I think Wicker Man is a great ride, but it's not all perfect so I thought I'd give a bit of a more critical look. (I'll try and balance things as I do genuinely like the ride, but some of the negatives are often glossed over.)
There's no doubt that the Wicker structure is impressive, especially when the misters are on full. My issue with this though happens to be the way the fire is percieved. I get that doing a load of fire must be a H&S and budgetary nightmare, but the LED screens with the firey video playing sticks out like a sore thumb. The first time I saw the area it was very obvious and took away from the magic. The trains rumbling around gives the area a nice atmosphere and they really do fly around the track. If there's one thing I don't enjoy about the area is that it feels "boxy"- a complaint that I see with a lot of coasters built nowadays. Let me explain:
Imagine you had a big square for a roller-coaster. You could fill that big square with lots of little pathways going over and under track with plazas, shops, maybe other rides etc. or you could fill the box entirely with track and have a little pathway around the edge that takes guests in and out. Wicker Man is self-contained within it's little box (and yes, the queue does pass through pieces of the structure, but the plaza and surrounding area is a fixed perspective along the side of the box). I find it annoying when rides are self-contained because a lot can be said for wandering through the area around little pathways and viewing the ride from many angles- rides like Nemesis and Taron execute very well.
Have only had to use the extension queue the once and it's nothing particulary special, so I won't drone on about that.
The main queue is generally a pleasant experience. Although the first bit is cattlepen, being in a courtyard of track with a beautiful view of the Wicker Man himself is a lot of fun. The next section is a looong trundle alongside the edge of the site- this is the only part of the queue I don't really enjoy, as discussed with the "boxy" nature of the area. Passing the corner past the shop, you descend down and this is when the experience starts to atmospheric thanks to a lovely zoned audio effect. Crawling closer to the ride and it becomes incredibly noisy which really helps build tension. This is mostly due to the rattly lift chain and excess noise leaking out of the main building, but it's fabulous. So much so that it actually made me nervous upon my first time riding!
Then comes the preshow, and this part of the attraction is incredibly well done. I was skeptical at first when hearing there was a preshow as I expected it to be a long boring script that just went on forever, but Wicker Man keeps things short and sweet. There's only a short piece of narrative speaking before the effects really kick in, and thanks to the subwoofers, the atmosphere in here is amazing. You can really feel your whole body tremble with every deep note which really adds to the fear. If there's one complaint I had about the preshow it'd be about the curtain the show is displayed on. It's possible to see the ram head before it's revealed- something that could be easily fixed with a second black sheet behind the white one to absorb any excess light.
The station follows and you are greeted with an issue- the ride could really benefit from an extra corridor before you get to the station as often enough there isn't enough room for everybody, meaning people clog up and they can't batch in bagging properly. I'm fairly certain this has been rectified however with smaller group sizes.
The theming in here is nice with the wicker walls illuminated in a delicious red, and the banners in the ceiling give it that extra boost. Another issue I have is more of a nitpick, and thats that the little bits of cloth that name each row are placed at a weird angle and size, meaning is trickier to find your dedicated row. Once again it's an easy fix that should be possible, and I wouldn't be too surprised to see it changed sooner or later.
Then of course, no ride on Wicker Man is complete without riding the damn thing. And I gotta tell you, I was pleasantly surprised. It's no secret that people scoffed at the layout at first as it didn't look all that great with no super whippy transitions or speed building, but somehow those aren't issues on the real thing. On a hot summers day the trains really give it the beans
as such, and as you're going so fast the corners can pack a real punch. It's obviously slower when colder and whilst it's nowhere near as fun, it's still nice. But I wouldn't call the ride "the best thing ever", in my own humble opinion. It's fun- don't get me wrong- but it's not a Nemesis beater for me. I'd go as far as saying it's the weakest GCI I've ridden as the rest are all much more violent and airtimey, but that doesn't make Wicker Man bad. It's still a fun ride, but not quite as good as the other members of it's family.
Exiting the ride over a quick bridge, down some concretey stairs and into the shop. The shop is nice with it's fixed route and some cool theming features. It's sometimes tricky to tell what there is to buy and what is there for world building!
But there is one big negative I haven't mentioned yet and it pains me to say this, but here goes: the ride area generally looks ugly.
Now don't shoot me down just yet, I can explain. There's so much concrete around the area (obviously used for footers which is inevitable) that hasn't been covered up. What doesn't help is the concrete is already grimy in places. It just feels bare and as if they ran out of budget and had to leave it. As unrealistic as it is, I really would like to see it tidied up and to have any visible concrete walls (looking at you pre-lift) covered up if budget allows so.
So in general- Is Wicker Man the best ride at Alton Towers? No. But does it set a new standard for roller-coasters in the UK? Absolutely. It's so good to see a return to form with the theatricallity- I've heard comparisons to the original Chessington Vampire in terms of scale and fun. It's a great ride and I'm looking forward to riding it again when it reopens.