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Resort Profile

Pleasure Beach managing director Amanda Thompson OBE


impression “My first trip to England was like going home,” says Gary Kyraizi. ”Born in San Francisco in 1949, the first time I saw the Pacific Ocean, the Big Dipper rollercoaster at Playland-At-The- Beach graced the ocean's infinite, horizontal stretch. The second beach I saw was 60 miles south at Santa Cruz, and there was the Giant Dipper. I thought that every beach necessarily had a rollercoaster complementing it. This childlike fancy was reinforced as I eventually went further down the California coast to Santa Monica Beach, Long Beach and Mission Beach in San Diego. I soon learned that on the American Atlantic coast, this beautiful sight had spread from Coney Island north to Maine, and south to Florida. Sadly, very few of these oceanside amusement parks and their coasters remain, and when I saw the graceful lines of the Big One outlining the Irish Sea at the wonderful Pleasure Beach, I knew I had come home. Thank you, Geoffrey and the Thompson family, for building and maintaining what has become a worldwide iconic image of amusement and fun.”

An illuminated tram featured in the Illuminations

Nickelodeon Land has brought a fresh look to the Pleasure Beach children’s area

North, Central and South Piers. “I definitely have the night trade now,” says Peter Sedgwick, who owns the attractions on all three piers, as well as North Pier itself. Born into the business as a travelling showman, Sedgwick is savvy and aggressive, and steadily adding rides to each of the piers. His biggest draws are the log flume on South Pier (added after the Pleasure Beach removed theirs), and a 108ft- (33m) giant wheel from Mondial on Central Pier. Set over the Irish Sea, the wheel is certainly eye-grabbing competition for the Blackpool Tower and the Pleasure Beach’s 235ft-high Big One steel coaster from Arrow (which remains as a monument to Geoffrey Thompson’s ambition). “The Central and South Piers are doing well,” Sedgwick says. “My challenge now is to get people onto the North Pier. I need to get a large ride at the end of the pier, and I’m going to re-open the tram system that used to take riders from the promenade to the end of the pier.”

Such competition is the fuel of the amusement industry, and as such, Blackpool as a tourist destination is fighting its way back. The town was hopeful for the approval of a large casino, a sure guarantee of a families, groups, conferences and jobs, but it was rejected by the government.

Seaside Resurrection Still, Blackpool won’t give up. As Amanda Thompson told Business Week: “People think of Blackpool as a bit old-fashioned, maybe a bit dirty. We must change people’s perceptions. If you haven’t been to Blackpool in 20 years I guarantee you’d be pleasantly surprised at how the town has changed.”

Blackpool’s resurrection is indeed evident. Besides the revamped Pleasure Beach, Merlin Entertainments has been brought in by the council to run Blackpool Tower, with its circus, ballroom, a revamped ‘Eye’ observation deck and walk-through Dungeon attraction. There are the North, Central, and South amusement piers. Then there are many individual attractions like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and Carnesky’s Ghost Train near the Pleasure Beach, the council-run Sandcastle waterpark, Merlin’s Sea Life aquarium and Madame Tussauds waxworks. There are pubs, restaurants, miniature golf courses, Stanley Park, Blackpool Zoo, the Grundy Art Gallery, splendid


A selection of the rides and attractions operated on South Pier by Peter Sedgwick

Victorian theatres and shopping. And of course there is the main draw – the ocean. Large chunks of the extensive promenade have been redeveloped in recent years, and can be enjoyed during a bracing walk, bike ride or tram ride. Although many of the town’s iconic old tram cars were scrapped recently in favour of sleek, new wheelchair-accessible vehicles, a highlight of the town’s annual illuminations for many visitors are the light-festooned trams disguised as either a boat, a train or a rocket. Running from September through until the start of November, the illuminations bring a six-mile-long (9.5km) stretch of the ‘prom’ to life and extend Blackpool’s season beyond that of most of its seaside competitors. At the other end of the year, a more recent addition to resort’s event programme, the Showzam festival helps bring in extra visitors during the February ‘half-term’ holidays.

A new addition to the illuminations for 2012 are a series of Nickelodeon light features, added in recognition of Nickelodeon Land, Pleasure Beach’s bright new children’s land opened last spring – so bright they even repainted the park’s 1933 wooden rollercoaster orange. Additions like this, and the Wallace & Gromit dark ride planned in 2013, pander to the brand-savvy kids of the 21st Century, yet the Thompson family remains acutely aware, and proud, of Pleasure Beach’s heritage. Where else in Europe could you find five wooden coasters in one park? As Coney Island found rejuvenation by resurrecting its famed Luna Park in 2010, it appears that Blackpool is finding its own way back. Through its genesis as a beach resort, its growth, its fame, the uphill and downhill trends, and its eventual rebirth, “England’s Coney Island” can stand solidly on its own name, simply, Blackpool.

Gary Kyriazi is the author of The Great American Amusement Parks – A Pictorial History, and writer/producer of America

Screams, the first book and television documentary on amusement parks. He lives in Arizona and has been a writer, researcher, and consultant for the amusement industry for over 35 years


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