When the opportunity to visit Blackpool came up, I had to take it. Having only ever visited once or twice as a young child, I wondered how Blackpool had changed in the last 30-plus years – and whether the negative perceptions of Blackpool had any truth behind them….
The grand plan was to spend a family weekend in Blackpool, travelling up on Friday night and returning on Sunday. My trip would include highly recommended sights and attractions, as well as dining at popular restaurants, to get the most out of my visit and experience the ‘Best of Blackpool’. Last year VisitBlackpool invested £1million in a new awareness campaign entitled ‘Blackpool’s Back’ (#Blackpoolsback) in co-operation with Merlin Entertainments. The aim of the campaign was to challenge any negative perceptions of the resort and remind families of everything Blackpool has to offer for a short break. So in the name of research, off I went, family in tow.
Having completed the short transfer from Preston to Blackpool North, we stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine and took the short taxi ride to the Burbage Holiday Group’s Queen’s Mansions on Queen’s Parade. Behind the modest exterior of the seafront location, self-catering guests will be more than pleasantly surprised by the level of luxury offered. The very friendly and accommodating Mick (who owns the apartments along with his wife Sheila), showed us around our three-bedroom Empress suite, where there appeared to be a flat screen TV in every room (including the modern high-gloss black kitchen and the bathroom – complete with Jacuzzi bath and mood lighting). Mick told me that the four- and five-star apartments, which also feature a separate lounge and dining area, are in demand year-round – even from the stars of British TV including the judges on BBC TV series, Strictly Come Dancing. Well, if they’re good enough for Len Goodman…
Following our apartment tour, we walked the 30 seconds across the road to take the tram to where the action is. Trams arrive very frequently and are, quite simply the best way of getting about. Less than 20 minutes later we were standing in the shadow of The Big One, gawping at the bravery of those screaming souls plummeting at 74mph down a near vertical 200ft drop. The venue for the evening’s meal was at the four-star Big Blue Hotel, popular with leisure and business travellers alike for its sophisticated rooms and the attached Blues Bar and Brasserie. Bellies filled, we walked along the seafront to watch the sunset and soak up the atmosphere of the evening. All the familiar sights and sounds of Blackpool were there and memories of childhood seaside holidays came flooding back…
Having road tested the Jacuzzi bath and the smart shower in our apartment (with steam room function and FM radio), we crossed the road to the now familiar tram stop opposite our apartment. Less than five minutes later our chariot arrived and we made our way to Central Pier to disembark for Madame Tussaud’s Blackpool. Much like its London counterpart, Madame Tussaud’s brings you up close and personal with your favourite celebrities. Blackpool’s exhibition, however, seemed to focus more on our home-grown talent and the kids were delighted to have photos taken with Ant and Dec, Simon Cowell and Olly Murs. The Blackpool site also seemed to be more interactive with opportunities to throw darts with Phil “The Power” Taylor, putt with Tiger Woods and stand on the podium with Mo Farah. Welcome also was the opportunity half-way through the journey to take a rest (and liquid refreshment) in the guise of a faithful reproduction of the Rovers Return, complete with Ken Barlow at the bar and the late, great Deidre sitting on one of the pub seats. The attraction also offers the chance to take a wax impression of your hands - ideal as a memento of your visit and also a keepsake of your growing children.
A short walk from Madame Tussaud’s is Coral Island, unmistakeable with its giant skull and ship’s crows nest. Coral Island is Blackpool’s largest free attraction and contains arcades, casino and a number of eating options. Captain Jack’s was the venue of choice and we were quickly seated in this compact but excellently decorated pirate-themed restaurant. The good news here is that kids under ten eat free at all Coral Island’s restaurants, the food is superb and the friendly staff are happy to offer menu recommendations. The top tip when eating here is to wear elasticated trousers if possible, as the bad news is that the adult portions were frankly belt-destroying! Having hoovered up an assortment of ribs, chicken, burgers and fish fingers, we bravely decided to take on the Brownie Sundae. Two bowls, more apt for housing goldfish than serving ice-cream, arrived and we gamely attempted to eat as much as possible. Suitably stuffed, we decided that now would be a good time to check out the most iconic of Blackpool landmarks - Blackpool Tower.
The inside of the Tower shows clear evidence of its Victorian heritage and great efforts have been made to marry this to cutting edge digital technology. After seeing still images describing the construction of the tower, visitors are taken to the Tower’s 4D cinema where they can experience Blackpool through the eyes of an eight-year old boy and his imagination. Once completed it’s the final stage to the top of the tower (or at least the highest part accessible by lift) where the more daring visitors can venture out on to the SkyWalk, the tower’s glass viewing platform 380ft up. Higher still? Using the iron staircase, the more intrepid can stand at more than 400ft above Blackpool with breathtaking views over the Irish Sea and, on a clear day, the Isle of Man in one direction and the Pennines in the other.
The thrills were not over for the day as the Blackpool Tower also houses the venerable Blackpool Tower circus. The circus opened in 1894 and has never missed a season since, even for minor inconveniences like two World Wars. Star of the show is Mooky the clown, son of Laci Endresz (circus director) and brother to his straight foil, Mr Boo. In addition to the hilarious slapstick, with something for mums and dads as well as the kids, there is a bewildering array of acts - from the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the quick change performers to the ‘I have to look away now kids’ of the acrobats. With perma-smiles etched on our faces we exited the tower into the now weakening sunlight of the early evening and headed to our next dining venue. Fish and chip aficionados will be very familiar with the name of Britain’s longest-running chain restaurant, Harry Ramsden’s. Occupying a prime seafront location in Blackpool, this fish and chip restaurant stays faithful to its “chippie” roots while having the feel of an upmarket restaurant. Firm favourites were represented such as cod/plaice and chips, all served with the obligatory mushy peas (if so desired), but smaller appetites are also catered for with a range of children’s meals and non-fish eaters have the pick of a range of burgers and ribs, or vegetarian options. Once sated, we took a stroll along the front to take in the plentiful souvenir shops and amusement arcades before calling it a night and heading back to Bispham.
