BLACKPOOL TOWER : Relaunched and Rediscovered

Blackpool is my old stomping ground.  I was born and brought up on the Fylde coast and it's the place of many great childhood memories.  We never holidayed there but enjoyed the amenities in summer and winter.  The annual visit to Blackpool Illuminations was a tradition that I have carried on with my own children and plan to continue with my grandchildren too.  As mentioned in a previous post, I had fallen out of love with the town as it appeared to have lost its family atmosphere and moved on from the naughty postcard image to the place to be seen at a stag or hen night.  I needed to re-enthuse and re-engage.

So imagine my delight when I was invited (with the family) to be part of The Blackpool Tower launch on 1st September 2011.  We were guests of Merlin Entertainment and we would be first to see all the new attractions.

We stayed at The Hilton, Blackpool on the Wednesday evening and the staff there are very welcoming with all amenities easily accessible.  The food in the restaurant (we had a carvery dinner and breakfast - both buffet style) is beautifully prepared and presented and the waiters were discretely attentive.  We had a family evening at one of the well-known amusement arcades playing the 2p slot machines, trying to win prizes on the grab machines and shooting balls into holes in the camel racing game.  We finished with a walk up North Pier and a sneak preview of the illuminations.

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On Blackpool Tower launch day we found out that entry to the Tower building is now free and each separate attraction has its own entry price.  There are however many ways to save money with exclusive ticket offers.

Please see the end of the post for admission costs and additional information

We were first to view the brand new 4D cinema experience - the Blackpool Eye, which was ten months in the making and a fabulous bird-eye view of Blackpool in more ways than one.  We were also the very first members of the public to take the lift up to the brand new observation platform -  The Skywalk - at the top of Blackpool Tower.  As you can see we had amazing weather which gave us fantastic views.

I had a look over the edge but I'm a wimp and couldn't walk on it and, as we were part of the Press for the day, we watched a number of news presenters walking up and down so they could appear confident on camera.  I have no idea how the cameramen kept zooming the shots down through the Skywalk either.

Myself and my boys were interviewed for BBC News - they didn't get on but I conquered the main BBC lunchtime news (for a full five seconds) AND BBC Newsround!  We had a bit of a giggle with the reporter as she was terrified of heights.  Even she admitted that she wasn't really the ideal person for the job that day!

Personal Thought:  The price for the 4D cinema experience is expensive for a 10-minute viewing but if included in the "Big Ticket" price then well worth the money.  Allow twenty minutes for the cinema and at least an hour exploring the top of the Tower.

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The brand new attraction that is The Blackpool Tower Dungeon is fantastic.  From the moment you walk through the doors you are invited to have a gruesome photo taken and then you are guided to a darkened corridor and told to "have a horrible time".

The ten-room experience is a guided tour through some of Lancashire's more "horrible history" and is both scary and funny with some audience participation.  The actors are very well rehearsed, with excellent costumes and make-up, and they have really thrown themselves into their role.  There is a frightening 'drop' ride - Extremis - at the end but you do get to opt out of this if you want to by escaping through the forest.

Personal Thought:  If your children are under 10 or anyone has sensory issues then this is not the attraction for them.  The majority of the experience is in semi-darkness with faux-scaremongering and genuine jumping-out-of-skin moments.  We loved every minute of it.  Allow about an hour and a half for this attraction.

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I've never visited Madam Tussauds so after lunch we went for a wander over there because I felt we had to experience it today.  I had heard varying reviews about the quality of the waxworks but saw reports of the recent additions of Ken and Deirdre from Coronation Street and my beloved Morecambe and Wise and was amazed by the likeness.

There are still some slightly off-the-mark examples in there (Jonathan Ross, Ant & Dec and Russell Brand to name a few - plus Ernie Wise's mouth isn't quite right) but I think it's great that the attraction has now been made interactive in many ways.  You can touch the majority of the waxworks and have your picture taken with them.  There are all sorts of activities centered around some of them (the Big Brother diary room tasks are next to Davina McCall and you can do a couple of bush tucker trials with Ant & Dec) plus the displays are rotated to introduce new (and old) favourites.

Personal Thought:  There are a few bottleneck areas in Madam Tussauds - mainly in popular photo opportunity places but if you just take two minutes to wait then there should be no problem.  I had a few photographs ruined by people pushing past.  You've paid to enjoy the experience - don't rush it.  Allow two hours minimum for this attraction.  Tussauds also closes at 4pm so it may be an idea to visit this first or at lunch time.

