Blackpool Pleasure Beach - a century old family affair.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach has been welcoming families to its 42 acre site on the South Promenade for over one hundred years. You might be forgiven for thinking that, during that time, its popularity may have waned and what we are now left with is some clapped out relic of more halcyon days; a reminder of what Blackpool used to be rather than a powerful reminder of how good Blackpool still is.
For those who haven't been in a while it's worth remembering that Blackpool remains the most popular seaside resort in Europe. And it's popular in so many different ways with so many different age groups that there has to be a reason for it still to be riding high when so many other British seaside towns have faded into a sad obscurity - it's not like everybody just turns up for the chips.
Forget the sometimes negative publicity of the past few years. Blackpool has worked, and is working, hard to grow its appeal with the family again. It's why Blackpool Tower and Circus, Blackpool Zoo, Sea Life Centre and the Sandcastle Waterworld are all so popular after facelifts over the past few years. But it's still very much the case that even an attraction as historic and renowned as the magical Blackpool Illuminations serves only as a backdrop to Blackpool's finest tourist attraction:
the Pleasure Beach.
And if you're looking for a family weekend experience, Pleasure Beach Blackpool is still second to none.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach - for the family. By the family.
Pleasure Beach Blackpool has remained in the same family ownership since it first opened its doors in 1896. Perhaps that's why Blackpool Pleasure beach, unlike any other theme park in the country, has an unrivalled range of rides that caters for toddlers, young children and families.
Yes, of course Pleasure Beach has an almost inexhaustible supply of white-knuckle rides for the most fearless visitors - not least the 213 foot climb that launches millions each year onto the Big One, the UK's tallest rollercoaster - but what makes the Pleasure Beach truly impressive, and ideal for a family weekend break, is the number of other rides it crams into its relatively small space that will appeal to just about everyone.
So here, broken down into three categories, are five Blackpool Pleasure Beach rides just for the kids, five for all the family, and five for the more adventurous to give you an idea of the variety and depth of what's on offer, and to give you the full family experience.
The bulk of the children's rides at Pleasure Beach Blackpool are centred around the Beaver Creek area of the park where your children will find something to suit just about all ages and tastes. Here's just a sample of some of the highlights you can expect on your family experience.
There are coin-operated rides that are suitable for children younger than 2 years old, but the starting age for any of Blackpool Pleasure Beach's rides really is 2. And this ride is a lovely starting point for the youngest visitors (although they'll need accompaniment if they are only 2). A swirling, bouncing, smiling caterpillar that induces vomiting in adults - but the kids just love it! An oldie-but-goody.
Beaver Creek Log Flume
Trust Blackpool Pleasure Beach to create white-knuckle rides for kids. Pitched perfectly, this is a single drop log-flume for young children - and again the youngest should really be accompanied by an adult. It is a perfect example of the Pleasure Beach doing what it does best when it comes to the family experience: scaring everybody just enough, but not too much. And why should it only be adults that get wet on rides?
There are 12 rollercoasters at Pleasure Beach Blackpool, and two of them are situated in Beaver Creek. The Zipper Dipper is a classic 'woody' rollercoaster, built in 1934, with three terrific little dips to master. Once again, adults need to ride with very young children, but this reviewer's youngest is three and she adores this ride.
Alice in Wonderland
Other parks in the UK spend the money on the 'big' adult rides and the kids get saddled with riding on the Ladybirds - hardly an event ride. Not so with Blackpool Pleasure Beach where some of the biggest event rides are for children. All the family will love this, but kids especially will adore climbing into a Cheshire cat and trundling off to follow Alice's adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Delightful.
Something else that the Blackpool Pleasure Beach rides seem to have mastered more than anyone else is the art of scaring the parents whilst the kids just carry on regardless. Noah's Ark has been spooking grown-ups for decades whilst the kids just press on in search of the next surprise.
It's a walk-through fun house that takes you in, out and around the titular boat. Full of twisted corridors, shaking stairways and spinning, sliding floors this is truly a family experience, not to mention the longest of Blackpool Pleasure Beach's rides.
It does feature total darkness and strobe lighting in some sections but has proven itself suitable for children of any age with accompaniment.
Keeping it in the family
It's with this class of ride that Blackpool Pleasure Beach stamps its authority. None of the following are overly scary, although a couple of them do have height restrictions that would prevent very young children from riding. Details are below. It's worth noting that this, again, is just a sample and there are so many family orientated rides at the Pleasure Beach that we'd be here all day listing them. These are the rides that make the most of your Pleasure Beach tickets; try them all once and then find your family riding them again and again.
Sir Hiram Maxim's Flying Machines
So how much of a thrill can a ride that opened in 1904 really be?
Sir Hiram Maxim was a Victorian inventor with an impressive track record - although not necessarily in fairground rides. The inventor of the portable machine gun, the silencer and carbon filaments for lightbulbs he clearly had a spare weekend once where he came up with this: a thrill ride that, 104 years later, is still thrilling.
A majestic, historic, delightful family experience that, as it cranks up to full speed, will have every member of the family holding on just that little bit tighter.
A classic family experience. Up to seven of you can ride in the same boat that takes you on a journey around the world and through history.
I know, I know; you're expecting naff models and a highly underwhelming ride - but Pleasure Beach does it again with a rich experience that will have you riding again and again. We particularly love the Egyptian section - surprisingly impressive!
Most ghost trains lack a certain something. Like ghosts, for example. But not the Ghost Train at Pleasure Beach Blackpool. This was the first ride of its type in the world to be called a 'ghost train' and it's certainly earned its moniker as this one really is haunted.
