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2017 certainly hasn’t been a quiet year for Alton Towers Resort. With not one, but two new additions to CBeebies Land, the return of a much missed legend, a brand new hotel, and the construction of the next Secret Weapon, there’s been plenty to keep an eye on over the course of the year. TowersTimes take a look back at the highs and lows of 2017.
As 2017 got underway, the Resort made a series of announcements regarding the upcoming theme park season. Not one, but two new attractions were officially announced for CBeebies Land which saw the Go Jetters Vroomster Zoom Ride and The Furchester Hotel join the attraction line-up in the second expansion to CBeebies Land since it first opened in 2014. Full details of the entertainment programme for the new CBeebies Land Hotel were also confirmed, with the Resort’s newest accommodation seeing an extensive entertainment programme running from 7am to 9pm which would include live shows, storytelling, and character meet and greets.
Also confirmed was the operating hours for the main theme park season which was met with mixed reactions by enthusiasts. Whilst there was a reduction in the number of off peak closed days, the Resort initially announced that the theme park would be opening at the later time of 10:30am, however this was later reverted to a 10am opening. Finally, the Resort released details of which rides and attractions would make up their 2017 line-up. Perhaps the most exciting part of this announcement was confirmation that Hex: The Legend of the Towers would be re-opening following its season long closure as part of the Towers Loving Care programme, an announcement that was met with excitement from many in the enthusiast community. It was also confirmed that Driving School would also re-open following a year long hiatus. However, the Resort also confirmed that no fewer than four rides would be removed from the theme park’s roster of attractions with Twirling Toadstool closing to undergo some TLC, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Ride; Wobble World; and Ice Age: The 4D Experience closing for good leaving a noticeable gap in the attractions available for families who were a little too old for Cbeebies Land, but not yet at the stage where the large thrill rides would appeal to them.
With the 2016/17 closed season half way through, progress was being made on a number projects across the Resort. Splash Landings Hotel, which would remain closed until May, had new signage installed to inform guests about the closure and to re-direct them to the temporary Waterpark entrance which was situated at the entrance used for the Conference Centre. Components were delivered for what appeared to be evacuation platforms for the Monorail, although it wouldn’t be until November that these would eventually be installed. Although it wasn’t possible to access the theme park to see progress on SW8, the construction compound situated on the staff car park saw various mounds of earth appear alongside heavy plant machinery suggesting landscaping of the site was well underway. The main turnstiles building was encased in scaffolding suggesting it was receiving some TLC, whilst around the Resort various road markings were refreshed. Regular updates also made a return to the @AltonTLC Twitter feed with details of re-paints of the interior of The Smiler’s station and X-Cite in X-Sector, refurbishments of some of the toilets, and cleaning of the roofs in Towers Street amongst just some of the updates. Work was also progressing on the CBeebies Land Hotel with the exterior brickwork starting to be installed, and cladding and insulation being added around the building.
February proved to be a relatively quiet month, although we did see a series of teasers from the @AltonTLC Twitter feed showing the work undertaken on phase two of the restoration of the Nemesis Monster. It was also announced that, to coincide with its reopening, Driving School would be renamed to Cloud Cuckoo Cars Driving School. With the end of the month approaching, the Resort confirmed details of just which rides we could expect to see on the Early Ride Time line-up for 2017. Nemesis, The Blade, Oblivion, Enterprise, and CBeebies Land (with the exception of the two newest additions and Mr Bloom’s Allotment) were all confirmed to be available from 9am meaning 2017’s offering would be spread across the park as opposed to previous years which had seen attractions typically offered on just one side of the theme park.
As the start of the main 2017 season approached, the Resort released a series of teasers regarding the refurbishment of Hex: The Legend of the Towers via the Towers Loving Care social media outlets whetting enthusiasts’ appetites for its reopening with the main theme park on the 25th of the month. Something else which also started to tease a new addition was the addition of a page dedicated to SW8 on the Alton Towers Resort website. Whilst at this stage it simply contained the ride’s codename and a wooden background, this was enough to get people to talk about just what the Resort’s first wooden rollercoaster may eventually turn out like. It would be on 9th March that speculation regarding SW8 would really be fuelled with a trade mark being submitted for the name ‘The Wicker Man’, sparking rumours that this would be the eventual name for the Resort’s newest rollercoaster. As opening day approached we got the first look at the official Resort map for the 2017 season, a map which included the construction site for Secret Weapon 8 but intriguingly listed the attraction in Gloomy Wood instead of Mutiny Bay as had been expected by many. The map also revealed that Mutiny Bay Burger Kitchen was to be closed for 2017, as well as the food and beverage outlets in Dark Forest also only opening ‘seasonally’.