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We headed back to the Tower so that we could have a look around the Blackpool Tower Ballroom.  When we've visited the Tower in the past we have normally grabbed a coffee and sat on one of the balconies to listen to the Wurlitzer and to people-watch as they have a quick spin on the dance floor.

The interior of Blackpool Tower - the ballroom, the windows, the original tiling, the circus arena - just make me gasp with nostalgia and have me wishing I was a more talented photographer just to capture the essence of it all.  I adore the intricacy of the decor, marveling at the time and effort it would have taken to build in the first place.

The ballroom wasn't officially open on the day of the Blackpool Tower launch as they were preparing for the official Illuminations Switch On party the day after but we sneaked in for a few minutes.  There has been a new glass roof installed into the Tower Ballroom and there will be the opportunity to dance under the stars in the future.

Personal Thought:  I probably wouldn't pay extra to enter the Tower Ballroom unless I was going to experience having an actual dance or if the roof was going to be opened but if you're buying the Big Ticket then nip in for a few minutes just to experience the breathtaking decor and listen to the unique sound of the Wurlitzer.

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We saved the Blackpool Tower Circus until last.  We have been once before as a family and are always in awe at the talents of the acrobats and jugglers.  We had front row seats (lots of legroom) and the best view in the house.

Last time we went we didn't see Mooky the Clown but on this visit he had us all in stitches with the traditional style clowning, juggling and interruption of acts.  To hear and see my two boys (aged 12 and 17) laughing until their sides hurt at something that wasn't rude or inappropriate goes to prove that family entertainment really can be the best.

We gasped at the feats performed by the acrobats and the finalĂ© water feature had been updated yet again, now involving fountains and a rotating display with one of the acrobats peforming aerial tricks.  Stunning.

Personal Thought:  If you need leg room then queue up early for your performance (usually 1pm or 4pm) and try and get a front row seat - some aren't reserved. Grab your seat and then go and buy any refreshments you might want.  Allow at least 2 hours for the show plus queuing time (about 20 minutes) and exiting time (about 10 minutes)

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We didn't visit The Sea Life Centre as we'd had a packed day already and we've visited the Sea Life Centre before.  There are over 200 creatures in more than 50 displays here so I imagine you would need another two hours to view everything here too.  There is also Jungle Jim's play area inside the Tower too.  Through past experience, I would highly recommend this as a place to let the younger kids run off some energy whilst the parents can have a well deserved sit down and a brew.

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My overall thoughts are that the Big Ticket idea is great way to experience all that Blackpool Tower has to offer.  You do have to start early and prepare for sore feet and tired legs - it's all worth it though.  Check opening and closing times and plan effectively.

Inside the Tower much of the structure has been cleaned, painted and exposed as part of the seven-year clean and paint project so any ironwork you see is genuine Blackpool Tower.  We were very grateful for the extra seating area on Level 5 (overlooking the Promanade) and thought that, for a tourist attraction, the food and drinks didn't cost too much.  I would liked to have seen more than one area to buy refreshments from (although vending machines are available too).

Have I rediscovered the Blackpool of my childhood?  I believe that, as a parent, you see it through completely different eyes but I'm beginning to see hints of what I found magical.  The Tower is now publicly owned for the first time in its 118-year history (Blackpool Council have bought it) and I hope this enormous investment will ensure that Blackpool, as a whole, is returned to the family holiday destination that it was always meant to be.

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With many thanks to Merlin Entertainment and the all the staff at Blackpool Tower who made us extremely welcome and ensured that our visit was enjoyable.  A special mention to Kenny, the Operations Manager at Blackpool Tower who kept coming to find us to ensure we were being looked after and that we were enjoying ourselves.  And finally, a whole bunch of thank you's to Brazen PR who made all this possible.  There are more photos on my Facebook page.

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Disclosure: We were provided with accommodation, meals, activities and souvenirs for the purpose of this trip.  One night at the Hilton, Blackpool in a family room starts at £95 with upgrades, evening meal and breakfast available at an additional charge.  Access to The Blackpool Tower is now free with individual charges for each of the attractions and variations on ticket offers.  At the time of publication "The Big Ticket" which admits you to all 7 attractions is £72.60 per person on the day or £40.00 per person online (saving £32.60) but more discounts are being added for groups and families in the future.  

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