Don't believe us? Then check out season one of 'Most Haunted' in which Yvette Fielding, Derek Acorah and the crew scare themselves silly on this most legendary of Blackpool Pleasure Beach rides.
Of course, the ride isn't quite as frightening now that Derek Acorah's left, but it's still darn good fun.
It's a personal thing, but the general level of Scooby-Doo style scaremongering within makes this ride suitable for young, although not very young, children. And they should be accompanied by an adult.
We're upping the ante a little now. You need to be 117cm tall to ride Pleasure Beach Blackpool's amazing £15m Valhalla, but since that's only the height of your average seven year old we're still saying that puts Valhalla squarely in family ride territory - although it's certainly at the more extreme end.
This is the world's longest dark ride - you'll be riding for over six minutes as you journey through the halls of the Norse Gods where you'll be confronted by rooms of ice, fire and lightening - oh, and the odd steep drop. At its heart this is just a log-flume - albeit an excellent one with stunning special effects. You will be impressed. You will be amazed. You will be soaked.
Another ride that sits at the more extreme end of 'family' territory although this reviewer's six year old rode the Avalanche on our last visit to Blackpool Pleasure Beach and then rode it another three times because she loved it so much.
Avalanche is a bobsled ride down an 'ice' track. No rails, no power source - only momentum throws you down the course reaching some pretty hairy speeds before you reach the bottom.
Exhilarating, thrilling and another ride likely to scare the pants off the adults rather than the kids.
Hold on Tight
Irrespective of how good the family experience is, every theme park worth its salt only becomes worth its salt through being at the cutting edge of thrill rides. That's something that Pleasure Beach Blackpool has managed spectacularly well throughout its history and continues to this day with its latest ride: Infusion.
The following Blackpool Pleasure Beach rides are only suitable for older kids and adults, but if your children are hitting double figures, and you want a family experience that will bring you all together, then try these for starters.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach's latest ride: it's an inverted, looping coaster which means your seat sits beneath the track and your legs hang free as you're whipped around a looping, corkscrewing track suspended above water.
Take your Crocs off before you set off, 'cause they won't be on your feet when you get back.
It's intense, wild, and occasionally wet - and it'll really prove a test for the whole family.
Where your family gets to pretend it's a team of crash test dummies on a day out. This is one of Pleasure Beach Blackpool's latest rides - and it's just awesome!
At its core it's basically a star on a stick. Each point of the star has five seats attached to it. Each seat pivots 360°. Each point of the star does likewise. And the whole thing rotates 360° too - whilst spinning on its axis. Your family sits in their seats as every bit of the machine loops and swirls and threatens to tear them limb from limb.
Sitting next to the climb of The Big One this tends to get rather lost in the mix, but it's one of the Pleasure Beach's finest rides, and one that will prove a real highlight of your family weekend. Give it ago and experience the strangely thrilling sensation of feeling like your head's in the clouds whilst your legs are in Bolivia.
The Wild Mouse
Who are we to argue with Wikipedia, which says of The Wild Mouse at Blackpool Pleasure Beach: "The Wild Mouse,.opened in 1958, is one of only 3 remaining wooden Wild Mouse coasters left in the world and is held in very high regard as one of the finest and extreme examples of Wild Mouse coaster."
Extreme? You bet ya. It looks titchy, it's squeezed into a corner of the Pleasure Beach between the Ghost Train and the River Caves and, with its cutesy mouse-ified carts, it looks like butter wouldn't melt. And then you get on it and spend two minutes fearing that every second on it might be your last.
Seriously, this ride is a beast. Deceptive, jarring, scarily rickety and fast as something that's very fast and mouse-like, this will be the most extreme ride your family experiences whilst at the Pleasure Beach. You have been warned.
The Big One
Still the tallest rollercoaster in the UK and the second tallest in Europe, the Pepsi Max Big One climbs 213 feet above the promenade below and then tips your family into a near vertical drop that starts one of the best coaster experiences you'll have anywhere in the world.
The Big One opened for business in 1994 and has been scaring the wits out of visitors ever since. It dominates the Blackpool skyline; you can see it from miles away; your family weekend break just won't be complete unless you ride the Big One.
The Grand National
No it's not as beefy as The Big One, it's not close to being as scary as The Wild Mouse and it's ancient (it opened in 1935). So why in the name of everything that goes up and down would a ride you can't even see from within the park (most of it is hidden behind Valhalla) be frequently judged the best rollercoaster in the UK, and one of the best in the world?
Well, let's put it another way: just how good does a ride with that many disadvantages have to be to get to be so highly praised? The answer is about as good as the mighty 'Nash - a ride that, if your family is brave enough to give it a go, will reward it with one of the very finest coaster experiences anywhere.
And what makes it even more spectacular for a family day out is that as you enter the ride you can split your family in two. Half go left, the others right, and you'll then find yourself racing each other as two trains compete. At certain points you're practically close enough to high-five each other. Don't do that though, because you'll want to hang on to the safety bar.
There are only three rides of this type left anywhere in the world, and at Pleasure Beach Blackpool you'll be on the best.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach - your family's next great weekend break is waiting for you.
It's worth noting that there are no age restrictions (bar the fact you have to be over 2 years old to ride any non-coin-operated ride) on any of the rides.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach tickets or wristbands allow you to ride any ride provided you're tall enough - which means there are no tricky decisions about the types of Pleasure Beach tickets you need for your family day out. If they're big enough to ride, they're big enough to ride.
So all you need to decide is what's first? Have a great day.