Blackpool Pleasure Beach was founded by Alderman William George Bean in 1897. His aim was to create an amusement park similar to New York’s Coney Island that would “make adults feel like children again”.
Within a few years, the park was boasting rides with such grand names as the Hiram Maxim Captive Flying Machine, River Caves of the World, the Virginia Reel and the Big Dipper.
More than 100 years later, the desire to feel like a child again is clearly no less strong. Blackpool Pleasure Beach is now one of the most visited tourist attractions in the UK, bringing in up to 5 million visitors a year.
It is home to almost 40 rides, including a whopping ten rollercoasters. In 2003, the park’s owners opened the four-star Big Blue Hotel right next door, thereby making the attraction part of an official resort. We stayed in a Superior Family room, which offered a tantalisingly close-up view of several rides, including the famous Big Dipper and the Steeplechase, a rollercoaster where riders sit on a precarious-looking horse-shaped vehicle. (It was officially opened in 1977 by Red Rum.)
Our room included children’s bunk-beds tucked away behind a semi-dividing wall, giving parents greater hope that their offspring might sink to rest earlier than would normally be the case in a family hotel room.
Plus, they had use of not one but two TVs – each one positioned at bunk eye-level, so if the worst came to the worst, at least there would be no fighting over what to watch late into the night.
The hotel cements its links with its fun-filled neighbour by including a day pass as part of its Pleasure Beach break deals, plus exclusive use of the hotel’s private entrance to the park. Escorted as we were by three very over-excited (real) children, we made use of this private gateway into paradise as soon as it opened at 10am, having enjoyed a very good breakfast in the hotel.
The entrance led us directly into Nickelodeon Land, the dedicated children’s theme park which was opened in 2011 and has 12 rides, including a children’s rollercoaster, the Blue Flyer.
The queues were mercifully short, meaning we could enjoy the rides again and again ... and again. Our three and six-year-olds would have been delighted to spend the entire day in Nickelodeon Land, but our eight-year-old demanded something a little more terrifying so we went to the older section of the park, and what my husband declared the most frightening, white-knuckle ride of the day, the Grand National.
This wooden rollercoaster was built in 1935 and features two trains “racing” one another along the track, which includes its own “Becher’s Brook”, “Valentine’s Brook” and “the Canal Turn”. Other vintage rides worth a look include the Derby Racer, a kind of high-speed carousel where riders are treated to the melodic sounds of a Belgian organ as they hold on for grim life, and Alice in Wonderland, which follows the model of a ghost train, with characters from the book popping up along the route rather than ghouls, accompanied, rather oddly, by the opening tune from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
The park’s most recent addition, Wallace & Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic Ride, is a must for fans of the duo, but watch out for a scary surprise at the end.
When hunger strikes, there are numerous restaurants in the park to grab a bite to eat. We opted for the American Diner, where lunch and drinks for five set us back £26.
The park aims to boost its income by offering opportunities to get your photo taken with various characters – we encountered Dora, a Ninja Turtle and Wallace & Gromit during our visit. A new scheme allows customers to buy an app for £15, on to which you can have as many photos as you like uploaded so you can share them online. Some of the more terrifying rides also capture pictures of riders in mid-flight, which are proof that you did it, if not always very complimentary.
At 6pm, after eight hours of thrills and spills that had flown by, we left the park – and only then because it was shutting up and we had no choice. Fish and chips eaten on the sea wall on a balmy summer’s evening, with musical accompaniment provided by Blackpool’s high tide organ, rounded off the perfect day.
• Big Blue Hotel Ocean Boulevard, Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, Lancashire FY4 1ND, tel: 0871 222 4000, www.bigbluehotel.com; one night’s stay in a Superior Family Room including breakfast and one day’s wristband for the Pleasure Beach, from £165