Super long post ahead - sorry, I rambled!
Sorry for the lateness in posting, was at AT again Sunday after SMN, and have had a busy week with work/a wedding/preparing for holiday this coming week.
This was my first TT event, and myself and my partner both had a fantastic time! Whilst we didn't have chance to meet/speak to everyone, those that we did speak to were very friendly and welcoming (I'm so sorry, I can't remember the names of anyone we met - forum or real, but you were all great!). I'm not even sure that forum names were mentioned, so, I'm Ben, the one dressed (cheaply) as Uncle Fester.
Upon arriving, we had a little trouble working out where we needed to go. Not living anywhere near AT (4 hour drive), we're not as familiar with the park as others, we only visit maybe once a year, and so in the time between visits it is quite easy for us to forget the layout of things like the car parks and walking route. I think I've only ever walked to/from the car park once before a few years ago, so I had no idea which way to go to get to the park entrance. I parked by the monorail (after driving into the complete wrong car park due to there being barriers and no staff or signage to direct us), and popped over to use the toilet, where fortunately some other attendees were passing by from the hotel so we were able to follow them. Whilst I'm sure I'm in a majority here, it may be worth considering adding some directions for future events for those that aren't so familiar with the park.
There was another slight issue we had, regarding tickets, which again we were a minority, but it may happen to others in the future if these events grow. We had booked our tickets through the Short Breaks on AT's website, before we knew about SMN. This is something I had mentioned a couple of times in posts on the forum, but no-one foresaw the problem I would have regarding exchanging the ticket vouchers for park tickets. It took some explaining in the shout box, and to people on the day, for them to understand the tickets were pre-booked through AT, not TT, as everyone kept saying we'll get our tickets at the registration, which of course wasn't the case. We were advised at registration that in future we should book the corporate tickets through TT, which of course makes sense had we not already booked our tickets prior to knowing about the event. But, due to the distance we have to travel to attend, staying in a hotel and doing two days in the park is really the most sensible option for us to make the trip worthwhile, and if booking through Short Breaks is the cheapest option, I, and I'm sure anyone else in my position, would do it that way. Fortunately, when I explained the situation to a member of AT staff, they had a member of staff open up the ticket collection for us, but some advance guidance would have helped us greatly. Please don't take this at a dig at the organisation of the event, I understand this was most likely a one off that hadn't happened before so no-one was quite sure what to do, I just want to make TT aware that this is an option some people may use, so that guidance may be offered if necessary in the future.
Besides that, I can't fault the organisation of the event on TT's part. Registration was simple, instructions on when and where to meet throughout the day were clear (though the time for meeting for the extreme mazes seemed a little early as we were kept waiting outside for some time, but there may well be a good reason for that that I'm unaware of). The morning exclusives were great, the creepy crawly bit seemed a little short, but it gave people a reason to go and find the hut if they want to see/find out more. The morning fast track was a brilliant addition, and especially the first rides for The Smiler. Having not been able to ride it on my previous visit last year, getting it done first thing was fantastic (and we even queued two hours again the following day to ride it in the dark - definitely worth it!). My partner was having back problems later in the day, so the fast track for the first hour really helped us out, it meant she could relax the rest of the day and then we took it slow on the Sunday (although, it could be argued the fast track was the reason her back was causing her grief...but she enjoyed it nonetheless!).
On to the mazes. I've already mentioned the meeting time, though to us it wasn't a big deal. It gave us chance to chat to and get to know some of the other members. Having never attended Scarefest, we had no idea what to expect from the mazes, but I did expect better than the experience we had in The Sanctuary, and from what I've heard, I'm not alone. TP's non-extreme mazes give me a fright more than this did. Actors seemed few and far in some areas, and didn't seem to make much of an effort to get close to scare - at least from where I was. Also one of the screens in one room was not working; fair enough technical hitches happen, but it felt as though either no checks had been made to ensure everything was working (they could have switched it off if it wasn't, instead of the no signal/input message we saw), or that they just weren't bothered. Of course, not TT's fault at all.
