The Curse At Alton Manor Ride Review: Dark Gothic Fun
Mar 19, 2023
The wait is over as we bring you our Curse At Alton Manor ride review from Alton Towers Resort on its opening day.
David Parry/PA Wire.
Details about Curse At Alton Manor started to flood online in January when Duel shut at the beginning of September last year. This new haunted dark ride would be focused around an original Alton Towers IP. The laser guns from Duel: The Haunted House Strikes Back would be no more.
Over the last few months, there has been a chilling pop-up event in London where a select few of us were invited to Canary Wharf to see a lifelike doll house packed full of easter eggs of what to expect from the new ride. You can watch that video HERE
Fast forward a few weeks later and the official backstory was released for the ride which read as follows:
Left alone in the attic, with nothing but her doll’s house to keep this quiet but curious girl amused. Emily becomes lonely and forgotten, with nothing but the sound of music and laughter of the parties, hosted by her parents to the high of society, echoing through the floors from the grand hall below. Her hatred grew, fuelled by frustration and bitterness. Dark forces began to surround Emily, becoming a vessel for the evil that has seeped into every corner of the Manor.
At the beginning of the week that the ride is set to open we got our first glimpse inside. We got a glimpse of a very family-friendly vibe portrayed with a dark twist packed full of easter eggs. Some great set pieces were also on display. The theme park fan community were divided and the general public was too.
With large set pieces looming over you as you pass through guests are shrunk down to explore the dollhouse. Guests have transported into Emily’s world ahead of what looks to be a very tragic event.
After these images were released the official TV advert for The Curse of Alton Manor was released and in a completely different vibe to the behind-the-scenes images released, we were back with the dark ominous marketing.
I definitely worried about this particular ride as all of the marketing has been nothing short of outstanding. Dark, spooky and immensely creepy with a gothic twist yet behind-the-scenes images showcased a brightly lit, not scary in the slightest Ratatouille style dark ride.
I was praying we didn’t have another 13 rollercoaster situations on our hands where the marketing was so good and the final product was so poor.
Once opening day came around a lot of my worries were put to bed and we were introduced to quite the spectacle of a UK dark ride. A ride where the marketing matched the final product and the best is yet to come.
The Curse At Alton Manor Area and Queueline
As you approach Gloomy Wood inside Alton Towers they’ve added this beautiful foreboding entrance utilising the old entrance pillars. Alton Manor is written between the pillars in a very gothic and boarding school/manor house styling. I couldn’t quite believe how something as simple as a sign could change the entire area but it does and introduces the building and area perfectly.
Around the entrance sign, multiple lights and smoke machines have been placed and I already knew that this would look phenomenal at night.
With For Sale signs on the main gates to this ‘open house’ tour you’re about to embark on there are winks and nods to original Haunted House designers Keith Sparks and John Wardley.
On one side of the gate Sparks Estates is listed as the realtors. On the opposite side of the gate, it says Wardley Estate Agents. What a lovely homage to the minds behind the original Haunted House.
Attending on opening day the area was absolutely rammed, a crowd not seen in Gloomy Wood since the day the original Haunted House opened back in 1992 and the atmosphere was electric. Queues of people ran all the way down to Katanga Canyon with wait times of over 2 hours predicted for this dark ride.
Not to worry though as the throughput for this ride is immense, it eats up the queues in no time. Only a few hours later the ride had a maximum queue time of one hour and this remained the same until the ride closed.
Roaming actors were dressed in full costumes and even staff members who are working in the queues and inside the ride are dressed in very old-fashioned gothic attire. It instantly reminded me of Phantom Manor at Disney even down to the emblem of AM embossed on the costumes. They looked absolutely stunning, hats off to the costuming department for this one, what a cracking job you’ve done!
From the Doom and Sons funeral company that leads into the brand new confectionary stand to the very cleverly named photo stand and the rebranded shop now called Attic Antiquities there’s a nice vibe around the place.
For the first time in many years, there’s an area at Alton Towers that offers complete escapism from the outside world. The foreboding forest looms and seems lusher and denser than I previously remember. The manor gates seem to open up the area more. The crypt roof has now been repurposed and as a result, the area feels much more open to explore whilst at the same time being private and enclosed from other areas/paths of Gloomy Wood.
Speaking of the aforementioned crypt roof that once sat straight in front of the Duel show building. It has been relocated! The crypt roof now forms the entrance of the forest queue line. Repurposed and moved just out of the way to guide guests into the queue, it looks superb and perfectly introduces the journey into the creepy woods that you are about to venture into.
As the queue snakes through the spooky graveyard, there are winks and nods aplenty to rides at Alton Towers with all manner of comedic deaths to keep Alton Towers die-hards and newcomers amused. The references are done in a way that everyone can understand but theme park enthusiasts will certainly get the most amusement from these quirky little anecdotes.
