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The Smiler

The Smiler 2017-02-26T15:47:20+00:00

Are you suffering from the aches and pains of everyday life? Then it’s time to turn your frown upside down. Standing in X Sector, over 3000ft of tangled track, five mind manipulations and fourteen incredible inversions will be sure to convert you into a smiling advocate! Smile. Always.

Need2Know

Min. Rider Height: 1.4m
Max. Rider Height: None
Ride Photography: Yes
Fastrack: Yes
Single Rider Queue: Yes

Tech Specs

Manufacturer: Gerstlauer
Ride Type: Infinity Coaster
Opened: 31st May 2013
Cost: £18 million
Track Length: 1170m
Max. Track Height: 30m
Max. Speed: Approx 85km/h
G-Force: 4.5G
Passengers per Car: 16
Capacity: 1200 riders per hour
Duration: 2 mins 45 secs

Passing through the entrance arch whilst being overlooked by fourteen CCTV cameras, guests descend down into a sinister pit of concrete and tall mesh fencing. Upon arrival in the pit, you will be over shadowed by the colossal structure of The Marmaliser as it towers above yourself and the ride track.

One of the brilliant features of queuing for The Smiler is how close the ride passes to the queue line and the spectacle the ride provides when watching it, especially when two trains appear to duel in perfect synchronisation.

As you eventually reach the Station Block and enter the unknown, the optical treatment procedure will begin for the queuing advocates. The first room is filled with incredible 3D projection mapping all around the walls in a dark environment. Next, it’s time for you to hand over any loose articles/personal belongings to a baggage hold in exchange for a rubber wristband. Whilst exchanging your articles for the band, don’t forget to look up and observe the bizarre features on the roof!

A large flight of stairs will await you, taking you straight up to the station. Upon reaching the top, advocates will arrive in a very different environment. A clean, clinical white station room surrounds you. You won’t have too long to admire your surroundings as you’re batched through the bright yellow air gates onto the ride vehicle. After pulling down on your restraint and a member of staff checks you’re strapped in securely, it’s time to embark upon your journey to becoming a smiling advocate!

A set of gates will open in front of you, whilst several bright lights illuminate the train and a light spray of mist is projected at riders. A voice over will tell you to “Join Us” as the train leaves the station, dropping sharply to the left. After reaching the bottom of the drop, riders will be twisted head over heels through the first inversion, a heartline roll. After spinning through the roll, riders will come to a stop at the foot of the first lift hill whilst bright orange lights beam down from the roof. A chorus of laughing accompanies this bizarre experience, with “Ha Ha Ha” written on the walls either side of you.

The train will then begin to ascend the lift hill, offering views of what is to come. Upon arrival at the top of the first lift hill, riders are presented with a picturesque view of the Towers, the lawns, the lake and Towers Street. You won’t have very long to admire this view though, as you drop quickly to the right over the toilet block at the top of X Sector, before being dragged through the second inversion, an inverted drop. After reaching the floor of the concrete pit below, riders are then thrown back into the sky upside down, before twisting over to drop back down to the floor, and then mirroring this element again, forming a pretzel loop inversion. After a brief pop of ejector air time as you pass under The Tickler and The Flasher legs of The Marmaliser, riders are thrown back down into an even deeper pit before encountering a batwing consisting of two inversions. After exiting the batwing, a corkscrew awaits riders as you pass within inches of The Giggler leg. Riders will most likely be sprayed by a light mist at this point, before coming to a halt on a block break section. The walls either side of you are quick to point out that the ride isn’t over, and you’re simply “half way”.

A vertical lift hill towers over riders, but not for long as you soon begin to ascend it up to the sky above. At the peak of this lift hill, you will be presented with a similar view from atop the first lift hill. However just like last time, you aren’t given very long to admire it as you drop to the left over the toilet block again, encountering a second inverted drop. Once reaching the bottom, riders are then thrown up, around and down through a sea serpent roll. Remember to smile! The first on ride photo camera awaits you as you exit the sea serpent roll before you’re once again lifted from your seats over another air time hill. This time, The Inoculator lies waiting to shock guests with a light jet spray of water. Upon reaching the bottom of this air time hill, another on ride photo camera will capture an image of the full train, before riders are sent flying head over heels through an intense cobra roll. After exiting this cobra roll, a final set of a barrel roll/corkscrew combination await you, with the latter providing an excellent burst of hang time. Riders pass over the half way point before turning 180 degrees to the left and back into the station. A large wall to the left will be sure to inform you that “You Belong To The Smiler”. After disembarking, smiling advocates will be made to walk up a set of rainbow stairs before descending into the depths of the Station Block to collect their belongings and proceed onwards to the ride’s shop, “Buy The Smiler”.