Terror of the Towers on the other hand - best scare maze I have experienced in recent years. I don't know if my partner dropping out of this one, leaving me surrounded by people I had only met a couple of hours before, had some sort of psychological effect on me, but I was nervous about what might jump out from where throughout the whole thing. The actors really seemed to make more of an effort with this one. I particularly enjoyed the chapel scene, especially as one member of our group was pulled to the front for some one-on-one cleansing with one of the actors. I'm not entirely sure what was said, but I heard something about adultery...
As others have mentioned, there was a long delay between the two mazes, a lot of non-TT people being sent through for TotT, whilst we stood, receiving very little information as to what was going on. Perhaps this was partly down to ensuring the actors were briefed properly as to what the extreme experience should entail. If that's the case, then no problem, if it's adding to our experience. Although, AT could have perhaps done some better organisation, knowing what time we would be there (and, as far as I, and others I spoke to, was aware, should have been the first group of the day through the mazes), the briefings could have been done prior to our arrival at the mazes. But we got an extreme experience, and that is the main thing.
Now, the scare zones. Well, we all know what happened with Zombies. We didn't have to wait long to [attempt to] enter, which was a plus. But of course there was some misunderstanding/miscommunication on AT's side, somewhere along the line. The TT staff handled it great, trying to explain the situation to the 'area co-ordinator' who just had no interest in listening. Convenient how his tone of voice completely changed when there was a camera pointed at him. But that doesn't take away the fact that there were 60+ witnesses (excluding the non-TT bystanders that may have overheard) to him shouting, rather aggressively, that there is not, and never has been, an extreme Zombies (something that was a complete lie as other members were telling me about how they were thrown in fridges last year), and that Tower's Times will not be entering. Due to my busy week, it had slipped my mind to write a complaint to Alton Towers regarding this member of staff's attitude towards park guests, but I will do after this post. A simple apology that he hadn't received any information regarding the extreme event, and politely asking us to step aside until someone can verify the situation with him would have sufficed. But the way he spoke - sorry, shouted - at us, is not a way to treat any guest, regardless of whether they are a part of some event or just a regular visitor to the park.
Scary Tales, however, was a much different experience. We of course had to wait whilst they emptied the area and briefed the actors. As with the mazes, AT could have perhaps done this in advance (which would have also helped to prevent the Zombies situation) as they knew what time we would be arriving for the zones. They would probably have to give us a more specific time for each zone, but being able to tell other visitors in advance that the zone would be closed for x period of time whilst this is done, instead of us joining the queue and then having others join the queue behind us and being help up whilst we go through, and then the actors being re-briefed for the regular guests again. Or perhaps have a member of AT staff meet us prior to going to the maze, so they can make sure things are communicated properly. Another option would be to do the exclusives out of hours, but as I don't work for AT, I understand this may be something that was considered, along with any other possibilities, and they went with the way that was logistically easiest, having the least impact on the running of the areas for other guests.
The Scary Tales experience itself, I didn't find particularly scary, but I did really enjoy it. It did feel a little rushed, sending too many through at once (probably for the impact reason stated above), but the actors tried to get personal as much as possible. I had an actor crawling behind me trying to chew my leg, and another shove me away when I nervously told him I think I saw Snow White back there. I was almost certain one was about to kiss me at one point when she was staring me down right in my face too. Although not the scariest of the attractions for me, I feel the actors here put the most effort in (with TotT a close second).
Our second attempt at Zombies, whilst we did manage to gain access this time, was more disappointing than The Sanctuary, and more rushed than Scary Tales. There seemed to be very few actors I get the feeling we were just sent through to get us over and done with (I'm not accusing AT of having this intention, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was what happened). I don't recall seeing the guy that had turned us away previously there when we returned, may have just been a coincidence. He also wasn't there when we went through again on Sunday, whether that's related to his attitude the previous day or not I won't make any assumptions about.
As I didn't attend the social afterwards I can't make any comments on that (sorry, we were absolutely knackered, so much so that we slept in at the hotel and didn't make it back to the park until gone midday Sunday). But we really enjoyed the rest of the day with everyone, thank you so much to the TT and AT staff involved in making the event happen. We'll certainly be back for SMS next year as that's much closer to home, and maybe another event or two in the year if we can make it. Sorry this post went on for far longer than I expected, hope I haven't bored anyone!