On Saturday 25th March Alton Towers Resort opened for the 2017 season. Headlining opening day was the grand opening of two new attractions in CBeebies Land – Go Jetters Vroomster Zoom Ride, and The Furchester Hotel Live Show. Both attractions received hugely positive reviews, with The Furchester Hotel in particular proving to be a well-crafted addition to the CBeebies Land line-up. Perhaps of more interest to older guests and enthusiasts however was the re-opening of Hex: The Legend of the Towers. Having been closed throughout 2016 as part of the Towers Loving Care programme, the Resort’s iconic dark ride had been restored to its former glory with a new sound system, refreshed effects, and a number of other improvements offering a much superior experience compared to when the ride closed at the end of the 2015 season.
Opening weekend also offered the opportunity to see the results of the range of Towers Loving Care projects across the theme park including the second phase of the refurbishment of the Nemesis Monster, and re-paints and refreshes to a number of other areas. It was also the first opportunity to see progress on the construction site of SW8. With the usual pathway between Mutiny Bay and Katanga Canyon closed, a new path had been installed leading from Mutiny Bay to Gloomy Wood offering an excellent view of the site of the new wooden rollercoaster. Over the closed season the former site of The Flume had been transformed with the first concrete foundations for the ride in place, and the concrete skeleton for the ride’s station clearly visible. The only thing which put a slight dampener on opening weekend was disappointing ride availability with The Smiler unavailable, Galactica operating without its signature virtual reality element, and other rides experiencing a number of periods of downtime.
The arrival of April saw the Resort re-launch the Big Six Challenge, complete with a new marketing strapline – ‘Are you STRONG enough?’ Guests simply had to ride all six of the Resort’s major coasters and scan a code into the app to claim a free return ticket to be used on a weekday between 6th-30th September. Nominations for the annuals ScareCon SCAR Awards were announced in the middle of the month with Alton Towers receiving five nominations – four of which were in relation to 2016’s new scare maze, Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the Legend of the Skin Snatchers. In a surprise move, viewing windows appeared in the construction fences along the path which ran next to the SW8 construction site, allowing guests to have a clear view of the progress on the Resort’s wooden rollercoaster. On 19th April further plans were submitted to Staffordshire Moorlands District Council relating to SW8 which included further details of the proposed theming feature and further stoked rumours surrounding a possible Wicker Man theme for the ride.
Throughout May work steadily progressed on both major construction projects at the Resort – SW8 and the CBeebies Land Hotel. The CBeebies Land Hotel had its exterior brickwork completed and the finishing touches, such as exterior themed window shutters and external landscaping, started to be added. At the start of the month, a special delivery was made to the Resort with the first load of timber arriving. On the construction site itself there were increasing signs that it wouldn’t be long until we would see wood start to be erected with L-shaped metal footers being secured to the concrete foundations which had already been installed ready to receive the wooden supports for the rollercoaster. Sure enough, by the end of the month the first signs of vertical construction were appearing, first with timber being erected for the ride station, then, on the 31st May, the first signs of exterior vertical construction on SW8 appeared.
The end of May also saw the re-opening of Splash Landings Hotel following its closure since the end of the 2016 season. The Hotel had received refreshes throughout including a re-name for Flambo’s Exotic Feast to Flambo’s Jambo.
June would see construction on SW8 hit more significant markers as the start of the month brought thecommencement of vertical construction on the theming element, whilst the end of the month saw the first sections of the rollercoaster’s lift hill installed. A metal structure also rose from the ground throughout the month, although as yet there was no indication as to just what shape the theming feature would eventually take.
