The Smiler Development

Code Name:
Gerstlauer Amusement Rides GmbH
Infinity Coaster
£18 million
Track Length:
1,170 metres
Track Height:
30 metres
31st May 2013

The Smiler is the 14 inversion world-first roller coaster at the Alton Towers Resort, located in the X-Sector section of the theme park and is the biggest project in Alton Towers’ history.

First announced in 2011, the £18 million coaster was under a veil of secrecy for well over a year, but it was mid-2013 when guests could experience what The Smiler had in store for them for the first time.

An Overview of the Ride

As can be seen on these plans, the ride is quite a compact design with 2 high-points, reached either with lift-hills or a launch (the application does not specify). There are 8 inversions in total on the plans. The track enters and leaves the station building at different levels, which certainly leaves potential for some indoor elements before the first lift hill.

Update: The release of the Smiler game video, recent construction updates and announcements from Alton Towers has indicated that the ride is not exactly accurate to the submitted plans. It is now clear that the ride has 14 inversions (8 are shown on the plans) and the theme is considerably "brighter" than on the plans.  


Station Elevations

As can be seen the station has an industry grunge style with harsh concrete textures, the scheme of finishes indicates existing X-Sector Styles as featuring on the building, so it is unclear exactly how The Smiler will be associated with near-by Oblivion.

Update: Although the building dimensions are the same the style of the final building is considerably different to what is seen on the plans.

Theming Elements

The Spider

The track of the roller coaster will fly through the legs of this giant mechanical spider. Also it appears guests will be able to walk around the structure. The design is thought to incorporates a number of TV Screens.

Update: This theming element is included in the final design but is considerably different in style to the final design.

Head Choppers

(This element appears to have been cut from the final project)

A range of 'head-chopper' elements are included in the plans. The roller coaster will pass under these structures to add to the rides thrilling dynamics.


(This element appears to have been cut from the final project, it would have been located where the games unit is now)

Located on the site will also be a van with a number of scanning devices attached, this van sits on the periphery of the site towards Oblivion's entrance. These are likely not the only theming structures to be included on the site but are large enough to warrant planning permission.

The application can be found here in full.

Construction Timeline

To relive The Smiler's construction period, why not check out TowersStreet's Smiler news feed or our construction timeline. From the moment the planning application was submitted, we followed all stages of the project and tracked many important milestones.  From the first stages of groundwork, to the first pieces of track arriving, right up until the last track piece going in, TowersStreet was with you all the way through the construction phase.

After months of speculation, in December 2011 a planning application was submitted to Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, with the ride plan visuals following in January 2012. At this point, there was no indication of the number of inversions, nor that it would be a record-breaker. It was also announced that Enterprise and Submission would be closed for the 2012 season to allow for construction of SW7, a decision which was quickly reversed in February 2012.

March 2012 saw planning permission granted for the project, and the demolition of the former Black Hole tent began on April 10th 2012. Groundwork continued into the summer months, and by August 2012 a large hole had appeared on the site. Steelwork began to arrive in September 2012, and the now infamous 'smiley face' appeared on the paths around X-Sector.

October 2012 saw a marketing boom across the park, with "world beating" posters appearing, and The Sanctuary scare maze, which would later transpire as a predecessor to The Smiler, gave us a background of The Ministry of Joy. After apparent delays to the project, the first supports went vertical on 7th December 2012, with track photos being emailed out by the park on a viral marketing push on 17th December 2012.

Delayed until May

Concerns were heightened around potential construction delays, when the official countdown to the SW7 opening was removed from the official Alton Towers website on 4th January 2013, leading to rife speculation that the project was heavily behind schedule and would not open with the park in March 2013. Later in the month, it was later confirmed that the ride would now open in May. Also in January came viral marketing that spanned the country - the ride logo appeared in train stations from Leeds to London, and was also projected onto the side of Big Ben! Sheep were sprayed with the logo, and finally the name The Smiler was announced to the world on 21st January 2013.

After a two-month hiatus, track construction resumed during the park's February Half Term event, and it became very clear why the new rollercoaster would not open with the park on March 16th 2013. In fact the ride cars did not arrive on site until March 28th 2013, ahead of April 24th, when track construction was finally completed. Between 16th March and April 14th 2013, we saw the return of The Sanctuary as a free scare-maze, giving guests a chance to digest the backstory for the new ride.

It wasn't until May 9th 2013 that the world was finally told - The Smiler would have 14 inversions and would be a world-record holder! The ride was now slated to be opening on May 23rd 2013, but it was announced only the day before on May 22nd that due to teething problems, the ride would not be available as planned. The Smiler finally opened to the public on May 31st 2013 to generally very favourable reviews.

