Blackpool Pleasure Beach
My train arrived in Blackpool the night before at almost 11 pm. I had heard a lot of things about Blackpool from natives and most of them described it as rubbish, dumpy, etc. You know what, the same could be said about Pigeon Forge but I love a good tourist trap and Blackpool is a great one! My experience began getting off the train and seeing herds of drunks frolicking across the street like gazelles. Good to know they have the same feelings about jaywalking as Massachusetts
Because I knew I’d be getting in late, that eliminated a majority of hotels since many of them don't have a 24 hour front desk. I assumed a tourist town would have more with that perk, but I guess that's one way they keep their rates half of what Motel 6 charges. Since I also didn't want a Pontins experience (see TPR’s UK trip if you don't know the reference), I stayed at Pleasure Beach’s Big Blue Hotel. It was pricier than what I usually pay but I felt like a millionaire there. It was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at (a theme of this report since Europe lacks the Days Inns and Motel 6s I swear by...if they have a minimum rating of 3 stars on TripAdvisor).
I was also able to get some fantastic night shots of the Big One. It baffles me the park closes at 5 considering just how crowded the Promenade still was at 11 pm. The place really looks amazing at night. Did they used to have longer hours?
I began with a hearty English breakfast of scrambled eggs, fried eggs, hash browns, and bacon. My doctor said my cholesterol was off before the trip...they said it was too low. Since I am genuinely concerned about my health, I made sure to load up in that area. Plus by stuffing myself American style before going to the park, I wouldn't have to lose time to lunch.
The hotel also allowed me to enter through a VIP entrance. There was no line (yes!) but nothing by the VIP entrance opened until a half hour after the park. The only rides open were a few by the main entrance, so I had to trek across the park where the crowds already were located. So I'm not sure just how much of a perk this is unless you want to start queuing for the Big One.
Though I quickly made sure that lines wouldn't be an issue. A great perk of the hotel was that I could get a VIP Speedy Pass (think Gold Flash Pass) for just 12 pounds. Sign me up! Some rides were excluded like Grand National or Red Arrows Sky Force unless I paid a surcharge but it was still an amazing deal.
I began with Ice Blast, one of the 4 rides open and one older S&S space shots. I rode next to a native who could immediately tell I was from America from my accent (or lack of one depending on your perspective). He was amazed I had come to Blackpool (again why does every local say this) and I asked if he wanted to visit America. He said yes and I figured he'd want to visit New York, San Francisco, etc. But you know where he wants to visit? Ohio. Yes Ohio. And it wasn't for Cedar Point. “I love the culture there.” Before he could elaborate, we blasted off.
I could have continued the conversation since the launch was weak. Weak enough that I think a double shot’s launch could have propeled the car the same distance up the tower. Even with weaker launches, the S&S towers at least give a top of air. Nope, nothing here since the car doesn't even make it to the top of the tower. The lone bright side is that the view was fantastic, but I could get the same thing from the Big One’s lift and a far superior ride. Though Ohio loved it. If he enjoyed something this bad, he’ll be living the American Dream in Cleveland. 2 out of 10
Flying Machines was next (again slim pickings were to be had). This historical ride looks great perched above a gift shop at the main entrance. I had ridden Disney's modern take on the classic at California Adventure, so I was eager to see how the original compared. Since this ride is a capacity machine (I honestly think it could hold almost 100 people), I had no wait at all.
The ride gave a refreshingly crisp breeze as it circled around the main entry area. It wasn't thrilling, but it was a fun and relaxing ride. It also gave a long cycle. So long in fact that the Big One started running by the time I got off. 7 out of 10
Since I had a Speedy Pass, I decided to casually make my way towards the Big One hitting rides along the way. Unfortunately, Grand National nor Valhalla, the two largest rides by the main entrance wouldn't be open until 11. Even more upsetting was the fact that the Wild Mouse was closed for the day. 99% of the time, that statement is only something that would make a credit whore ball their eyes out harder than a girl reading a Nicholas Sparks book, but as you all know Blackpool’s mouse is special and well-known for terrifying air. I hope the closure was just a temporary thing as I remember someone posting on the park forum the ride could be on the chopping block.
