As part of Alton Towers’ 40th Birthday celebrations in 2020, the park teamed up with TowersStreet to create a blog post looking back at memories of the park over the years. Then a pandemic happened and unfortunately the blog never got published. But over the next few weeks we’re happy to be able to share this glimpse into the past with you…
Over the past 40 Years Alton Towers has changed dramatically from those early days under John Broome, via the magic of Tussauds through to the more recent thrill-filled Merlin years. Everyone has their favourite era in the park’s history and so we asked three of our team to relive some of their favourite years at Alton Towers.
The Magical 90s
Memories by Mike
I’ve been visiting Alton Towers ever since I was a young child and for me the magical time at Alton Towers was the 1990s, when the park’s slogan was “Where The Magic Never Ends”. Who could forget riding The Haunted House as a five year old child in 1992; it was terrifying! Or the short lived Nickelodeon Outta Control in 1997, which was a great attraction to experience as a massive Nickelodeon fan.
However for me, the year which I remember the most and is probably still one of the biggest years in the 40 years of Alton Towers history, is of course 1994, which saw the launch of two massive new rides and the Peter Rabbit on Ice show.
Even today 26 years later Nemesis is still regarded as one of the world’s greatest roller coasters, by theme park enthusiasts and the general public alike. However for me, in 1994 Nemesis was far too terrifying! I remember having to wait near the exit with my dad whilst my brother and mum queued for what seemed like a lifetime. It would be another year or two before I got the courage to ride, and of course I’ve never looked back since.
But for me 1994 wasn’t about Nemesis, it was about Toyland Tours. As a child Toyland Tours was every child’s dream; a boat ride round a magical, wonderful world full of massive moving toys. From a dancing hippo to a full size Sonic the Hedgehog to a flying pink elephant: it was all inside the Toyland Tours factory.
I remember turning the corner into The Land of Make Believe and being fascinated by the colourful toy factory I spied in the corner of the area. Once inside you would enter your boat via the S.S. Toyland paddle steamer, ready for your five minute tour of the toy factory. During your tour you would see teddy bears, bouncy castles (bouncing on trampolines), Snailextrics, a party train and much more – there really was something for every child. The ride ended in the party room, with a group of hippos dancing on cupcakes; it really was a weird yet wonderful ride. But one of the most memorable parts of the ride for me has to be the soundtrack, which would change ever so slightly as you progressed through the ride, even today I find myself humming it (and those who remember the ride are probably also humming it right now).
The ride would later become Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and is now a much darker place as the Black River boat ride in the Alton Towers Dungeon. But Toyland Tours holds the best memories for me and I would often beg my parents to rejoin the queue once we had come off it – I loved it so much as a child!
1994 for me really was where the magic never ended!
Heading towards 2010
Memories by Dan
There was something about the late 2000s that sits well in my Alton Towers locker. I had visited since 1990 – as an eager child who always looked forward to the annual family trip. Sleepless nights beforehand – the magic and excitement was real! But by the mid 2000s, I was free of the family confines and was able to make my own way to the resort as often as I liked.
Come 2007 though, it was clear that the park needed a new spark to take it forwards to the next decade – something new and something different. And big changes were afoot as Merlin Entertainments acquired the park in 2007.
2007 saw the launch of Scarefest, originally branded as Frightfest – the name being changed after a change of heart. An event that has since become one of the biggest annual draws to the resort and has continued to evolve – with new haunted mazes and different entertainment added each year. What’s more, the park was open until 9.00pm on successive nights during the event – something which hadn’t been seen for a long time.
During that first Scarefest the Fright Lights show took place in Her Ladyship’s Garden, which saw lasers and lights set to a spooky soundtrack. I remember standing late on a cold October evening watching that show clutching a mulled wine to keep warm. The return of The Terror of the Towers contained a new kitchen scene, where a chef placed you inside an oven (‘It’s warm in there!’). Though in the dining hall, The ‘Master’ was on hand to offer some comfort (‘You see, I’m a sporting kind of man, and like you, I like fast food.’). Thankfully, there were ten seconds to escape. And boy did we run!
The name may have changed by the time the event came round, but you can spot the original Scarefest logo on the ever-present hearse, which changed to the familiar logo we know today just a year later. And not to mention the famous monster hands, which lasted just one season – perhaps a throwback to the original Haunted House.
