A few years ago, myself and a good friend went to Manchester to stay with and visit another friend, the aforementioned Connor Jackson. As we predictably began to run out of activities to do in Manchester itself, we decided early one morning to head for Blackpool and visit the well-known amusement park up there. Now, it’s been in newspapers pretty frequently over there how the ‘great British seaside resort’ is in seemingly terminal decline in spite of everything that’s been done and while it’s pretty obvious that the availability of low-cost international travel and cheaper foreign hotels and costs of living could only more or less force people to go abroad and get reliably decent weather as part of the bargain, I was curious to see what Blackpool was like. As it turned out, we had both taunted our friend Connor to such an extent over the course of the weekend, that he was in something of a major race to reach Blackpool quickly in order to – we figured – get us out of the car as quickly as possible. As a result, one new land speed record later, we were parked in Blackpool not far from the train station very early in the morning. And almost straight away, it has to be said, nobody could go without noticing that whatever about the amusement park, Blackpool itself isn’t any great shakes – old, worn buildings; badly-paved roads and footpaths and tacky signs all over the place pretty much constituted the town. It’s worth nothing that Disney for example, owns 5,000 acres I believe it is in Paris and as such, is consequently afforded the luxury of having a lengthy Disney-themed road network leading to the parks. I never considered it to be of much importance until we had to walk the wide, shady-looking promenade early in the morning to get to the park.
Getting into the park in itself was a pretty hilarious experience and involved paying for a wristband and going through a security check, which was mostly useless given how no attention really was being paid to what we did or didn’t take out of our pockets. I will give Blackpool a break by saying that once you’re inside, and provided you haven’t ever been to a Disney park or anything even remotely close, you will be pretty impressed. Moreover, if your entire knowledge of amusement parks is based on something like the Irish ‘Funderland’, then you’ll be more than likely hugely impressed. But in comparison to somewhere like Disneyland (which so far has the advantage of the weather and being probably better connected to major urban centres like London through the ferry/air/train networks), the whole park sort of feels like they bought a ride, couldn’t really decide where to put it, so just threw it wherever there was space. Throughout the day, we kept arriving at rides we’d meant to go on but had found as much by chance as by intention. The only part that was particularly exciting was how old so many of the rides seemed to be and this was probably the only one-up Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach had on somewhere like Disneyland.
By the nature of it being parked right in front of the Irish sea, they don’t have the luxury to expand much further (if at all) and existing rides are almost interwoven into each other where possible. On the day we were there too, there was hardly anyone in the park besides from us and it was almost scary seeing absolutely nobody until you’d get into a train and be packed in with the same 10 or so people you’d been seeing all day. But where Blackpool really seemed to be missing out was the way they go about making the attractions. We went into what I suppose is the Blackpool version of the traditional haunted house. For the most of it, we walked through rooms so dimly lit we could hardly see where to walk – note to management, rooms that dimly lit are only useful if you’re sitting in a train, otherwise they’re more of a mental challenge and any effects or ghostly apparitions are ignored in favour of trying to locate the exit. Anyway, the highlight of the whole walkthrough was actually when our Northern-born friend Connor made a joke in light of his origins, prompting a young mother and daughter in front of us to nearly jump out of their skins when he unexpectedly delivered his punch-line. The strangest part however was yet to come – towards the end, we were all asked to sit into this saucer-shaped bowl and remain there. So we sat; and we sat; and we sat some more until finally without any warning some local hooligan was shown the way in beside me (I had somehow ended up sitting on the opposite side of this bowl to everyone else) who proceeded to tell me the ins and outs of a day on ‘the streets’ of Blackpool and how he was convinced everyone would be losing their wallets shortly – much to his delight, I suspected.
Then without any warning, the whole thing started rotating and bouncing up and down wildly and I got the distinct impression that the whole experience that we were now enjoying had been formulated as a result of someone wondering what being inside a washing machine would be like. It carried on, and was occasionally punctuated by some strobe lighting and sound effects, which I mostly (again) ignored in preference for trying to hold on and not end up on the floor. This time round, I didn’t even have to try and compare this to the Disney experience over in Paris – even Alton Towers has a significantly more spooky haunted house attraction that doesn’t involve attempting to fling patrons around in this washing machine-like mechanism. Alton Towers’ revamped their original towers a number of a years ago and developed an entire story behind it, built a warehouse behind the towers and put a haunted attraction in it (if you’ve been on the ride in question, you probably wouldn’t even have realised that it’s not housed in the towers and is in fact, in an oversized garden shed). The result has been a pretty chilling story, a pretty thrilling ride and happy customers who aren’t looking for their wallets, either as a result of the guy sitting beside me or the ride itself. Even Blackpool’s famed attraction, the Pepsi Max Big One has been outdone since its opening and is nowhere near the world’s tallest roller coaster anymore – the nerves for me in fact arose not from the height of the ride, but how a piece of broken plastic ended up being between my feet after we returned to the station.
Ever since then, I haven’t believed a word out of all the article’s and reports that have consistently said that the reason the Great British seaside resort is going downhill is because of the predictably good weather, cheap flights and accommodation abroad. Well yeah, of course it’s all to do with that but what about the fact that the attractions themselves in England simply don’t match up with their European counterparts? Kids don’t want to go to Blackpool Pleasure Beach, they want to go to Disneyland or Warner Bros. Movieworld and I don’t blame them. If Blackpool’s in any way indicative of the state of seaside amusement parks around Britain, and I presume it is since it’s supposed to be the Number 1, then none of them are providing an experience anywhere near what other countries resorts are offering. In the end, after all was said and done, we had dinner and rather than spend another pound in Blackpool, all concluded that we were actually better off back in Manchester in the pubs than lingering around this ‘Great British Seaside Resort’. So if anyone asks, Blackpool’s not a great place to go, I wouldn’t bother again and there’s no surprise in the decline.
Thinking about it now actually, the greatest thrill of the day was Connor’s breakneck driving up there in the first place…