That was impossible to ruin my day though, so I went on Impossible next. One of the most well-known aspects of Blackpool is their extensive dark ride collection. Impossible was a hybrid mirror maze and science museum. The mirror maze was among the harder ones I’ve done due to the darkened lighting. Then the second half consisted of a series of optical illusions and science exhibits. I could have easily spent more time in there, but capped myself around 5 minutes. 7 out of 10
River Caves was next. This one was a tunnel of love style boat ride. I rode alone with my thoughts but thankfully the ride didn't have extended dark sections. Instead the ride had really expansive interior sections. I’m not quite sure what the theme was since we traveled from China to Egypt to the Cavemen, but every scene looked fantastic. The ride also finished with a climactic 1 story plunge. No I did not forget a 0, it's just a 10 foot plunge. The drop itself is nothing special but I appreciate that they added one in nonetheless. Of the park’s dark rides, River Caves was easily my favorite. 9 out of 10
It was coaster time and the first operating coaster I came across was the Big Dipper. I wasn't expecting much from this classic woody, just a nice and smooth out-and-back coaster. Let me start by saying that the ride’s station looks amazing. The fountain is massive and seems more fitting for a midway than a queue line. Then there's that picturesque and impossibly tight turn after the lift that I’m sure you’ve seen a million times (and you’ll see it here too).
I snagged the back and was impressed by the lap bar only trains but that seemed to confirm my thought it wouldn't be too crazy of a ride. The pre-lift section was funky but necessary in order to position the lift such that it can traverse that elevated 180 degree turn.
Then came the drop and holy moly did it catch me off guard. I was expecting some cute little floater air not the standing ejector air I received. Wow! The second drop provided similar air. Why hadn't I heard anything about this coaster? Then came the turnaround portion.
It wasn't bad. It fact it was so wild I took my hands down and held on for dear life. However, it was pretty darn bumpy riding in the back. There's one small drop that gives a tiny pop of air along the way before beginning the return leg. The return leg kicks it off with the ride's last big drop and it too provided great ejector air. The return hills are noticeably tamer but 2 of them gave pops of air.
I tried the coaster again in the front later and can say without a doubt this is a back seat ride. The front was quite a bit smoother but there were only a few hills with air and they were pretty weak. I loved Big Dipper much more than expected. Yes it's pretty bumpy in the back, but you don't normally get lap bar only ejector airtime like that. 8.5 out of 10
After being blown away by the Big Dipper, it was time for a coaster that generally blows, the good ole SLC. I have to say, Infusion looked fantastic. The ride’s placement over the water with the fountains and waterwall was quite visually striking.
The Speedy Pass satanically got me assigned the back row. Lovely. As I began my ascent on this torture device, I distracted myself by looking at the water. Then the drop came and the head-banging... didn't start? Has hell frozen over or have SFNE’s new restraints made my memory foggy but I could have sworn the pain started on the drop. Surely it began on the rollover then. Nope! I didn't think a SLC without the Morey’s renovation could be this smooth.
Now there was still a bang every so often (it was a SLC and Blackpool afterall) but this SLC was moderately enjoyable. The overly bulky restraints still made the few bangs a tad uncomfortable but if the park didn't have as many great dark rides and unique coasters, I would have ridden it again. This is the best SLC without the vest restraints. 5 out of 10
My reservation for the Big One was ready, but I made a detour to ride Steeplechase first since the latter was a walk-on and not included on the Speedy Pass. I had built many of these coasters in Roller Coaster Tycoon, so I was interested to try the last one left.
The seating position was surprisingly comfortable thanks to the minimalistic restraints. It's far superior to the Zamperla motorbike seating that squashes your nuts. I can see why something like this (along with it being an older ride) doesn't exist in America.
The ride itself was unique and whole lot of fun. The tallest drop was probably no more than 5-10 feet but it didn't need drops. The racing aspect on this one is far superior to the wooden racing coasters I’ve been on. I couldn't help but come off laughing. The ride is pretty smooth too. The two left sides were open, so I rode twice. A shame I missed out on the right side but I had heard the park usually only ran two sides. 7 out of 10
Time for the coaster featured in all the old coaster documentaries, the Big One. And it's just that as it completely dominates Blackpool's skyline, stretching across the length of the park. This was probably the best ride in the park for the Speedy Pass since you went up the exit and got on immediately. As a single rider, I asked the ops to put me in a single seat since there were quite a few to pick from. Otherwise you could come up the ramp and take someone else's seat, and I feel like a dick doing that.
I got several rides on the Big One. My first ride came in the front since a family of 3 put the 2 sitting next to each other in row 2. So I sat down and off we went. The ascent provides great views of Pleasure Beach and the views only get better when you crest the lift. I loved the view of the Atlantic atop Hydrus, but the view of the sea was even more breathtaking here being up 3 times as high. This view augments the drop which is as epic as it looks. The track disappears beneath you as you are whipped (comfortably) to the right. What an amazing start!