Construction Galleries

14th May 2013

As construction begins to wrap up the final finishing touches are now being built on the world first 14 inversion roller coaster. These photos were taken by Rob!

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11th May 2013

In today’s construction update, where the photos have been kindly taken by Rob, we take a look at the finishing touches that are now being done all across The Smiler site with opening date now less than 2 weeks away.

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2nd May 2013

Ride vehicles have now been delivered onto The Smiler site as construction nears the testing stage

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28th of April 2013

With track complete the construction seems to hit a snag when some of the supports don’t seem long enough, resulting in some on-site bodging. Theming and queue line continue to be installed as well.  

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25th April 2013

In today’s update we take a look at the testing which has now begun on The Marmaliser screens, the completed lift hills and other new theming touches.

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18th April 2013

As construction on The Smiler nears completion we have photos of the 2nd lift hill, the games unit, the start of the queueline and the current progress of the station building. Photos from Rob

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14th April 2013

Vertical lift-hill, theming and shop in this jam-packed update.

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11th April 2013

The station draws ever nearer to completion, and work continues on The Marmaliser

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5th April 2013

More track is installed and lift-hill track arrives at the park

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29th March 2013

The Marmaliser makes it’s appearance on The Smiler site

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25th March 2013

A Snowy construction update

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21st March 2013

The Sea Serpent element gets complete as construction continues.

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18th March 2013

A small update from Monday 18th March 2013

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16th March 2013

See how construction looked when Alton Towers re-opened for the 2013 season.

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February Half Term Event

With better weather providing welcome relief to the construction teams, work seems to have kicked up a gear both in the run up to and during the park’s half term event.

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2nd February

The snow has melted, and track with brake fins attached along with motors for kicker wheels has appeared in the car parks

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21st January 2013

With much of the country affected by heavy snow, Alton Towers has been particularly badly hit. Still, there’s even more new track that’s arrived in the car parks, much of it being a lot more interesting than previous deliveries!

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5th January – On park update

With the park open for the annual Christmas Event for hotel guests, we’re lucky enough to be able to head down ourselves to take a peek at progress over in X Sector. The construction fence has been moved forward to the Goal Striker building. Although no constructed track or supports are visible, plenty of steelwork […]

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3rd January 2013

In our first update of the new year, it would appear that barely any more of the track has been erected since the official Alton Towers update several weeks ago; however, extensive work on the steelwork of the station building can be seen, and more concrete slabs have arrived on site.

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24th December

It may be Christmas Eve, but that didn’t stop our TowersStreet Roving Reporters from scouting out the latest goings on at the resort. Despite it being the peak of the holiday season, builders were still hard at work to get the ride open on time. In addition, further construction material has arrived on the car […]

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17th December

The first signs of track construction can be seen from outside the park, and Alton Towers release the first official promotional image showing track in place.

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8th December

After we revealed vertical construction has begun, we head down to the Resort to take a look at what’s going on. There’s been a massive delivery of rebar with track being moved piece by piece from the car parks to the construction site.

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2nd December

A small update from 2nd December. Some steelwork has arrived on site which will presumably be used for the ride’s buildings.

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4th November

As the park closes its gates for the winter, here is a collection of updates taken in the last few days of the season, showing the arrival of a new Gerstlauer office on the construction site, as well as more and more track arriving, being placed all over the Resort, including car parks J & […]

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25th October – Track arrives on site!

With the end of the season fast approaching, track finally arrived on site today, check back for further updates as we get them. Don’t forget to visit our popular talk forums on to get involved in the discussion. We’re also on Twitter and like us on Facebook for all the latest news and updates too! We’ve also a short video […]

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23rd October

With the car park behind Duel now closed ready for track arriving, excitement is building that the next milestone in construction is due any day now

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21st October

Yet more concrete being pumped and preparations being made for the imminent arrival of track  

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20th October

Work continues with the weather being on the park’s side at present

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16th October

Concrete pouring continues and slabs are being put in place to build a wall around the pit which has been dug  

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10th October 2012

Today brings much excitement in the arrival of concrete trucks pouring into the ride’s construction site, as well as more steel work appearing. We estimate that the rollercoaster track will be delivered very shortly given the progress being made, with construction crews working tirelessly to keep the project on schedule as the park enters its […]

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1st October 2012

Today brings little by way of massive developments in construction, although digging work is still continuing and it is believed that concrete will be poured any day now in preparation for the track’s imminent arrival. However, advertising is now dominant all over the park, with the scary smile logo present on all promotional material, and […]