The Smiler was known as ‘Secret Weapon 7’ throughout development.

Shortly after the opening of Th13teen in 2010, it was revealed that discussions would soon take place regarding “Secret Weapon 7” [the project name for this coaster], and that it would be a white knuckle, 1.4m height requirement ride.

In December 2011, the first planning applications were submitted and discovered online. A rumble of excitement occurred when the plans appeared online in January 2012 as what appeared to be a brand new rollercoaster containing eight inversions would be located on the site of the Black Hole tent. The plans boasted several theming elements that weren’t included at the time, and further documentation suggested the ride was to be built by German manufacturer, Gerstlauer Amusement Rides GmbH.

The next month, the world finally got to see the potential theming elements for SW7. The centre piece was a gigantic six legged robotic spider, as well as a surveillance van which was to be placed on a grass island opposite the ride’s exit. The station took on the appearance of a derelict facility, a large contrast compared to the structures that were stood standing in X Sector at the time.

The project was green lit by the planning authorities in March, signalling the imminent arrival of a giant new rollercoaster for 2013. Shortly after the 2012 theme park season commenced, giant fences were put around the site and the deconstruction of the disused Black Hole tent began. A teaser website we activated by the resort, allowing guests to sign up to be the first to hear any news related to the brand new project. By May the tent was fully deconstructed to allow groundwork preparations to begin.

The paving bricks were stripped away from the ground, leaving a site of rubble and dirt behind. The familiar view of a construction site had returned to the theme park. It wasn’t long until a large hole had been formed towards the bottom end of the site, which grew larger and larger as the weeks went by. The fences around the perimeter of the site were also pushed back out into X Sector, expanding the space within the construction site.

As September rolled by, large chunks of steel works began arriving at the resort. The frames that were delivered to the site would eventually become an integral part of the ride’s station and interior queue line. Diversion signs to the other three rides in X Sector had to be implemented when the fences were pushed outwards yet again to make more space. September was also an exciting month for marketing as various strange smiley face logos began cropping up around the park, spray painted onto the floor. At the time, it was unsure what resemblance this would have to the ride. Nobody was aware at the time that this would become the official logo for the rollercoaster!

With the arrival of Scarefest, the banners advertising SW7 were given a complete overhaul and the resort’s marketing machine went into full steam. The banners changed from the sharp orange and silver style to match the yellowy/green tint that the ride is now associated with, and the ride’s official font was now being used on these banners. The smiley face logo had become much more prominent across the resort, and it was revealed the rollercoaster would be “world beating”, as well as opening in March 2013.

Eventually, digging came to a halt in the giant pit and concrete pouring commenced ahead of the highly anticipated arrival of the ride’s track. Several stats about the ride were also published during this time including the ride’s height, speed and length. It was noticeable at this time that there was no official mention of how many inversions the rollercoaster had, leading to an increase of speculation regarding what made SW7 so unique.

In late October, the next phase of SW7 development reached a starting point as the first sections of track arrived. The staff car park was filled with twisted metal which by November, had begun to fill up the coach overflow car park as one delivery of track after the other came through to the resort. Huge concrete footers and stacks of rebar also accompanied the track and by early December, the first signs of vertical construction were plain to see. In the middle of the festive month, the resort revealed a teaser image showing half of the interlocking batwing/cobra roll element had been constructed.

The excitement was getting higher and higher as the new year came around, but this was soon to be short lived. On January 4th, the countdown timer on the SW7 minisite was removed, no longer showing a countdown to March 16th. This lead to speculation that the ride may possibly be delayed and wouldn’t be open along with the rest of the park on the aforementioned date.

Despite this the marketing stepped up, now reaching across to the nation. The smiley face logo was being plastered everywhere, from ticket barriers in Leeds and Birmingham train stations, to posters in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, and eventually being projected onto Big Ben in London. The logo also featured appearances in various Merlin Midway attractions, such as the Legoland Discovery Centre and various SeaLife aquariums up and down the country. By the middle of January, the press began their coverage of the logo when at one point, it was painted onto various sheep across the country. However even at this point, there was still no mention of Alton Towers linking back to this bizarre happening.

