Oft overlooked in the list of iconic rides, the Mississippi Showboat was moored in Aqua Land, and was one of the most unique attractions ever to feature in Alton Towers' line-up. Sitting resplendent in a dry dock on the the shore of the boating lake, the Mississippi Showboat was essentially a compact fun house hidden aboard a classic paddle steamer, where guests would make their way through its narrow corridors and out onto its decks, whilst passing through standard fun-house elements such as undulating floors, past crazy mirrors and culminating in the boats finale of a rotating barrel, before heading shore.
In keeping with its themed roots in on the shores of the Mississippi, the beautifully realised steam boat even came with its own entertainment offering, in the form of a classic Jazz Band, who could often be found playing on the decks of the Showboat at various times of the day entertaining passing crowds.
The Life & Times
The Showboat sailed into the park during the 1984 season and was sited just to the side of the main boating lake, in a shallow pool in an effort to disguise the fact it wasn't a seaworthy craft at all. Located at the t-junction between the Ingestre Lake and Courtyard, the distinctive structure was difficult to miss and soon became a dominant feature in the skyline of Aqua Land. Despite being a standard model of this type of attraction, the watery theme fitted well with Aqua Land and felt like it could almost have been designed for this very purpose.
During the late 80s and early 90s the Mississippi Showboat was a familiar site to theme park goers, with a small armada of the attractions occupying the Midlands for some time, with sister attractions found in both Drayton Manor and the American Adventure during the same period. Perfect for a park that wanted a compact and distinctive fun house; the ride was seemingly popular with parks that were missing a traditional fun house, but did not have the space or ability to install a full-sized attraction.
What Happened Next...
The early 90s saw a change in ownership at Alton Towers, and unfortunately this sea change in park management sunk the Mississippi Showboat as one of its early casualties and the ride closed at the end of 1991. There was no longer a place for a low throughput, high maintenance fun house, which posed a health and safety nightmare filled with tight corners and moving parts hidden along dark narrow corridors.
With the attraction closed the Jazz Band relocated to perform at the foot of Towers Street, and survived the attraction by a couple of year, but by 1994 their performances also seem to have come to a close, removing the park's final taste of the deep south. After its closure it seems the ride spent some time SBNO before it was removed from the park and its site eventually turned into a new station for the park railway. In later years after briefly housing a "fool the guesser" game, the station building is now used for the Sales and Info point in Mutiny Bay.
But the story didn't end there... as UK parks became more risk averse, the Mississippi Showboat's fate was replicated across the UK's whole fleet of showboats. The American Adventure's model was shuttered in the following years and Drayton Manor's closed quietly in the final years of the last millennium.
However other cultures were kinder to these classic fun houses and showboats were also rather popular in Spain, where a near identical model to the Mississippi Showboat operated at Parque de Atracciones de Madrid until 2010, called Reina de África (The African Queen). Indeed Spain still boasts operating versions of the attractions too, such as Tivoli World's Barco Misterioso (Mystery Boat), which is slightly larger than the model that operated at Alton Towers. An alternative building-based model, seemingly by a different manufacturer, can also be found at Parque de Atracciones, Zaragoza.
Closer to home, despite having been shuttered for over ten years, one Mississippi Showboat can still be found propping up the side of a lake in Staffordshire. Drayton Manor's model can still now be found just outside the parks boundary, acting as a rather large pieces of theming as well as a timely nod to popular attractions of the past.