A quick glimpse at the weather forecast the previous evening had revealed that today would remain dry and so we headed on the tram to Tower stop, this time with the Blackpool Dungeon experience on the agenda. The Blackpool Tower houses a number of attractions apart from the Circus and the Tower Eye. There is also the Tower Ballroom, world-renowned among fans of ballroom dancing for its unique sprung floors and elegant and grand architecture and re-invigorated for a new generation of fans by BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing. There is also Jungle Jim’s, billed as the UK’s ultimate indoor adventure playground with an Inca-theme and a “softer-play” for younger visitors. Our destination, however, was much more gruesome and tells the story, among others, of the Wars of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York. Led by the demonic Jester, visitors take the rickety elevator down into the depths of the Tower itself and learn about the dark and murky past of the north of England through funny, but seriously scary, performances from actors playing the roles of unhinged torturers, lunatic judges and intimidating smugglers. Just be sure to keep any allegiances to the House of York to yourself or you might regret it. The experience ends, for those tall (1.4m) and brave enough, with the ride, Drop Dead. We exited through the Tower’s main doors and crossed the road to take the tram; this time for Pleasure Beach.
As we made our way along the seafront we could already see the whirling and racing of the Pleasure Beach. Founded at the end of the 19th century, Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach (www.blackpoolpleasurebeach.com) is famous not just in this country but is one of the most visited theme parks in the world with 5.5 million visitors in 2007. In an area of just 42 acres, the park squeezes in ten rollercoasters and four water rides - many of which are the biggest, longest, fastest, steepest, oldest or first ones of their kind. Our first stop was the Big One which, when built in 1994, was the tallest and fastest rollercoaster in the world. Standing underneath it in the queue is still an impressive experience and, as you slowly make your way up the slope to the ride’s peak at 213ft, you wish you were still there. The sheer concentration of rides at the Pleasure Beach is something that has to be seen to be believed, but they are not all for thrill-seekers. The Pleasure Beach also has the only Nickelodeon Land in the country and has a number of Nickelodeon themed rides such as Dora’s World Voyage, The Backyardigan’s Pirate Treasure, The Bikini Bottom Bus Tour and Spongebob’s Splash Bash.
There is also a vast array of eating and drinking options which should cater for everyone’s tastes and we ate at The Big Pizza Kitchen using our All You Can Eat wristbands. This is really convenient for families and made the whole process of re-fuelling during the day much easier and with a simple scan of our wrists we were able to fill up on pizza and salad.
As the afternoon drew to a close, our bodies and heads tired from bring whizzed and thrown around, we made our way through the exit gates back on to the seafront.
Following a recommendation, we walked the ten minutes along the front to Waterloo Road, home of ice cream in Blackpool for more than 70 years, Notarianni’s. Still using the same recipes and run by the same Italian family since the first half of the 20th century, today’s shop is split into two halves; the takeaway and the sit-down parlour. Decorated in on-trend pastel colours and with tasteful nods to the shop’s venerable past, Notarianni’s serves vanilla ice cream in the same way it has for decades but with a modern twist here and there; definitely a treat - and well worth breaking any diet for. Well fed and feeling smug that we’d made the most of our last day, we made our way back to Queen’s Mansions to pick up our luggage to head to Blackpool North station for the journey back to London.
Back to Black(pool)
This would be goodbye to Blackpool for this summer, but I have a feeling it’s the start of an ongoing relationship for years to come, seconded by the kids. And happy kids = happy family! We didn’t experience any negative or rowdy behaviour while out and about, and I felt I could have stayed in Blackpool the whole week, finding something interesting and worthwhile to do every day. The plethora of entertainment and attractions is just the ticket for families in need of a short break that will wear them out for all the right reasons. As for the people of Blackpool, their genuine hospitality really made for a memorable trip. So, to answer the question ‘Is Blackpool back?’ Absolutely; your clients will be thrilled to reignite their childhood memories and even happier creating new ones.
The Burbage Holiday Group offers 10% commission to agents. Rates at the Queens Mansions in low season start from £140 for two nights and £200 in high season. For details call Mick on 01253-356657 or email email@example.com (www.burbageholidaygroup.co.uk)
Blackpool’s tram service runs the length of the seafront, where most of the attractions and entertainment can be found. Tram tickets can be purchased onboard or from most newsagents, with prices at £10 for a family ticket for the day, which can also be used unlimited times and also on the local buses.
The Big Blue Hotel (www.bigbluehotel.com)
Captain Jack’s at Coral Island (www.coralisland.co.uk)
Harry Ramsdens (www.harryramsdens.co.uk)
We recommend that if your clients are looking to experience a range of attractions in Blackpool they purchase a Blackpool Resort Pass (www.blackpoolresortpass), where visitors can take in six attractions for £55 each, saving more than £35. they include Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Nickelodeon Land, The Blackpool Tower & 4D Experience, The Blackpool Tower Dungeon, SEA LIFE Blackpool and Madame Tussauds Blackpool.
For more information see www.visitblackpool.com