Finally on January 21st, a huge block of good and bad news landed. The good news? The ride’s name was officially revealed to be “The Smiler”. The bad news? It wouldn’t be opening until May 2013 following a series of delays.

As the park opened for the February Half Term event, it became clear just how behind the project was. Not much track construction had happened since December with only the interlocking cobra roll and batwing in place. However, during the half term event, guests were in for a treat as the construction of the inverted drops over the toilet blocks took place in full view of everyone visiting the park. Also during this event, a teaser video was released by the resort of a game for The Smiler. The game was set to be released as an application on iOS and Android devices later in the month and would offer a glimpse of what guests could expect to experience in May.

With the arrival of March, the theme park opened for the 2013 season without its brand new headlining attraction. As guests flocked to ride the newly repainted Oblivion, they were given their first full glimpse of the colossal rollercoaster in full, despite the fact it was still a construction site. In a form of compensation for the delayed opening of the rollercoaster, the resort reopened the popular scare maze from the previous Scarefest season, The Sanctuary, which was loosely tied in to The Smiler. The maze remained open until mid April.

Towards the end of March, the resort received a rather exciting component of The Smiler. The ride vehicles themselves! After giving sneak peeks of the trains throughout the day on the 28th March, a final full image of the vehicle was revealed showing just how much they resembled their counterpart in The Smiler game.

Throughout April, the vast majority of the track layout was erected until April 24th, where the topping of the first lift hill signalled the completion of track construction. As the month shifted to May, guests were finally given an opening date of Thursday 23rd May 2013. Rooms in the Alton Towers Hotel and the Splash Landings Hotel were booked out left, right and centre as people were excited to become one of the first riders of this ground-breaking new attraction.

The following day on May 9th, after an incredible video showed off the track layout put up against a backdrop of a spectacular light display, The Smiler was revealed to be the world’s first fourteen looping rollercoaster. After 11 years, Colossus at Thorpe Park would no longer hold the highest amount of inversions on any rollercoaster record as it would be passed up north to Alton Towers!

Three days before the scheduled opening of The Smiler, a nationwide television advert was broadcast and also appeared online. Over the next two days, excitement and anticipation for the brand new ride reached an all-time high, but it was soon short lived.

Less than 24 hours before The Smiler was due to open, the resort announced that The Smiler would not be opening the following day due to unforeseen teething problems. Tickets were re-validated and hotel stays re booked, with no official announcement regarding the eventual opening date.

Finally on May 31st, the last day of the month, The Smiler opened with no prior announcement at midday. Many people who had braved the trip unsure if the ride would open or not were finally rewarded after many months of waiting, as they became the first people in history to encounter fourteen inversions on one rollercoaster!

On Tuesday 2nd June 2015, a serious incident occurred on The Smiler. A train carrying 16 guests collided with an empty train which had stalled and valleyed in the batwing element of the ride. As a result, 5 of those on board the train (including all 4 sat in the front row) suffered serious injuries. The theme park was closed for 5 days whilst investigations into the cause of the incident began and safety checks and additional procedures were put in place across other attractions in the theme park.

Upon the re-opening of the theme park, the X-Sector and Sonic Spinball remained closed for a further week due to the ongoing investigations. SAW – The Ride at Thorpe Park Resort, and Dragon’s Fury and Rattlesnake at Chessington World of Adventures Resort were also closed for a short period for new procedures to be implemented. The Smiler remained closed for the rest of the 2015 season whilst investigations were ongoing into the cause of the incident.

The Smiler re-opened to the public for the first time since the incident on Saturday 19th March, the first day of the 2016 season. With the media’s attention focused on the attraction, the ride opened with the rest of the Theme Park and operated smoothly throughout the day. The ride had received some minor changes to its theme, with all references to ‘correction’ and ‘marmalisation’ removed and adjustments made to some of the audio and visual material displayed throughout the attraction.

The Marmaliser

Its five mind manipulations assist in turning you into a smiling advocate.

The Inoculator – A jab of happiness as you pass by stage one of the smiling advocate process.

The Tickler – Aims to tickle you until you can’t resist smiling.

The Flasher – The giant flashing device, blinding you as you hurtle underneath the leg.

The Giggler – Infectious, intoxicating laughing gas.

The Hypnotiser – Has the power to disorientate, mesmerise and disrupt your self-awareness.

Concepts

Take a look at how The Smiler’s theme could have turned out and compare it to what became a reality.

Construction

The Smiler had a complex construction process which we documented with MI7’s help.