Blackpool Pleasure Beach: A Theme Park Where Past Meets Future

ICON Crests the First Hill at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Image: Sophie Brown
ICON Crests the First Hill at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Image: Sophie Brown

Blackpool Pleasure Beach is one of the most popular theme parks in the UK and is the most “ride intensive” park in the country, with over 40 rides and attractions packed into its 42 acre site. Founded in 1896, there’s also a huge amount of history tucked away amongst the rollercoasters and other rides, giving it a feel that’s closer to Coney Island than the Magic Kingdom. My family has been visiting Blackpool and riding the attractions there since the park first opened, with five generations of us now experiencing many of the exact same rides as well as the park’s brand new offerings. We took a trip to see how it all holds up in 2019. Thanks to Blackpool Pleasure Beach for offering my family free park admission in exchange for this review.

Admission and Parking

First, let’s look at admission. Unlike most theme parks, there are two options for how to actually enter Blackpool Pleasure Beach. This is a relic from when the park was free to enter with rides by individual ticket only. The Unlimited Ride Wristband is easily the most popular option. This wristband gives unlimited access to all the rides in the park (subject to height restrictions) for one day. Prices vary depending on when you’re visiting, if you bought tickets on the gate or online in advance, and age (under 12s get in cheaper and under 2s are free), but you can expect to pay between £21 and £39 pounds per person. There are also Family Passes available which offer further discounts.

The second option is the Pleasure Beach Pass. This pass costs £10 per person but only allows access to the park and a very limited number of rides: the Pleasure Beach Express train ride, River Caves boat ride, Chinese Puzzle Maze, Bradley and Bella’s Learning Garden, and the Spectacular Dancing Water Show. This pass is great for grandparents who might like to accompany younger family members to the park but only want to experience the most sedate attractions if any.

The Alice in Wonderland Bench at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Image: Sophie Brown
The Alice in Wonderland Bench at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Image: Sophie Brown

If Grandma does decide she wants to ride a coaster once she’s inside, then individual Ride Tickets can be purchased at Guest Services for £1 each with a minimum purchase of ten tickets. This is a good option if someone only wants to ride one thing, such as accompanying a young child on an attraction, however, as the number of Ride Tickets required is often very high (a single turn on Dora’s World Voyage is three Ride Tickets, while a ride on latest coaster ICON is a whopping 15 Tickets), its worth seriously considering whether it’s worth paying out for an Unlimited Ride Wristband before you get to the park if there’s any chance a guest may want to ride some of the attractions.

The park has several parking areas located nearby, but at £15 to £18 per day, these are not cheap and you might want to consider parking further afield and walking to the park. Blackpool Pleasure Beach is located right on the edge of the beach close to the town, so there are lots of parking options nearby.

Nickelodeon Land After Closing, Image: Sophie Brown
Nickelodeon Land After Closing, Image: Sophie Brown

Nickelodeon Land

Let’s start our look around the park in Nickelodeon Land. As you might be able to guess, this area of the park is aimed at younger kids and themed around Nickelodeon properties. There’s a Dora the Explorer boat ride, Fairy World aerial carousel, and a Rugrats flume plus three rides themed around SpongeBob Squarepants and others themed to Backyardigans, Wonder Pets, and Avatar the Last Airbender. The vast majority of these can be ridden unaccompanied, so kids can start to get a sense of independence from riding alone. Most of the rides are very gentle and suitable for all, but the Avatar Airbender is an exception and well worth heading over for if you’re visiting without kids—I rode it by myself on this trip and was surrounded by mostly teens and adults.

SpongeBob's Splash Bash in Nickelodeon Land, Image: Sophie Brown
SpongeBob’s Splash Bash in Nickelodeon Land, Image: Sophie Brown

Additionally, there are two rollercoasters in Nickelodeon Land. The Blue Flyer is a very small and short coaster ideal for beginners, while the Nickelodeon Streak is larger and good for those looking to take the next step. It is worth noting that both coasters are re-themed old coasters (the Nickelodeon Streak dates from 1933 and the Blue Flyer from 1934) and are wooden, which makes them much shakier than modern coasters aimed at kids, which might be a consideration for parents with very nervous youngsters. My son loves the Blue Flyer but hated his single trip on the Nickelodeon Streak despite riding and enjoying much bigger and faster rollercoasters at other theme parks.

Finally, Nickelodeon Land is also home to the Nick Shop and many meet and greets with characters from shows including Paw Patrol, SpongeBob Squarepants, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This area of the park usually closes earlier than the rest, so make sure to hit the rides here earlier in the day to avoid disappointed little ones. There are other attractions suitable for the littlest kids including the Eddie Stobart Convoy, Pleasure Beach Express train, and a mini carousel located outside Nickelodeon Land, so there will still be rides for them to enjoy after this section of the park has closed for the evening.

