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When do you believe Alton Towers’ “golden age” ended?

Matt N

TS Member
Favourite Ride
Mako (SeaWorld Orlando)
Hi guys. In the Talbot Street Lock In thread, there was a really interesting discussion going on about when the park changed vision midway through the Tussauds era, and there seem to be varying opinions of when this occurred. So I thought it might be an interesting topic to discuss.

I must admit that I was never around to experience the so-called “golden age”, but from what I know, I’d say that the park changed its image and investment strategies around 2004-2005. With investments like Hex, Air and Cariba Creek, amongst others, the 1990s momentum continued well into the 2000s, but I’d say that the addition of Spinball Whizzer in 2004 signalled quite a major change in the sort of things the park was building, which was exacerbated by the additions made by DIC.

But when do you think the park began to change?
When the swan boats went. 2004?

Incidentally, that's when Spinball arrived and the Flume turned to bathtubs so I'd say that's about right.

I'm a sucker for how Towers used to look simplicity-wise. Names like Log Flume, Corkscrew, Haunted House just worked back in the day. I really have no idea what things were like behind the scenes but I can see the argument for Oblivion being a turning point with regard to hype over substance and looking to the short-term boosts rather than long-term quality.

It turns out, much like in It's Always Sunny, first is worst. For me, Wicker Man is the best ride at AT since Nemesis and it's nothing special and barely claimed to be. Even The Smiler, whilst it is not my favourite ride, is just an inversion machine. The hardware is nothing special but at least 14 inversions will, most-likely, always be a lot of inversions.
I always feel the park reached its peak around 2002. The park felt really well balanced, and not overly corporate.
But I think it Air was the catalyst for the downhill slope, around this time a lot of changes happened and I remember being a young Alton Towers fan who would eagerly sit on Towers Almanac forum and discuss the new direction.

-Around 98 Candy Holland started having more involvement with the ride designs, her "Style" feels slicker ,moodier and less colourful. It would also probably coincide with the general mood of the millenium, which was of modernity and technology. X-Sector felt like a real serious step up of tone to match the 'cool' nature of rollercoasters at the time. Ironically the theming that seemed the less camp at the time has now become the most.

-This was the time Pearson sold Tussauds to Charterhouse, I remember there being major changes behind the scenes and a lot of old key people changed, with this you naturally lose a collective sense of vision. Penny pinching ramps up.

-Air debuts and is over budget but at the forefront of rollercoaster technology. I don't believe there was theming planned for this, just more 'oasis' landscaping. I think the ride experience was so novel it was really the showcase. I however believe this to be a new standard they took forward themeing wise.

-2002/3ish John Wardley then enters semi retirement and steps down from the Tussauds Board , he claims he didn't have anything to do with Duel but I've heard differently.

-Ralph Armond , divisional director steps down, really egged up the phrase "Alton Towers Magic"

-2005 Tussauds is sold to DIC international, who took the money squeezing even further, this was a dark time for Alton enthusiasts. We had a randomly plonked Rita, a rather bare new dark ride, and the dung heap....

-Merlin in 2008 seemed to be a positive change of direction but we know where that leads...
I'd say the last 2 great attractions of the golden era were Air and Splash Landings. However I think by the time both of these had opened we'd already seen a slip in quality. I'd suggest Duel replacing the Haunted House in 2003 was a clear sign the direction had changed. So I'd say mid-2001 was most likely the tipping point.
I think the golden age at Alton Towers ended when a 1 day ticket stopped including everything for 1 price.
Not the waterpark, crazy golf, dungeons etc.
Dungeons I agree on, it should never have been an upcharge, but anything else in the park (food? drinks? games? not entirely sure what you mean @Themeparksandy1981) you'd expect to pay for in any other theme park anywhere in the world. As for the water park and golf, @Thameslink Rail, they're second-gate attractions as part of the resort, not in the theme park itself.
Yeah should have been more clearer. Crazy Golf could have been free during the day to annual pass holders.
I mean late 90s/early 00’s I paid 1 price to get in with free parking, You didn’t have to pay to jump the queues, You could easily get into double figures on rides as there was more filler rides between the coasters. I took sandwiches for lunch so really the only thing I did buy in the park was breakfast In the towers street restaurant if the McDonald’s queue was too big and maybe a bottle of pop.
This wonderful park you're imagining has never existed. There's always been an upcharge for something even if it's just an arcade or the island golf challenge.
Let's not forget Theme Parks started as pay per ride attractions which only moved towards a "single price" model to keep people in the park for longer, spending more money on extras.
I agree that the current trend of paying for attractions that should be part of the package is dreadful, and one of the reasons ive stopped visiting. But there is no ideal world that upcharges don't exist. Especially attractions that are outside the park.
I think it's hard to say when the golden age started or ended exactly but if you asked me what year I'd go back to, it would be 2002, because it was post-Air, pre-Duel.

