Icon – Blackpool Pleasure Beach VS Wicker Man – Alton Towers

Sven: We just came back from the UK trip of 2018 for theme park fans: Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Alton Towers. These two big parks both opened a brand new coaster this year and so we could not resist paying them a visit. But which one of the two is the best according to us: Icon or Wicker Man?

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You most likely heard that the British parks both invested a decent amount for these brand new coaster additions in Europe. Even though they are very different, we still could decide on which one we like most. We take in account everything: story, theming, ride experience, layout… Let’s introduce our two competitors!

The stats

Candidate number 1 is Icon. This brand new multi launch coaster by Mack Rides has a height of 88.5 feet (27 m) , top speed of 52.8 mph (85 km/h) and is 3,750 feet (1143 m) long. It is one of only three inversion coasters at the park, the others being classic Arrow Revolution and Vekoma SLC Infusion. So the coaster is definitely a perfect fit for Pleasure Beach. It’s the park’s newest coaster since 2007.

Candidate number 2 is Wicker Man. Secret Weapon number 8 for Alton Towers and the long awaited wooden coaster by GCI. It has a drop of 72.2 feet (22 m), top speed of 43.6 mph (70,2 km/h) and 2,608.3 feet (795 m) long. There are quite some wooden coaster in the United Kingdom but none like this one. Not only because of the ride experience, but also the theme and the story. It adds up perfectly to the coaster line-up of the park because of that. Wicker Man is the 10thcoaster currently at the park.

Both are good for an investment of equal or just over 16 million pound (+/- 21 million dollar / 18 million euro). Stats wise, Icon is longer, faster and taller. But that doesn’t always mean better. Big additions for the parks but which one do we declare as the winner? Let’s compare more!

The story & theming

Let’s start with Icon. There’s clearly a touch of Japan combined with a modern feel for this interesting ride. A color scheme of white, gold and black and a snake design train. There isn’t really a story told, but the theming invites guests to create their own. It’s a path quite some parks have decided to take and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

An important element is the interaction with the other attractions as the ride is at the core of the park’s backside. It interacts with Big One, Steeplechase and Big Dipper! As for the station, they chose a crystal clear design with enough warmth to showcase the theme. The music however takes you to the right atmosphere of the ride as well. As you launch, you hear “Icon” whispered which is an awesome effect.

It’s clear that the story of Wicker Man is much more expressed. You don’t really need to understand the full story to know what’s going on. You enter a kind of cult where people were sacrificed to please the Wicker Man. Of course, that’s what is about to happen to you as well. All around the wooden coaster, you see this kind of theming enhanced by a kind of themed festival style banners and signs.

But what’s really cool is the preshow, as it’s one of the few wooden coasters that has one. A nice design of animation plus the pleasant surprise of the projection head. The station breaths the atmosphere that it needs to as well. Yet, the highlight of the theming is of course the Wicker Man itself. Fire and wood is what it’s all about, but also the smoke is an important element. If it works… Because that is not always the case unfortunately (and it doesn’t come as a surprise). Luckily, there is also good music by IMAscore that creates a mysterious vibe.

So even though we love the simplicity of Icon, the immersion of Wicker Man really took us by surprise. Plus the final part of the ride fits perfectly with the story. It’s a very original theme as we’re used to from Alton Towers, which fits in the overall park theme. One point for Wicker Man.

The ride

A Mack launch coaster is quite different from other launch coasters. Compared, the acceleration feels not as fast. Yet, especially for the second launch, the smoke effects help build up the experience. Icon has some nice airtime moments and special elements along the way. Especially the inversion and near inversion are what make this ride a very cool experience. The Junior Immelman one being my favorite due to the hang time. In the final part of the ride however, it does lose a bit of momentum which is a shame. Also, the train already rattles and that’s not the way we like it. Plus it’s better in the evening compared to the beginning of the day.

GCI has a good experience when it comes to wooden coasters. Usually, height can make a big difference and this is what Wicker Man lacks. The pace was faster than expected, but compared to other similar coasters, it isn’t the best layout. Also the Wicker Man element impresses when you look at it. The real fire is pretty cool, but we’re less a fan of the fake fire. (It’s hard to do it differently though). Once you’re riding it, you’re not as affected by it than I expected though, even when we rode it in the dark. This is of course because of the speed but I prefer a fast experience over it. Speaking of the dark, it is the best experience to ride it that way. Unfortunately, those are rare occasions. At the end of the ride, there is a nice surprise when riding back to the station in line with the story as well.

All in all, both ride experiences have their strengths and weaknesses. Icon however has a better track experience overall. It’s much longer, has a nice mix of different elements plus the inversion. Wicker Man’s layout is far from bad either, but it can’t match with for example Troy or Wodan. It loses momentum compared to those two which is a pity. So here, Icon shines the most.

The verdict

Usually it’s hard to compare a steel and wooden coaster but for some reason, I found it a good and easy match-up to see which one of the two is the best. Icon is all about simplicity at the center of several other coasters, where interaction is key. Wicker Man immerses you in one of the best themed wooden coasters out there, if not the best. As mentioned, they are both imperfect but they blend in naturally at their respective park. So which one do we chose? Well, in the end, we prefer Wicker Man.

We like it thrilling and as much as possible. After riding Icon, we felt like: not bad. I would have preferred to feel the adrenaline pumping. Luckily, my expectations where not high so it did not disappoint but match. However secretly, I hoped to be surprised.

As for Wicker Man, I also expected a moderate ride. Not a thrilling experience but good theming. It’s especially the theming that was even better than expected. On top of that, it’s such a good fit for Alton Towers in the lineup of incredible coasters. Key word is immersion, a trend in the theme park world which I absolutely love. That’s why we put Wicker Man a tad higher than Icon. Feel free to disagree but let’s conclude that the UK got two fantastic coasters this year that can match each other. So don’t visit one, but both!

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