Thrill Rides at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, ICON in Foreground with the Big Dipper, Infusion, and the Big One Behind, Image: Sophie Brown
Thrill Rides at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, ICON in Foreground with the Big Dipper, Infusion, and the Big One Behind, Image: Sophie Brown

Thrill Rides at Blackpool Pleasure Beach

The big draw to Blackpool Pleasure Beach is its thrill rides, with the park known for housing many UK firsts and record holders. The biggest of them all is the aptly named Big One. The Big One was the tallest roller coaster in the world at 213ft when it opened in 1994 and remains the tallest in the UK, making it a popular attraction for thrillseekers. The park’s latest offering is ICON, a double-launching coaster that opened in 2018. While our family has never braved the Big One, my husband and I both rode ICON multiple times during our day and agreed it was one of the best rollercoasters we have ever experienced—a sentiment echoed by several family members who visited the park earlier this year. ICON is a great mid-level coaster. It is incredibly smooth and offers breathtaking views of the park as you zoom under and over many other classic attractions. Its multiple loops and drops feel different from other similar rides thanks to the lack of over-the-shoulder restraints. Instead, you are secured with a lap-bar style restraint that was surprisingly comfortable. Disappointingly, I was unable to buy an ICON hoodie I liked in the ride’s gift store as even an XL size was uncomfortably snug on me, even though I am an average size in the UK.

My Son Sets off on Steeplechase, Image: Sophie Brown
My Son Sets off on Steeplechase, Image: Sophie Brown

There are several other rollercoasters at Blackpool Pleasure Beach including many old, rare, and unique ones. The Big Dipper is a traditional wooden coaster dating from 1923, the Grand National (1935) racing coaster is one of only five Mobius loop coasters left in the world, Revolution was Europe’s first looping coaster and appeared in a hilarious soft drink commercial, and Steeplechase—a three-track, racing, horse-riding coaster—is now the only one of its type anywhere; a similar ride used to operate at Steeplechase Park in Coney Island. Steeplechase was by far my nine-year-old son’s favorite attraction in the park, and he rode it several times both by himself and racing against his dad despite it being possibly the most uncomfortable ride in existence!

Red Arrows SkyForce with the Big One Behind, Image: Sophie Brown
Red Arrows SkyForce with the Big One Behind, Image: Sophie Brown

Apart from rollercoasters, there are many other thrill rides at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Viking-themed flume ride Valhalla has been repeatedly named as the Best Water Ride in the World and will get you soaked to the skin. That’s not always ideal in chilly northern England, so I’d advise you bring a full change of clothes if you plan to ride it any day that isn’t a full heatwave. I really do mean bring a FULL change of clothes too—this one will get you wet enough that you’re probably even going to need new underwear! At the other end of the park, Red Arrows Sky Force is an incredible Sky Fly ride named after the Royal Air Force aerobatics team (the UK equivalent of the Blue Angels) where you can control your own set of wings in order to spin yourself around. It’s surprisingly smooth and offers stunning views across the park and out over the ocean if you keep steady rather than spinning, although doing that becomes increasingly difficult on windy days.

Getting Ready to Board the Wallace and Gromit Ride, Image: Sophie Brown
Getting Ready to Board the Wallace and Gromit Ride, Image: Sophie Brown

Family Rides at Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Moving away from the thrill rides, there’s a lot on offer for families in Blackpool Pleasure Beach as well. One of our favorites is Wallace & Gromit: The Thrill-O-Matic, a dark ride that has you riding inside a giant slipper and traveling through scenes from all the Wallace and Gromit films from A Grand Day Out to A Matter of Loaf and Death. Some of my favorite moments include a group of mice donning sunglasses to watch a rocket launch, riding under the model train track from The Wrong Trousers, and traveling along an underground tunnel as bunnies pop back into their holes above your head complete with funny sound effects. Although the ride is very gentle and fun, parents of little ones should be aware that an enormous were-rabbit looms out of the dark in the very last scene, often alarming younger kids (and those who think the ride has ended).