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19th September 2012

Another contruction update and we begin with what appears to be the next stage of the “teaser” phase of marketing, with a bizzare image of a smiley face appearing on Towers Street and the path leading up to X-Sector. Speculation on our popular forums links these images with “The Ministry of Joy”, which has been […]

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14th September 2012

The construction site fences have now been moved even further out to encompass even more of X Sector, with a diversion in place to access the current rides in the area now in place. With plenty of rebar and steel frames thought to be for the ride’s station now on site, footers should be being […]

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6th September 2012

Today saw the delievery of the first steel on site, though not part of the actual roller coaster structure this is indicative of a step-up in construction. Of note is the storing of rebar material for footers and the start of re-enforcement of the huge holes that have appeared on site.     With thanks […]

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29th August 2012

Ground-work continues to move at a rapid pace and the hole on the site continues to get bigger. The construction site has been expanded to allow for further ground-work making X-Sector a little more cramped for guests. Again many thanks to member Rob for these pictures

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19th August 2012

A massive thanks to TowersStreet member Rob for these updates from Sunday 19th August. Some key things to look out for in today’s pictures: Groundwork is continuing, with that hole getting even bigger! SW7 banner on the fence between X Sector and Sonic Spinball, and a poster on TowersStreet Another image of those markers appearing […]

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14th August 2012

Lots of progress over the last week on the SW7 site,  alot of groundwork has been done and the previous seen excavations have increased in size. Also a number of blue-markers have been seen around x-sector, these are believed to be related to the SW7 project.

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6th August 2012

After a period of ground clearing  here is the site in early August. A large hole has started to be excavated on the site. Towards the back of the site, the Blackhole’s queue-line has now been cleared of all buildings and bushes as the access point to the site is expanded to allow access of […]

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30th June 2012

The site looks increasing less green, as preparations for construction get underway in earnest.

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16th June 2012

A large amount of rubble has started to build up on site, as work progresses on ripping up the floor of the Blackhole tent, as well as demolishing the old queue-line

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29th May 2012

With the tent almost entirely removed, various backstage areas are now exposed for the first time since 1984, as is the luscious greenery of the woods which have been hidden beyond the tent.

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5th May 2012

Some pictures from an unusual angle as we look at the site from the access road around X-sector. The tent has completely gone now and site clearance is underway. The old Blackhole Kiosk as seen in these pictures is due to be demolished as this becomes the main access point to the SW7 site.

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22nd April 2012

Further deconstruction of the tent.

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14th April 2012

A large amount of the canvass has been removed as deconstruction continues. Images courtesy of Rob

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12th April 2012

Deconstruction of the tent begins with the removal of the canvass, the site is surrounded by a construction fence and the marketing begins with new banners declaring “SW7 coming soon!”

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11th February 2012

Here we see the Black Hole tent still standing, but it’s days numbered as the planning process continues that will condemn it to deconstruction.

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What is a Secret Weapon?

Ever since the Tussaud’s Group (which of course today is now Merlin Entertainments) bought Alton Towers in the early 90’s most major roller coaster installations have had a SW or Secret Weapon code-name during planning.

The origins of the code-name are linked into 2 rides that never actually were built. These two unfortunate rides were versions of an Arrow pipeline coaster that was planned to go on the site where Nemesis now sits. The original plans for these 2 roller coasters had the rides themed around a secret military facility, with the trains resembling missiles. The back-story to the ride was going to revolve around the concept of a “secret weapon” . Thus the two versions of this design were proudly codenamed SW1 & SW2 respectively.

John Wardley, the designer of the coasters (and somewhat of a coaster design legend these days)  decided that the ride system was not going to provide the thrills they required and abandoned the designs in favour of a very new and untried ride concept from B&M – an inverted coaster. This project became Europes first inverted looping coaster Nemesis, the ride however abandoned the Secret Weapon theme – but the code name stuck and Nemesis became known internally as SW3.

In 1998 Oblivion opened to the public with a ride returning to the original ideas of a secret military concept and became officially known as SW4 during its planning and construction stages. The rides code name is even utilised in the rides theme. This now seemingly standard codename has since continued with Air (SW5) though was mysteriously dropped for Rita, before returning once again as the codename for Th13teen (SW6).

The following video was released during the development of SW8 to explore the history of the Secret Weapon programme.


Sheep bearing The Smiler logo

In February 2013, things got strange when a curious smiley face appeared around the country, including on the side of some unsuspecting sheep, which quickly picked up the name of ‘Creepy Sheep’!

