Pleasure Beach Blackpool
regular theme park visitors making their first trip to Blackpool,
there's one piece of advice that I can really give - take all of your
little ideas of what makes a typical theme park, and throw them all out
of the window. Pleasure Beach Blackpool ("The Plesh" to its
friends) is a modern theme park, an old-fashioned seaside funfair,
and so much more besides.
Pleasure Beach has existed for over 100 years and is the only old-style
park to have really survived the arrival of competition from the
relatively recent wave of theme parks. While most seaside parks have
shrivelled to become a dreary collection of decrepit funfair rides, PBB has continually invested in attention grabbing rides, while remaining
commendably diligent in making sure the classic - and I do mean CLASSIC
- rides of the past have been preserved for us to enjoy for many years
Our first time
visitors arrive at the gate have bought their wristband and entered the
park. The wristbands may be more expensive than the average theme park
ticket, but there are several things to remember before criticising the
park for this. Firstly, the park offers more rides than your typical
theme park. Secondly, the park is usually open for a lot longer than any
other British park - while other parks give you your marching orders at
teatime, a PBB wristband can keep you riding for up to 12 hours in
high season. Finally, a
typical family group will have at least one member who is going to go on
few or no rides. While most parks will still charge these people full
rate, PBB is free to enter, and offers ride tickets for those who don't
want to ride all day. Overall, a typical family is likely to end up
paying less at PBB than at other parks, and receiving a lot more for
first time visitors pass through the turnstiles and into the park. What
follows is total sensory overload. Instead of having to consult the map
to find the rides, they see rides everywhere. Visible for several miles
around the park, their eyes will already have been drawn to The Big One,
the 1994 Arrow Hypercoaster. As they watch a train go round they now
notice that it crosses the path of another coaster... and another... and
another. The fact that the park is really very small has resulted
in new rides being built over, under, around, and through existing
rides, creating a tangle of tracks which, at some points, makes
Spaghetti Junction look straight forward. Not one square inch of this
park is wasted, and this is one of the park's great strengths.
what of the rides themselves? Fan of wooden coasters, are you? Of course
you are, and PBB's five woodies really do offer something for every
taste. The Zipper Dipper, Roller Coaster, Big Dipper, and Grand National
are respectively, a children's woodie, a perfect family woodie, a
gloriously grown-up woodie, and a truly wild racing coaster. These four
rides complement each other perfectly, allowing the most timid of riders
to progress from being terrified, to enjoying themselves, to adrenaline
junkie. Just to stop you
getting too cocky, the fifth woodie, the Wild Mouse, is on a level of
lunacy way beyond anything the English language can describe.
fans are well catered for in terms of quantity, although in truth none
of the rides here are a match for the theme parks. The pick of the crop
is the Revolution, Europe's first steel looping coaster. The first drop
of this Arrow shuttle loop being one of the most incredible airtime
moments of any coaster. Elsewhere the steelies are, frankly mediocre at
best. The Avalanche is a relatively unimaginative Mack bobsleigh
coaster, the Space Invader a decent dark coaster, albeit with rather
tacky space theming. The
Steeplechase is certainly unusual, given that you ride on Carousel style
fibreglass horses, but is a fairly short-lived novelty. Remember,
though, that these are just the support acts to the woodies, and
certainly beat the line up of hyped up, but tamed down, spinning rides
which most parks use as support rides.
main selling point, the aforementioned Pepsi Max Big One is a very
impressive looking coaster (the view of the ride as you leave the M55
motorway is staggering), but has received a mixed reaction from coaster
fans. It is a tough ride to judge, as it seems to follow a Stock,
Aitkin and Waterman style approach to coaster design.
Superficially amazing, the ride lacks any real substance and
won't really keep you coming back for more. Taking the first drop in the
back seat is something special, but otherwise the ride has aged before
its time, sadly.
park has several dark rides, the best of which is the River Caves.
Dating from 1904, the ride has been well kept, and some of the scenes
are quite superb, putting the much-hyped Valhalla to shame in many
respects. Most of the other dark rides, such as the Ghost Train or Alice
in Wonderland, are hardly state of the art, but don't take themselves
too seriously, and have a tacky charm which newer rides can't recreate.
The much-hyped Valhalla is a slight disappointment, being largely a
collection of unrelated (and often temperamental) special effects,
lacking the charm of the older rides. Still, if you like looking at
fires you'll really enjoy the ride!
PBB scores highly among enthusiasts is preservation.
Alongside the modern rides are several historic rides which,
anywhere else, would now be a distant memory. Along with woodies from
the 20s and 30s, rides like the Whip and the Turtle Chase are living
pieces of history. The park has not attempted to modernise these rides,
they appear exactly how the designers intended, and are all the better
for it. In terms of history, however, one ride towers above them all.
