Is Alton Towers moving away from themed areas?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Matt N, 9th May 2021.

  1. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    Hi guys. Even since John Broome turned Alton Towers into a pay-one-price theme park back in the 1980s, the park has had themed areas to some degree. This arguably hit its peak during the 1990s, when Tussauds under Pearson built iconic areas like Katanga Canyon and Gloomy Wood, as well as supplementing their major coasters with areas like Forbidden Valley and X-Sector. However, there seems to have been less of an emphasis on the park’s themed areas in recent years (I’d certainly say within the last few years, and to a lesser degree, I’d say the emphasis seemed to drop post-2000), so my question to you today is; is Alton Towers as a park moving away from themed areas, and focusing more on immersing guests in individual rides?

    To be honest, I think there’s arguments both for and against this theory, and I’ll go through some of the personal arguments I can think of for both sides of the coin.

    For
    • Recent major ride investments have often not been made to fit into existing areas, with areas either being rethemed to fit the ride or the ride just being put in to coexist alongside the area. Out of the major coasters the park has built since 2000, the only one that I’d say fully fitted into the area it was built within without necessitating an area retheme was The Smiler. In terms of the others in the big 7 built post-2000, they’ve either necessitated area rethemes (Thirteen) or been built within an area they don’t entirely fit with and been made to exist as their own entity (Air, Rita, and to a lesser extent Wicker Man).
    • Some more minor investments have also not been made with themed areas in mind. For example, the Alton Towers Dungeon was previously part of Cloud Cuckoo Land, but was officially made part of The Towers in 2019 due to the Dungeons not fitting the CCL theme. Galactica was not made to fit in with Forbidden Valley when the retheme happened in 2016, even if Air was never really FV-themed to begin with. With the opening of TWODW, Cuckoo Cars Driving School has been left entirely on its own, without a themed area to be within (although to be fair, this will probably become part of TWODW before too long). Ditto with Spinball Whizzer following the opening of CBeebies Land (although in fairness, Adventure Land wasn’t much of an area to begin with).
    • Leading on from this, there are quite a few areas with only one attraction in them and not much else; the park has a fair few standalone attractions that aren’t really part of a full area, and some where you can’t even really pinpoint an area of the park for them to be in. Gloomy Wood only has Duel (although I guess you could make an argument for Haunted Hollow). Adventure Land only has Spinball Whizzer. Cloud Cuckoo Land only has Cuckoo Cars Driving School (although in fairness, I’d imagine this could become part of TWODW within time). You could arguably make an argument for Hex being standalone, even though it does utilise The Towers and is intended to be more of a “heritage” attraction. Even though it’s technically listed as part of Mutiny Bay, I’d even go as far as to say that Wicker Man feels like somewhat of a standalone attraction, with its theme and the whole “territory of the Beornen” not really extending much beyond its immediate ride area, and it doesn’t really have a sense of being part of any particular area of the park. Although in fairness, neither did The Flume, and The Flume arguably jarred with Mutiny Bay/Katanga Canyon far more than Wicker Man in theming terms.
    • The park now does the map based on thrill level categories as opposed to themed areas. This would imply that the park is focusing more on individual ride experiences as opposed to out and out area themes.
    Against
    • The park are still investing in cohesive themed areas; even this year, The World of David Walliams is opening as a full, cohesive themed area. CBeebies Land is also not that old, having only opened in 2014, and that’s definitely a clear-cut themed area. They did also do cohesive, clear-cut areas like Mutiny Bay, Cloud Cuckoo Land and Dark Forest early on in the Merlin era.
    • Even though the rides are not split by area on the map anymore, the areas are still referenced, albeit very subtly.
    • There are many parts of the park that still carry a uniform, fully-themed vibe; X-Sector, for instance, feels like a cohesive area, and so does Katanga Canyon. I could probably name plenty of others, too.
    • You could argue that the park was never focused around fully themed areas in the way that some others are to begin with. For instance, as much as I cite Wicker Man as feeling like a standalone attraction, The Flume was equally as much of a standalone attraction during both its log themed spell and its bath time themed spell, arguably more so than Wicker Man is today. Also, although I cite Spinball Whizzer as a standalone attraction, Adventure Land was never much of a themed area to begin with, even in the early days when it was a giant playground. Even though Air arguably clashed with Forbidden Valley somewhat, its predecessor The Beast wasn’t particularly Forbidden Valley-themed, either. Neither was Thunder Looper, from what I can tell.
    So, in conclusion, I’m undecided as to whether Alton Towers is moving away from themed areas or not. There’s numerous arguments both for and against this theory, in my mind, but one thing I should clarify is that I don’t think the park moving away from themed areas is necessarily a bad thing. If it means that the park are able to immerse guests more strongly into individual attractions, in the vein of Wicker Man, then I’m certainly not complaining!

    But what are your thoughts? Do you think Alton Towers is moving away from themed areas? Do you like the path they’re taking in this regard?
     