This was followed up with the release of the Smiler Game for Android and iOS, which proved the plans were not as accurate as everyone first thought when they were submitted over a year previously.

Lunch on The Smiler

Through April celebrities were given the Marmalisation treatment and work-men re-enacted the famous New York Rockefeller Centre girder photo.

Into May curious videos entitled “Smile. Always.” introduced Miles Ceders; a curious character who it has turned out was partially Marmalised by the infamous Dr Kelman (from The Sanctuary) to take forward the message of the Ministry of Joy and lead people to The Smiler. Part One, Part Two and Part Three are available on the Alton Towers YouTube channel.


Guinness World Record for 14 inversions - The Smiler. Image courtesy of Daily Mail

The Smiler’s “world-beating” feature was also revealed at the beginning of May...

The phrase “world-beating” has been associated with The Smiler since October, but very little was known about what this phrase meant. Discussion centred on a record number of inversions, though nothing was confirmed until very late in the construction phase. It was finally revealed on May 9th that The Smiler had been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as having a world-beating, record breaking 14 inversions.

The Ministry of Joy

485971_10151305011876852_1146574134_nInvented as the masterminds behind The Smiler’s hidden agenda, the Ministry of Joy were first introduced to us during the 2012 Scarefest event in the new scare-maze ‘The Sanctuary’.

The Sanctuary was a journey through a newly reopened facility with a mysterious and un-nerving Doctor Kelman as the lead doctor. Guests to The Sanctuary would conform to the Ministry of Joy through an experimental technique called Marmalisation, which it was revealed had had mixed results in the past.

The Smiler was the latest project by the Ministry of Joy, the controlling force behind X-Sector. Guests will be taken on a world record breaking journey into the latest plans of the MoJ: To make everyone socially compliant through smiling. The process known as Marmalisation has been in development for over 50 years as The Sanctuary scaremaze and the pre-opening marketing has indicated. Your body and mind will be adapted to allow you to conform to the Ministry of Joy.



According to The Sanctuary, Marmalisation was developed 50 years ago by The Ministry of Joy; Dr Kelman and his team attempted to use a range of techniques including mind-manipulation and physical surgery to induce the effects of social compliance through smiling. The Sanctuary was a more traditional (if macabre) hospital setting and subjects were treated by staff who seemed just as crazy as many of the patients; the process of Marmalisation involves a significant amount of mind-manipulation.

However, The Sanctuary’s methods were not particularly successful and Dr Kelman’s methods began evolving into more extreme and disturbing practices, with the Marmalisation subjects becoming mad, mutilated and condemned to the cages in the basement of The Sanctuary.

In 2012 The Sanctuary re-opened in order to re-run the failed experiments of Dr Kelman and refine the processes in line with more modern attempts at Marmalisation that would eventually be utilised in The Smiler.

The Marmaliser

The Marmaliser itself is a spider-like structure that stands tall as the centrepiece of The Smiler. Indeed, during development the structure was at one point known as the Spyder, before gaining its final name.

As each train passes through the Marmiliser, riders are subjected to a number of Marmalising effects that are triggered on each leg. These legs are:

A ride car passing under The Flasher

  • The Inoculator (A jab of happiness as you pass by stage one of the Marmalisation process)
  • The Tickler (Aims to tickle you until you cant resist smiling)
  • The Flasher (A 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)

Based on the previous experiments run at The Sanctuary, the new method of Marmalisation represents a modern approach to ensuring a constant smile.

Smile. Always.

Recreation is very proud to showcase some amazing NoLimits Coaster recreations based on the plans by Dan Wells (Nemesis94). This astoundingly detailed recreation provides us with a glimpse of what we can expect next year.


The video shows the scale of the site and ride, the video includes fly-by’s of the ride as well as a POV (the POV starts at 2:55).

Abandoned Concepts

Even after the general theme for a ride has been decided, there are still many decisions to be made about the finer points of the aesthetics, which can have a dramatic impact on the end product. As can be seen with these abandoned concepts for The Smiler.

Whilst many of the features pictured are recognisable within the attractions we see today, the experience would have been very different had the park gone with this more clinical and eerie finish. Gone are the bright yellows and subliminal decals and instead the queue line runs through desolate hospital corridors, whilst the exit leads guests through a series of poly tunnels, providing a much more nightmarish conclusion.

When this variation on the theme was being considered "Theming Structure B" was also still part of the attraction, which would have comprised of a series of 'head chopper' effects in the lower part of the pit near the Marmiliser.