Friday 4th – Sunday 6th November saw the main 2023 season come to a close with the traditional Firework weekend. It’s fair to say that it brings an end to a season that has had some notable highs and lows.
Some truly exciting developments have occurred around Alton Towers in 2023, with the new park management style seeming to set a promising direction for the future. However, there is still quite a way to go to get the park back on course after a difficult decade.
Looking back at the 2023 season, we can mark it as the first of three years of significant additions that will refresh the park’s line-up, aiming for a bright future. With that said, there were very obvious ride availability issues, mixed reactions to food and beverage offerings across the Resort, persistent rumours of recruitment struggles, and a lack of consistency around event offerings.
And so, let’s look back at a rollercoaster of a season…
Rides and Attractions
The undoubted highlight of the season has been The Curse at Alton Manor. The reimagining of the park’s haunted house has received broadly very positive reviews since it opened. The new version of the ride, telling the chilling tale of Emily Alton, was seen by most as a successful upgrade from Duel, containing a mixture of new and reimagined effects, a whole new storyline and many, many nods to the past.
Particular praise was lavished on the various upgrades to Gloomy Wood, where roaming actors, unique food offerings and a general improvement to theming has brought this OG area of the park into the modern era, whilst keeping the area’s core look and feel.
But whilst the park’s latest addition went down well, ride operations across the park have been notably patchy all season, with several major attractions struggling with maintenance woes over the course of the year.
With the ride line-up already reduced by the absence of Nemesis, due to the coaster’s planned revamp, it was not an ideal time for several other attractions to experience extended closures. Most notably, The Skyride did not operate at all this year and Hex only opened for a brief stint at the start of the season, before closing at the end of March and not re-opening. At the same time, Spinball Whizzer failed to open for the first month of the season, after receiving prolonged winter maintenance including technical upgrades. The Towers Ruins also did not open at all, meaning guests missed out on looking around the park’s popular heritage attraction this year.
Extended closures, alongside much more common maintenance issues for several other major rides, has led to a season beset by frequent queue line chaos, as the available attractions have struggled to cope with demand.
Capacity issues have not been helped by the park’s ever more complicated and outdated queueing systems, which mean many rides have the normal guest queue, Fastrack, Single Rider and the Ride Access Pass queues. With a series of big additions planned in the coming years, there is increasing demand for the park to invest in suitable virtual queuing technology to help better manage queue lines and allow guests to maximise their time in the park. Will 2024 finally be the season we see Alton Towers finally invest in better virtual queuing tech?
A welcome re-addition to the park’s line-up came in May, when Nemesis Sub-Terra reopened after many years of closure. The ride reopened with a very similar operation to when it closed in 2015, but with a revamped queueline and a scaled back finale. With many guests missing Nemesis this year, the return of the dark ride, based on the Nemesis Legend, was a positively received addition to Forbidden Valley, bringing some life back to the area.
Elsewhere, it was pleasing to see various effects and theming elements return around the park, such as the mist on Galactica’s portal. Particularly good news was the return of the waterfalls on the Congo River Rapids, a fan favourite effect which had been missing for many years. The return of the waterfalls was accompanied by a variety of other theming upgrades around Katanga Canyon, which helped freshen the area up.
Catering contractor Aramark began their operations at Alton Towers at the start of the year, with what can only be described as mixed results. With confusing menu changes and extreme variation in quality and price across the resort, criticism of food and beverage has been a regular feature on the park’s social media throughout the season. Several issues that were highlighted have been addressed over the course of the year, but there still seems to be some way to go before the park’s dining options meet guest’s expectations of the UK’s number one theme park.
That said, there have been particularly positive reviews for their themed offerings. Suitably themed menu items have been a regular feature at various food outlets across the park, including during the park’s different events, helping add an extra layer to the park’s event programme. A particular highlight is the new Coach House Confectionary in Gloomy Wood, which has been a fan favourite throughout the year with spooky treats. These themed offerings have shown what Aramark can do, so hopefully 2024 will see this same care and attention applied to the park’s other food and beverage options.
Highlights of the park’s event calendar included the ever popular Oktoberfest and a downsized Mardi Gras, seeing a more focused and well-rounded event with all activity around Food Street and the lake. Both events were well attended, as was the ever-popular Fireworks.
Scarefest saw the addition of Burial Grounds, a scare zone themed around Wicker Man and the first new free addition the park have added to the event in many years. Burial Grounds was joined by another new addition in “Daz Games: PANIC”, a paid escape room experience. This new concept for the event went down well, but from guest reviews might have been better received without the IP tie-in. Hopefully these are green shoots that the park might use as a foundation for a more significant refresh to the event in 2024, to perhaps revamp or replace some of the older or less popular Scarefest attractions.
Less certain was the returning ‘Festival of Thrills’ which somewhat lost its way in 2023, with a confused feeling “Smiler take over”. In addition, it is looking like the Resort will have a significantly smaller Christmas event this year, with the loss of the Christmas Market and Lightopia.
2024 and beyond
Despite being closed for the season, Nemesis has continued to dominate the park newsfeeds as the coaster has had a near complete rebuild over the course of 2023, featuring a new colour scheme and aesthetic. Fans of the beast have been able to take a front row view as the coaster has re-emerged, thanks to an Observation Platform near Nemesis Sub-Terra which has allowed for unprecedented views across the construction site. This, alongside a strong marketing campaign to build excitement for the ride’s rebuild, means there has been plenty to keep speculation rife ahead of Nemesis’ return in 2024.
Elsewhere in Forbidden Valley, the park has also introduced new paint jobs and theming elements to the various structures surrounding the Nemesis site and a recent planning document shows that the old Ripsaw café will be rebuilt and extended to become a new shop, no doubt ready for a full range of new Nemesis items in 2024.
The park have announced that The Retro Squad’s time is at an end, and there is no indication of what may replace the pop-up attractions. It is clear that investment is needed in some high-capacity, well-themed support rides to relieve pressure on queues across the park. Whilst the park is yet to make any announcements regarding Retro Squad replacements (or what the future holds for Flavio’s Fabulous Fandango, the fourth ‘pop-up’ attraction), with all the focus on Forbidden Valley for 2024, it would seem like an ideal time to add a new, permanent, ride on the Funk’n’Fly site.
And finally, park news for 2024 is likely to be dominated by the construction of Project Horizon, the next new coaster to be added to the park in a new building near the Alton Towers Dungeon. Plans for the new ride were approved back in February 2023, but there has been little in the way of visible progress since then. This is all likely to change over the 2023 – 2024 closed season as work gets underway to bring the park’s next new headline attraction to life.
Stick with TowersStreet for all the latest on the 2024 season and the latest news from around the resort.
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