    Posted 9th May 2021
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  2. Thameslink Rail

    Thameslink Rail TowersStreet Member

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    Hmm... I think when the park want to do themed areas they can do it quite well, e.g. Mutiny Bay pre Wicker Man or Katanga Canyon, however recently they have been chasing IPs a lot which sometimes works (Cbeebies Land) but can also clash and make an area look messy (The Dungeons looks quite out of place amongst the larger-than life theming of Cloud Cuckoo Land and David Walliams). I do however like how The Smiler slots into and adds to X-Sector's story rather than detracting from it.
     
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  3. OilyWater

    OilyWater TowersStreet Member

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    The park still has obvious themed areas as you walk around through one to the other. They arent literally defined by huge archways and signs telling you "You are now entering XYZ" thankfully. Although sometimes the areas are very thinly spread and needing real improvements

    I think it's more that the park has now expanded as much as it can that a whole new themed area isn't really ever on the cards. I hope that we get a big new redesign of some areas in future though
     
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  4. Heidi

    Heidi TowersStreet Member

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    Given all our points I would say that overall that towers is no further from themed areas than it ever was. Air didn't fit in any better in FV than Galactica does, Rita doesn't match the theme of either Ug Land or DF, and The Flume didn't fit in any better to Mutiny Bay than WM does. Overall, I don't think there's a massive change. However as others have said I do hope the themeing does improve in future years, and to me this would be perhaps the removal of Rita (eventually) and a new ride that fits better with Dark Forest, and an addition to Adventure Land as controversially I don't think Spinball should be integrated into Cbeebies Land. I also think The Dungeons should return to a non ticketed kids themed ride.

    I think a better argument is that AT has worsened in terms of in house themeing over the years in terms of the introduction of IPs in the two newest areas. I think IPs take away the "magic" and whimsicalness of the park, although they clearly do bring in money.
     
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  5. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    See, I don’t necessarily think IPs in themselves detract from the magic of a theme park. There are some genuinely phenomenal IP attractions out there; for instance, I’d say that I found The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s two areas in Universal Orlando more magical than any originally themed area I’ve done! I’d also say that in fairness, all of Towers’ IP themed attractions have been fairly well done experiences for their target market.

    I too love original themes, prefer them to IPs on the whole, and wish they were more popular and marketable so that they would get used more often, but I don’t think IPs necessarily detract from a park’s magic, personally, which is clearly quite an unpopular opinion.

    I don’t personally think IPs are the spawn of Satan and detract from the magic in the way that a lot of enthusiasts seem to; when executed effectively, they can add to the magic just as much as an originally crafted attraction, in my view!
     
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  6. Heidi

    Heidi TowersStreet Member

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    To be fair something like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter isn't something I considered, as I agree, I've been to Universal Studios and it was incredible. However I feel like the difference is that places like Disney parks and the Universal parks is that IPs makes them what they are, that is their brand. Whereas in a place like AT, IPs (to me at least) feel disingenuous and commercialised, which is why I think it takes away from the magic of AT, because that was never what AT was about. I hope I've worded this well because I never want to disrespect HP haha
     
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  7. OilyWater

    OilyWater TowersStreet Member

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    Wizarding World is totally not comparable though, thats the very extreme of high quality themed area. Also as Heidi mentions the franchise IPs they own is the whole appeal of Disney and Universal Studios (not so much Island of Adventure, and I do think Harry Potter should have been built somewhere else).

    If UK parks just become a patchwork of mediocre IPs and fads that were trending a few years ago then the identity of the park falls down and this has been shown over and over. The most invalueable long term thing you could have as a theme park is your own appeal and identity.
     
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  8. Heidi

    Heidi TowersStreet Member

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    Exactly what I meant but much better worded thank you :)
     
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  9. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    I have just thought of something that might possibly make a difference. The rides being built today might stand out more as standalone because they’re far more major rides and have far more of a presence and individual theme than the rides they replaced.

    As an example, even though Wicker Man is no more out of step with Mutiny Bay than The Flume ever was, probably less so, The Flume was always quite inconspicuous. It was very tucked away, and the theme it had did not really extend beyond the ride itself. The only bits of The Flume that were really in the area currently inhabited by Wicker Man were the queue line, station, and final drop. The first lift hill and sections prior to the first lift hill were also located in sections now inhabited by Wicker Man’s extended queue line (I think?). The ride also never had any loud theme music, large theming pieces or anything that would really draw attention to it, so even when it was bathtime-themed in the later years, it was still able to blend in without seeming too out of step, and the scope of its theme was quite limited.