The Flying Machines at Dusk, Image: Sophie Brown
The Flying Machines at Dusk, Image: Sophie Brown

Another favorite of ours (well, my son and I at least) is the Flying Machines. This is the oldest ride in the park dating from 1904 and is located on top of a gift shop and cafe giving it some extra height. On this ride, guests sit in rockets which swing outwards when the central tower rotates. There are no restraints at all which adds to the thrill, although it feels exceptionally safe when riding thanks to the deep seats—personally, I find it very relaxing, although it’s often freezing cold even on a hot day. It’s incredibly fun to get the same thrill from an attraction that my great-grandparents almost certainly rode when they were young teenagers! Another very old ride is the River Caves. An old favorite of mine, this is a boat ride that takes you through scenes from Ancient Egypt, pre-history, deep jungles, and more. The ride is narrated throughout, which makes it feel like an odd cross between EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth and Pirates of the Caribbean (there’s even a single small drop), but this ride doesn’t feel like it’s been updated since it opened in 1905, which makes it appear hilariously dated.

Other fun family rides include the 1930 Ghost Train dark ride (another world first and the origin of the name “Ghost Train”), the Alice’s Wonderland dark ride which, oddly, has the opening theme music from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory playing on a loop inside, and the Grand Prix, a 1960s self-drive car ride similar to Autopia in Disneyland. The Grand Prix is one of my son’s absolute favorites, although it suffers from serious issues with wait times. Although the queue looked short visually, while my husband and son queued for it I was able to queue for and ride both the Ghost Train and Red Arrows Sky Force, visit the bathroom twice and get halfway through the queue for ICON before they finally rode. I’ll discuss wait times at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in more depth later on.

The Derby Racer at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Image: Sophie Brown
The Derby Racer at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Image: Sophie Brown

The final family ride I want to mention is the Derby Racer, which opened in 1959 and is one of only three rides of its type left in the world. It was one of my favorite attractions when I was a kid and it remains so to this day. The ride looks similar to an oversized carousel from the outside, but don’t let that fool you. This thing packs a punch. After mounting a truly enormous horse, the ride begins turning in a circle at speed with the horses moving in a galloping fashion seemingly racing the others in their row. At the same time, the centrifugal force from the spinning will be trying to pull you off the horse sideways, so you’ll need to grip on tightly, given that there are no restraints keeping you there. It’s an incredibly fun ride with that old-fashioned theme park sense of actual looming danger that you rarely get these days outside of traveling funfairs.

A Criminal Mastermind Hiding Out in the Wallace and Gromit Shop, Image: Sophie Brown
A Criminal Mastermind Hiding Out in the Wallace and Gromit Shop, Image: Sophie Brown

Food and Shopping

If you need a bite to eat after all that, there are plenty of options. Sit down restaurants include Coasters (ribs, nachos, burritos), Big Pizza Kitchen (an all you can eat pizza and pasta buffet), and a Burger King, although we’ve found that the latter always has long queues. Food kiosks and small cafes are scattered all around serving fried chicken, burgers, donuts, fish and chips, and other traditional theme park and seaside fare. We ordered burgers from one of these for lunch and found it distinctly average.

A Typical Dining Menu at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Image: Sophie Brown
A Typical Dining Menu at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Image: Sophie Brown

One thing to note regarding food is that picnics are not permitted inside the park, so if you want to avoid paying theme park prices for lunch you’ll need to leave your food in a rented locker or your car. Alternatively, you can head outside the park to eat somewhere nearby. This differs from most other UK theme parks where you are allowed to bring food inside and has caused something of a stir in the British press recently.

For a theme park, there’s a distinct lack of shops in Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Some of the newer attractions like ICON and Red Arrows Sky Force have small, dedicated gift shops nearby, but these are the exception rather than the rule. Our favorite shop is the one located under the Flying Machines, as we’ve always found it to have the best variety of items including many at pocket money prices.

A Signpost at Blackpool Pleasure Beach with Avalanche Behind, Image: Sophie Brown
A Signpost at Blackpool Pleasure Beach with Avalanche Behind, Image: Sophie Brown

Our Opinions on Blackpool Pleasure Beach

As I stated before, my family has been visiting Blackpool Pleasure Beach since around the time it opened over 100 years ago, so it’s fair to say we have a lot of history and sentimentality connected with the park. That being said, it’s not enough to rose-tint my spectacles when it comes to my opinions of the place, so first, let’s look at the bad aspects.

On the day we visited, the entry queue was utterly horrendous. The queue snaked through switchbacks in the room where the Ticket Sales desks were located and out of the building, through several more switchbacks outside, back through a long corridor in the Guest Services building, out of the other side, and part of the way down the road. Admittedly, I have never seen queues like these in the past, so this was surprising, even if the line did appear to be moving fast (we were collecting press passes from a different desk and did not need to join the line to time how long it took to get through).