There are absolutely loads of them and some I even missed on my first walkaround so keep your eyes peeled!
This particular tombstone (pictured below) had me chuckling with a reference to the corkscrew, the park’s first major rollercoaster. There are also winks and nods to the ride Air and even the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ride on numerous stones dotted around.
Easter eggs are certainly the theme of the day with this particular ride as the references aren’t just strictly kept outside of the attraction. They are absolutely littered within it too! It will be a full-time job for someone to pick up on all of these references and you’d need to jump on the ride multiple times to spot them all!
Smoke filled the forest queue line as we walked through and the smoke tunnels were a little bit exposed as we walked through the gardens. They need a little bit more foliage to cover them up but I hope that this stays, the atmosphere was beautiful even in the daylight as the trees cast shadows that paired with the smoke beautifully.
Merlin is well known for turning off effects in their rides as time goes on and I fear that this effect would be the first to go and only then used for nights when the park is open or the resort’s Scarefest Halloween event. I certainly hope not, the smoke coupled with a beautiful soundtrack and plenty of things to see make this queue line experience an enjoyable one and that’s coming from me! I HATE queueing!
As we make our way to the show building we are greeted with an open house sign. We are now within the story as guests being given a tour by the real estate agents of this property with a sinister history. Plaques around the ride give you more backstory about this fateful New Year’s Eve night in 1892.
There are numerous plaques dotted around the queue line and then more context is given to guests as they enter a ride but it’s only a tease of what is about to happen. Introducing the Curse At Alton Manor pre-show.
Normally I’m not a big fan of preshows, they drag on for too long and get me annoyed 99% of the time. I just want to walk through and get on the ride but this pre-show seemed optional. People could walk through straight to the ride or they could stick around and watch and surprisingly (being anti-pre-show) I’d highly recommend the latter.
I was not expecting this level of quality at all in this very brief yet brilliant Curse At Alton Manor preshow. The doll house visual display condensed the story down into a Tik Tok length short to keep even the shortest attention span generation happy.
Emily wants to attend a party hosted by her parents entertaining guests of higher society, but her dad refuses and condemns her to her room in an attic where she’s constantly kept. Her anger rises, she is taken over by a paranormal spirit and all hell breaks loose.
Utilising video projections and screens the small doll house which makes up the main focal point of the preshow comes to life in a Disney fashion. It’s at this moment that the entire room transforms and you’re left with this horror-esque 360-degree experience.
The finale of the preshow kind of reminded me of a scene from Number 13 starring Jim Carrey (highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it) as he starts to go mad. It’s an absolutely outstanding preshow and instantly catapults the ride to having the best preshow in the park superseding the Wicker Man preshow (my now second favourite) by a considerable margin.
This particular pre-show was so good that the Wicker Man preshow now feels dated and quite frankly lazy. Sort it out Towers! (*chuckles*)
We now board the ride (now having 22 carriages instead of the previous 19 they had on Duel) and our journey begins.
The Curse At Alton Manor Ride Review
As we kick things off with this ride review, let’s dive right into the positives. There are a lot of them so let’s dive right in!
My main concern when they announced the removal of the laser guns was how could they make it re-ridable. Having laser guns to tally up a score to compete with your friends made it rideable but this time around the creators have relied on theming, easter eggs and WOW moments to make you want to go on it over and over again.
It certainly works, it’s the closest we have to a Phantom Manor esque ride here in the United Kingdom.
Is it a world-beating ride? No. Is it the best dark ride in Europe? No. But with the poor state of dark rides in this country, this was head and shoulders above many with only a refurbishment of Valhalla (opening soon) being the only 2023 project that could take the crown back from this absolute joy of an experience.
Tim Burton meets Phantom Manor in this beautiful exploration of all things macabre.
David Parry/PA Wire
The Curse At Alton Manor is a massive step up from Duel: The Haunted House Strikes Back in every aspect. Theming, immersion, effects and more.
You are on a journey through that fateful New Year’s Eve through a variety of scenes before entering Emily’s mind through a giant doll’s house and into immersive set pieces (the old Graveyard scene is a highlight) before the big finale.
The infamous trommel tunnel is working once again and feels much faster than it was before. This disorientating moment had been closed on the old instalment of the ride for many years. To see it back again and working like a dream was quite emotional for a little theme park nerd like me.
Using a variety of effects including animatronics, physical sets and audio techniques you are fully immersed for the majority of the experience. A mirror scene had everyone in our cart vanish as Emily took over our ride vehicle. This was done seamlessly.
The Curse at Alton Manor definitely has a Phantom Manor vibe to it and there’s absolutely no question that Phantom Manor was an inspiration behind this ride but I worry about the reliability of this effect (more on that later).
