Scarefest is arguably when Alton Towers is at its best. I'm a fan of Halloween anyway; with my birthday falling close to the date, this time of year always filled me with excitement. Add to that the creeping effect of autumn, with its array of scents and creeping chill, and you've a ready made canvas on which to paint an ideal, nightmarish attraction. Which is exactly what Alton Towers successfully do, year on year.
It'd be easy to "cheap-out" and cash in on what many see as a gimmicky celebration, but Alton Towers ought to be credited for putting not only thought and planning into their Halloween festivities, but also a truckload of cash.
While I'm not a fan of their policy of charging extra for the main draws that are the scare mazes, I believe they often lower admission prices and offer a deal including the maze that more or less comes out to be the same as a standard entry ticket.
Besides, if you are making the trip to Scarefest, a few extra quid to experience the attractions that highlight the occasion is surely worthwhile.
It has been a while since I last visited Scarefest, and previous experiences had always been favourable. Could the 2019 incarnation match those of old?
(Disclaimer - I did not visit The Attic, The Dungeon or The Pirate themed Maze on this visit.)
Set in the guts of the old Nemesis: Sub-terra attraction, this was the first of the three mazes we visited. Standing in the queue we were frequently warned that the mazes were not designed for the under 15's, and those with heart conditions (this practice continued in all the maze queues we visited); this only heightened my excitement further, and my apprehension grew with each tentative step taken towards the maze entrance.
As luck would have it, our group was cut from the line with me leading. Now, I don't know if it's just me, but I feel a huge pressure leading a group into a dark, creature infested labyrinth - I want us all to get out in one piece!
What followed was a disorientating, jump-scare filled journey through narrow, smoke filled corridors. I'll not give anything away, other than it was not as straightforward a route as you'd imagine, and that you will be touched!
Verdict: Stressful and frightening, but in a good way. The actors in here had their full arsenal of scare tactics on show!
The Alton Mine Tour - Legend of the Skin Snatchers
I enjoyed the second of the mazes for entirely different reasons than Project 42, and that has to be a good thing. One of my worries going into Scarefest, was that three mazes might feel a bit "samey". Credit to Alton Towers because this wasn't the case at all!
The second maze again saw us separated into small groups, a number of which were given miners helmets (complete with a headlamp). After a brief introduction given by one of the families "animated" members, we are hurried through a narrow, twisting, series of mine shafts.
Again, I'll not give away key details, but the smells used inside this maze were particularly effective, in that they were grossly unpleasant. The sound as well was fantastic, with distorted country tunes blasting out above the incessant drone of madness.
The fact that I came out laughing was in no way a slight on the creepiness of the maze. The actors added so much personality, including terror and humour, that I couldn't help but laugh!
Verdict - The tamest of the three mazes, but the one with the most character. The thought of Grampa still makes me smile!
Sub Species - Endgame
OK, I admit - I wasn't prepared for this one at all!
I really don't want to give anything away about this maze because what makes it unique is also the reason it was (in my opinion) the best experience I had on the day.
Everything from the set-up to the exit was designed to invoke maximum dread, and this slow-burn horror experience will stay with me for a long time. The fact that I ran from the exit will tell you everything you need to know.
Verdict - The closest you'll get to being in a horror film without the paycheck and gruesome end.
Aside from the fantastic mazes, Scarefest is a great time to visit the park. Seeing the rides illuminated at night adds an extra layer of tranquillity which, although might seem at odds with the theme of the festival, adds a joyous, celebratory feel. Many of the park's visitors dress up for the occasion, and there is an array of free sideshows that are tailored to young and old alike.
Yes, Scarefest frightens, as it is designed to do so, but it welcomes more. Highly recommended.