Part of the problem is that unlike at many other theme parks where guests can simply arrive at the turnstiles and scan a ticket for entry, at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, all guests are required to wear a wristband which must be issued and placed on guests by a member of staff as well as collecting a ticket. This slows down admissions considerably, although once you have your wristband and head to the turnstiles to go through security (metal detectors and bag checks) and actually enter the park, the lines are virtually non-existent due to the backlog behind you. This means that once you have your wristband and ticket, you can exit and re-enter the park quickly and easily if you want to head outside to eat or take a break on the beach.

Riders at the Top of Ice Blast, Image: Sophie Brown
Riders at the Top of Ice Blast, Image: Sophie Brown

Another thing that lets Blackpool Pleasure Beach down is the lack of posted wait times. Most parks today have apps that show you the current estimated wait times at various attractions, or at least a board in a central location showing you a list of wait times. Blackpool Pleasure Beach has neither of these. In fact, there aren’t even any wait times posted at the entrances to the rides. You have to simply eyeball the line and make a guess at how long you’ll be waiting—not so easy when lines often twist out of sight or load riders faster or slower than expected, the Grand Prix being a prime example of this. While this may be forgivable in the case of very old rides, there is no reason why newer attractions like ICON and Infusion don’t have wait times posted to help families plan their day.

My final major issue with Blackpool Pleasure Beach is the implementation of Speedy Pass. Speedy Pass is the park’s fast track system that lets you cut wait times. There are three tiers and these cost from £15 to £50 per person on top of your entry price, with the most expensive pass cutting wait times by up to 90%. The Speedy Pass devices look like a Tamagotchi and allow you to select a ride and be given a return time where you will be able to board the ride with minimal wait. The issue here is that Speedy Pass riders always take priority, meaning that if a lot of them turn up at once, the regular line will grind to a virtual standstill. This differs from the Fastpass lines at Disney where cast members will generally alternate between loading a vehicle from the much shorter Fastpass line and also from the regular line, ensuring both are kept moving, a system I have also seen used at other theme parks such as Alton Towers. Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s method is better for those willing to pay the extra, but has an impact on other guests.

Backyardigan's Pirate Treasure, Image: Sophie Brown
Backyardigan’s Pirate Treasure, Image: Sophie Brown

Now onto the good. Our family really enjoyed our day at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Despite not having Speedy Pass, we were able to ride every attraction we wanted to, many of them multiple times. That’s particularly impressive for a sunny day during the school summer break—especially given that another event was taking place that evening drawing extra crowds into the area. Both my husband and I commented on how short the queue was for ICON, with neither of us queuing much more than half an hour, even with the ride experiencing some downtime in there. That’s no comment on the quality of the ride, which is really outstanding and I feel would be suffering from far longer waits if it were located in a different park.

The density of the rides means there are no long walks between rides. In fact, you can cross the whole park in around five minutes if walking quickly, so splitting up is less of an issue. That density is often a feature too, with many rides twisting and turning through one another along their length. There’s also a really good mix of rides from extreme thrills to family attractions to gentle experiences that you can comfortably take babies or great-grandma onto. That makes this a really great park for a family where there is a wide variety of ages wanting to come along.

The Big One, Image: Sophie Brown
The Big One, Image: Sophie Brown

The fact that the park is right by the beach and many other seaside attractions is another big tick for it too. Within a few minute’s walk from the park gates are a water park, pier (with more funfair rides), mini-golf, and dozens of pubs, restaurants, and take-aways. There’s even a casino nearby for adult-only trips. This makes Blackpool Pleasure Beach really stand out from many other UK theme parks, which are often located in the middle of nowhere with little to do in the evenings once the park is closed or long drives if you don’t want to pay to stay in the attached hotel. (Incidentally, Blackpool Pleasure Beach does have its own hotel too.) After the park closed, we were able to walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner, then walk along the promenade visiting arcades, browsing gift shops, and watching the waves on the beach before we headed home.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach is easily one of the most unique theme parks in the country, with its often strange juxtaposition of 100-year-old rides standing right beside brand-new shiny attractions, but this gives it great character. There is something for everyone to do here and I’m glad my son is making his own memories at this park the way I did and multiple generations before him too. The park has recently been clearing space toward the front of the park and I’m excited to see what will be coming next, as well as riding my childhood favorites again. With a few tweaks to operations here and there and a little more modernization (wait times, please!), this park could be even better, but even now I know we will be back again in the future and if you’re a thrillseeker, family, theme park enthusiast, or even a history buff, there’s something you’ll enjoy here too.

GeekMom received free entry to Blackpool Pleasure Beach for review purposes.

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