature checkpoint. All guests are required to have their temperature checked prior to entering the theme park, and anyone displaying a temperature higher than 37.8°C will not be permitted to enter. Anyone who displays a high temperature will be able to re-book their visit at no additional cost. Self-service machines for car park and theme park tickets have been installed, however due to social distancing requirements, only three of the six machines are currently in use.
Social distancing measures
Inside the theme park, signage and graphics on the information boards remind guests of all the measures that the Resort have put in place to be COVID secure. Social distancing chevrons have been placed adjacent to all food and beverage units and HB Leisure stands. Signage is in place requesting that guests keep to the left of the pathways while walking around the theme park, while there is a one-way system in place which covers Mutiny Bay, Katanga Canyon and Gloomy Wood.
Guests wishing to access Katanga Canyon can only do so via the pathway leading out of Mutiny Bay, and once you reach Katanga Canyon you must continue on to Gloomy Wood. Guests wishing to return to the Mutiny Bay area from Gloomy Wood can use either the Haunted Hollow, or the pathway which is usually used for crowd control during the Resort’s Fireworks event, which leads round the back of Congo River Rapids and under the lift hill of Wicker Man.
Ride operations & availability
Due to the new social distancing procedures that are in place, operations on the Resort’s rides and attractions are slower than usual. Distancing chevrons are in place in all queue lines, and the loading procedures for the majority of rides have resulted in a significant reduction in throughput.
Nemesis is loading every row of the train, with one household/bubble being loaded per row. To prevent guests coming into contact with people who don’t form a part of their bubble, the ride is loaded one row at a time and the row behind is only cleared to load when all guests on the row in front have deposited their bags and are seated on the train. This process is repeated when the ride is being unloaded, and guests are only permitted to leave the train when directed by a ride host.
Wicker Man has rows 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 & 11 blocked off to aid social distancing. Despite being on a three-train operation, we queued 60 minutes and when we joined the queue it was a significant distance into the extended section of the queue line. The bag drop is still in operation, but the pre-show is not running at present. Guests still pass through the pre-show room, however both sets of doors are permanently open and chevrons are marked on the right hand edge of the room to ensure guests don’t mix while passing through.
Galactica, Oblivion and The Smiler are all operating in a similar fashion, with numerous empty seats being present on every circuit.
In order to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus, ride vehicles are subject to regular cleaning, which includes all seats and touch points. After a vehicle has been cleaned, it completes a full circuit without any guests before being loaded again.
Due to the pandemic, a number of rides and attractions at the Resort remain closed. The Alton Towers Dungeon, Duel, Hex, Battle Galleons, Cuckoo Cars Driving School and Justin’s House Pie-O-Matic Factory and the Skyride are expected to remain closed until further notice, while Rita and TH13TEEN are also currently closed. This resulted in a barrier being placed under the Towers archway leading up towards Fountain Square, preventing guest access to that side of the park. While TH13TEEN is remaining closed since social distancing requirements mean the minimum passenger weight to run cannot be reached, the Resort have stated that they are working to re-open Rita in the coming days.
With the opening of The World of David Walliams and Gangsta Granny: The Ride delayed until Spring 2021, the area has now been removed from the map on display around the theme park, having still been featured on those that were visible when the Resort opened the Gardens.
Food & Beverage
The food and beverage options at the Resort have undergone some significant changes in response to the latest Government guidance. The Rollercoaster Restaurant is currently open exclusively for hotel guests from 4pm onwards, with pre-booking a table being essential. Across the rest of the theme park, Explorers Pizza & Pasta Buffet has been temporarily re-branded as ‘Pizza to Go’ and has seen the introduction of some meal deals to encourage guests to use the outlet as it is now only offering a takeaway service. Just Chicken is also takeaway only, with barriers in place preventing visitors from accessing the seating area.
All other food and beverage units, such as The Burger Kitchen and Eastern Express in Mutiny Bay, are takeaway only. Due to the closure of Fountain Square and beyond, we are unsure of how Woodcutters Bar & Grill and The Burger Kitchen next to The Alton Towers Dungeon will operate once those areas of the Resort are accessible.
Perspex screens have been installed at all food and beverage outlets, and currently only card payments are accepted, with contactless payment being preferred.
Towers Trading Co is operating a one-way system, with a queue forming outside once capacity inside the shop has been reached. Guests enter via the bottom entrance and work their way up towards the tills. The Pick ‘n’ Mix option, a favourite of many after a day on the park, has been altered and is now only available in pre-packaged containers. There is a nice selection of new products available, with a particular focus being on the range of items available to celebrate the Resort’s 40th birthday, including t-shirts, mugs and the classic Alton Towers Resort Bear.
Coca-Cola Freestyle is also being introduced this season, however at the time of writing is unavailable. A single Freestyle bottle will cost £12, two bottles will cost £10 each, and between three and six bottles will cost £9 each. There will be seven refill stations located across the park, and the bottle can be reactivated on future visits for £6.
Overall, while operations were slower than we are accustomed to at the Resort, we were impressed with all of the measures that have been put in place. All staff encountered were pleasant and professional, and it is clear that above all, they want all guests to have fun and keep safe. With the 2020 season now in full swing, TowersTimes will be sure to bring you all the latest news and developments from the Resort.
Did you visit on Alton Towers on opening day? What is your take on the additional health & safety measures that have been put in place? Have your say over on the Attraction Source Forum.