It didn’t stop there though. With a revitalised Alton Towers looking to the future, the iconic soundtrack to the park In The Hall Of The Mountain King made its triumphant return with the launch of Mutiny Bay in 2008. Grieg’s classic, which is widely associated with the park, had not been used in promotional material for the resort since 2005 but after some quite heated debate and discussion from the park’s 2007 Customer Council feedback group, director Russell Barnes and his team agreed that the music everyone knew and loved should return.
Suddenly, it felt as though the Alton Towers magic was fighting back.
Mutiny Bay came with the whole experience: themed rides and attractions and entertainment all in one place. Something the resort had not seen since the launch of Ug Land in 1999. With Battle Galleons including its replica shipwreck, live pirates roaming the area, a real tavern in the Courtyard, Marauder’s Mayhem (complete with smoke) and Heave Ho! – It was a good taste of what to expect from Alton under the first years of Merlin. A particular favourite was the pirate show, hidden inside the Courtyard, which would go on to play for several seasons in a variety of formats. Who remembers sitting on the front row and being totally soaked by the water explosions? I still never got my revenge on Captain Black!
Alton Towers took the successes of those early Scarefest events and, along with the launch of Mutiny Bay, used these green shoots to bring new energy to the park, for example with the return of the resort’s spectacular fireworks displays just a couple of years later. Of course, Alton Towers isn’t what we know and love today without the iconic roller coasters – and the closure of the Corkscrew on the 9th November 2008 along with the eventual removal of the track inside the Black Hole tent paved the way for more heavily themed and exciting experiences in the years to come.
They were happy days for me, no doubt happy days for the resort – and definitely some on which I look back with fondness.
Dan behind the scenes of The Black Hole in 2007, whilst the ride was awaiting removal
Growing Up with Alton Towers
Memories by Tom
Growing up in Leicestershire in the 2000s, I was also fortunate enough to have an annual visit to Alton Towers with friends and family. Some of my earliest memories are those of spending days in Old MacDonald’s Farmyard, being visibly horrified when riding the Log Flume, and not daring to go anywhere near Oblivion – purely because of the noise it made! Along with playing theme park computer games as a child, I fully blame these visits for making me the theme park enthusiast that I am today.
However, despite being a taller than average kid and ostensibly a roller coaster fanatic, it wasn’t until one fateful trip to Alton Towers in 2011 that I finally plucked up the courage to go on my first thrill coaster. I remember making a list of all the rides in the park which I promised I would go on so I couldn’t then chicken out, and what can I say? I loved them all; why hadn’t I gone on any of them sooner‽ Except for the Tesla Coil in the Th13teen queue which made me jump; and still does, as any of my friends will tell you. The day couldn’t have been better, and sparked my interest to visit more often than once a year.
In 2013, I visited on a school trip on a very rainy day… which for most people would spoil the day, but guess what? No queues! I have memories of riding The Smiler three or four times throughout the day and coming away with the soundtrack stuck in my head for days and with a new favourite ride at Alton Towers – it was just immense! The twisting, turning, rolling and looping on this scale was something I could never have previously imagined, and despite what I look for in roller coasters changing quite a bit over the years to follow, The Smiler remains a firm favourite to this day.
Since 2013 I have proceeded to visit countless times and I thought nothing at Alton Towers could top The Smiler, but then SW8 came along! Whilst I have had the pleasure of going on lots of rides across Europe, one of my favourite projects that I’ve experienced has to be Wicker Man! Modern wooden roller coasters are among some of my top-rated rides, so the announcement of Secret Weapon 8 was delightful news. And I was not alone in my delight with crowds flocking to the new coaster, which has filled a long-standing gap in the ride line up at the theme park. Although touted as a family coaster, I find the ride itself highly thrilling in places and good fun throughout, making it very re-rideable indeed. The fantastic theming and theatrics of the pre-show are the cherry on top of the cake.
Alton Towers isn’t just a theme park for me. It’s an escape from the monotony of everyday life, a basis from which I have formed many unlikely, yet amazing friendships and at the end of the day, a fantastic day out for all. I very much look forward to the next Secret Weapon project that Alton Towers pull out of the bag and spending more days at one of my favourite places.
Tom and Mike on the Smiler