From there it was all downhill by comparison. That's usually the case after the first drop but it’s very pronounced on the Big One. The rest of the ride feels like an overgrown mine train touring the park. The ride does maintain its speed decently well and pulls strong Gs at the bottom of hills, but I'm looking for airtime on a hyper. One look at the overly gradual angles on the hills will immediately tell you that airtime just isn't in the Big One's nature. The only hill with really good airtime was the one before the MCBR. Other than that there were maybe two tiny pops of air if that.
The ride is still a whole lot of fun though because it's reasonably smooth (just brace for the transitions at the bottom of drops) and has a cool layout that covers the entirity of the park. I rerode the Big One several times throughout the train, including the back. I found the further back I went, the even crazier that first drop became. But the tradeoff was what little air you got in the front row became weaker to non-existent. Compared to other hypers, this is as poor as they come (only beating the Giovanola ones), but it's still a good, fun coaster. 8 out of 10
Up next was one of the last of a dying breed, Revolution. An Arrow launched loop, the ride was a workout. I fully expect to have to climb a flight of stairs like this for slides wnd water slides, but it's cruel and unusual punishment to have to do that on a roller coaster. I didn't even have to Speedy Pass this one as the hike seemed to deter people from riding.
I was always interested to try one of these since I love the drops and vertcal loops oj Arrows. It's anytime you turn (corkscrew, helix, etc) where Arrow went wrong. Revolution skips the coat-hanger bits and doubles up on the good parts. The drop off the main platform gives incredible ejector air, particularly in the back, thanks to the added speed of the little launch. The subsequebt vertical loop is really forceful and the ascent to the second platform gives a pop of air as well.
Then I got to experience it again in reverse. The backwards ejector air was very thrilling as was a backwards vertical loop, with the latter reminding me of a boomerang. When we returned to the station, I can say that I rode an Arrow looper (not named Tennessee Tornado) where I didn't bang my head once. It won't beat many full circuit coasters but I’d take it over a boomerang or a corkscrew, even if I do get my daily stairs workout. 7 out of 10
I’d heard that Blackpool's bobsled was one of the wildest so I hopped aboard that one next. I have to say that Avalanche's station looked great, as it was themed to a German fest haus. I know it's more representative of an actual bobsled, but I personally prefer the seating arrangement on the Intamin ones where you have a seat as opposed to this style where your legs are outstretched.
I can definitely see why this is considered the best bobsled by quite a few people. While the others gain some speed and then lose it moments later to a MCBR, Avalanche has no MCBRs so it's constantly gaining speed throughout its course. The final helix has some really good sliding and pulls a few Gs thanks to the built up speed. I did notice the trough vibrated for most of the ride down but it never became uncomfortable and ruined the ride. I too will join the camp that this is the best bobsled out there. 7 out of 10
Because people in England didn't care the weather was chilly, I was able to hit the park’s two water rides. Everyone is familiar with Valhalla but first I hit their traditional log flume on the way, Rugrats Lost River. As we rode along, I couldn't help but be impressed by the theming. They had some nice ruins and as I squinted to read the hieroglyphics, a nice stream of water drilled me in the face. Provoked like a wild animal, I took the rest or the ride's theming with a cautious eye but it appeared I was safe...for now.
The final drop has the slowest ascent I have ever seen on a flume, which is impressive because the drop can't be more than 25ft tall. It was a surprisingly steep little drop too considering its size. I was thinking how great of a ride it was and then was doused by a wall of water. I knew Valhalla would soak me (I came with a poncho) but didn't think I’d have to face Aquaman’s fury on this little flume. So future riders be warned! It was still a fun ride though; I just wish I had been more prepared for the soaking. 6 out of 10
Nickelodeon Streak was the next wooden coaster I would ride. I know it's in the Nickelodeon Area but it still looks wrong to see an orange wooden coaster. I’ve been indoctrinated to accepting blue on a woody thanks to Dutch Wonderland but orange seemed a step too far.
The trains on this one are really comfy. Honestly they feel a lot like couches which is a good thing, not because the ride is rough or anything but because who doesn't like sitting on a couch? I got two rides on this classic woody.