Following its closure to allow for construction of the CBeebies Land Hotel, the Alton Towers Spa re-opened on the 17th June having had a refresh throughout and offering a new range of treatments using Decléor products. Alton Towers Resort also hosted ScareCON, which brought together professionals from across the scare industry, including designers, owners, fans and experts, as well as the ceremony for the SCAR Awards which saw the Resort walk away with two awards for Best Halloween Scare Attraction for Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the Legend of the Skin Snatchers, and the Award for Technical Excellence for the use of the Haunted Laterns in Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover The Legend of the Skinsnatchers. Also announced during June was the ability for Annual Pass Holders to be able to pre-book their entry for the Fireworks Spectacular for £5 per person. Whilst many were pleased to see the Resort had learned lessons from 2016’s event where many Annual Pass holders were turned away, others argued that the charge was too much for families who had to pay for several people.
The CBeebies Land Hotel would open, as scheduled, on 10th July. Aimed specifically at younger families, the Resort’s newest accommodation offering provided a bright and colourful environment all designed with younger guests in mind. From the brightly coloured décor through to the extensive entertainment programme, the CBeebies Land Hotel showcased just what the Resort is capable of when given the right resources.
With construction on SW8 progressing at a swift pace, TTSP’s very own MI7 took to the skies to capture what was going on from above, giving us our clearest view yet of the layout for the wooden rollercoaster’s track, and a unique perspective of the ride’s station. Construction of the ride would also reach a key point at the beginning of the month with the ride reaching its highest point, a milestone marked by the placing of three flags representing the countries of those involved in the project – the Union Jack representing Alton Towers in the United Kingdom; the Stars and Stripes of the USA representing manufacturer GCI; and the flag of Germany representing the construction contractors. At the end of the month the metal skeleton of what would eventually become the theming structure was covered prompting speculation that the resort may possibly want to keep whatever the theming feature would be hidden.
Whilst the main season was in full swing, thoughts were already turning towards Scarefest, the Resort’s annual Halloween celebration, as it emerged that 2017’s event would see a new 4th scaremaze debut, as well as the return of Terror of the Towers: What Lies Within; Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the Legend of the Skin Snatchers; Sub Species: The End Games; House of Monsters: and Freak Show. This was followed up on the 18th and 19th August with full details of the event confirmed, including the name of the new 4th maze – The Welcoming: Be Chosen. Plans were also submitted for a new food and beverage outlet to be located in the Mutiny Bay Courtyard with documents indicating that this would be a Smokehouse style restaurant similar to that seen at Chessington World of Adventures Resort. These plans also sadly sealed the fate of the Pirates of Mutiny Bay. With the proposed removal of their stage, it would seem that they would set sail no more.
August also saw marketing step up for SW8 with the ride’s website updated on the 16th to show a series of runes and stating that guests could ‘Be Chosen at Scarefest’. On 23rd August a video was released billed as the first in a series detailing the history of the Secret Weapon Programme, but which also had some subtle clues buried within it. However, the most exciting revelation surrounding Secret Weapon 8 came unexpectedly on 25th August. A trademark and logo for ‘Wicker Man’ was filed by Lane IP (who file many trademarks on behalf of Merlin Entertainments), with the trademark categories matching those which would typically be expected for a theme park attraction. Could it be that the name of SW8 had accidentally been leaked ahead of schedule?
Those who wanted to own a little piece of Alton Towers Resort history would be in luck in September, as the Resort auctioned off a number of boats, signs and props from The Flume with proceeds going to Merlin’s Magic Wand. Staffordshire Moorlands District Council approved the plans for the Mutiny Bay smokehouse, although as the month went on it became apparent that the area would first be host to The Welcoming: Be Chosen. Work also continued to progress on SW8 with the top section added to the main theming feature. Although this remained under wraps, some small parts could be seen peeking out from underneath the tarpaulin giving a tantalising glimpse of what we can expect to see next March. In other areas of the construction site, themed rockwork was added to some areas, whilst work was also being carried out to install the guest queueline areas.
October could mean only one thing – Scarefest had arrived at the Resort for another year of Spine Tingling Terrors. Headlining 2017’s event was The Welcoming: Be Chosen. Positioned as a prequel to Secret Weapon 8, the Resort’s newest scaremaze offered a more theatrical experience and introduced guests to a mysterious group who live in the woods surrounding Alton Village. The event also saw the return of Terror of the Towers: What Lies Within; Sub Species: The End Games; Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the Legend of the Skin Snatchers; and House of Monsters, all of which had improved from their previous incarnations and offered an excellent range of scares for guests to experience. Perhaps the only downside to 2017’s event was the inclusion of just the one scare zone in Freak Show, something which meant there was a gap for those too old for the family entertainment provided by the Freaky Four and House of Monsters, but not quite old enough for the high intensity scare mazes.