1904 Hiram Maxim Flying Machine is, quite simply, magnificent. A
gigantic ride, the Flying Machine's rocket shaped cars swing out in a
huge circle over the surrounding walkways. The ride is a real treasure,
and riding is an overwhelming experience - you can almost feel the
ghosts of the millions of long dead fun-seekers who have taken delight
in the ride since long before you were born. Every creak of this monster
machine resounds with the scream of generation after generation of
people all enjoying the simple pleasure of this ride. How many amusement
parks are there which make you appreciate your place in history? This
one ride reminds you of what life is all about, and if that isn't worth
a few minutes of your time, nothing is. Now, if only they could make the
we've established that PBB has more than its share of decent rides, but
that means nought if the park hasn't got the right atmosphere, and it is
here that the park shows its funfair roots. While theme parks tend to
have the same atmosphere all the time, a visit to PBB on the wrong day
could see the place deserted, which is not a particularly enjoyable
experience. The park radio station will try to gee things up a bit, but
the presenters do seem to come from the Alan Partridge school of
broadcasting and are quickly reduced to reciting the weather forecast
every few minutes. Visit at
the right time, however, and the atmosphere is electric, and quite
unlike any other park. My recommendation is to try and visit on a Friday
night in the summer. This is when regulars come out alongside the
one-off visitors, in fact PBB is the only park I know where regular
visitors become friends, like the regulars in your local pub. The
combination of the crowds, the elegant lighting of the rides, and the
simple fact that you can carry on riding long after most parks would
have kicked you out make for a invariably wonderful experience.
as baffling as it may be to you or I, it seems that not everyone is
happy to ride coasters all day and night, and want to do something a bit
different. The Plesh, however, doesn't cast these people out into the
cold, and is home to a wide variety of shows. No, these aren't just the
normal shows you'd expect a park to put on, the "Hello boys and
girls... I can't hear you" type (although these are on offer if you
want it), these are real shows of the type you'd more commonly associate
with the West End. Shows like Mystique, Hot Ice and Eclipse have all
received rave reviews from the "serious" theatre press.
Furthermore, there are smaller shows around the park which can be seen
for free, such as the High Diving show which has been a regular fixture
at the park for several years.
it comes to mealtimes, PBB covers virtually anything you could desire.
Old-fashioned Candy Floss stalls or Fish & Chip restaurants are
dotted around the park, while a branch of Burger King can be found at
the park's South Entrance. Meals can also be taken at Coasters Diner on
the seafront, in which you'll also find all sorts of park memorabilia -
ever fancied eating your lunch in a Waltzer car?! Top of the range meals
can also be bought in the White Tower restaurant in the Casino building
(Casino in the old sense of the word, mind), while the Fish Inn sees the
park take on Harry Ramsden at his own game.
merchandise can be varied, with only the Big One really getting it's
fair share of T-shirts, mugs and the usual bits and pieces. There are
though a lot of nice pieces of park merchandise, particularly when it
comes to books and videos. Two superb books have been written about the
park's history, while the videos are reasonable but far too short. What
is nice too see, however, are books and videos about coasters and parks
generally. It's good to know that PBB are happy to sell products which
encourage an interest in coasters, even if they endorse rival parks as
well as their own.
return to our first time visitors, it's worth remembering that they're
not just visiting a park, they're visiting a town too, and are under no
obligation to stay on the park every minute of the day. If they don't
find that their tastes in food or shows are covered, Blackpool will
always accommodate them somewhere. This even applies to rides. As a
massive fan of spin & spew rides, I find it sad that the park has
virtually none, but fortunately this type of ride is provided by two of
the town's three piers, and even directly opposite the park entrance,
where quality travelling rides regularly turn up, much to the annoyance
of park management!
the 1980s, Pleasure Beach Blackpool's advertising slogan was "The
Amazement Park", and this seems an appropriate way of summing the
place up. It is a million miles away from any other park in the UK and
gloriously breaks all the rules of the modern corporate theme park
industry. While I have criticised the lack of a great steelie, it should
be remembered that this place has four - FOUR - great woodies on offer.
This one park accounts for almost 50% of the woodies in Britain, so just
think of the steelies as decent "support" rides. This isn't
just an amusement park, this is a living museum of the amusement
industry, with rides from every era presented exactly how they were
meant to be. There can be no greater symbol of the park than the view up
the main walkway of the elegant flame shaped cupola of the Big Dipper,
with the lift hill of a 90s hypercoaster rising in the background.
Pleasure Beach Blackpool
The park wi' nowt taken out.