My first ride was in the front. 5-6 of the hills gave nice pops of air and I was a fan of the ride’s simple out-and-back layout. Hoping I may get a Big Dipper situation I tried the back but there was no crazy airtime to be had. The drop off the turnaround gave better air in the back than any hill in the front, but as a whole the front was the better seat. At most parks I’d give this classic woody a few more rides. Except Blackpool fills my woody quota with a few better ones. 7 out of 10
Blue Flyer is the pinnacle of junior woodies. All too many of them have the same layout but this one has a true out-and-back layout. The drops are steeper than expected for a junior woody. No air, but they do have some nice zip to them. But I think the coolest thing about this coaster is the tunnel through the building. Blackpool really does have a woody for everyone. 5 out of 10
Next was the water ride that has claimed the title as the world's best water ride per Amusement Today, Valhalla. You can take that award with a grain of salt whether or not it's truly the best, but I figured with the praise it received it had to be up there as far as flumes go. I was worried this soaking ride would be closed for two reasons. 1) Something this soaking would never be open in below 60 degree weather in the US. 2) It's an Intamin. After visiting Thorpe, it was apparent the second item was the only thing that could go wrong and thankfully it was open.
Usually I laugh at people who wear ponchos on water rides. Why go on a water ride if you don't want to get wet? On this day I made an exception. When you have a 2 hour train ride and it's too cool to properly dry off, a poncho suddenly seems like a necessity. I packed one from home, but the park has a kiosk selling them in line that probably gets more business than a New England Dunkin Donuts. I’d say 95% of people riding wore ponchos and I don't blame them.
The outside facade of the building looks amazing! The massive waterfall combined with the rustic wooden station and viking head is one of the most striking and ambitious ride buildings I have seen, and that includes Disney. The theming didn't stop there as the boats looked fantastic too; they reminded me of the old Maelstrom boat.
You know where the theming did stop? The ride. After entering through the iconic tunnel, we approached the first lift and I had no clue what was going on. Was there a broken effect? I just heard endless chants of Valhalla in the darkness. I could see a faint TV monitor up ahead but it was far too blurry to make any sense of what I was seeing. They could have been showing Viking porn or Sesame Street and I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference.
The theming did start back up atop the lift, but not before decimating my shoes. When I boarded the boat and saw the drenched seats, I was thankful to have a poncho. However, the poncho did nothing to protect the lone pair of sneakers I brought on the trip. For those who have been on Escape from Pompeii, Valhalla did the same thing, the entire floor of the boat was filled with a few inches of water. Curse you Intamin! For the rest of the ride, I was careful to raise my feet for any drop.
I still have no clue what the ride's story is or if there even is meant to be one, but the ride does look very cool. The water vortex is a visually striking effect (as long as you have a poncho since gravity will get you wet) as well as the fire after the final drop. But it was the bit after the second lift that really impressed me. I think we were being pursued by vikings or thrown into a war or something since there were a variety of spiked logs and axes thrown our way. And the effects were massive which was a pleasant surprise since they occurred on the top level of the building.
Where Valhalla really succeeds is in the drop department. The backwards drop is pretty lackluster but the two forwards ones are great. The first one in particular stands out. It's very tall (I’d estimate 60-70 feet), steep, and in total darkness. I got a pop of air going down this drop and it's superior to the drops on Splash Mountain or Ripsaw Falls. The second drop is a much more unique double down. While the first one sneaks up on you, this one doesn't due to the “Don't lean forward on the drop” warning that plays. I understand why they have the audio though since it's a pretty wild drop. Not as good as the first, but better than 90% of flumes out there.
By the end, I was soaked head-to-toe. I honestly stopped paying attention to what got me wet on the ride. Just know there is no way you're coming off dry. You have a better chance winning power ball than coming off dry. Afterwards I caved and paid for one of those full body driers, which work extremely well I might add. I took off my socks and shoes to dry them out as a preventative measure against blisters.
If riding Valhalla wasn't such a process I would have easily gone a few more times since it's the best ride in the park. It's also the best flume out there with the exception of Splash Mountain (yes it's better than Ripsaw Falls). However, it was worth the soaking. 10 out of 10
Alice in Wonderland was next. Honestly if you showed me a quick picture of the outside of this ride, I may mistake it for Disneyland's. The exposed outside portion is almost identical, right down to that funky, elevated outdoor portion. Not quite sure how Blackpool managed to not make the mouse angry, but I certainly wasn't complaining since that was one of the better dark rides at Disneyland.
I only rode the one at Disneyland after the most recent renovation, but this one definitely felt older. The scenes were still enjoyable, but I found that I preferred the park’s other dark rides instead. 7 out of 10
The last coaster is one that is frequently considered the park’s best and the airtime king of the UK, Grand National. A fee to be added onto my Speedy Pass, I decided to wait since it was only 15-20 minutes. The retro station is a treat to see, but the queuing area does get pretty cramped. However, they still do let you wait for your seat. Naturally I grabbed the back. Unfortunately Grand National has more modern trains than the other woodies which meant the PTC lapbars that really staple you in. I would have loved to experience this with the older trains, but I'm just glad I got to try this classic.