Mack Rides (the original manufacturers) have come in and changed the ride system a little bit including a new control panel, it feels smoother and I just loved how one minute you’re on eye-level with all of the set pieces until you step into Emily’s world. Once you’re in her world everything is now bigger and scaled up to give you a sense of feeling small as Emily’s anger grows as you navigate the ride.
Utilising screens certainly pays off in places and some of the details on the walls are such a nice touch. Breathing walls, lighting effects and even mirror effects combine for a really unique and spooky experience for all the family.
Get your goggles on as you’re going to be easter egg hunting around every corner and keep your eye out for the attic scene. It’s the most heavily themed space within the ride (minus the graveyard scene) and they’ve done this perfectly. I felt as though I was on a dark ride through the Attic: Terror of the Towers scare maze in this scene and I absolutely loved it!
I almost wish the entire ride was themed like that as I was lapping up every corner of that immersive and wonderfully designed homage to a classic Alton Towers scare attraction.
Utilising screens was a worry of mine ahead of the ride’s opening and some of those worries came to fruition during my run-throughs. Whilst during some scenes they’re effective and support the experience rather than distracting from it there are others that feel out of place.
The beautiful banquet hall is alive with theming, open space and plenty to see but it feels as though they’ve chopped the end off and relied on a small screen at the end of the hall to divert people’s eyes but it didn’t work.
I was looking around at this beautifully themed banquet hall and the theming just stopped abruptly as though it had just been chopped off with an axe. The space was now empty and baron with nothing but a screen in front of me. Granted the effect is nice but it instantly went from immersive to cheap very quickly and it would be nice to see that area filled out a bit more.
That wasn’t the first time either as some of the screen scenes just felt like cheap ghost train jump scares. After going through such a well-themed environment having a cheap funfair ghost train screen effect in there detached me immediately in that moment from the experience.
The screens worked perfectly when Emily is looking through her doll’s house at you, it blends in perfectly with the surrounding set and compliments the scene whilst some of them felt cheap and nasty.
David Parry/PA Wire
Dark spots were instantly noticeable when I first went around. On three occasions there was black empty space with absolutely nothing in there. I feel as though two more scenes could easily be added to fill in the dark space as there’s quite a substantial bit of it through the ride as a whole (I counted around 16 seconds in total from start to finish as a guide).
One particular space uses Emily’s voice to guide you through this dark path but it didn’t follow me as advertised, I didn’t feel immersed in this dark space as the speakers aren’t onboard the ride.
If the audio was onboard the ride it would feel like Emily is beside me during the experience but on this occasion, it was too far away and it didn’t work. The dark space needs addressing and improving. We were reassured that the ride is only 95% complete and things would be added which was welcoming and exciting to hear, it’s impressive as is so improvements had me excited to see what they do with it.
One scene in particular at the end of the trommel tunnel had a giant twisted clock, a beautifully designed clock but all around it was black empty space. It’s things like this that need addressing as straight after that scene you’re in a beautifully themed space. If you’re going to have such wonderful theming it needs to continue throughout with no dead zones as they detach you from an experience.
I don’t recall many manors having black empty spaces with nothing in them. It’s all grand and luxurious and well-themed, I really hope they tweak this as time goes on.
There was also an issue with the mirror effect during our second and third run-throughs, it just wasn’t working whatsoever and that was my fear on the first run-through. The reliability of that particular effect is an issue. Disney can maintain that effect (they do it much differently) and keep it going, my worry is, can Merlin do the same?
Opening-day teething issues have papered over the cracks on this occasion but I’ll be going back next week and many more times this year hoping it can stay reliable and see the improvements with every passing month.
David Parry/PA Wire
My final gripe about the ride was the distancing between carts. It feels as though there are too many carts on the track and scenes don’t have enough time to reset so you end up missing some things.
A few animatronics were missed, a few jump scares had already been spoiled ahead of us and this dampened the experience on some run-throughs (not all). It’s something that can easily be addressed.
Empty spaces, some effects not working consistently, a few audio niggles and cart distancing are all fixable elements of the ride. These things can be changed, tweaked and improved upon. Once again, we were assured that the ride isn’t 100% completed and things will be added and changed over the coming months to get the ride to its optimal experience setting.
The Curse At Alton Manor Attic Antiquities Shop and Merchandise
As you exit the ride you are greeted by Attic of Antiquities which is the ride shop, home to many an item that you found in the old Duel shop with the addition of new theming and new Curse items.
Sadly, I didn’t feel the merchandise for the ride was very strong with a very simple logo/graphic added to just about everything from a T-Shirt to a mirror. The ride font is lovely but just slapping it onto a T-Shirt is very lazy.
