For me it was 1993. Never heard of the place and a friend took us up there in his car. I was blown away and instantly fell in love with the place.
Always remember the road up to it and thinking "I cant see any rides!". I always remember The Beast, queuing down by the side of where Air is now waiting to go on and the little cabin at the end where the operators controlled the very ferocious brakes!
Then there was the Thunderlooper. I dont know why but I was always fascinated by the size, height and width of those huge supports at either end and used to like watching the ride start off and seeing that huge weight in the tower drop past one of the windows on the side and seeing the ride being catapulted into the loop. That was one hell of a buzz, and I always thought we were going to hit the buffers at the top.
The gardens and the house itself sold me. The sheer beauty of the place. Walking up past them I remember thinking "wow". Then there was the Corkscrew, first time i'd been upside down on a ride, ever. Loved it. And who can ever forget the whine of the lift hill motor.
1001 Nights was another ride I loved, namely as I had been on smaller ones locally at Porthcawl and Barry Island, and this was double the size. Used to love when it stopped at the very top and the views!
Popping into the old gift shop where Hex is now.
Then there was Around the World in 80 Days which I recall was quite a grand ride, bit like the one in Blackpool, with lots to look at and anamatronics.
Haunted House back then was fantastic. All the effects, the smells, the smoke, the "ghosts" in the hearse and the fire place, wow, this was cutting edge stuff back then. Plus the Runaway Mine train which was a new ride then. I got on expecting it to be a mild kiddy coaster and wow, the speed and g-force into the tunnel, that was something was surprised me.
I think I recall the Henry House procession, but from a distance. Dont think I went up to see it, but could see it if you know what I mean. The Black Hole scared the hell outta me, I recall it being incredibly fast and intense on one or two bends. I think it got re-profiled not long after this, but it was a ride that gave me the hebejebees bit like Oblivion still does thesedays! I always remember those "planets" hanging in the middle of the lift hill and the effects inside, with the stobe light following you up the circular lift hill.
Swan boats were great for a wind down, as was the miniature railway which I went on from where the boats were to near the Haunted House location. Remember it winding its way through the trees. It really was "choo choo!".
On the rapids was a sign advertising late night opening until 7pm, I always remember that, think I got a photo of somewhere, along with that range rover on the side of the lake. Umm, what else, oh, yes, the ride photos...... a guy was stood at the top of the Flume and just as you came off the lift hill he would hand you a ticket before you plummet down the drop.
No preview photos, you handed your ticket (now soaking wet) into the desk if you wanted a photo, paid your money, then waited eagerly for 2 weeks for the photo to come through. I think all this "instantness" about life takes away some of the fun and anticipation but hey ho.
I think I recall there were shows on in the big top, cant recall what it was back then though.
The 3D cinema, recall going in the big tent, and there was a part of the indoor section where you could basically lay on the floor but with your backs supported, bit like a sunbed, and look up at the screen. The video comprised of the usual flying, close shaves and clowns dropping balls on the screen etc. Was quite good.
Ummm, oh yeah, I remember the wooden rowing boats on the lake infront of towers. Looked a serene sight with the swans and the rowing boats.
Finally, Nemesis. The fences around the site, the military vehicles and the "military" signs warning people to keep out. Believe it or not and as gullible as I was , I really did think it was something military going on there lol. I'd never heard of the SW rides back then.
Anyway, that was my first visit. I remember the place really did have a magic feel about it, and certainally less rushed than what it tends to feel now. I've been to the park every single year without fail ever since.