Outside of the lift hill and return humps, the entirity of Grand National's layout is hidden from view. All I knew coming in was that you raced and got airtime, both of which were true. The first drop is a surprise double down with the second half absolutely launching you from your seat. Many of the hills before the return leg provide the same kind of abrupt ejector air. One other particularly noteworthy hill is an unassuming little hump no more than 5 feet tall before the last 180 degree turn. I wouldn't have been here to write this report if my lapbar failed. The return leg is cool in the fact that it hugs the ground, but it's sadly airtime free.
So why is it getting just an 8.5 if the airtime was that strong? The smoothness or lack there of. The valleys were pretty brutal on this one. I rode later in the second to back and experienced much of the same. It's still a wonderful ride (if you’ve ever queued for this you know why I use that word), but the roughness did deter consecutive rides. This was tied with the Big One for my favorite coaster at Blackpool, though I have a feeling that would have changed if Icon were open 8.5 out of 10
Speaking of Icon, I took a look at the construction site. The ground looks mostly clear at this point and vertical construction hasn't started yet. These Mack loopers look great. I’ll be riding Helix tomorrow and Blue Fire next week so I can experience one first hand, but from the POV and Mack’s reputation, Icon should become the park’s best coaster.
I still had two dark rides to hit. Next was one themed around one of my childhood favorites, Wallace and Gromit. While I said you rode in what felt like couches for Nickelodeon Streak, you actually ride in couches on this one. They're about the ugliest dang couches you've ever seen though and I'm pretty sure my better half would set fire to it if I ever bought one like it, but it works for the ride.
I thought they made great use of the IP. The scenes were large and expansive and brought me back to my childhood. I did notice some dead space between some of the earlier scenes though. But by the end it's quality scene after quality scene before ending with a surprise. 8 out of 10
At this point, I was starving. Every time I exited the Big One, I passed a donut shop that smelled really good and they were! This was one of those mini donut places that bake the donuts fresh in front of you. They were as good as what you'd find at a country fair without the sketchy one-toothed carny. Also are donuts a big thing in the UK? I’m not complaining but they seemed as common as fish and chip places (in Blackpool at least).
As I devoured my donuts, I noticed the last Steeplechase track had opened. So naturally I got back in line. Only 2 tracks were running still, but they had taken the middle one offline. The ride was fun as before. Actually it was even funnier since I was racing an animated kid. I couldn't help but think of the screaming British kids I used to hear online when I played Call of Duty.
It was late enough in the day that I figured it'd be a good time to hit the the last major ride not on Speedy Pass, Red Arrows Sky Force. I had ridden a similar style ride at Canada’s Wonderland (that one was a tower instead of a rotating arm). These things are absolutely insane if you can get that first rotation going. From that point, you aren't stopping and better have a strong stomach. However, the one at CW had a painfully short cycle so I got one insane ride and couldn't even flip once on the other.
Red Arrows was difficult to get that first inversion on, but fortunately it had a long cycle. You really have to time when you use the paddles and throw your weight around strategically, but after 7-8 rocks I got the magical first inversion. From that point the ride was a blur. I believe I got something in the neighborhood of 60-70 flips. Tell me what other ride comes close to that other than a crazy European top spin. I preferred the spinning arm to the tower. Since the arm spun at an incline, your inversions would pick up speed on the downswings. I would love to see more of these types of rides as they're one of my favorite flats and better than a majority of coasters. 10 out of 10
The dark ride was also the only one not on the Speedy Pass, Ghost Train. A more traditional take on the ride than Thorpe's, I absolutely love the theming around the ride. As I was taking a photo of the ride, I almost fell into the little moat they set up on the pathway around it. I ended up waiting 15 minutes, which went fast thanks to the 10 or so cars they had running.
Most of the ride’s effects are old-school, but they've clearly been maintained well. Nothing was really scary but you couldn't help but come off without a smile. There were a few newer effects mixed in too such as a shattering window with an associated air blast. Oh and the little drop was neat too. And no it is not a credit. 8 out of 10
I wish the park stayed open later than 5 since I was having a great time. Pleasure Beach has done a fantastic job blending newer rides with old classics you just don't see anywhere else. I'm a sucker for seaside parks and Blackpool’s ride collection shatters the frisbees and galaxi coasters typically there. Even Santa Cruz’s Beach Boardwalk (an awesome park) is beat by Pleasure Beach.
Up next was a quick stop at South Pier. Unless my eyes deceived me, I saw a Wacky Worm with my name on it from atop the Big One.