The logo on the hoodies is a cleaner design but once again, it’s very basic and the shop didn’t really contain anything whatsoever to do with the ride you’ve just experienced.
There weren’t even dolls for sale. Where are the jack-in-the-boxes that were sent out to press? Where are the toy spiders or replica mini doll houses? Where are the Emily Alton lenticulars that when you turn them she turns into a possessed child? Where are the little wooden rocking horses?
Just a small selection of ideas that swam through my head when walking around this bleak offering of ride merchandise.
Sadly the merchandise was an absolute letdown housed in a truly beautiful new shop area.
They certainly spent all of the money on the ride with the merchandise being a very clear oversight. Easily the most disappointing part of the entire experience.
What I loved about the Attic of Antiquities store facade though was a giant rocking chair photo op, all of the theming above the merchandise shelves and even sensor-activated effects. The shop looks the part, it’s just a shame about all of the unrelated ride rubbish sold within it sat on absolutely wonderfully themed yet severely under-utilised displays.
When the shop theming is better than the merchandise
A £130 teddy bear looking as good as new, in the shop of a horror ride where Emily’s toys are dark, gothic and evil? Come on Alton Towers merchandising, step it up!
Once again, this is another area that needs massive improvement and I was quite annoyed that they had just added all of the unrelated Duel skulls and all cheap tat inside this dark, gothic and themed to absolute attic perfection store environment.
Over time I certainly hope they look at this and improve it over time much like the ride experience. Merchandise is a big deal to many and some horror-themed merchandise will always go down well but at least sell merchandise that feels associated with the ride and not just random newsagent Halloween gift items.
The Curse At Alton Manor has blown me away. A ride that transports you to a country where decent dark rides exist as this particular ride doesn’t feel like it belongs in the UK anymore. It’s head and shoulders above the rest and that immersion always begins within the ride area and queue line.
We now finally have an immersive and quite wonderful queue line, IMASCORE audio is tailored to creepy ominous perfection and the preshow was mind-blowing. A word I haven’t used within any Alton Towers attraction for quite some time!
It’s a ride that you have to go on more than once as it’s quite overwhelming with almost too much to see in places.
Nothing feels half-arsed (except the merchandise) and all the teething problems are problems that can be ironed out. Add a scene or two more in there, fix up the blank spaces and improve the audio through the one intentionally dark space and they’re onto a winner.
I’m still very concerned about the mirror effect and how that is going to stay reliable with it going down multiple times on opening day but only time will tell.
As it stands, right here, right now, The Curse At Alton Manor is leading the way for Merlin theme park dark rides.
I don’t feel as though the theming is on the same level as The Spirit of London Ride at Madame Tussauds London, that ride still remains my Merlin no.1 dark ride in the country for theming but for the overall experience, it’s a clear winner.
With giant set pieces, jump scares aplenty, immersive set pieces and more the UK now has a dark ride to be proud of.
Dark rides will always be marmite rides, some will love them, and some will hate them. As you’ve seen in this review there are many positives and also negatives to this experience but the only way you’re going to find out what it’s like is by riding it yourself.
At the very least, you will be blown away by that preshow!
UK dark rides are in a sad state with the majority of people hailing a clunky and absolutely awful flying theatre at LEGOLAND as one of the best in the country. We grasp at straws and settle for such downgraded experiences compared to our European counterparts so let me put things into context.
I’ve said it once in this article and I’ll say it again for clarification. Is it good? Yes. Is it great? Not quite. Is it world-class? No. Does it compete with European dark rides? Only a handful. Is it the best we have in the UK? It’s now one of the best.
Hopefully, that has calmed down the hype of some people hailing this ride as the best thing since sliced bread. It’s good for the UK, and it’s wonderful for Towers but we are still miles behind when it comes to highly themed fully immersive experiences such as Symbolic at Efteling for instance.
The Curse At Alton Manor is the first ride to open in this new uprising of the Merlin portfolio. If rides moving forward (not just at Alton Towers) are on this level of immersion, scale, theming and investment then the UK is in for a big shock in the best possible way.
If this ride is the start of what’s to come then things can only get better and for enthusiasts, theme park fans and the general public this means bigger and better attractions coming to our wonderful little island in the near future.
It’s time to get excited as one day, yes one day we could have a ride here in the UK that can compete on a global scale. It just needs that one big push of an investment and we really could deliver something world-beating.
Until then, keep expectations realistic and enjoy this ride for what it is. It’s a beautiful dark ride for the UK in a now wonderfully themed space and for the first time in a long time, there’s just a little bit of magic back at Alton Towers, a magic that has been lost for a very long time at the park.
Book your tickets for The Curse At Alton Manor today at https://www.altontowers.com/
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