This doesn’t always work; it can be raining, mercilessly cold and of course if it’s too empty then you’re walking around what feels like a ghost town. But occasionally everything comes together: an ideal theme park day in which there are just enough people to make the rides full, the queues are short to non-existent and the weather is welcoming.
So it was at Alton Towers this weekend. Cold but sunny. Not too many people. And no queues. A theme park close to my heart, Alton Towers was the school trip of choice throughout my childhood. The Corkscrew and Black Hole roller coasters were then the big draw. This time my kids raved about Hex and Nemesis as we drove home.
Alton Towers and those early rides play an important part in theme park history as it was here that the men who would subsequently create Merlin Entertainments, the world’s biggest leisure operator after Disney, cut their teeth in the industry. In 1990 Nick Varney, Merlin’s CEO, fresh from a stint marketing cleaning products, arrived as Marketing Director to work with Operations Director Martin Barratt. Mark Fisher, now Merlin’s Chief Development Officer had just left college, was working in maintenance and became Events Coordinator and in 1995 Glenn Earlam, now Merlin’s Managing Director of the Midway Operating Group, would arrive as Alton Tower’s new Marketing Director. Throughout, renowned roller coaster designer John Wardley worked his magic behind the scenes, helping create some of the park’s great attractions.
Looking at what the park has become, a huge operation, one of the world’s great theme parks with numerous themed rides and attractions with a slick merchandising operation, great staff and a hugely impressive social media campaign, it is poignant to reflect on where it all began. And a special joy this weekend to read the ride times on the information board : Air 0 mins, Oblivion 0 mins, Nemesis 0 mins.