I think it was definitely over by the time they removed Toyland Tours which never should have happened. It was as integral to the park's brand as Nemesis in my opinion.
Decided not to post a new thread but I was thinking about the "magic" of Alton Towers when I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep this morning.

For me I think the magic is strongly linked to the Peter Rabbit ice show in the 90s. But also some of the other classic rides and shows back then.

We went to Drayton Manor several times in the early 90s, but only Alton Towers once. My mum didn't ride much, she held the bags and took photos etc, but at Drayton we got her on the boat rides (Pirates Adventure and Jungle Cruise), back then DM was tickets and wristbands with a parking charge, so we could save £15 (or whatever it was) by not getting my Mum a wristband. Alton Towers was pay one price, so it worked out a bit more expensive, but we collected tokens at Safeway supermarket and got a discounted entry.

I wasn't big on rollercoaster back then, one of my favourite rides at DM was Splash Canyon. So my memory of Alton Towers when I was 12 back in 1994 was of the Peter Rabbit ice show, the boring farm boat ride, the annoying Toyland Tours theme music that kept playing in the burger restaurant next door. But my main memory was watching the music power stage (where Woodcutters is now) with my Mum while my younger brother and Dad rode the Corkscrew. I also remember the rapids and particularly the tunnel! Still think Splash Canyon may have been better...

If we did the same trip now, what would the memories be of me and my Mum? Toyland Tours became Charlie which would have been good, but thats now a Dungeon so I don't see my Mum going on it. The Peter Rabbit show is now Big Fun Time show in CBeebies so not really as "all ages" like Peter Rabbit was. There is no other stage entertainment (although looks like its coming back this summer on the lawn).

The Ents team seem like they are trying to bring magic back, but the park really needs to think about attractions that kids who don't want rollercoasters can do/watch with parents who don't like scares.
As with every other Theme park they have got some things right and some badly wrong. No park is perfect although some come quite close it has to be said.

Some of the best decisions at Towers in the last 20 or so years (My opinion of course and in no particular order)

1. Hex. Incredible Dark ride. 21 years old this year too. Boy do I feel old.
2. Wickerman. They finally listened to us all and added a woodie and it's been an incredibly popular addition.
3. Smiler - accident aside it's a truly remarkable feat of engineering and a great coaster. Still hugely popular with guests.
4. Cbeebies land. Not aimed at our age group but it's been a very big hit with young families.
5. Thirteen. Marketing was iffy to say the very least but it's a very good family coaster and again still hugely popular.

Now some of the worst:

1. Ignoring flat rides. Ripsaw above all others missed the most for me.
2. Duel. Replacing one of the best haunted houses found anywhere outside a Disney Park with a dumb laser shooting system still makes me angry to this day. Why for the love of god did this happen? It ruined the mystique and atmosphere of the entire ride literally overnight.
3. Rita - Need I go on? What a dreadfully uninspiring addition to a park famed for exciting and unique rollercoasters due to the limitations they have put on them. I only ride it if the queue is 20 mins or less these days.
4. VR on Air / Galactica. Complete fad that wasn't worth the time nor money.
5. The botching of a potentially brilliant dark ride in Sub Terra. Theme, backstory and idea all fine but executed poorly as no doubt was built on the cheap. Not enough consideration was given to the operating of it either with so many actors required.

It still is magical to me but it's definitely not as magical as it once was. Partly down to me getting older but mostly down to the park being badly run and some questionable decisions to say the least.
And don't forget the ruination of the queue system because of fasttrack and a crap disability access system that appears to be abused by at least fifty percent of its users.