Your tour begins when you enter the factory into the sweet chocolatey smell of the queue line, where Willy Wonka welcomes you via video and introduces you to the characters that you will meet on your journey.
Once seated in your bright pink boat, a bell tolls and you begin your tour narrated by Charlie and Mr Wonka, who guide you through scenes from the famous children's book styled to the original Quentin Blake drawings.
The first stop is the Chocolate Room where Augustus Gloop has just been sucked up the chocolate pipe, as the Oompa Loompas look on along with his shocked mother. Just around the corner you meet Violet Beauregarde who has turned into a blueberry after eating Willy Wonka's experimental gum in the Inventing Room.
A quick trip through the Juicing Room and you arrive at the Chocolate Waterfall, which leads through a mirror maze and ON TO THE NUT ROOM to see Veruca Salt get her just desserts from the resident squirrels (via a pepper's ghost style projection).
You then disembark and make your way to the television room, where a giant TV shows some unique adverts for Mr Wonka's chocolates, including 'Television Chocolate' and 'Forever Freeze Ice Cream'. After a while the giant TV comes to life as though you are in fact inside it, and here we see the shrinking fate of Mike Teevee before Mr Wonka tells his guests to proceed.
You've finally reached the Great Glass Elevator and Mr Wonka congratulates you for making it this far (unlike the other naughty children!) before inviting you into the elevator. Once everyone is on-board, the voice of Mr Wonka asks Charlie to choose a button to press (spoiler alert: it's the big red one)
From here the elevator bursts to life and you begin an exciting journey around the remainder of the factory, using unique simulator effects whereby you fly sideways and longways and slantways and any otherways you can think of. That is until you drop into a big vat of chocolate - whoops! Mr Wonka then presses the button he has always wanted to try, and you fly through the roof of the factory and up into the sky, before crashing back down to earth to where you started.
The Life & Times
The boat ride system for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory first arrived in 1981 as Around the World in Eighty Days, where guests were taken on a tour of the world with Phileas Fogg. Guests would travel by boat through several different scenes which were all themed as a different country, from Egypt to Antarctica.
At the end of 1993 the ride shut and returned in 1994 under the new name of Toyland Tours. The ride system remained the same, but now guests were taken on a magical boat tour of a toy factory run by toys themselves, where various comical and novel processes were taking place. The ride was filled with many amusing and much-loved characters and also introduced Sonic The Hedgehog to the park.
By the end of 2005 Toyland Tours was deemed to have reached the end of its life and closed part way through the season, disappearing behind construction walls clad in a stylised factory wall. A golden ticket on the walls announced that the lucky finder(s) should present themselves at Willy Wonka's factory gate in 2006 for a tour filled 'wonderful, whipplescruptious surprises'.
2006 arrived... and there was no factory gate, one of many features to be cut from the final attraction. Over the course of the ride's development a tight budget had resulted in a much scaled back attraction, which saw the ride's shop and an attached 'party room' dropped from the final design to be replaced by a backstage boat charging area. The ride's pre-show, Nut Room and Mike Teevee scene had also been significantly altered to rely more heavily on digital effects.
Whilst the course of the boat ride was largely retained for the new attraction, the end was re-routed to create a separate platform which led guests into the Teevee Room at the back of the building. Most notably the ride building was extended into the neighbouring square (which had previously held Toyland Tours' extended queue line) to add a pair of Great Glass Elevators, which combined a simulator surrounded by 360 degree projection.
Despite being scaled back from the original plans the new ride was still a novel addition for the park as an early example of a 'traditional' dark ride relying more heavily on projection to tell its story. The ride also soon became well known for its quirky scripting, filled with extremely quotable lines.
For the ride's second season an additional squirrel-based theming element was added to the entrance of the Nut Room, filling what had previously been a large empty area after the Chocolate Waterfall to help address initial criticism of the lack of physical theming in the attraction.
What Happened Next...
The ride was never as popular as the park had hoped it would be, suffering particularly in comparison to the much-missed Toyland Tours. Whilst the Great Glass Elevators were a great addition, the various digital effects could not make up for the lack of physical effects during thr boatride. Despite a highly quotable script and a generally fun atmosphere the ride lacked re-ridability and after a few seasons the second elevator was rarely needed as queues dwindled.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory bid Bon Bon Voyage after the 2015 Christmas event. Few eyebrows were raised when it was announced that the ride would be closed for 'TLC' for the 2016 season and even fewer were surprised when the ride's licence was not renewed and it was quietly removed from the park's website later that year, signalling that the ride would not reopen in its current form.
A sign on the door announced that the factory was undergoing an exciting new redevelopment but it would be three seasons before the next chapter in the ride's history would begin. By the end of 2018 the overgrown plaza outside the attraction was cleared of weeds before piles of the ride's scenery began to appear outside as Willy Wonka and friends were evicted from this corner of the park.
But the story didn't end there... and now the chocolate factory is once again undergoing a transformation, though this time of an altogether more grisly nature. In 2019 the former children's ride will reopen as The Alton Towers Dungeon, bringing gruesome tales and chilling characters to the back of Cloud Cuckoo Land.
It remains to be seen exactly what elements of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will remain once the ride re-opens. Whilst the boat ride will certainly feature and the great-glass elevator technology would also fit well into The Dungeon, over the coming months it will become apparent if any other elements, such as the 'chocolate waterfall' effect will survive in the new attraction.