Around the SW8 construction site, logos appeared which matched the logo filed as part of the trademark application submitted at the end of August leading enthusiasts to further believe that the ride would indeed be called ‘Wicker Man’. Runes translating to ‘Be Chosen’ were also etched into the construction fences building a certain air of mystery surrounding the ride’s eventual theme. During peak periods at Scarefest, the pathway between Mutiny Bay and Katanga Canyon was once again opened up to guests giving a first up close look at the ride’s station and a look at construction progress from a different angle to what had previously been available.
Marketing would step up once again for SW8 at the start of November with ITV News releasing a preview video showing construction so far, along with some aerial images of the ride, whetting the appetite for the ride’s opening in spring 2018. The 2017 season would be brought to a spectacular close on 4th and 5th November with the annual Fireworks Spectacular and saw the theme park at almost full capacity. Based on what Alton Towers Resort means to guests, the display included the voices of the whole spectrum of guests, including some TowersTimes and SouthParks community members, from the very young through to older guests who visited the Resort when it first opened as a theme park, and brought the 2017 season to a fitting close.
With the 2017 season having ended, the Resort released their opening dates for the 2018 theme park season revealing that the theme park would reopen on Saturday 17th March 2018. Scarefest was confirmed to be on 6th & 7th October, 13th & 14th October, 19th October – 2nd November, and the season would conclude on 3rd and 4th November with the Fireworks Spectacular. As with 2017, the theme park would be closed on off-peak Wednesdays. Changes were announced to the Premium and Standard Annual Passes with additional restrictions being placed on the Standard Pass meaning they could no longer be used for entry to attractions on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the peak school summer holidays (although the price of the pass remained the same), whilst the Premium pass saw a price increase of £10 applied to both new and renewed passes. These changes angered many who argued the additional restrictions on the Standard pass was simply a way of Merlin forcing families to upgrade to the more expensive Premium Pass. The end of the month saw bad news for Alton Towers Resort’s parent company, Merlin Entertainments, as it was announced that the company would be relegated from the FTSE 100, the top tier of the UK Stock Exchange.
December would see the start of another marketing push for SW8 with the release of a series of challenges with each challenge giving people a word which they could then enter into the dedicated SW8 website in order to be entered into a competition to be amongst the first to ride the Resort’s newest attraction when it opened. These challenges also gave a little more information about the ‘mysterious group’ with the revelation that they were called ‘The Beornan’, and hinting that they are responsible for the ride. On December 22nd, selected media outlets received a block of wood stating that all would be revealed about SW8 on Monday 8th January 2018.
Of course no December would be complete without the Resort’s Santa’s Sleepovers, and 2017 saw three different experiences on offer depending on which accommodation guests chose to stay in. From Santa’s Breakfast in the Alton Towers Hotel, a Woodland Grotto deep in the heart of CBeebies Land, and an Enchanted Tipi in the Enchanted Village, the Resort was able to create some truly magical Christmas experiences. Guests could also enjoy Jack and the Beanstalk, Alton Towers Resort’s very own pantomime which brought plenty of fun for guests of all ages. On 10th December the Resort received a covering of snow, making things even more magical for those who were fortunate enough to be staying on that date.
2017 has been another jam packed year for Alton Towers Resort. From the highly anticipated return of Hex: The Legend of the Towers, the opening of two new CBeebies Land attractions, and the CBeebies Land Hotel, to the ongoing construction of the latest installment in the Secret Weapon Programme – SW8, there’s been no shortage of talking points throughout the year. As the Resort moves into 2018 there is no doubt that the spotlight will be firmly on SW8 as guests finally get to experience the Resort’s first ever wooden rollercoaster. Of course there will be plenty of other things to look out for too, with the ongoing TLC programme, and not forgetting the Resort’s regular annual events, Scarefest and Fireworks.
What have been your thoughts on 2017? Do you have any highlights or fond memories from the past year at Alton Towers Resort? What are you are most looking forward to in 2018?