    By comparison, Wicker Man is anything but inconspicuous. Whereas The Flume blended in, and didn’t really draw too much attention to itself, Wicker Man massively stands out. Whereas The Flume was always quite sedate and nondescript in terms of aesthetics, and blended in quite easily, it’s very hard to make a huge, roaring wooden coaster with loud, dramatic theme music, tons of smoke and theming, and a burning 60ft ram statue blend in. The scope of Wicker Man’s theming does also reach beyond its ride area a bit; that whole top stretch of Mutiny Bay became Wicker Man-themed, and the courtyard is now an odd mix of both themes, as it very much looks pirate-themed in terms of aesthetic, but is playing the Wicker Man music.

    Do you get where I’m coming from?
     
    Posted 9th May 2021
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  10. RoyJess

    RoyJess TowersStreet Member

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    Is Alton moving away from Themed areas?

    Apart form the last year due to covid, I've been visiting Atlon regularly since 1987 and I can say that Alton now has more themed areas than it ever did when I first visited in 1987.

    Katanga Canyon and Gloomy Wood were the first real themed areas.
    UG land was fantastic until they ruined it by sticking Rita in the middle of it.
    However with the beauty of the towers itself and the natural surrounding beautiful country side and gardens, you wouldn't want to go overboard with the themeing. I feel that they are just getting the balance right with the themeing, all they just need to do, is maintain the cleanliness and the cosmetic of it all to a high standard.

    I don't think that the Alton need any IP of any sort.

    I would like to see a Jurassic area with some up to date animatronic dinosaurs, perhaps situated in the Gardens somehwere
     
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  11. djtruefitt

    djtruefitt TS Site Team Team Member

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    Towers is quite lucky being so big, as it’s easy to separate areas and easy to know where you are. Compared to somewhere like Thorpe or Chessie, where some areas are almost on top of each other, or clash (yes angry birds land).

    I don’t think they are quite going away from them, as they are still mentioned on the park map, and other bits and pieces. But I imagine with new rides now a days they don’t get the budget unfortunately to either retheme the area properly, or I guess don’t have the brains to theme the new ride in to the area. Like there’s no reason why they couldn’t have made wicker man a pirate themed woodie. And made it fit in with the whole area. But it’s clearly designed as a ride on its own, then they think about fitting it in afterwards. Lucky it’s very much on its own and one side of mutiny bay so it works okay and gets away with it, rather than the likes of Rita which got shoved in the middle of its area.
     
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  12. jon81uk

    jon81uk TowersStreet Member

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    Although when IoA opened only one land (Lost Continent) was not based on an IP but each land was a cohesive area built around the book/film/cartoon it was based on and Harry Potter continued that. As you say the whole appeal is stepping into that movie/book/comic and IoA is probably the park that really started it going. Before Islands of Adventure Disney had a lot more original area themes and both Disney and Universal had bits that were a single ride based on an IP (things like Star Tours, Kongfrontation, Back to the Future). Islands of Adventure was probably the first park where the whole area was based on one franchise (Marvel, Suess, Jurassic Park) or a loose collection of others (Toon Lagoon). Universal Studios has looser themes (New York, San Francisco, World Expo etc) where the rides sort of fitted and Disney really is similar (Aventureland, Frontierland etc).

    In the UK Thomas Land was probably the first area to really be one land where the whole area was based on one franchise and other kiddy areas followed (Peppa Pig, Nickelodeon, CBeebies)

    Previously I would say the farm at Alton Towers was one of the first cohesive areas the park did followed by re-doing the Grand Canyon rapids when the Runaway Mine train was added to create Katanga Canyon. Many other areas took one headline ride and tried to make everything else match, Nemesis created Thunder/Forbiddon Valley, Oblivion created X Sector (and the Jules Verne theming in the Black Hole station stuck around until its demise). Ug Land was probably the exception in that they had the Corkscrew (which sort of maybe looked like a skeleton) and tried to make a theme around it rather than it being to support a new ride.

    I don't seem to have answered Matt's original question.
     
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  13. Craig

    Craig TS Administrator Team Member

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    The park isn't so much moving away from themed areas, the unfortunate fact is that the limited budgets are prohibiting the park from doing anything extensive - so when the time comes to do anything with the areas surrounding the new attraction, said re themes are:
    • Getting smaller, therefore less immersive. Take Wickerman as an example of that, with the Courtyard receiving a very basic retheme to make it fit, but now resulting in a bit of a mish mash of themes.
    • The bare minimum to make the surroundings fit (i.e. Walliams generally being a simple repaint of buildings that have been there for years)
    For a new attraction, nowadays it seems to be a case of looking at what cash is left to "do what they can" to make an area fit around the ride, rather than a considered wide scale retheme. And of course, the new ride is the highlight, so surrounding theming is always first to go when the budgets get squeezed (Wickerman and the Smokehouse restaurant on the original plans for example).

    It's a shame, because as I've mentioned in the Walliams topic, full scale re themes including new themed shops (and I'm not talking filling it with cheap ill considered tat) and F&B outlets could really push up revenue for the park. It's a lack of foresight to see the potential of spending a little more that's one of the most frustrating things we've seen in recent years.
     
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