I'm so glad that you've started this topic Russell. I've felt as though I've been nitpicking for the past season or so, so it's refreshing to see that so many of us agree.
I'm afraid that this may sound a little 'it's not how it used to be' but meh, I'm past caring. The upkeep of the park seems at present non-existent, take X-sector for example, it is literally rotting away. I overheard two young boys arguing amongst themselves recently over the shade of Oblivion, one was convinced that it was grey, whilst the other surmised it as silver. I suspect I'd have caused them to erupt in a state of howling laughter, had I divulged that it's actually black (or at least it's supposed to be).
I know that sprucing up the rides doesn't really generate income for the park so at the moment it doesn't seem like a feasible option on the business front, but surely I'm not the only guest around who feels the atmosphere is flaking away with the paint? I keep using Oblivion as an example, not because it's the only issue in terms of park upkeep, but because it's the most drastic example in my personal opinion. My most vivid memory of my first ever visit to the park, when I was 11, was of the intimidating Oblivion structure standing tall over X sector. I remember looking up at the thick jet-black track as each shuttle poured over the edge into the ground beneath me and thinking 'that looks terrifying'. When I stand in X Sector now and look up, I see faded grey track and discoloured shuttles, every beam of sunlight highlighting the layers of paint that have peeled away with years of use. It's hard to appreciate the intimidation and fear that it once injected into a guests day, when it looks old and worn. It's almost like looking at an old frail Grandparent who once seemed your strong hero, once capable of anything.
I'm aware that a first time guest will still be amazed and captivated by the park but, many guests who enter the park have visited at some point in their lives already and they are well aware of how certain rides used to appear. I'm sure that I'm not the only member on here who has overheard comments such as 'Wow, (insert attraction name here) is looking old'. Surely it would therefore be beneficial to the park to invest in tidying up some of the older attractions/areas, not for the intention of attracting new guests, but for the intention of keeping current guests opinions positive. After all, word of mouth, gets round and I'm sure 'the place is looking tired' will have been mentioned by some guests to inquisitive potential guests.
It seems as though the people in charge have grown confident with the gap that stands between Alton and other UK non-Merlin parks. It's long been the case that no other UK park can compete with the Merlin parks (especially Towers). I fear that because of this, they have become unconcerned, overlooking the 'little things' that once made the park great such as it's impeccable clean and tidy image. Sad as it sounds, I feel that the gap which they seem so confident and sure of, is slowly closing in. Sure, there isn't a non-Merlin park in the UK that can match the investments of Alton Towers (take for example the fact that no other non-Merlin UK park has ever been in a position to invest in a B&M), but the smaller parks are providing the things that Alton are failing on.
Yes, people mainly go to Theme Parks for the attractions, but atmosphere also plays a huge part in guest enjoyment and if I'm honest, Alton's atmosphere is deteriorating. I doubt it ruins anybodies day but come on, it's hard to ignore rusting rides, crumbling themeing, and rotting paint when it can be readily found in every area of the park.
For those who are jumping on this topic for being negative, then right you are, it largely is - but it needs to be. Along with praise comes criticism, I'm delighted with this year's additions to the park and credit where credit is due they have done a fantastic job, but that doesn't mean that we will ignore the areas of the park that are screaming out for attention. Being an enthusiast doesn't just mean that you are only there to cheer them on when they do something well, but that you are there pushing them along when they fail also.